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Aug. 2—JANESVILLE — One role of political leaders is to lead their constituents on key issues of the day.
Rep. Bryan Steil did so Monday during a listening session at Janesville City Hall, saying he is vaccinated against COVID-19, and he believes such vaccinations combat serious illness and death.
"The proof is in the numbers of people who get seriously ill. The number of people who die from the disease plummets when you take vaccine, but there should not be a federal government mandate," Steil said.
Resistance to vaccinations is playing a key role in the recent resurgence of the illness, health professionals say.
The Janesville Republican stopped short of saying what some other leaders are preaching, that people should get vaccinated to help their country defeat this virus and save lives.
Instead, Steil said people who have questions about vaccines should talk to their doctors.
Steil was kicking off a two-day series of listening sessions in the six counties within the 1st Congressional District.
Steil wore a mask as required in City Hall. The county health department on Friday recommended everyone be masked in indoor public spaces because of a local increase in COVID-19 cases.
Steil said the city did not require masks when his staff arranged the session, but as a guest in the building, he wore one.
Steil said the next stop in his listening tour was in East Troy, where masks are not required.
A man who wasn't wearing a mask seemed angry about the City Hall mandate and about the government letting thousands of immigrants into the country illegally, "and not one of them have been vetted for any disease."
The law requires health screenings for both legal immigrants and refugees. Officials do admit a danger of cross-border infections, especially from those who enter illegally, but outbreaks remain rare.
Steil said there's no federal mask mandate, and people with concerns with city mandates should talk to the city council.
"All of us want to come to the other side of this pandemic and get our way of life back," Steil said to another questioner.
Steil got another question from a woman who said her daughter is in Japan with the Army, and she is concerned that the military is moving towards mandating the COVID-19 vaccine. She said he heard the vaccine could affect fertility, and "I want grandchildren."
COVID-19 can affect male fertility, according to health experts, but the vaccine does not affect female fertility.
Steil said people should listen to their doctors, not politicians "bloviating" about vaccines. He said he would look into the question about the military enforcing a vaccine mandate.
In talking to reporters afterward, Steil was asked where he stands on the split among Republicans—those who support Donald Trump and those who criticize the former president.
"I don't really think there's a substantive split in the party. I think the policies are all pretty aligned. I think the media loves to try to divide Republicans between pro-Trump and anti-Trump.
"I think the policies of President Trump are terrific. I continue to champion them, and I think we have an opportunity to take our country back, moving forward in 2022, particularly by removing Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi from being speaker of the House of Representatives," Steil said.
Asked what he means by taking the country back, Steil said: "I think you look at the broad spending we're seeing in Washington. I think that puts our country in real, serious jeopardy. ... I think we continue to see proposed mandates coming out of Washington. Look at the mask mandate in the U.S. House of Representatives as an example where some in Washington, D.C., want to take our country."
In responses to other questions Steil said he:
* Is concerned about proposed massive spending bills. He wants the government to be able to abide by its promise to senior citizens that Social Security and Medicare would be available, he said.
In a recent tweet, Steil said he also is concerned that the spending would lead to inflation, raising consumer prices.
"The rate of spending that is going on in Washington is dangerous to the whole structure of your federal government," he said.
* Wants to protect Wisconsin's environment, and in response to climate change, he backs federal support for research to improve energy storage for solar and wind power, which would help market forces boost "clean energy."
* Signaled his support for qualified immunity, which can protect police from legal liability when they use excessive force. Police-reform advocates have called for an end to the legal doctrine.
* Said illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border is "an absolute crisis," and he supports walls or barriers at key border segments, filling vacant Border Patrol positions, and using drones, motion detectors and other technology to enhance border efforts.
Steil said he supports fixing a broken system of legal immigration, a position that his predecessor, Paul Ryan, and many Democrats have held for years, although Congress has not taken any action.
Steil said a breakdown in partisan politics is blocking reasonable solutions.
* Heard Janesville restaurateur Matt Kealy say that Congress should shift money already allocated to the Small Business Administration to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Kealy said restaurant attendance is down, while costs are up and labor is hard to find.
Steil said restaurants and bars have been hit hard, and he is paying close attention to a bill that would allow the fund shift.
* Resisted a questioner's proposal for legalizing medical cannabis, saying he has concerns about marijuana's effects on high school students. But he supports removing the government ban on marijuana research so he would have more facts on which to base decisions.
When asked about far-right Congress members creating a "soap opera" while taking attention from important issues, Steil said some Congress members in both major parties are more concerned about gaining Twitter followers rather than working on solutions to problems.
The questioner asked Steil to take a stand against this behavior.
"I share your concerns, but I'm one voice of 435," Steil said.
A woman asked where she can get facts, because she doesn't trust the mainstream media or the government when it comes to conflicting information on masks and how the vaccine works.
Steil said he shares those concerns and recommends people seek a variety of news sources, and he said they should be aware that outlets such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have their particular perspectives. Steil also recommended constituents follow his office's pronouncements.