U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder sits in a nearly empty diner in Overland Park on a February afternoon and sips a cup of tea as he ponders the intense reaction to President Donald Trump’s election.
“He’s totally a different kind of president than we’re used to. And you know, they talk about in the business world: creative disruption,” Yoder, R-Overland Park, observes from the booth at Winstead’s. “I think in many ways he’s a disruptive force to the way the engine moves in Washington, and so that’s created a lot of friction.”
It’s Yoder’s first congressional break since Trump’s inauguration and he has spent it crisscrossing the district to meet with small constituent groups, brushing off criticism from progressive activists about his decision to hold a telephone town hall rather than a larger in-person event.
Protesters have been gathering outside Yoder’s Johnson County office every Tuesday since late January to voice their opposition to Trump’s latest moves. Trump won Kansas by a wide margin but lost Yoder’s district, which covers the Kansas City suburbs.
“And I think it’s scared some people. It’s frustrated some people,” Yoder continues about the new president’s disruptive power. “Some people feel like finally there’s somebody who listens to them, who represents their view. … But he’s definitely not what people would think of as a traditional Republican.”
During the 30-minute conversation, Yoder covered a broad range of topics, including his support for an investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged Russian ties, his reservations about replicating Kansas’ tax experiment on a national level and his commitment to fully repealing the Affordable Care Act.
“No matter where you go in this country right now, there are people who are frustrated or angry that he was elected or angry at some of his policies. They’ve expressed some of that anger to my office. We agree with some of that. I’ve been frustrated with some of his policies,” Yoder said, explaining that he thought the president’s executive order restricting refugees was overly broad and poorly implemented.
Yoder praised other aspects of Trump’s presidency, such as his push to eliminate regulations and his focus on job creation. He applauded Trump’s desire to reform Washington, opining that bureaucrats have had too much power in Washington for too long.
But he voiced discomfort with Trump’s tendency to pick fights on social media, which he said undermines these other efforts.
“The distractions on Twitter, the obsessing over how big the inauguration crowd is, I don’t see the value to him in doing that,” he said.
Yoder also said Congress needs to use its authority to investigate allegations that members of Trump’s campaign communicated with Russian intelligence agents during the campaign. Russia has been blamed for the hacks on the Democratic National Committee that resulted in leaks that damaged Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“I want the truth to come forward. If the administration has nothing to hide, then it shouldn’t be something they should fear,” Yoder said. “I don’t want to see a political witch hunt where we are trying to misconstrue facts, but a fair and honest assessment. Congress needs to do its oversight duties. I think that’s appropriate.”
Despite his concerns with Trump’s executive order, Yoder took a hard stance in favor of stricter immigration laws.
“The American people ought to decide who comes in and out of the country. We shouldn’t just say, if you can make it through our border security then you’re here, you’re welcome, but we’re going to try and stop you at the border,” Yoder said.
“It’s the most backwards system anyone could create for immigration,” he said, contending that the current system encourages illegal rather than legal immigration. “You want to come in legally? Good luck. … Now, if you just want to come across the Rio Grande tomorrow afternoon, by all means, we’ll welcome you in.”
Affordable Care Act
Yoder said he wants to see a replacement plan in place before the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
He said he wants a full repeal of the health care law, more commonly known as Obamacare, but that some portions of it, such as allowing people to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26, could become part of the replacement plan.
“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is take the federal government out of this process, to restore power back to individuals, empower states so they can design their own system, while putting in some protections to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions continue to have coverage,” Yoder said.
“Costs continue to go up, and what we’ve got to do is figure out how we reduce the expense of health care in this country. We can’t just say, it’s expensive so I’ll make my neighbor pay for it so I don’t feel the cost anymore,” Yoder said. “That’s really what Obamacare tried to do.”
Yoder does not think congressional Republicans should replicate Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax policies as they pursue tax reform.
“The mistake they made in Kansas is they simply cut taxes without reforming the tax code, so I think it would be a mistake to just do a huge tax cut that left the existing tax code and the unfairness of the tax code in place and just cut revenue from government,” Yoder said. “I don’t necessarily believe that style of tax reform will bring the jobs that we need.”
Yoder said a better course of action would be to eliminate tax exemptions, which he said would enable the country to reduce rates and increase the fairness of the tax code.
“One of the biggest objections to the Kansas tax changes is some people got tax cuts and other people really didn’t, and taxes went up in other areas on working families,” Yoder said. “We need a tax code that encourages job creation but also is fair so the burden doesn’t fall on the people who need tax relief the most.”
Yoder, who served in the Kansas Legislature before his election to Congress, has been mentioned as a potential candidate to run for governor in 2018. He said he has not ruled out the possibility but at this point he intends to seek another term in the U.S. House.
“By no means do I need some other job to satisfy my interest in serving this community,” Yoder said.