Mast, Frankel, Hastings mark opening of shared office at VA hospital

Three members of Palm Beach County’s congressional delegation marked the opening of shared office space at Palm Beach County’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center Friday, pointing to the project as an indication of bipartisan commitment to helping those who served the country in uniform.

Two Democrats — U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach — joined U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, for a press conference at the medical center to discuss the shared space. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, will also have office hours at the medical center, but a family commitment kept him from attending the press conference, one of his staff members said.

The joint office at the VA facility is the first of its kind, according to delegation members and hospital officials. Its goal is to make it easier for veterans, some of whom have limited mobility, to get congressional help for such issues as benefits and disability concerns.

“I think it’s a tremendous template and, hopefully, word will pass along,” said Hastings, whose agreement was necessary before the office could be shared, because it is in his district.

Opening the congressional office at the medical center fulfills a campaign promise for Mast, a U.S. Army veteran who lost both legs in an explosion in Afghanistan.

“Every single one of us has a mission, and that’s to fight for the people who fight for us,” Mast said.

The office, located on the first floor of the medical center in room 1A-366, is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Mast’s staff will have the office on Mondays, Frankel’s on Tuesdays, and Hastings’ on Thursdays. Deutch’s staff will be available on the first Wednesday of every month.

While Mast, Frankel and Hastings touted their bipartisan, year-long efforts to open the joint office, their partisan leanings weren’t far below the surface.

Two hot-button news items of the moment — the immigration debate and reports that President Donald Trump ordered but backed off the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last year — generated starkly different responses.

On immigration, Trump has insisted that he will not continue to defer the deportation of people brought into the U.S. illegally as children unless he gets funding for a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

The president had pledged throughout the campaign to build the wall and have Mexico pay for it. But Mexico has balked at funding the wall, and Trump is now demanding that U.S. taxpayers foot a bill that could be as large as $25 billion.

Democrats have pushed the Trump administration to protect those brought to the U.S. as children, a group referred to as “dreamers” whose deportation was temporarily deferred by the Obama administration.

With many Republicans backing a crackdown on legal and illegal immigration, Trump is reportedly open to a deal that would have his administration provide some illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship in exchange for funding for the wall.

Hastings said he would not support such a deal. Frankel said she’d be open to it, but she blasted the president for “holding ransom these dreamers for racist, bigoted proposals that are contrary to what America stands for.”

Mast backed the president’s call for a wall, saying “the dollars and sense are absolutely there.”

He said a wall will treat those wishing to enter the country illegally the same, unlike the vagaries of presidential policy on immigration.

Mast also downplayed the importance of reports that Trump tried to fire the special counselor investigating possible obstruction of justice and collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Those reports say Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller but relented after McGahn threatened to resign.

In Davos, Switzerland for an international conference, Trump dismissed the reports as “fake news.”

Mast said, “This is 100 percent not news worth talking about. The president did not fire Mueller. He’s there working right now. This is just another way for them to drag something out and poke the president.”

Frankel had a different view, saying she wasn’t surprised by the reports.

“Had the president actually fired Mueller, he would have created a constitutional crisis,” she said. “I think he would have been facing impeachment.”

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