U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) answered questions from residents of Gilliam, Grant, Sherman and Wheeler counties in a “virtual town hall” livestream on Monday, Jan. 11.

The meeting, Wyden’s first in 2021, was streamed on the Town Hall Project Facebook page. Live viewership peaked at 81 and 75-80 people watched the majority of the one-hour stream.

The senator opened the meeting with a statement on the violent protest last week at the U.S. Capitol before taking questions.

“My view is that this was an assault on our democracy,” Wyden said.

Wyden said events at the capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6 represented “the textbook definition of domestic terrorism,” as participants attempted to use “force, violence and intimidation to achieve a political objective.”

Wyden said violence is “always unacceptable,” regardless of where it takes place and where perpetrators fall on the political spectrum.

“We’re not going to agree on everything, and that’s obvious, but the Oregon way is to have peaceful discussion,” Wyden said. “The First Amendment is about peaceful protest but I want everyone to know there’s a real, clear distinction and a clear, sharp line between peaceful protest exercising your First Amendment rights and violence.”

Wyden went on to answer 10 questions from constituents including a former judge, a pharmacist, a mayor and several students. Most questions involved challenges and barriers rural Oregonians have encountered during the pandemic. Wyden also addressed wildfire prevention, child trafficking, inflated prescription drug prices and the potential for legislation in response to last week’s violence.

Multiple questions addressed rural communities’ ability to receive and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in a timely manner.

Ann Murray, a pharmacist who has owned Murray’s Drug with her husband since 1990, asked Wyden what he would do to help expedite vaccine implementation. Her question also asked the senator to address economic structures that have threatened the survival of rural pharmacies.

Wyden said criteria for who receives the vaccine is set at the state level, but he said the federal government “needs to step up and provide the leadership” in clarifying the roles of different levels of government.

“Even after the announcement of the availability of vaccines, there wasn’t the kind of detailed follow-up that was necessary,” he said. “We saw that there were such gaps in information and clear explanation of what each level of government was going to do that people fell between the cracks, and I’m hearing these horror stories all the time of people who are quite elderly are having difficulty getting access to the vaccine.”

In response to an earlier question about vaccine rollout from Condon Chamber of Commerce Director K’lynn Lane, Wyden said senate finance committee healthcare staff “is on alert that if the Murrays have a concern as it relates to access to pharmaceutical services in rural Oregon, we are going to be on it immediately.”

Murray thanked Wyden in a comment after he responded to her question. She called the senator “a strong advocate for rural healthcare.”

Three more virtual town halls are scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Sunday. More information and the entirety of Monday’s livestream can be found on the Town Hall Project Facebook page.

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