CONWAY — First-term Congressman Chris Pappas was put through his paces last week when he paid a visit to a Kennett High School classroom to respond to students who asked about everything from impeachment, climate change and the 2020 presidential election.
Pappas (D-Manchester) participated in a question-and-answer session with Kat Murdough's Friday morning advanced placement U.S. government class.
"I was first here as a candidate, and I promised to come back if I was elected," Pappas told the 26 students, which included four underclassmen.
"You asked, and I answered," he said, noting the class had texted him an invitation to come for a repeat visit (Pappas first spoke to Murdough's class last year when he was vying with Republican Eddie Edwards to win the 1st District seat).
Last school year, Murdough's class also hosted Edwards and Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney. Outside of class, they went to hear presidential hopefuls Beto O'Rouke and Elizabeth Warren when they visited Conway.
Today, Pappas sits on the Veterans Affairs and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. He told the students that he is a part of a freshmen class of Congress with more women, more people of color than every before.
"I think we are a group that's close to the people," said Pappas.
His first questioner was student Jackson Ogren, who asked his views on impeachment for President Donald Trump.
Pappas said he was for opening an inquiry in July after the Mueller report about Russian interference in the election was released. He said he felt there were still questions, and Congress needs answers.
"It's in our national security interest to support Ukraine, but it didn't appear the president was supporting our national security interest," said Pappas. "He was looking for ways to begin an investigation of a political opponent (Joe Biden and his son Hunter) in a way that could help him in the next election. ... I don't think that's appropriate."
He said those involved in the phone call to the Ukrainian president concerning the Bidens need to be interviewed by Congress.
"At the very least, we need to shine a bright light on (Trump's) behavior and try to communicate that's beyond the bounds of what a president should be doing," said Pappas.
Student Grace Jarell told Pappas she is volunteering on Mayor Pete Buttigieg's Democratic presidential campaign. She told him some people have said he's a "lost cause" because he's openly gay.
Pappas said Buttigieg is a "viable" candidate.
"He is someone who punches above his weight, politically speaking," said Pappas. "He's been very impressive."
Pappas said he himself was closeted in high school and wondered if he would be elected if he were out. Now he's the first openly gay congressman New Hampshire has ever had.
"I think it shows a lot how open the people of New Hampshire are and how welcoming they are, but also how far we have come and the steps we've taken over the last few years toward equality for all," said Pappas.
"We are better off when everyone can live their truth and be who they are."
Student Maggie Miller asked about the presidential candidates and their positions on climate change. Pappas described climate change as an "urgent challenge." Noting that Trump didn't participate in a G7 talk on climate, Pappas said, "We really can't address this if the United State is not playing a leading role. That's why we should be part of the Paris Accord agreement again."
Student Helen Hill asked his opinion on Gov. Chris Sununu's vetoing about 50 bills. Pappas, a former New Hampshire executive councillor, said he can't really speak to those state bills now that he's in Congress, but he noted that the U.S. Senate has passed maybe a dozen out of about 300 bills that have come out of the House.
"Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the Senate majority leader," said Pappas. "He likes to call himself the Grim Reaper of the Senate because he has killed a great deal of legislation."
One such bill that passed the Democratic House but isn't going anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate, said Pappas, pertains to background checks for firearm purchases.
When Jarell asked Pappas if anything could be done about McConnell, Pappas told the students (many of whom will turn 18 by the presidential primary) to vote and be politically engaged.
He described what his life in Congress is like. He lives about six blocks from the Capitol and can walk to work. He meets with staff at about 8 a.m. or have a caucus meeting with Democrats. After that, he has committee meetings or trips to the House floor to speak for or against a bill. “Sometimes, they give me time for lunch,” said Pappas.
In the afternoon, more meetings. Meeting rooms are “spread out,” and there can be a considerable distance he has to walk and he’s getting the hang of getting from place to place.
In the evenings there are often receptions and events to attend. In addition, members of the public come into the office throughout the day, and Pappas said he tries to meet with anyone from New Hampshire who takes the time to visit.
He comes home to the Granite State on the weekends or during a “district work period” one week per month. He said Washington is a quick flight to or from Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
Kennett High School Principal Kevin Carpenter, who sat in on the class, asked Pappas about affordable education. Pappas spoke of three graduate students came into his office a few months ago to talk to him about that. He said between the three students, they had $1 million worth of debt. He said student debt can take decades to pay off.
Pappas said he supports Pell Grants, tuition-free options, and loan forgiveness for people like nurses who pledge to work in northern New Hampshire.
In terms of college, Pappas advised: “Be smart about how you shop around,” and he added that community colleges offer great opportunities.
On his way to the class, Pappas stopped in North Conway. Later, he traveled up to Hart’s Location, where he hiked Mount Willard with members of the Appalachian Mountain Club.