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Tom GarrettNewly-elected U.S. Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Buckingham) visited Fluvanna County High School on Wednesday (Jan. 18) to talk to about 100 seniors.

Garrett admitted he hoped the soon-to-be voters would support him in the next election. But he also talked emphatically about rights, privilege and opportunity. “The reason I’m here right now is because I believe in you,” he said.

“We are a nation of flawed people founded on a premise that is about as flawless as could be,” said Garrett as he paced back and forth before the government students in the auditorium. He spoke of Martin Luther King, Jr., Patrick Henry and Barbara Johns – three heroes on whose shoulders the students stand, he said.

When Garrett opened the floor for questions, the students kept up a steady stream until long after the bell had rung for dismissal.

“You’ve spoken very passionately about equality, but in 2016 you voted against a bill that would have prohibited discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in housing practices,” said one student.

In his two-part response, Garrett linked much of his vote to the word “perceived” that he said made all the difference in the bill’s language. The bill would have prohibited discrimination on the grounds of “identity or perceived identity,” he said.

Garrett, a lawyer, said that the word “perceived” opened up a quagmire by creating “a circumstance wherein anyone can litigate anything by claiming that someone perceived they were something with no evidence to prove that’s the case.”

Garrett also said he didn’t want to put Virginia “out ahead of the curve” in naming protected classes, which he said are determined at the federal level.

Resisting the label “anti-gay,” Garrett claimed that he was “the only person to patron the bill that removed the criminal penalty for particular sexual behavior between adults with consent, not for pay, not in public,” because, he said, “what they were allowed to do in their bedrooms” was not for government to determine.

Another student asked Garrett if he would support a ban on Muslim immigrants.

Garrett responded that he wants to “immediately halt” immigration from any country with ongoing conflict until those immigrants can be vetted, perhaps by James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). “I think the responsibility of the U.S. government lies first with the U.S.,” Garrett said.

After the event Garrett didn’t directly answer a question about whether the country will ever be able to adequately vet people from areas of conflict, or whether Comey would ever sign off on such individuals. “We have to define vetting,” Garrett said. If he were the one defining vetting, he said, “It should be a high bar.”

Garrett said that the ban he supports should be done “inside the realm of nations with ongoing bloodshed. It should have nothing to do with what faith someone is… I’m wholly in favor of legal immigration.”

A student asked Garrett, a veteran, about whether the U.S. should do anything about the genocide in South Sudan.

Garrett responded that he has an “overarching theory” that he will never vote to send an American soldier overseas until “our leader, our president, can articulate why doing that action, using that force – if everything works out – will be better than what the status quo is.”

Using Syria as an example, Garrett said, “We know that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is a horrible guy.” But, he said, “If we’re going to help remove him we need to contemplate who replaces him, and the replacement needs to be better than him.”

When the student asked how he defined “better,” Garrett said that his preeminent concern is “what’s in the U.S. interest, because that’s what the job of U.S. government is, to serve the U.S. Having said that, there’s a vested interest in humanity and effecting good where you can.” Combining the two approaches is “a massive balancing act,” he said. Therefore, he would “err on the side of not committing American life blood unless I think there’s a strong reason to do that.”

Another student asked Garrett about possible election tampering by the Russians. Garrett said that the Russians “undoubtedly” tried to influence the election.

“But for us to act aghast that a foreign nation should attempt to exert influence on our elections would have a whole lot more validity as it relates to the world if we didn’t do it to everybody else,” he said. “When our president says he would prefer this person win an election in Israel or prefer that person win an election in France, or when Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton says there shouldn’t be an election in the Palestinian Authority until we can guarantee who wins, which is on tape, then we’re guilty of doing the exact same thing that we’re lamenting.”

Rather, Garrett said, the “overarching problem is that we’re five years behind in cybersecurity and cyber technology.”

The student responded that Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t simply say that he preferred a certain candidate to win the U.S. election.

When a student asked Garrett to name the number one thing he wants to change about the U.S., Garrett said, “If I could make a dent on anything it would be debt.”

Garrett is the U.S. congressman for Virginia’s 5th District, which encompasses all of Fluvanna County and stretches from the North Carolina border to Fauquier County. It is the largest congressional district in the state.