AUBURN — Amid the swirl of events in Washington, D.C., first-term Congressman Jim Banks said he is keeping his mind on his tasks.

“It’s easy in Congress today to get distracted by the tweet of the day … the palace intrigue of the White House,” Banks said during a visit to DeKalb County last week.

Banks, a Republican from Columbia City, represents the 3rd District of northeast Indiana.

“I’ve tried to focus on doing my job and focus on the veterans’ issues, focus on the national defense issues … the education issues,” Banks said. “Maybe that makes me boring, but it means that you’re able to get a lot more done.”

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished when it comes to growing the economy — the tax cuts, the effects that has had not just on businesses, but on families,” Banks said about Congress.

“I’m especially proud of what we’ve done to rebuild the military,” he added. “What we’ve done in a very bipartisan way to support our veterans in this Congress has been historic.”

The House of Representatives passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act on Friday. Banks served on a House-Senate conference committee that hammered out the bill.

“It continues on the progress we made in the last one to rebuild the military and restore the funding that was cut over the last 10 years,” Banks said. It passed with “broad bipartisan support,” he added. “I’m very proud to play a small role.”

Banks said northeast Indiana is positioned to take advantage of a strong economy.

“We’re hearing it everywhere we go — all the businesses that we tour that are benefiting from the regulatory rollback and the tax cuts,” he said.

However, he said, “The tariff issue has a number of constituents in this district uneasy, especially in agriculture and many of the manufacturing-based jobs. The steel industry is doing very well. That’s important to our district, as well. But the flipside is: What will this do to our very strong agricultural base in the district and a lot of companies we hear from on a daily basis that are concerned about their rising cost of steel?”

Banks has co-sponsored two bills that would restore congressional authority over tariffs, allowing Congress to vote on them.

“That is an appropriate and longstanding role of Congress that has been relegated to the executive branch in recent decades that we should recapture and take a look at more congressional involvement,” he said, adding it could take years to accomplish that.

On tariffs that have led to retaliation against crop imports, he said, “I understand the concerns I’ve been hearing from farmers all over the district. I do believe that the president’s intentions are correct, that when dealing with China we’re dealing with a currency manipulator — a country that has manipulated the markets and hasn’t participated in fair trade with our country. But I’m also a strong, staunch defender and believer in free trade. I want to believe that the White House has this figured out moving forward, and that there could be a positive outcome of all this.”

Banks said he sees a “dichotomy” in President Trump’s approach to Russia.

“I certainly wanted the president to go to Helsinki and project a much tougher posture than what we saw coming out of the press conference” at the end of the summit, Banks said. “I thought him standing with Vladimir Putin, the biggest thug in the world today, and sort of dismissing American intelligence on the matter was a low point of the administration. I appreciated that the president came back a day later and changed his tune.”

Banks said that “in the midst of all the rhetoric of Trump turning a blind eye to Russia,” the president has provided weapons to Ukraine, and Congress has enacted the toughest sanctions on Russia in a generation.

He said actions by the Trump administration “have been tougher than anything that Obama or even George W. Bush did when it came to presenting a tougher posture toward Russia.”

Banks noted that Trump has given key roles to Russia critics such as National Director of Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Advisor John Bolton, “probably the toughest Russia hawk on the world stage,” and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“Director Coats has been a longtime Russia hawk, as I would consider myself,” Banks said. “Literally everything that Russia does on the world stage seeks to diminish the leadership role of America and position Russia with the upper hand.”

He advised, “The president would be wise to trust the valuable insight of Director Coats, who’s placed in the position he is because of the importance of the role and the integrity that Director Coats brings to the job and his understanding of the threat of Russia, which has grown, not diminished.”