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Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) speaks with middle and high school students Wednesday in Gregory. (Jake Shama/Forum News Service)

Noem talks foreign policy, farm bill with SD students

GREGORY, S.D. —U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said the one issue she is most concerned about is national security.

Noem arrived Wednesday morning at the joint elementary, middle and high school building in Gregory to discuss her work in Congress and share her views on a variety of issues. She also took questions from a crowd of about 200 middle and high school students.

"I think that a lot of other things come up like food and fuel and farm bills and education and all of that, but if you're not safe, then all of that kind of goes out the window," Noem said. "So my number one concern would be living in a peaceful world."

Noem began by explaining that she is the only South Dakota representative out of 435 people in the House of Representatives.

She said she enjoys speaking at schools like her stop Wednesday in Gregory.

"My favorite part of this job is coming and talking to you guys," Noem said. "I miss the fact that I don't get to work with young people every day."

However, when the students got a chance to ask questions, foreign policy came up almost immediately, as a student asked if the U.S. should deploy troops to Syria.

"Right now, Syria is in a very dangerous situation," Noem said. "We have a problem in the Middle East, where the entire region is becoming extremely volatile."

Noem said she has recently visited with presidents in Egypt and Greece, where Syrian refugees are gathering to flee to Europe or the United States. What worries Noem is these refugees are not being thoroughly screened, and the leaders could not guarantee terrorists weren't being allowed to pass through their countries.

Noem said the U.S. should provide air support to friendly governments in the region, but deploying ground troops may not be the answer at this time.

Noem said the whole situation is being influenced by Iran, which she said is "not the United States' friend."

Noem was particularly critical of the recent nuclear agreement with Iran, which she said prohibits Iran from developing nuclear weapons but allows the country to keep the machines and materials used to create them, the ballistic systems used to launch them, and Iran will be given 24 days notice before an outside party performs an inspection of their facilities.

"I don't think it's going to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons," Noem said. "I think that if somebody's building a weapon that they're not supposed to be building, to give them almost a month's notice before we come in to check is ridiculous."

Another student asked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a proposed trade agreement between the U.S. and about 11 Asian countries.

When U.S. exports arrive in Japan, Noem said a tariff is immediately applied that raises the price by 38 1/2 percent. She said that practice makes U.S. goods unaffordable for citizens in Japan who want food raised and grown in the U.S.

"If we can get this trade agreement done and it's done correctly, it will allow us to sell a lot more food and be good for our families here," Noem said. "There will be more jobs, there will be higher-paying jobs and there will be more people who are able to help our economy be stronger."

Of all the Republican presidential candidates, Noem said Marco Rubio was the strongest on foreign policy, as that has been one of his primary interests since he took office. She also said she met with Carly Fiorina and thought she was a good candidate, but she does not plan on giving anyone a formal endorsement.

Students were also interested in learning about the farm bill.

Noem said she is a big believer of the farm bill and wrote many parts of its current iteration.

"The farm program's not out there to make payments to farmers," Noem said. "It's there to make sure we don't have all of our farmers go out of business in the same year."

As agriculture is South Dakota's top industry, Noem said it was crucial that the U.S. always has farmers because buying all the nation's food from another country could give that country too much control over the U.S.

Throughout her one-hour visit, Noem also said she is not in favor of Obamacare and briefly described an alternative involving risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions, defined her role in revamping Veterans Affairs to give better health care to veterans, described the voting process in Congress and said she never wanted a job that involved public speaking before running for public office.

Noem is in her third term in the U.S. House of Representatives and is the first South Dakotan to serve on the Ways and Means committee. She will be up for election again in 2016.

Noem also visited the Rotary Club in Gregory before traveling to Vermillion Wednesday. She said making these visits was one of her favorite parts of her job in Congress.

"This is one of those weeks when we're not in session in Washington, D.C.," Noem said, "so it's always nice for me when I have time, to come to those areas of South Dakota that I can't hit on the weekends, especially schools."

Noem also planned to visit the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.