ANDOVER -- The Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted Massachusetts Congressmen Niki Tsongas and Seth Moulton last week for a discussion on the challenges facing the country this year.

Residents gathered with local officials such as Andover Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski and Methuen Mayor Steve Zanni in the function room of the Wyndham Hotel for the event, as did state leaders Sen. Barbara L'Italien (D-Andover) and Rep. Diana Dizoglio (D-Methuen), among others.

In her speech, Tsongas, a Democrat from Lowell, outlined topics important to business owners, including manufacturing and partnerships, saying, "the challenge to our middle class is something that we're becoming ever more, unfortunately, familiar with."

She said she'd like to see businesses employ a "make it in America" approach, using Lawrence's New Balance factory as an example. It's a company, she said, that's "committed to producing an all-American made product."

But facing tough challenges, Tsongas said, is a result of working with the other side of the aisle, or bipartisan collaboration. While she said it's something that needs improvement, she said it's not entirely uncommon in Washington.

Tsongas said she's friends with Congressman Michael Turner (R-Ohio). They have even visited each other's states. Tsongas said she showed Turner the New Balance factory in Lawrence to see the work going on there, for the company is hoping to create a training shoe for new military recruits.

On a larger scale, Tsongas said that Republicans and Democrats sometimes join together for "retreats." She said she recently joined several members of both parties from the Armed Services Committee on a bus trip to Annapolis, Md., to visit the Naval Academy.

"We had different speakers come to talk about the security threats that we confront," she said. "And then we all went back on that bus. And we all came out alive."

Moulton spoke about his recent trip to the Middle East, which ended Feb. 20. He joined U.S. Reps. Brad Ashford (D-Nebraska), Elise Stefanik (R-New York) and Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) on the week-long House Armed Services Committee delegation, stopping in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other countries.

Of the several topics Moulton touched on, including education and commercial fishing, he addressed President Obama's recent war declaration to fight ISIS. A U.S. Marine veteran who was among the first troops in Iraq, Moulton said that what he saw on his return was alarming.

"ISIS is a serious national security threat to the United States," he said. "Sometimes, when you get into the classified side of things, you realize, 'Oh it's not as bad as the media and everybody else is making it out to be.' Well, I think, unfortunately, in this case it's the opposite. It was worse than what we see on the evening news."

While he said ISIS is something the United States needs to address, he doesn't believe it should involve ground troops. Moulton said that while the military achieved great success in Iraq during his time there, the larger diplomatic and political effort wasn't strong enough, leaving ISIS to form "in that vacuum."

It's something he doesn't want to see happen in another three or four years, he said.

"I think going to Iraq once was one time too many," he said. "Now, we're looking at doing it twice. And I certainly don't want to do it three times."

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