Yesterday, I posted the first of a two-part interview, conducted on January 3, with U.S. Rep. (D) Salud Carbajal who represents California’s 24th District. Along with his committee assignments in congress, Carbajal is part of another vital group in our nation’s capital.
You’re part of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of bipartisan members who are committed to working together on key issues. On their website, you state, “There is more that unites than divides us, and no single party has a monopoly on good ideas.”
This is the most divided country in decades. How can you get your message out to those who firmly believe that the president is working for the best interests of the country?
My message is clear. When this president does something that I agree with, I will support it, like the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement].
The president negotiated an agreement. It wasn’t a good agreement, but it was better than the previous agreement, NAFTA [North America Free Trade Agreement]. However, the House negotiations made it a better bill on three fronts: environmental, labor standards and prescription drug costs. Vital issues that were embedded in that agreement were strengthened by Democrats.
At the end of the day, it was an agreement, initiated by the president, that I could get behind. So, when this president does something good, I’m glad to support him.
However, when the president breaks the law; when the president works to divide us as a country rather than unite us; when this president works to undermine our economy by making trade policy from the hip, I will stand up every day to point out those shortcomings. And when he breaks the law, I believe we have a constitutional responsibility to hold him accountable as we did by moving forward with impeachment.
Has USMCA been approved by the Senate?
It is scheduled to be approved in the upcoming week. (USMCA was approved in a bipartisan vote on Jan. 16.)
What is the Problem Solvers Caucus currently working on?
We’ve been working on a number of issues: infrastructure and lowering prescription drug costs are two of the main issues; also addressing veterans’ rights and benefits.
Veterans’ issues have been problematic before Trump took office. Why can’t this be resolved?
The VA system is a good system, but it’s far from being an excellent system. It’s tragic that we haven’t been able to implement the type of sustainable change that would bring about the higher quality of care and support that we all want for our veterans.
Over Christmas, I spoke with someone at a family gathering and explained that I was planning to interview a U.S. Congressman. I asked her, “If you had one question to ask a U.S. congressman, what would that be?”
Her question: “How do you reconcile your personal beliefs with your job as a congressman?”
I think that is one of the most challenging balancing acts that every member of congress faces.
I think that when people elect a member to either the House or Senate, [the voters] know the positions the representative or senator stand on. They know as much as they can about their personal philosophy and ideology, and they expect us to try to balance personal values with the issues that concern them most.
My process begins by asking a few questions of myself before considering legislation or voting on an issue:
- How will this impact my district, the people I represent?
- How will this legislation impact the state: good, bad or indifferent?
- Finally, is it in keeping with my values? I would never do anything that was not ethical or not part of my own values.
So, I kind of go through that process and try to come up with a decision, especially on the more challenging bills. There’s always room for compromise. That’s what legislators do. It’s working with each other to find common ground. That’s what people expect us to do in our democracy. However, there are some things that aren’t negotiable and those are civil rights.
Civil rights, human rights are not negotiable. And that’s something that I draw a hard line on. But for the most part, there’s a lot of room for negotiation. Maybe things aren’t perfect today, but you continue to work on them knowing that there’s another day to make it better.
You must continue to find the balance that you think still represents your values and also represents the best interests of those you represent.
Can you give me an example?
There was a question of funding that would have shut down the government during one of the most disastrous times for Santa Barbara county.
When we had the Montecito debris flow that happened as a result of one of the largest fires in California’s history, we lost 23 individuals. [Flooding occurred two years ago after a heavy rain that caused a massive mud flow, devastating the community]. Big tragedy.
At the same time, the whole debate in Washington was about keeping the government open or not. Some Democrats were willing to hold out and shut down the government because they believed that it would be a good statement, a negotiation statement. Negotiation, keyword, to hold out their vote in exchange for other considerations.
For me, it wasn’t about politics. It was about keeping our government open because my district needed the resources to be available, so that we could have the Army Corps of Engineers do the work that needed to be done; so we could have FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Administration] front and center; so we could have the SBA [Small Business Administration] there to help, to name just a few.
In Washington, there’s always the play and debate of negotiation to achieve an upper hand on issues. However, the Democrats were in the minority. I was in the minority. But Republicans did not have all the votes necessary to keep the government open. The Democrats wanted to negotiate a better deal. I was caught in the middle. I could not engage in such considerations of politics. I had to vote for what was in the best interests of my constituents and my value of caring, not politics.
In the end, there were enough votes to keep the government open. I was one of six Democrats that voted to keep the government open.
That’s one example: voting for the best interests of my district versus politics.
While we have a Democrat majority in the House, we have worked to hold this president accountable, but we have also worked on substantive issues to improve the quality of life, a better life for all Americans.