Democratic Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego will discuss immigration, gun control and other issues in Congress.
Jose Cardenas: Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego discusses his first year in Congress, the presidential campaigns, and other issues. Coming up next on "Horizonte."
Video: "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.
Jose Cardenas: Arizona Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego represents Arizona's 7th congressional district. Representative Gallego is in his second year in Congress. Joining me now to talk about that first year, issues facing Capitol Hill and presidential politics are Congressman Ruben Gallego. Welcome back to Arizona. It has been a busy first year.
Ruben Gallego: It has been.
Jose Cardenas: Tumultuous.
Ruben Gallego: Busy year but good year overall.
Jose Cardenas: Let's start with the highs and lows and then we will dig into specific issues.
Ruben Gallego: Definitely the highs were seeing the Pope and the Pope addressing Congress. Obviously inauguration, having my family there. I think a couple of good bipartisan bills passed by Congress. The lows were attempts at shutting down the DACA and shutting down -- almost shutting down the government. I introduced a bill that would have helped, not mandated but helped DACA recipients serve in the military. A couple of right wing members of Congress almost shut down the whole military budget because I was able to get that amendment in. Those were some of the low points, really, when I look back at this year.
Jose Cardenas: And you touched on some of the issues that we want to discuss here. In the news because the Supreme Court is going to hear the issue as to whether the president has the authority to extend some of the protections already in existence through DACA and extend them to parents. Any hopes that that issue is going to be addressed any time soon by Congress? Presumably not during an election year, but in time in the near future after that?
Ruben Gallego: Hopefully after this election it will be addressed. What we will see again is the pathway to the White House comes through the Latino community and now the -- also the Asian community too. And they do look at immigration and immigration issues as a litmus test to see if they're going to vote for you, and I think DACA is a humanitarian way to deal with the loggerhead we have in Congress and the fact that we have every major candidate on the Republican side saying they are overturn the president executive action is scary for a lot of families depending on this.
Jose Cardenas: We did a show a few weeks ago about a report or analysis by Roberto Suro, the head of the pew, the Hispanic research center, now at USC, suggesting immigration no longer the issue that Latinos should focus on. Is that Republicans are focusing on it because it brings out their base, and that Latinos haven't gotten much from the Democrats on that or at least they're disappointed in President Obama. Your views on this?
Ruben Gallego: I think at the same time we have to look at what has occurred through a lot of work and in regards to a lot of obstructionism from the Republicans, too. You know, we got pretty close to passing a bill and ended up unfortunately not being brought up in the Republican-controlled Congress and made it through the Senate. And it was by the choice of Speaker Boehner to make sure that it didn't happen. The president did push the Dream Act. When he did not get that, he instituted DACA and pushed forward with DAPA in addition to a lot of other reforms. Has it been perfect? But to say that Democrats have not done anything is an absolute lie. Many of us have not just fought for that, but we're fighting for ST-1070, and back in the day when these things were extremely popular and many Democrats lost their careers trying to defend our immigrant communities and our values, more importantly. And I think in the future, while it may not be the thing that the Latino community is most worried about, it does tell us how you feel about us. If you do not believe in comprehensive immigration reform you do not at least believe in preserving DACA, it tells us that you do not care about the rest of the things that matter to us, such as education funding, health care, retirement, things of that nature.
Jose Cardenas: Before the current campaigns -- the views of the Republican Parties ignored those issues or were anti-immigrant but this seems to be the predominant theme of all of the front runners. Ugly rhetoric out there. Your reaction?
Ruben Gallego: Not surprised. This is what the Republican Party created on itself for many years, towing the line with xenophobia and trying to play both sides of the issue. In the primary, very anti-immigrant, and then in the general, they will try to slide back and hope to pick up some votes. At the end of the day, their own party apparatus, apparatus that they created based on many people that were afraid of the new America, new immigrants, started taking over. And now they are fully taking over and they are going to really exert their power within the Republican Party and this is, you know, something that I would say they created their own Frankenstein, and this is the result of that.
Jose Cardenas: I don't know if you had any contact with two of the front runners, Rubio and Cruz, but what do you think the prospects are that we might have a Republican nominee who is Hispanic? And, B, maybe a president who is Hispanic?
Ruben Gallego: Could be good. It is hard to tell. I mean, Rubio is doing everything he can to definitely attract the base of the Republican Party, abandoned all of his principles when it comes to Congress immigration reform, he moved beyond not just being against immigration reform, he is moving closer to mass deportation, executive action, so, if the base of the Republican Party believes him, and thinks he is sincere, then maybe he has a chance. I think Cruz probably has a better chance at this point because in the mind of many of the base Republican voters, that he has been very true against immigration reform. So, the chances are there. The chances are still good that Trump could actually win this. Either one, whether it's Trump, Cruz, Rubio, it really is not to a benefit of the Latino community. Not just on immigration reform, but other areas when it comes to investments, education, health care, they all promise to overthrow the Affordable Care Act which disproportionately will affect the Latino community since we have been largely one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act.
Jose Cardenas: I know that they have been busy campaigning, but any personal involvement or interaction with Cruz or Rubio?
Ruben Gallego: I have interacted with Cruz in a social setting. Very nice man. I met his wife. We had a very cordial conversation. Other than that, I've not really had a conversation with Cruz or Rubio. The thing I've been most occupied with right now is Rubio, right now, calling out the hypocrisy of Rubio; he has been blocking the ambassador to Mexico of the United States while at the same time demanding that Mexico extradite El Chapo, not realizing that they go hand in hand. This, again this is part of Rubio's shtick; he tries to have as many legs as possible.
Jose Cardenas: Presidential campaigns back to Congress. What do you think you have been able to accomplish in your first year there? You're in the minority. And decidedly so in terms of the numbers, but have you been having successes?
Ruben Gallego: A couple of areas that we have been focusing on. FAA the most important. That was a very damaging move that the FAA did by changing the flight patterns over our neighborhoods without proper input or oversight from our local citizens.
Jose Cardenas: The noise issues.
Ruben Gallego: Right. And the bureaucracy of the FAA basically cemented themselves in place and working with Republicans across the aisle as part of our delegation. And leading the charge. We have been able to push this issue forward and forward to the point where we were able to get language put into the omnibus that really will hopefully start taking care of the issues. Not fully done but we will continue to re-engage it. National Defense Authorization Act, conversation about dreamers being able to serve in the military. It became such a hot topic and came to the forefront that presidential candidates take a side on this. Something that I think that -- people didn't realize how many DACA and dreamers had wanted to serve in the military and it was a great way to bring up that new aspect, new element, really, of immigration. And also just on the NTAA as part of my service on the Armed Services Committee, we passed a lot of other amendments and also fought to keep the A-10 War Hog in place down in Tucson. Very personal to me. The A-10 War Hog was extremely helpful to me in combat in Iraq, and literally saved my life in a couple of battles. So, in a battle, I should say. And I was very proud to be part of the team that I was able to save that. In other regards, we were also able as a freshman to take leadership on a no riders policy. Teaming up with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky from Illinois, we pushed and got more than 150 members of Congress, Democrat members of Congress, we will not -- if any consequential and negative riders are attached to this budget. That helped to shape the whole budget discussion. And lastly very involved also with the Columbian peace process. Something dear to me. My mom is Columbian. Trying to create a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress that are interested in helping to assist in the peace process and the post-conflict also. We know Columbia is a stable country that the whole region will be stable and that benefits all of us.
Jose Cardenas: It sounds as if you have had a fair amount of success your first year in Congress, and yet you have been quoted recently saying it was easier to get things done in the Arizona legislature where you served for a number of years than in Congress. I think people would be surprised to hear that.
Ruben Gallego: It is. It is just different tactics. It doesn't mean you still can't get stuff done; you have to basically change your tactics. State legislature, power of one is very strong. If you believe in something and work at it hard enough you will get the bill through eventually, especially if you can convince Republicans on the other side. It is not the same in Congress. In Congress you have to work in coordination with several members of Congress, across the aisle and work in unison and step by step and accept that this is an incremental process. If you look at how we did it with the FAA, we first started by sending a letter, and then we got the whole delegation together. We sent letters and then meetings and public meetings and more meetings and all of these actions eventually ended up to creating enough pressure among all members of Congress, not just Arizona, where the FAA started to lose a lot of the legislative battles when they were trying to fight us. It requires different tactics. If you want to be successful, you have to adjust to them.
Jose Cardenas: What is the level of cooperation amongst the members of the Arizona delegation? Congressman Pastor, senior member, and you are now the junior member or one of them, how is it working?
Ruben Gallego: It depends on the issue. But when things are particularly universal, particularly universal to the members of our constituents of Arizona, you will see people working across the aisle. FAA is a good example. Working on A-10 War Hog, example. Other issues in terms of land management that we have been able to work on. It does carry on and on, including transportation funds. But it is not going to happen all of the time. It is going to be on particular issues. I have been encouraged when things are really important; delegation has to be able to get together.
Jose Cardenas: What about Congress itself? Just before the end of the year, you had speaker Boehner kind of wrapping up his term after the Pope's visit. Talk about an impact of that visit. And now you have a new speaker. Differences, your assessment of Speaker Ryan?
Ruben Gallego: Speaker Ryan I think is trying to lead a caucus that is in an internal turmoil with itself. This is why Boehner cleared what he would say the stables before he left. Passed the budget and basically left very little room for Ryan to get into a fight with his own caucus and including the omnibus that just did come out ended up having a lot of elements that were more Democratic than Republican. Definite Victory for the Democrats. I personally think there should have been more involvement in there including Puerto Rico restructuring bill. Overall a bill designed to get Democratic votes. I think Ryan is very much like Boehner, extremely conservative. Except he does it with a smile. That is about the only difference.
Jose Cardenas: A couple of issues that touched both on your services on the armed services committee and personal experience as a veteran. Isis and gun control.
Ruben Gallego: You know Isis for me is particularly personal. I fought in many of the cities where Isis has now taken over or is fighting, you know, I lost a lot of friends, you know, fighting in insurgency, and one of the things I want to make sure is that we don't just rush to war, into -- in sending ground troops and this idea that somehow it will fix all of the problems. I don't deny our ground troops, our marines, members of the army can actually take care of Isis and fairly quickly, but the problem is structurally, Iraq, middle east, has a lot of problems that are really are at the root cause of this. And us going in there and sending troops to take care of Isis would only put a bandage on a very gaping wound.
Jose Cardenas: Did we withdraw too soon?
Ruben Gallego: I don't know if we withdrew too soon. What we did with draw too soon the oversight and advice to the Iraqi government. Part of what people forget and a lot of politicians will conveniently forget this is that Iraq refused to sign a status of forces agreement. Status of forces agreement are extremely important, if they don't -- that means our soldiers, airmen, marines could be prosecuted under Iraqi law which we do not trust as judicial and just. Iraq refused to sign the agreement. We were invited by the monarchy government at that. We had no choice but to pull out as much elements as we can that were involved in direct combat. What happened after that was a total destruction of, you know, the government apparatus because of corruption. And that essentially is where, you know, this -- this void occurred.
Jose Cardenas: Concerns about terror in the homeland here, San Bernardino being the most recent example, have also driven the debates about gun control and as I recall, you noted when you were campaigning, member of the NRA --
Ruben Gallego: Was a member.
Jose Cardenas: But still in favor of some kind of gun control.
Ruben Gallego: Uh-hmm.
Jose Cardenas: Kind of puts you out on the edge at least with the people who are strong second amendment supporters.
Ruben Gallego: I think people forget a lot of strong second amendment supporters for common sense gun laws. I made that issue entering the campaign and had actually when I was in the state legislature and have since, now being in Congress. There is no reason why universal background checks should be a controversial issue. If you do not have a right to own a gun under our current laws, then you should not own a gun. It is very simple. And, therefore, if you sell a gun, you should have to do -- to a stranger, you should have to do a background check. That is essentially all that the president is saying. That is what the president's executive action is saying in regards to his most recent moves. But, you know, what has happened and when it comes to gun issues, gun issues now have become more about the gun lobby and gun industry. Not about individual ownership. And they care more, cares more about, you know, gun companies being able to sell as many guns as possible without regard to who is actually buying these weapons.
Jose Cardenas: The issues that arise in your capacity as a member of the natural resources committee don't deal directly with what is going on in Oregon, the protests about grazing leases, but still -- it is an issue of great concern nationally. Where do you stand on that? What do you see there? Are there justifiable grievances?
Ruben Gallego: Well, of course, there are justifiable grievances but not enough that you can take over a building and inconvenience other citizens because you do not believe in going through the process that has been in existence now for many years. I think they should be prosecuted. I think they should be fully prosecuted because I think this is something that will continue to spread across the country if people believe that they can do this without any kind of punishment. You know, there is many ways to fix this. But one of the most important ways to fix this, we have a democracy. If this is an issue that is important enough, then you get the right people elected and you change this in the voting booth. You don't take your guns and threaten your local community and the federal government and employees because you're throwing a temper tantrum. That is exactly what this is. One big temper tantrum and that is not the way we do things in the United States.
Jose Cardenas: Before you prosecute them you have to arrest them and there doesn't seem any way to do that without at least risk of bloodshed.
Ruben Gallego: I think -- I mean there is a lot of ways you can do this without going in there and getting them. Issuing arrest warrants to begin with. Knowing when they leave, they will be arrested. A lot of judicial procedures in terms of forfeiture laws, whether violating federal property if their vehicles are there and unattended, I believe you can take those away. A lot of ways to do this. Best way is to begin by actually explaining to them that they will be held accountable. And that is the most important thing. Right now they don't believe that.
Jose Cardenas: The ringleaders are from Arizona.
Ruben Gallego: They used to live in my district.
Jose Cardenas: Well, and some people think it just cements Arizona's reputation in some people's eyes as we are a bunch of crack pots. Have you run into that and has it been an obstacle in Washington?
Ruben Gallego: I have not run into that. Certainly more of an issue when it comes to talking to the business community, when they believe Arizona is a state that is not as welcoming as it should be. And that would be beneficial to their business climate. Among members of Congress, you know, you do hear comments once in a while. Every state is different. But, you know, the Bundy kind of persona, I think, is very much existent in almost every western state. I think the best thing we can do as a state to overcome that is to put our best foot forward. Put our best local celebrities forward and really make sure that we don't go down the road we usually do in Arizona, which is we have the legislature pass laws that get us on the daily show once or twice a year.
Jose Cardenas: Closer to home personally and politically, I assume that you spend some time keeping an eye on what is going on at the state legislature. Governor was elected when you were. Any sense as to how Governor Ducey is doing and the direction of the state?
Ruben Gallego: Well, I certainly, you know, for me I'm personally disappointed that the budget is being used in a manner that I think really undervalues the investments that we need in Arizona. I think we could definitely be putting more money to our university systems. I think the fact that JTED is basically on a lifeline and this budget doesn't do much to help that out.
Jose Cardenas: Vocational schools --
Ruben Gallego: Very important for a lot of working-class families. I think there are a lot of things that can be done with -- to be sure that we have more residency programs. A lot of things that we should be investing in, now that we have a budget surplus. Good return on our investment and not put us in a deficit in a couple of years. I'm hoping as the budget moves forward, State House, Senate and Governor will sit together and make those good investments, and I think if we do that you will have a very successful year.
Jose Cardenas: At some point you will have to start gearing up for your re-election.
Ruben Gallego: I already am. Never stopped.
Jose Cardenas: No announced candidates
Ruben Gallego: We are always preparing, always out there in our community. I'm fairly, not stopping, it's more my nature not to really take a break. But we're not going to take advantage of anything. We are going to run a full campaign no matter what.
Jose Cardenas: On a more personal note, there has to be quite an adjustment going from state legislature, Congressman and just the travel, if nothing else, and the toll that can take. How are you dealing with that?
Ruben Gallego: At first it was very difficult dealing with the travel schedule, balancing my demand of time, you know, especially when dealing with family. You know, once -- it was a couple of months, but once I figured out the schedule and what the best time was to take our flights, and then also being able to tell to my staff my family has priority and these are the times I need to spend free with my family, it really does change. But it does require you to make it a priority to stick to a schedule but also to talk to your -- the people that are basically controlling everything that you do every day so that they know that time to spend with your wife, with my mom, you know, really matters and it has to happen.
Jose Cardenas: Congressman, we're almost out of time. But I would like to wrap up with your hopes and expectations for the year ahead, your second year. You've got your feet wet. What do you expect to happen?
Ruben Gallego: I really hope that the tone actually in the national presidential election will come down. It is not good for the United States to have these kinds of conversations beyond immigration, but the fact that we're talking about open racism towards or bigotry towards Muslims is really not good. Shows a bad side to the United States and the world and really helps our enemies more than anything else. Toning down that rhetoric would be really important. Hopefully having a good rapport and work relationship with my colleagues in Arizona, which does occur, but continue pushing forward with that and passing, some good bipartisan legislation that benefits Arizona would be good.
Jose Cardenas: Hope to see you again, maybe sooner than a year. Thank you for coming by again.
Ruben Gallego: Thank you for your time.
Jose Cardenas: A pleasure. Thank you.
Ruben Gallego: Thank you.
Jose Cardenas: And that's our show for tonight. Thank you for watching. From all of us here at "Horizonte" and your Arizona PBS station, I'm Jose Cardenas. Have a good evening.
Video: "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.
In this segment:
Ruben Gallego:Democratic Arizona Congressman