Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

Congressman Juan Vargas On Syria, Immigration and Filner

August 29, 2013 1:41 p.m.


Juan Vargas, U.S. Representitive, (CA-51st)

Related Story: Congressman Juan Vargas On Syria, Immigration and Filner


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Stay with us. Coming up next first-term congressman Juan Vargas will join us he's replaced Bob Filner this year for the 41st District that's Chula Vista, East County and Imperial Valley. We will find out if he's making headway in Congress. You are listening to Midday Edition on KPBS I am Alison St. John and for Maureen Cavanaugh. Congress is on recess and KPBS has invited each of San Diego's five congressional delegations to join us in studio for an update. Today we are joined by Congressman one practice representing San Diego's 51st District. He's the first Latino to represent the district. The 51st covers the very southernmost part of the San Diego County that is Chula Vista, National City and El Centro and it spreads out along the border to include Imperial Valley and down to the Salton Sea. Thank you so much for joining us, Congressman Vargas.

JUAN VARGAS: It's a pleasure to be here with you, thank you.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Let's talk about something that's weighing on everybody's minds this week, Syria and reports that the government has used chemical weapons on its citizens. What do you think the US response should be?

JUAN VARGAS: Well it seems fairly clear and when we do have to have a little bit more information to make sure to make sure it is the fact that Syria has used chemical weapons on their people and it looks like they have. If they did cross the line and I do think that's a red line, there has to be a response not only a US response but there has to be an international response. You know, gassing your own people is something that the world can't stand for.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So what are our options?

JUAN VARGAS: Our options are many but they have to be severe. You know we could try potentially crippling sanctions, we could do other things but I think in this instance we are probably going to have a military response and it's probably going to be a significant one.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Would you like to see a vote in Congress before any strike is authorized?

JUAN VARGAS: It depends on the level of the strike so if in fact we're going to take out some of their air capabilities, let's say the ability of them, the Syrian government to deliver more of these blasts, these chemical blasts against their people, no I think the president can act in that instance however if it's going to be more than that I think it will require and he should come to the Congress to get authorization.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Okay, let's move onto another big issue in Washington immigration reform. As one of your priorities obviously the Senate has passed an immigration reform bill is the house going to vote on one?

JUAN VARGAS: I hope so we're not going to vote the Senate bill and there are some parts of the Senate bill that I don't like at all. The militarization of the border is downright dumb. Putting in a $30 billion to supposedly defend our border is absolutely asinine and a wrong way to go. We will have more federal border agents or guards defending the borders that we have in the demilitarized zone in North Korea and South Korea. It just doesn't make any sense at all.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Some people are arguing that it would be better to try to break up immigration reform into some segments. You think that would be a good way and if so how could you break it up so that you might get some consensus?

JUAN VARGAS: I don't think that it is a good prospect and a good procedure I think you have to have comprehensive immigration reform I think if you just pick and choose a few things it will not pass. I think it would be a very difficult thing to do however I am not against passing one small part of this reform to get it into a conference committee. I think we have to get the conference committee interestingly when you get some senators, some Congress members to get together, they look at a bill, they pass a bill and send it to the respective houses and voted up or down. I don't think the bill that the Congress sends has to be comprehensive in nature but I think ultimately we have to have a comprehensive bill that deals with immigration.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: What do you say to those people who argue that immigrations are a drain on the taxpayers?

JUAN VARGAS: First of all it's not your every city that's been done shows it's just the opposite in fact how valuable immigrants are. Every only one city said it was and he was propped up by a group that wanted the outcome but every study says just the opposite that it would be great for the economy, great for Medicare great for Social Security, great for everybody including these people living here in the shadow so is the right thing to do it's the smart thing to do it's something we ought to do and I think ultimately we will do it.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Do you have any limits at all on the people that there should be a path to citizenship for?

JUAN VARGAS: No, I think there should be a path to citizenship and one issue comes up and that is the issue of some people who have committed crimes and one of the crimes that always comes up is prostitution you know most of the women that got caught up they are mostly women that got caught up in prostitution they were trafficked most of them were kids, young gals that were brought here under human trafficking instances and all of a sudden they get caught in prostitution. So they've been victimized once and now we are going to victimize them again. That is the wrong way to go. We have to give these people an opportunity to change their lives let them know you are brought here is a 13-year-old is a prostitute now you are 20 and have a criminal record but why in the world would we victimize that person again?

ALLISON ST. JOHN: What kind of conditions would you place on people that are seeking a path to citizenship?

JUAN VARGAS: I think it has to be earned citizenship there has to be time when they prove themselves yet they want to be American citizens you follow the rules and regulations yes they are employed or they are part of the family structure, that they don't require government help, so I would put those kind of requirements it. But I would put them in more because I think they are necessary to pass the bill, not because I think they're necessarily the best idea because I do believe we should be a compassionate nation and I believe the notion that we are our brother's keeper and I think that is one of the things that makes us a strong nation so there are people who have disabilities people that are living that I would allow them to be citizens to but since the process will not allow for that I say okay it's not going to be a perfect bill I think it would be a more humane bill if we allow it but there's a lot of opposition.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Well, let's talk about jobs which is a big issue for your district as well as all of us. So, the Imperial Valley which is part of your district has an unemployment rate of about 24% but it's been as high as 30%. So what can be done to boost economic growth in the region?

JUAN VARGAS: One of the things we're doing and why it's at 24% as opposed to 30 and higher when it was actually higher than 30, is we've been able to bring a lot of alternative energy sources down there and use them for projects for example we have a lot of geothermal plants and the geothermal plants are particularly good source of alternative energy because it is renewable and not only that but it goes into the baseload. So we do get wind sometimes and when is pretty good but when it doesn't blow you are not getting any electricity. The same things with solar, solar is great but so you cannot rely on. This geothermal, you can't. It works all the time. You put it into your baseloads, it's great stuff and that's what we've been encouraging. It's costly. It costs a lot of money to get these plants up and running but once you do it is perfect employment for people people can live on those jobs they are good jobs good paying jobs.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: What are you doing in Congress to help that happen?

JUAN VARGAS: What we are attempting to escape some of the incentives the federal government has no there's but opposition by Republicans but we are trying to keep all the incentives in place because we think it's very important not only for implementing Imperial County but also for us to get weaned off the oil from the Middle East. We need to have our renewable sources of energy. We've got great ones here in southern California we've got terrific ones in my district that provide great jobs. Let's encourage those by some subsidies right now. They will need them forever but they certainly need them now, let's do this.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: I hear what you're saying about geothermal but solar we are talking about the desert, where does it stand in your plans?

JUAN VARGAS: Solar, too I think they are interesting (inaudible) we had a lot of solar projects go up and I hope we get many many more. So I am encouraged by that. But at the same time solar does have some limitations. You know, solar does have some limitations in that you know it is not always sunny.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Even in Imperial County

JUAN VARGAS: Even in Imperial County absolutely even in Imperial County we just had lots of rain there, it was not very sunny at all.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Agriculture has been the main propensity for the opposition are you counting resistance from people to diversify beyond agricultural to create jobs?

JUAN VARGAS: Yes there is some resistance interestingly and the reason for that is some of the land that's been very productive agriculturally is being transformed into fields of solar plants and a lot of the farmers say wait a minute you are taking agricultural land and transforming it in a way you should why don't you go to the desert areas where it's not agricultural why don't you use those areas, why is it that you take good agricultural land and use it for solar or alternative energy plants and wind or whatever is opposed to the areas not being used for anything so there is some resistance.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Where do you stand on that because obviously the issue of water plays into that as well.

JUAN VARGAS: Is the issue of water but interestingly if you talk to people that build solar plants and wind farms they say it is not so much water, it is the regulations and since this area isalready zoned since it's easily transferable into a solar plant or wind farm when you go into a plant that's not being used a lot of it's being controlled by the federal regulations difficult to get to so they cannot complete the plant in time to get it financed so they want to build a big facility they cannot get the financing for it because it takes too long.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Where would you come down in that particular dilemma?

JUAN VARGAS: That particular dilemma is that they are right it does take too long so if you are a business person and you want to put up a large solar plane did you say I want to build it out here in this desert it might be the Bureau of land management and BLM, might be controlled by another government or it might be privately and that requires a lot of environmental review. It will take two, three, four, five, 10 years to get to the process and in the time you can finance the project you will lose the financing so you can't build it. So it's a difficult decision.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So the challenge is to find an alternative to farming?

JUAN VARGAS: Yes in many ways, not necessarily alternatives. You have to have farming, firming up there is in the right place and it's the right thing to do but at the same time I think you can enhance it with alternative energy sources out there as well as manufacturing and lots of other things but I'm not in favor of doing away with farming is great agricultural land and we do need to feed not only our own people but the rest of the world I think we should do that.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Let's go back to San Diego and the big story here has been the resignation of the myriad you did serve as a city Council member on the city of San Diego in 1990 so you probably have a perspective what is your reaction to the resignation?

JUAN VARGAS: Wow. I mean really, wow. You know, Bob and I have had a difficult history. I ran against Bob three times for this Congressional seat so Bob and I are not amigos but in the last race I did support Bob and the reason I did was I thought problem I would be a disaster for the city. So I swallowed hard and I said I will support him. I'm a Democrat. Pretty progressive one, and I thought Bob will bring my writings to this job you know progressive Mayor, moving the city forward, taking care of neighborhoods, guy who believes in a poor, women's rights, minority rights. I was very excited to support and even though I thought his personality was terrible, I still think that. However I was shocked at the sexual harassment. I did not know that people say all the Democrats knew. I didn't know. It's a price, if I would've known I would've used it against him I ran against him three times he would've been a legitimate issue to bring up but I did not know.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Do you think his resignation, how much do think it may have tarnished the reputation of this region?

JUAN VARGAS: It has tarnished it tremendously. It's been a huge black eye. And it's been a huge black eye for our community and unfortunately also for a lot of those of us who believe in progressive politics.You know we had a champion here and we had clay feet and it looks bad.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Any tips for how Todd Gloria who will take over in the interim should do to stabilize the city?

JUAN VARGAS: I think he's going to do a good job. I have faith in Todd. He's doing a good job and personally I've known him a long time and I think he's going to do a great job now there are other, I don't think he's going to run for mayor ultimately and there's a couple other great candidates. I love Nathan Fletcher and I'm solidly behind him and I hope he wins and then I'm not supposed to say that may be in this thing but I think the world of him but it's hopefully that I

ALLISON ST. JOHN: It's always interesting to know where people stand so thanks for that. Just today we learned that the president has unveiled some new steps to close loopholes in the ways that guns are imported into the country and falling into the wrong hands, where do you stand on the new measures that he's proposed?

JUAN VARGAS: I have not seen them all, but I certainly am supportive of all measures to control gun, I mean the gun violence has been incredible in our country. I mean it is a horrible state. So many innocent people are killed because of guns and we have to control this gun violence. So I am in favor and if you look at my record, I have literally voted for every bill that has come before the state assembly and the state Senate to control gun violence in the same way in the Congress I will be a leader once again and trying to control gun violence so I praise the president's and hope we can do more.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: I want to get your take on sequestration which is affecting a lot of areas across the board where do you think that cuts are most damaging we are you most concerned about the effects of sequestration?

JUAN VARGAS: The sequestration has really hurt the poor the most if you take a look at head start if you take a look at the young kids that will he rely on these programs they have been decimated and it's been very painful. But you also take a look at the military I was talking to the commandant of the Marines who said they will have to come back some of them ammunition 30% so they'll be training Marines going pow pow as opposed to shooting real bullets and these guys better know how to use their rifles and they can't if we are taking all their practice ammunition away, so the sequestration has not hit the middle class much as has not hit the wealthy at all but it's done great harm to the poor and it's done great harm to the military and other aspects of our society and sequestration comes it's interesting word that comes from the Latin term Sequi which really means to society and in Spanish sequestration is sequestracion, which is kidnapping and I think that's a more important term, kidnapping that is what happened here.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: That is a unique take on that. Just one less question is been in Congress now for the last six months at the beginning you said you were surprised at the level of dysfunction there. Are you finding it more difficult to get things done than you did in Sacramento?

JUAN VARGAS: Absolutely. It's been very interesting even the farm bill for example I chaired a couple large committees in the assembly and the Senate and there was in the farm bill both the form side and the food stamp program these very conservative right wing Republicans tea party guys so you have to make deep changes but the Democrats say we will not pass the bill so the Republicans and make these deep cuts as an amendment and the bill fails because the same people that wanted the cuts, the tea party guys will not vote for. I'm taking this is political malpractice. You put an amendment in for this group of people that are not going to vote for the bill anyway and the bill fails. We've got to be nuts. It's a shock to me. It's political malpractice.

ALLISON ST. JOHN: So any hope for you to accomplish stuff in the next three or four years?

JUAN VARGAS: I think so I have great faith in our system and great faith in a lot of for publicans to that they will come to their senses and not follow the most extreme in their party because that is what has happened a lot of these guys are afraid of their own shadows they think they will get primaried so instead of thinking rationally they try to out right wing the right wing and that is not leading us to a positive place I'm hoping the Republicans will see that and we will start working again

ALLISON ST. JOHN: Great, Congressman Vargas, thank you so much for coming in.

JUAN VARGAS: Thank you so much. Always a pleasure.