Congressman Scott Peters Discusses Current Political Climate In DC
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, is dealing with an unprecedented political environment in Washington. The third term Democrat represents the 52nd district in San Diego and he’s home during the congressional recess. KPBS Reporter Erik Anderson spoke with Peters about his priorities for the 115th Congress.
Q. What are your priorities for the congressional session?
A. I've always built my service around San Diego. Driven by tourism, the military, science and innovation. So, I think creating jobs in the innovation economy is really important. I’m on a new committee, Energy and Commerce, that has that jurisdiction. I’ll also be on the Veterans Committee this year, the Veterans Affairs Committee, so I’ll be continuing my work to serve veterans. To make sure that they’re taken care of, have opportunities to get employment. And I will continue to keep an eye on the important investment of the military in San Diego and the partnership between San Diego and our national defense.
Q. You talk about partnership. What about the partnership between the rest of the congressional delegation?
A. I’m really proud of how well the five of us work together on San Diego issues. I think it started with the $500 million we got to help finish the investment at the San Ysidro border crossing. We knew that delays at the border were costing the economy tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of economic activity. And the five of us came together, and we don’t always vote alike, but on San Diego stuff we are able to work together. We continue to see that, that we can come together on regional issues and I think it’s a pretty good set of working operatives right now in our delegation.
Q. Talk to me a little bit about the political climate in Washington D.C. these days.
A. One of the most surprising things to me since I started, and this is now my third term, I started in 2013 — was how political it is. When I was a city council president we didn’t really worry too much about who was a Democrat and who was a Republican. But that seems to be much more defining in terms of the political landscape right now. Now we’re going into an era where, with President Trump, it’s an added overlay of kind of angry talk that comes from the Republican base. About immigration. So, I think, it’s not that people are mean to each other but it’s really hard to find that middle ground sometimes, even though that’s where I try to be.
Q. So how do you make legislative progress? How do you get bills, get that cooperation across the aisle?
A. I’ve come off two terms on the Armed Services Committee and that was a naturally bipartisan effort. It’s all about building relationships and trust with your co-legislators. Making sure that you understand their interests, what they need. And you make sure they know what you need. And give sense that you’ll take care of each other. This is my second term on our bipartisan working group which is a group of 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans who get together every week and work on areas … we’re not going to fix the tax code there, or immigration law, but we work on areas where we could agree on smaller things from a D.C. perspective, but they could make a difference. And that’s what we’ll have to do. I think that the Republicans are going to be under some pressure to be a little bit more independent from the president, because he’s proposing a lot of things that aren’t naturally Republican ideas. He’s sort of anti-trade. I’m a pro trade Democrat. One of the few. The way he’s talking about a border adjustment tax and the wall is kind of antithetical to a lot of Republican ideas. He’s sort of pro-Russia in a way that’s not traditionally Republican. And the way he’s treated immigration is really bad for the business community. The Chamber of Commerce really wanted to do immigration reform. That doesn’t seem to be the way this president is headed. So, I think Republicans in Congress are going to have to reach a point where they say, listen, we’re going to work with reasonable Democrats or other Republicans to get things done. And I’ll be looking for that moment.
Q. Is that a moment you think will happen sooner rather than later?
A. I’m amazed at how closely they’ve (Republicans) held onto the Trump presidency. Even this far. We’re a month in. Some of the stuff he’s said has been remarkable. The whole issues around his tax returns and owning a hotel. That’s got to concern a reasonable legislator. The whole relationship with Putin. Just to let that slide by. I don’t think that goes on for long. I’m surprised it’s taken this long. I think there will be pressure growing over time from the country to take up some of these issues. That we all can agree on in terms of ethics.