Local Congress members' collegiality seems a world away from Washington
“I’d love to see Congress work as well as San Diego does,” Davis said, referring to the local delegation.Give this to San Diego’s congressional delegation: The members may be divided along partisan lines on big-picture issues, but they’re rather civil about it.
When they get together back here to discuss their views, disagreements and collaborations, it seems San Diego is light-years away from Washington, D.C., not a mere 2,200 or so miles.
They are knowledgeable, humorous, collegial and on occasion show a genuine affection for working with one another.
But that’s not new to anyone who has attended the annual San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Congressional Luncheon, and the one held Friday at the downtown Omni hotel held true to form.
At times it was hard to believe they belong to the same Congress that is seen as a bitterly partisan, divided, angry and often dysfunctional body.
Present Friday were Democrats Susan Davis, Scott Peters, Juan Vargas and Republican Darrell Issa. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter couldn’t make it, but when he has been present, the vibe is similar, as it was last year when all five were in attendance.
Differences aside on the volatile national issues of the day, the delegation has long been lauded for pulling together on important local issues, such as their successful efforts to win massive funding to improve border crossings — and expedite commerce — with Mexico.
The moderator underscored that as she opened the question-and-answer session with the four representatives. Members of San Diego’s congressional delegation “understand the power of collaboration,” said Monica Rodriguez, senior director of governmental affairs for Qualcomm.
“I’d love to see Congress work as well as San Diego does,” Davis said, referring to the local delegation.
To a person, they said there are good personal relationships in Congress across the aisle — Davis noted this was particularly the case among women, in her view — and that bipartisan coalitions can be cobbled together on specific projects.
Peters said some important progress doesn’t get much attention, particularly on issues affecting veterans and commerce.
“I think there’s a lot getting done maybe under the radar,” said Peters, who sits on panels that deal with both areas.
The members expressed frustration with not only the leadership of the opposing party, but sometimes their own — particularly on the failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform. They didn’t dwell on the differences among themselves.
“That dialogue hasn’t gone on on either side of the aisle,” Issa said.
“Both sides are at fault here,” said Vargas, adding that Democrats couldn’t move the ball forward when they were in control.
Peters sounded a bit angry about a sweeping immigration bill that got out of the Senate five years ago but collapsed when Republican leaders did not allow a vote in the House.
Issa had a similar tone when he mentioned a bill to reform rules on H-1B visas for specialty workers such as those sought by technology industries. The measure had bipartisan support — the entire San Diego delegation was on board and it cleared the House Judiciary Committee. But it never got a floor vote.
“That irritates all of us,” Issa said.
Asked about the potential for impeachment proceedings against Trump if Democrats take over the House, none of the three San Diego party members said it would be a good idea simply because they gained the majority. Barring some legal reason to act, they said Democrats should focus on flipping the White House in 2020.
On trade policy, Issa didn’t defend Trump’s bludgeoning approach, but he agreed with the administration that the United States was being hurt by unfair practices by China, the European Union and Canada.
Davis objected to how Trump has dealt with Mexico and Canada, saying the U.S. neighbors deserved reasonable if tough negotiations.
Vargas said a trade war wouldn’t do the U.S. any good, but said the country was not being treated fairly by some major trade partners.
“It’s not what we do, it’s how we do it,” said Issa. He then said to Vargas, “Is that a fair assessment?”
“Yeah, that’s probably not bad,” Vargas responded.
Peters got a hearty laugh from the crowd about one idea to move the ball forward on trade: “I think we should name the Trans Pacific Partnership the Trump Pacific Partnership and give him credit.”
The session was devoid of the kind of rancor Issa has faced from the anti-Trump resistance that helped push him to retire from Congress when his current term ends. It was just the opposite. As the delegation looks ahead to the new congressional year, Vargas said they will miss Issa a great deal. “He always comes through,” Vargas said.
The patter between Vargas and Issa at times seemed as if they were auditioning for a buddy movie — lots of good times and jokes. The audience ate it up.
“Juan is willing to travel with me and eat things he never thought he would eat, in places he thought he never wanted to go,” Issa said. “So, when you need to go places to see things, you take Juan. It’s kind of a bonding experience.”
“He’s much nicer than everybody thinks,” Vargas replied, eliciting a roar from the crowd. “He’s actually a good guy.”