The New Majority in D.C.

Rep. Salud Carbajal's Second Term Brings New Challenges

Carbajal said he’s excited by the diversity and drive of the new Congress.

Paul Wellman

Carbajal said he’s excited by the diversity and drive of the new Congress.

Representative Salud Carbajal began his second term in Congress this week investigating the death of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who died while in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol custody on December 24, 2018. Carbajal was one of several Democratic congressional members to visit the Alamogordo, New Mexico, facility and the New Mexico Highway 70 checkpoint on Monday morning. Gomez Alonzo and his father were held at both locations.

In a press conference following the tour, the members of Congress criticized President Trump’s claims of a national security crisis at the border. Instead, they described the situation as a humanitarian crisis and said Trump’s policies were exacerbating the issue by forcing people to cross illegally when they were turned away from ports of entry. Carbajal spoke about “inadequate medical care” and an “inadequate plan to get [migrants] food” at the facilities they visited. “No American would be proud of the way we’re treating these folks,” said Texas Representative Joaquin Castro.

The Independent caught up with Carbajal following his tour. He talked about the border wall, government shutdown, and the 116th Congress. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.

What are your thoughts on Trump threatening to declare a national emergency in order to get funding for the wall? Clearly he has fabricated a national security emergency, and he is doing that for political reasons. Trump has lied time and time again to the American people, and he’s doing that again. The American public overwhelmingly sees that it would be ineffective, a waste of resources. Instead, money should be spent on technology to secure our borders or more personnel. I ask agents point blank, “What do you need?” [They say] we need more boots on the ground. We need better and more technology. That’s what they’re telling us.

Do you think Democrats would be willing to fund either part of or all of the wall in exchange for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)? Would you move forward with such a deal? This president needs to put forward comprehensive immigration reform. Being part of this political game is not gonna serve anyone. He is not putting anything on the table other than this wall.

Trump has said that he’s willing to keep the government shut down for months or years. How much longer do you think the shutdown will continue? Nationwide, we have 800,000 workers and families who are hurting right now, and that is atrocious and shameful. This president doesn’t have their well-being in mind. He’s playing politics.

Do you think Trump will agree to a deal? Or will Congress have to pass a bill by two-thirds vote? Next week, the House will start to put forward individual appropriation bills. Instead of doing them all together like we voted on, we are going to start putting appropriations forward to open the government, one bill at a time.

How has the shutdown affected the 24th District? We know there are 30,000 people in the State of California furloughed or working without pay. In Santa Barbara, we have a number of TSA, Treasury, Social Security, and federal court system employees who have been affected.

You’ve now been sworn in with the 116th Congress, the most diverse in history. What was that like? There’s a lot of energy, a lot of diversity, a lot of momentum. It’s exhilarating. It’s exciting, but I will remind everyone: Governing is a lot harder than people think. With great power comes great responsibility, and it means dealing with the diverse opinions and views that we all have, trying to find consensus, and that is a challenge we welcome. We’re able to discuss bold ideas, bold concepts, bold proposals. At the end of the day, we’ll come up with the path that we think is best for our country and for all of our districts.

How is it different from your first term? My first term was an interesting time with this administration taking office and all the trials and tribulations and corruption that it has displayed over the last two years. As Senator Mitt Romney said, this president has not risen to the position of president. Now, in my second term, to be in a position where we took over the House, we are now the checks and balances to a runaway train. To be able to put on the brakes and have a say is absolutely very gratifying. Not only gratifying to me, but to the American public that roared and spoke loudly in this last election. The American public wanted to make a statement: Enough with corruption, enough with the erratic behavior and the complicit nature of Congress with this president. That’s why I think HR1 [a package of political reforms] is so important. The American people wanted us to address all of those issues, and certainly that’s what one of our first pieces of legislation does.

How do you feel about the new Democratic, so-called “radical members”? I welcome everyone. I think it’s great to have different points of view and a diversity of opinions. I think we will find our common ground and coalesce into a platform and policies that serve our entire country. So I feel good about it.

Do you think they will make it harder to find bipartisan solutions? Or lead to division within the Democratic Party? We should never fear diversity. Diversity brings different ideas and perspectives to the table. It is always harder when you have more diverse opinions; I think that’s a natural byproduct. But that’s our democracy; it’s important to embrace it.

There’s been talk about impeaching the president. What are your thoughts? We need to wait for the Mueller investigation to come to fruition and to be completed. We can’t put the cart before the horse, because then this becomes a partisan effort. Impeaching the president is such an important and sensitive issue that we should do it when all the facts are out, the investigation has been concluded, and if that warrants impeachment, it should be a bipartisan effort, because national security and the interests of our country should transcend party each and every day.

What are your thoughts on the Green New Deal (GND)? It provides a lot of great components. I’ve been working on these issues. I was in President Obama’s climate-action task force, and I’ve always been a proponent of addressing climate change and income disparity issues. But again, I’m looking at it, I’m studying it, and as long as it’s in keeping with what I’ve been working on, it would be helpful and progressive for the American people, I’ll be supportive. If it’s not, I won’t.

One method being proposed for funding the GND is marginal tax rates of 70 percent. There are different ways of funding our work here. We need to re-explore our entire financial structure and how we are going to fund some of our priorities. I would be a little cautious to get out there with one panacea. It’s important we tread lightly on identifying a sound, financial approach to addressing these important issues. It requires thoughtful consideration. We need to close corporate loopholes. We need to look at a number of things. We need to get rid of the carried interest subsidy and exemptions that are provided to hedge fund individuals. Everything is worth considering. No one approach is gonna be the solution, but it does require bold action.