Congressman Raul Grijalva won an eighth term representing Southern Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives last month. He was a recent guest on Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel. This is an edited transcript of part of that conversation. To hear the entire interview, visit zonapolitics.com or Tucsonweekly.com.
What is your reaction to Donald Trump winning the White House?
I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you that watching the results come in, the initial reaction was to be stunned that you had Trump winning the election. Then there's the realization that as unfiltered as our democracy is, that happens. He's president-elect and you deal with it. That's precisely the attitude that I've taken on: This is what we're going to deal with for the foreseeable future, for the next four years or at least until the midterms, when another opportunity to provide some balance to it by either retaking the Senate or, depending on how it goes, having an opportunity to retake the House. But that's down the road. For the foreseeable two years, it's Donald Trump. It's his administration. My attitude is, if we're going to do anything, we need to be effective as a minority party and not just either acquiesce or be so shrill about opposition that we don't make our point. If we learned anything from the election, it's that people significantly misread the mood or the emotion of the American voters.
I'm hearing a lot of different things about how Republicans plan to repeal Obamacare and one of the suggestions is a quick vote to repeal with the caveat that GOP lawmakers will take two years to sort out the details. What's your forecast of how this is going to go?
You have 24 million-plus people who have health insurance now who didn't have it before. That's hard to undo. You have cases pending about big insurance companies merging and essentially monopolizing the market with three big companies, which is something the Obama administration has been fighting. My prediction is, that's something that the Trump administration is going to encourage and not fight. These mergers consolidate too much power in not only the pricing of health care, but the services that you receive. Beyond that, privatizing part of Medicare, as (House Speaker Paul) Ryan wants to do, is going to be very difficult, to say the least. Undoing the subsidy for Medicaid is going to be financially crippling to states across the country, particularly those red states where Trump did well. That includes Arizona and that includes the Rust Belt. So this is the work ahead. If you're going to keep your promise of getting rid of Obamacare, what are you going to replace it with? They don't know yet. And second of all, what is the cost. (Arizona Gov. Doug) Ducey is saying, "Don't undo the Medicaid expansion in Arizona," simply because it would be financially crippling to all the hospital systems in the state. They have a bunch of things in front of them and Obamacare is one of the most difficult. Punting it for two years is a solution based on just avoiding the issue.
You mentioned the privatization of Medicare and that's something that House Speaker Paul Ryan has talked about doing. He says that Medicare has been weakened by Obamacare and it's necessary to privatize it to keep it viable. Is that your perspective? Has Obamacare weakened Medicare and what's your forecast on the odds of privatizing Medicare?
That would be promise No. 1 that Trump would have to go back on. He said he was going to protect Medicare as it is and that's it and everybody applauded. He said he was going to protect Social Security as it is and everybody applauded. These have been two of the targets of Ryan and Republicans in the Senate as well for a long, long time. Any privatization of Medicare or getting rid of the subsidies for Medicaid are going to be significant political obstacles that Republicans in the House and the Senate and in the administration are going to have a hard time getting past.
Immigration reform was something that Donald Trump talked a lot about on the campaign trail. I think his vision of immigration reform is significantly different from yours. Where do you see that going in the next two years?
If you look at who he is surrounding himself with, I see immigration reform as being a major flashpoint in the first 100 days. (Sen. Jeff) Sessions as attorney general. His record both as a senator and outside the Senate is one of anti-immigration legislation and not pro-reform of any kind. He takes a very hard line on the issue, primarily on the enforcement side of it. (Kansas Secretary of State Kris) Kobach, who is advising on the transition, is proposing a registration and profiling of immigrants who are coming to this country based on religion, targeting the Muslims. He's the guy who wrote SB 1070 for the state of Arizona. And the list goes on. The first issue that Trump is going to have to confront is, what do you do with the DREAMers and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that President Obama put into effect? As Trump comes into office, it's not a question of repealing it. That's part of it, but also, what is he going to do with the 800,000 young people you have who now have the protection of DACA in terms of their schools, their life, etc.? These are young people who are in this country through no choice of their own, through the choice of their parents to bring them here, and rightfully so, Obama did that executive order. It now falls in Trump's hands and that will be, I think, the biggest indicator of where he's going to go with this. Is it going to be the punitive, enforcement strategy that is represented by Kobach and is represented by Sessions, and the rhetoric that Trump used throughout his campaign? If that's where it's going to go, then I think this issue of immigration is going to continue to be the red meat that he throws out to his supporters, but at the same time, on a community level, it's going to be divisive across this country, beginning with sanctuary cities. The police chief in Tucson said we are not going to involve ourselves in enforcing federal immigration law because it's not good for the community policing. What's he going to do? Defund sanctuary cities from New York to Seattle, Washington?
We're talking before Thanksgiving, but I wanted to get your thoughts on the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
This is one that on his way out, President Obama could do a lot to resolve this. He could do a lot just by telling the Army Corps of Engineers that the route will be changed, period. The consultation that is required by law did not occur. The full environmental assessment did not occur. The cultural resources review did not occur. The fact of the matter is that what is going on at Standing Rock is symbolic of many things that are going on across the United States in Indian country. The irony is to watch the water protectors being hosed, hit with tear gas, shot with rubber bullets, hundreds arrested and injured, all on the eve of Thanksgiving. Standing Rock is kind of a culmination of history, the history of what native people have endured in this country. When I visited, it was prayerful and peaceful. And I think it continues to be that way. But I also saw and felt the determination. They're not going to back away. And this issue is something that we can't leave to Trump, because Trump is not going to deal with this. In fact, Trump will be a proponent of driving that pipeline through there. .