Congressional Briefing

Congressman Tom O'Halleran talks about climate change, healthcare, Charlottesville and Trump's pardon of Joe Arpaio

Congressman Tom O'Halleran is in his first term representing Congressional District 1, which includes Oro Valley and Marana as well as Flagstaff and much of eastern rural Arizona. He recently appeared for a one-on-one interview on the radio edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel. This Q&A is an edited excerpt from that conversation.

Looking at the hurricanes that have hit Houston and Florida as well as other extreme weather episodes, do you think this is another sign that we experience climate change on this planet?

Based on the studies that I've seen, I think those who don't believe should start to believe that there is climate change and that it is having a profound impact on many of our planning theories moving forward. Whether it's the Colorado River water supply or our forests or our coastal waters, we need to start planning for the future because it could be devastating.

Are you concerned about some of the moves by the Trump administration to reverse steps taken by the Obama administration to try to combat the effects of climate change, or even study the impacts of climate change?

I'm shocked. It's like driving down the road and seeing a barricade that says, "Maybe you want to slow down a little bit," and instead you speed up and say, "The heck with it." We have plenty of warning signs out there. When the red flag does up, you have to say, "I gotta look into this." This denial process that's going on right now goes against all of the theory that we've seen in the last number of years by the great scientists of the world.

On the healthcare front: John McCain went back to the Senate and gave quite a speech and eventually voted to kill the so-called "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act, which seems to have put a stop to the push to completely repeal Obamacare. What did you think of Sen. McCain's vote on that?

I liked the vote. I think the Medicare and the Medicaid expansion are important to the citizens of Arizona and especialy in Congressional District 1. I think it's important to keep our hospitals open. One of our major industries in Arizona is healthcare and our citizens need the appropriate healthcare. Was the system broken? Yeah, it was broken. It's our job to fix it, not have political discussions month after month after month and not really talk to the industry leaders and say, "What are the cost drivers here? How does that relate to problem solving?" And then moving to the next thing and solving the problem together. Because just like tax reform, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has made it very clear: They want tax reform to be a bipartisan process because they want some surety into the future. We should want that for the American people for health care.

You're a member of something called the Problem Solvers Conference and you have developed a framework for some changes to the Affordable Care Act. Can you talk a little bit about what those changes would be?

We've agreed—and there are about 43 of us, about equal between Republicans and Democrats—we've agreed that Medicaid expansion would stay, subsidies for those who truly need subsidies in health care would continue, and we've all agreed that the president should stabilize this system and not continually try to hurt the system by having public discussions about what he's going to do about subsidies, because that hurts the insurance industry. On the business side, we'd take the level of 50 employees and move that up to 500.

Those numbers are for the definition of a small business that does not have to provide health insurance to its employees.

Exactly, yes. And we have some projections of areas where we might be able to find money to put into the system. We didn't come to agreement on that but leadership in both parties is now saying these ideas are worth looking at. I don't think we're going to get into a discussion on health care at least until the budget and tax reform are completed. I don't see infrastructure being dealt with this year at all.

What are your thoughts on the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville?

It's sad. To have fellow Americans on the streets of our cities yelling those types of things that I don't even want to repeat and thinking that's the appropriate way to address issues. Having them with torches reminiscent of before the Second World War and having shields to get the aggravation level up—I mean, when you have a shield, you are expecting to be in a confrontation. I'm a former police officer. I've seen plenty of these demonstrations, and I've seen plenty of riots. And it's my true wish that the American people would sit back and say, "I respect First Amendment rights but please don't go out there and spew this hatred of our fellow Americans or anybody in the world, for that matter.

President Trump came under a lot of criticism for his reaction to the incident in Charlottesville. Your thoughts on how the president responded.

I think his response was poor, at best. I think he's had a problem in the past with being able to apologize and look the American people straight in the eye and say, "I was wrong in that instance." Instead, he goes out and continually tries to prove that he was right. And listen: When I do something wrong, I say, "You know, I was wrong on that vote," or "I was wrong on this." But don't go down this path, when you know the evidence is right before you, and try to recreate facts when the facts are right there in front of you on the TV.

What was your reaction to President Trump's decision to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio?

I've been very vocal on that, and I believe in the criminal justice system. I believe that Mr. Arpaio had many alternatives for appeals going forward. He hadn't even been sentenced yet. At least see what the sentence was. This crime was, first of all, a crime against your oath of office. Secondly, it was almost malfeasance in office, to have a federal judge tell you, "You shall not do this anymore," and just go out and do it again. And when it comes to civil rights, every American has the same rights under search-and-seizure laws. And you're put into office as a sheriff to protect those rights, not to take them away.

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