Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick is hoping to challenge U.S. Sen. John McCain this year, provided he survives the GOP primary. The Weekly recently talked with Kirkpatrick about gun laws, abortion rights, international affairs and more. Here's a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.
Sen. John McCain said that he believes President Barack Obama's various executive actions on firearms were a violation of the Constitution. What did you think of that?
In the context of what happened in Tucson and even in Flagstaff, everywhere I go, Arizonans tell me that they want something done to address this issue. I spoke to a woman yesterday who said everyone remembers Jan. 8 and that memory is still raw. So I think we have to close the dangerous loopholes and strengthen background checks. I think we could have done that in Congress but the leadership won't let something like that even come up for a vote because they're scared of the gun lobby. That's what it comes down to.
What did you think of the president's executive actions?
I think it's a step. But it highlights the dysfunction in Congress. We really need to do something and address it in a very common sense way. I really believe we can do that, so I am co-sponsoring bills that strengthen background checks and preventing guns from getting into the hands of those convicted of domestic violence and then bringing back and funding efforts to do gun violence research.
Congress has voted several times to defund Planned Parenthood. You've been opposed to those efforts. Why?
I believe that a woman's healthcare decisions are between the woman and her healthcare practitioner. I don't believe the government should be involved in that. This is a big distinction between my position and John McCain's. This is going to be a campaign of contrasts and this is a primary example of that. I strongly support a woman's right to choose and he doesn't.
What about the funding for Planned Parenthood for services outside of abortion?
I support Planned Parenthood. The vast majority of their services are providing medical care and healthcare to women and in many areas that's the only place they have to go. So this whole idea of defunding Planned Parenthood is the wrong choice. But I will also say it is outrageous that John McCain said he would defund Planned Parenthood even if it meant shutting down the government.
The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the lawsuit by 26 states, including Arizona, that argues that President Obama acted in violation of the Constitution when he established new policies to expand the categories of the undocumented immigrants who are not subject to deportation if they register with the proper authorities. Do you think the Obama administration is on solid legal ground?
I can't comment on the constitutionality. I'm not a practicing attorney anymore. But I will tell you that I support comprehensive immigration reform that includes the DREAM Act. Again, another contrast with John McCain. I know the Supreme Court is going to hear that case regarding DAPA. I hope they uphold it because we need policies that keep and bring families together, not separate them. But a lot of that is going to be addressed by the DREAM Act and comprehensive integration reform. Which again: Congress needs to do its job.
You think the Obama administration took the right step in expanding DAPA in the way that it did?
Executive orders have been used by every president. Every president has the right to do that. But again, for me it highlights the dysfunction in Congress, that we can't get this done. That's my job, that's why I'm there, and we can't get it done.
Sen. McCain voted against the recent budget compromise. Why did you support it?
It had a lot of good funding for programs that are good for Arizona. I'll give you some examples. It got rid of sequestration. It funded programs like Head Start at a higher level. Some of those things I have been fighting for, especially for the tribes, actually got increased funding in that budget. It's a pretty good budget, especially for things I'm working on for my district.
Sen. McCain has said the U.S. needs to do much more in Syria and Iraq. Do you think the Obama administration should be doing more to intervene in the Syrian civil war and to combat ISIS?
Let me just address that John McCain opposed closing the terror gap and stop those terrorists on the watchlist from purchasing weapons. He could have done something significant to address this issue and he voted against it. In terms of ISIS, we have to destroy ISIS. I've been to the military bases in the Middle East and even in the Persian Gulf and we have one of the best, if not the best, military and intelligence in the world and we need to unleash that on ISIS. I don't think the president has done enough in that regard but we need to destroy ISIS.
Should we be sending ground troops in?
No, we shouldn't. Not now, not before our Congress debates the AUMF and we have a debate about whether we should send in troops. Again, this is a big contrast between me and John McCain. His foreign-policy approach is, send in the troops wherever there are problems. You know I do a lot of work with veterans. I think the American people's voice should be heard if we're going to put troops on the ground in other countries.
Are you on Team Hillary or Team Bernie?
I support Hillary. She has the best experience and background and knowledge to be president. It's a tough job in the 21st-century and we need somebody with experience and I have to say I have looked at the GOP primary and none of them are qualified to be president.
Looking at the state of Arizona, Democrats have had a pretty rough run in recent years. There are no statewide Democrats in office anymore. What is it going to take for a Democrat to win statewide?
Arizona is changing demographically and is much more Democratic than it has been in the past. We have to get people to turn out and let their choices be made. I'm all over this state. I'm listening to working families who are really struggling to educate their children, to veterans who can't get the services they need, to LGBT couples who can get married now in Arizona but they can still get fired because of who they are. And also listening to Dreamers, who are pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. It's clear to me that they want a senator who has a stake in Arizona's future and they want a senator who represents all of Arizona's voices, not just the empty rhetoric of John McCain. He's been there 33 years and he's a prime example of dysfunctional, out-of-touch Washington establishment.