Q&A with Rep. Ben McAdams on Mueller, impeachment, Pelosi and progressives

Ben McAdams 23

It’s been just over three months since Rep. Ben McAdams was sworn into Congress as a member of this year’s freshman class.

He sat down with UtahPolicy.com on Wednesday morning to discuss the revelations from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, whether President Donald Trump should be impeached, and his relationship with the more progressive members of the Democratic Caucus in the House.

Our conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

You’ve read part of the Mueller report. What are your thoughts on what you’ve read and the news coverage on what the report contains?

The dishonesty, corruption that we see in the White House is troubling. It raises a lot of questions and I think it warrants answers. The American people deserve to know.

One of the things that are most troubling to me is a foreign power, an enemy of the United States conspiring to undermine our democracy. And our president welcomed it. Whether or not he did so criminally or not, he welcomed it. He was grateful for it. I want to make sure that never happens again. The American people get to choose their elected officials, not Russia.

What is this administration doing to make sure we never again have a foreign power meddling in elections.

What about part two of the report, which details several instances of possible obstruction of justice on the part of President Trump?

I think it raises a lot of questions. The thing that I’ve seen from the media reports is (special counsel Robert) Mueller wasn’t fired. We do have a report. The investigation did move forward. I don’t know that attempted obstruction is an impeachable offense in my view.

I guess my position is impeachment is a really high bar.

So, do you think Democrats should continue to investigate the Trump administration?

I think it would be a mistake to investigate for the sake of investigation, especially if it’s partisan motivated. We should not have a partisan motivated investigation.

But, that shouldn’t stop Congress from doing its proper role of oversight and giving answers to some of the questions that are raised in the report primarily, and what is being done to ensure the integrity of our future elections.

President Trump said Tuesday he doesn’t want former and current White House aides complying with subpoenas. He’s suing to stop subpoenas seeking to get access to his financial records. Is that troubling to you?

That is troubling. I think Congress has a duty to ensure the integrity of our government and to exercise an oversight role, but that should be bipartisan. I think Congress in the past has abused that authority and we need to be careful.

The Trump administration should respond to a co-equal branch of government.

When you were running for office, you famously made the pledge that you weren’t going to vote for Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker, and you did not vote for her. Do you regret that given the way that she seems to have been able to steer the House through all these controversies and the even hand she’s been showing?

First of all, I never regret delivering on a campaign promise. You know, I believe that when you give your word, you honor those pledges you gave to your district.

My position all along and remains today turnover is a good thing.

Even the best of leaders and I’m not saying she’s the best of leaders, but turnover is healthy. Sometimes it’s hard to see. People really liked Ronald Reagan and he left after eight years.

I said I think we should have new leadership in the Democratic party and I’m going to vote for that. I said I’m going to move forward and work for the good of my district and work with whoever’s in the room willing to work with me, Republican, Democratic, the Speaker that I voted or didn’t vote for. I think it’s important that we make our decisions and then move on to the next decision and work with whoever’s going to work.

One of the things your predecessor did not do was hold town hall meetings. You have held several meetings since taking office. How have those been received by your constituents? Are both Republicans and Democrats showing up, or are just supporters from your party showing up? How are they reacting to you being that accessible?

I usually start at the town hall meetings by saying my title, Representative, is also my job description. I can’t do my job unless I know what’s on your mind. Support or oppose me, I want to hear it.

We may not always agree. I’ve got to ultimately make a decision that I think is the right decision for the good of our district or state and our country. But, I can’t do my job unless I’m listening to you.

It’s been partisans on my side, many who think I’m not liberal enough, who express opposition to some of my votes. At the end of that, they’re all grateful they had a chance to tell me what they think.

What was the reaction among your colleagues in Congress to your Balanced Budget Amendment proposal? I’ve seen reaction among the political cognoscenti…those on the left call it a terrible idea, those on the right think it’s a good idea. How was that received?

I’m a member of the Blue Dog Democrats and that group voted to endorse it and I get support from the Blue Dogs on that.

You do have a debate within the Democratic Party, the Progressive Caucus wanting to not abide by budget caps and increase spending.

It was a little bit of coincidence that my Balanced Budget Amendment coincided with the debate over budget caps. We had mapped out the timeline to introduce it, but it came the same week as the progressives were opposing budget caps and proposing a dramatic increase in spending. They didn’t like it. They think we should be increasing spending and I got called out for it by many of them. I think it’s the right conversation to have a debate over the budget.

Give me your thought process as you consider proposals from the progressive members of your caucus who want to ignore spending caps and boost spending. You have campaigned as a fiscally responsible candidate. Republicans blew a gigantic hole in the budget to pass their tax cuts, and now Democrats want to dramatically increase spending on domestic programs.

The only party that cares about fiscal responsibility is the party that’s in the minority. Democrats were complaining about the fiscal irresponsibility of the Trump tax cuts. Now that they’re in control of the House, all of the sudden spending doesn’t matter. Spending absolutely matters.

I think we are doing harm to the medium term and near term future of our country. Decisions we make today close doors on decisions and options available to us tomorrow.

This is a topic I feel strongly about. As the mayor of Salt Lake County, we balanced our budget every year, maintained a AAA bond rating. That was hard and we had to make tough choices. I realize the choices at the federal level are different than the choices we make in local government. But governing requires tough choices, and I really think approaching it from that perspective of limiting spending is the right one. But I think you have to have a requirement of some type to balance the budget that’s got teeth in it.

How has the transition been for you going from one of 29 members of the Utah State Senate to the mayor of the largest county in Utah to one of 435 in the House?

There are differences, especially moving from the executive branch where I’m one of one to a junior member of 435. You know, there are stark differences there. I think there’s a lot in common, too.

A skill I learned in the state legislature that has served me well in Congress is the ability to listen to and value perspective from where people are coming from, either the left or the right and, then try to see where there might be common ground and build upon that.

That’s a skill I think I honed as a minority member of the Utah State Senate and it’s served me well since I came to Washington.

You made an offhand comment to me after you had been in office for about two months that you have never been busier in your life since you went to Washington. Can you elaborate on that?

I like to work hard. I think the difference is, as Mayor I worked long hours, almost nonstop. When I’m not with my family, I’m never sitting down.

I think the difference in being a mayor, I get to set my own agenda. I had like 10 minutes between meetings to check email and return a phone call here or there.

In Congress, I have an agenda that I want to carry out and that has to layer on top of everybody else’s. When you belong to a body of 435, they don’t send out a Doodle poll to find out when people are available. They just tell you when a vote is going to happen, when a committee meeting is going to happen, and expect that you’re there.

To drive my agenda, which is meeting with constituents who are in town, crafting a policy agenda of my own, building relationships with stakeholders who I’m going to need going forward. That has to be on top of Congressional timelines. It means I’m triple-booked at all times. I’m busier than a one-armed wallpaper hanger.

Who are some of the members of Congress you talk to on a regular basis?

Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy and I talk a lot. I have relationships with a lot of the freshmen because you go through orientation together. Abigail Sanberger (D-Virginia) and Mikie Sherrill (D-New Jersey) have become close friends of mine. Anthony Brindisi from New Jersey. Derek Kilmer who’s a representative from Washington. He’s the head of the new Dem Caucus. He was my mentor, so he’s someone I’ve got a close relationship with.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is someone who has been good to me and someone who protects the moderates in a much bigger caucus. I don’t know if I would call him a moderate, but he’s a defender of those who are more moderate.

There’s a narrative in the media that there’s a knife fight of sorts between the progressive and more moderate members of the Democratic caucus. How much of a division is there between those groups? The Democratic majority was built by moderate Democrats from districts that President Trump won in 2016. Is there really tension between the two groups?

One of the things that’s helped me be successful is I don’t take anything personally and I don’t get personal.

The Democrats hold an 18-seat majority in Congress. There are 27 Blue Dogs. From my perspective, all I have to do is say no and walk away from the conversation and the arguments.

On the flip side, it probably is frustrating because they can’t drive a progressive agenda unless 18 of the moderates say yes. You do see some of the progressives making these attacks against the moderates, and that’s fine.

We (the Blue Dogs) have a lot of power in a Congress that’s narrowly divided as this one is. I think part of my job is to steer Congress to the center where I think the American people are. I feel like I have 70% of the American people my side. I’m not amped up and going to war. I’m’ trying to make good decisions that are good for my district.

I had one of the progressive members of the caucus come to me since I’ve cast a handful of votes with the Republicans. They said, for the sake of party unity, I needed to start voting with the Democrats. I said party unity isn’t a value of mine, it’s not a goal of mine. I don’t think the country is better off with party unity. I actually think each of us should represent our district then work to find common ground. Being true to our districts is a good value.

On the Financial Services Committee, you sit between Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two of the most high-profile members of the freshman class. What’s your relationship like with them?

I talked about building bridges and reaching out to people who disagree with you. I guess I didn’t anticipate that would be on the left as much as the right. I frequently disagree with them. I also feel it’s important they have a voice in the conversation, even though I frequently disagree with that voice.

I would say we have a friendly relationship. Just like I think their voice is valuable, I hope they recognize it’s valuable to have a moderate perspective that shouldn’t be dismissed.

I’m willing to listen to someone on the right or on the left, and listen with an open mind, even though at the end of the day I may not agree.