We sat down with Rep. Ben McAdams recently to discuss a number of issues facing Congress including impeachment, federal spending and budget negotiations and whether President Trump should seek Congressional approval before any military action against Iran.
Below is a transcript of our conversation. It has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.
You’re about a quarter of the way through your first term. What’s your sense of how things are going in Washington?
I would say I am simultaneously incredibly frustrated with broken Washington in the swampiness of Washington. And simultaneously a little bit optimistic. As a freshman member, you come in and you realize how little impact you can have when you’re one in 435. On the issues that grab the headlines and drive the daily news story, I’m not on committees that are necessarily relevant to that. As a junior member, I’m not really steering the ship. I’ve tried to do is focus on the issues where I think I can have an impact for good on my district and on our country.
It does like on those issues, people talk across the aisle, there’s negotiation. We build relationships and we’re passing legislation. You know, I’m on the Financial Services Committee and we’ve passed a series of important, not newsworthy necessarily, but certainly important legislation in a bipartisan fashion that I think has good prospects to pass the house and pass the Senate.
The thing that seems to be grabbing a lot of the attention coming out of Washington is discussion of impeachment. You kind of get a little more attention than I would expect on that simply because you’re a centrist Democrats who are in one of those swing districts. A lot of people say you’re probably not going to be one of the people calling for impeachment. What are some of the discussions that you’ve had about that issue? Have you talked with other members, or do other members talk to you about that?
I think at this point about 70 members, 69 Democrats and one Republican, they’ve called for impeachment. This is a body of 435. So I’m certainly not alone in not calling for impeachment at this point. What I would say is, uh, first and foremost, I believe that nobody is above the law. Congress has a constitutional obligation to ensure the transparency and ethics our government at the highest levels. And so I do support asking whatever questions and whatever oversight is appropriate to ensure that our government is operating in a transparent and ethical way. And this White House is not being transparent.
But, you didn’t answer my question. Are you talking with other members? Are they talking to you about this issue?
It does come up. The reality is it’s probably one of the only things you hear in the news. And I understand why that is. But, it is not a topic that we talk about on a daily basis. I’m not on a committee of jurisdiction, so it’s not something that we spend really a lot of time on. I do think it’s important and I do support the oversight that is happening in Congress that asking the questions that should be asked. I recognize it’s not a perfect analogy, but it would akin to sitting as a juror in that process. I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to declare the outcome of that process before it’s even gone forward. I do support Congress performing its constitutional obligations, and nobody is above the law. Let’s see where the process takes.
Do you worry that this focus on the impeachment issue is making it harder for you to get your agenda out and for people to focus on what you’re doing in Congress?
I do. When I’m in the district, I’m talking about the things that people from Utah sent me to work. Addressing the high cost of healthcare, access to healthcare, the rising costs of prescription drugs, investing in our transportation infrastructure. That’s what I spend my time in Washington working on. I think that’s what people want me to work on. Activists certainly are following this very closely, but average people that I talk to really don’t bring it up.
I spoke to a Rotary Club two hours after (special counsel Robert) Mueller gave his speech, and it was an open Q&A for an hour. Nobody brought up Mueller during that.
It’s just not something that people are talking about. Not to say they don’t care. I think they do care about it, and I think it’s important. But, I think people are also saying they just see Democrats and Republicans having this big fight. Imaging watching your neighbor have a bog argument. You might have an opinion about who’s right and who’s wrong, but you’re going to focus on your issues first.
The American people are suffering from the high cost of healthcare, they can’t afford lifesaving drugs for their family. They’re working hard and feeling that hard work is giving thm less that they had 10 years ago. That’s what they’re concerned about and that’s what they want to see Congress working on. I don’t think it has to be to the exclusion of performing our Constitutional obligations, but they want to know what we’re doing to address the problems that are facing them every day.
I think one of the issues that is not getting enough attention is the spending negotiations and the debt limit that we’re coming up against. You have to pass an extension to that by late September or early October or we’re in danger of default. If that happens, automatic cuts of hundreds of billions of dollars go into effect with the sequester. How worried are you about that, and do you think that Congressional leaders and the White House will be able to find a deal?
I think if there’s one area where I’ve been able to carve out a name for myself in this Congress, it’s as a deficit hawk. I’m very concerned about the national debt and spending and I think it is a threat to our national security and our prosperity if we don’t get federal spending under control.
One of the first acts I did when I came into Congress is team up with other colleagues to protect what’s called PayGo, which says that legislation has to be paid for at the time we pass it. We succeeded in doing that. The first piece of legislation I introduced was a balanced budget amendment because deficits and debt have to be a part of the conversation.
I think both parties have gotten us into the situation we’re in and it has to be something we’re talking about. The debt ceiling, that’s an issue that should be off the table. I don’t know if I fully understood the debt ceiling until I took a deep dive into it and what that is. Imagine your family budget and you realize you’re spending more than you’re bringing in. The debt ceiling is like saying we are so far out of whack in our family budget we shouldn’t pay the credit card this month. That should never be an option.
It’s agreeing to pay for what you’ve already spent.
It would hurt our credit rating as a country. We don’t want to be the deadbeat country that doesn’t pay our bills.
Well, not only that, but it could crash the global economy.
Debt and deficit are very important to me. There should never be a question as to whether we will pay our bills. So, we will pay the bills and the obligations we’ve incurred to the global economy and to the American people. But, at the same time, we need to have a conversation about what we’re going to do this year and next year to bring spending into check.
The other thing that’s jumped into headlines is the brewing conflict with Iran. Do you think the Trump administration should come to Congress like they’re supposed to under the Constitution if they’re going to enter into any conflict with Iran, or do you think the authorization for military force that was passed after 9/11 still applies?
The Constitution clearly requires the administration to come to Congress to receive authorization before going to war. There’s no doubt that the authorization that was given for the Iraq war is not relevant to the current conflict. Myself and other members of Congress are repeatedly telling them that they do not believe that a nearly 20-year-old authorization has anything to do with the present circumstances. I will be responsible. National defense, security and protecting our country are important to me. But, there’s a reason that the founders put that in the Constitution, that we can’t go to war without authorization.
Is this an issue you could work with Sen. Mike Lee on?
Yes. I’d love to.
Politically is this an issue where you could collaborate with him?
I’ve watched very closely at every statement Mike Lee has made in the past couple of weeks on this and I would absolutely love to work with him on that.
There are two issues where we agree. This one, of course, as it relates to the Constitution. Even before that it was relating to President Trump circumventing Congress to spend money on the border wall. I think that’s another clear violation of the Constitution. There’s a reason why we have separation of powers. Today we have a Republican President, but later it might be a Democratic president. We want for the sake of this country not to concentrate too much power in the hands of any single individual. There’s a reason we have that separation of powers.