In the News

Q: What about TPP and free trade, which you support and we support — so why can’t it get done?

PETERS: It might get done. The president supports it obviously. I think that the speaker and the majority leader ultimately will support it. It sounds like Sen. Hatch is softening on whether we can have a vote. Maybe the issues that he’s had about exclusivity have been, can be addressed. And I think we’ll have a vote (inaudible). It will be hard and I don’t think we’re going to lose any Democrats. Might gain a couple. But I believe that some of the Republicans are a little spooked by what’s happened with the Trump movement. So I don’t have a read on whether those votes are solid or not. And I do know that some of the Southern Republicans who are concerned about tobacco didn’t like the change that was made at the end that was requested by New Zealand on tobacco labeling. But I think we had a fighting chance and I do think it’s very important. It’s important for the country. I think it’s important for middle-class wage growth. I don’t think we can expect to grow the United States manufacturing unless we open up those markets to abroad, to products that are made here. The way I think of it is, think of two futures, one with TPP and one without it. With it we’ve got access to other markets. We’ve got more level playing field. Because we’ve boosted conditions for Mexican and Malaysian and Vietnamese workers. We’ve made other countries abide by many of the environmental restrictions we abide by. We protected intellectual property. I think it’s a better path forward than not having it. In addition to all the security it benefits, it gives us in creating ties with Asia and that’s pretty well documented too. So I’m optimistic they’ll get a vote. And I’m going to work hard to make sure it passes.

Q: How challenging is it that neither the presidential candidates at least appear to support it and actually say they don’t support it?

PETERS: I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t think we’re going to lose any Democrats who voted for trade. I can’t speak for Republicans. I just don’t have a sense for what the politics are around that. But the other side of that might be that those of us who care about would want to get it done before, before a new president takes office.

Q: How about the Iran deal? Your opponent obviously is beating you up for that. Is that an Achilles heel for you in this election?

PETERS: Well, you have to take tough votes. You know? The two hardest ones we’ve had since I’ve been in Congress have been the trade vote and the Iran vote. I had friends on both sides. I think they’re still friends. They may not be supporters. But I looked at it really hard and on the Iran vote, you know, I’ve supported the Iran agreement because it was the only way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And it will do that for 15 years. And if my opponent wants another war in the Middle East, she should just come out and say so. The fact is that we’ve had great progress from it, 98 percent of enriched uranium has been exported out of the country. Centrifuges have been dismantled. The Arak plutonium reactor has been dismantled. And we’ve got inspectors all over the country that will tell us whether they’re cheating on these nuclear agreements. And we’ve not removed our ability to take military action, which we’ve always had. So we’re safer because of that deal. And that doesn’t mean Iran is our friend. But in fact they are our adversary but they are our worse adversary if we’re in the dark about what they’re doing and on the brink of getting nuclear weapons. Which they were when we started. We still have to deal with them, and we’ve taken other actions to deal with ballistic missile testing and with funding international terrorism. But I think that getting 15 years of Iran without nuclear weapons is of great value. And that’s why I support the deal.

Q: We talked to your opponent about Republican militarism and how we don’t think the world wants to go back to Republican militarism. But also the world is very concerned about what’s happening in the Middle East and wonders if the president is too inclined to not forcefully assert U.S. power. So is there a third way outside of GOP militarism and the Obamaway?

PETERS: We have to be smart and tough on terrorism. Which means we have to eliminate ISIS and other terrorist groups without getting dragged into another civil war. We have taken some actions like strengthening the ability of our allies to take care of themselves with missile defense. Not just Israel but particularly Israel. And you know we have to also when we say we’re going to do something, we have to back it up. I guess maybe go back before that. The other thing we learned was that I do think that the president makes mistakes in the way we withdrew from Iraq. I think he had the idea that we could fully withdraw. You know? I think that’s a laudable goal. Whereas the situation, though, it’s kind of if you break it, you buy it. And before President Obama was in there we took actions that are going to have us invested in that area for some time. But I think we’re still going to have to maintain a presence. We’re going to have to honor our promises. We’re going to have to help our allies. And we’re going to have to continue to work on diplomacy and economic relationships as well.

Q: What’s your take on the Syrian negotiations and the treaties with the Russians falling apart?

PETERS: It’s just, Syria doesn’t have a good answer, it’s a real tragedy. And you know when I went into Congress, there was still hope that Russia could be an ally and Putin has gone really the wrong way on a lot of things, but Secretary Kerry was very optimistic that we could find some common ground on Syria. And that fell apart right away. So I think we’re back to square one, you can say ground zero, which is the misused term. But in this case it’s apt, it’s just an awful situation. I think we’re doing what we can to train and equip resistance. And we’re going to have to continue to look for diplomatic solutions. I’m just not sure what the right answer is right now.

Q: In 2009, when the president took over, the U.S. image around the world got drastically better. The Pew Research Center showed America’s ratings were way up. But now we’re back to where we were in 2008. Is it kind of inevitable that when we are using drones against people and we’re active so many different places in the world, that we’re going to be seen this way in the future? Is this our new image? Just as kind of, maybe a democratic nation but they’re bullies just like the people they say they fight?

PETERS: I guess I think we have to try to do what we think is the right thing. And stand behind it. So you know I’ve supported the airstrikes. I’ve tried to make sure that they’re targeted. I think they’ve been somewhat effective in reducing the amount of territory that ISIS has. And I think that’s all to the good for everyone. So if I could, if we could just wish them away, I would. But I think we got a real adversary we got to be tough with. And we’re doing the right thing.

Q: Back to the question of the U.S. no longer being seen as idealistic. No matter who is the president, we’re using extraordinary means to try to protect ourselves. And it’s not just Bush, it’s also Obama using drone strikes and mass surveillance. Is this something that we just have to be resigned to?

PETERS: Well I’d say on the military side, the threats are more varied. And you know we’re not just in this binary U.S. versus Soviet kind of regime for which you know, some people are nostalgic now. Because we have, now have a new Russia that’s acting a lot like the Soviet Union. You got China, North Korea, Iran, you got international terrorism. And now you’re not just fighting air, land and sea. You’re fighting under the water, you’re fighting in space, you’re fighting in cyber. So you know, we’re going to have to be pretty geared up to protect you and me and our families. We’re going to have to make sure that we’re being smart about defense. And I don’t think the challenge is any less. And when you add onto that challenges like climate change and sea level rise, which are going to cause more destabilization, melt the Arctic ice caps means more area we have to patrol. I mean it’s a challenge.

Now on the flip side America is still exercising international leadership. And that’s why I think this TPP is very important, the trade pact in Asia. Our foreign policy can’t just be state dinners like pure diplomacy and meetings and military intervention. I mean this economic relationship has got to be important. And America is exercising leadership where other countries have failed. We were on a trip to Europe to talk about, with the Judiciary Committee to talk about counterterrorism, refugees, data security and they’re all concerned about Britain because it has withdrawn from the international role it’s had for centuries. And so while I think we’re stuck with a lot of these problems we didn’t want, and we have to gear up and defend ourselves, I commend the president for trying to not just rely on military force but to be a leadership, a force for leadership for progress in the world on behalf of our country. I think that’s the right thing to do.

Q: What do you see as the number one threat to America in the next couple years?

PETERS: I still think the ISIS, because you never know what could come, right? And there’s not a lot of good answers for some of these things. You don’t really know how aggressive Putin will be or what’s going to happen in North Korea. But I think the thing we know is happening is the ISIS and the kinds of attacks that are inspired domestically by that. One of the things that concerns me most about Donald Trump and his rhetoric about Muslims is that the best way for us to fight back against the kinds of one- and two-person attacks we’ve seen in San Bernardino or Orlando is to have good relationships with American Muslims. So that if someone’s misbehaving in the community they’ll be encouraged to come forth and help out law enforcement at the local and federal levels. And I think we’re going to have to be really smart about that. I was intending to check in with Sheriff Gore and Chief Zimmerman on this one and see if there’s, how they feel it’s going. I haven’t done that yet. But that’s on everyone’s mind.

Q: What do you see that the federal government can do more or better or different to prevent some terrorist from coming into the country or getting admission? Immigration obviously is a big issue.

PETERS: Juan Vargas and I have had a bill to revoke passports. I think that’s, anyone who has been fighting for our adversaries I do believe that we should not allow people who we think are not qualified to fly on airplanes or too dangerous to fly on airplanes, I don’t think we should allow them to buy guns. And I’ve made a point of that. And I think that a lot of it has to do with good communications among the various law enforcement agencies. And federal government can encourage that and also you know certainly deploy best practices.

Q: Can you give some background on the Saudi Arabia lawsuit, veto and override?

PETERS: The JASTA [Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act] thing? Yeah, that was a very hard vote. And this is one of those things where you know you get two choices you don’t necessarily love. You have to hit the green button or hit the red button. I hit the green button. And I would say that the concern about it is, well, first of all it’s appropriate for us to stand behind the people who lost folks at 9/11. I think that was something that we wanted to do. The bill applies to state actors, not to everyone. So I think that the concern about American diplomats or soldiers overseas I believe is misplaced. And obviously it does not presume liability. You still have to prove liability. And so I think all those things weighed in my decision to vote for JASTA. The other thing is, and I don’t say this by way of being defensive, but it’s pretty clear to me that already people are talking about how to adjust it and target it after the election. And you saw a 97 to 1 vote in the Senate when you know Sen. Corker was one of the most outspoken opponents. So I’m pretty confident that will continue to get work done. But still given the choice between the two, I did vote to override the president.

Q: The CIA director’s points are so strong, that the United States is more vulnerable to this than, than anybody else if other nations establish parallel laws because we’re active in so many other countries. And because we do things covertly. That was one of the more unusual measures I’ve seen Congress pass.

PETERS: I was at a briefing from him on the hill the day before. And you know, listened really hard to him and he made good points I thought.

Q: But you could have just limited it to 9/11. Instead we’re outsourcing our foreign policy to trial lawyers.

PETERS: Again, this is the kind of thing that you get a yes-or-no vote. You know? And so you have to take the yes or no. So that was the situation. That would be a good amendment if they were accepting amendments, but people are in a hurry to get this vote taken by, the leadership was in a hurry to get this vote taken so that they can get on with their elections. We were faced with having that vote without the ability to make an amendment.

Q: We talked to Congressman Issa about HIB visas, and visa reform and immigration, and he said it’s going to be awfully tough to sell anything to America when you have stories like the companies that outsource the workers and then have the workers being displaced train them, like I guess happened in Orange County and in Florida. It just seems like we have a need for skilled immigrants. But we don’t have a very good apparatus at selling this idea to the public.

PETERS: Well, he and I actually are on the bill to try to cut back on that abuse. That kind of abuse undercuts our credibility. But you know, there’s a general consensus that the immigration system is broken throughout the economy from farmworkers, you know, crops are rotting in the fields. There’s a bunch of people who are part of the domestic health care industry that you know, are in the shadows. And we have these technical positions where we do need additional educated people. Many of them we’d love to have them all educated here. And we should probably boost our STEM, we should boost our STEM education domestically. There’s so many positions and opportunities that we could fill with folks from outside the country. And huge percentages of discoveries and companies that are in existence today, been formed by immigrants. So I don’t think we should be afraid of it. We also educate some of the smartest people in the world at some of the world’s best universities here. And then we send them back where they came from. And I’m in favor of the Staple Act concept, which is if you get an advanced degree in science, technology, engineering or math, we staple your residency permit and say do your work here. And the frustrating thing for me is that the Senate had a pretty good compromise in 2013 that they voted on with 69 votes I think? So very bipartisan. Had you know, more money than I would have had for fencing, we called it fencing, now they call it a wall. And you know, surveillance by drones and whatever, but that was the price of getting the people you needed help in the agricultural sector, health care. Getting people paying their taxes and helping our technology workers. And we couldn’t get a vote on the House floor. So that’s a strange concept for me that you know, when I was the City Council president, we voted on stuff. And I might say I don’t have room for your thing until May. And so you’ll have to wait till May and then something would come up at the council, we would continue it for three weeks to figure out what was going on. But we would vote on it. And you know I’ve got a bill to require a vote on anything that comes out committee within 60 days of it coming to the committee. It’s got to go to the House floor. But there’s just not the ethic of getting things done and getting through your business that there should be. And you know, I think we’re close to an understanding what should be (in) immigration, but we have to get it to the floor.

Q: The last time we talked to you, you described a mania among House Republicans that it made it difficult to get things done, because they just didn’t want to cooperate and didn’t want to work (with Democrats). It doesn’t seem to be fading.

PETERS: Now that I know them better, I would distinguish among them. I’ve got, look first of all, I’m friends with a lot of the, what you’d refer to as the tea party people. And they think completely differently from me. And, but they’re very much committed to their mission, which is often just to stop anything from happening. And they’ll tell you that. I also got to be friends with a lot of the sort of more regular troops in the Republican Party who are really frustrated and they look at themselves from time to time and they say you know, this is not why I came here. And so I’m hopeful that after this presidential election that we’ll be at better point and working together. I assume, the money right now is on Secretary Clinton winning the presidency and the House staying Republican and the Senate being close one way or the other. And if that’s the case, Secretary Clinton will be the first Democrat to assume the presidency since Grover Cleveland without a majority in Congress. And if she wants to get one thing done, it’s going to involve working with Republicans.

Q: Tax reform seems like one of the few areas where you could get majorities. And there’s been proposals including here in California to try to have a tax code that’s set up specifically to promote growth as opposed to punish people who make too much money or to protect industries. And it just seems like that’s something that you could build on the Steve Forbes flat tax thing. You could build on people who are frustrated with the wealthy hiding income, as we’ve seen recently, and move forward. But I don’t know if there’s a leader on that.

PETERS: I do think there is, Paul Ryan himself has expressed a concern about international tax and our competitiveness as a country. I think there’s going to be some movement on that. With the Apple decision we’ve been arguing for a long time about these offshore, repatriating this offshore money. Well that is a threat to the existence of that money. So got to get on that pretty quickly. And I do think that this presidential election will bring some discussion about what fair domestic taxes look like. So I would suspect that if you thought that any big thing was going to get done, it would be tax reform.

Q: It seems like the Occupy ethos is spreading into the middle class, and at some point people of both parties who get a lot of money from the rich donors may have to rebalance their thinking. Because the Occupy thing used to be seen as a fringe movement. Now everybody agrees with Occupy that the game seems rigged.

PETERS: Well, I think a lot of the anger that you see in the electorate on both sides is the idea that the government is not looking out for me. And I would submit I’m not as surprised as a lot of my colleagues about that. In my race by, it’s by nature very competitive. I make a point of making sure that I’m out in the community hearing what they’re saying. But I think a lot of folks who don’t really worry about their elections were really surprised at the anger that was simmering out in the country. And you know let’s hope it’s a wake-up call.

Q: Your opponent wants to reform Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. People have been talking about changing Social Security making it solvent for decades. Can anything get done when the parties are so far apart from one another?

PETERS: Well, again, I think you have to look for a grand bargain. And again this is something that if someone like Paul Ryan and potentially President Hillary Clinton would want to get together on, that’s the kind of thing we could take up. But no one has taken, I affiliated myself with a group called Fix the Debt.

Q: What about the idea that it’s not a solvable problem because life expectancy is growing?

PETERS: I can’t get my head around not a solvable problem. If I thought there weren’t solvable problems, I would just stay in San Diego.

Q: In 1935 when the Social Security Act was formed, the life expectancy was 61. And now CalPERS expects people who retire at 65 to live to be 87 if they’re women and 84 if they’re men. And that’s three years ago. And San Francisco passed pension reform in 2011 and they’re not saving the money they expected because their life expectancy is so much different. So it just seems like an already hugely complicated and difficult problem becomes close to unsolvable.

PETERS: The demographics are challenging.

Q: With interest rates at 1 percent, nobody is getting a good rate of return. It seems to be a great example of the law of unintended consequences. Yes, we managed to save the economy, to stabilize the economy (by making lending so inexpensive). But we’re eight years in. And we still got this thing that’s not good for people on fixed incomes. So that doesn’t seem to be an angle that’s talked about much beyond our letters page.

PETERS: Well, it’s a fairly esoteric thing. But I think there’s a lack of demand in the economy. What we, you reach the point where you provide cheap money and tax cuts, that could be great at some points, but when there’s no one buying anything, it doesn’t really matter. And so there’s a few reasons for that. But one is we’re not really investing in infrastructure. The level of public spending on the things the public should be spending on is just not historically very high. And you know I think overseas it’s even slower. So I think that’s why more tax cuts in particular aren’t going to really generate the economic response that people are promising. At least at the high levels.

Q: What percentage of your job is domestic and what percentage is international? And do you pay close attention to for example all these measures, propositions that California has coming up?

PETERS: I build my service around San Diego. So there’s three economies, tourism, not a lot of federal issues, military, uniform military is about 20 percent of our jobs, 35 plus billion dollars in annual economic impact and innovation. So our biggest private employer is Qualcomm. We’re the second or third leading life sciences cluster. Second by number of scientists, third by the amount of investment. We have a big military technology including much of the drone research is General Atomics and Northrop Grumman and production is here. And then we have a clean technology sector that you know, the smart grid research. I think UCSD is going to be the place where high-density energy is going to be centered, research is going to be centered and advanced biofuels. So I spend my time on those things. And connecting what happens in Washington, with what happens in San Diego. So most of my time is on the innovation economy, which is NIH funding, immigration policy, tax policy, patent protection and education. On veterans which is helping make sure that they get jobs. Including we helped create a nonprofit to connect community resources with discharging service members called Zero 800. Make sure they get health care, so we’ve worked a lot on VAissues. We haven’t had the same issues in San Diego that they’ve had in Phoenix. But we get a lot of people coming back from overseas and many of them come back with injuries that would never have been survivable in other wars. So they need, we need resources at the VA and that’s part of it. We also need a culture change at the VA. So I’ve supported some of the measures for accountability to make sure that people who aren’t onboard, can be disciplined or fired more easily than in the past. And then we need to make sure that they’re not homeless vets. And so I worked on the Homelessness Formula, which I think you know about. Make sure that we get our fair share of money from the federal government. And then on the military side, on the Armed Services Committee, the third thing I work on is I picked up the energy portfolio. I’m interested in climate policy. There’s not a lot going on in Congress in climate. But renewable energy is blossoming in the Department of Defense in two ways. Think about the Navy’s mission, they’ve got a mission every year. And then when the price of petroleum would spike, they’d have to reorient the whole mission to be able to pay for the oil and gas. So they decided a while back to go half renewable. And they’re building hybrid ships; go up to 12 knots on electricity, over 12 knots on conventional. We announced the biggest purchase of renewable energy by any federal department in Coronado, Sempra is going to provide solar energy to power half of the West Coast Marine and Navy land installations. And we launched the Great Green Fleet in Coronado. One of the destroyers in that fleet was powered by advanced biofuels derived from beef fat. So eating a steak is a patriotic act. But all because there’s a business case for it, not because they’re tree huggers. And then the other, the Marines are doing amazing stuff in the battlefield. I met the commandant when I was a new member of the Armed Services Committee. They come into my office and he’s got every medal and ribbon you can be decorated with, with a bunch of other generals. They sit down at my conference table, and I wonder what they want to talk about. Logistics, sequester, manpower? He says, congressman? I said, yes, sir? He says, I want to talk about solar energy. So why does he care about solar energy? One of the most dangerous things we do is move large amounts of petroleum from one place in the desert to another. So when the convoys are attacked we lose soldiers and Marines and as a consequence to that risk we spent a lot of effort protecting those convoys instead of doing what else we might do. So he decided I’m not powering my bunkers with generators any more. I’m going to use solar panels. He’s got solar panels on backpacks that power small appliances and by the way, weigh less than the batteries he used to make them carry around. They wanted to do desalination with solar panels. And so there’s a lot of innovation is happening in support of the mission to defend, to defend our country and support our troops. They could have great commercial impacts and I think would be also a nice overlap with San Diego. And if you go to Miramar, you go to Pendleton, I mean they’re doing amazing micro grids up there which are ways to get off the grid and they’re learning a lot about how to be more independent in the battlefield as well. So that’s been what, that’s mostly what I spend my time on. But you have to know something about everything and so I really have, really proud of my staff who keep me up to date on the health care stuff. Which I’m not directly involved, the Dodd-Frank reforms, which (aren’t) on my committee. And you know, everyone in Congress is working on those two things too. And everything comes up, so you have to know about Iran and everything else. It’s got great breadth but I think, kind of the things I concentrate on are those areas that are the intersection of San Diego with Washington, D.C.

Q: Legalizing recreational marijuana is obviously on the ballot. So where do you personally stand on that measure?

PETERS: I support that measure for a couple reasons. But before I get to that, there’s a federal issue, which is the banking system. It’s ridiculous that we don’t accommodate states like Colorado and Washington in banking so that people aren’t having large amounts of cash in mattresses and things like that. It’s just not right. And there’s an ideological resistance to allowing marijuana growers to invest, or to use the banking system. And then that’s really dangerous for people. I think unwise. So that’s the federal issue. On the state side, they’ve really thought through this ballot initiative to raise some money from it, use it for the right things. And I think it’s an improvement over the 1996 medical marijuana initiative because that’s come to be kind of a little bit of a joke. There’s really no barrier to getting a headache and you know, getting $40 for a marijuana card. And I just think that this would be a tighter regulation that what we have today.

Q: What about these policing issues that we’re seeing (like in) El Cajon? What’s the federal role there and what as a community should we be doing?

PETERS: We were talking about this the other day. San Diego is one of the first cities, maybe the first city to start community policing. And where you see the police have partnership with the community not kind of adversarial position with respect to the community. And that is not an easy thing, that’s a cultural thing. Right? So that’s a hard thing to deal with. I hate to speak to any individual case because or maybe the Garner one was really blatant, the guy shouldn’t be choked out for selling some cigarettes. But it is tough to be a police officer. It is a really tough job and I’ve gone through that little training exercise that they give you. And people have shot at me in the video because I was not ready and it’s got to be kind of scary. So I think mostly it’s going to be settled out regionally but to the extent that the federal government can set good standards, and promote best practices, I think that would be great. We train people how to shoot. And we don’t always train them not to shoot and how to de-escalate. And so something I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on if we have, say we have a history of community policing where we understand that. That is something that is a best practice the federal government can maybe help deploy through grants, I suppose.

Q: I know you have been making a lot out your opponent’s position on the presidential election, so let me just ask: Is Hillary Clinton a good role model?

PETERS: She’s very experienced, she’s got the experience and the temperament and I think the judgment to be president. If I were teaching a class on how to run for office, I don’t think I would use her as a model. She’s I think needlessly reluctant to admit mistakes. And I think in some ways she comes off a little bit lawyerly. But I think the relevant question is whether she’d be a good president and I think she will.

Q: I think the criticism of Hillary Clinton isn’t so much her temperament. It’s Goldman Sachs, she was in the Senate, they needed a friend, they were a constituent, probably nothing wrong happened there. Then when she got out and immediately it’s, hey, come and give a speech, here’s $600,000. It looks like unseemly. Like is that really for a speech or what’s going on?

PETERS: Yeah, OK, so I would say there’s a lot of discomfort about that. I would just say too that I wouldn’t want to criticize her independently, although you know people don’t like the notion that you would use public service to make money for yourself.

Q: Right. I think that’s my question.

PETERS: OK. To keep it in perspective you know that is a common thing. Unfortunately, it’s too common. And I do think that it bugs people.

Q: But on Citizens United, Democrats all say when you give money to a politician you are trying to buy their favor. And that’s why Citizens United is so horrible. Yet many of these same people say when it comes to the Clinton Foundation, oh, no, they’re not trying to buy influence. If money, the gift of money to an organization or to an individual is all about buying favor in one case, why isn’t it about buying favor in the other case?

PETERS: You know, I just, I can’t comment on why people would give to the Clinton Foundation. They do a lot of good stuff. So I can talk more confidently about the Citizens United field.

Q: But you don’t see the parallel? If money is about buying influence, if that’s the only reason donors give money ...

PETERS: It’s not exactly parallel. A lot of the money you give to a charitable foundation really does go to all the great stuff that the Clinton Foundation does. Then at least there’s a mixed motive. Right? I’m just saying I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.

Q: Any closing comments?

PETERS: I would just ask for your support. I hope that I give you a sense of how I think about this stuff. I hope you think that I’ve lined up the right partners for San Diego. And I’m particularly proud. I just handed out some stuff that we actually got done in a tough Congress. And that’s really what I’m most proud of is the ability to get some things done. And work across the aisle. And I would say too that since Vargas and I came that the congressional delegation does work really well together. I mean I’m really good friends with Duncan. We hardly vote together at all, but when it comes to San Diego, we have good conversations and we’re able to work together and I think that’s been good for us too.