In the News
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Neo-Nazis and KKK members have a First Amendment right to say what they want — even if the majority of Americans disagree with them — but do not have a right to act violently, Rep. Scott Peters said in Rancho Bernardo on Tuesday.
“We protect people’s speech, but do not allow violence,” he said. “The ideas I don’t fear. I fear the violence.”
Peters, who represents Rancho Bernardo and neighboring communities in the 52nd Congressional District, was speaking at a Brandeis National Committee Rancho Bernardo Chapter gathering. It supports Brandeis University in Massachusetts, a nonsectarian university with Jewish roots.
Regarding events over the weekend, Peters said the deadly violence and demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, “Made me upset and angry. It is sad we have to deal with this type of thing.”
He mentioned his World War II veteran father-in-law who fought the Nazis and minister father who worked to end desegregation in 1960s Detroit and was associated with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr.
“We thought we made a lot of progress ... and (the situation) not as bad as it was then, but this weekend was a reminder ... that it is still there ... and harbored in the administration of the president of the United States. The way he reacted is a great concern,” Peters said, adding later, “We have to fight back against this awful bigotry.”
Peters, a Democrat, said the health care battle is not over, nor is tax reform. He called for bipartisan efforts to resolve both, saying he is supportive of a unified effort such as that undertaken in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan (a Republican) and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (a Democrat) to enact tax reform. “They passed a bill with a lot of good changes,” he said.
While he said the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has flaws that need fixing, he said the situation is better than before its 2010 signing when many Americans had to declare bankruptcy due to unaffordable medical bills and get their primary medical care in emergency rooms.
He said since enactment the uninsured rate in San Diego County dropped from 17 percent to 5 percent. While access is good here, he said medical providers are non-existent in some places of the U.S. and locally the rising cost of premiums is a concern.
A group of 43 Democrats and Republicans — including Peters — are now working on a bipartisan fix, an effort occurring from the ground up instead of through leadership. He said some Republicans are coming to realize that “healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”
Peters said a successful bipartisan bill the House and Senate crafted is the Forever G.I. Bill, a just-passed sweeping reform of veterans’ education benefits awaiting the president’s signature.
Peters, who wrote the bill, said it gives Purple Heart recipients the full education benefits they earned, regardless of length of service. Until now, new enlistees had 15 years to use or lose their education benefits if released from active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013. The benefits now have no expiration. It also removes the 36-month service requirement that hurt Purple Heart recipients medically discharged due to battle injuries before fulfilling their service commitment. In addition, it reinstates benefits to veterans if their college closes or loses accreditation, such as what happened recently with ITT Tech and Corinthian.
The unified effort used to pass this veterans’ legislation is the same approach Peters said he would like to see in the upcoming tax reform discussions.
Peters answered many questions from the mostly-retiree audience. Regarding North Korea, Peters said a clear message must be sent to Kim Jong-un that the country “can have nuclear weapons or an economy, but not both.” He said sanctions supported worldwide are good, but this needs to be a military-to-military conversation, not a confusing set of mixed messages due to presidential tweets.
“We can’t have a president threatening (actions) we can not go through with ... we need to be very clear,” he said, adding later, “We need to tone down the rhetoric from the top and the military to send a clear signal.”
Peters said President Donald Trump is not going to change his behavior, but maybe his new chief of staff, retired Gen. John Kelly, can calm down “some of this craziness.”
“What we need to do is recognize (Trump) can’t act without Congress, or call him out when he is wrong,” Peters said.
When asked what the Democratic Party needs to do to win more elections in 2018, Peters said it must do a better job explaining how it will provide a better future for families through jobs, the economy, retirement security and education, and not get caught up in issues such as transgender access to public bathrooms.
He also said no one should be prevented from serving in the military due to their sexual identity, calling the president’s recent tweets on transgender service members “counter productive and kind of spiteful.”
Peters concluded by saying, “Don’t be a stranger (to us) and just yell at your TV. If we don’t know what you are thinking we can’t be responsive.”