In the News

Rep. Scott Peters is in San Diego while Congress is on recess this month.

He joined Midday Edition Tuesday to talk about his priorities.

Here is that interview:

Q: The big issue still in the headlines is the deadly violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. President Trump's belated condemnation of the KKK and other white racist groups is getting some criticism. Some say the Trump campaign and his presidency has given a boost to white nationalist groups. Do you agree?

A: I do. I think we saw the true colors of Mr. Trump when he became a birther, he was talking about that, that was racist, when he has talked about Mexican-Americans as rapists, when he's talked about Judge Curiel, who's of Mexican-American descent, suggesting he would be biased even though he was from Indiana, that was his blood heritage. This is an outgrowth of that. That's why it was so important for the President to speak out against it, which he did only too late, too little. And I think it's very, very disturbing that we're in this position that reminds us of cross burnings and things like that, things we thought we had gotten past.

Q: Considering what you've said, do you expect to see more violence then from alt-right groups?

A: I hope not. I think the good news out of this, if you could say that, is that just about every other elected official who's come across the issue, Republican or Democrat, has spoken up against this, has stood up against it. You know we had 1,000 people at a vigil in San Diego just the other night, not in the nature of a rally but in a nature of a peaceful kind of observance. And I think on the whole that people understand this is both un-American and from my perspective, I certainly hate to think people would do this in the name of Christianity, it's just exactly the opposite of my faith.

Q: It now seems the move to repeal and replace Obamacare is on hold and Republican leaders say they may have to work with Democrats to make changes to the Affordable Care Act. You've put forward some potential ACA fixes, have you gotten any response from Republican colleagues?

A: Yes we did. So, I'm on the new committee this time, the Energy and Commerce Committee, along with the veterans affairs committee. Energy and commerce was the one that marked up the healthcare bill over a 27-hour period in which no Democratic amendments were taken. It was pre-cooked and it was political. It was destined to fail, that's what it did. During that very hearing though, I talked to some of my Republican friends and they came up to me and said, 'listen, when this falls apart,' because they kind of knew it would, 'let's talk about what would work.' The immediate issue is stabilizing the markets. California's working relatively well. You know our uninsured rate is down from 17 to 5 percent in the county, but we still need to worry about affordability. And there's some places in the country where there's no insurance options. So we came up with some ideas talking to industry people, providers, patients, academics, about some steps that would help soothe the markets and provide some certainty so that people could buy insurance. And as part of a Problem Solvers Caucus, the Democrats, we took that to them. It's about 43 Republicans and Democrats, we've signed on to those and some other ideas and we'd like to think that would get some traction when we get back because even though the repeal and replace effort may be dead there's certainly some issues in healthcare that we need to address. We want to do that in a bipartisan way.

Q: Is there any plan to start formalizing these procedings and get a bill?

A: Yes, I mean that's our intent. I think the Democrats who are working on this as part of the New Democrat Coalition and the blue dogs and now the sort of bipartisan effort of the Problem Solvers Caucus, that's the idea. We do depend on Paul Ryan to let us put something on the floor, we hope that he hears the music and agrees to sing along.

Q: After President Trump signaled his intention to ban transgender people from serving in the military, you responded with an amendment to a bill that would block the ban. Was that successful?

A: I'm sorry to say it was not. As soon as we heard about this, that morning, my staff and I prepared an amendment that was part of the appropriations bill that would prevent any money from being spent on such a ban, which is the most backward thing. I mean, the notion that we would say to a patriot who wants to fight for his or her country and possibly die, that your gender identity is going to keep you from doing that is just antithetical to human rights and to national security, so we filed the amendment. We got a lot of support for it right off the bat, but the Rules Committee, which is controlled by the Republicans and the leadership, refused to let it come to the floor for a vote. So as of now the policy is still just a tweet from President Trump. It's an awful tweet. The good news, as we often find, is that in the military, sanity prevails. They're not kicking anybody out because of a tweet. They're certainly going to wait for more formal direction and we'd like to think that issue will go away, again it's not representative of the way we think America is or should be.

Q: As we all know the tensions between North Korea and the U.S. have been heightened recently by rhetoric from both sides. There's been some concern that San Diego might be a target for North Korea because of the strong military presence here. What can you tell us about what you understand to be the North Korean capacity to launch nuclear missiles?

A: I think it's been growing. I mean they first launched the nuclear missile back in 2006 during the Bush administration. Policy of that administration and the Obama administration was first to be quiet about it and work diplomatically to try to reach the objective, which we need to reach, is that North Korea can't have nuclear weapons, that's just not acceptable for us. And I do know that obviously they're progressing. I think that we obviously have to use diplomacy, but we have to make sure that we have military to military conversations with North Korea so that they understand what lines they can't cross and we have to make sure that they understand that. These tweets by the way are confusing in that respect. And we also just have to make sure that Kim Jong-un understands that he can have nuclear weapons or he can have an economy, but he can't have both. So things like the UN sanctions were a productive step in that way. I would say this about the tweets though, is that it's beyond being just bizarre and a lack of self-discipline that you'd expect from a six year old. They're dangerous in this respect also, is that this is exactly what Kim Jong-un wants. He's telling his countrymen that he can't give them food because the threat of a nuclear attack by the United States is so great that they have to spend all their money on nuclear weapons to prevent this attack. And when Donald Trump goes out and tweets that very thing, I'm going to attack North Korea with this fire and fury, it just gives Kim Jong-un more fuel to use nuclear weapons to maintain his own position, so the smarter thing to do, in addition to what I said, is just be quiet about it. They like nothing more than poking the bear. They consider the result of the Korean War, which was a tie, a huge victory and they celebrate the signing of the peace agreement every year as a national holiday. This is exactly what he wants, he wants us to be upset by him, he wants us to feel like he's poking the bear and he wants us to react like this. You know, Donald Trump should cool out and get off the tweets, which I think people have said in a number of contexts.

Q: There was some conversation that perhaps Congress should do something to limit what the president can do in terms of any sort of pre-emptive strike or anything like that towards North Korea.

A: Well, I do think that Congress has to be, at minimum, a partner in the discussion about how to handle North Korea and by the way, the Middle East. In the Middle East, we have an AUMF, which is authorization for military force. It's the same one that's been around since 2001 under George Bush. Republicans until they gained control of the House, the Senate and the presidency, squawked a lot about updating the AUMF. Now that they have all three we haven't heard anything more about it. Institutionally Congress should be involved in that discussion in these hotspots like the Middle East, and certainly like North Korea.

Q: When you return to Washington when Congress reconvenes, September is going to be a very big month. You're facing racing the debt ceiling, the tax reform package, the budget that the Republicans want to pass. Democrats were not consulted on the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Do you feel that there will be more of a bipartisan effort for any one of those big issues that are coming up in September?

A: You know I read an article about the tax reform of 1986, which was the last major revamp of the tax code. It was a deal that President Reagan worked on with Tip O'Neill, the Democratic speaker. And they started the effort looking for every vote, every vote in the Senate, every vote in the House. And they went to each person and they went to essentially the economy, they asked the questions of companies and labor, what needs to be fixed, what makes us more competitive. After this big inquiry they came up with a plan that took a lot of work but came out of the ways and means committee with an unanimous vote. You know that just seems so foreign to us now. And despite the healthcare debacle that they just went through, trying to do it just as a Republican effort, I understand that this week that they're meeting in Texas, the ways and means Republicans are meeting in Texas, with Chairman (Kevin) Brady to talk about what they're going to do next. I would just say from a policy standpoint there's real work that needs to be done to make sure our companies are competitive, on behalf of our employees by the way, internationally and I think there is bipartisan agreement that we need tax reform, not just tax cuts for wealthy people that don't need them, but real tax reform to make us more competitive worldwide. And if they reach out to some Democrats they'll find there's a lot more cooperation, many times than the most right winged in their own party, but they've yet to do that. And I'm afraid from the national standpoint, just thinking about it non-politically that these many important issues won't be dealt with. The upshot politically is that they can choose this path, but it puts them in a precarious position politically next year. And I don't really care that much about the politics, but it may be the only leverage against this one-party approach. I'd much rather start in September to work on tax reform, by the way the debt ceiling, keeping the government open, are potentially very touchy issues as well, let's do it in a bipartisan way, let's think first about Americans and second about our parties.