In the News
June 19, 2019
Interview by Abby Hamblin and Luis Gomez
Scott Peters was first elected to Congress in 2012. He is a former environmental lawyer who served on the San Diego City Council and became the city’s first City Council president. Peters represents California’s 52nd Congressional District, which includes the cities of Coronado, Poway and most of northern San Diego. In a new interview with Abby Hamblin and Luis Gomez, the hosts and producers of The San Diego Union-Tribune’s podcast, “The Conversation,” Peters spoke about working across the aisle, climate change and social media. Here is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.
LUIS: Okay. Well, welcome.
PETERS: Thank you.
LUIS: Thank you for joining us Congressman Scott Peters.
LUIS: You want to start it?
ABBY: We’re going to talk to you about a lot of things. We follow you on Twitter. We follow you in the news. We follow your career, obviously, as a representative of San Diego, but we wanted…
PETERS: But… but Instagram?
ABBY: Instagram? Do you follow him on Instagram?
LUIS: I don’t think I do, no.
PETERS: Oh, that’s art. My Instagram is art.
ABBY: Okay. Well, we’re going to check that out after this podcast.
LUIS: Well, we’re going to ask you about Periscope.
PETERS: Okay. Absolutely.
ABBY: But we’d like to talk about why you didn’t run for mayor, what it’s like to be a Democrat in Congress, but we want to start right away by asking you where you stand on impeachment.
PETERS: So it’s a good question. I, like all the elected officials, particularly Democrats… we were all saying well, we have to wait to see what’s in the Mueller Report and now we can’t say that anymore. We can see the Mueller Report and it outlines some pretty serious stuff. It, first of all, establishes that we were attacked by Russia in a way much more serious than a few guys going through some Democrats’ file cabinets in 1972 in the Watergate Hotel. This is a former adversary who attacked us. And, although there was not a crime of conspiracy, there’s certainly a lot of cooperation by the Trump people. I think that’s a concern, but more to the point of impeachment there were 10 instances that Mueller identified what would have qualified as obstruction of justice in the Nixon era. And I think that 900 prosecutors from both sides of the aisle… federal prosecutors said would have been basis for felony prosecution and imprisonment, so I think it’s serious. Now, the question before us is what do we do about it? I know we’re going to have these hearings and Speaker Pelosi has said, you know, we shouldn’t jump to impeachment, but, you know, we’re not having the hearings to create TV, we’re not an academic institution, we’re not having, you know, the hearings… you know, they talk about something like censure, which is slapping him on the wrist. I mean the Constitution says that Congress should decide if the president has committed treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors, and this is consistent with what the Nixon impeachment was about. So I think you can call it what you want. It is impeachment. I think that’s where we’re headed. I think that’s Congress’ job. I think Justin Amash’s analysis in his tweets was pretty right on.
LUIS: And you were quoted in the L.A. Times as saying that you’re evolving and that…
ABBY: That’s our soonest quote we could find from you.
PETERS: Yeah. (Overtalk).
LUIS: That’s the latest that we got from you.
ABBY: What does that mean exactly?
LUIS: What does that even mean? What does evolve mean?
PETERS: Well, it means that Sarah Wire caught me as I walked off the floor. And she’s pregnant and she’s leaving work, and so I guess I felt like I had to talk to her, but the L.A. Times reporter.
ABBY: Yeah, our colleague.
PETERS: The… I actually was struck by Amash’s texts and I thought to myself why… why am I not saying this? I… so I said we shouldn’t go into impeachment for political reasons. We shouldn’t go into it because we want to hurt Trump in the elections, but we shouldn’t avoid it for political reasons either and I think we should approach it head-on. It should have nothing to do with the political things. As much as I disagree with Donald Trump on political issues… like what he’s doing at the border now, his Muslim ban, transgender ban, his harassment of Planned Parenthood, his withdrawal of leadership from world… world leadership in climate in Paris or the Iran Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal… all of that stuff is for voters, but it’s this high crimes and misdemeanors issue that is before us assigned to us by the Constitution and I think we ought to take it seriously.
ABBY: So at the last count that we saw it seems that about 12 House Democrats are openly supporting impeachment while the rest are in the evolved range similar to you… are evolving. What do you think your constituents here in San Diego would say or would think about that issue?
PETERS: Well, we had a town hall last night in Scripps Ranch. Scripps Ranch not the most vivid blue community, not the most vivid red community either. Probably a little bit on the pinkish side, but I said that to them and I think they understood where I’m coming from… that, you know, if we don’t… if we would let this kind of conduct go unchecked it… A, it really… it diminishes the congressional role and oversight. It would… it questions… it raises a question about what Congress would ever do. And I think Amash’s point was in a time of partisanship the risk isn’t that we would use impeachment too little, it’s… or too much, it’s that we would use it too little and never have any oversight. So I think my… I think my constituents understand... it’s a pretty smart district. I think they understand that I would be taking it seriously to be looking at it as a legal issue, not a political issue.
LUIS: Are they calling for you to impeach?
PETERS: Oh, my gosh. I think the calls we get, which we… we keep track of overwhelmingly are about impeachment and overwhelmingly say impeach, but, you know, that’s not a scientific poll. That’s pretty self-selected.
ABBY: What would it take for you to fully get there? Because I know there’s a lot that everyone’s waiting to see that will happen with the courts. And I think this is an issue that, as we’ve seen recently… I mean people are waiting to find out where everybody’s going to land… on one side or another. You know, what would be enough to get you there?
PETERS: Well, I think a lot of people feel, in the first instance, that if President Trump is going to defy court orders that that would be… that would be it for everybody and…
ABBY: And you’re willing to wait?
PETERS: Well, I think also there is a process. There’s a process of hearings after which you take a vote. And that’s when we take a vote, but I already think there’s enough there to raise a concern. It’s more than the bipartisan impeachment of Richard Nixon ahead and there may be more. I mean we… what we don’t know is a lot of the information about the potential entanglement of Trump’s finances with Russia, and I think that will come out, too. So I think it’s important to have the hearings… and treat this as the… the inquiry that it is. So I wouldn’t want to say I’m ready to vote, but I think the indictment’s pretty strong.
ABBY: This is a question I feel like I would love to ask every member of Congress. Did you actually read the Mueller report? How much of it did you read?
PETERS: I read the Mueller report. Did I read it like… like I had to have a… write an essay on it? No, I… I did not. You know, I went through the whole thing. I read a lot of parts of it. I don’t think it’s over redacted by the way. I think that’s a bad battle for us. I mean it’s very clear from the redactions that… much of the redaction has to do with protecting ongoing investigations, which I don’t think Congress should get in the way of, but… yeah, I spent some time with it.
ABBY: Okay. And since we have a Congress member here on our podcast we just want to ask you now that you’ve been there as long as you have, what’s changed from one term to the next? What stands out for you as a representative of San Diego?
PETERS: Well, for me that’s changed a lot. So in my first term I had won by only a little bit. I had beat a 12-year Republican incumbent in a seat that had never been represented by a Democrat, so I have to say… be totally honest. I mean my first term was… was really taken up with politics and they… you know, people were trying to get me to get home as fast as I could and raise as much money as I could. And so… and also I had an opponent at that time who started in May. I was sworn in in January. He started in May, blasted me every day and he was… he was very good at the press, and so it was… that was really, really a difficult time because I was trying to do my job at the same time. I was trying to fend off this attack and ended up being in the fifth most expensive race in the country in 2014. Survived it. A lot of the other people who were predicted by The Washington Post as most likely to lose did not… did not make it back. So that was a unique experience. I don’t particularly want to go through it again. And then, you know, as I have been around a little bit longer and the district gets to know me a little bit better, I think the seat is a little bit more secure, I could always face an opponent. I always have to be careful about that, but it wasn’t as overwhelmingly, you know, like elephant in the room all the time as it was… as it is now. So for me that’s good. The other thing that’s happened with time is I’ve gotten more seniority. So I was honored to be on the Armed Services Committee for my… first two terms, but I wanted to get on the Energy and Commerce Committee to work on climate and the environment and that was my background. I thought that that’s where I could make the biggest impact, and I was able to do that. It’s a competitive committee, but I was able to get that in my third term. And now I’m a middle bencher. I mean, I would say to be fair, I’m sort of right in the middle of seniority and I have the ability to have more influence. For… so for me that’s good. And then the other thing that’s changed in terms of Congress is it’s a pretty significant difference to have Nancy Pelosi be the Speaker instead of John Boehner or Paul Ryan and the effect of that is that we can get a lot of the things to the floor for votes that we’ve been working on for a long time that we haven’t been able to do. So that’s what’s… you know, that’s what’s made the job so different from December to January and I think it’s… there’s a lot of opportunity now.
LUIS: Would you ever want to be House speaker?
PETERS: Oh, my gosh. What… it seems like a tough job. I don’t think I’m… I don’t think I have… I think that’s a pretty academic question. I don’t think that’s going to happen to me.
LUIS: Fair enough. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez… she’s new in Congress and she’s got a lot of really bold ideas and a big social media presence. She also has a resolution in the House of Representatives, Green New Deal, which is also co-sponsored by some 12 U.S. Senators and more than 90 members of Congress.
LUIS: Including some here in the San Diego delegation, including Juan Vargas and Mike Levin. You’re not a co-sponsor, but do you support it?
PETERS: I don’t for two reasons. One… is policy and one is strategy. So in terms of policy… look, you can’t complain about a lot of what it does in terms of stating aspirations for climate change and that we need to get to net zero emissions by mid-century, which is true, but it contains stuff that doesn’t have to do with climate. Whether everyone should get a free route to college and whether the government should guarantee jobs, we can have those conversations. I don’t particularly think those are good policies and I don’t sign resolutions that I don’t agree with. So, although it’s hard to complain about the aspirations of the climate parts, it’s got… it’s got more in there than that. And the second reason is strategic. The effect of that… you know, the going beyond climate has meant that this is entirely a Democratic resolution. And as someone who’s very concerned about climate, I think the imperative is that we find bipartisan agreement because we can’t get anything passed unless we get Republicans and Democrats working together. So I think that’s… in terms of strategy for saving the planet it takes us in the wrong direction. Now, people argue that it generates a lot of enthusiasm, which is great, and I think it does and if it’s brought new people to the debate that’s great. I’ve been working on this for 20 years and I think the priority for me is to find bipartisan support, so I don’t agree with the… with the need for this. I don’t agree with the… I don’t disagree with the primacy of the issue and the existential threat to the planet. I just think that I have to work on getting solutions and I think my way is certainly more comfortable for me.
LUIS: And this is kind of like in impeachment where like people are either on one side or the other. Do you… are your constituents on… on board or are they… do they support it?
PETERS: The Green New Deal?
PETERS: My constituents support bold action on climate. I… like I said, I think that’s where the agreement is. I don’t suspect that most of them would support the government guaranteeing jobs to people. I think we… you know, we feel… I think I feel that government should guarantee an opportunity… a fair opportunity to people, but not result. And I suspect that’s where my district is. My district is a… you know, it’s going to… it could be represented by Republican or Democratic, but it’s never going to be Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders. It’s going to be someone who’s perceived to be a problem solver, and I think that’s the… that’s where they would be.
LUIS: Yeah. What about like the young people? Because there seems to be a lot of backing from young people that feel very strongly about this, they follow her social media and they just kind of agree with her. You know, they say it’s do or die. You know, it’s now is the time to take care of this issue.
PETERS: Well, like I said, she’s inspiring. She’s actually a really delightful person in… in person and, you know, fun to be around. And, you know, we’ve spent some time at the Democratic retreat. She was very pleasant. And… think of what she’s accomplished at age 29. I don’t think she’ll be 30 ‘til this fall, but, like I said, I think the agreement we really want is about whether there should be bold action to take on climate change. And I think there’s agreement on that. And if her… if her tactics bring people into that, fantastic.
ABBY: On… the point of jobs really quick. I’m curious… as someone who’s trying to find things that work in the realm of the Green New Deal and find bipartisan action on climate change, you know… what are your views on… I’ve been reading up on how some of the unions in especially California are now rising up. And… this is a really interesting issue… climate change because, you know, there’s so many oil-tied jobs, there’s so much that needs to change for carbon reduction, you know. What is your view on saving jobs or transitioning jobs? That’s one of the toughest pieces of this, I think.
PETERS: I think it’s a great question. I think it’s a profound question because, you know, California doesn’t relatively have a lot of extraction industry. We’re… not particularly reliant on oil and gas. I mean there’s some gas extraction. We’ve ended offshore oil drilling, which I think is the right policy, but places like Texas have a lot and West Virginia is a coal state. Now, I think for environmental reasons coal’s gotta go away tomorrow or today because not only is it a terrible climate agent, it’s also a big polluter and one of the reasons that mercury, which is one of the most toxic agents, is in so much fish around the world. And fortunately the markets… the fact that natural gas is so inexpensive has sort of made coal uneconomic, but that’s a whole state of people who have lost their livelihood. And they’re good people and they work hard and they’re not to blame for what coal does. This is what they’ve done for generations. I think the environmental movement has to [explain to] those people and say this is part of our mission… is not only to move toward a decarbonized economy, but to remember that there are people who’ve depended on it for their livelihood, they’re proud of their work, they’ve raised their families off of it. So for older people… older coal miners that might be providing financial support, but for their children it has to be about retraining. And there’s some… you know, there’s some bills in the climate playbook that I put together about training, but maybe the next… next Tesla battery factory could be in West Virginia. So I think we have to be very intentional about taking care of those people.
LUIS: You alluded to bipartisanship in Congress and every now and then you hear or see a headline about some sort of bipartisan deal like the Disaster Relief Fund.
LUIS: What’s it like… what’s the climate, you know, for working together? You know, just reaching across the aisle, what’s that like?
PETERS: Well, first of all, I think you might get the impression that it’s very hostile in… from the TV, and it’s actually not. You know, it’s…
ABBY: Not just from the TV, but from the horse’s mouth a lot of the time.
PETERS: Yeah. I mean… and look, there’s a… you know, so I had this experience with Darrell Issa. Darrell was obviously running for a long time. I came to Darrell and we worked on a bill that everyone could agree with on reforming H-1B visas and the idea that the H-1B visas… high-tech visas were being abused and they were letting in people who really weren’t, you know, the kind of people we’re trying… and so we tried to tighten that up together. And I thought this is great, you know, Darrell and I are buds, man. And then the next day he came out, he had endorsed my opponent. And I thought… it sort of hurt… it hurt my feelings for a minute, I thought we were friends, but you realize that that’s the business side of it. And so if you play sports against somebody you try to beat them, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly. And that’s really kind of the best analogy or it’s like… I was told that when you’re a lawyer try a case so that you could have a beer with your opponent. And I think that’s kind… you know, with most people we get along very well and… and so on some issues we found people that I could be a partner with. So I’m doing a lot of… we’re trying to reduce drug prices with Larry Bucshon from Indiana. I’m trying to do some hydropower reforms with Greg Walden of Oregon. And this bill… this Disaster Act… of all people, I’m working with Mark Meadows who’s the… like the leader of the Freedom Caucus and was the main person trying to get Paul Ryan out because he was too… not conservative enough. And so I used to always joke with Mark. I said you and I are both against Paul Ryan. That was pretty funny, but… you know, the idea is that when we had Superstorm Sandy we spent about $60 billion dollars off budget because of this extreme weather event. I’m concerned about climate change and the budget. He was concerned about the budget. There’s no budgeting for this thing. As we’ve seen extreme weather event after extreme weather event, we’ve spent money on it, we’re going to approve a disaster bill. We just did last week, you know. We’re not budgeting for it. And that was Mark’s concern, so we came together and this is in the nature of an adaptation bill. And so I think you can do things together and I think… I think that’s our job.
LUIS: Yeah. When I think of Congress, I think of the show “House of Cards,” you know. Just… I don’t know if you ever saw the show, but (overtalk).
PETERS: You know, I just won’t watch it.
ABBY: Do you guys watch those shows about…
PETERS: I just… I won’t. No.
ABBY: …the Hill and what goes on there?
PETERS: I don’t even… I hear that…
PETERS: I hear that “Veep” is great, but it’s just like… my wife likes to watch like cable TV. When I get home that’s the last thing I want to do. I just want to watch the Padres and go to sleep.
LUIS: Oh, okay. All right. What do we not see from the outside of Capitol Hill? Like what are… what are some anecdotes that you can share?
PETERS: Well, I… so there… you know, there’s opportunities to congregate around athletics and sports. When I… and so when I first got elected… I’ve told this story a few times, but when I first got elected I heard there was a House gym and it’s like a high school gym in the basement of the Rayburn Building. It’s nothing fancy and you have to pay to go, but the good thing about it is no lobbyists and no staff. So you really… everybody in there is… you know, if you’re not one of the five people who works for the gym, you know, no one can…
ABBY: That’s interesting.
PETERS: No one can bother you. So it’s good. I walked… so I like going in the morning, even though it’s hard in the East Coast. I’d go in the morning and I… I tap on a guy’s shoulder. I don’t know who he is, but he’s probably a representative. I say can you tell me where the weight bench is? And he says well, the weight bench is in that room, but if you’re going to work on your chest why don’t you work with us? We’re going to do chest and back today. I said great. You know, a group of friends. So he says stand next… go… go stand next to Paul. He’ll tell you what to do. And I walk over there and extend my hand to the newly not vice president Paul Ryan, and Paul says stand here. And he does a P90X class every day, right?
ABBY: He leads it or he just does it in there?
PETERS: He… he led it, right?
PETERS: Now, obviously, he’s not in Congress anymore, but this was the first term. And so the other guy was… and these are all… these are all people… if you know congressional scandals… that are pretty well known now. The guy I met was Tim Murphy who totally had abused his staff and… and he resigned and then this guy… other guy was Aaron Schock, the guy who identified… who decorated his office in the style of “Downton Abbey” and spent a lot of public money.
LUIS: Yeah, I remember that. Yeah.
PETERS: So that was my workout group, but it was… you know. And he was also on the cover of Men’s Fitness, but I would… be out there jumping with the TV and… you know, and Paul Ryan for my first two terms, but the funniest thing about that was… and so here’s Paul Ryan (knows a) freshman Democrat… like a nobody Democrat, but one of the days I had missed the workout I was… had been standing next to a bunch of Democrats and we were all talking. And Paul Ryan walks by, points at me, and says, “Where were you this morning?” And I think it made all the other Democrats very nervous.
LUIS: Wow. Put you on the spot right there.
PETERS: But, you know, there’s golf tournaments, there’s a baseball game.
ABBY: Who’s the fittest member of Congress?
LUIS: Oh, yeah, that’s…
PETERS: Markwayne Mullin is a jiu-jitsu champion from Oklahoma.
PETERS: And he now leads the gym workout.
PETERS: A very conservative guy, though.
LUIS: Switching gears. You… you definitely sound like a moderate. You present yourself as a moderate. Democratic Party… I don’t know if you were at the convention in San Francisco, you know, at… there’s… there’s this whole perception that the Democratic Party is moving a little bit too much to the left. What are Democrats getting wrong in Congress… if you could point something out?
PETERS: Well, if you think that the party’s moving left, I challenge that. I think actually that’s not in fact the case, so let me take apart a couple things you said. One is whether we’re moderates. Well, on civil rights issues… I don’t think there’s a lot of daylight among Democrats. Whether it’s the transgender ban or marriage equality, whether it’s women’s right to choose, whether it’s how you treat Dreamers and immigrants, voting rights for African Americans we’re all as left-wing or whatever that is… pro-civil rights as anybody.
LUIS: I can give you an example of like how… like universal health care, for example.
PETERS: So on business issues like health care, how do you solve problems? That’s where you see differences in strategy and that’s what they are. So everyone wants universal health care. Since Obamacare we’ve all viewed health care as a right, not as a privilege, and that’s a huge step forward. Now the question is how do you make sure that people get affordable health care when they need it?
LUIS: I don’t know if you saw, but some Democrat… Democratic candidates got booed for saying…
PETERS: I did. I did see that. And I was going to say that there is a difference in terms of strategy, but the… the majority was taken not by those people. It was taken by the three-quarters of the new seats represented by New Dems… people who, in my caucus, describe themselves as pro-business, pro- growth and… you know, I don’t… we haven’t talked about it, but we’re capitalists, right? Who want to make capitalism work for everybody, but that’s really where the numbers are. So I think the idea of it being more left-wing or more… you know, more extreme does affect primary votes, but in terms of Congress we’re problem-solvers and that’s where the party is. Now, about the Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. I mean Medicare for All, I think is… is bad policy and bad politics, just like John Delaney got booed for in San Francisco.
LUIS: I saw, yeah.
ABBY: So you would have got booed, too.
PETERS: I would have got booed, too, but I’m not running for president. So, you know, I think that if we were starting a health care system we would not start with what we have. We might start with something that looks more like Northern Europe, but this is what we have and we have 150 million people or 180 million people who get health care through their employers. It would be very difficult to convince them to give that up and let the government provide their health care. (We want to) concentrate on the people who don’t have health care under the current system. That’s what we do. And I’ll just tell you the story of… one story that moved me was Stephanie the hairdresser whose husband is a… works at a IT company… small IT company that doesn’t provide his health care. They have two lovely daughters, and the younger daughter Charlie at age four gets leukemia. The first month’s bill is $250,000, over the course of a year it’s a million dollars. If they didn’t have Obamacare they’d be ruined, and Obamacare made a big difference… Affordable Care Act made a big difference for them. Now, fortunately, Charlie at age six is… is in remission, she’s fine, but she got the health care that she needed. And that’s how, I think, we address the problem for the people who don’t have health care. And I love the… again, the passion of the people who… who want Medicare for All, but I’m just as interested in… as they are in getting universal health care for everybody who needs it.
LUIS: Do you think it would be misguided for the candidates… Democratic candidates to get onboard and start saying Medicare for All because they…
PETERS: Well, if some people believe in it, I would… you know, I think Bernie Sanders did say what he believes. I think he… he’s authentic. I just think he’s wrong. And that’s part of what campaigns do, they sort that out, but I don’t think that’s going to play in a lot of states. And, frankly, it didn’t play in California, if I recall. That was the big… that was the big emphasis of now Gov. Newsom, but when they saw that the cost of this was twice the state’s budget it got quiet. And they’re doing a really good job at Covered California. Peter Lee does a fantastic job of getting everybody covered. We’re basically at full coverage except for the people who aren’t entitled to be covered, which are undocumented. And we could have that debate, too, but California’s doing a pretty good job with the current system.
ABBY: So you say that the… maybe the Democrats in Congress are a little bit more moderate than we’re seeing from the outside or that some people may think, but how do you get that moderate view pushed forward, whether by action or getting as much attention as maybe the progressives are getting, especially you’re working on climate change from a moderate perspective? How do you push forward with that? How do you get ahead? How do you get anywhere?
PETERS: You accept invitations to the U-T podcast to start. Look, I just think I’m in a position where this matches what the district expects of me. The district expects me not to be just about making speeches or talking to people I agree with. I think they understand if you’re a… if you’re a lawyer, a real estate agent or anybody who has to close deals… that you have to do that by talking to people and resolving problems. And I think the hard part in Congress is not giving a speech to a bunch of people who agree with you. It’s finding the person like Mark Meadows or Larry Bucshon or… or Greg Walden that you disagree with on a lot of issues and… you know, but you can find some agreement on. That’s hard work and it’s also going to get people yelling at you because there’s a lot of personal animosity from the outside about this, too. And I also think if you… if you made a deal with Republicans it must be bad, but that’s how things happen. And… Ted Kennedy said a good thing. He said, you know, I’m going to get a half a loaf today and tomorrow I’m going to come back for the other half. So he would do a deal with Orrin Hatch. They were really close friends. And he wouldn’t get everything he wanted, but he moved the ball. And I think that’s my job.
ABBY: And do you foresee this green playbook as pulling some of those people toward your side?
PETERS: So the climate playbook is an invitation. So what we did was… I got frustrated with the politics around climate. I think it’s an existential threat. I think there’s no one who… I have 20 years of experience working on this from the city and in philanthropy and everything else, and I think I have something to offer. I don’t think there’s anyone who cares more about it than I do or understands, you know, that it’s a terrible threat for us. So my response to that is let’s start getting stuff passed. So that’s what the playbook does… it takes all these bills from Republicans and Democrats… many of them are bipartisan… that deal with all the different areas of… of where you have to address climate change and, you know, whether it’s energy efficiency, which is easy, to reducing pollution, increasing research investments, more investment in adaptation and resiliency, workforce as we talked about, and… you know, there’s lots of room, I think, for agreement and that’s what we should start with. I don’t think we’re going to get carbon pricing, which I think is kind of one of the most important elements right now in this Congress with this president, but I think we can do a lot of the groundwork.
ABBY: Where do you think the most momentum is right now?
PETERS: Around research. I think my friend Dave McKinley from West Virginia agrees that we need to do a lot of research about battery storage and about carbon capture. The IPCC… the UN’s Climate Committee said it’s going to be hard for us to do… to meet our goals without figuring out a way to do negative emissions technologies like to capture coal or… or capture carbon emissions from the air. We’ve got a long way to go on that, but investing in research I think there’s a lot of momentum for. I think there’s a lot of moment for energy efficiency in buildings. That’s pretty easy. And I think the other good thing that’s happened that’s been very subtle, but I think is pretty important is that the Republicans have stopped denying that climate change is happening or human cause. In fact, at our committee the EPA Administrator Mr. Wheeler came in and said yeah, I understand climate change is happening, I understand that it’s largely caused by human activity. Well, that’s a pretty profound change from where we were.
LUIS: Yeah, it is.
ABBY: Okay. We have to talk about San Diego. You’re here with us here in San Diego.
PETERS: Love it.
ABBY: And we want to talk about the mayor’s race and ask you… put you on the spot and see if you’re willing to say who you’re supporting.
PETERS: Not yet. I… I’ve talked to both the candidates… the main candidates Todd Gloria and Barbara Bry. They both bring different things to the table. I want to hear what they have to say. I mean I’m really interested in the race and I’m interested in a… in a few things being address in San Diego, and so I’m going to wait.
LUIS: Are you close to both of them? Are you friends with both of them?
PETERS: You know, I know them both… I’ve known Barbara from politics for a long time. And Todd, obviously, you know, (was acting mayor) and has been around for a while. So I… I know them both pretty well.
LUIS: Have they approached… either approached you for support?
LUIS: And what did you say? What did you say to them?
PETERS: I said let’s talk. We’ll keep talking.
PETERS: I’ve told them some of the things that I’m interested in, in the city and that I think need to be addressed… some of the things I would have done if I were mayor. And so far it’s pretty quiet in terms of policy. You know, neither of these people is behaving like Elizabeth Warren and putting out, you know, policy after policy, but I think at some point we’ll get to that and then we’ll see.
ABBY: What are some of those things? As far as listening what do you want to hear, what do you want to see?
PETERS: Right now we should get this Prop B thing behind us. The Supreme Court has… both Supreme Courts have declared it invalid. It’s time for our mayor and our council to sit down and negotiate something with the… with labor that works, and it’s not that hard to do. It happens all over the country. And part of it could be, you know, we’ve learned that many employees who don’t expect to be with the city for the rest of their lives actually like the defined contribution part of this better than the old defined benefit pension plan that we had. So it can be hybrid, but right now… it’s chaos. There’s going to have to be a major retrenchment because the city got bad legal advice that this was a good idea, no one else did it, and, you know, there’s an opportunity to take this uncertainty and make a moment out of it where you… you make the city of San Diego a great place to work… a place where people want to work. So that’s one thing. Two is you have to land the plane on the transportation. So right now you’ve got two tracks. You’ve got SANDAG looking very aspirationally at… and I’m very sympathetic with this… what the big plan is down the road and you’ve got MTS on track to do more near term improvements to the existing system. Well, you have to do both and they have to work together. And that’s the job of the mayor… is to coordinate that and make sure that we have a long-term plan that we can all agree on and that we do short-term steps that are consistent with that plan. Third, I think the city should really talk about the COO… the person who runs the city in the same way we talk about the police chief or the fire chief. All three of those positions are named in the charter under the strong mayor form of government. We’ve never really had a conversation like we do about a police chief and a fire chief about who is the manager because you want the mayor to be the major. The mayor’s not the person who is going to get in the details of the streets plan or work on real estate, but we ought to have an understanding about the competency of this person and the dedication to results and employee success. And then finally real estate. I think one of the things that I saw at the Port was such an aptitude for real estate that I just don’t see in the city. And whether that’s a political reluctance to get involved with real estate or whether it’s a competence issue, I don’t know, but the fact is we still have a disaster of a sports arena. It’s an embarrassment. That’s… you know, that’s not something that the city has to build, but we ought to enable a private developer to do that. And my preference would be to do that at the bus yard downtown where it could be part of the tourism ecosystem. You could book that out for conventions. Like the Democratic Convention, I went to in Philadelphia was in the basketball arena there. It was fantastic. And, you know, we could walk there. It wouldn’t be 108 degrees heat index. You know, it could really be a great thing and also could provide entertainment. And then you could redevelop that area up in Point Loma, but that’s a… that’s kind of a common thing, but, you know, when I noticed it was, you know, we lost our football team, which is a disaster. It was a disaster and we… there was no reason to do that because the Chargers had opened with a $650 million dollar opening bid. People get mad when I say this because they are like constitutionally required to hate the Chargers now, but this was really on us, too. And they conceded another $200 million dollars of… they made another $200 million dollars’ worth of concessions in the course of their downtown effort. After that failed until they left there was an opportunity to do a deal and I think we just didn’t… we just didn’t have the horsepower apparently, so I’m really disappointed in that and I’m concerned now about what that means for our negotiations around the site. So I think that’s a real hole. I don’t think that that’s something we should expect someone who’s running for mayor to be an expert in, but we ought to expect them to get the experts behind them starting with the COO. Those are a few ideas. Did I miss anything?
ABBY: Surely we could re-litigate the Chargers issues for three more episodes of this.
PETERS: Okay, I’ll take that up. I’d be happy to. It just doesn’t happen.
ABBY: We’ll have to bring you back.
PETERS: It doesn’t happen. It’s like, you know, not…
ABBY: What would you have done differently or what’s the biggest glaring error to you?
PETERS: Well, the money was there. I mean I think you make a counteroffer. When someone offers $650 million dollars you make a counteroffer. You don’t just let it sit there. You say… you… I would have said okay, you’ve already conceded $200 million dollars. You’re up to $850. We need a… we need a billion one. Reduce the price to a billion. Now your gap is $150 million. You haven’t even sold the land yet, right? You still have the land. We’re selling the whole thing, right? And so then you say to the NFL, you want us to stay in… you want us to stay in San Diego, get us 50 million dollars. Say to Kroenke, you want us not to move to LA, give us $50 million dollars. Now you’ve basically closed the gap, okay? That’s what I would have done. I mean it’s ridiculous that we didn’t do that. It’s not… it wasn’t even that hard. So I think… I think it was… you know, I think the politics around it were a lot different. I worked on Petco Park, okay? I heard the same things when I ran for office… we don’t want a baseball stadium, we want a downtown library. Well, I think, you know, what we did… this… we went ahead with this thing… we made a great public asset, you know. It’s a great public asset. We used it to redevelop the whole area. That helped pay for it, right? We… did give we give away the land? I don’t know, but we’ve got a great city. It’s a great downtown… start of a downtown. That’s a great downtown even when the team is bad, which was, you know, a lot until now. It had nothing to do with the sports, it had to do with making the deal and I think we were just overmatched. We didn’t have any imagination. And if I had… if I had gone with the same politics in 1999 in 2000 and 2001 that we saw out of this football politics… the idea that we can’t spend a public… a public penny, right… that’s what they said… we would not have Petco Park.
ABBY: I wish this was a visual so you guys could see how truly worked up the congressman is getting here.
LUIS: He’s using both of his hands.
PETERS: I’m waving like Beto here.
ABBY: Yeah. So… okay. Well, you clearly have a lot of ideas for the city, and so we have to ask you… there was a lot of speculation that you would run for mayor… so why didn’t you?
PETERS: Look, I thought about it really hard and I just assumed I would. I had people suggesting that I do it. I thought I was going to have support. I felt pretty… our polling was very strong and then I saw what it was like to… oh, actually, we got to the point where we had lined up a campaign manager and a communications person and actually had drafted the script for the… for the video that we were going to do… the announcement video, but I started to look around in Congress and I realized this majority thing is a lot different. Now I’m not just… I’m in a position actually to influence what’s happening. The era of Trump is really of concern to me and I think… you know, I’m not scared to take it on. I… I’ve reached a point in my career where I’m confident that, you know, I kind of can make an effect, and so I just decided this was too much to walk away from. And even if I had… you know, I would have been in Congress for… during this time, but, you know, running a mayor’s race from 3,000 miles away would have really required 120 percent of my time. And so… it would have really prevented me from working on these things, so I just decided it was too much to walk away from and it’s important. And so I go into a room of supporters and they still split about half and half, you know, I wish you’d run for mayor, but I’m so glad… or I’m so glad you stayed, but I think it was the right thing to do right now.
LUIS: Is that something you might revisit down the line in the future?
PETERS: I don’t know. I mean I never know what’s going to…
LUIS: I mean you were so close.
PETERS: I was so close, yeah. We… I think we…
ABBY: I need to see that script.
PETERS: I know I… I’d kind of like to look at it again. It was… Maryanne says it was good.
ABBY: Those announcement videos are always interesting.
PETERS: Yeah. Now if… now if you can make a good movie you can run for anything. That’s… that’s the thing. I could have run for president with a good enough movie.
ABBY: Some better than others.
PETERS: No, but it’s… it was a hard choice, but I think... I feel really comfortable with it right now.
ABBY: And how long do you plan to stay in politics?
PETERS: Until I… I’d like to keep at it ‘til I can make a difference. I find it… it’s a great… great work for me, Abby. I love the ability to work on problems and solve problems. I love working with the staff that I have. They’re fantastic, generally young people who are really committed to the country, and it’s fun to have that teamwork. And I’m never bored. I have to say one thing about this job… is it’s the… the access to information and interesting issues is really important. I really find it… it’s also a great way to connect… I’m really proud of the way we’ve connected San Diego to Washington, D.C. I really focus on the border, the military, veterans, science and technology, the things that really matter to us here, and I think we’ve helped rebrand the city in Congress in Washington from where it was. I don’t know. My predecessor wasn’t that into that, and so I really enjoy it. I do… I have to make sure that my wife is somewhat interested in it. She’s pretty supportive of it so far and she’s also very concerned about the country, so I think she’s going to let me keep doing it.
LUIS: Social media and politics have intersected greatly since the Obama years. First I want to know like what’s your favorite platform? Like what…
PETERS: I like Instagram the best.
LUIS: Instagram the best.
PETERS: So I like Instagram because I like… you know, this is ridiculous… I mean for me to say I could be a little bit creative, but I like putting interesting things up that I think are funny. It’s… it’s fun to share and also it’s friendlier than Twitter, so…
LUIS: Like do you do a post or do you do stories?
PETERS: I don’t do stories. I just do posts.
PETERS: So if something interesting happens it’s kind of fun to show people what’s going on and…
LUIS: Yeah, like a House sit-in.
PETERS: Yeah. Something like that, yeah.
ABBY: The original live streamer.
PETERS: Yeah. That’s me, right?
ABBY: Was there anyone before you? I don’t know.
ABBY: Where you’re Periscoping from the floor.
PETERS: So we had a… you’re talking about the protest.
ABBY: Yeah, the sit-in.
PETERS: After… after the Orlando shooting, John Lewis… I was going to a meeting at the Leader’s house… or his office… Steny Hoyer’s office and it got canceled. And I’m sort of annoyed because I walked all the way over there, it was canceled, no one told me, so I called up and I said what’s going on? They said John Lewis is leading a sit-in on the House floor. I said that’s kind of historic, so I said okay, I’ll go. They said you have to go. I said I’ll go, so I went. And there’s John Lewis sitting down on the House floor, which is totally against the rules, you’re not supposed to do that, with some other people and the people are giving these speeches. And… and I said well, this is… this is kind of cool, but I called my office and I said the cameras aren’t on. No one knows that they’re doing this. I’m coming back. And Quinn, who since actually has moved from Washington to San Diego because she knows this is better…
LUIS: This is one of your aides?
PETERS: One of my staffers, yeah. She’s my digital media person. She says why don’t you download Periscope and broadcast it? And so I… okay, so I had to go to the app store. There’s Periscope. It says…
LUIS: Did you even know what Periscope was?
PETERS: No, no. And it says Twitter or Facebook. I picked Twitter. I didn’t know. And then I… and then it says broadcast, so I started doing it. And I did it for a little while. You’re not supposed to take pictures on the House floor let alone videos and they’re pretty strict about it. I did it for a little while and then it happened that I was scheduled to call my daughter at 1 o’clock to talk about one of her job opportunities. I was doing some job counseling, so I did go off the floor for that and went to make a phone call. And after I called… I had talked to her I looked back at this thing and people were saying like why’d you turn it off? That was really interesting.
ABBY: I remember. We… we saw that you stopped.
LUIS: We were watching, yeah.
PETERS: And so…
LUIS: We were one of those.
PETERS: Is that right? That’s so funny. So I said okay, so I’ll start doing it again. And then Joyce whose one of the staffers from the sergeant-at-arms came over and says you know, Mr. Peters, you can’t do that. I said I’m sorry and I stopped, and then I went and did it again sort of against… and then I finally told her, you know, this is a protest and I know I’m… I think I’m breaking the rules, but we’re not in session. And so I’m going to continue to do it, but I don’t mean to be disrespectful. And I told her that. So it go two million views that day and it got…
LUIS: Yeah, it was very highly talked about. It was pretty remarkable, yeah.
PETERS: And I thought it was a really cool way to use that technology to show people what was happening in government, and people were really charged up about it, which also reinforced my view that people are still really interested in the gun issue and that as… as discouraged as you can get, particularly when we’re the minority about getting any progress on the issue, you shouldn’t give up hope because people really cared about it.
ABBY: And we didn’t even get into 2020, but, you know, a lot of those 2020 candidates are trying to be really personable through their social media. What do you make of that?
PETERS: Some are more awkward than others.
ABBY: Yeah. What do you make of that, but I also more importantly want to ask you who you’re looking at supporting or have you chosen?
PETERS: I haven’t made an endorsement. I’m friends with some of the candidates. So actually Beto O’Rourke is a personal friend of mine and was part of the… you know, sort of the after work group. We would get together sometimes for dinner and, you know, we didn’t know that he was… like when he would go out on the stump he was going to be like Jesus. We just thought he was the guy cooking the flank steak, you know. He was… but he’s just… he did really well and we were very… we’re very proud of him and he’s the real deal in terms of his values. I think he’s a great guy. I do think Biden’s got a pretty good shot at winning. I think winning’s important. I like the unifiers like Cory Booker. I actually practiced law with Amy Klobuchar. I think she’s a tremendous talent. I’m less optimistic about the chances for people who do us versus them, you know, most prominently Bernie who I don’t agree with on a lot of issues anyway. I think Elizabeth Warren’s really interesting. I really like her. She’s one of the more awkward people on social media sometimes, but I really respect her. I don’t agree with all of her policies, but I don’t think that the us versus them kind of thing that she’s done is going to play. I think people are really wanting a president that unifies the country again.
ABBY: And as a moderate who do you feel like speaks to that best and who is hurting that the most?
PETERS: I think John Delaney actually is… he’s great. He’s… he’s the only member of Congress who’s run Fortune 300 companies. He’s qualified to be president. He’s got plans, too. He’s… he’s very pragmatic, but, you know… I mean politics is… it’s not a job interview. If it was a job interview I think he’d have a better shot at it than it is… than he does here, but he did tell me, by the way, that when he was still in office when he went to Iowa that the applause line that he would get really wasn’t an ideological issue. It was whether, you know, he said, who can bring the country together. We need somebody to bring the country together. And that’s what people in Iowa were really excited about. So I think that’s the kind of the person that’s going to do well. Mayor Pete is another one who’s got that kind of profile, too.
ABBY: So some interest in almost all of them.
ABBY: Are they making your job as Democrats in Congress any harder? I mean a lot of them are, but…
PETERS: Actually, I think it’s harder in the Senate. I mean each individual senator has more of an impact than any individual House member. And I talked to my friend Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona who’s a close friend of mine from the House and she does say that, you know, like a lot of stuff is affected by so many senators running for president, but they’ll start to drop out pretty soon.
ABBY: Who do you predict?
PETERS: Well, I think you look at the people who aren’t raising money. And you might have that chart. I don’t have that with me.
ABBY: Fair enough.
LUIS: How would you define the Congressman Scott Peters brand?
PETERS: I don’t know.
LUIS: I’d have to go through your Instagram?
PETERS: So… no. I sort of like… I sort of always been… in court I was… I think I was a really good lawyer, but my style was high school teacher. I think that’s kind of what I approach… like let’s talk about what the issues are and what we might do about it. I do think problem solver is probably part of it. I think I try to approach… I approach problems like a scientist. I really try to find out what the right answer… I really try not to approach it like a lawyer who’s got a predetermined outcome in mind. And I think that’s one of the things that’s hardest… is that, you know, if you don’t line up with everybody else you can get in trouble, but I kind of like that and I like picking battles… you know, some battles, not all the battles and trying to find solutions.
LUIS: And you… you really haven’t been in Congress that long. I mean it’s only been… what?
PETERS: 700 years.
LUIS: They feel like 700 years. You know, if you’re going to be in Congress for much longer you’re going to have to appeal to younger people. You know, that’s going to be your demographic. You know, how… how…
PETERS: Why do you think I don’t appeal to younger people? What was the basis of the implication?
LUIS: My question is how do you appeal to young people?
PETERS: You know, one of the missions of my time in public service has been to engage young people in government. And it’s not just in Congress, but since I was in City Council I would make a point of talking to fifth graders, eighth graders and twelfth graders. Get a little bit different conversation at each one, but the idea is to make sure that they understand what… why government is important, what I do, how they can be involved. Not all of them are going to run for office. Some of them wouldn’t like it, some of them wouldn’t be good at it, but I think that… that it’s part of our job to make sure that they’re engaged. One of the other things I’ve found is that through campaigning we have been able to engage an amazing number of people from UCSD, from USD, San Diego State, high schools, and some of them have become like… I don’t know… almost, you know, like friends of mine. And now they are running the Biden campaign field in Nevada, they’re working on the Beto campaign, one’s working on the Mayor Peter campaign. They’re all engaged in politics. So those people will all tell you that… that they’re fans of mine. I’ve got a real good band of those people that I think who are really engaged, and that’s been how I’ve done it. And I think not only… not because it’s politically expedient… expedient because part of my job is to get people like those involved because I can’t do this forever.
LUIS: And what are some of the issues that they care about the most?
PETERS: What… what should young people care about? I think there’s three main issues. One is climate change, right? We don’t… we’re… they deserve to have a planet that’s as good as the one we all got… you know, the generations ahead of them. And, you know, it’s not trending well, so I think they should be interested in that. Second is access to the education… not just college, but all kinds of education that might help them compete in a changing economy. The average student debt now at a college, though, is $30,000 dollars… over $30,000 dollars, and so we’ve got bills to deal with that, I think. I’m a student loan kid, but I never had these kind of challenges because our student loans were a relatively minor part of… even though it lasted for 10 years, I paid them back. It wasn’t like this. And the third is the national debt. The… we’ve been, you know, sort of riding in this period of deficits and adding up to a large national debt. That… that’s going to come home to roost someday. And, you know, even though inflation hasn’t gone up yet, you see this share of… of the federal budget devoted to interest payments starting to increase and that crowds out in itself… directly crowds out things we can do for education and for science, for infrastructure. So if I was a young person in high school or college those are the things I think that I should be worried about and hope that we’ll get people to get engaged in.
ABBY: Last question for you. Seven years now, what are you most proud of and what could you be doing better? Do you have any regrets?
PETERS: Well, every day… I mean I… you don’t get to replay stuff, so every day you say well, I would have done that better. So I don’t really think in that backward direction, but I’m… I’m proud of the connecting of San Diego with DC. So a new SEALs training facility $700 million dollars, a new border facility $500 million dollars. You know, we’re going to be really helping veterans get jobs through something we helped create… zero8hundred… a placement program for vets to connect them with the community. And, you know, we’re working on… we’ve increased the budget for basic science at National Institutes of Health from $29 billion to about $38 billion, and that’s the kind of stuff that really helps San Diego. So seeing it through a San Diego lens is really important. The other thing that the military has been doing that I’ve been supportive of is renewable energy. They’ve got microgrids up at Pendleton that are… that are, you know, amazing and they could be commercialized not because they’re tree huggers, but because there’s a good business case for it. And supporting the military’s ability to do that without interference from people from… you know, frankly from the oil states who try to stop that, I think, is important, too.
ABBY: And any fights left that are most important to you that you want to do more on, that you want to get in there and make a difference?
PETERS: No. I want to save the planet. I want to save the planet from climate change. That’s actually explicitly what I want to do. Part of that is fighting and fighting this… you know, fighting off the Trump administration’s rollback on car standards, methane capture, but part of it is building and I really want to devote myself to that. I do… I’m as concerned (as) anyone about the existential threat that climate change presents. I want to work on that. I want to do that both locally with respect to transportation and housing, but I also want to do it at a national level and worldwide. So there’s plenty of work for me.
ABBY: All right, Representative Scott Peters, thanks for being here.
PETERS: Thanks so much for having me.
LUIS: Thank you.