Delaware’s Chris Coons, a Senate Democrat,. joined me this morning:
HH: My pleasure to welcome for the very first time to the program United States Senator Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware, widely regarded as one of the good guys in the United States Senate on both sides of the aisle, despite the fact that he is a double Yalie. I’ve put aside my prejudice, because we have a common friend in Marty Sherman. Senator Coons, thank you for joining us. I wish I had more Democrats all the time, and I really appreciate you joining me.
CC: Thank you, Hugh. I appreciate the chance to be on. I listen to your show, and I’m thrilled to join the other senators who are on with you regularly.
HH: Let me talk at first about Lindsey Graham and the President talking about Democrats yesterday, get your reaction, Lindsey Graham talking about North Korea and his colleagues in the Senate, the President talking about infrastructure and Democrats in the Senate. First, Lindsey, then the President, Lindsey Graham, cut number 16:
LG: I wish a Democrat would take their hatred of Donald Trump and park it, and realize that on Donald Trump’s watch, because of everyone else’s failure, he’s run out of the ability to kick the can down the road.
HH: And here is the President on Democrats yesterday, cut number 10, I think.
Reporter: Mr. President, given your harsh criticism of Democrats now, how are you going to bring them in on things like infrastructure or…
DT: Well, we’ll have to see. I’m not sure that we will bring them in. I mean, maybe we’ll bring them in, maybe not. I think the infrastructure bill will be bipartisan. In fact, frankly, I may have more support from the Democrats. I want a very strong infrastructure bill.
HH: So Senator Coons, what do you think? Bipartisanship on Korea and infrastructure?
CC: I agree with the President that if we’re going to have a strong infrastructure bill, it’s going to have to be bipartisan. There are some concerns about exactly how we might finance infrastructure, what its scope might be, how much we prioritize buy American, how central it is that we actually build things rather than finance things. But I think we’ll be successful in tackling issues from tax reform to health care to infrastructure if we approach it in a more bipartisan way. I’ll take Lindsey Graham’s comments. I don’t have hatred for President Donald Trump. I pray for our president. I do oppose him on a number of issues, but I think that’s, you know, that’s part of the political process. I do think that the very direct threat to the American homeland that Kim Jung Un poses is exactly the sort of thing that requires us to put aside our temporary partisan political differences and try to find a strategy and an approach together that can reassure the American people, that can keep us safe, and that can strengthen our leadership regionally.
HH: Thank you for that. That is exactly the answer I gave through eight years of President Obama. I prayed for him every day, I disagreed with him probably twice as often as I prayed for him, though.
HH: But you know, it’s the right way to go about this. If I could talk about appropriations first with you, I am a big proponent of a lot of money being bloc granted to state and local governments to do with complete freedom what they want to do on the infrastructure side, billions and billions of dollars to counties especially, because they know what roads and airports need. Do you think that’s the way forward, because it would be so empowering to give the money to local people as opposed to federal decisions about where it should be spent?
CC: Well, Hugh, you know you’re playing to my sympathies, because as a former county executive, I often felt that the local level of government was the most likely to get it right when it came to land use decisions, to housing, to infrastructure, and I think we might find a common way forward for infrastructure by looking at bloc grants to local government. Of course, in some areas, you have to coordinate regionally. I happen to be from Delaware, a very small state. I can be in three other states in 15 minutes. And for us to have local infrastructure projects where you don’t coordinate or plan with the county next door or the state next door, you can end up with some inefficiencies. But that’s different from compelling that planning. Encouraging it, incentivizing it, making sure that your local governments are talking to the next county over, and they don’t just go on a vanity project that serves the interest of that local leader or community is a way that we can end up with a more efficient network of infrastructure investments. I’m also a big fan of matching when the local government has some skin in the game. When the private sector has some skin in the game, you’re much more likely to end up with an infrastructure project that both puts people to work and strengthens our competitiveness regionally and nationally.
HH: That’s how the WPA worked. They matched $.50 cents on the dollar for school building in the 30s. And if you did a per capita bloc grant on a county basis, those county to county relationships would evolve. I was a local spender as well, for 19 years in Orange County. We know how to work with Riverside and Los Angeles and San Diego County. But give local people the money. They’ll get it done. Let me switch, if I can. You’re on the Appropriations Committee on Homeland Security. Senator Cotton has stepped forward with Senator Perdue with the RAISE Act. It seems to me that if you put forward DACA in legal form, and they put forward RAISE, and the President put forward border security funding for fencing, that there is a bipartisan approach to immigration reform that makes a lot of sense. Could that happen, Senator Coons?
CC: No, I actually had a two hour lunch with President Trump several months ago with a bipartisan group of senators, and this ended up being the main topic of that conversation – whether or not we could come to a common agreement. A comprehensive immigration reform bill that I co-sponsored and supported had billions of dollars for border security in it. And I don’t oppose the idea of strengthening our border security and closing the border. I don’t think that physically building a 2,000 concrete barrier is the most efficient way to do it, or even the wise way to do it. But I do think we can come to an agreement that having an open border, having a border that isn’t fully securer, is not in our national security interest. But the place we’re most likely to have real tension is the difference between DACA and a family reunion-oriented immigration policy, and what Senator Cotton has proposed, which would dramatically cut the number of people allowed into our country through legal immigration, and shift it towards high skill. In past congresses, I have co-sponsored with Orrin Hatch a high-skilled immigration bill, because as someone who worked in manufacturing at an advanced manufacturing company, I see the significant need in our private sector for folks with stem degrees, for folks with advanced skills. I first want to make sure we’re investing in American education so that we strengthen stem skills and the number of Americans who are pursuing degrees that make it possible for our cutting edge private sector companies to continue to be strong. But I think we need to balance between family reunification and skilled immigration. The way to do that isn’t to cut in in half, but to find a middle ground that actually meets the needs of American families of the private sector and some humanitarian accommodation of the young people who were brought here when they were too young to know that they were being brought here in a way that violated our law.
HH: And Senator, I believe 90% of Americans agree on 90% of this, but that a border fence, not 2,000 miles, more like 700-800, double-sided with a road between it that is long and strong and high is the visible expression of an invisible commitment to sovereignty and security. And if the money’s in there for that, that a new gang of 8, not the old gang of 8, but you and Cotton and Perdue and a bunch of other people could write that law, and the President would sign it, and those families would be reunified, and those kids would have assurance, and the noise from the far left and the far right should just be blocked out, because they are stopping the resolution. Like I say, 90% agree on 90%. Do you think I’m right about that, 90% agree on 90%?
CC: You know, Hugh, the thing I hear most often from Delawarians is why can’t you all work together. That’s why I keep introducing bipartisan bills. I’ve got a bill to advance American manufacturing with Senator Roberts of Kansas, a former Marine, 30 year veteran of the United States Senate, and a very conservative senator. I find ways to work across the aisle on issues that matter. This is one that I think just cries out for us to find a middle path that can be supported by the vast majority of Americans.
HH: And a last question, this is a personal request, Senator. David Stras has been nominated to the 8th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. He’s a Minnesota Supreme Court justice. I think he’s a Yalie, too. He’s also a Justice Thomas clerk. He is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Now I know he represents a threat in that he’s Jewish and from Kansas and brilliant, but the blue slips haven’t been returned by Senators Franken and Klobuchar on the grandson of Holocaust survivors. I’m simply astonished by this. You and I could probably debate Merrick Garland. We’re on the opposite sides of that. I think it was a good thing to do. But could we get rid of blue slips? These are not, you’re a 3rd Circuit clerk. I’m a D.C. Circuit clerk. You know your Con Law. I know my Con Law. Blue slips are not in the Constitution, Senator.
CC: Well, blue slips are not in the Constitution, but like the filibuster, they are an important part of the traditions of the Senate that empower senators to represent their state and their state’s interests. I’m looking forward to meeting the President’s nominee for the 3rd Circuit. I may return a blue slip on him, but you know, Hugh, I’m not going to say that I would welcome the end of an important tradition that allows the senators a key voice in the determination about who’s going to sit on district courts and circuit courts. That’s something we’re going to have to agree to disagree on.
HH: All right, well, will you go visit Al Franken on David Stras, please? Just ask him for me. I just think it’s horrific this guy isn’t moving forward. Senator Chris Coons, come back early and often. Productive conversation, and I appreciate it very much you being here.
End of interview.