JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to our series of conversations on the future of the Democratic Party.
I sat down with Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego in the studios of Cronkite School of Journalism here at Arizona State University.
He has represented Phoenix in Congress since 2015, and is a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Iraq War.
I began by asking him what’s at stake in the fight over health care.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO, D-Ariz.: Well, what’s at stake is the rising premiums on millions of Americans, and, according to the CBO, one million Americans not having health insurance next year in 2018.
The Lamar Alexander-Patty Murray compromise seems good on paper. It’s going to pay out the subsidies for the insurance market for the next two years. It does give some flexibility to states about what is covered and how the money is used. I’m waiting to see what those details are.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, let’s talk about your party, the Democrats.
It’s been almost a year since the Democrats took a serious drubbing in the 2016 elections. What shape is the Democratic Party in now?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: Well, certainly, I think we’re in better shape, and largely because we have a lot more grassroots activism that has taken the party and really molded us, I think, into a stronger party.
Our fund-raising now is largely based on small-dollar donors. You see, you know, people from all walks of life coming out of the shadows to run for office. We’re winning special elections, and in parts that we shouldn’t be winning, like Oklahoma, different — you know, New Hampshire, and districts that were Trump districts.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You said when it came time for a vote for majority — for minority leader in the House last November, that it was time for the party to learn from its mistakes in last year’s election.
You said it needed new leadership. You supported Congressman Ryan of Ohio over Nancy Pelosi to be the House minority leader.
Do you still feel that Nancy Pelosi should be replaced?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: Well, at that point, I did feel like it was time for her and leadership to go in general, because I think we didn’t — we had definitely not learned the lessons of what just occurred.
Right now, I think you know, we are midstream. It would be very chaotic for us to change leadership right now. I think it’s important for Leader Pelosi to do her job and do it well. But, also, I think it’s also important for everyone to recognize that she is accountable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You also said a year ago that you agreed with the American people the message coming from the election was that people are upset with the status quo in Washington.
Is the status quo still what exists in Washington? Or has President Trump, who has come in and been a disrupter, changed all that?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: The message that people are seeing, are feeling right now, I would say, is that it’s very chaotic right now.
And the presidency is supposed to bring some level of calmness and some level of certainty. And the fact that it’s not happening, not only is it not happening — it’s that he is the prime cause of this unease — has changed the tone.
I still believe the Democrats need to have a strong message. We need to have a strong economic message, one that is not just the everyday status quo, not just your usual punchlines of training people for the futures of tomorrow, the jobs of tomorrow. That doesn’t do anything.
We need to make sure that people know we’re not just talking about them, that we’re actually fighting for them.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You actually raise a subject I wanted to ask you about.
And that is, because a lot of people look at Democrats and say your message right now is all about anti-Donald Trump, that there’s not enough of a positive message. What is the positive message of Democrats right now?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: Look, our positive message is that we are the party that’s going to protect this country.
But, first of all, we’re going to protect you from Donald Trump. Number two, our message is the message that we’re also going to protect your paycheck. We’re going to make sure that you’re going to make better wages, that you’re going to receive all the benefits and dignity you deserve from work.
Number three, we’re going to protect you in terms of your national security.
Donald Trump is a threat. Donald Trump is a threat to our national security. We don’t know how far his collusion went with the Russians, or at least his administration. We know that he is destabilizing our alliances all around the world, and we’re better when it comes to national security than Donald Trump is and the Republican Party.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what the president, though, is saying is the only thing Democrats are doing right now is obstructing his agenda.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: He is talking about his agenda vs. America’s agenda.
And that’s not absolutely true. For example, the Murray-Alexander bill, which is a bipartisan bill that has worked through some very…
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is health care.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: The health care bill was stopped midway because the president wanted to do repeal and replace.
Now they have — they’re coming back with this bill. They have again the compromise. And President Trump is again rejecting the compromise.
What Donald Trump means by compromise is that we just are supposed to agree with him. This is not land development. This is not some piece of property in, you know, Manhattan. We work together. We build something together. It’s not like — it’s not going to be the way he wants it, and that’s the way the American public is demanding it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about an issue important all over the country, especially here in the state of Arizona, and that is immigration.
What do you expect Congress is going to do about the so-called dreamers, the young immigrants who came to this country undocumented, brought here by their parents? The president has said he’s going to stop protecting them, but he’s asking Congress to do something about it. What do you think will happen?
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: Well, again, this is the president, you know, showing no leadership and just passing the buck.
And we’re going to pick it up. I think at, the end of the day, we’re going to protect our dreamers. We’re going to make sure that they have a pathway to citizenship. I don’t know how that looks. At the same time, we’re not going to say, you know, dreamers are allowed to stay in this country and will not be deported, but the parents, we’re going to put them in the process of deportation or increase the chance of them being deported.
We just have not going to be playing — we are just not going to bargain with human lives.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Congressman Ruben Gallego from the state of Arizona, it’s good to talk with you. Thank you very much.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO: Thank you for having me.
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