A Conversation With 1st District Congressman Chris Pappas

Sep 5, 2019

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

We ask the Democrat repesenting New Hampshire's first Congressional district about his work on Capitol Hill and what he's been hearing from Granite Staters while touring the state this summer. We also get his take on some recent news, including last night's town-hall discussions on climate change with Democratic presidential candidates, local disputes over opioid policy, and the immigration debate.

This show will air live at 9 a.m. on Thursday, September 5th, and again at 7 p.m. The audio and transcript will be available shortly after the conclusion of the program. 

Democratic Congressman Chris Pappas - Before being elected in 2018 to represent New Hampshire's first Congressional district, Pappas served on the state executive council, as state representative, and county treasurer. He is also owner of the Puritan Backroom restaurant in Manchester. District 1 includes 80 cities and towns that span the Greater Manchester area, seacoast, Lakes Region, and Mount Washington Valley. 

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Congressman Chris Pappas is with us today. He's a Democrat representing New Hampshire's 1st District and serving his first term. Pappas came to Capitol Hill from the worlds of politics and business. Now in the U.S. House, he serves on two key committees, Veterans Affairs and Transportation and Infrastructure. Like many members of Congress, he's spent much of the summer traveling around the first district, whose boundaries include Manchester, Portsmouth, Rochester. Much of the Lakes region and the southeastern White Mountains. And so we'd like to hear, especially from first district voters today. It's your chance to talk with your congressman, Chris Pappas. Send us an e-mail.

Laura Knoy:
And Congressman Pappas, welcome back. Nice to see you.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Good morning, Laura. It's great to be with you today.

Laura Knoy:
Let's start with climate change. Half the Democratic presidential candidates roughly appeared at CNN town hall yesterday focused solely on this issue. From what I read, the town hall lasted seven hours. So a lot of time, a lot of attention on this. And as you know, it's a big issue for Democrats as well. Couple of the candidates yesterday, Congressman Pappas called for a carbon tax as a way to reduce fossil fuel use. Move the economy toward cleaner energy. Would you support a carbon tax?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I think it's important that this issue continues to be front center. And there are those who have been clamoring for a full climate debate. We had a forum last night on CNN. But I think we do need a more robust debate around climate issues, including a proposal like a carbon tax. It's not an idea that I've signed on to at this point in time.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
But I think it needs to be part of the full discussion. Look, we are facing cataclysmic events on the horizon if we continue to do nothing. We need to be leading as a nation on the world stage, pulling together the international community to address this. If you noticed a couple of weeks ago at the G7, there was one seat empty and that was the seat for the president of the United States. So I'm really dismayed at the direction under this administration of climate policy here at home and our leadership around the world. And I think we need to do a lot better.

Laura Knoy:
What's your hesitation about the carbon tax. A lot of economists say this is the easiest way to do it, or the simplest.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I think there are many proposals that are out there. And certainly that proposal looks to put the incentives in the right place so that we decarbonize our economy, that we transition to renewable energy sources, both in the energy and transportation sectors. I think that we need to get moving in that direction. We only have a few years before we're going to reach a tipping point and we've got to make sure that we stave off the worst that climate change can bring upon our state. We're already seeing the impacts of it all around us. We can measure it in our own communities in terms of sea level rise of rainfall, temperature increases, the impacts on the moose population. So it's long past time to bury our heads in the sand and we've got to get going on this. We did create a select committee on climate change in the House and they are working up proposals that I hope will be part of a fuller discussion of legislation that we will move forward in the House this year. And I'm committed to working with my colleagues to do that.

Laura Knoy:
So it sounds like you're still looking at a carbon tax. You're not completely opposed, but not certain yet. Is that right? Congressman Pappas?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I think there are ways that we can put the incentives in the right place. And so whether it is tax credits for alternative fuel vehicles, whether it's ensuring that we develop a solar industry right here at home, we can invite offshore wind to be developed off the coast of New Hampshire, which could hold great promise for energy in our state. So I'm looking at an all of the above proposal that would allow us to make the transition that we need to make over the next years and decades to be responsible.

Laura Knoy:
One Republican analyst who worked on environmental policy for the White House said a carbon tax is a good policy to adopt. If you want to lose an election, is that your concern, Congressman Pappas?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
No, not at all. And in fact, you know, I've worked at the state level on ensuring that we provide incentives for renewable energy development in New Hampshire, and we need to be doing a lot more. Our neighboring states are far outpacing us in terms of solar development, for instance. And so I think as a state, there is more to do. Look, from the bottom up, communities are moving in the right direction. You visit communities all over our state from Derry to Concord to Durham that are going toward renewable energy sources to power their communities. And I think as a federal government, we need to look for ways to usher that transition in more quickly.

Laura Knoy:
As you talk about looking at alternative energies, a listener wrote us about nuclear power, asking what about Seabrook Station? Clean energy equals nuclear power, renewable energy credits for nuclear power. Just for the show, you told me you toured Seabrook Station just just recently. What are your thoughts, Congressman, on nuclear power and that as part of a climate change solution?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I was at Seabrook two days ago and got a chance to meet some of the workers, toured the facility. They develop, you know, significant energy without any CO2 emissions. And so that's thirteen hundred megawatts that get delivered to the New England grid. We would be hard pressed to make that up today. And so Seabrook has been in line for a number of years. Their license will be extended through 2050. There are some questions around concrete degradation. We got a close look at that.

Laura Knoy:
And so how did it look to you? Because there are concerns that Seabrook is old, that it's developing cracks and so forth.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, you know, the technology continues to be modernized, especially in the control room. There is some cracking that is visible, but it's being monitored. And it's I'm confident that, you know, the regulatory agencies that are on site are providing the necessary oversight to make sure that problem doesn't, you know, progressed too far.

Laura Knoy:
Couple more questions on climate change. Congressman Pappas. And then I do want to turn to public safety. Mass shootings as if a lot of questions for you about the opioid crisis. Again, Congressman Chris Pappas is with us. He is from New Hampshire's 1st District. At that big climate forum among the Democratic presidential candidates. Just last night, Senator Kamala Harris said she will go even further beyond a carbon tax, calling for a ban on fracking for oil and gas. How does that sound to you, Congressman?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, you've seen a number of states consider a proposal like this. Municipalities around the country. I think that we have to make sure we're weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. And, you know, that's not a proposal. I believe that's coming up before Congress. But I think that we have to decarbonize our economy. Some say by 2030, others by 2050, not 2030. That's not that far away. Right. And I don't think that's necessarily achievable. But we need to make sure that we're developing the technologies that can power our economy and our communities for the future. We've got to make sure that we develop this technology in a rapid pace. And so we're going to be looking for ways to invest in that and put the incentives in the right place so that transition happens.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Republicans have characterized Democratic proposals on climate like the one that Senator Harris proposes is unrealistic, even dangerous for Americans and our economy. Saying that the country isn't anywhere near ready to go off fossil fuels if we still want to turn the lights on and the computers on. What do you think, Congressman Pappas? What sounds unrealistic to you in terms of some of the solutions that your fellow Democrats are putting out there?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think that proposals like the one you mentioned from Senator Harris and others that have been floated, I think understand the urgency of the situation that we're facing around climate change. We have a very small window here to be able to effectuate some meaningful change. But we also have to recognize that the cost of doing nothing is far greater than the cost of transitioning away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. So I think that it's a smart investment for us to be making for our future, to protect our economy, our way of life, our communities, our coastlines. And, you know, I think we should consider proposals like that in the fullness of the debate. But, you know, we've also have to be realistic that we don't have all the technologies we need today to get to where we need to be in 2050. So we essentially need to build this plane as we're flying it. But it's going to take a strong commitment for us to do that. We also need a leader in the White House who's going to be leading that charge. You know, we just can't leave it up to businesses and local communities to figure this out on their own.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
We need a national policy on this. We need to be convening nations of the world around how we can attack this problem so that we stave off the worst threats of climate change.

Laura Knoy:
What impacts of climate change do you see in your own district?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Yesterday, I was in the town of Newmarket, and they're installing a new culvert on a road that had been, you know, blocking great bay from being able to flow freely and free passage of eels and fish under that bridge. It's become basically a dam under certain circumstances with increased storms. And so they're having to make that upgrade for their communities so that they're safe passage for residents in that area. I think as we look at an infrastructure package, we should look at ensuring that we're building resiliency into our infrastructure, particularly along the coastline. UNHCR has done some incredible work at mapping our coastline and culverts and bridges and, you know, the strength and resiliency of our infrastructure. And so that should be a priority as we look for ways to invest in roads and bridges and water systems in the future, given the Trump administration's skepticism about climate change.

Laura Knoy:
Will there be federal? Money available for infrastructure improvements related to climate change. Roads, culverts, bridges, coastlines, all the impacts that you mentioned, Congressman. Can you even ask for money for infrastructure improvements related to climate change? From an administration that doesn't really believe in climate change,.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I believe we can.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And we saw the Senate move forward on their transportation bill in the past couple months. And it includes provisions like the one I mentioned to ensure that we're building resiliency into our transportation infrastructure. So that will soon come to the house. I sit on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and I believe we will look to include those provisions and potentially others that can help provide stable funding streams to states and municipalities to deal with the threat that they're seeing, to deal with eroding roadways and culverts that are just no longer adequate to handle the storm water. So I think that even though some of my colleagues may not believe the science behind climate change, they can see with their own eyes what's happening in their own districts. And so I think we can make an argument about the need to fund infrastructure in a way that anticipates a changing climate.

Laura Knoy:
One more question about infrastructure related to climate. Congressman, the state of New Hampshire, as you know, is in the process of widening Interstate 93. This is a project that's been going on for a long time. If you're concerned about climate change, why encourage more people to drive?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I support a multi-modal system of transportation. Why long been an advocate for rail service for the Merrimack Valley, including the cities of Manchester, Nashua, to have a passenger rail link to Boston? I've supported bus service before and so I think we need an all of the above approach to transportation. It needs to be interconnected. In addition to supporting strong funding for our roads and bridges, I'm also looking for ways to create a more stable funding stream for pedestrian and bike infrastructure in New Hampshire. We've seen significant investment and interest in rail trails in our state and they get done one segment at a time, one mile at a time, often with lots of local fundraising. I think we need to look for ways to build out a more robust network around our state that could really, you know, help change how people get to and from work to and from, you know, downtown and centers of towns. And that could be really a game changer for our state and our quality of life.

Laura Knoy:
Why is there no rail associated with the widening of Interstate 93? Well, this is a long issue, long before our time in Congress. But if you really care about climate, why not push for that instead of more highway, which if you build it and they will come means more traffic?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Yeah, there was a set aside in the median of a certain space as part of that projects for potential future development. The bus service along 93 is one of the most successful new bus services in the country, with the Boston Express set of Exit 5 and Londonderry. So I think we need to continue to invest in a bus. But the rail corridor that exists up the Merrimack Valley. It's an existing rail line that runs from Nashua to the Manchester Airport, then to downtown. Manchester is already served by freight rail with some, you know, minimal upgrades. We can see passenger service on that corridor. And so I think that is the more cost effective alternative to develop that particular quarter.

Laura Knoy:
I got a lot of questions from listeners, Congressman, about workforce. And we did a whole series a couple months ago on New Hampshire's labor shortage, which I know you've been talking about as well. Here's one from Molly who says, My partner and I hope to have kids soon and expect to stay in the workforce. How can our state and government, state and federal government support working mothers and fathers? Molly, good luck to you, by the way, as you embark on this chapter in your life and what you think, Congressman?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think there are a number of, you know, issues that families deal with on a regular basis. And oftentimes the economic numbers can look good, but it looks a lot more complicated when you're sitting down at a kitchen table. That's why I support paid family leave. I think it's important that individuals don't have to choose between taking care of themselves or a sick relative and losing out on a day's work. I think we also need to invest in childcare, ensure that it's affordable for families. We also need to have appropriate job training programs out there so that individuals can get workforce ready skills that they need to get right out into the workforce.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Look, New Hampshire has a demographic challenge. We are an older state. The second all the state in the country. Within the next 10 years, 25 percent of our workforce is going to be of retirement age. And so we need to not just replace those workers, but look to attract additional workers to help grow our economy. And we do that by ensuring that more young people can get an affordable education here, New Hampshire, and that more individuals have workforce ready skills. So we're looking for ways to support career and technical education. And also as part of a conversation, Washington look to bring down the cost of college and ensure that people aren't taking out a mountain of debt to get a degree.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and we did get an email from Haley who asked about what you're doing to make sure the next generation of Granite Staters can compete in the new economy, including STEM education and training. So, Haley, thank you for that. But back to your question about family leave. As you know, have you had a big debate on this recently? The governor and legislature had different ideas about how to do this. Who pays for family leave? Everybody says they support it, but the devil's in the details, so to speak, in terms of who actually funds it.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Sure. And I think the legislature came up with a sensible plan on that. And I regret that that plan didn't pass. But we've got to look for more ways to get this done, both at the state and federal level. And there is federal legislation on this that in many ways mirrors what the legislature passed here in New Hampshire. So, you know, it is an insurance program that you can receive a contribution from the employer and the worker. And I think for a few pennies on the dollar, it's a smart investment to make to ensure that individuals are taken care of in a time of need.

Laura Knoy:
We've got another question from a listener who says this talking about the minimum wage. And I did want to ask you about that. So thank you to this person. You voted for a 15 dollars an hour minimum wage. Why does your family restaurant the pier and back room offer in less than 15 dollars an hour? Can you clarify, Congressman Pappas?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Sure. Well, I'm very proud of the family business that I grew up in. Four generations of my family have operated this restaurant, learned a lot about the world around me from it, especially that you treat others that you work with like they're members of your extended family. As I've gone around the district, I've met so many people out of work for us over the years. Oh, really? Including some people that have told me that, you know, back in the 80s, you know, when they worked for my grandfather, he was paying their college tuition while they were on the job.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And I say that not to give myself any credit for that, but that's the experience that I grew up around about looking out for others and the experience that I try to live up to every day as a policymaker. So I think it's critically important that we look for ways to take care of folks in our own business. You know, I'm not an active participant with business anymore, but we pay good wages. No one earns minimum. In addition to that, we give health benefits and paid time off. And I think it's important that the workers of this country get a raise.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
The raise the Wage Act, which I supported in the House, would increase the minimum wage to 15 dollars over time by. Okay. So then when this I was correct about that, that you did vote for 59. That's right. It would increase it over time to 15 and 20, 25 and would tie it to inflation. And it's been over 10 years since a proposal has been considered to raise the minimum wage and it's time that we did it.

Laura Knoy:
So this person also says you don't pay 15 at the Puritan, is that correct?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, there've been some stories because there's been some poll job postings out there, you know, looking for qualified help at at the business. And they did list pay rates that were, you know, in the say, twelve to eighteen dollar range for, you know, kitchen help. Our workers, on average earn a good wage. And, you know, as I said, the minimum wage bill would get us to 15 dollars by 2025. That's not inconsistent with how the business operates or how I think the workers of this country should be treated.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. We will take a lot more of your questions after a short break. And we will turn to policies concerning guns. Also, health care and New Hampshire's opioid crisis. We welcome your questions and comments, especially first district voters today. You can use Facebook or Twitter if you'd like. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy today, New Hampshire 1st District Democratic Congressman Chris Pappas is with us. And Congressman, let's turn to public safety and how to stop these mass shootings that are so distressing for all Americans. In the latest one, we've learned that the gunman who killed seven people and injured many more in the area around Odessa, Texas, had a criminal history, had failed a gun, purchase background checks several years ago. Reports say he got this latest gun through a private sale, so he avoided a background check. What do you draw from this story, Congressman, in terms of policy changes you'd like to see?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
What that example tells me is that there are steps that we can take to help save lives and keep people safe. I think there are some that would like to make the argument that this is just a way of doing business in this country. And unfortunately, there's nothing we can do to address the scourge of gun violence. And I reject that. And the people of New Hampshire, frankly, reject it, too. I hear about it each and every day.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Just yesterday, I had a town hall meeting in Kensington and a seventh grader came because he wanted to ask a question about gun violence. He asked, you know, why is it that our teachers will tell us where to hide, that we need to throw books and bottles of water at someone if they are in, you know, our classroom attacking us with a weapon? Why isn't there something that Congress can do about it? There absolutely is.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Six months ago, we passed universal background checks in the House. That has been sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk without action. During that time period. And he appears to want to wait this out yet again. And I think it's such a shame that leaders at the highest level in this country are doing the bidding of industry and not of the people that they represent, the school kids like the one I met yesterday. So we've got to continue to turn up the pressure and turn up the heat on Mitch McConnell in the Senate to take action on a very common sense proposal, one that's supported by over 90 percent of Granite Staters. And of Americans,.

Laura Knoy:
90 percent of Granite Staters support background checks?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Polls have shown that universal background checks get over 90 percent support in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
In New Hampshire.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
That's right.

Laura Knoy:
OK. That surprises me because this is a very pro-gun state that has traditionally resisted restrictions on gun ownership and welfare.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
But if you think about it, a background check, you know, most individuals will purchase a weapon through a licensed dealer. They go through a check. Why shouldn't everyone have to go through the same check? It ensures that everyone is safe and everyone is protected. So I think there's clearly a loophole in the law that has to be repaired because we've seen too many acts of mass slaughter as a result of weapons falling into the wrong hands.

Laura Knoy:
Well, on the background checks, the research that I looked at yesterday seems mixed on the effectiveness of background checks. The system itself is spotty. Missing records, data not entered properly. State reluctance to hand over certain data. So what aspects to the current background check system do you think should change? Congressman, never mind expanding background checks.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
You're absolutely right. The system also needs to be shored up. And that's why I've called for increased investment, the background check system. We need to make sure that all the relevant information is getting into the right place so that it's in the system, because we have seen acts being committed in the past where someone was able to purchase a weapon, even though they had something in their history that should have prevented them from being able to make a purchase like that. So whether it is, you know, issues around mental illness or domestic abuse, those should be in the background check system. So there's resources we have to provide to the system to make sure that the data is current, to make sure that our law enforcement officials can access it. And I think that's absolutely appropriate. Different states handle things, different ways in New Hampshire.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
We have sort of a bifurcated system where the FBI does the checks for long gun sales and handgun sales go through the Department of Safety. And so I've had talks with folks, the Department of Safety, about how they handle things. And I think we need to continue to involve those entities in the conversation moving forward so that they have everything they need to make sure that the system is is shored up in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
It's not required to report mental illness to the federal system for gun background checks. And Hampshire does not submit these names to the NICS. The National Instant Criminal System, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, New Hampshire chapter has expressed concern that this group, which they say is more likely to be victims of violence, could be unfairly singled out, possibly deprived of their rights. People who are struggling with mental health issues maybe wouldn't seek help because they'd be afraid they'd lose their guns in the process. So what do you think? Should these names be submitted to the national system or not from New Hampshire?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think we should look at what other states have done with this issue, how they've handled it. I think those are appropriate concerns to express, because certainly we do want to take any steps backward as we look to destigmatize mental illness and give individuals access to the care that they need. But we also have to be frank about the danger that, you know, a person with mental illness that wants to do harm to others, getting their hands on a very dangerous weapon poses to the community. So I think this is an appropriate discussion to be having. And New Hampshire is not alone in having to sort this all out. Some states have have done it and they have moved ahead in a way that I think protects, you know, patient rights.

Laura Knoy:
Are you talking about red flag laws, Congressman? Because in so many of these cases, these shooters give plenty of warning either verbally or online. Often they're known to law enforcement as potentially threatening, but. Nobody seems to follow and time, nobody seems to figure it out in time. What about red flag laws that some states have put in place? New Hampshire does not, where someone who is deemed a threat could lose access to their guns through a court process.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I think that's a good concept and one that should be implemented nationally, nationally. If someone is known to be a threat to themselves, to their family, to those around them, to the larger community, then why wouldn't we want to notify law enforcement and allow them to be able to intervene at the appropriate time to prevent an act of killing from happening? So I think that's an appropriate step to be taking. And I've co-sponsored legislation at the federal level to do that.

Laura Knoy:
So you have co-sponsored federal red flag legislation?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Yes.

Laura Knoy:
As you know, Congressman, I'm sure since you worked on this bill, there is concern that, you know, people could use this as a way to get back at someone to make false reports about someone. I just wonder how you get around that, that there's been concern, especially from gun owners, about having an appropriate process so their guns are not taken away unfairly?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I trust law enforcement and the courts to be able to sort through those situations and to make the right call to protect public safety. And that's the name of the game, is making sure that we're preventing individuals from doing harm to themselves or others.

Laura Knoy:
Gun rights groups have also said, look, criminals are always going to find a way to get a gun. It's about the person they say, not the weapon. Pointing out that in more than one mass shooting, the gun is simply just been stolen. And I don't even want to give you the list of the incidents where this has indeed been the case. Do they have a point, Congressman, focused more on the person and not on the gun?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think we clearly have seen in the mass shootings that have taken place in this country. The weapon of choice appears to be the AR 15. It's an incredibly dangerous weapon of war that results in a situation of mass slaughter when it's deployed. So I think we do have to look at the dangerous weapons that are being used in some of these killings. I'm cosponsoring a ban on the sale of assault weapons, which is comparable to the one that was instituted between 1994 and 2004. That's a period during which we had lower incidents of these types of mass shootings. And I think that's, again, a policy that's supported by individuals here in New Hampshire, across the country as a way to prevent these deaths from happening again.

Laura Knoy:
What is an assault weapon? Because I've gotten e-mails and been in conversations with gun owners who say that this term is not properly used. So what is that, especially as it's defined under the legislation that you support?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Yeah, well, it all comes down to the number of military style characteristics that a gun has. And so I'd have to refer to the legislation. But, you know, we can, we need to ensure that these dangerous weapons that are used in war in theaters across the world by our military aren't getting into the hands of individuals that seek to kill others or to cause harm to their community. And I think that's a sensible step to take to make sure that we're saving lives. You know, how many more people are we going to lose before we see something happen on this front? We can talk all day about the proposals that are out there, but unless we can muster the political courage to do something, we're never going to change the trajectory around this issue. So that's why I'm thankful that people are coming forward, including young people who are really leading the charge on this. If we do pass some legislation this session or in a future session, it's going to be because of those brave young people who have kept this issue from falling out of the headlines yet again.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and we could talk for many more hours on this topic. So I'll just ask you one last question about this, Congressman, if I could. Some Democrats are calling for mandated buybacks of these types of weapons that you called assault weapons. Are you among them?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I haven't supported a program like that. I think it's important that we protect the rights of individuals who want to hunt, collect, defend themselves. And I think in terms of, you know, private property rights, that's not a proposal I'm supporting.

Laura Knoy:
Couple of e-mails coming in, Congressman. Some Facebook comments, too. That's great. We are on Facebook live today as well. I forgot to mention that earlier. Elizabeth on Facebook asks, Just want to thank you for supporting starting an impeachment inquiry. Congress needs to go on record here against presidential overreach, criminality and incompetence, regardless of what happens in a McConnell controlled Senate. Elizabeth says, We cannot allow any settling or of precedent for any of this behavior. Elizabeth, thank you. I'm glad she wrote, because I did want to get your position on impeachment. She says starting an impeachment inquiry. What does that mean, an impeachment inquiry?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
It's a process. And the process has been moving forward within the committees of jurisdiction in Congress, including the Judiciary Committee, to ensure that we can gather information and put it all out on the table. So, you know, a few months ago I put out a statement that said that I supported such an inquiry. I think it's important to ensure that no one's above the law, including the president of the United States. We have a system of checks and balances. And I took office and pledged an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And while this politically might not be an easy thing to talk about, I think it's essential for me in my role as a member of Congress representing this district to say that more work needs to be done. When the Mueller report was issued, there were clearly questions that he could not answer. And he did not exonerate the president when it came to the question of obstruction of justice. So I think we owe it to our system, to our constituents to continue to do work that puts all the facts out on the table, the information that they would need to help make a decision on where we go from here. But I support a process like this not to prejudge what comes out of it, but just to say that it's part of our constitutional duties of oversight.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Republicans would say, what more is there left to inquire about? We've had hearings. We've had the Mueller testimony. We've had the Mueller report. I mean, what more do you really need to know at this point?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, we haven't seen the unredacted Mueller report. And certainly committees in Congress, I believe, should be able to see that there's grand jury testimony that I hope the Judiciary Committee will be able to obtain. There are other individuals that I believe Congress should be hearing from, including the attorney general who did not comply with a subpoena, including Don McGahn, who was named many times throughout the Mueller report, is a key figure. And so I think there's more work that needs to be done.

Laura Knoy:
As I'm sure you know, Congressman, there are some Democrats who say, don't go there. This is what happened to Republicans back in the 90s. They went after Bill Clinton for impeachment and that ended up helping Mr. Clinton win a second term in office. So what are the dangers of sort of waiting in the impeachment waters?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, very clearly, you shouldn't pursue a process like this for political purposes, but you also shouldn't avoid it because it might be politically, politically difficult. So if individuals are out there, although, I mean, really, impeachment is a political process. Well, it certainly is, but it doesn't have to be driven by partisan politics or by the desire to get rid of a president. It should be driven by the desire to uphold your responsibilities as a member of Congress. And so that's why I made the statement I did. And I hope that Congress gets all the information out there on the table. But I'll say this. If individuals are looking to, you know, defeat Donald Trump, they can do that at the ballot box in November of 2020. And that's why, frankly, I think we see such a robust primary going on in New Hampshire with lots of engagement with voters. And so that ultimately is the process to allow the voters to have their voice be heard. But I do think we have a solemn constitutional process that needs to go take a few additional steps forward so that we can decide if any other action is needed.

Laura Knoy:
Well, thank you for that note on Facebook. And again, it's one that I got a couple other questions from other listeners as well. So I'm glad we addressed that. Here's a note that came in earlier from Ron who says, Please bring us up to date with infrastructure legislation. We talked about that a little bit earlier. But Ron says here we have New Hampshire political leaders proposing rail transportation to Boston and just look at the mess and breakdowns of the various MBA lines in Boston. So that's the other side of the coin. Congressman, some people say why do we even want to get involved with rail? Look at all the trouble they're having in Massachusetts. Why do we even want to connect to their system?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Sure. And I think that our roads only have so much capacity. And certainly we've made investments on the ever turnpike and on 93 to expand capacity. But we are at some point the future going to bump up against that. We just can't keep adding more lanes. We do need a diverse set of transportation options, especially for going to attract the workforce of tomorrow and make New Hampshire a hospitable place for younger people to be, many of whom are looking to live in communities that are walkable and viable and not to have to own a car. So I think that is something that should be part of the fuller discussion about how rail would be developed, what partnerships we'd have. There's potential to partner with the MBTA on a commuter rail project. We did a study on the executive council that also looked at intercity rail service to conquer. That would be an Amtrak service. So that's potentially something that's out there as well. So I hope that's all part of the conversation moving forward. But look, if you can get from downtown Manchester to North Station in a little over an hour, that's quite an alternative to sitting in traffic for two hours plus on 93 to try to get to work.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you, Ron, for the note and stick call. This is Alex in Rochester. Hi, Alex. You're on the air with Congressman Pappas. Thank you.

Caller:
Good morning, thanks for taking my call.

Caller:
I graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1998 with about twenty thousand dollars in student loan debt, a federal student loan debt and I have a disability. I was disabled at the time shortly after I graduate. I had a disability and I wasn't even able to pay the taxes on that. So it grew because of compound interest. It grew from 20 grand to a total of 60 grand over, you know, 20 years roughly. And I had that that debt discharged with a medical discharge with a doctor signs off on it.

Laura Knoy:
And so what's your question for the congressman, Alex?

Caller:
The question is, I'm wrapping it up real quick here. The question is, I will owe taxes on that discharged debt and I don't know how I'm going to pay those taxes. This coming April on roughly 800 dollars a month on a fixed income. Do you think that's just unfair to have to pay taxes on a discharge debt?

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Alex, I'm sorry to hear your story and thank you very much for calling in because it raises the broader issue of the heavy debt loads that New Hampshire students in particular bear.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Absolutely. New Hampshire as the highest student debt load of any state in the country. And we underfund our university system, which is why we have that distinction. So, Alex, I'm sorry to hear about that. And just amazing that that debt tripled over a period of time where, you know, you couldn't pay. So our office would certainly be happy to work with you on this to see if there's are any avenues available that we could pursue. We do have an office in Dover. And so if either I could get your information or you want to reach out to our office, we could look into that case and see what could be done. I think that situation is clearly not just and I think we shouldn't be living in a country where we're saddling the next generation, the future workforce with a mountain of debt that takes a lifetime to work through.

Laura Knoy:
Is that really a state? Excuse me, a federal responsibility? Because here in New Hampshire, the argument is often made. Well, we don't fund the state university system at levels that most states do. And that's why our our college debt levels are so high. Is that really a federal responsibility to manage this? Well, I think in terms of Alex's case, there's a federal intersection. Sure. In terms of Alex, something about the broader debt issue.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
But I think it absolutely has to be a shared, you know, equation of more state support here in New Hampshire, but also expanded grants and loan forgiveness programs at the federal level that can help students right here.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'm glad you mentioned your local office, because people often forget you do have constituent services around the district. And, you know, if people have issues with federal agencies, they can go to these constituent service offices and maybe get a little assistance there.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And that, to be honest, is one of the most rewarding parts of the job is helping people.

Laura Knoy:
All right, Alex, glad you called. Coming up, we will talk about immigration and health care and keep hearing from you. This is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Tomorrow in our show. It's the weekly New Hampshire news roundup. Join us for that Friday morning live at 9:00 This hour, Democrat Chris Pappas is here. The congressman from New Hampshire's first congressional district. And we've been taking your questions And Congressman, just before the break, we heard from Alex, who had a specific problem with his student loan debt. And in addition to addressing the issue of student loan debt broadly, you advised him to seek help at your constituent service offices here in New Hampshire. What are you hearing from these offices lately, especially as you've been touring around the district this summer? What is some of the the number one number two complaints that people come to these offices with?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
We have two district offices. One is in Dover, the other is in Manchester. But we do mobile office hours in communities across the district. We're hoping to get to every town hall before the term is up to be able to interface with town officials and open our doors to members of the community. I'd say the top issue that we hear from constituents about has to do with veterans benefits.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
The V.A. is a complicated bureaucracy to navigate, and oftentimes our veterans need some assistance or need an advocate to get through that process to get the benefits that they deserve, the type of care that they deserve based on the service that they perform for our country. In addition to that, we receive calls about immigration cases, too. So I'd say that might be a close second, but it could be anything that has to deal with the federal government, anything from a benefits issue to, you know, visiting Washington, D.C. and wanting help getting a tour of the Capitol. We do a little bit of everything for folks, and it is a very rewarding part of the job. And we have significant staff resources that's devoted to it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, since you mentioned veterans health care to let people know we're working on a show on that issue because it's been a lot going on lately here in the state and nationally.

Laura Knoy:
We're hoping to pull that together for next week. So I won't ask you a lot about that now, Congressman, but as you know, you're on and you're on the committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee. Lot of controversy around the quality of veterans health care. What are you doing to make veterans health care better?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I'm honored to have a seat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and I chair the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in some of the issues that we've taken up on our subcommittee to deal with this problem of a bureaucracy that is unresponsive to the needs of veterans. Really has a culture that needs to change, but I don't believe has the leadership that is there that's committed to seeing through that change that ultimately is going to honor the service of folks that have laid everything on the line for the rest of us. So we've been taking up and have done hearings on whistleblowers, individuals that come forward with valuable information about deficiencies, waste and abuse within the V.A. We've seen some of those whistleblowers right here in the Manchester Medical Center.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And I think we're always we always benefit from those public servants that come forward. And when we can hear their ideas, hear their thoughts and when they're valued, unfortunately, too many are retaliated against. And we've heard those stories. In addition to that, we're looking at wait time issues around how long it takes to get an appointment and get care.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
We also have significant concerns about the rollout of a new community care model with the Mission Act, which was passed into law in the last session of Congress. This is going to allow more providers to be a part of the V.A. system, and we need to make sure that that happens in a way that allows veterans to get care in communities closer to home, but also is up to the standards of care that we would expect of our V.A. system. So those are just some of the issues that we're looking at. But there's a lot in that space and I like a lot. And that's what I like about the committee in particular, is that it's nonpartisan. We approach the issues as Americans first and not as Republicans or Democrats. So it's really refreshing to be able to not just serve our veterans and help provide for better outcomes for them, but to be able to, you know, come to terms with folks across the aisle and really be working hand-in-hand with them.

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's tricky because on the one hand, people want veterans to have access to the private health care sector so that they don't have to travel from the north country down to Manchester, for example, or over to Vermont. But then there's concern about so-called privatization of the V.A. And sometimes people say, I don't want that either. So it kind of seems like people want both ways when it comes to veterans' health care.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think it is a balance. And in New Hampshire, we need to strike the right balance because we don't have a full service V.A. hospital. Right. But we are also a rural state that lacks access in many communities. So we need to look for ways to bring in other partners into the system. But I think that fundamentally shouldn't replace the V.A. itself. We should not look to privatize V.A. services. I think there is great value in having a system to support our veterans where they can come to a place that understands them, knows their experiences. That helps create a sense of community for our veterans. And so I think the V.A. is well positioned to do that. We just have to continue to to work with them on some of the reforms that Congress has identified over the years.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call, Congressman, and this is Paul in Bedford. Hi, Paul. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Yes. You know, a carbon tax is virtually politically impossible. However, what we really need is called carbon fee plus dividend. Charles Schulz, who is a Republican secretary of the treasury under Reagan, proposed this number of years ago. And basically the carbon fee, the money from the carbon, if he were to be returned to everybody and to pay their higher fossil fuel bills once we have a tax on fossil fuels. And this money, though, would go into the economy and create jobs. It's sort of a win win. And over the long term, the cost of fossil fuel or the energy from fossil fuels would go down and be economically viable. And in the long term, we'd have non carbon energy.

Laura Knoy:
So a carbon fee instead of a tax. Paul, kind of sounds like the same thing.

Laura Knoy:
Pardon me for not understanding the subtlety there.

Caller:
Carbon fee plus dividend.

Laura Knoy:
I see.

Caller:
If you say Carbon tax that will turn people off if you say a carbon fee plus dividend. What's going to happen is if you put a fee on carbon, anything, any kind of gasoline, for example, the price of gasoline will go off, will go up. However, everybody will get that money back to pay for the higher for the higher cost of gasoline. But at the same time, at the same time, in the long run, gasoline will be so expensive that you want to go to electric car.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. Well, thank you for calling, Paul. And this relates to our earlier conversation about a carbon tax, whether you would support it or not. I just want to let you and Paul know that we did receive a lot of other comments from other listeners who want to talk about the carbon tax. So go ahead. Congressman, if you could just return to that.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I want to thank Paul for calling in. And I've met with constituents on this specific issue. And there's legislation that's been filed in Congress that brings forth this proposal of a carbon fee and dividend. I think it's an interesting idea. It's one that's on the table right now. You know, one of the concerns I have around it is that I believe it would pause regulations of greenhouse gas emissions.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And so I do have concern about the regulatory structure. That's that's part of it. But, you know, Paul, I thank you for the call and for bring forward this idea. I think we all need to put our thinking caps on these days and, you know, make sure that we're moving forward in a responsible manner. And if that's something that, you know, can can tip the scales in the right direction, that we should be talking about it.

Laura Knoy:
Let's talk about health care. Congressman, I know you've been working on this issue, especially in the district in terms of the opioid crisis. So let's start with that. But there's a lot to talk about. The state is slated to receive, as you know, about 45 million dollars in federal money aimed at the opioid crisis over the next two years. With that grant, the state established a hub and spoke model now called The Doorway. But last week, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and other city officials said the program, as they see it, is failing its main goal, which is to provide round the clock treatment access within an hour's drive of a patient's home.

Laura Knoy:
How do you feel about the doorway, Congressman? What's your view on how well this is working or not?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I've heard about this all over the state. And I was on the executive council when the concept was first brought forward, when we accepted the federal money and contracted it out. And I think it holds promise. But I believe there have been some issues and the mayor identified some that I think are of concern, especially to folks in the Manchester area. You know, we should also remember that before this hub and spoke model, we had Safe Station in Manchester. We still have it in Manchester.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
But we were seeing folks from all over the state coming to Manchester, using the fire stations as a doorway to get access to services. And I believe that trend of folks coming to the city is still continuing. But there are also concerns about access to greener pathways. Who's running the hub in Manchester? So I think these conversations do need to happen, but we need a more mature system and we do that by measuring outcomes, by gathering data and by ensuring that there's investment over time. That's what I've look at in terms of my role at the federal level. Just yesterday we announced some additional funding that's coming to do just that to help us measure data and also to provide additional funding for a hub and spoke. Moving forward, we need to sustain this effort over time because frankly, we got into it because we underfunded addiction treatment and mental health services in our state.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And we've been playing catch up since.

Laura Knoy:
I read about that new federal money. So is that what it is largely aimed at, tracking what's been going on, making sure these large chunks of federal money are being appropriately spent?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
That's part of it. And and, you know, that was beginning to happen with Hub and spoke. But I think it will provide the state Health and Human Services Department with additional information on overdose deaths in New Hampshire. And looking at how we can best prevent those. So ultimately, that's the point we need to get to is. Finding out where's the money best spent? Where are the investments going to save lives? We're seeing such a high death rate in our state still. It's leveled off, but we are losing so many of our friends and neighbors and community members and we can't allow this to continue to happen. We need to give law enforcement the support they need, ensure individuals have access to health care. We need sober living environments for folks need to ensure that there are pure base recovery programs that are there so folks can stay on the right path. So all of this takes time to construct, but we can't get there without having the level of funding from Washington. That's appropriate. So we'll continue to work on that.

Laura Knoy:
And I want to read an email from Mary because it concerns a bill that I know you've been working on, Congressman, concerning election security. Mary says daily we hear that foreign and local actors are working to interfere with our elections. New Hampshire has always had paper ballots. However, unless they are reviewed, we cannot be assured that the counting machines have not been tampered with. Although New Hampshire has a lot of hand recounts of elections, almost none run statewide in federal races. Mary asks, Do you support a mandatory audit of election results or a random hand count verification of results in key races to assure voters that their vote has been accurately counted? Mary, thank you very much for that note. And Congress, what do you think, election security?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I think we have some great election officials in New Hampshire that, you know, understand how our system works and know the value of having a paper trail. And really, we should have a paper trail across this country when it comes to our elections. You know, it doesn't seem like an election day goes by without seeing one of these touch screen monitors where the cursor jumps from one choice to the next or where somehow machines are, you know, computing the results incorrectly. So I think it's important that we do have a paper trail that we do have auditing of elections. We passed a democracy reform package at the beginning of this Congress called H.R. 1, the for the People Act that included many of those provisions. We need to make our it easier, not harder to vote and ensure that we're protecting our democracy.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I'll support additional legislation as well to ensure that there's adequate funding for elections, security so that our voting systems are protected. But look, if you took nothing away from the Mueller report other than this, you know, it was worth the read. And that is that Russia and foreign actors continue to be a threat to our elections. We saw significant meddling in the 2016 election. We saw disinformation campaign by the Russians under way. That's going to be here in 2020. And we need to be prepared for it. So I think there are steps that need to be taken. There's legislation in the Senate around disclosure of we need to get that through. I just think these are commonsense steps. And look, American democracy has been under attack. We've seen the fingerprints of foreign actors all over it. Let's make sure that Americans are the one once deciding how our elections go.

Laura Knoy:
Well, again. Mary, thank you so much. This is another issue that we're planning to take a deeper dive on.

Laura Knoy:
So I'll set it aside for now. I did want to ask you, though, Congressman, while we're talking about elections, just 10 Democratic candidates for president will debate next week. I got to get your thoughts on this Democratic primary, because it's been a wild ride and you're your leading Democrat in this state. So tan on the stage next week, down from about from 20. Earlier this summer, partly because some candidates have dropped out, but probably because the party's qualification process keeps getting tougher. Those candidates who are left off the stage, as you know, feel this is unfair, that the party is denying them important access to voters. What do you think about this process that the party has put in place to whittle that debate field?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I came out of an eleven way primary last year in the first district.

Laura Knoy:
And I forgot about that. You're absolutely right.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
And we had a number of forums with eleven candidates on the stage. I have to say, it was incredibly hard in such a short timeframe because think of, you know, an hour or an hour and a half divided among eleven to get your message out. So I think voters will benefit from, you know, there being a narrow debate stage. But look, New Hampshire is always a state that I think looks to give the underdog a leg up. It looks to, you know, ensure that all candidates are treated fairly. I believe our party is doing that here. You know, there are a number of candidates that are exciting. Voters are drawing big crowds. But I think there's great interest across the board. And there really hasn't been a year among Democrats where our job is more important for the rest of the nation in setting the terms of the debate and winnowing the field. And so I think that'll be what comes out of New Hampshire is that, you know, we take this broad field, we take the broad set of issues and really focus it for the rest of the country on how the rest of the calendar will go and how we potentially can nominate a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump.

Laura Knoy:
So given that experience that you had in an 11 candidate field, and I can't believe that I forgot about that, but you're absolutely right. So given your personal experience, how do you feel about some candidates who have impressive experience? You know, former governors and members of Congress being told by the DNC. You can't come?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Well, I mean, I think they tried to create some reasonable standards and, you know, look, I think there are other ways for these candidates to be heard, especially in New Hampshire. We see them at coffee shops, at diners across our state. And I think that regardless of what the DNC does with debate rules, we're going to continue to have an inclusive contest here.

Laura Knoy:
In terms of the ideal candidate, You said last time you were on The Exchange, quote, We're going to have to ensure that there's the strongest Democratic nominee possible who can build the broad coalition. We need to win someone who can appeal to voters in the middle who in this field right now, Congressman Pappas, fits that bill for you.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
I'm still trying to figure it out, too, because I've been spending time, you know, really focused on my job and not necessarily on electoral politics. But I know this is happening all around me. I've met some of the candidates they all ask about, you know, how can you win in New Hampshire? What do people care about?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
So I think there's a lot of passion out there, quite a bit of good ideas, candidates that have won some tough races in the past. So, you know, I'm still shopping around for a candidate. And I think that's not unusual for a New Hampshire voter. Given that we have a few months left.

Laura Knoy:
So you share that with your constituents. You're still looking, still kicking into tires.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
That's right.

Laura Knoy:
Last question. This is a tough one. In addition to spending time with your constituents during your recess this summer, what are some of the favorite spots that you have, Congressman, in the district where you just like to hang out in the summertime?

Congressman Chris Pappas:
So I did some great hikes this summer. I hiked Mount Chocorua, hiked Mount Major. I also did a hike with a group of service members that are part of the Forest Service Conservation Corps. And we did a hike together. And some of them are going to transition into employment with the Forest Service. So hiking in the White Mountains is is really my my favorite pastime.

Laura Knoy:
All right. We'll leave it at that. Congressman Pappas, thank you for being here.

Congressman Chris Pappas:
Thanks. Great to be with you.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.