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Pappas Votes to Reopen Government, Opposes Any Bill With Border Wall Funding

Allegra Boverman for NHPR
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., during a campaign forum in 2018.

In one of his first votes in Congress, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas supported measures to resolve the partial government shutdown. He tells NHPR he will not support any legislation that includes President Trump's request for billions for a border wall.

"I wouldn't vote for any spending plan that includes the border wall," he said. "I think that's irresponsible. It's an idea that doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. You know the President on the campaign promised that a foreign power, Mexico, was going to pay for this border wall. So, this is a bumper sticker slogan that's designed to play to a political base."

Congressman Pappas, a Democrat from Manchester, elaborated on the issue and his goals in an interview with NHPR's Peter Biello.

Interview highlights:

  • During the government shutdown, Pappas says he will donate his congressional pay to charity.
  • At this point, he says he does not see the impeachment of Trump as a legitimate possibility.
  • The congressman wants to ensure that special FBI Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is protected.

Interview transcript

You voted for two bills that would reopen the government but because they don't fund the border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won't take up these bills. Knowing that, what did you hope to accomplish with these bills?

These bills were pegged at the Senate levels that were already passed unanimously by the Republican Senate in December. And I think it's the responsibility of the Senate now to consider the legislation that has already passed through their body. So I'm hopeful that they'll talk about it amongst themselves. It appears that there are at least a couple of Republican senators that are urging Leader McConnell to do the right thing and take up these bills. I hope we have a swift end to the shutdown. We should never have gotten to this point and this is an example of Washington style politics at its worst. I never thought I'd be coming into Congress and the first bills we'd be voting on would be ones to reopen the government. We should never let politics get in the way of delivering services to people or getting paychecks to dedicated federal employees. So it's time to end the shutdown and let's move beyond that and have a substantive discussion about areas where we may agree or disagree.

Well what about that substantive discussion. What issues could be brought into this negotiation to maybe unclog the logjam here?

Well I think we always need to hear one another out. But there isn't majority support in the house for the border wall and there aren't 60 votes in the Senate for the border wall either. So I think the president has to recognize where things stand today. And I think that the government funding should never be used as a tool to prove a political point which is exactly what's happening here. I think that's really an unfortunate precedent that has been set over the last many years. We've got to get beyond that. Let's not question the services that we provide to people or the paychecks that go to our federal employees. Let's have a discussion. But don't hijack our government as a way to try to get your way. 

"We really need to see the report that Mueller produces and it needs to be able to see the light of day and I remain concerned that the investigation doesn't have the level of protection that it needs."

So are you saying that Democrats are not going to blink when it comes to border while funding you just there's no way Democrats are going to improve that. Or is that possible? 

If for example President Trump introduces a some other kind of measure like for example ensuring protections for naaka recipients we need to ensure we protect our borders but we also need to have sensible immigration policies on the books that respect our dreamers that allow them to become full fledged citizens of this country and that look for ways to reform a broken system. So let's have that discussion but I think it should be outside the realm of funding the government and keeping the doors of our federal government open. That's a side discussion that shouldn't be all wrapped up with you know doing our basic job of keeping government open.

So I just want to be clear - are you willing to accept any spending plan that includes funding for a border wall?

I wouldn't vote for any spending plan that includes the border wall. I think that's irresponsible it's an idea that doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. You know the president the campaign promise that foreign power Mexico is going to pay for this border wall. So this is a bumper sticker slogan that's designed to play to a political base. I think what we need to do is focus on how we can secure the borders of this country how we can reform a broken immigration system. But we shouldn't wrap this all up in a discussion over whether or not governments should be open. There should be no question about that. So let's end this shutdown and then we'll get to the point where we can have a more robust discussion about how we move forward on immigration and on border security.

The president though does have the support of of many people in your district and building the wall is one of his signature priorities. Should you please consider that the this should be part of a deal here?

The wall should be part of a deal well we don't really know what we're talking about when he says border wall. I think it's a bumper sticker slogan. That is not really fleshed out. You know I sat on the executive council for six years. We dealt with infrastructure projects. We wouldn't vote for a contract for a project or to fund a specific priority unless we saw plans unless we exactly understood what was being discussed. So I think it's really responsible for Congress just to throw some money at something to please the president. That's not how this process should work. I think we should be fiscally responsible and thoughtful about how we can make sure that we have border security that we invest in the manpower and technology that we need along our southern border to keep America safe. But I don't believe a wall achieves that. 

You've said that you are not taking congressional salary during the shutdown. Can you talk a little bit about that decision?

I think that Congress has a job to do and it is not doing it today. So I think until Congress does its job it shouldn't get paid. We have 800,000 federal workers who are on the job without a paycheck or have been furloughed. They deserve us to be looking out for them. A small business and I wouldn't feel comfortable getting paid while my employees weren't. So I think it's an important message to send that you know we have a job to do in Congress and that until we do it we shouldn't be receiving a paycheck because hundreds of thousands of workers are without one in our government told. Some of these workers that they should barter for their mortgage or for their rent. That's just a ridiculous statement and it just shows how misguided this shutdown is and I just can't believe we've reached this moment where that's the message that we're sending to our federal workers. We should be telling them that we support them that we thank them for their service that will do everything we can to make sure that they get paid on time. And Congress isn't doing that today.

Will you get back pay when the government is reopened?

I'll donate my pay during the shutdown to charity and we'll figure out a good local charity to donate it to. I think it's really important that you know Congress steps up to its responsibilities. And yesterday we had a new Congress that was sworn in. There's an immense amount of responsibility on the shoulders of each and every one of us. And you know until we really deliver in the way that the American people are looking for and that we're able to reopen the doors of government I don't feel comfortable getting compensated for that time. So I'm not going to be receiving back pay. I'll be donating my salary to charity during the duration of the shutdown. 

You joined the vast majority of House Democrats yesterday in reelecting Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. But you were reluctant to fully back her until a few weeks after the election. You talked about the need to get new voices into leadership. Are you confident that that can still happen?

I believe we've done that and we've identified some individuals who have become part of the leadership team who represent the future of the Democratic Party. 

Can you tell us about how those people are sure Katherine Clark from Massachusetts.

Ben Ray Luján  from New Mexico, in addition to that we have two freshmen representative liaisons to leadership Katie Hill and Joni Gousse we're doing a great job speaking up for the large freshman class this is the biggest incoming class of Democrats since Watergate and before I voted for individuals for leadership I want to make sure that the freshman class would be empowered that are voices would be heard that we'd be communicating on behalf of the caucus that we'd be able to get the committee assignments that we wanted and we received those assurances from Speaker Pelosi and from others on her team. So I feel confident that we're going to go forward in a United Way where those of us who were just elected in November are going to be able to file legislation and be an active participant in the work of the house. 

Many of your colleagues in the House are talking about launching investigations into the Trump administration. Are there areas where you think there needs to be an investigation? 

Well, I think we have gone through the last couple of years without the adequate level of oversight which is Congress's responsibility. And there's a natural tension that's set up in our system between the legislative and executive branches. But it requires Congress to be on his toes and to be willing to you know call department heads before committees to make sure that the rule of law is followed. I don't believe that's always been the case. So I think we can own up to that responsibility without it becoming political and I believe that's the direction this house is going to go in. So I think we need to make sure that we're meeting that responsibility and let the chips fall where are where they may. And should Democrats be cautious about going too far with these investigations I think in any investigation you need to let the facts lead you in the right direction and lead you to any conclusion. So I think as long as this Congress is motivated by facts and not politics that is motivated by its constitutional responsibility and not just playing gotcha politics with the president or with anyone else then we're going to be on a strong solid footing. And I think that's ultimately what the voters were looking for in this election. I get elected because people were looking for checks and balances. They were disturbed at some of the policies they saw being pushed in Washington. They wanted to make sure that President Trump and leaders in Congress didn't have a blank check and I'm willing to work with anyone to get the job done for the people of New Hampshire. Whether it's a Republican or a Democrat whether it's the president or anyone in Congress but also be willing to stand up to anyone when they're wrong or when they're pushing something that goes against what the people who are looking for and I think that's going to be how we conduct ourselves.

What about impeachment of the president? The ongoing Robert Mueller probe has led some to say, especially opponents of President Trump, that impeachment might be in order depending on what Robert Mueller finds. Do you see impeachment as a legitimate possibility?

I don't at this point because we really need to see the report that Mueller produces and it needs to be able to see the light of day and remain concerned that the investigation doesn't have the level of protection that it needs that there is potential that the Department of Justice that the office of the president could meddle in this investigation and so I think it's important that Congress passes legislation to protect the independence integrity of Mueller's work once he finishes work. Let's see what he's produced. There's certainly been a lot of activity in court. There have been many guilty pleas. There have been indictments. There have been convictions. And we need to make sure that everything is put out on the table so that the American people can see what has transpired the last couple of years. 

And in terms of policy, aside from having to deal with the government shutdown, what are going to be your areas of focus heading into this first term?

Well, I'm excited that H.R. 1, which is the first major piece of legislation beyond the shutdown bills that's going to come through Congress, is a signature priority of mine. We need to make sure that we protect voting rights, that we end the influence of big corporate special interest money in our elections and that we look for ways to reform the ethics of the House and look for ways to end the culture of corruption that exists in Washington, D.C. 

So, H.R. 1 was filed yesterday. We'll have some hearings on it coming forward over the next several weeks and I look forward to being a champion for that piece of legislation. In addition to that, there are a number of other bills that I'm looking to participate in. We all know that the opioid crisis continues to ravage New Hampshire and we need more than just lip service to make sure that we have opportunities of treatment and recovery for people in the Granite State. And I want to look for ways to do that in addition to that we continue to have shortcomings in the VA, and I want to work with the leadership of the Manchester VA to make sure that they have the resources they need to improve the quality of care that is offered there. So I'm really eagerly awaiting the committee assignments. We've been told that over the next couple of weeks those committee assignments will be made and so then I'll know some pretty specific policy areas that I'll be digging into as a member of two committees. 

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