Watch or Listen: Congressman Chris Pappas on The Exchange

Dec 13, 2019

Chris Pappas during an Exchange 2018 debate.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Just about a year after starting his first term in Congress, Manchester Democrat Chris Pappas finds himself in the midst of an impeachment process, as the House prepares to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Trump -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. 

The debates have been bitter. Pappas has called for a "bipartisan response to uphold the rule of law,"  indicating he will consider the facts presented by Congress while maintaining his focus also on the concerns of Granite Staters. 

We talk with him about this tumultuous political period -- as well as the new U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement on trade, military spending, and more. 

Air Date: Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, at 9 a.m. 

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Congressman Chris Pappas represents the 1st Congressional district, which includes 80 cities and towns that span the Greater Manchester area, seacoast, Lakes Region, and Mount Washington Valley. Before being elected in  2018, he served on the state executive council, as state representative, and county treasurer. He is also owner of the Puritan Backroom restaurant in Manchester.  In Congress, Pappas serves on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.  He also served on the conference commitee for the National Defense Authorization Act, which recently passed in the House. 

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

 

Laura Knoy:
New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas is with us today as he and other members of the U.S. House prepare to vote this week on two articles of impeachment against President Trump. Coming up, we ask Congress and Pappas about that and what he thinks the political impact of impeachment might be. We'll talk about other issues, too. The newest, a new U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada and federal grants aimed at drug addiction and transportation in this state. But first, exchange listeners. It is your chance to ask Congressman Pappas about impeachment and to let him know how you feel. So let's hear from you. Send e-mail exchange at NHP York once again, Exchange at NHP, Morg Common on Facebook. Tweet us or kollin 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. And Congressman Pappas, I know you've been busy. It's nice to see you. Thank you for being here.

Congressman Pappas:
It's great to be with you. I'm glad we could fit this in before I headed back to Washington. Right.

Laura Knoy:
Well, thank you. And let's start with impeachment. As you know, last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to approve two articles of impeachment, one on abuse of power. The other on obstruction of Congress. These articles will come before the full House on Wednesday. You've said you will support both. How come?

Congressman Pappas:
This is a very grave situation that we face. And I take my oath of office incredibly seriously and wanted to take plenty of time to make sure I was well acclimated with the details of this case to be able to read the testimony that was assembled by the Intelligence Committee and read the work of the Judiciary Committee in terms of the articles that it produced and the constitutional scholars that it brought before its committee. And I did that over the last few days, as you know, in Washington. You can really get busy with your own particular committees of jurisdiction. So on Transportation and Veterans Affairs. We've been doing a lot of work and I frankly haven't been able to keep tabs on the entire process as it rolled forward. So I needed to do my due diligence. These articles that were produced by this inquiry have serious charges contained within them. Article One talks about the president's abuse of power with respect to this issue over Ukraine. This is about using our national security for his own personal political benefit. And I think it's outrageous the way he has conducted himself. And I know no other way to address it than to vote in favor of that article. The second one talks about his obstruction of Congress. You know, the Constitution and our framers gave the sole power of impeachment to the Congress of the United States. It's not up to the president to decide who complies and who doesn't. And there was a very coordinated campaign to obstruct Congress's desire to collect information and documents from federal agencies to talk to current and former members of the executive branch. So there was a very clear campaign of obstruction that didn't just get in the way of Congress, but of the American people to understand what was happening within their own government. So these are serious charges. I didn't come at this lightly, but I was driven by the facts and by my own conscience. And I know no other way to respond to this point in our history than to vote in favor and make sure that we're holding the president accountable. No one should be above the law, including and especially the president of the United States. We have a system of checks and balances, and the president has gone beyond his duties because he has made it not about what's in the best interests of the United States of America. He on the world stage has been thinking about his own personal interests and how he uses military assistance in a White House meeting to help himself politically in the next campaign. That's outrageous. And there's nothing we can do nut to respond with a favorable vote this week,.

Laura Knoy:
You mentioned, Congressman, looking at the facts and also what you heard from constitutional scholars. One of those scholars, Jonathan Turley, who's been widely quoted, a law professor from George Washington University, said that the House Judiciary Committee really didn't have all the facts. He has suggested that this process has been rushed. That the idea that the there were key witnesses, that the White House refused to let testify, that Congress should have gone through the courts to force these folks to testify that they had important missing information. Let's hear a little bit from Professor Turley and then I'd like to get your response, Congressman.

Jonathan Turley:
It's wrong because this is not how you impeach an American president. This case is not a case of the unknowable. It's a case of the peripheral. We have a record of conflicts, defenses that have not been fully considered unsubpoenaed witness with material evidence. To impeach a president on this record would expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment.

Laura Knoy:
Inchoate, By the way, I looked this up this morning. It means just begun, not fully formed. So there's Professor Turley saying, by the way, he did not vote for President Trump, he was a Republican selected witness, but he says unsupported witnesses with material evidence should have been heard from. Did you guys rush this process? Should you have waited, as the professor suggests, to go through the courts to hear from these people who had direct evidence of what had gone on?

Congressman Pappas:
Clearly, this gets to what I was discussing with respect to the second article of impeachment obstruction. We clearly would have liked to have heard from a number of officials in the executive branch who were subpoenaed and did not show up to provide information for the American people and for the Congress. And so that is going to take months to work itself through the court system to compel these individuals to come forward. I'm hoping at some point in time in the future, we will hear from everyone, because I believe it's within Congress's purview to demand that. But the evidence is here. There is sufficient evidence to move forward. And I think you heard from the other three academics who who testified at that hearing that they supported this process, that if we didn't move forward with impeachment in a case like this, then what is the process even for? And so I am confident the facts of this hundreds of hours of testimony was taken from key witnesses, including, you know, career civil servants like Ambassador Jovanovic, Ambassador Taylor, individuals who are not political people, but really believe in the job that they do on behalf of the American people and wanted to come forward and speak the truth. And I thought that was really powerful testimony that corroborated what the whistleblower, you know, first brought forward to Congress and the American people on the other side.

Laura Knoy:
Some have said that the process was too too narrow, that these articles should have been more broadly written, charges related to the Mueller investigation, for example. But the Democratic leadership really decide to take this very narrow approach. Do you think the case would've been stronger Congressman, if the scope of it had been wider?

Congressman Pappas:
I think this is a very strong, clear cut case with respect to the issue of Ukraine. There are a number of other issues out there that continue to be looked at by certain committees in Congress. And I think that that vote on Wednesday on the articles of impeachment won't stop that oversight effort. That certainly will continue. So whether it is, you know, some of the issues that have been taken up in certain court cases on the president's taxes or financial information or about the issue of subpoenas, there's more work that some of these committees in Congress are going to be doing. I think, frankly, that's shouldn't take our eye off the ball of the job we really have to do for the American people on a whole host of issues, whether it's prescription drugs, infrastructure, the environment, gun violence. There's a lot that we have to address and we're going to keep doing that work moving forward.

Laura Knoy:
And I definitely have lots of questions on those issues, health care, gun violence and so forth. And we'll definitely get to those. A couple more questions on impeachment, though. And I do want to remind listeners that you can join us with your comments and questions about this whole process, how it's gone. Our number, 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Our email exchange at NHP YA dot org. What are you hearing from your constituents, Congressman, about this? Your district won. The 2nd District has gone back and forth between Republicans and Democrats over the years.

Congressman Pappas:
Well, we have received thousands of calls, e-mails, letters on this topic from individuals with a variety of points of view across the district. And I think that's really healthy.

Laura Knoy:
What are they saying? I'm just curious. Can you give us a sampling?

Congressman Pappas:
Well, it's the range of opinions that you can imagine from folks who, you know, believe that this is these were grave acts committed by the president that warrant impeachment to individuals who, you know, believe that the president did nothing wrong in this case, that they believe, as he said, it was, quote, a perfect call, which I think is, you know, not the case, even if you just read the readout of that particular phone call. So, you know, we're certainly listening and responding to all those constituents. But ultimately, this comes down to my own judgment. I'm the one who swore an oath to the Constitution to defend it. And I know of, you know, no other way to do that than to make sure I'm looking at the facts and upholding our system of checks and balances and the rule of law. I believe that's what the president violated when he acted the way he did in his own personal political interest. And so that's brought us to this moment here today.

Laura Knoy:
Well, as you know, Republicans have been saying this is all about political revenge. Here's a little bit from Kelly Armstrong, Republican from North Dakota, speaking during the House Judiciary Committee's markup hearing on Thursday. He and a lot of Republicans have said, look, this is just what Democrats have been wanting to do since the day President Trump took office. Let's hear.

Cong. Kelly Armstrong:
This started the day President Trump won the election. This has been the foregone conclusion since the day the Democrats won back the majority. This was never about facts or fairness. So here we are where we were always going to be on a purely partisan impeachment that is destined to fail in the Senate.

Laura Knoy:
What do you think, Congressman, destined to fail in the Senate? That does seem to be what's going to happen based on everybody's read of it right now anyway. So what was the point of all this?

Congressman Pappas:
We need to do our job and they need to do theirs. And so we're acting on evidence and on our constitutional responsibilities to hold the president accountable. And so I think it's important that we move forward. And I hope that if this does reach the Senate, that they will have a fair, open process. And they will take their oath as seriously as we are in the house.

Laura Knoy:
How confident are you that they will have that fair, open process?

Congressman Pappas:
Less confident, given some of the statements that I've heard from Senator McConnell and Senator Graham and others in the Senate. They are jurors of this process. They shouldn't be colluding with the White House legal team on, you know, how this all moves forward. They need to make sure that they reserve judgment. They listen to all the facts and they try to make the right call for the American people.

Laura Knoy:
Republicans are growing more confident that impeachment will help them and the president in 2020. Last week, Colorado Republican Congressman Ken Buck said to his Democratic colleagues, go ahead, vote to impeach president, President Trump. But when you walk out of this hearing room, call your freshmen colleagues and tell them they're not coming back. You're a freshman, Congressman Pappas, how concerned are you that this is going to cause political blowback for Democrats?

Congressman Pappas:
I'm not concerned about it because politics in no way came into my decision making here. There are some issues where politics doesn't belong. In fact, most issues that we deal with in Congress. We should be pushing politics to the side, but especially on a concern as serious as the one that we've been presented with. So, you know, the political chips are going to fall where they may. I made a call that I'm comfortable with that in 10, 20 years from now, I'm going to look back and feel good about the decision that I made in this particular case. And you got to be able to live with the decisions that you make in office. So, you know, for me, this is not about politics. I was very clear with my constituents throughout the last campaign that I would work with anyone, including the president of the United States, when they're right for New Hampshire. And we've been doing that all along the way. And we have some big bipartisan compromises that we'll consider and support this week, but I'll also be willing to stand up to him or anyone else, including members of my own party, when they're wrong for New Hampshire. And we have to do that in our job. I think that's what our constituents expect. And that's partly what, you know, this particular decision represents. I'm doing what I know is best based on the facts and based on my own conscience.

Laura Knoy:
Again, speaking of constituents, it is our listeners chance to talk with Congressman Chris Pappas, a Democrat from the 1st District. But, of course, we'll take your calls and questions from the second district as well. You can join us 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. You can send us an e-mail exchange at NHPR.org. You can use Facebook or Twitter. Again, you can give us a call at 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
And Anthony sent us an e-mail, Congressman. He says, How do we stop the involved Republicans from coordinating with Trump on the upcoming trial? You touched on this earlier, but just give us a little more information there on the coordination that you and Anthony see in this upcoming Senate trial.

Congressman Pappas:
Well, I would really hope that the parameters of the Senate trial would be set among the senators themselves. I think there's expertise in the Senate with their own legal counsel and advisers to be able to put forward a process that honors their duty and also respects the American people. And so I think the White House really shouldn't have a hand in determining the length of this, in determining who gets to appear and who doesn't get to appear, who's called as a witness. I think this needs to be an open, fair and judicious process. And I would look to, you know, our senators and others across the country to try to make sure they advocate for getting it right.

Laura Knoy:
You're known as a moderate Democrat. Congressman Pappas. And as you know, some moderate Democrats are still weighing how they will vote. At least one has said he's going to switch parties because of this. Some of your fellow Democrats want to vote for censure instead of impeachment. They were a little nervous about their re-election prospects. What's your message to those moderates who will be in tight races next year and are concerned that this will hurt them.

Congressman Pappas:
Well, I think that this process gives us an opportunity to weigh in based on the facts. I think censure doesn't quite get us there, because fundamentally, if we don't move forward with impeachment in this case, I think this changes how a president can conduct himself here at home and abroad, where he can involve his own personal political interests, his own attorney to try to protect or support himself politically in a campaign sense. And I think that is fundamentally wrong. That changes what the White House, you know, has been about what the presidency has been about. It also dishonors our founders, who were very thoughtful about, you know, creating a carefully crafted system of checks and balances of limited power for our exact. They're very concerned that have we didn't develop a monarchy in this country and that no chief executive would be beyond the law. So I think this is a clear case where we have to respond. But as I've said a few times, this is an issue of conscience. People have to make their own call on this. I've received no calls from leadership, from the speaker, from the majority leader asking me to vote one way or another on this. We're arriving at our own conclusion. And I suspect all of my colleagues are as well.

Laura Knoy:
Now, that's interesting, given that you are in sort of a swing district, you have not gotten pressure from Democratic leadership to, you know, vote for this seat.

Congressman Pappas:
Not at all. And so, you know, I think people will reach a conclusion independently and we'll see how that all stacks up. And I think we all respect the ability of our colleagues to weigh this and try to make the right call.

Laura Knoy:
You mentioned national security and elections. And Democrats are arguing in part that the president, because of his dealings with Ukraine, quote, betrayed the nation by abusing his office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections. That's what a lot of this is about. How much confidence should the public have in the 2020 elections? Congressman, even without all this impeachment, there are huge concerns revealed by the Mueller investigation that Russia has a lot of its fingers on the button, so to speak.

Congressman Pappas:
That's part of the urgency of what we're facing in this particular case. And even if there isn't a verdict in the Senate that holds the president accountable, I think we need to make sure that his administration has some guardrails, that we're really drawing some bright lines and we're showing the American people that we are vulnerable and susceptible to to foreign influence in our political process. We saw it in the 2016 election. There's evidence that it's been happening since. We need to pass major election security legislation through Congress. We've done it in the House. It's been stalled in the Senate. Let's find a way to move forward so that we can protect and secure our election so that everyone has faith in our democracy and in the ultimate result.

Laura Knoy:
What are the vulnerabilities that the legislation you just mentioned tried to remedy?

Congressman Pappas:
Well, we need to shore up data in I.T. systems, making sure that, you know, firewalls can hold against efforts of foreign actors to poke and prod and intervene in terms of our systems and how they function. You saw it very recently, the whole city of New Orleans, you know, lost their I.T. system because, you know, of a hacking, we are very vulnerable. You know, all across the board in terms of our government systems, but our election systems are vulnerable too and additional steps need to be taken for us to shore, though, shore those up.

Laura Knoy:
Is New Hampshire a little less vulnerable because we still have paper ballots.

Congressman Pappas:
To an extent. But, you know, there are there are systems that are, you know, computer based in terms of, you know, registration and all that. And so we do need to make sure that, you know, we're working with state local officials to protect these systems. But certainly a paper trail is really essential. As our secretary of state says, you can't hack a pencil. So that's an important aspect of our elections and we should be requiring paper ballots across the country.

Laura Knoy:
All right. We will talk more after a short break. We'll start taking your calls. If you're on the line. Stay there. We'll talk about health care, transportation. The opioid crisis here in New Hampshire and a bunch of other issues. You can join us again with your thoughts, questions, comments. 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7 e-mail exchange at NHPR.org. We'll be back in a moment.

Laura Knoy:
This is the Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy Today, New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas is with us, a Democrat representing the first district of the state. We've been talking about impeachment given the upcoming vote in the House this week. But we're also going to be looking at other issues, including gun violence and recent mass shooting in New Jersey, federal funding for addiction treatment and transportation here in the Granite State. And you can join us. We'd like your thoughts on these issues and more. Send us an e-mail exchange at NHP. Morg, tweet us, comment on Facebook or call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

And Congressman, right to the phones and Charlie's calling from Raymond. Hi, Charlie. You're on the air. Welcome.

Charlie:
Oh, hi, Laura. Good morning, Congressman.

Congressman Pappas:
Good morning, Charlie.

Charlie:
Here's my question then. I know we're discussing impeachment, but there's a lot of coverage of that. So I wanted to bring up a little thing about health care. And you can bring me up to speed on this, but apparently the House has passed H.R.3, the Elijah Cummings Lord drug costs nowno Apte, I believe.

Congressman Pappas:
Yes, that's correct. We passed it last week.

Charlie:
Right. I just want to know your thoughts on that. But let me just say something. I remember when when George Bush, you know, signed his signature Medicare Drug Coverage Act.

Laura Knoy:
Right. Medicare Part D.

Charlie:
Yeah And that was that was that was 2003. And I remember when it happened and they said no negotiating drug prices to me. I mean, I just went, oh, OK. We pulled the rug under capitalism. In capitalism, when you buy in bulk, you save money.

Laura Knoy:
Well, this is a really good question, Charlie. And a lot of the Democratic presidential candidates have been saying they would negotiate with drug companies for those drugs that they pay for, that they cover for Medicare, and that that would be a huge cost saving to not only individuals, but the taxpayers. So I'd love your thoughts there. Thank you, Charlie, for the call.

Congressman Pappas:
So last week the House passed H.R. 3, a bill I co-sponsored and it's about time we did something to address the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs in this country. This hurts just about every individual family that I talked to. I hear stories about individuals going without or rationing lifesaving medications that they need to lead healthy lives. There's no reason that Americans should be paying the highest drug costs of any nation in the world without relief. And so this bill looks to bring the big drug companies who have been reaping record profits to bring them to the table to negotiate these costs down. It talks about in the language of the bill, insulin, which is something we've heard a great deal about, individuals that have seen 200, 300 percent increases in the cost of the insulin that they're paying for, a drug that's been around for decades. So there's not a lot of rationale behind these price increases. I think there's a great deal of profiteering and collusion between the drug companies. It's time we rein them in. So this would provide for our Department of Health Human Services to negotiate drug costs with companies on about 250 drugs, the highest cost highest usage drugs over the next 10 years. It would save $450 billion within the Medicare program. That would allow us to strengthen shore up Medicare and provide additional benefits to our seniors, including vision, dental and hearing benefits, which aren't provided for the vast majority of seniors today. In addition to that, there would be transparency around the schedule of these negotiated costs. They'd be stacked up against an international price index so that, you know, we know what consumers in other countries are getting for a deal from these companies. And we could look for the same sort of savings and that could potentially help your private plan lower costs as well over time by adopting the same sort of, you know, negotiation tactics and cost savings that Medicare has achieved. This is really foundational legislation. And I hope that the Senate responds by passing something of their own. Included in the House bill as a cap on out-of-pocket costs for seniors on Medicare for $2000 a year, and I was talking with a senior recently who is not retiring because the cost of his anti transplant rejection medication is something like $10,000 a month and he just can't afford that out of pocket. So he's got to keep working. It's pretty outrageous. I've talked with with folks who are suffering from M.S. and their drug regimen for the year $80,000 $90000 a year. Some of that's covered, but a lot of that is still out of pocket. So we need to make sure that we're going after, you know, these high costs that individuals are paying and treat Health care as a right and not a privilege. We all benefit when people are well, when they're following their doctor's orders. And there are savings that are achieved in the out years by individuals, you know, being able to obtain these medications. So the Senate needs to come up with its own package. Then let's have a conference committee, find ways where we agree and and move something forward to the president's desk for his signature. We have to act.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call. This is Betty in Medbury. Hi, Betty. Go ahead. You're on the air. Thanks for calling in with Congressman Pappas.

Betty:
Yes. Hi. Good morning, Laura. Morning. Good morning, Congressman. Thanks for your time. It seems like Charlie stole my thunder.

Laura Knoy:
That's OK. Go ahead.

Betty:
He beat me through it. I had kids to get off to school. My son has type 1 diabetes and the medication you need to survive is extremely costly. Congressman did just talk about H.R.3. But I'm wondering if there's any other bills that he's worked on to bring down the cost of prescription drugs like insulin.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. And Betty, thank you very much. Go ahead, Congressman.

Congressman Pappas:
This was a particularly broad, sweeping effort that we've had been working on for months, but we have talked about other legislation, the health care space that I think is valuable to individuals in New Hampshire as the administration seeks to pull the rug out from under the Affordable Care Act. We've passed legislation that's going to ensure that individuals with preexisting conditions can, you know, get insured and have their condition covered. That was an important piece of the ACA and important that we codify that into law. In addition to that, we passed the Creates Act, which looks to speed generics to market and end this practice of pay for delay, where the drug companies will actually pay off these generic manufacturers when they the patent life expires from having a cheaper generic alternative and that prevents lower cost drugs from getting out to Americans. So there are lots of ways that we can continue to address this. And again, I'm really hopeful that the Senate, led by Senator Grassley, who's been doing some good work over there, comes up with something that's viable that will be brought to the floor.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Congressman, it's interesting because we have been talking about this for a long time, not just you and I, but, you know, the whole country has been talking about high cost of drug prices for a longtime. It's a big issue that comes up in every election. And yet here we are still paying these very high prices. The flip argument from the pharmaceutical companies is if you start putting in some of these restrictions that you talked about, you'll stifle innovation. during the Democratic debates. Some of the pharmaceutical companies ran ads showing, you know, heartwarming scenes of people beating very serious diseases thanks to breakthrough medicines. And their argument is, if you tell us we can't charge all these costs of research and so forth and testing, this takes years and years, if we can't reap some of those costs back, we won't be able to innovate. We won't be able to have these amazing drugs that we have. So I just wonder what your response is to that.

Congressman Pappas:
We all benefit from innovation in the healthcare space. The innovation of new medications that come to market and really revolutionize the way we live and allow individuals to live long, healthy lives. So no one wants to stifle that. And that's why I included in the legislation is additional funding for NIH. It's important that we continue to invest in the research that can unlock some of these miracle cures and, you know, allow people to have access to them. Innovation is beneficial when individuals can get access to it, when it's affordable for them. So if costs are prohibitive, you know, individuals will will go without something that they could potentially use in their own lives to stay well. So we want to make sure that the right drugs can get to people when they need them. And this is a sensible step to take to negotiate costs. There's no reason we shouldn't be negotiating with the drug companies because Medicare and all of our patients and consumers have significant purchasing power together.

Laura Knoy:
You mentioned the Affordable Care Act and we got a lot of comments from Facebook congressmen about why you don't support Medicare for all. Keith, for example, writes, Why don't you support Medicare for all like a majority of your constituents? So how does the Affordable Care Act play into these costs that we're talking about. A lot of our listeners wrote us on Facebook and said you should just support Medicare for all this will solve the problem.

Congressman Pappas:
I believe that we should build on what's in place right now, which is Affordable Care Act that has brought coverage to more than 50000 Granite Staters that didn't have it through Medicaid expansion. If we saw other states across the country taking the same step that New Hampshire did, millions more Americans would have coverage. But people for political reasons are standing in the way of that progress. And we've got to continue to fight that at all levels. Also, the administration is trying to repeal the ACA outright. They're fighting it in court. They're trying to water it down administratively. And so really, that's where our focus has to be. We don't want anyone to have their coverage taken away or for it to be made more expensive or for there to be less choice and competition because of a political agenda that we see in the White House and by some in Congress. So that's what we're fighting against right now. And I'm all in on trying to look for ways to expand access to Medicare, to strengthen it. That's why H.R. Three was such critical legislation. But I think we should allow individuals to buy into Medicare if they so choose and they're near retirement age and allow people to vote with their feet.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Well, we could talk about that for the rest of the hour, but I do want to move on to a couple other topics, including transportation, gun violence. And I want to let listeners know you can continue to chime in on impeachment if you would like. Our number here in the exchange is 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Our e-mail exchange at NHPR.org. And Congressman Sherry is calling in from Bedford.. Hi, Sherry. You're on the air with Congressman Pappas. Go ahead.

Sherry:
Good morning and thank you for taking my call her. Congressman Pappas, I'd like to thank you for your work on the Veterans Affairs Committee, because a number of my family members have benefited from V.A. services, but sometimes we struggle because navigating the system can be really confusing and without strong family support, it can be just totally overwhelming. I'm wondering what you think your role or what the role is of the federal government and how it can play in expanding and streamlining access and or supporting some of the innovative new programs for those who don't have strong family support, like the Veterans Community Project in Kansas City that provides housing and wraparound services for homeless vets.

Laura Knoy:
Sherry, thank you very much. I appreciate the call. Go ahead, Congressman. And she's right. You are on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Congressman Pappas:
That's right.

Laura Knoy:
Can you tell us the other committees you're on to, by the way.

Congressman Pappas:
Transportation and infrastructure is the other committee kind of serve on. And hopefully we can talk about infrastructure. But Sherry, I appreciate the call and your family's service. We really have to make sure that we're looking out for the end veteran that needs the services of the V.A. that should be able to receive great care based on their sacrifice, putting everything on the line for this country and for the rest of us. I chair the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of V.A. We have held a number of hearings on a variety of topics. And there's an interesting book out by secretary former Secretary Shulkin, who talks about the unresponsiveness of the bureaucracy of the V.A. and how sometimes veterans get lost in the shuffle. So we've been looking for ways to make sure that our vets, when they come back, get connected to economic opportunities, to good job opportunities, and housing. We've looked at the issue of veterans suicide, which takes the lives of 20 veterans each and every day in this country.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. That's a shocking statistic.

Congressman Pappas:
So there is some good work happening in the V.A. asking the question, destigmatizing mental health issues. But 14 of the vets who are victims of suicide every day are not even connected to care at the V.A. So that says we have a long way to go to make sure that the doors are wide open at the V.A. and that folks feel welcome coming in. There are a hundred thousand veterans in the state of New Hampshire, and only a fraction of those seek care at the V.A. So we just recently opened a new community based outpatient clinic in Sommersworth. And one of the things that our subcommittee has been looking at is the Mission Act, which is bringing new community providers into the V.A. network so that veterans can see someone closer to home, maybe not have to travel long distances either to Manchester or to Boston for simple care that can be offered in the community. That's really a force multiplier for veterans. And as this rolls forward, you know, we're paying close attention to the quality of care, to credentialing for medical providers in the community based system, as well as how the V.A. talks to these community providers. We've also done a lot of work on whistleblowers within the V.A. system. A few hearings on that. There was a pretty damaging report from the inspector general that talked about the retaliation against whistleblowers in the V.A. There's a new office of accountability and whistleblower protection. We want to make sure that individuals who are dedicated to veterans working in the V.A., if they have good information about waste, fraud and abuse, about how to make improvements and serve veterans better, that they should be able to come forward and offer that information. We've seen quite a change here in the Manchester V.A. with a real sort of open dialogue with the veteran community, with providers, with community support and veteran service organizations. That type of model is really helpful at bringing everyone to the table and making sure that we can expand care and reach every veteran.

Laura Knoy:
Now, just quickly, Congressman, give us that number again, because that's striking 100,000 veterans in New Hampshire. What roughly percent are connected to the Manchester VA?

Congressman Pappas:
Roughly 30 percent. But I'll have to check.

Laura Knoy:
That's not very much. Why aren't they more connected? They've got it right there. They're owed it. They can access it.

Congressman Pappas:
I was at the Manchester facility recently and they were telling me a story of a 100 year old World War 2 vet who came in for the first time. He had never sought care at the V.A. and they asked him, you know, what took him so long? And he said, I didn't need it. And I think for a lot of veterans, they put others before themselves and they think that they don't want to stand in the way of others accessing care. And so we need to make sure that they know that this system is there for them and that we want to do everything we can to make sure that they get good health care and all the services they need based on what they've done for this country.

Laura Knoy:
I've a couple other questions for you, Congressman, concerning military spending, military policy, including deadly shootings at two military bases this month, Pearl Harbor and Pensacola, marking the third and fourth shootings at stateside U.S. military bases this year. So this is a big concern. Again, you're on the Veterans Affairs Committee, not on concerning the active duty military. But still, I'm interested in what the conversation is among members of your committee about these continuing military base shootings.

Congressman Pappas:
It's deeply concerning. And, you know, I think that reviews need to continue to go. Forward to take a look at additional security steps that that need to be taken to make sure that these bases are secure on the outside and and on the inside as well from individuals that may have a weapon and seek to do harm to others.

Laura Knoy:
Well, that's the thing. These have turned out a lot of them to be inside jobs. Someone was quoted as saying, you know, for years we've sort of hardened the outside of these military bases, assuming the threat was from the outside. Now, it appears that, as this person said, the threat could be the person sitting next to you. So it's a whole different mindset. And I'm guessing a lot of people work on military bases, have wide access to weapons,.

Congressman Pappas:
And this is a broader societal problem. This can happen anywhere. And so it can happen on a military base. It can happen in a movie theater or in a school or a church. Just this past weekend, we marked the seventh anniversary of the Newtown shooting.

Laura Knoy:
Heartbreaking.

Congressman Pappas:
Where 20 kids and six educators lost their lives. And to look at the faces of those who were lost and understand that in that seven years since no major legislation has been passed at the federal level to respond to plug the holes that we all see are glaring and that are right in front of us that could help save lives and prevent a tragedy from happening in the future. We passed background check legislation in the spring. It's been sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk for months. It's time we got action on something that's common sense and basic that most Americans support that could prevent a weapon from falling into the wrong hands.

Laura Knoy:
Well, after the Jersey City shooting just recently, last week, a police officer, 15 year veteran of the force, you know, a dad, three civilians killed at a kosher market. And then the two attackers also died. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said, you know, we cannot let these tragedies become the new normal. I just wonder what else you think you can do in your role, Congressman, to stop these becoming the new normal at churches, malls, schools, all sorts of places.

Congressman Pappas:
We can't be desensitized to this. And I think we all need to look within ourselves at what we can do to help ensure that we're keeping our communities safe. You know, to see law enforcement and community members victimized, to see the kind of hate and anti-Semitism we've seen in this particular incident but in other incidents across the country where individuals with hateful views act out on them in violent ways, such as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. There's a lot of soul searching we need to do as a country, but we also need to be serious about what we can do in terms of the laws. And I think there's some commonsense steps we can take that will save lives, that will make sure that no weapons of war don't fall into the wrong hands and result in really horrific loss of life.

Laura Knoy:
All right. We will talk a lot more after a short break. Stay with us. This is the exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is the exchange, I'm Laura Conroy.. Today, we're talking with First District Congressman Chris Pappas. We've been talking about impeachment. You can join us on that. We've also been talking a lot about health care. And we'll turn our attention in a moment to transportation here in the state. You can join us with an e-mail exchange at NHPR.org. Once again, exchange at an NHPR.org or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. And Congressman Calvin wrote us an e-mail. He says, having followed the Nixon and Clinton impeachment processes. I fully support impeachment for this set of presidential misdeeds. I do worry that the likely failure to remove in the Senate, though, will be viewed as exoneration and acceptance. Calvin, thank you very much. And we talked about this earlier. Congressman, the political impact of this, some Democrats are concerned there'll be serious blowback for them and benefit to Republicans.

Congressman Pappas:
I don't know how this all plays out, but I think that it's important for concerned citizens to write into their member of Congress and to ask them to look at the facts, because I think if we all have a really dispassionate look at these set of facts and really just look at the Constitution and what this process is all about. I think they'll reach the same conclusion I did.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Thank you very much for the e-mail. Let's take another call. This is Tony in Newmarket. Hi, Tony. You're on the air. Welcome.

Tony:
Thanks so much for taking my call. I was calling because I live in Newmarket. I have two teenage boys and I'm concerned about the future. And so my question is for the congressman is how are we making sure that the next generation of Granite Staters can compete in the economy?

Jonathan Turley:
When you say you're concerned about the future. Tony, what do you mean specifically? Sounds like you have an economic concern?

Tony:
Yeah, I would say mostly economics. But also around public education, around student debt, what the future job opportunities might be. Probably a little bit of everything.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. And Tony, I have two teenage boys as well, so I hear you. Go ahead.

Congressman Pappas:
Congressman, thanks for the call, Tony. We face some challenges as a state in terms of our demographics we're the second oldest state in the country. And more than half of our high school graduates leave New Hampshire because our higher education is cost prohibitive for them. We need to look for ways to retain young people right in our state to pursue higher education, to get right into the workforce and to be become part of our communities. I think it's a great place to be. And I know most people in New Hampshire would certainly agree with that as well. And we need to look for ways to make sure that education is affordable, that this crushing cost of college and student debt doesn't prevent individuals from being able to pursue their dreams, especially right here in our own state. So we've got to look for ways to bring down those costs. That's why I support legislation to expand Pell grants and tuition assistance programs. We need to look at loan forgiveness. You know, we need to look for ways that existing programs can help, especially with our health care workforce. For instance, make sure that nurses get into underserved areas. Let's expand those types of programs that can really help build out our workforce. In addition to that, we should recognize that a four year degree isn't necessarily for everyone. We can ensure that individuals get access to a career and technical education, the high schools pursue some study at community college and get right out into the workforce. And by doing that, we should be thinking about partnerships with our businesses. We have supported an expansion of career and technical education that can help create those pipelines. And you know, some companies in New Hampshire have seen some great partnerships. We need to look for ways to expand those. In addition to that, our communities need amenities. They need to have transportation options, especially for young people that want to live in walkable, bikable communities. And that gets us into, you know, conversation about the type of support Washington can provide for New Hampshire to create an intermodal system of transportation. So that's something I'm paying close attention to as well. But we've got to look at issues around affordability, especially when it comes to higher education and housing, so that folks can, you know, find their way forward to New Hampshire, find their way toward a good job and really make a life for themselves here.

Laura Knoy:
Well, since you mentioned transportation, let's talk about that. You sit on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as you told us, and recently received praise from the state's transportation commissioner for your work on protecting almost $40 million in federal highway funds that could have been lost or rescinded in congressional parlance. Now those funds are assured. How do you think they should be best spent? Congressman, and how much control do you have as a congressman over that? My understanding is a lot of that federal money is sent to the state and the state gets to decide.

Congressman Pappas:
That's right. And that's how it should be. The state has a 10 year planning process for infrastructure. I was part of that when I was on the executive council. And they're working through that process right now. So it's very tightly programmed and they count on those dollars that are coming from Washington to be able to move these projects forward. These are projects that modernize our infrastructure, like the I-93 expansion that look for ways to improve safety, that look at the economic impact of certain projects. So it's really important that there are no hiccups along the way, especially when it comes to the funding coming out of Washington. That's why when the last highway bill was passed, there was a concerning aspect of it, because we're reaching the end of the life of the highway bill at the end of this year, and $37 million would have been clawed back from Washington as sort of an accounting gimmick to balance the books on that highway bill. And we were fighting to try to maintain that. So I worked with Don Young, who's the longest serving member of the House. He's a Republican from Alaska who's on our committee. We got over 100 members of the House to write to our leadership in a bipartisan way, talking about the billions of dollars that would be lost for our states and delay or cancel certain projects that were important to our states. And they ended up agreeing with us and putting it in a spending bill that the president signed. So I think that's one example of bipartisanship being alive and well in Washington and us being able to listen to folks like Victoria, Sheehan who's our D.O.T. commissioner here in New Hampshire, and finding a way forward to respond.

Laura Knoy:
So at the news conference on this sort of celebrating that this almost $40 million had been clawed back, most people who spoke, including you talked about highway exits and roads and bridges and important to be sure, Congressman, but given recent blockbuster reports about climate change being even worse than previously predicted; we got a lot of comments on Facebook about the Green New Deal and people who wrote to us want you to support that. How much rethinking is there on your committee towards how we spend these transportation dollars? Because from what I read and saw at this news conference, everyone was kind of saying same old thing -- cars, bridges and so forth.

Congressman Pappas:
There is a great deal of thought being given to how we innovate, how we think about resiliency. When we talk about infrastructure, the Senate has been pursuing its version of the highway bill. And actually they've included some really great provisions around resiliency that we hope to adopt in the House Bill. Our conversation is going to really kick into gear in earnest in January when we come back after the holiday break. And I'm hopeful over the next few months you're going to see a really robust conversation around this. There's some good work being done in New Hampshire on resiliency, on making sure that our culverts and bridges can respond to a changing climate, to sea level rise, to storms that are much worse than ever before. But we have to be going beyond just roads and bridges and talking about how we can serve all of New Hampshire's transportation needs, funding for bus service, for instance, like the coast service out on the seacoast has been drying up there under a lot of pressure. And they need to make sure that they're not restricting routes at a time where because of the lack of affordable housing in Portsmouth, for instance, individuals need to be able to get on the bus to get to work. Seniors need to be able to access bus services. So that's really important.

Laura Knoy:
So as a congressman, you said that there's this whole 10-Year Highway process here in New Hampshire, and I'm very familiar with that. As a congressman, how much control do you really have over achieving some of these goals that you would like to see happen?

Congressman Pappas:
While the projects should be determined by state and local officials to make sure that, you know, the priorities are in the right order, but in Washington, we can talk about where certain funding streams are dedicated. And so we do need to achieve greater funding for bus service and transit. We need to make sure that as conversations around the capital Corridor project move forward, that the New Start program that would support a new rail line like that new passenger rail service is there. And so we're looking at the next infrastructure bill as a way to bring that forward. We also want to prioritize more funding for bike, pedestrian and transportation alternatives. We have the amazing ability to construct a network of pedestrian bike trails across the state of New Hampshire. But we're doing it one mile at a time, often with local groups holding a bake sale. And so, you know, we're looking for ways to make sure that, you know, the state of New Hampshire can find a way to build out that network a lot more quickly.

Laura Knoy:
If you had one aspect of New Hampshire's transportation system, Congressman, that you could change. And I recognize that you're only one member of Congress and that the state has a huge amount of say in terms of how these I was spent. But if there was one aspect of our transportation system that you could change, what would it be?

Congressman Pappas:
I would ensure that that we could invest in rail service in a meaningful way, because we have so many folks that drive south across the border to Massachusetts. We had a major expansion of 93. At some point, we just can't keep adding lanes to the highway. We need to make sure that there are alternatives. And passenger rail service for a lot of commuters would be a real benefit, but for our entire economy, access to our airport, access to businesses here, this could really be an economic game changer.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call. Congressman, this is Mike in Hanover. Hi, Mike. You're on the air. Welcome. Thanks for calling in.

Mike:
Hi, Congressman thanks for taking questions. So a lot of a lot of young people got involved in 2018. A lot of young people are getting involved so far in 2020. I was wondering what advice you had for young people who are just starting a career in the political world or are looking to start a career in the political world.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, Mike, what a great question.

Congressman Pappas:
Thanks for the call, Mike. And I think this is a time in New Hampshire, across the country, where people are looking at themselves and thinking, if I don't get involved now, then when is the right time to get involved? Because there's no time like the present to really dive into a whole host of issues that you can really have an impact on. And New Hampshire is a really amazing place to be able to do that, obviously, through our presidential primary, through our large legislature, where citizens without a lot of political experience can step up, get elected and pass legislation. But I talk to young people in particular who understand that whether it's climate change or gun violence, they're going to be living with the policy outcomes from Concord and Washington a lot longer than the rest of us. And so there's no time like the present to step up, to get involved, to put yourself beyond what you think you're even capable of doing to try to serve your community. So I think there are wonderful ways to be able to do that. And I think we need everyone's voice. You know, the last election we saw that a majority of voters were Gen Xers and millennials for the first time ever. In 2018. And that was a midterm election where younger people don't typically turn out in big numbers. So I think there has been a awakening of younger voters. And I really hope they continue to look for ways to, you know, stand up and be a part of their community and certainly serve in political life, too.

Laura Knoy:
We talked about your work on the Veterans Affairs Committee, Congressman, and also our work on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. You also served on another committee, a conference committee on military policy. So this is where the House and the Senate get together and kind of merge their differences. The House, as you know, past a more than $700 billion dollar military policy bill. Again, as I said, you worked on it. I want to ask you a couple of questions. This bill would create a space force long wanted by President Trump. What is this space force going to do and how much will it cost?

Congressman Pappas:
Well, it's part of the compromise that came out of the National Defense Authorization Act. And it certainly wasn't in the House version, but the administration got what they wanted there. There are certainly threats that exist from space, including new weapons systems that other nations like China are looking to deploy. We rely on the technology, especially the satellites that run our economy, essentially, and we can't afford any disruption there. So the Air Force does have, you know, really robust programs that are already within their purview that deal with these issues. I was hoping that it would simply stay with the Air Force.

Laura Knoy:
So you didn't think this was a good idea?

Congressman Pappas:
I didn't necessarily think it was a good idea. But look, these are compromises and we feel very positive about some of the things we got out of the NDAA conference committee agreement, including 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all federal workers, including a 3.1 percent pay increase for our military, including some good provisions on PFAS contamination. I supported a provision in the House that was still included in the compromise version that will ban the use of fire-fighting foam that is rich in PFADS on our military bases by the year 2024. That's the culprit that's behind a lot of the contamination we see in groundwater in places like Pease. There's clearly more work to do and I was hoping we could have achieved a little bit more in terms of drinking water standards and cleanup. But we're gonna look at legislation in January on PFAS specifically where we can hope to achieve that.

Laura Knoy:
So you had wanted more on PFAS chemicals on military facilities in this bill. Sounds like you got some of what you wanted, but not everything.

Congressman Pappas:
We also got a clearinghouse of information for service members to understand their potential exposure. You know, this goes back decades, really.

Laura Knoy:
And to pay for them to get tested?

Congressman Pappas:
Well testing is not included there. But I think we need to look for ways so that these individuals understand their their own baseline and their own health risk there. And so there's a lot more to accomplish there. I had a provision with the Clean Water Act to prevent or to allow the EPA to regulate discharges into our lakes and rivers of PFAS laced water. That's an issue, for instance, in Merrimack, where we have the St. Gobain plant, which is still, you know, discharging high amounts of PFAS into our water. We've got to empower our regulators to be able to stop that.

Laura Knoy:
Another question about defense spending. Again, since you served on this committee that merged the House and Senate versions, defense spending has gone way up under President Trump from $550 billion to more than 700 billion, the bill we just talked about. And Democrats voted for this spending as well. Well, but fiscal conservatives say, look, this is unsustainable. The nation has a nearly one trillion dollar deficit. Never mind the debt that's piling up. How confident are you, Congressman, that this much money. 700 billion dollars being spent on defense is necessary?

Congressman Pappas:
I didn't support the initial baseline figure, and I still think that $738 billion for defense is too high.

Laura Knoy:
So we're approaching 750 billion.

Congressman Pappas:
That's correct. There was a $22 billion increase over the last fiscal year. And we really need to look for ways to get our fiscal house in order. But we have to understand, you know, what has been driving this. certainly the increase in military spending is part of it. But also big tax giveaways to corporations and wealthy Americans really has tipped the scales to the point where we now have trillion dollar annual deficits. That's unsustainable for us. And we've got to make sure we're making the right steps and being sensible about protecting critical programs for individuals, things that can grow the economic pie for the middle class as opposed to continuing to give, you know, corporations and those who don't need tax cuts and breaks from Washington all the support they need.

Laura Knoy:
One last question for you, Congressman, and we will have to tackle that the next time you come on, with the presidential primary in full swing. I'd love your impressions of how it's going. Now, back in May, you told us you wanted a nominee who appeals to the, quote, middle. Anybody emerging for you who fits in that description now?

Congressman Pappas:
I think this race continues to be wide open. And what has struck me as I talk to voters really across the political spectrum, many of whom are interested in participating this primary, they like a few people, but they're really hanging back for making a final choice. I think what happens in Iowa is going to be particularly instructive for New Hampshire voters to see who's strong and who's not. But really, the home stretch here, where the all the focus will be on our state, is really a great opportunity for us to shape the field and shape the terms of the national debate and would urge people to get out there and take advantage of all the trappings of the New Hampshire primary.

Laura Knoy:
All right. Congressman, thank you very much for being with us today. Really appreciate it.

Congressman Pappas:
Thanks for the opportunity to be with you, Laura..

Laura Knoy:
That's Congressman Chris Pappas. He's a Democrat representing New Hampshire's 1st District. And you've been listening to the Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NHPR, its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you missed part of today's program, listen to the exchange anytime at NHPR.org or subscribe to our podcast search Apple podcast. Google Play or Stitcher for NHPR exchange.