McGovern talks voting rights, foreign policy, Green New Deal

  • GAZETTE  STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS GAZETTE  STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Congressman Jim McGovern at the Gazette Wednesday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Congressman Jim McGovern at the Gazette Wednesday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2019 12:09:34 AM

NORTHAMPTON — In recent months, students in the Pioneer Valley have been looking to Washington for answers to the climate crisis, personally reaching out to Congressman Jim McGovern.

Climate change is a topic McGovern has been working on, seeing the impacts from his regular visits to local farms throughout western Massachusetts. He knows college students and teenagers are well-versed on the topic.

“The amount of young people that are engaged on this issue is amazing to me. Middle, high school kids, and college students — they are so articulate, and they are so motivated,” McGovern said. “I think climate change is this generation’s Vietnam.”

He also praised younger Americans for leading the way on making changes to gun laws. The recent passage of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 was adopted despite what McGovern said may have been the last gasp of the gun lobby to prevent this change.

“I think we’re moving the needle,” he said. “The question is how quickly can we get it done.”

In a wide-ranging interview with the Gazette’s editorial staff Wednesday, McGovern, the Democrat from Worcester, spoke about the need to improve voting rights and his support for lowering the national voting age; his opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget and foreign policy; and why he will be supporting Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to be the next president.

He also advocated for finding ways to reduce college debt.

“Getting an education should not mean never getting a mortgage to buy a house,” McGovern said.

McGovern joked, though, that he wouldn’t want to be a university leader.

“I wouldn’t want to be a college president right now with scandals swarming around,” he said.

The creation of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis — authorized as a package of rules changes under his chairmanship of the Rules Committee — will create urgency in responding to climate change and mitigating its impacts.

“I’m hoping the select committee will be thinking big and bold,” McGovern said. “I think we’re at a point where people expect more than words, but to have actual legislation to address the challenges.”

As a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, McGovern said he supports promoting more sustainable energy sources, exploring carbon taxes and incentivizing businesses to pursue best practices. He also said Republicans have been creating a false narrative around the proposal by suggesting that, if it goes through, people will no longer be able to eat hamburgers or take airplane flights.

“I’ll be really upset if, through a series of briefings and hearings, nothing comes from it,” McGovern said. “If Democrats retreat for this issue, they do so at their own peril.”

McGovern said the House Rules Committee may be the most powerful and important committee as the “traffic cop of all legislation,” undertaking an effort to make sure all bills have a hearing and there is robust debate, with members having enough time to read the bills and offer amendments.

It’s a more accommodating process with a trend toward openness, he said, where members can debate the merits of legislation, unlike in the Republican-led House, which he characterized as “a place where democracy goes to die.”

“For the good of the institution, we need to have the place run better and differently,” McGovern said. “If there are no rules, you have chaos, like you do in the U.S. Senate most of the time.”

The new rules allow amendments that are germane and relevant to the topic. This was evident in the For the People Act, or HR1, which featured 70 amendments and hearings on the bill to strengthen voting rights and eliminate the influence of so-called dark money.

McGovern supported U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s amendment to HR1, standing with her and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, to lower the voting age to 16. The amendment ultimately failed, but the congressman said of lowering the voting age: “I feel totally comfortable with it.”

HR1’s future is unclear, as the Senate may not vote on the bill, based on what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said.

“He actually said what he believes, and that is that he doesn’t want to make it easy for people to vote,” McGovern said. “He is somehow frightened by more people voting.”

McGovern reserved most of his criticism for President Donald Trump, who recently released his latest budget proposal that the congressman said reduces spending in all areas, except defense and Homeland Security.

McGovern said he is confident Democrats will largely reject this budget plan, and that House appropriations bills will not reflect any of Trump’s priorities. “Nothing like his budget is getting through the House,” McGovern said.

A budget is a “moral document,” McGovern said, and he is concerned about cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, which compromises the health and well-being of Americans.

“It is clear from the president’s budget that he has no morals,” McGovern said. “His values are vastly different from mine and the people I represent.”

McGovern is also critical of budget elements that cut medical research and money for agriculture and the social safety net. He said the budget devastates people already struggling, and there is likely to be another battle with Trump about keeping the government open.

“It’s exhausting. He has no clue how to be effective or to get anything done,” McGovern said.

McGovern also took Trump to task for executing a foreign policy with no respect for human rights and for cozying up to dictators: “I think we need someone to vastly rethink our approach to the world — he’s making the world less secure.”

McGovern said talk about potential use of military force in Venezuela is a recipe for disaster, that it’s not up to the United States to determine whether President Nicolás Maduro remains the leader, and that proposed sanctions are punitive against the Venezuelan people. “We ought not to use food as a weapon,” McGovern said, observing that the International Committee of the Red Cross recently warned the Trump Administration about the risks of delivering humanitarian aid to Venezuela without the approval of security forces loyal to Maduro.

McGovern called the field of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination impressive, but said that Warren is the best of the candidates.

“We can’t afford to not get this next election right,” McGovern said. “Failure is not an option.”

In addition to the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, the Rules Committee has created the first diversity office, which McGovern said will be a way to get the staff who work alongside members of Congress to look more like the country as a whole.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com


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