tv Conversations with Retiring Members - Rep. Mike Coffman R- Colorado CSPAN December 31, 2018 12:05pm-12:45pm EST
i had another case and up on the paul harvey news. a lot of things. i will write about some of that. i have always written through the years. i have a in another article that the american conservative magazine is getting ready to publish. i have written columns for various newspapers. i hope to continue writing and speaking out on some of the issues. steve: congressman, we thank you for your time. rep. duncan: thank you steve, it has been an honor. i am a c-span junkie. i watch the 7:00 show just about every morning. my wife says don't you get enough of that? i say yes but when you know these people it is even more interesting. steve: keep watching, we appreciate it. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy.
visit ncicap.org] steve: congressman coffman, for those retiring yours is not voluntary, what happened the election? rep. coffman: in 2012 they dramatically changed my district . essentially to get rid of me at that time. john mccain had carried the district by eight points in 2008 to an area that barack obama carried by eight points in 2008. what was extraordinary about it, was the diversity of the district was extraordinary. but stunning in terms of its 20% foreign-born of the district, three large
immigrant communities dominate, particularly aurora, colorado. it is over half the population were the minorities are the majority. i was able to decisively win it in really a wave election. it is a stork when you have a new president who comes to office, particularly with a house and the senate. that first midterm election is going to be ugly. the president's tone made it very tough in the state of colorado. i think there were losses at every level. steve: in your campaign and in congress you have expressed your displeasure with donald trump, why and how? rep. coffman: issue by issue, certainly when i agree with the president i sit with him. when i disagree with him, as i
did with separating families at the border -- i think his relationship with vladimir putin. there are a number of issues that concern me. particularly among college-educated women, independents that are registered, who had voted for me in the past. they really were recoiled by the tone of the president. they felt there needed to be a greater check on the president by a democratic-controlled house. steve: were you caught in the middle? you were one who would often cross the aisle and that would anger conservatives in your own party. rep. coffman: it was a difficult situation to be in.
i was ranked as the 12th most bipartisan member of congress by the nonpartisan institute. i think those who were offended by the tone of donald trump, nothing i could do or say would be enough. some people saw that as disloyal. questioning the president. i saw it in terms of representing swing district that was fairly independent was the appropriate course. steve: here is the question. as you know, our country was founded on compromise. why is it so hard today to compromise and have bipartisanship within the two parties in congress? rep. coffman: redistricting has become such a science that the vast majority are either very red or very blue in the congress. in either party, to stay in office the threat is in the
primary. it is to go to the ideological base of one's party. in the political culture of the united states, compromise seems to be a dirty word. it seems as though you are giving up principal. versus finding common ground to advance the country. i was in a group called problem solvers. we came together to reduce the partisan divide in washington, d.c. we pledge that whatever party maintained control of congress, if there are members or problem solvers, they would stand up to leadership and demand change. i commended democrats for doing
so. i think there were rule changes that will hopefully make the congress more about partisan. steve: how do you think the democrats will run the house? rep. coffman: i think with some of the changes like the ability if there are 290 sponsors on the bill it automatically should come to the floor for a vote. i think that is a very important change that allows members from either party to cross the aisle to establish a coalition without the permission of leadership to advance an issue that is important to the american people. beyond that, i am hopeful. at the same time i do think that the next two years will be pretty ugly. i think immigration will be front and center. i think both parties -- i think the leadership of the president
and nancy pelosi and a senator schumer, i think will be their desire. i think both sides would rather keep the issue going for their own political basis. i think does what will happen with the immigration issue in the next tw oh years. i think the president prevails in reelection at that plan time he would be willing to negotiate some sort of comprehensive immigration reform. until then i think both sides -- i think it will be raw and ugly. steve: was there a defining issue in your reelection effort that hurt your chances? rep. coffman: you can't really isolate it to one issue. when i was told at the beginning
of this cycle early in 2017, if you can localize the race and the things you have accomplished at home, if you can keep it a referendum on your leadership and not the president then you will win. if he becomes nationalized and if it becomes a referendum on the president you cannot win. what the president did in campaigning in red states and doing rallies in red states where he availed on some senate seats, a net of two. that really became the story every day. what he said. the president so dominated the media and the new cycle. it was something he said, an
offhand remark or something he said at a rally. that was the story every day. that, combined with the fact that we have a weakening press in colorado, the dailies cannot focus on it. the "denver post", the majority are syndicated stories from the national media. you do not have the focus in terms of local politics. with cable news and the new cycle, the president was dominant every day. it was impossible to break through. steve: you are a veteran on the state level of colorado politics. when the campaign committee pulled out of your campaign, did you feel they were disloyal, did you expect it?
rep. coffman: i think it was a calculation on their part. they had limited resources. democrats are energized in this race. it felt like they had unlimited resources. you had somebody like michael bloomberg who wanted to run for president. when you have him weighing in financially, you had another from california weighing in. the energy was so incredible. it was a green wave preceding the blue wave in terms of the amount of resources available. it is an expensive media market. the wall financially that they do not plan what it would take to penetrate that wall to get my message through was simply too high. steve: did mike coffman make a
difference in congress? rep. coffman: i think with my diverse background in the committees to work to make sure we have the best trained and best equipped military in the world. a member of the house veterans committee, really fighting to make sure that we honor our nation's obligations to men and women who made tremendous sacrifices for our country. certainly fighting for immigration reform for my ethiopian community, making an impact on human rights in ethiopia. create a bipartisan caucus for that.
i was able to convince the prior administration to file a complaint against china for which the united states prevailed on that issue. certainly did i cop is all i wanted to? no. in the house of representatives there is simply -- even with the reforms that nancy pelosi has pledged to accept based on my counterparts in my problem solvers caucus, i think there is too much power in a too few hands. i fear it is not going to change. steve: what would you change if you could change one thing?rep. coffman: i think i would decentralize the power of the committee chairman. decentralize the power of leadership from both parties. in colorado we had the same problem. the voters in colorado in 1988 forward a reform that was called
give a vote to every legislator. what that did was said -- prior to that we functioned like washington. it said bill would be referred by the speaker to a committee and the committee chair would be assigned to schedule that bill or not schedule that bill for a hearing or vote. in colorado, we functioned the same way. prior to 1988, voters enacted a constitutional reform called give a vote to every legislator. that required every bill introduced in the house of representatives and the state senate as well in colorado that every bill had a hearing and a vote. the general assembly could limit
the number of bills to every legislator. i could not deny a vote on a bill. that dramatically changed the political culture of our general assembly and legislative branch in colorado. i believe changes like that could change the political culture in washington, d.c. it is difficult to get things done. it is partisan to the point of being dysfunctional. steve: i'm curious to get your views on an issue that is a statewide issue in colorado that you have been involved with. that is the legalization of marijuana. where do you see that going in the next five years? rep. coffman: i believe colorado had the legal authority as an issue of interstate commerce. my guess is that as more states legalize it, medical marijuana seems to precede recreational marijuana. i did not vote for it as a citizen in colorado. as their representative, this was a vote of the people, i felt that i had to represent the
interests here. what i fought for was federal regulations with the decision the state has made. as opposed to mandating it on states that have not made that decision. we have not made good progress in that area. i believe progress will be made in the near future. there are a number of things in colorado that make it difficult. the fact is, it is still an illegal activity. our marijuana distributors in colorado do not have access to financial services that other industries have. often times they are relegated to being an all cash business.
i think that is more prone to criminality. it is more difficult without the trail of a banking relationship to collect taxes owed to the government. as the state moves in that direction, we will proceed accordingly from a federal standpoint state-by-state. steve: you talk about bipartisanship with the problem solvers caucus. the perception is that this town is dysfunctional. would you agree or disagree? does more get done than the public often sees? rep. coffman: i think in spurts things get done. immigration reform, we made no progress on that. that is something that has been there for a long time. we are not getting enough done
on health care. although some things are happening on an incremental basis. it does not feel that enough is getting done on a timely basis. to not finish the appropriations process, to move continual resolutions, as whether they are hard on federal agencies. there is not an adjustment for changes necessary to move the policy forward when you are governing in that manner. steve: speaker ryan says he has two regrets one is immigration , and the other is the rising debt. it was your party that passed a huge tax cut that would add up to $1 trillion into the nation's debt. rep. coffman: i think was
necessary to move the economy forward. the projections from the budget office still looks backwards 10 years. the average gdp growth we are in greatly excess of right now. i think as we are ahead of that curve in terms of gdp growth, i don't see that number materializing. it is important to make the united states competitive globally by virtue of doing that. where the fundamental problem is going to be tough for congress to take on. we have to do it. every congress is at fault for not addressing it. as we move forward as a country, the sooner we address it, the easier it is to do. you have to look at mandatory spending. you have to look at entitlement
programs. there is no other way to resolve it. in 1965, 2 thirds of the budget was discretionary spending. that is appropriated on an annual basis. if there is no appropriation, the program goes away. congress establishes eligible requirements for mandatory spending and those programs simply continue on autopilot. now, a snapshot of the budget, 2/3 is mandatory spending and 1/3 is discretionary. that will continue and you can eliminate the entire defense budget and not resolve the problem right now. it is that great, unless you are willing to go into mandatory spending. as soon as we go in and make minor adjustments, then the greater the impact in the out years. steve: when will congress and
the president stopped kicking the can down the road? rep. coffman: the president said in his first term he does not want to deal with entitlement or mandatory spending. what is his second term look like? that i cannot tell you. the longer this country waits, the more catastrophic the cuts are and that will impact people directly. i disagreed with the health care plans that came out of the house out of concern of pre-existing conditions. it could've been more firmly expressed in the legislation. with regards to the amendment i had concerns. certainly the medicaid expansion was fair game.
that certainly was a major entitlement reform bill that was envisioned by the speaker of the house and the chairman of the ways and means comittee. obviously we fall short of one vote in the senate to go to conference committee to negotiate the differences. these mandatory spending programs are a great concern. steve: how would you assess donald trump's tenure so far? rep. coffman: as far as tax reform and regulatory reform, pretty good. probably pretty good on foreign policy. it seems his rhetoric is different and moves in a different direction than the administration moves. i think the president's tone is really problematic.
i just strongly differ and i think it is very polarizing for the country. steve: why such loyalty among republicans? what is it about donald trump that endears that? rep. coffman: they see washington is broken and see him as a person that can fix it. i just remember speaking to a rotary club during the election in 2016. i certainly was not a fan of the president then. steve: you were public about it. rep. coffman: i remembered a retired banker, when i said i didn't think he could be the nominee for the republican party.
of course he became the nominee for the republican party. i remember a retired banker kind of saying we tried the republicans and democrats and neither work. it is time for something different. i think it is time for something different. if your member how he got elected in fact, states like colorado that have closed primaries, he did not do well in. it is the states that had open primaries that he did better in. he attracted a very different coalition that was not just republican. i think republicans warmed up to him over time. his selection for the supreme court is making a difference there. i think it solidified his position in the republican party. i think he will be the nominee going forward. steve: what was going through mind when you first came to washington as a member of congress? rep. coffman: i was in awe of being in washington and at the
center of power. i was taking it all in. it was a lot to take in. i think it was more -- what i did was learning at the beginning of the process. then gravitating to fighting for change as the process went on. certainly discovering how difficult that process is in getting changed on the such as immigration reform. steve: are you going to miss it? rep. coffman: i think 10 years has been substantial. i think, sufficient. steve: what do you want to do steve: what do you want to do next? rep. coffman: what i'm going to do back home, when i finish out this term, i've committed to raise funds for one veterans
group as a volunteer, and potentially two veterans groups in my community. local government interest me, that is a possibility. steve: have you been able to develop relationships across the aisle? you talked about problem solvers. but friendships over the years? rep. coffman: i really have. there are people that i miss. i think the problem solvers caucus was -- first of all, i was luckier than the average member of congress to not only be in problem solvers, which was very bipartisan, a separate caucus unto itself, but to be on two of the most bipartisan committees in the congress, the house armed services committee that operates like no other committee. we do one major bill a year, the national defense authorization act. the military personal
subcommittee, the full committee for the base text, and we have to come to an agreement, the base text, the chairman in the ranking member. that is an extraordinary example of bipartisanship in congress that doesn't exist in any other committee. so myself and jackie spear from california, we worked well together on that. she certainly opened my eyes to different things. we were able to push forward a lot on military sexual assault, to change the military justice system to have special prosecutors, to have training requirements for military in terms of understanding the ramifications of sexual assault
to the military, as well as to have victims advocates. to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward, to have someone who truly understands their issues within the military itself. so i am very proud of our work there. and then the veterans committee inherently tends to be more bipartisan, republicans and democrats equally care about meeting our obligations to the men and women who serve the country in uniform. steve: let me ask you about the speakership. you came to congress when nancy pelosi was speaking as speaker the first go around. what advice would you give her and the democrats as they regain control of the house? rep. coffman: well, i think, my hope would be to stop, and both sides do it -- to stop the posturing on issues.
you know the other side is not -- for the intention of not getting something done. you know you're going to put a poison pill in there and the other side is not going to accept. and trying to arrive at a compromise to get things done, to be open and know you're not going to get everything. i remember, on immigration reform, the position was when i came to congress, by democrat leadership, that everything or nothing. even when we shifted to republican control and harry reid was still the majority leader, there were bills individually that came over and he said no, it doesn't have everything we want. we can't have that on either side. i would hope that the posturing would stop and people would be more open to compromise and stop thinking solely about the next election.
steve: you came in the majority in 2010. john boehner became speaker of the house when you came in on the majority in 2010. why did he have such a difficult time managing republicans in the house? rep. coffman: i think what you had in the republicans was the rise of a conservative caucus that had the luxury -- you talk about compromise, no deal is perfect. it's not 100% what you want it to be. i think what would happen is they would be on the sidelines. he would have something they did not agree with 100%. but the fact was there was enough of them on the sidelines, it then caused the deal to be worse because he had -- he did
not have enough votes in hand go to the other side of the aisle and say, what do i have to do to get your vote? so actually, at the beginning, they argued that he was not conservative enough, but they made it less conservative by not participating. i think they made governing increasingly difficult, to the point where he was forced out. steve: if you could get a do over, is there a vote you would take back? rep. coffman: i'm sure there are a number of them i would take back. i have to think about that. i think, yes -- i think when, before my district was redrawn. my only immigrant communities were asian. so the issue of dreamers, i was never confronted with. i think there were some version
of a dream act i did not support. before i was put into a new district and i got to sit down with the families and these young people, and understand their issues and challenges, and became much more sensitive to the issues. i think overall, i ultimately lost because of the new district boundaries and i would've prevailed under the old boundaries easily, but i think that forcing me to reach out to these very diverse communities, it made me a better congressman, and ultimately made me a better person. steve: it sounds like you are not done with politics yet. rep. coffman: probably not. i will serve in some capacity, i'm not sure what yet. steve: what else would you like to do? rep. coffman: i have done the
military, i have done business. i am not sure yet. i think something in education interests me, local government interests me. i don't think returning back to the house of representatives, 10 years has been a great experience. me and want it to define my courier come even though i am 63 years old now. i still want to serve. in a different capacity. you know, i have -- i was very focused on the campaign, and it did not turn out as i would have liked, but i am excited about moving on. i'm grateful for the experience i had. although i admit, probably at some point, it is the awe at the beginning that everything is new, but as the years went on, it got to be more like "groundhog day," i have seen this before, i have seen this before.
it did get repetitive where the learning curve intellectually seemed to be a diminishing return. steve: what advice would you give your successor? rep. coffman: to be independent. to try and be an independent voice and representing all of the district, and listen to all elements of the district. he has the fortune of representing a district that now leans democrat. he could probably win, given a normal year, simply with his base in the democrat party, but i hope he listens to everyone and does not fall into an ideological trap. and that he grows as he matures into the job.
steve: if the denver post had a reporter looking at you and your career, 10 years in the house, what would you want them to write about? rep. coffman: what would i want them to write about? i think bipartisanship. i think -- and they did in their editorial endorsement of me in this election -- the value of somebody who grew into the job, that the redistricting helped him grow into the job. but that he demonstrated the art of compromise, the value of compromise in terms of getting things done for the american people. steve: when you walk out these stores -- these doors for a final time, what will you be thinking? rep. coffman: what an awesome experience it has been in the last 10 years, and that of all
of the extraordinary things i got to do in terms of being a member of the armed services committee, going to iraq and afghanistan, being able to take afghanistan, being able to take my military experience and apply it in terms of making policy for the department of defense, i think my experience as a veteran too and be able to apply that in the veterans committee. it is an awesome experience that is bestowed on few americans i -- and i am grateful to have had it. steve: one final question. was there one moment, one day, one story you take away after 10 years in congress? rep. coffman: yeah. i think recently, there was one where i was getting ready to go back to washington, d.c., and i
was at the airport in denver, and a group of ethiopian young people came up to me, ethiopian americans, and just thanked me. they were in tears for what i had done in terms of human rights in ethiopia, and that we had really made a difference. that the ethiopian government -- they are large community in my congressional district. they are a community that was effectively pushed out of ethiopia for the most part, the diaspora by very authoritarian government that really was abusive in terms of human rights. and was always threatening the united states with withdrawing support if we criticized the government there. they were helping us in the war on terror, and it reminded me in
the cold war when we supported authoritarian regimes that did not respect the human rights of their people. because they were anti-communist, we supported them. we were doing that in ethiopia in their support of the war against terrorism. a lot of the weapons we were given them and the ammunition, they were using against our -- their own people. they put a lot of pressure on congress to not even vote on house resolution 128, and threatened corporation with the -- threatened their cooperation with the united states over that resolution. we were spending a lot of money on lobbying, and i really just worked hard to maneuver that to a vote, and it passed. it broke the wheel of that government. that was one of the factors in creating regime change in ethiopia with the new prime minister who has respect for human rights.
so i think that was a moment, certainly for me, where you can make a real difference in the lives of so many people. steve: congressman, we thank you for your time. rep. coffman: thank you. today is day 10 of the government shutdown and democrats have come up with a plan to reopen the government when they take control of the house thursday. the first day of a new congress. their proposal will fund the department of homeland security until february 8 and all other closed agencies through september 30. the legislation would continue border protection funding at current levels but does not include money to build a wall at the u.s.-mexico border. something president trump has been seeking. the bill is the same as the one the senate passed unanimously the week before christmas. i on c-span, a climate change townhall on capitol hill that was hosted by bernie
sanders. alexandria ocasio-cortez was there talking about environmental policy, renewable energy, and green jobs. way we are only going to get out of the situation is by choosing to be courageous. are is the only way we going to get out of this. first of all, it is plain wrong. the idea that we are going to somehow lose economic activity, as a matter of fact, it is not just possible that we will create jobs and economic toivity by transitioning renewable energy, but it is inevitable that we will create jobs. it is inevitable that we will create industry. it is inevitable that we can use the transition to 100% renewable energy as the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic social and racial justice in the united states of america.