Congressman Raul Grijalva recently visited the set of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel to talk about Central American refugees, his support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and—of course—Donald Trump's presidential campaign. This is an edited and condensed transcript.
Let's get started with Donald Trump. What is going on with his plan to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it? Do your think this is something that's likely to happen?
It's never going to happen. It's never going to happen. It has been good saber-rattling for Donald in terms of making that his issue and making taking a harder position—not by much—but a harder position on immigration reform. But this whole, "We're going to build it. Mexico's going to pay for it." They're not going to pay for it. It's kind of a tough, macho position to be taking. But, you know, that obviously requires cooperation of another country. That's not going to happen, and the whole issue of him continuing to want to waive laws and other things in order to do that, it's going to have serious constitutional challenges as he goes forward. I just don't see it happening. I think it's just bluster. It has no basis in anything real as a policy.
It seems as though Trump's campaign is not very policy oriented. It seems a lot more bluster, as you put it. Are you surprised that he's gone as far in the primary process as he has?
Yeah, like many people, I dismissed him at the beginning. I thought it was a self-promotion thing for him and his businesses and affiliated enterprises that he has, more of an advertising campaign for Donald Trump than anything else. Well, it's continued to be an advertising campaign for Donald Trump, but, now, you know, given the fact that he's standing alone, in the sense that he's leading, and the fact that he could likely be the nominee of the Republican Party—now I have to shift immediately, and start to take this man seriously. But the issue is that policy is irrelevant to him as he goes forward. This is about trying to promote a tough guy image. "I'm in charge, I can do the deal." And some of this just becomes secondary to this whole process. You watched him chew up Jeb Bush. And watch what he's done to Marco Rubio.
Little Marco. And I think he'll do the same to Cruz. So for the Republican establishment here's a creature of their own creation. They nurtured this emotional reaction, hate-mongering scapegoating, and fed it to the Tea Party affiliates, fed it to this extreme right-wing kind of communication network that was set up, and now, personified all that with Donald Trump, and they're wondering how we stop them. It's kind of, "This is your baby." So I think you should take him seriously. I think he's tapped into a level of, I was going to say "discontent," but it's probably too soft of a word among voters that he's mined pretty well.
What about on the other side? You are one of the few members of Congress who has endorsed Bernie Sanders. Why are you on Team Bernie?
I like Bernie as a person. Start there. But we're going to go into what many believe will be a very, very important election, 2016. Do we retain the White House given the fact that we don't have the legislative arm of government? And so that becomes essential, but I also thought it was time that somebody had to look ahead. Everybody waited for Elizabeth Warren to kind of be that standard-bearer for progressives. That didn't happen. Bernie stepped forward, started focusing only about ideas. Started challenging the status quo and tapped into a very, very strong sense by voters, particularly among the young, that they wanted some—they weren't afraid of idealism. They weren't afraid of reaching further in our policies and status-quo political parties. The apparatus of the Democratic Party is, quite frankly, embodied, centered, in the Clintons. Step forward, step back, but we'll still end up in the same place. And I think the economics—income inequality—and future possibilities in positions that he took. I think Bernie's base is competitive. I think that he's propelled by young people and others who feel that, "This is enough." And our party has to actually lead, whoever the nominee is. It behooves our Democratic Party to understand that, while you might disparage the messenger—Bernie—the message is still there, and if you don't incorporate this into the platform and the values of this party into the future, the opportunity that we have, we're going to squander.
You also endorsed Victoria Steele in her primary race against Matt Heinz, both former state lawmakers seeking to unseat Martha McSally in November. You weighed in on Victoria's side in the Democratic primary. Why?
I've gotten to know Victoria. I like the positions that she's taken, and not to belittle anything that Matt's done in the past, both as a legislator and a friend, but I thought that Victoria kind of represented the best opportunity for us to push back, both as a woman, and having some good solid progressive credentials to go along with that initiative. Hopefully, the national party will put some attention into this race, but at this point, it seems that's not one of their top tier races coming up.
McSally does have a lot of money already socked away for that campaign.
Well, McSally has not displayed the shrillness and the mean-spiritedness that many of her colleagues in the House of Representatives on the Republican side have displayed over the course of these last 14 months, and I think that works to her advantage.
Let's talk about the Central American refugees coming in into the country and seeking refuge here. Your thoughts on how the Obama administration should handle it.
I think he should handle it the way the law requires it to be handled under the Refugee Act and asylum procedures and laws of this country. First of all, it's children, so it's a different category. Those bringing with them credible fear have to go through a process and I think that what got mired together—and is still mired together—is the issue of immigration, period, and reform, and those women and children initially, and children primarily, seeking refugee status in this country. They have to be afforded some level of equal representation and consultation. They have to be afforded the opportunity to remain with a supportive network of social services and human services and their children. And, like it or not, you know, we debated the Syrian issue. It's the same situation. That they're entitled to our laws and international laws to that right to present their credible fear, and based on that, we see refugees' protection of their status in asylum, or not.
Do you feel like they do have legitimate fear?
Absolutely. In some of these countries down in Central America, civil society is broken down, it's run by gangs. Tourists get advisories, "Don't go to these countries because of potential violence to your family and harm to yourself," I think that's credible fear.
Any hope that we're going to be able to save the Cherrybell postal processing center here?
I was hoping through the appropriations process. If the Republicans go through their appropriations process, I think there's bipartisan support to slow that whole closure process not only for Cherrybell, but for others. The argument needs to be made. Try to put some amendments together to limit any closures and to reinstate the funding that's needed. It would be economically devastating, in terms of 300-plus employees and their families.