U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina’s 2nd District met with the editorial board this week. Here are my NOT verbatim notes from the meeting.
On the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up same-sex marriage:
RENEE ELLMERS: That was a states issue. In my personal opinion, I did feel my concern about the actual legislation that the state was putting forward, I did feel it went too far. I am a supporter of marriage between one man and one woman. I have co-sponsored at the federal level the Defense of Marriage Act. It’s what our country was founded on, the judeo-Christian belief. As a conservative, when we’re talking about government intrusion, feeling that the government is interjecting themselves into our personal lives, I feel like this is one of those areas. When it comes to civil unions or legal decisions made between two individuals, I believe we have to stop short of intruding on that.
Had they stopped at the Defense of Marriage between one man one woman, it would have been better legislation, but the people of North Carolina spoke, about 60 percent ...
Q: Well, that 60 percent wasn’t 60 percent of all eligible voters ...
ELLMERS: In my district, it was higher. And that’s the ongoing problem, the number of people who go out to vote. If this was an important issue for them, and it was a primary vote, then they are the ones who came out and voiced their opinion. It’s going to play out in North Carolina here in the courts, and that was one of the concerns I had. Because it was the Republican majority legislators putting it forward, it could reflect negatively on our party as a whole.
I have to admit I was surprised by the Supreme Court, but I’ve been immersed in the campaign and haven’t sat down to read the decision. It could be based on the way the cases were presented. It’s not going to go away. Even though the courts have made the decisions, this will still remain a topic for many states.
Q: The debate between Tillis and Hagan, there was a subtext of this war on women. Is there a war on women?
ELLMERS: It’s fizzling out. It’s really not going anywhere. Personally, when this issue arose in 2012, I felt it was absolutely ridiculous, but it really did gain teeth. We saw it play out, and it did for many different reasons. We saw the comments made by two Senate candidates that fed into it as well. I do believe it affected the presidential election, the outcome. I became very concerned about it post-2012 election. This is something we have to get a handle on, why I pursued the chairmanship of the Republican Women Policy Committee, promoting women serving with us in Washington. From a political standpoint, I knew this was going to be a major issue. Women are the majority of voters in this country, and Republicans have to do a better job with women. Part of that is messaging. One of the other things I pursued was the Republican National Committee, to make sure we had a program in our political arm to address the issue not only of reaching out to women but recruiting more women to run. We put together GROW, Growing Republican Opportunities for Women. I do believe the efforts we’ve put forward, when we’re talking to women, with women, I’m a woman, I know how women think. We’re doing a better job. Every issue is a women’s issue. It’s not just about contraception or whether you are pro-choice or pro-life. Every issue is a women’s issue. We’ve made a significant difference within our own caucuses. But this war on women is fizzling out. I believe it was just a political hit and it really holds no water.
Q: You have a background in medicine. You’ve been opposed to the Affordable Care Act. We’ve had a year of it under our belt. Do you still want to repeal it?
ELLMERS: If I had my wish of how we would handle it, full repeal with replacement with patient-centered policies that give families more choices. Where patients, families and doctors are making decisions for health care rather than the federal government mandating it. As long as President Obama is our president, that’s not going to happen. We’ve voted to repeal. We’ve voted to replace parts we know aren’t working. We’ll continue to do that. The website, though there have been improvements, it now cost taxpayers of this country $2 billion to keep addressing the issues with the website. They knew it was going to fail. They knew it ahead of time. They told us in committee for months that everything was on target, and yet when Oct. 1 hit, it was just a big failure. It’s just been damage control from that point on.
Q: But Obamacare seems to have diminished as a campaign issue.
ELLMERS: It’s still a main topic when I’m talking with constituents. Jobs and the economy remain No. 1. Job creation, how slowly we’re coming out of the recovery. Folks are feeling they’re surviving, living check to check. They feel strongly we should be in a better place.
Q: What would you to fix it?
ELLMERS: Here’s where I talk about the 400 bills we passed out of the House, 98 percent with bipartisan support. I think the only ones we didn’t have Democrats on board with was the repeal of Obamacare. But 98 percent of the bills we passed were with bipartisan support. Very few made it to the president’s desk to be signed into law. There were some tax issues, but certainly not a comprehensive tax reform, which we still need to put forward. We bundled a number of bills together that had passed the House before we left Washington to pass on to the Senate, cutting overregulation, on energy production, health care reform, all of these bills that we continue to pass. They go to the Senate, then they sit on Harry Reid’s desk. He’s trying to protect the vulnerable Democratic senators, and he protects the president as well. As long as they don’t make it to the president’s desk, he doesn’t have to make a decision and answer to the American people. When Harry Reid makes a decision not to bring it to a vote, he’s just hurting his own Democrats because he’s keeping them from voting on issues.
We’ve come far on working together, in 2014, and then for 2015 we actually had a federal budget. There have been four years gone by that the Senate hasn’t put forward a budget for us to work with. The only reason the Senate came forward with a 2014 budget is because we passed no budget, no pay. The House owns the purse strings. We said to the Senate, if you don’t do your job, you don’t pass the budget, you won’t get paid until that happens, and miraculously they did come up with a budget.
It has been frustrating. We see the American people are frustrated with Congress. They see gridlock. The responsibility needs to be put on Harry Reid’s shoulders. We would be in a much better place economically today if most of those bills had been put up for a vote.
Q: So those 400 bills were economic ones?
ELLMERS: In some form or fashion. We’re looking at how are we helping those who would be creating jobs, who say I could be hiring right now but because of so much uncertainty, I don’t know when next rule change is going to be, I don’t know how I can plan for the future because of health care. Obamacare is a big part of that. Talking about the economy, Obamacare has hurt so many of our businesses so much, increased the cost of doing business. They don’t know whether they’re going to be able to provide for the employees. They simply cant hire new employees. I believe that’s what held us back. We’re not producing, not creating. We’re kind of stagnating. They’re all economic issues we’re dealing with. There were education bills. The Student Success Act, the federal funding for education. States have real control, the states and local boards of education, but the federal funding that comes always comes with mandates. We put together a great plan of reform to help states make better decisions for themselves autonomously. They can choose whether to follow Common Core, we’re dismantling No Child Left Behind, empowers teachers, gets the money into the classrooms for the teachers and for students and decreases red tape in the educational system. It was not brought up for a vote in the Senate. There is a comparable piece of legislation stuck in committee in the Senate, but I don’t know what the language is, so I don’t know whether I’d vote for it. It hasn’t been brought for a vote, either. It it had, we could have conferenced it and sent it to the president.
Q: You talked in your debate about how much Clay Aiken is just an entertainer.
ELLMERS: I never said because he’s an entertainer that that would preclude him. I had never run for anything in my life. It speaks to America that anyone could put themselves forward and potentially go to Congress. What I said about him being an entertainer is very much what he’s saying. He’s said the reason I feel I need to go to Congress is because I have a microphone. I’m not going to work with anyone, but because I have a microphone, people will listen to me. He’s using the fact that he’s an entertainer. I think it’s a very fair assessment of him.
The thing I find interesting about Mr. Aiken is he seems to be conflicted on what are state issues and what are federal issues, whether he’s running for a House seat or a Senate seat, conflicted about whether he’s a Democrat or a Republican. A constituent said to me that he doesn’t seem to know what he doesn’t know. I’ll just leave it at that.
Q: What happened to immigration reform?
ELLMERS: I wish we had addressed it. We were this close, we were very, very close to starting to vote on immigration reform. One question that keeps coming up is the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill. I wouldn’t have voted for that bill. It’s a large comprehensive bill, and I believe wholeheartedly that immigration reform is multiple issues and needs multiple bills that need to be voted on. Also because the Senate bill really moves toward a plan of citizenship for those who are here illegally, I’ll even say amnesty, and that I do not support.
Q: There’s the difficulty of sealing the border. Many people say this is an important step to any immigration plan. How would you seal the border? It’s mostly water. Is it realistic?
ELLMERS It is realistic. It’s politics that’s stood in the way. It’s a hot button issue. Depending on where you are on the issue of immigration and those who are coming here illegally across the border, either you view it as working for you or working against you. It has to be because for 30 years we haven’t addressed this issue. We’ve seen presidencies, Republican and Democratic, avoid avoid this issue.
When we’re talking about immigration reform, border security has to be first part that’s dealt with. There are laws already on the books that are not being enforced regarding border security and how it’s carried out with Border Control. We’re even talking about local law enforcement when talking about the border states. There are areas of the border that are vulnerable, not necessarily areas that individuals can be vigilant, and that’s where technology comes in. After 13 years of war we have technology that should ...
Q: Are you talking about drone patrols?
ELLMERS: I don’t necessarily want to say that. The other issue that has complicated this issue are those coming from Central America. They’re seeing out the Border Control so they can essentially say, OK
Q: You’ve talked about a mechanism for people already here working to get a legal work status.
ELLMERS: Not citizenship. The reality is we have millions who are here. I’ve heard everything from 12 million to 20 million. We don’t know. They’re not out in the open. We don’t know who’s here illegally. We have to address that. This idea of self-deportation or the government going in and deporting, it’s so astronomically expensive, we can never incur it. There’s no way we would ever get that accomplished. What we feel would be a good plan of action is have individuals come forward and work toward legal status, basically a green card, i guess you could say. They admit they broke the law, pay a penalty or fine, we know who they are, a process of identification. Others who are here who won’t come forward, from a law enforcement standpoint we need to be able to deal with them as well. If they come forward and do these things, they’ll be issued legal status, green card, whatever you want to say. They’ll be able to come and go. Some of them never been back to visit their families the whole time they’ve been here, some some 20 years.
Q: But never citizenship?
ELLMERS: With many of the groups I’ve met with, citizenship is not really their goal. They’re happy being associated with their country of origin. Citizenship is not really their goal. What they want to do is be able to work, they’ve gotten married, had children, the children are concerned Mom, Dad will be sent back. We want to keep families together and that is why these individuals would be able to come forward. If someone comes forward and then does want to achieve citizenship, they would have to get in the back of the line. It’s a lengthy and expensive process and one that needs its own reforms.
Q: What’s the common theme on the campaign trail?
ELLMERS: Jobs and the economy remain the No. 1 issue. The Affordable Care Act as well. Defense and foreign affairs issues. ISIS and Ebola also are becoming a main issue of discussion. Constituents just don’t know what’s happening.
Q: People say this has been the least-productive Congress in history. Democrats would hold you and Republicans up as poster children for the impasse. That it’s been our way or the highway by House Republicans.
ELLMERS: If we’ve passed 400 bills that haven’t been brought up for a vote, I hardly understand how that’s Republicans. We’ve worked hard for bipartisan support. Being on the Energy and Commerce Committee, the main goals of Chairman Fred Upton is everything we pass out of committee is with bipartisan support. It will be a stronger vote on the House floor and a stronger position when we send it over to the Senate. I understand the American people are frustrated, but when we’ve worked so hard to pass legislation with bipartisan support, the responsible party needs to be identified, and that’s the Senate. The Senate can come up with their own bill. Because we didn’t follow the regular order for so long, most people have forgotten how that works. The Senate can come up with a comparable bill with their perspective, their majority, their votes, then we come to conference then work on compromise. No one will get everything they want, but we never make it to that process if the Senate doesn’t pass comparable legislation.
Q: David Price has talked about the tea party element and how it’s keeping anything from getting done.
ELLMERS: He’s obviously getting a much different experience than I am. I think his comments are political rhetoric. Do we have diversity within our caucus? We do have members who see things very conservative and they’re voting for their districts the same way I’m voting for my constituents in District 2. David Price has a little different district than I do so he sees it from a different perspective.
Q: People also talk about how the districts are gerrymandered so that no one has to appeal to middle.
ELLMERS: You didn’t hear that when the Democrats wrote the lines for the districts 10 years prior. I believe it’s political rhetoric. The District 2, the makeup of the district was what I decided to take on. My district is more conservative now, but that doesn’t necessarily help me, though. If I’m someone who’s voting for my constituents, I’m not not going to take a far right position necessarily on an issue, and hat could get me into hot water with those who are very conservative. We need the tea party. That’s a strong voice. We all need to work together. But I’m always considering the people of District 2.
Q: What would you consider your major accomplishments?
ELLMERS: When I look back, basically one is just being a voice for health care. We had legislation protecting Medicare Part D we put together when the administration came forward with a proposal to cut it. We immediately acted, our voice was so strong, they changed their rule. I think that’s a big accomplishment. Standing up for the military, for Fort Bragg. That’s an honor to be able to be a voice for our military, taking care of our veterans. We’ve held job fairs now for our veterans. We want to help them get a job.
We know the better we can aid them in assimilating back into civilian life, the better they’ll be.
Q: One criticism of you from Aiken is that you are a creature of Congress. Not in touch. He said your constituent services are bad.
ELLMERS: That’s an easy political hit from any challenger. I find it quite frankly amusing. He praises Howard Coble, and part of the district I have now is Howard Coble’s, and his staff came on with me, the same staff who provided constituent services for Howard Coble continue to provide them for my district.
I take it personally. My staff works so hard. I’m not sure what Mr. Aiken’s basis is for saying that other than a political hit.
Q: Did you vote for Aiken when he was on "American Idol"?
ELLMERS: No, I didn’t vote, but I think he has a beautiful voice. I was surprised when he didn’t win.