Tom West MT

Tom West

Everyone knows that we live in a time of exceptional political polarization. Thus, I was a bit taken aback to hear what 3rd District Rep. Dean Phillips, a DFLer, had to say when the ECM/APG Editorial Board discussed issues with him Nov. 8.

Most stunning was what Phillips had to say after I asked him about his change of position on impeaching President Trump. Phillips had taken a wait-and-see stance until late September when a whistleblower’s allegation, based only on hearsay, was made public. Phillips then, like all but two House Democrats, called for an impeachment inquiry to begin.

I asked, if hearsay is the standard for triggering an investigation, then should Joe Biden and his son Hunter be investigated after Hunter was named to a seat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma? The job paid $50,000 per month, even though Hunter had minimal experience in that industry. Phillips said what he had heard about the Bidens was “deeply troubling,” adding that, assuming the allegations are accurate, “If that were my son, … I would be appalled.”

He said that, at the very least, it appears unethical for the son of a sitting U.S. vice president to take such a position.

Phillips said that his responsibility is to the Constitution, and that includes investigating the president if necessary. He thinks former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani served as a “shadow government” for the president in pursuing an investigation of the Bidens. Phillips also noted that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, European Affairs director at the National Security Council, recalled specific references to the Bidens in a July 25 phone call he was on with Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Perhaps Phillips’ position should not be surprising, given the district he represents. Until this year, the last time Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District sent a DFLer to Congress was in 1958.

The district’s boundaries have changed only a little over time. Basically, the 3rd District represents the western suburbs of the Twin Cities. Four Republicans all served at least 10 years representing the district.

In 2018, however, Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen was ousted by Phillips. Most observers blame Paulsen’s demise on resentment among suburbanites toward President Trump. Given the political make-up of the district, it makes sense that Phillips would avoid the more extreme rhetoric of some Democrats.

Phillips joined the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans, including Minnesota 8th District Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican. Most of the members are considered moderates, although caucus critics say that they are using the caucus as political cover in their competitive districts.

Regardless, the group withheld support for Nancy Pelosi when she sought the speakership after the election until she agreed to some rules changes. It also played a role in ending the government shutdown last spring. While Phillips continues to think that too much power is concentrated in the Speaker and the committee chairs, he said that his time spent with the Problem Solvers Caucus is “the best hour of my week.”

Phillips thinks the way the House organizes itself contributes to polarization. “Social design, physical design and organization design are all broken,” he said. “We have 92 new members and segregation began immediately.”

Phillips joined other caucus members on a trip to the Mexican border. “What we saw in McAllen, Texas, horrified us,” he said. That night, I never saw so many tears (among members of Congress).”

“We absolutely need more border security,” he said, but noted that the ports of entry are woefully designed. “To me, it’s a human safety issue.”

Phillips said he has been doing a lot of listening since he took office, seeking out different points of view. Even though his district no longer has much farming, he has sought out farmers to better understand their perspective on issues.

Having talked to many Republicans, he said, “If there’s a thread that ties Trump support together, it’s a massive appetite for disruption of the current system … that is not working for them.”

At the same time, he doesn’t sound supportive of Trump. He said, “Quid pro quos should lie in what is in the national interest, not the president’s personal interest.”

Asked about health care, he noted that he used to chair the board of Allina Health Care. He opposes Medicare for All, but does think a public option should be available as long as it is “transportable, robust and reliable.”

He noted that health care is costing Americans $10,000 per person, but our health outcomes are in the middle of the pack compared to other nations. He said he would do more to encourage prevention instead of procedures.

He also expressed concern about the national debt, noting that $400 billion is now being spent annually on debt service. “When investors decide the United States of America is not the safest place to invest capital, it’s too late,” he said, adding, “So much of our discretionary budget is being consumed by debt service.”

In conclusion, Phillips said, “I’ve spent this year assessing and understanding, and will now begin transforming it into actionable plans.”

One Republican, Kendall Qualls, a U.S. Army veteran and healthcare IT executive, has announced that he will challenge Phillips next year.

Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at westwords.mcr@gmail.com.

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