There’s not enough room in the print editions to include all there was to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s appearance today at the Commonwealth Club of California, so I figured I’d put some of the Q&A segment – moderated by former club board chairman Bob Saldich – up here.
It was largely a friendly crowd, as one might expect from San Francisco, and the first question was about how President Barack Obama could be convinced to listen more to the advice of Nobel laureate economist and columnist Paul Krugman. Boxer said she’s not sure how to get the President on board, but for herself, “I think the Krugman idea of more stimulus is a very good idea. The question is, how do you get it to move?”
That is, any such additional stimulus would face opposition not only from Republicans, but from Democrats feeling gun-shy in advance of November’s midterm elections. Boxer added she believes it’s possible to create more jobs in a fiscally responsible way; she said none of her current proposals would add to the deficit.
Asked if she would vote to eliminate the filibuster – a parliamentary procedure used by the minority party to stymie legislation – Boxer replied that’s a “complicated question.” The founding fathers intended that the House of Representatives would move quickly on legislation while the Senate would see more deliberation and compromise, but abuse of the filibuster “has gotten out of hand” and all of Democrats’ accomplishments of the past two years – health care reform, college loan reform and others – have been made more difficult by the tactic. She said she would support reforming the filibuster so that those staging one would have to physically remain on the Senate floor for the duration, and by lowering the threshold to invoke cloture and break a filibuster from 60 votes to 55.
Asked if she still supports California’s high-speed rail project given the hardships it could impose upon neighborhoods along the route – in the Bay Area, along the Peninsula – Boxer replied she respects local governments’ role in helping to plan such projects. “We can change the routes, it’s not impossible, it’s been done before so everyone can be made happy,” she said, but a majority of Californians believe high-speed rail would be an asset and so she still supports it.
One audience member sent up a question card asking if, given Boxer’s liberal spending record, there are any government programs she would consider eliminating in order to reduce the national debt. “The biggest one would be to end the wars,” she replied, adding she’d also like to see more enforcement to avoid rip-offs by government contractors; everyone paying their fair share in taxes; and no subsidies for companies that send jobs overseas.
Boxer noted that the biggest tax cut in U.S. history was enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus, given to working people and families rather than millionaires and billionaires.
More after the jump…
Asked about Congress’ role in ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Boxer noted President Barack Obama will speak to the nation tonight about how all U.S. combat troops have now been withdrawn from Iraq, with up to 50,000 remaining in teaching, advisory and antiterrorism roles. As for Afghanistan, she said, President Obama has said he’ll start bringing troops home next year, but she would still like to see a clearer exit strategy. “I believe in nation-helping, not nation-building.”
Asked about illegal immigration, Boxer said it’s all well and good to have California National Guard troops augmenting the Border Patrol so long as they’re adequately trained, but border security must go hand in hand with a path to legal residency for the 11 million illegal immigrants already here; it would be impossible to deport them all, she said. The Kennedy-McCain and Kennedy-Specter comprehensive immigration reform bills “were good bills,” she said, but both were filibustered to death by the GOP.
Asked about the tea-party movement, Boxer replied, “I like it when people get involved. I don’t like it when they get together and say and do things that are divisive for our nation.”
Asked about the controversy over a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, a few blocks from where the World Trade Center’s twin towers were felled on Sept. 11, 2001, Boxer said it’s “an issue for the people of New York to decide. … I will support their opinion, I’m not going to stick my nose in it, it doesn’t belong there.”
Asked about Proposition 19, the measure on California’s ballot this November to legalize recreational marijuana use, Boxer said her conversations with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, doctors and police lead her to believe “the laws we have currently are OK” and legalization would put California’s children at risk. “I just don’t think it moves us forward.”
One audience member asked Boxer how she feels about her political career, and how he could start one of his own. Boxer replied she’s proud to have turned to political service after working as a stockbroker and newspaper reporter earlier in life. “You can make a difference,” she said, adding elected officials must remember that the best ideas often come from their constituents. Patience and thick-skinnedness are virtues in politics, she said, advising the questioner to start by volunteering in his community to develop and demonstrate his leadership skills.
Asked about the Senate’s 12 percent approval rating, Boxer advised that “if you want high approvals, don’t go into my world” – at least not during such challenging economic times, when few will be satisfied with their lot.
Asked about the Bush tax cuts that are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, Boxer predicted they’re “absolutely going to be extended” for the middle class but not for the very wealthy.
Asked about “cap and trade” legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, Boxer said the Senate twice this year has rejected such bills – Republicans even boycotted her Environment and Public Works Committee, she noted. “We’re not going to give up the fight, but we don’t have the votes yet.”
Asked why the Democrats won’t “play hardball” and portray Republicans as more concerned with engineering the Obama Administration’s political failure than with pulling the economy out of its doldrums, Boxer replied, “I’ve never been known as someone who doesn’t play hardball, so just watch me.”
And asked why she thinks she’d be a better Senator than Republican nominee Carly Fiorina, whom she’s meeting for a debate at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 1), Boxer replied, “I’m going to let the people decide that, but I hope people listen in because this is one of the clearest choices in the nation.
Fiorina spokeswoman Andrea Saul issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that while Boxer “is busy blaming everyone but herself for her failed effort to ram through job-killing, partisan legislation, taxpayers, small business owners and families can call breathe a sigh of relief at her ineffectiveness since this bill would have cost the nation millions of jobs and increased energy costs for families by more than $1,700 a year. This is the kind of typical blame game that after more than three decades as a politician Barbara Boxer has perfected, and it is this kind of total disregard for accountability to deliver results that Californians are sick and tired of. Rather than pointing the finger at others for her failure, Barbara Boxer should be explaining to voters why after more than three decades in office she not only has few accomplishments to her name, but also routinely fails to deliver on the promises she’s made.”