U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D), of Wisconsin’s second congressional district, was in Sauk City Aug. 30 at Village Hall to meet and talk with local constituents about any concerns they have with federal agencies. During the event, he spoke with the Eagle about the first eight months of President Donald Trump’s administration, the challenges current lawmakers face, how the Democratic party failed in 2016 and the importance of working together to get things done.
Pocan said even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would have been minor disruptions in the administration with the influx and outflux of new staffers.
“But I would argue that with Trump, we’ve had even more disruption because he comes completely from the outside and he’s brought a lot of people in from the outside,” Pocan said. “The learning curve has been steeper than normal … I just think his style is so different than what we’ve ever been used to.”
Pocan referred to Trump’s style as “bombastic” and said the president is used to being a CEO and not having to negotiate with a Congress and Senate.
“I think he’s learning the job and along the way we are learning more about him,” Pocan said. “We’ll see if there’s a collision course between the two, and that I could potentially see happening.”
The congressman said for the most part there is a system of checks and balances to keep bad things from quickly escalating, such as Trump’s recent ban on transgender people in the military.
“Military leaders said well, we’re not going to do it yet because we’re going to put a study out there and see how this is going to impact everybody in the military,” Pocan said. “I was surprised because really they are defying their commander-in-chief. But they were doing what’s right for the military. I think that’s the kind of thing we’re seeing are a lot of people making sure things still run smoothly.”
But because Trump is erratic in his behavior, Pocan said he does worry.
“What I worry about is that 4:30 a.m. tweet that sets off Kim Jong-un and the next thing you know, two people who have nuclear powers are having a fight over 140 characters,” Pocan said. “That’s the stuff I think I worry most about.”
The fact Trump has already gone through so much staff is also troubling to Pocan.
“The Mooch (Anthony Scaramucci) was there for 10 days; (Stephen) Banon’s gone, (Sebastian) Gorka’s gone,” Pocan said. “You go down the list and it’s a lot of people. Even Reince Preibus — he was the adult in the room and he got booted out during this process. But again he’s brought a lot of outsiders in and that’s been part of the disruption. These are people who didn’t really have experience but thought they knew the answers without really knowing what the questions were first.”
Pocan said he believes if Republicans would realize they are better off working with Democrats and not against them, more action would take place.
“Really the Tea Party is the tail that wags the dog because they are empowered so much,”Pocan said. “Where instead if they did what John Boehner did occasionally — which was to pass the violence against women authorization by getting a bunch of Democratic votes … You can have bipartisan votes; that’s generally how things are done. But they haven’t really operated that way and I think it would be a good practice to go back to.”
Pocan said he is waiting for leadership to step up and realize democrats are a coequal branch of government.
“Then we can function together and get things done and then negotiate with the White House which we just aren’t seeing a lot of right now,” he said.
Pocan said even President Trump has casually referred to the parties working together; something Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, has largely disagreed with.
“Paul Ryan said ‘No, we’ll do it ourselves,’” Pocan said. “Well that’s not the way you do things. His ‘doing it themselves’ means getting nothing done. I wish he would come to us … I might not agree with everything that happens then but I bet he would get a lot more Democratic votes on some of the things we just have to get done,” Pocan said. “But Paul Ryan is not rising to be the Speaker of the House — which means everybody. He’s more resembling a staffer in the Trump administration than representing a coequal branch of government.”
There is hope for democrats in 2020, though, Pocan said. The first step was realizing the mistakes the party made in 2016 with the Clinton campaign.
“You can’t just say, ‘I’m not the other person,’ which I think was a large part of the end message in the campaign, and we were lacking a coherent economic message,” Pocan said. “Most people are worried about the things they talk about at their kitchen table: Can I afford my mortgage or rent? Do I have health insurance for my family? Can I send my kids to college if they want to go to college? Can I take a family vacation? Those core economic issues. If you’re not talking about that, you’re not talking with voters.”
He said issues such as racial justice and the environment are still important and necessary to discuss, but not before engaging voters in the topics that hit closer to home.
“I think that’s where we failed,” Pocan said.
Pocan said the obvious hot topics such as healthcare and tax reform are paramount right now, and so is the budget and infrastructure.
“I am heartened to see we understand we need to have a better economic message,” Pocan said. “When the House and Senate Democrats came up with this Better Deal proposal — which is a spinoff of the New Deal — it shows they are realizing there are a lot of core economic issues from raising minimum wage to some of the anti-trust laws that have affected too much corporate power in too few hands. And there are some really good initial signs but it has to be flushed out yet. Hopefully that will show us some leaders that might be there for the next election.”