U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet at the CPR studios Friday Oct. 14, 2016.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is running to keep his U.S. Senate seat. He was appointed in 2009 and then won a six-year term. He is challenged by Republican Darryl Glenn, Libertarian Lily Tang Williams and Green Party candidate Arn Menconi. Before Bennet joined the Senate he was superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

He spoke to Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner in an in-depth interview about the "dysfunction" in Congress and why he wants to run again, Hillary Clinton's trustworthiness, the Iran nuclear deal, healthcare, energy and trade.

On Washington D.C.: “The land of the flickering lights:”

"The statement is literally true. We have no appropriations process any more, we don’t go through the regular order any more, and so in order to have people have the time to come home and campaign, instead of for example having hearings to confirm a Supreme Court justice, we pass not a budget, not an appropriation, we pass one more continuing resolution to literally keep the lights on of the federal government until we get back in the lame duck session."

On why he's running for a second term:

"I might have the chance to help lead us out of this dysfunction because from my point of view it’s just not acceptable that it’s become the land of flickering lights, and if you’re lucky enough to have the chance to help make things better and restore these democratic institutions I think you’ve got an obligation to do it and I think you shouldn’t complain about it."

His examples of key accomplishments:

"Reform of the Food and Drug Administration to be able to get life-saving therapies faster to patients. That was work I did with Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina. The estimates were one or two drugs a year would be approved --  50 drugs have been approved in the last four years as a result of that; changes we’ve made to the Elementary and Secondary School Act, which used to be called No Child Left Behind; and the work I did on immigration as (one of) the Gang of Eight."

Hillary Clinton’s emails and Wall Street speeches:

"She’s apologized for having had the private server. A lot of the emails have come out because of the investigative proceedings they’ve had. We know now (from Wikileaks) what the sum and substance of the speeches are that she gave to the banks, and I don't think there are a lot of surprises there. But on the whole I think people ought to be more forthcoming rather than less when they’re running for one of these political offices ... including all of us."

On immigration reform:

"I know … having traveled the state how important resolving this issue of immigration is for our farmers and ranchers,  for our ski resorts, for our biotech companies outside of Boulder or in Boulder, Colorado, who are trying to hire young people that are graduating from the University of Colorado whose education we’ve paid for in part but who are now being sent back to China or India to compete with us instead of staying here. I know how important it is for the kids that I used to work for in the Denver Public Schools." (Bennet was DPS superintendent until he went to the Senate.)

On support of the Iran nuclear deal and his lack of trust in the Iranians:

"Do I trust the Iranians? No. I didn’t trust them when we did the deal, I don’t trust them now. But it’s hard for me to see when we’re dealing with the lethal conventional threat that Iran poses in  places like Yemen, southern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, that we’re not better off having put the nuclear program at least on ice for now than having that to contend with as well as the conventional threat that Iran poses."

On coal’s role in the energy mix:

"We have had a profound revolution in shale gas in this country, with fracking and directional drilling, that has driven the cost of gas down to a place where it’s competitive in many ways with coal ... it’s a market-based revolution and we have to find some relief for the coal miners and the communities that are on the losing end of that transformation of our energy use."

On replacing lucrative coal-mining jobs as production decreases:
 
"It’s extremely hard and the likelihood if we don’t address it from a policy perspective is likely zero."
 
On the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement:
 

"My view is that without more of an expression from the administration about how they’re going to toughen the environmental or labor standards, if the vote were held tomorrow I’d have a hard time supporting it."

Ryan Warner: Senator Bennet, thank you for being with us.

Michael Bennet: Thanks so much for having me back.

RW: Just 17 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing—17 percent.

MB: I’m sad to say that’s actually an improvement over our low, which was at 9 percent.

RW: Nine. You were quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “I got to the point where I was referring to this place,” presumably the Capitol, “as the land of the flickering lights, because the standard of success was that we kept the lights on for another two months.” That doesn’t sound like someone who’s particularly fond of the job.

MB: Well, first of all the statement is literally true. We have no appropriations process anymore. We don’t go through the regular order any more. And so in order to have people have the time to come home and campaign instead of, for example, having hearings to confirm a Supreme Court justice, we pass not a budget, not appropriation, but we pass one more continuing resolution to literally keep the lights on of the federal government until we get back in the lame duck session.

RW: Why do you want a second term if those are the circumstances?

MB: I think that my office has been as successful as any at navigating the dysfunction in Washington and actually getting things done for Colorado and the country. We can talk about some of those things.

RW: Yeah. Give me an example or two.

MB: Well, a few examples. I mean, reform of the Food and Drug Administration, to be able to get life saving therapies faster to patients. That was work I did with Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina. The estimates were one or two drugs a year would be approved—50 drugs have been approved in the last four years as a result of that. Changes we’ve made to the Elementary and Secondary School Act, which used to be called No Child Left Behind. And the work I did on immigration as the Gang of Eight—those are just three examples. But the point I’d make is I think there are a lot of offices back there that have not been able to work across the aisle—a lot of offices without results. I’d like to go back because I think I—I might have the chance to help us lead us out of this dysfunction because from my point of view, if you’re lucky enough to have the chance to help make things better and restore these democratic institutions, I think you’ve got an obligation to do it, and I think you shouldn’t complain about it.

RW: What about the current political climate gives you some sense that this is going to change?

MB: On some level it’s that I can’t imagine that we could do any worse. The conversation we’re having right now I think at the presidential level is not one that is adequate to the task of our figuring out how to create or restore a politics that’s worthy of the aspirations that we have for our kids and our grandkids and will help the American people decide how we want to think about our country moving forward, both from a domestic point of view and also in the world setting an example of pluralism and democracy. And I’m worried that caught in the undertow of money and accusations and gerrymandering we’re at a moment where we look like we’re not up to the task. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it. And what fills me with optimism is I’ve read American history and I know we’ve come out of dark points before in our political process and been able to actually advance the cause of the next generation of Americans.

RW: I want to talk just a bit about the presidential race and the top of the Democratic ticket. One of the biggest controversies that Hillary Clinton has faced this season is her failure to hand over thousands of emails she kept on a private server when she was Secretary of State, and her unwillingness to release transcripts of paid speeches that she gave to Wall Street firms once she was out of office. Democrats, meanwhile, have pushed Donald Trump to release his tax returns. In fairness, should Secretary Clinton release her speeches and emails?

MB: Well first of all, everybody in modern American history who’s run for president has released their tax returns. So whatever one thinks about what Hillary Clinton has done doesn’t obviate in my mind the need for Donald Trump to release his tax returns.

RW: But on the question of Clinton?

MB: Yeah. I mean, I think she’s apologized for having had the private server. A lot of the emails have come out because of the investigative proceedings that they’ve had. We know now what the sum and substance of the speeches are that she gave to the banks.

RW: This is in part through WikiLeaks.

MB: Through WikiLeaks. And I don’t think there are a lot of surprises there. So—but on the whole I think people ought to be more forthcoming rather than less when they’re running for one of these political offices.

RW: Including Secretary Clinton, do you think?

MB: Including all of us.

RW: I think this goes to the heart of many voters’ concerns with her—this sense of a lack of trustworthiness.

MB: I think that she’s got 30 or more years of scar tissue from being in the public space that has created at times the appearance of not being as straightforward as one might want her to be. And I think when people see things like the walking pneumonia that she had, and she chose not to tell people that she had walking pneumonia until she had the stumble in the car, and people said well, why don’t you just tell us that? From people’s perspective you can see why they would say that, and you would see why they might think she’s not being totally forthcoming. From her point of view she’s—it’s probably been exhausting to be this public figure for all this time, and I’m sure that she has reactions about things that should be public and should be private. And I think that’s the source of concern that people have.

Immigration

RW: We submitted questionnaires to all of the candidates for our online voter guide, and that’s now posted to CPRNews.org. You listed immigration as one of your highest priorities, and as you mentioned you were a member of the 2013 Gang of Eight: four Republicans and four Democrats who offered a compromised proposal for immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship and tighter border enforcement. Estimates are that there are somewhere around 11 million people in this country illegally, roughly 164,000 in Colorado. Why do people who are in the country illegally deserve to stay?

MB: Well, because many of them are making an enormous contribution to our economy, and when you look at how the American people feel about this as opposed to how the current Republican leadership that’s running for president, Donald Trump, feels about it, they know that we’re not going to realistically deport 11 million people from the United States of America. They know we’re not realistically going to build a wall up and down—that is above ground and below ground—to stop illegal immigration. And I think what we need to reassert is a rule of law, and also value the notion that we are a nation of immigrants. That’s what that legislation represented. We got 68 votes in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, and we made enormous progress in that legislation. You mentioned it yourself—securing the border, internal security, a pathway to citizenship for the people that are here undocumented, rationalizing our agricultural sector which is 80 percent undocumented workers. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives never took the bill up.

RW: You know, I’ve heard from some conservatives that if President Obama had truly wanted immigration reform passed, if that was a priority for his administration, he would have done it early when he had a Democratic majority. Have you heard that argument, and what do you think of it?

MB: I’ve heard the argument, I think it is an attempt to cast blame in exactly the wrong direction. President Obama clearly supports fixing our broken immigration system. He clearly supported the bill that we produced in the Senate. And—whereas the Republicans in the House of Representatives had done nothing but pass pieces of legislation to overcome or disturb the President’s executive order on immigration. They haven’t even been able, Ryan, to pass a border security bill, to say nothing of figuring out what to do with the 11 million people here that are undocumented.

RW: I want to say that Mexico has been the biggest source of immigrants to the United States for decades, but the Pew Research Center says that has slowed dramatically since the Great Recession, and in fact between 2009 and 2014, 140,000 more Mexicans left than came to this country.

MB: Donald Trump must have missed that piece of research.

RW: According to Pew, this year’s voters put immigration sixth on their list of priorities, though, behind economy, terrorism, foreign policy, healthcare, and gun policy. Why does this remain such a high priority for you?

MB: Well, first of all, every one of those issues that you mentioned is a critically important issue, and we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. We shouldn’t have to do things one at a time. And the reason it’s been important to me is that I’ve worked on it already, but I also know, having traveled this state, how important resolving this issue is on immigration for our farmers and ranchers, for our ski resorts, for biotech companies outside of Boulder or in Boulder, Colorado who are trying to hire young people that are graduating from the University of Colorado whose education we’ve paid for in part, but who are now being sent back to China or India to compete with us instead of staying here. I know how important it is to the kids that I used to work for in the Denver Public Schools—

RW: You were superintendent of DPS.

MB: Yeah—who find out when they’re in the 10th grade that they’re undocumented and what all the implications are for that. That’s why we need to resolve it.

RW: Is there any sense that it’s going to be resolved in this next session any more easily or less difficult than the past?

MB: Well, I’m not sure any more—it’s difficult. This is a hard issue, but I think there is a sense among moderate Republicans in Washington, D.C. that if they don’t find a way to participate constructively to address this issue, they will never elect another president of the United States, and that matters a lot to them.

RW: There is concern about terrorism after incidents in the U.S., in Europe. What specifically should be done to make sure that people who are admitted as either refugees or admitted legally as immigrants aren’t dangerous?

MB: Well, I’d say first of all that that immigration bill we were just talking about doubled the number of border security agents—added 20,000 border security agents to the southern border and created internal security in the United States, which we don’t now have. Forty percent of the 11 million people that are here are people that came lawfully and overstayed their visas. We don’t know where they are, and our bill would have fixed that problem, so there’s one suggestion. Another suggestion is a bill that I have which would tighten up what are called the “visa waiver provisions” for people that have European passports but have traveled through countries like Syria and Iraq recently instead of taking on faith their passport from Europe. We wouldn’t do that anymore; they’d have to have a much more formal interview. Third point, the burden of proof should never be on the United States. The burden of proof should be on the refugee that they’re not going to be a threat to the United States of America. We need to make sure that we’ve got vetting in place to make sure that that’s so. If we have any doubt at all, we shouldn’t let them in. But the answer from people in—you know, the guy that’s running against me in this race and Donald Trump has been to say we should ban all Syrian refugees from the United States of America. I think that’s completely at war with who we are as a country, completely at war with our history, and—

RW: You’re speaking of the general ban, temporary though it may be, on Muslims.

MB: Yeah. And—and—or there have been—you’re right. And there also have been attempts on the floor of the Senate to ban Syrian refugees—

RW: In particular.

MB: — so either one. These big categories of people. And A, I don’t think that makes us safe, B, I think it’s at war with who we are as a country, and C, it makes it harder for other countries in the world to help solve what is the worst humanitarian crisis we’ve had in recent history, which is the result of what’s going on in Syria right now.

Iran Nuclear Deal

RW: Senator Bennet, you supported last year’s nuclear deal with Iran, and you’ve since said that is has been effective in reducing Iran’s supply of uranium, and reducing the threat that that country could build nuclear weapons. Your opponent, Republican Darryl Glenn, cites the deal as a catalyst for his decision to run. He says the deal makes America less safe. Is that case?

MB: It certainly was a catalyst for him to run.

RW: Well—

MB: It was a catalyst for others to run, too. Right now as we sit here, somebody from out of states has written a $600,000 check to support a Super PAC that attacks me on the Iran deal. And I was attacked on the Iran deal before I voted for the Iran deal. And, Ryan, sitting here today I’m more convinced than ever that it was the right vote because Iran has shipped more than ten bombs’ worth of enriched uranium out of Iran. It has less enriched uranium than one would need to build one bomb. It’s poured cement into the plutonium reactor at Araq—A-R-A-Q—destroying the plutonium reactor. They no longer have 19,000 centrifuges spinning enriching uranium; they’ve got about 4500. And there are scores of IAEA inspectors—

RW: International Atomic Energy Agents.

MB: — right—on the ground in Iran doing the inspection. I would argue, and I think it’s pretty clear this is true, that if we hadn’t done the deal they would have been able to receive the benefit of the sanctions relief anyway because the money was in other countries; it wasn’t in the United States. Donald Trump simply can’t understand that, but it’s true. And, having convinced every other country in the world that they were serious about acquiring a nuclear weapon but not the United States Congress, I think they then would have built a bomb in secret. They were two to three months away from building a bomb then. So do I trust the Iranians? No. I didn’t trust them when we did the deal, I don’t trust them now. But it’s hard for me to see when we’re dealing with the lethal, conventional threat that Iran poses in places like Yemen, southern Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, that we’re not better off having put the nuclear program at least on ice for now than having that to contend with as well as the conventional threat that Iran poses.

RW: Yeah, the conventional threat—while monitors have said Iran seems to be meeting the terms of the agreement on the nuclear front, the country has conducted at least four ballistic missile tests since this agreement. And the UN Secretary General called that a violation of the spirit of the agreement we’re talking about. I want to go back to that idea that you don’t trust the Iranians but you did a deal with them. I think there are a lot of people who might think gosh, I wouldn’t do a deal in business with someone I don’t trust.

MB: I actually think that’s a principled position. So if somebody’s position is you should never do a deal with the enemy, I disagree with that—I mean, because we—that would have let us never to have done a nuclear deal with the Soviet Union who was every bit our enemy. And I sometimes wonder what would have happened to Ronald Reagan in an era where people in opposition to this deal wrote letters to the mullahs in Iran saying you can’t trust our president, which is what they said right after this deal had been inked. So I think that’s a principled position. The position I don’t think is principled is ones like my opponent has, or Donald Trump has, who says we should just rip the deal up. They have nothing to replace the deal with. There’s no suggestion that they make. So if that’s their position—rip the deal up—then I think they need to accept a world where Iran gets delivered back to it the 10 bombs worth of enriched uranium that it shipped out, that somebody goes—maybe my opponent would like to do it himself—goes and chips the cement out of the plutonium reactor—

RW: Surely there’s a middle ground that doesn’t—

MB: Well, you tell me what it is.

RW: Last year before the agreement was approved, Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced his opposition. He said it legitimized Iran’s nuclear activities. And even if the terms are met for the next 15 years before it lapses, the country will be able to quickly restore its nuclear stockpile and build a weapon. Talk to us about what happens when the deal is done.

MB: Ben Cardin who, you’re right, opposed the deal—I supported it—he and I have legislation together that helps to bolt down some of the things that are remaining loose strings here, like making sure we’re monitoring the money that’s going back to Iran, making sure there’s sufficient Congressional oversight, making sure we’re responding to the ballistic missile test that you talked about earlier—

RW: Yeah. What’s your level of concern about it?

MB: I’m very concerned. So that’s a bill that he and I have together. I think there’s—if I had to say one thing that most concerned me about the deal is the duration of it. What happens 15 years from now? In the United States 15 years is a lifetime. For the Iranians, not so much. And we tend—our attention tends to waiver. So that—it—honestly that’s going to be—we’re going to have to evaluate where we are as we head into that 15-year period. As part of this deal, Iran has promised that they will never use a nuclear program to acquire a nuclear weapon. I don’t trust that. What it means is that the second we think they are developing a nuclear weapon they’ve broken the deal and what’s available to us is every single option we had before we signed this deal, including military intervention.

RW: By no means the perfect deal, is what I’m hearing you say. And can you take us just briefly into the process of how you weighed whether to support it or not?

MB: Sure. I’d say that—first of all, I agree completely with your characterization. By no means the perfect deal. When I was in business before I was school superintendent, before I was in the Senate, we used to say—negotiating the deals, we’d say no deal is worth doing that doesn’t die at least three times. Because if you don’t—if the deal doesn’t fall apart because one party hasn’t walked away, you haven’t worked hard enough at it. That was one of my concerns about this deal, and I’m not sure it was the best deal that could have been negotiated. A lot of that’s 20/20 quarterbacking, though, and you asked why on balance I supported the deal. It’s because I think that it was by far a better choice to accept this deal than to walk away from the deal—a deal that almost the entire world had supported—knowing that Iran would have had the benefit of the sanctions relief, and they would have been able to build a bomb in secret.

Health Care

RW: To healthcare. Former President Bill Clinton spoke out on that issue recently. He said, “Under Obamacare, 25 million more people have healthcare, but many small businesses and individuals can’t afford to buy it,” to quote the former president. We’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have healthcare, and there are people out there busting it—sometimes 60 hours a week—with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half. It’s the craziest thing in the world." Looking just at people who are using Obamacare in Colorado, premiums will go up by about 20 percent this year for those with individual coverage. And a number of major health insurance companies are pulling out of the state or limiting coverage citing rising costs. You’ve said you support Obamacare with some changes. What is your response to President Clinton? It’s the craziest thing in the world?

MB: Well, he already made his own response to that, saying that he had overstated what he had said. But my response to you on this question is that we had very serious problems in our healthcare system before we passed the Affordable Care Act. We have very serious problems in our healthcare system today, and it’s not just insurance. It’s also healthcare delivery. It costs much too much; quality is not as high sometimes as it could be. But with respect to insurance in Colorado—

RW: I just want to say all of those things were supposed to be addressed by the Affordable Care Act.

MB: And many of them were addressed, but many of them were addressed in incomplete ways. Many of them—there were shortcomings and there were many things that I wanted to do in the bill that weren’t included in the bill. But we are where we are. The benefits, I would say from Colorado’s perspective, is we’ve had half a million people that are insured today that weren’t insured before the healthcare bill: people with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied healthcare; people can’t be thrown off because they’ve got a lifetime cap on what folks can pay; kids can stay on until they’re 26 and their parents—so those are all positives. The negatives that we’re dealing with that are a problem may be of the healthcare bill or may be of healthcare generally are we don’t have a robust enough market for insurance in our state; we don’t have enough transparency about costs throughout medicine in our state or in the country; and we’ve got to create more competition and more transparency. I strongly believe—

RW: Can you create more competition through the Affordable Care Act?

MB: I think we can, and I’ll give you an example of where we lost it. So we had a co-op here in Colorado that failed, and this came up in your—in the questions that you were talking to my opponent for the race about. And there was a part of that healthcare bill that had something called “risk corridors” in it, which was meant to readjust the risk based on what the pools looked like for health insurance. Those were de-funded, and the co-op failed as a result of that. Now is that the fault of Obamacare, or is that the fault of critics of Obamacare who de-funded part of the bill? From the point of view of people living in our state, what they want is insurance they can afford, they want lower premiums, they want lower deductibles, they want there to be more competition, and I think that’s what we should as a country figure out a way to deliver. The inefficiencies in our healthcare—

RW: So figure out a way to deliver? Yeah. Say more about that. What are the ways?

MB: Well, I supported last time—I ran a public option. It was not part of the healthcare bill. I still support that; I think that that’s a way of introducing competition that private insurers will have to respond to.

RW: A federal public option?

MB: Yeah. Well, or one that’s state—that’s back-stopped by the federal government. We have to figure out what that would look like, but let—but listen; let me tell you this. In my office, and when I travel around the state, I seldom get complaints from people about Medicare who are on Medicare. I seldom get complaints from doctors about—who are being reimbursed by Medicare. I do get complaints every single day from people that have paid into their private insurance—they bought—they paid their premium month after month after month after month, then they make a claim, and then the private insurer effectively denies the claim by simply keeping them on the phone as long as they possibly can. The market’s broken. It’s broken in Colorado, it’s broken across the country, and I—

RW: You do not support ColoradoCare, though—the state universal healthcare proposal?

MB: No. But I think that what we need to do is have people of goodwill—Republicans and Democrats working together—to figure out how to fine tune the legislation, how to repair it, how to make healthcare continue to be less of a burden on America. We still are spending a huge amount of our GDP on healthcare compared to our competitors around the world.

Energy

RW: Very quickly on subjects of energy: do you think that communities should have the ability to ban fracking within their boundaries?

MB: Well, I don’t think—I think it’s been—it’s clear now as a state constitutional matter that local communities cannot put those bans in place. But what I do believe strongly is that we have got to find ways of negotiating outcomes between the energy producers and local communities who are in conflict over where drilling occurs and where storage tanks are placed. It is unrealistic for the oil and gas industry, I think, to believe that they continue to drill adjacent to subdivisions and that they’re not going to get real pushback from people in Colorado. I think they will get pushback; I think they already have. And the question is how do they respond to that? Colorado—historically we’ve been able to strike a pretty good balance here, but it ebbs and it flows and if I can be a help to people having those conversations I’m glad to do it.

RW: What role do you think coal should play in America’s energy portfolio?

MB: Well, I think it’s important—I think it’s very important to understand what the facts are here because we have lost roughly 1,200 coal jobs on the West Slope of Colorado. There are probably more on the way based on what we know. And what I hear people say sometimes is—and my opponent is one of the people that says this—is that this is all because of the over-regulation by the EPA. This is all because of environmentalists who have caused these coal mines to shut.

RW: In fact it has a lot to do with market forces and the cost of gas.

MB: That’s exactly right. I mean, we have had a profound revolution in shale gas in this country with fracking and directional drilling that has driven the cost of gas down to a place where it’s competitive in many ways with coal. And in addition to that, in our state, we have a regulatory scheme to capture fugitive methane, which is something that’s very important to do.

RW: It’s a greenhouse gas.

MB: Right. If natural gas is actually going to be—fulfill the promise of being half as clean as coal. So the point here is that we have had a revolution. It is having an effect. It’s a market-based revolution, and we have to find something to provide some relief for the coal miners and the communities that have—are on the losing end of that transformation of our energy needs.

RW: And I will say that those are lucrative jobs when you factor in pay and benefits.

MB: Yeah—average $90,000 in many cases. And—

RW: What’s the likelihood that they would find something commensurate?

MB: It’s extremely hard, and the likelihood—if we don’t address it from a policy perspective—is probably zero. But I’ve spent some time—I was out there just a month ago meeting with county commissioners and with economic development leaders on the West Slope to talk about crafting legislation together based on their ideas about how to create economic incentives for people to invest in rural parts of our state—

RW: Yeah—what would be an example?

MB: The new market tax credit is one example that came up in the conversation we had.

RW: Explain that.

MB: It’s a tax credit that’s used to incentivize companies to invest in places that have been hard hit, in places where they might not otherwise invest, but with the tax credit it makes it economically viable for them to do it. What we’ve got to do is figure out how to help diversify the economy so that we can move away from the boom and bust economy that we’ve had and people will have more choices. Another thought here, which is not fully fleshed out, but I’m working with Senator Gardner on Good Samaritan legislation to make it easier for people to clean up the abandoned mines we have throughout the West including, in Colorado, like the Gold King Mine which spilled into the Animas River outside of Durango.

RW: There are a lot of questions around the cleanup of these mines around liability. So a Good Samaritan approach --?

MB: Exactly. And if we could get that done that might not create $90,000 jobs, but it might create jobs well above the average income that people are earning in that part of the state.

RW: Markets, for instance, certainly are playing a role, but by the same token the Clean Power Plan, which your opponent in this races calls, “The war on coal,” envisions a time in which there’s much less coal and that coal-fired power plants are being shut down. So I’d like to go back to that fundamental question. 

MB: Sure.

RW: What role should coal play in an energy portfolio going forward?

MB: I think going forward if we can find a way to produce coal that and technology, that can deliver cleaner sources of energy, then it can be part of the mix. So far we haven’t been able to do that. I do have a bill with a Republican named Rob Portman from Ohio that would allow people to get tax-exempt financing to put cleaner technology on coal plants. So I’m not saying there is no role, but realistically there’s going to be a much less of a role. And I think it’s important for people to know that, and the Clean Power Plan, which you mentioned, Colorado is 75 percent to 80 percent of the way to complying with it already, and I think it would be terrible if we walked away from that.

RW: Is it going to be more expensive for rate payers, real quick?

MB: It will be more expensive for some and maybe less expensive for others. The good news is that the cost of delivering renewables is dropping precipitously. And when I say precipitously I mean when you look at what solar cost when I went into the Senate versus what it costs today, it’s almost a straight line down the page—not a—not one of those gradually sloping lines. We’re seeing that with wind, too. We’re seeing that with natural gas as we discussed earlier, and also the thing that we really have to get figured out over the next couple or three years is storage technology and trying to get that down to a price where it will actually make sense.

RW: To store the power so that it’s—becomes baseline power.

MB: Because much—many of these sources of power are intermittent.

Global Trade

RW: The Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade in general—global trade—has been just a huge topic in this presidential race. Where do you stand on the TPP?

MB: I was one of 13 Democrats who supported the fast-track authority to give the administration the opportunity to negotiate the best deal they could for America. My view, whether you’re for TPP or not at the time, we should have been for giving the administration the leverage to get the best deal. I think it’s become very clear during the course of this presidential campaign that people are concerned about the negative effects of trade. Positive effects are huge for this country, but they’re very diffuse. The negative effects are felt by a smaller number of people and they can be really tough—no different in many ways from what we were just talking about with respect to the coal miners on the West Slope of Colorado. So my—

RW: I was just down in Pueblo and heard people ruing NAFTA down there.

MB: Yeah. So my view is that without more of an expression from the administration about how they’re going to toughen the environmental or labor standards, if the vote were held tomorrow I’d have a hard time supporting it. In the end, I hope to be in a position to be able to vote for a trade deal with this region because the thing I want to do least of all is leave the Chinese in the position to set the rules in this trading region. I want the United States to help develop those rules, and one of the concerns, Ryan, that I have about this presidential election is when you listen to the rhetoric, it’s not just this trade agreement’s bad, what you hear people say is trade is bad. I’ve heard Hillary say that, I’ve heard Trump say that, I’ve heard Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz say that. I disagree with that. I think that a much more important issue for our economy is the consequences of automation and technology on our workforce. And a lot of our workforce has been displaced. I’ll give you one example. We—my understanding is that we create as much steel today in Ohio as we did decades ago, but there are no people that are creating that steel because it’s all become automated. And we’ve lost an entire election cycle of a discussion about what to do there for people that have been left behind in an economy where machines can do the work, and they can’t do the work. And to me there are probably a number of answers there, but the most important one for my point of view is education people for the 21st century, using our K-12, higher ed and workforce development dollars in a much more thoughtful way.

RW: Senator, thanks for being with us.

MB: Thanks so much for having me.