Wanting To ‘Get Big Things Done,’ Rep. Jason Crow Reflects On 1st Year In The House

December 27, 2019
Trump ImpeachmentTrump ImpeachmentU.S. House via AP
In an interview with Colorado Matters, Rep. Jason Crow reflects on his first year in Congress.

As was the case with some of his fellow Colorado representatives, Jason Crow was lukewarm about Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker of the House after the chamber changed hands in the 2018 midterms.

It wasn't anything personal, said the Democrat from the 6th District, it was more the idea of bringing "new blood and new culture to Washington."

Along the same lines, Crow told Colorado Matters his class of freshmen representatives is one of the most diverse in Congressional history and should be at the forefront of a new generation of leadership. While that didn't happen, Crow did credit Pelosi with guiding the party through "a tough year."

"Given the challenges that we have faced this year, I think she has done a nice job of managing things in the House," he said.

Democratic leadership is just one of the things under a microscope headed into what promises to be an interesting 2020 election season. Crow also discussed the idea of politicians using Colorado — and his district — as a backdrop for announcing their gun control platforms. In 2019 alone, Democrat presidential primary hopeful Michael Bloomberg and former presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke made appearances in his backyard.

"What bothers me, is that we've had so many mass shootings that people have to come to Colorado and talk about Aurora, talk about Columbine, talk about Arapahoe High School, talk about STEM High School," Crow said. "The fact that we have to talk about this and that the community that I represent has had so many instances and has lost so many young lives is what bothers me."

"There isn't a week that goes by when I'm out in the community in Colorado where a parent, a teacher, a student doesn't come up to me in tears saying that they think about this when they go to school."

Interview Highlights

On whether important day-to-day issues are being lost amid impeachment talk in Washington:

"I don't think that's true. Look at what has happened over the last 11 months. We have sent over 275 bipartisan bills to the Senate, from gun violence to climate change, to health care, to prescription drugs to immigration. I serve in the small business committee... We have passed over 30 bills this year and we've done it unanimously. That's every Democrat and every Republican on the committee working hard to find agreement and I think it's really important to tell that story."

On how being in the military shaped his viewpoints on guns (Crow served with the Army on two tours in Afghanistan):

"My view on guns I think is a reflection of my entire life. I grew up a hunter. Starting when I was a young teenager, I hunted deer and duck and rabbit. I'm a gun owner now. I was an army ranger. I served over a hundred combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've used these weapons of war at war. I've had them used against me. I know what they're capable of and I know that they don't belong in our schools, our mosques, our churches, our synagogues."

On maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan:

"I don't agree that a complete withdrawal is in our national interest. I mean, there are very real terrorism and national security concerns. I personally think that we have to have some counter terrorism force. I know that the threat is real. I receive these classified briefings pretty regularly. There's a lot of people who want to do great harm and have the capability to do that throughout the world and in that region and we have to make sure that we are keeping our country and our people safe."

Read The Transcript

Ryan Warner: Congressman, welcome back to the program.

Rep. Jason Crow: Thanks, Ryan. Good to be back with you.

RW: The Washington Post recently ran a story on the run up to impeachment and it said that you were one of seven freshmen, all military veterans, by the way, who showed Pelosi that Democrats had reached a tipping point. She apparently gives you a great deal of credit in this regard. I find it all fascinating given that you weren't initially a supporter of her leadership in the House. Will you tell me about the evolution of your relationship with Pelosi? Perhaps your sense of her?

JC: Sure. I made a promise back on the campaign trail that I was going to push for a new generation of leadership in Congress. I continued to do that in a variety of ways, but this was never about Speaker Pelosi. She has a long history of fighting for various things that are important values that we share and this has been a tough year. She has managed a very tough legislative calendar. We've had some very important wins on gun violence, on campaign finance reform, on healthcare. Given the challenges that we have faced this year, I think she has done a nice job of managing things in the House.

RW: Is it fair to say this was never about Speaker Pelosi? In other words, you wanted to see new blood in that chair, didn't you?

JC: Well, I didn't know Speaker Pelosi before this. I had actually never met her. This was not a personal thing. This was about what I campaigned largely on and trying to bring a new blood and new culture to Washington. So much of the challenges we face have to do, I think with the culture of this town. We're not getting big things done on so many important fronts.

JC: One of the great things about my class, the first year folks, Republicans and Democrats, is we're largely not career politicians.

RW: When I hear you say we're not career politicians, do you think that you'd set a term limit on yourself never to become one or that it's just helpful you're not one now?

JC: Well, the most important term limits are the ones that are set by the voters, but there's just a different mentality, a different mindset. Right? I have a lot of good friends and colleagues who had been working in politics and doing really wonderful work for decades. But there is kind of a nice change in mindset, having different folks from different backgrounds. One of the great things that I love about this class is the diversity of this class.

RW: I wonder if you've resigned yourself to the idea that with a Senate trial looming and the 2020 race, that you and Congress won't get to meaningfully address these sorts of kitchen table issues you were afraid would get lost in the shuffle.

JC: I don't think that's true. Look at what has happened over the last 11 months. We have sent over 275 bipartisan bills to the Senate, from gun violence to climate change, to healthcare, to prescription drugs to immigration. I serve in the small business committee. You don't hear about it on the front pages of the Washington Post or New York Times or on Fox News or CNN, but we're actually one of the more productive committees in Congress. We have passed over 30 bills this year and we've done it unanimously.

JC: That's every Democrat and every Republican on the committee working hard to find agreement and I think it's really important to tell that story.

RW: You're often delivering though to a Senate that doesn't take these bills up.

JC: Well, in the case of the small business committee, they have taken many of them up. We have gotten things through the Senate and signed into law by the president. But yeah, the Senate remains a real challenge. When we have things that are overwhelmingly supported by the American people, and I'll use H.R.8, which is the universal background checks bill. This is something that Coloradans overwhelmingly support, over 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks. It would save lives, and the fact that it can't make it through the Senate is a real problem.

JC: It's something that we already did in Colorado. After the Aurora Theater shooting, people demanded a response. Two amazing things have happened in that time. Number one, no law-abiding citizens have lost their firearms, but number two is over 2,000 people who lawfully should not have firearms had been prevented from obtaining them.

RW: How much is your view on guns, do you think, connected to your time in the military?

JC: Well, my view on guns I think is a reflection of my entire life. I grew up a Hunter. Starting when I was a young teenager, I hunted deer and duck and rabbit. I'm a gun owner now. I was an army ranger. I served over a hundred combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I've used these weapons of war at war. I've had them used against me. I know what they're capable of and I know that they don't belong in our schools, our mosques, our churches, our synagogues. I'm somebody that respects the culture and heritage of responsible firearm ownership in our country.

JC: But I'm also somebody that when I served in the military, understood that citizenship has rights and privileges, but citizenship also has duties and responsibilities. I don't think we talk enough about that. We have duties and responsibilities to the country. One of those is to make sure that our citizens can live without fear and pursue their life. We're at a point in our country where we're not fulfilling that duty because too many young men and women are dying on our streets and in our schools, too many are committing suicide using firearms, and it has to stop.

RW: In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, we've seen at least two democratic candidates, Beto O'Rourke, who's not in the race anymore and Michael Bloomberg, come to Colorado and use shootings like the one at the Aurora Theater and at Columbine as a kind of backdrop for their gun control platforms. Does it bother you at all that Colorado and, specifically your district, have become the kind of go-to spots for telling the tale of gun violence?

JC: Well, what bothers me, Ryan, is that we've had so many mass shootings that people have to come to Colorado and talk about Aurora, talk about Columbine, talk about Arapahoe High School, talk about STEM High School. The fact that we have to talk about this and that the community that I represent has had so many instances and has lost so many young lives is what bothers me. I'm not going to stop until we fix it. There isn't a week that goes by when I'm out in the community in Colorado where a parent, a teacher, a student doesn't come up to me in tears saying that they think about this when they go to school.

JC: That parents think about whether or not their kids are going to come home when they dropped them off for school in the morning. That's what's wrong here and we need leadership and we need accountability to fix it.

RW: I'd like to dig a little bit more into your history as a veteran, specifically as it relates to Afghanistan, the U.S.'s longest war. The Washington Post alleges in a story that US officials misled the public for years about the success of the war in Afghanistan, despite evidence that it was winnable. You did two tours there. I wonder if you've read that piece and what your reaction is to it.

JC: Yeah, I have read that piece. Sadly, it doesn't come as a great surprise to me, and that's why I've been talking about this for so long. You don't win a war for 18 years. If every year of a war after trillions of dollars, thousands of young lives lost, tens of thousands wounded, this has not been going well for a very long time. I've been talking about it. I've been trying to draw attention to it. I'm a member of the Armed Services Committee. A lot of the time I spend on the Armed Services Committee is an accountability hearings. I'm asking the hard questions for our generals.

JC: I actually led a congressional delegation to Afghanistan, members of the Armed Services Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee the first week of October where we pressed our commanders very hard. It is time for some real discussion and accountability about why we are there, what our national interests are and what the path forward is. Unfortunately, we're at the place where there are no good options anymore. That is the reality here and we have to decide how we address just a series of really bad options.

RW: A series of really bad options, but withdrawing entirely from Afghanistan, is that one of them?

JC: Certainly, it's an option and it's been discussed. I don't agree that a complete withdrawal is in our national interest. I mean, there are very real terrorism and national security concerns. I personally think that we have to have some counter terrorism force. I know that the threat is real. I receive these classified briefings pretty regularly. There's a lot of people who want to do great harm and have the capability to do that throughout the world and in that region and we have to make sure that we are keeping our country and our people safe.

JC: That said, we can't continue to spend $28 billion a year, which is roughly what we're spending there, and have, 12,000, 13,0000 U.S. troops on the ground. Again, none of these are great options given the other challenges we face. I would much rather be spending that money at home, rebuilding our roads and bridges, our schools, and investing in a career technical education, higher education. All of these have an opportunity cost to them and we have some really hard decisions to make and come up in the near future.

RW: I wonder if we might circle back to impeachment. Millions of dollars are being spent by Republicans targeting Democrats in what are considered vulnerable districts with regards to impeachment. How did you weigh one against the other? Deciding that impeachment was a must, but realizing that it might make Democrats vulnerable and it might make you vulnerable in some future campaign.

JC: Ryan, I actually separated politics completely from this decision. When these Ukraine allegations came out months ago, it just went so much to the core of who I am and what I am about and my service to the country. It went to our national security. It went to issues of abuse of power. We have over 60,000 troops in Europe. These are the sons and daughters of people that I represent.

JC: The idea that the president would use National Security funds, Foreign Assistance funds for an ally fighting an actual war, a shooting war right now against Russian aggression where our young men and women are standing by to assist if this blows up into a larger issue, that he would use that for personal gain, it was just so shocking to me that I just said, "Listen, I'm going to look at this in a neutral way. I'm going to look at it, try to find the facts and the evidence and I'm just not going to think about the politics of it." I think that's what the people that I represent deserve.

RW: I'd like to ask you about another veteran in Congress, that's Tulsi Gabbard, who's also running for president. It's interesting, she was the only Democrat. She's the only representative to vote present on the impeachment and she says, "I could not in good conscience vote for impeachment because removal of a sitting president must not be the culmination of a partisan process fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country." Could I get you to reflect on that assessment of the House process?

JC: Well, I disagree that the inquiry was fueled by tribal animosities. The inquiry was fueled by the actions of the president that compelled us to act and respond to that under our constitutional obligation and our oath. What I do think is happening is there are real divisions in our country, in our community right now, that is real and it bothers me. Everywhere I go, people are getting entrenched in their positions, we're becoming very tribal.

JC: Democracy requires us to try to figure out how to work together. We are a deliberative system where the system only works if people are willing to come to the table and find some agreement. One of the things I tell people around here is, if you want to get 100 percent of what you want, then everybody gets 100 percent of nothing.

RW: Congressman, thanks for your time.

JC: Thanks, Ryan.

Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity. This story is part of a series of conversations on Colorado Matters with members of the Colorado congressional delegation.

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