After Campaigning Against Trump, Coffman Now Has To Work With Him

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Photo: Mike Coffman victory speech (AP Photo)
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., gives his victory speech at the Colorado Republican election night party Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Greenwood Village, Colo.

Updated with transcript -- Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman spent much of his re-election campaign speaking out against a Trump presidency.

That stance may be one reason he succeeded in defeating his Democratic challenger, former State Sen. Morgan Carroll, in Colorado's 6th congressional district. That contest was viewed as one of the most competitive races in the country.

Now, the tables have turned and Coffman will have to navigate governing during a Trump administration. Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner asked Coffman about areas where he disagrees with the President-elect and where he sees promise in the new administration.

Read the full transcript below:

Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Two big addresses in the last 24 hours. President Barack Obama giving his final speech in office and then this morning, Donald Trump's first press conference since the election. On the line with us to talk about the seismic shifts coming to Washington is Republican Congressman Mike Coffman. He represents Colorado's 6th District, which includes Aurora. He's also a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and welcome back to the program Congressman. 

Representative Mike Coffman: Well thanks for having me. 

RW: I want to start with the fact that intelligence agencies have said Russia meddled in the US presidential election apparently in an effort to help Trump get elected. Now there's an uncorroborated report that one, Trump's campaign coordinated with the Russians, and two, that the Russians have dirt on Trump that could make him vulnerable to blackmail. The information was persuasive enough apparently that it was shared with both Trump and President Obama. What's your reaction to the latest developments?

MC: Well, I'm not familiar with it. So a couple of things, first of all I do think, that there, I can tell you as an Iraq war veteran, I think sometimes that the intelligence at the highest levels tends to be politicized to make a certain point. But at the same time I think that the Russians are a tremendous threat. I think we should, I think we need to look into every possibility for what they're doing. And so I just think, I just have a real concern about Russia, and it runs much deeper then the President-Elect.

RW: You believe that intelligence, even from the highest echelons you say, can be politicized. What makes you say that? 

MC: Oh my gosh. As an Iraq War Veteran just to believe the intelligence and the lead up to the Iraq War, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, the lead up to the US military incursion into Libya for regime change, and what we were told there and what we found out afterwards. And recently not that long ago, we found out that at the senior levels in the Obama administration that they were cooking the intelligence on ISIS to make them look less formidable and that we were making more progress than we really were. And so we're constantly looking into these things, and I hope that it's just something that needs to be cleaned up. Certainly the rank and file of the intelligence community and the raw information that they put forward is good. I think when it's put together in trying to establish a fact pattern to prove a particular thesis, I think sometimes it becomes questionable and politicized. 

RW: This was the consensus of several different agencies, does that change your perspective in any way? 

MC: No, it really doesn't, but at the same time, just because I'm distrustful of intelligence agencies and have been for a very long time and the fact that they've been politicized on the right and the left, I think they were politicized during the Bush administration as well, that doesn't disregard the fact that I do think that Russia is a real threat to the United States, to our security interests, and I don't, I think that they try a lot of, what I call, hybrid type tactics, where not true military, not using true military tools as we know them in the conventional sense but using information management, psychological operations, cyber tactics to achieve their ends. And so while I'm somewhat suspicious of intelligence agencies, that doesn't dismiss the fact that we have to take Russia seriously and we have to look into every possible allegation as to what they may have done or may be doing. 

RW: The House Armed Services Committee has cyber security certainly in its purview and in past years you've sat on a special Cyber Security Task Force. Would you lay out specific steps you think the US needs to take in regards, I suppose to cyber security in general, and specifically as it relates to Russia. 

MC: Well I think we're behind on Cyber Security and certainly Russia and China have very advanced operatives in terms of their ability to conduct cyber operations. And I think that hen to protect the critical infrastructure of the United States and trying to certainly protect our own government systems, the VA system got hacked by a state sponsored entity. OPM got hacked by a state sponsored entity in terms of very critical files that were removed. So it's something that we haven't paid enough attention to that we really need to. 

RW: OPM is the United States Office of Personnel Management. 

MC: Right. 

RW: Are there any questions that you feel must be answered about this before inauguration day? 

MC: No, I think we should proceed. I don't think that, but I think that we should, all allegations need to be investigated, and nothing should be dismissed and I just really think, because I think we have to understand what Russia may or may not be doing. But I'm just, I think they're a very significant threat to the United States, and I don't think we should take them lightly. 

RW: During you reelection campaign, you openly opposed Mr. Trump, even though you're both Republicans and here's some of a campaign ad from this summer.

[playing Ad]

MC: I'm a Marine. For me, country comes first. My duty is always to you, so if Donald Trump is the President, I'll stand up to him. Plain and simple.

RW: What have you heard Trump say since election day, if anything, that you will stand up to?

MC: Well I think, I'm concerned about his infrastructure, of spending, which is massive, and so I'm going to take a look at that proposal when it comes down. I think immigration reform, I think certainly I've got concerns about what he said during the campaign trail. He seems to be softening his position now on immigration but I think I'm certainly going to be watching that. There's no question that I'm for securing the border, there's no question. I'm for immigration policies that help grow our economy, but I'm also for keeping families together and I just haven't heard that from him yet. And so that's certainly going to be something that I'm going to press this administration for. 

RW: Let me ask a specific in that regard about DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants protection to undocumented people brought to the US as children. Trump has said he wants to do away with DACA. What's your stance there? 

MC: Well, I think it has to be preserved, and I'll certainly fight the administration on that. He has shown an opening, a softening on the DACA position but hasn't been explicit in terms of what he would support in terms of replacing it with. But I think, certainly that's a priority for me, is making DACA permanent. 

RW: I want to move onto healthcare, you have supported efforts to repeal Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, which Trump again today called a disaster. You tweeted, "Repealing and replacing Obamacare will lead to a patient centered healthcare system that is of higher quality and affordable for Americans." We looked this up and your district has about 32,000 people enrolled in the state's health exchange. What would you tell them if they're concerned about their coverage, should the current system go away? Looks like when the current system go-

MC: First of all I think it's going to take a while for that transition to take place. It will be in several parts. I think the first part will be that what we call budget reconciliation, and that is the tax and spending parts of Obamacare and we will not move forward with that without a replacement for those elements that are in budget reconciliation. And then I think the second phase, the transitional phase will be in the powers that the administration has. That the Affordable Care Act is replete with "the secretary of HHS shall do this, or shall come up with this, or may do this", and so it essentially delegated a lot of responsibility to the administration. And so a lot of the policy changes can be done administratively. And then third, we will need bipartisan help with certain elements, particularly the regulatory aspects of insurance that we will need bipartisan support to move that aspect forward. 

RW: There has been robust interest it appears in signing up for health insurance on the state's exchange so for those who are taking part in open enrollment, you'd say move ahead and trust that that coverage will be around for what, a year, two years? 

MC: Oh, I think here's the issue, I think the fundamental issue is, yes, certainly there is subsidies available and the subsidies will remain. They may be in some refundable tax credit, but using the tax code in a way of helping those individuals. But the fact is that we've had, I think we're at a little over 20% annual increase right now on the insurance exchange in terms of premiums. The out of pocket costs are just unbelievable under the Affordable Care Act and the insurance exchanges, not just in Colorado but across the country. Many states are experiencing even much higher premiums than Colorado. I just fundamentally believe we can do better. We can do better with the Medicaid expansion and how we're helping people, probably more, say  flexibility there.  I think we can do better with the insurance exchange in terms of containing premium increases.

And I think there's no question we have to preserve the consumer protections that exist in the Affordable Care Act, many of which existed in prior law at the state level in the state of Colorado and that is the ability to cover people with pre-existing conditions, the ability for them to have portability from one plan to the next. The notion of some of kind of adjusted community rating, not discriminating on the basis of gender.  So I think that there is, this is fundamentally about improving upon what is there.

RW: I want to wrap up with a question about the Department of Veterans Affairs, Trump announced this morning that he's nominating David Shulkin as head of it who is currently under Secretary of Health at the VA. Let's talk about the construction of the new VA hospital in Aurora, that's your district. Investigations have found mismanagement has led to cost overruns, delays, other problems. We have about a minute left. You've suggested the FBI investigate. What precisely would you want the FBI to do?

MC: Well, the FBI did do a referral to the Justice Department. And so, how do you lose a billion dollars? I mean, were there in fact ... How did that occur? I think that certainly there, one of the questions, certainly, that arose was the fact that senior VA officials had consistently lied to Congress of the United States under oath. So that certainly one of the issues that needs to be looked at is the fact that they lied under oath and perjured themselves. I think people need to be prosecuted for that and I think it's clear that it did occur. And so I hope the Justice Department moves forward with prosecuting them because otherwise Congress of the United States, on behalf of the taxpayers, can't do their oversight role.

I put forward legislation and drove the policy forward to strip the VA of their construction management authority so in the Aurora VA hospital, the replacement facility, that is now managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. I've got confidence in them where I didn't have it with the Veterans Administration.
RW: Republican Mike Hoffman represents Colorado's 6th Congressional District which includes Aurora. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.