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Congressman Adam Smith discusses policy making in the Biden administration, political extremism, and more.

Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State’s 9th Congressional District has served in the US House of Representatives since 1996. He is the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the Dean of Washington State’s House delegation.

At the 2020 Re-Wire Virtual Policy Conference last week, Smith spoke with Wire Publisher DJ Wilson about the transition to a Biden administration and what he thinks the change will mean for Washington State. Smith also offered his thoughts on what issues Biden should prioritize, the specific ways in which Biden will depart from Trump on foreign policy, his thoughts on political extremism, and more.

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

After dealing with COVID-19, Smith thinks the Biden administration should prioritize addressing income inequality and the cost of higher education.

I think [about] the policy priorities heading in to President Biden’s tenure and the next Congress and the next legislative session, income inequality is a crushing problem in our society. The fact that so much of the wealth and the increase in prosperity that has happened over the course of the last 50 years has become more and more concentrated at the very top. That is a huge challenge.

And then education. I paid $3,000 a year for a law school degree at the University of Washington. I [also] went to Fordham University…and tuition then was $6,500. And I’m not that old, older than I’d like to be of course, but it’s not that long ago…tuition at Fordham is now $70,000 a year. These are the economic realities facing families.”

Smith says that he has not decided yet whether he will support Congress approving a waiver that would make it possible for General Lloyd Austin, President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, to lead DOD despite not having been out of military for seven years. Ensuring that civilian control is maintained is Smith’s top concern.

I am very concerned about making sure that we maintain civilian control of the military. Now, civilian control of the military is more than just making sure that the Secretary of Defense is a civilian not a military officer. There are all kinds of things that are built into that, beginning with the fact that the President… he is a civilian, he is the commander in chief, he is in charge. So there are other protections for it.

Now the law that was passed says you have to be out of military for seven years to be Secretary of Defense. General Austin has been out for four, so he needs a waiver. Congress needs to waive that requirement. I think it’s a very serious issue. I like General Austin, I’ve worked with him in a number of different capacities; he’s an incredibly capable person. But I want to hear from him. I want to hear his explanation of why civilian control of the military is important and how he intends to make sure it is preserved despite his career as a general officer. So, we’re going to have that conversation and then we’ll see. I have not yet decided on whether or not I would support the waiver.”

Departing from what he describes as “Trumpian foreign policy,” Smith thinks international development will be the centerpiece of the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda.

There was a definite bent of Trumpian foreign policy which was anti-alliance, anti-US involvement, and pro-autocrat. Joe Biden is going to do the exact opposite of all three of those things. He believes that alliances will further strengthen us and pull as forward as country. He believes the US should be engaged and involved in the world.

And he believes that we should, to the extent possible, try to promote democracy and human rights … The biggest change is that Biden is going to focus on engaging and building alliances. Also, you are going to see a great emphasis on development and diplomacy and less of an emphasis on using the military as the defining element of our foreign presence.”

Responding to the question of what specific actions both parties can take to make congress work in a more bipartisan fashion, Smith said the first step is rejecting extremism on both sides. After criticizing Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, he went on to say that Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is “the example of the opposite side of this.”

I think the key up front is to reject extremism; reject extremism on both sides. Do not be afraid to speak out when your party does something extremist and stupid. You’ve got the people on the edges, and every society has always had the people that are convinced that they have a thee-point plan they need to jam down everybody’s throat in order to make the word work, or they’re just pushing their own self interest. But then they get so powerful that even the people who don’t agree with them don’t say anything.

I’ll give you specific examples here, and I may get myself in trouble depending on who’s listening to this call, but I think it’s too important to keep dancing around the edges here. Trump is not actually a Republican, he’s an incredibly accomplished con man. And you’ve got to tip the hat to the guy. If it would have worked for him to be a Democrat, he would have been a Democrat. It just turns out that being anti-immigration kind of sells and, there are just a few things in there that just worked with the Republican Party. So he took over.

This whole election thing…they cannot produce a single bit of evidence of any widespread fraud in any state and yet they are convincing everybody it was stolen. There’s nothing to it other than Trump’s own ego. You have to speak out against that stuff.

And on the Democratic side, we see it in Seattle. I think Kshama Sawant is the example of the opposite side of this, and that level of crazy extremism we’re hearing coming out of Seattle. What’s happening in Seattle is beyond sad. As Democrats, we need to stand up and say “no we don’t agree with those policies.” We don’t agree with eliminating the police. I don’t support socialism; I’m a Democrat. I don’t think corporations are evil. They do bad things, they do good things. Corporations are part of society to be worked with and controlled and regulated where appropriate. So, speak out.”

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