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Transcript: Reps. Robert Garcia, Mike Lawler, Summer Lee and Zach Nunn on "Face the Nation," Feb. 5, 2023

4 new members of Congress on what can get done
4 new lawmakers on what the new Congress can get done 14:16

The following is a transcript of an interview with Reps. Robert Garcia, Mike Lawler, Summer Lee and Zach Nunn that aired Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Joining us now for a look at the new Congress, a group of freshmen House members, Congressman Robert Garcia is the president of the Democratic freshman class. He's from the state of California. Gentlemen next to him is New York Republican congressman, Mike Lawler. Congresswoman Summer Lee is a Democrat. And she is from the state of Pennsylvania. And Congressman Zach Nunn is Republican from Iowa.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk about some of the things you all think you can get done here in Washington, Congressman Lawler, the former speaker Nancy Pelosi recently told The New York Times that Democrats could have held onto the house if New York politicians had realized earlier on that crime was such a key motivating issue. In the last Congress, they greenlit about $4 billion in grants for local law enforcement. Do you think that money now needs to be accompanied by some kind of reform, something more on crime?

REP. LAWLER: Here in Washington there's a lot of bipartisan support, I think for especially making sure that law enforcement has the resources they need and the training that they need to do their jobs effectively. I think obviously, the situation in Memphis with Tyre Nichols is a- a horrifying example. But I think there's a lot of area where we can work together to address the rising crime and why we are seeing such a rise across the country.


REP. LAWLER: You have to look at what are some of the root causes of why, you know, we're seeing such an increase in- in crime, gang activity. Obviously, you see the scourge of fentanyl pouring into our communities, drugs being dealt that are having a devastating impact. So I think there is a lot of area where we can work together to address these challenges. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What about you, Congressman, this is your party in the majority. Four billion in grants just went to local law enforcement. Does Congress need to do anything more to address crime?

REP. NUNN: When I was chair of judiciary at the state level, Iowa moved very aggressively after the George Floyd homicide. We immediately said that we were going to allow our attorney general to investigate crimes directly so that we weren't waiting on county attorneys. We made sure that bad law enforcement officers couldn't be cycled through without some kind of a background check. We made sure that we made a direct investment in mental health across the state and made sure that our regional- both our urban, but also our rural communities had access to that. And ultimately, we also worked with our law enforcement to make sure that law enforcement had a better relationship with the community, rather than one of conflict. There's some tangible successes we've seen at state levels, let's bring those up to the federal level and make sure they can work the same way.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you do want to see more legislation on-

REP. NUNN: Yeah, I think there's absolutely more that needs to be done on this. What doesn't need to be done are what I will call these fig leaf grants, the idea that we can just hire more minority officers in rural Iowa, that is a very challenging thing to do, we should be identifying-  And we saw tragically, even in Memphis, that that alone is not a silver bullet solution. We've really got to get to the effort of, you know, good policing, but also recognizing when there is good law enforcement, we hold that up as a partner in a community. That's where this money could be going. And it needs to be accountable. I think far too much of this has gone to, you know, some major metropolitan areas which have seen actually, crime spike in those neighborhoods.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman, you said, "it would be good to revive the George Floyd Policing Act. But we're so far past that right now. We really need to kind of escalate the conversation faster." What do you mean, what are you calling for?

REP. LEE: So let me be really clear, there is a proliferation of disinformation and bias and conversations about crime and conversations about policing. And to be very clear, police violence is crime. We cannot say that we care about crime, but then do nothing, choose to do nothing over and over and over when the crime is committed by a police officer. There are statistics that show that less than 2% of police officers who are engaged in misconduct are ever indicted at all and while we can all celebrate that five Black police officers right and let it not escape us that it was only when they were Black that there was swift action and there was a sixth who was not Black and there was not swift action. That we can say that Tyre should be alive. So should Atatiana Jefferson. So should Antwon Rose II from my district. So should Mike Brown. So should Philando Castile. They should all be alive. So when we're talking about crime, when we're talking about how we're going to solve it, when I say that we need to change the conversation, we need to acknowledge that public safety does not begin with policing. Public safety begins with investments. It begins with addressing our own implicit and explicit biases in policymaking and education and appropriations.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when the president talks about reviving George Floyd Policing Act, you're saying, not as it's currently written, you want more measures added. 

REP. LEE: Absolutely. I want us to be intentional at every step about addressing racial bias,  about addressing poverty, about addressing crime and about addressing police violence.

REP. GARCIA: I think Representative Lee is absolutely right. Listen, I would vote- vote for the George Floyd Policing Act, if it was on the floor tomorrow, but more needs to be done. Additional steps need to be taken–

MARGARET BRENNAN: It won't be put on the floor tomorrow under Republican leadership. To be clear, but–

REP. GARCIA: Absolutely. And that's why I want to be clear also, with our- when our colleagues bring up that more should be done around this issue. The truth is that you look at a place like California or most of the country, we are actually safer today than we were 15, 20, or 30 years ago, statistically. And so there's a lot of concerns around crime, and there should be. We all want to be safe. But I also think we also got to look at the data and actually look at the facts. The truth is that every single election cycle, it just seems that there's a lot of focus on crime and inner cities. And the truth is that we are safer than we were 20 or 30 years ago–

MARGARET BRENNAN: But there was a spike in violent crime.

REP. LAWLER: In New York state- In New York state in particular, the reason there was a focus on crime by voters is because they didn't feel safe. You had people being pushed in front of oncoming subway cars, you had people being stabbed in the street. By the way, the vast majority of victims of crime are Black and Brown people. So to act as though there's not a crime issue, I think is dismissing the fact that it is serious, and people do not feel safe. And so yes, we need to address the root causes of why someone may turn towards crime or why they may find themselves as part of a gang. But we also need to hold people accountable with the decisions that they make. And I think part of the problem here is that oftentimes, it is very easy to go say law enforcement: bad. But the vast majority of people who are in law enforcement are good people. I come from a community that has strong law enforcement presence. 50% of households in my district, have a cop, a firefighter or a first responder or a veteran in them. They're good people. And they want to do right by our communities.


REP. GARCIA: And I agree with that.

REP. LEE: The vast majority of people in poor working class neighborhoods are good people. 

REP. LAWLER: They are. They are.

REP. LEE: And they are victims of crime that we don't say anything about.

REP. LAWLER: And they want police presence. They want police presence.

REP. NUNN: Exactly they want to be protected.

REP. LEE: For instance, for instance there's no police presence when they're a victim of wage theft. We're not seeing anybody–

REP. LAWLER: You know what I passed legislation to prosecute that and it should be prosecuted.

REP. LEE: That's awesome and I would like to see it happening here. But what we don't see when we're talking about crime, we're really talking about white collar crime, we're really talking about ways in which we're going to hold corporate criminals accountable. We're really make- taking any strides in any level of government to do anything about that. But we continue to talk about the crimes of desperation, in particularly the crimes in marginalized communities.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some other issues you raised, for example, immigration and border security. It has been years and there has been a failure to legislate on this. What's going to be different in a split Congress. Now. Do you see hope for this?

REP. NUNN: I do. I really do.The challenge right now is until we secure the border, we have a really poor situation where the folks who are coming here illegally are jumping ahead of the folks who are coming here legally. The folks who have set up shop in America and want to be good citizens are finding themselves outfoxed by people who are being encouraged to come here illegally. And it's not like everybody has the chance. It's those who can get here. 

REP. GARCIA: I think most Republicans in this Congress have been disingenuous on immigration. I'm an immigrant. I came to the U.S. when I was a young kid. I had the privilege and honor of becoming an American in my early 20s. I am grateful to this country, I love this country, immigrants love this country, they just want an opportunity to be here, a pathway to citizenship– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're talking about Dreamers. You're talking about border security. I mean, there are different aspects of this–

REP. GARCIA:  But you can do both. You can do both.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What part of this can get through in this Congress. Which piece?


REP. NUNN: I would like all of the above.

REP. GARCIA: Well, I would hope that both could be part of this Congress. 

REP. NUNN: Done. I agree with you on that.

REP. GARCIA: So here's the thing. The thing is, is that unfortunately, we- there's this myth that Democrats somehow aren't concerned about a secure border, or that we don't want an orderly process. But we also want to ensure that we want security- everybody wants to secure border. But we also want to ensure that we're talking about the humanity of people. These are people that are coming to this country that are desperate, that are suffering. And so this idea that we can't give these people justice, we can't support and help them, I think is anti-American. And I am hopeful like some of you, I have talked to some Republicans on the other side, that have an interest in a broader immigration reform package. And that's something that I hope that we can all work on.

REP. LAWLER: My- My wife is an immigrant, as well. And she came to this country about a decade ago, in search of economic opportunity. She comes from Eastern Europe, a former Soviet satellite state. The bottom line here is this, we embrace immigration, all right. But we have to have a legal process. You need to secure the border, we need to increase Border Patrol, we need to increase the number of judges and court personnel to hear asylum cases, nobody should be waiting two to three years to hear an asylum case with the hope that they may come back for the court hearing. That's insane. And then we need to fix the legal immigration process so that people who want to come here can do so legally and contribute to our communities, to our culture, to our economy. And I think there can be broad bipartisan agreement on this, if everybody is willing to kind of give a little. Both sides have failed on immigration for years, for years. This is not one party or the other, both sides have failed miserably here. And we have a situation that is unsustainable.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  I want to move on to governance and debt. Can I see a show of hands? Are you all confident that America will avoid defaulting on its debt? 



MARGARET BRENNAN: Show of hands.


REP. GARCIA: I'd like to think so. 

REP. LEE: I hope so.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are- you're confident we will avoid the cliff?

REP. LAWLER:  We- we absolutely will. The bottom line is this. We have incurred debt previously, we have an obligation to pay that we will lift the debt ceiling.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe that some of your Republican colleagues who have been very- in a very different place on this will come along? And that the party-

REP. LAWLER:   Absolutely, but-but here's the point I would make, over-over the past many decades, major spending reform has been tied to the debt ceiling. Okay, so the White House needs to recognize one thing, one party rule in Washington is over, they need to negotiate with the Speaker in good faith to come to a long term agreement that puts us on the path to fiscal solvency. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Social security, health care, including Medicare and Medicaid, and then defense are the three biggest line items. Where do you cut? If you have to have those conversations, where do you cut?

REP. LEE:  Defense. The reality is, is that we can't keep asking the same people to compromise over and over and over. When we talk about these conversations, we have to humanize them. We have to be very clear what we are proposing to cut, who are going to be impacted by it. 

REP. GARCIA: What we've actually been spending all this money on is actually getting our country back on track. We just went through the single largest loss of life event in the modern era of our country. We lost over a million Americans. We spent money trying to keep people alive. We spent money trying to keep businesses afloat. We spent money to ensure that people were housed, people that needed support. And so yes, we spent, there was significant spending, but it was spending to respond to this incredible pandemic.


REP. NUNN: So you're saying the government's the solution for this. I'm saying states like Iowa where they opened back up, people were the solution.

REP. GARCIA:  We're in the business of government. Of course government is the solution– 

REP. NUNN: Absolutely so so let's, with respect– 

REP. GARCIA:   And as far- as the, this, this unity amongst Republicans are in the debt ceiling, the truth is there is no unity– 

REP. NUNN: You're not in our conference! 

REP. GARCIA: We're not– the Democrats are united. We're not going to cut Social Security. We're not going to cut Medicare. And so I'm interested to know how we're gonna get to this resolution, so that- because we know that this issue at the end of the day impacts working people the most.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  So the discretionary spending you would cut is also in Defense? 

REP. GARCIA: If it was up to me, we'd be raising taxes on billionaires- on billionaires and corporations. That's what we'd be getting more- more- more support. But I think Representative Lee is right, I think we have to be able to look at an institution like the Pentagon. 

REP. NUNN: So let's be very clear here. If somebody's looking for an opportunity to go to college, they have the opportunity to serve in the military, and it will help pay for them to have the privilege of going to college. What I will not do is see members of the military who are on the frontline defending our very opportunity to even go to college have their paychecks cut, or their opportunity to defend themselves cut because of lackluster equipment. 


REP. LEE:  No, no, no. She asked us, let's humanize. There's a difference between sending our troops somewhere defenseless, and then looking at our defense budget.

REP. NUNN: Right.

REP. LEE: Which is the highest of the next 20 countries combined. We're not saying that we're sending– 

REP. LAWLER: And we're continually forced to defend the world.

REP. LEE: Endless wars, endless wars.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you know Speaker McCarthy on this program last week said when it came to cutting discretionary spending, actually one of the places he would look to trim fat was the Defense Department. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't sound like you're okay with that.

REP. NUNN: So let's- let's take- first of all, what he did say is take things off the table, we're going to protect Social Security. People have paid into that they deserve to have that back. Republicans are committed to that. Let's take the Medicare that has gotten out there to make sure that people have access to the health care they need to be successful off the table. When it comes to defense spending, what I just heard was cutting things across the board. If there is a review, everything should have the opportunity to be assessed. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're on board.


REP. NUNN: Yeah, I think we should be looking across the board.

REP. LAWLER: We haven't had a real budget process in a very long time. And you have to go line by line. And you need these departments and agencies to justify their spending.


REP. LAWLER: They have not had to do that in a very long time. We need a real budget process as part of this negotiation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure, which takes time we're gonna have to leave it there. Thank you all for coming in. And I want to thank each and every one of you for joining our panel. 

ALL: Thank you.

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