Anyone who follows the current battles between the Trump administration and Democratic members of Congress is familiar with the frequent media appearances of Rep. Adam Schiff, who has represented California’s 28th Congressional District including Pasadena and many of its surrounding cities, since 2001. Not only has Schiff been a leading voice in the congressional investigations surrounding the possibility of Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, but he has also been a forceful fighter to keep Social Security, Medicare and other vital social programs fully funded at a time when Republican leadership is attempting to gut their funding to finance deep tax cuts for the wealthy.
I recently spoke with Rep. Schiff and asked him some fundamental questions about the battles he’s waging in Congress. Following is a partial transcript of that interview.
PASADENA WEEKLY: Please share your view of the state of our democracy. How worried or optimistic are you at this moment in history?
ADAM SCHIFF: I think our democracy is at considerable risk, and I have not felt this way before. I was elected in 2000 and served in congress for eight years during the George W. Bush administration, and even though I had fundamental policy differences with him, I always felt that he was a fundamentally decent person who had the country’s interests at heart as he understood them. That he respected our institutions and the press. I don’t feel that’s the case with this president.
So much of what he’s doing is an assault on our institutions, on the rule of law, on our Justice Department and our FBI, our free press, the denigration of judges that rule against him based on their ethnic heritage. The fact that he talks about the potential firing an investigator who’s looking into issues that may implicate him or members of his family. It would be unthinkable for any other president, and it’s a time when I think all of us need to stand up for the rule of law and our institutions, and I think everyone has a role to play in public office and in private life, civic life and corporate life because I do feel so much of what we treasure about our democracy is at risk.
PW: One of the things that I’ve focused on in my career is Social Security and Medicare. Social Security Works has worked closely with you and your office on many good policy issues. It’s been a tough period due both to attacks from the Trump administration as well as Republican assaults on the retirement system. Please tell us where we stand on those programs right now, both the good news and bad news regarding the future of Social Security and our retirement security programs..
SCHIFF: The good news is that Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid enjoy very strong and bipartisan support throughout the country. People recognize these programs have been an essential safety net for millions of Americans and enable millions of retirees to retire with dignity and not in poverty. There are so many American families — I think up to half of the country — where in retirement their sole source of income is Social Security. So people realize its fundamental value. It was an issue recently in Connor Lamb’s campaign in Pennsylvania and those issues resonated with voters.
The bad news is we just passed a tax cut that cost the country close to $2 trillion over time, and the tax cut basically benefited large companies and very wealthy families. We’re borrowing that money and no sooner was the ink dry when Republicans said we need to cut Social Security and Medicare by $2 trillion. I would have thought they would be a little less blatant about it, but no. They took up last week a Balanced Budget Amendment, which would require cuts to Social Security in significance because of the tax cut they just passed. If we have to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and help to seniors and developers, we’re willing to do it, they say. That’s not the priorities of this country and this tax cut has been deeply unpopular. This does put at risk these programs that are fundamental to American families.
PW: Do you think the Balanced Budget Amendment is going to come back?
SCHIFF: I don’t think so. I think they knew it wouldn’t have the votes but they were getting a lot of heat from some of their supporters. You ran on being fiscally responsible and now you put the country on a far worse fiscal footing than before, with a Republican Congress and president. Under Clinton, we were on a path to having no debt or deficit and now we’re heading for the greatest debt as a percentage of our GDP since World War II and it might get worse than that. They wanted the Balanced Budget Amendment vote so they could say “I voted for it.” For Paul Ryan, whom people put a lot of hope and confidence in, I have to say it’s a complete betrayal of what he said he was for. It was a tax cut for the wealthy and fiscally irresponsible but he’ll have to live the legacy of making those comments.
PW: 83 percent of cuts go to top 1 percent from this tax cut, which we at Social Security Works call a tax scam.
SCHIFF: I think you’re right. I think those numbers are exactly right. For those of us in California and many other blue states, we can say at least one out of three of you will have higher taxes. They decide to punish the blue states by doing away with the deduction for state and local taxes. In California, more than one out of three will get a hike, not a cut. If you’re a teacher or others whose taxes are going up, I hope you’ll take solace that those with estates worth tens of millions are getting tax cuts. But that’s not much consolation.
PW: What’s your level of engagement as Democrats seek to take back the House if not the Senate?
SCHIFF: I’m devoting lots of time campaigning for my own seat and taking back the House, but also I’ve been in five states in the last week helping to campaign for Democratic challengers and vulnerable incumbents. This midterm more than any other in my lifetime will provide the only meaningful check on a president who has put the country at risk. Everything we’re trying to do in Congress to fend off bad things from happening — like saving the Affordable Care Act — is the minimum compared to what we can do if we just have one of the houses in Democratic hands. I’m going to be deeply involved in all the California races, but I’ve traveled to New Mexico, New York, and many others to take back the House,. This is when everyone must get involved to make sure democracy thrives and the rule of law is preserved.
PW: What’s your advice for a citizen on how they can be involved in these coming months?
SCHIFF: There are enormous opportunities to get involved, and one thing that gets me hopeful is that so many who have never been involved before are getting involved volunteering, phoning and emailing their reps. I think it’s fantastic, and what I encourage people to do is decide what are they going to do in the next eight months to make a difference about something they really, really care about. It’s tempting to say “I’ll just throw up my hands and hibernate.” But find a group with a cause you care about and be involved because to be involved is empowering.
To hear the complete version of this extensive interview, visit