Even though his legislation stands little chance of passing in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the newly elected congressman said he’s staying optimistic.
Carbajal, a Democrat, told The Tribune on Friday his plans to introduce the California Clean Coast Act, which is one of three immediate priorities for his freshman term, he said.
Carbajal represents the 24th Congressional District, which had long been held by now-retired Lois Capps and encompasses San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties as well as a slice of Ventura County.
Since being sworn in Jan. 3, Carbajal has hired staff for his district and Washington, D.C., offices, completed a bipartisan congressional prepatory program at Harvard University and was appointed to both the Budget and Armed Services committees.
Carbajal said his drilling moratorium is simple: It would permanently ban all future offshore oil and gas leasing in areas of the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of California.
He is scheduled to announce the bill Saturday at a press conference at Santa Barbara’s Shoreline Park to coincide with the anniversary of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, in which 100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the waters off the Central Coast.
However, in a House of Representatives where Republicans outnumber Democrats 240-193, the bill is not likely to advance in the 115th Congress.
“I’m always hopeful,” Carbajal said. “But I realize there’s not a very high chance of it being successful.”
Among other immediate top priorities is a bill to assist San Luis Obispo County in the impending closure of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which owner PG&E announced will fully shutter in 2025. Carbajal’s efforts on that are currently in the research phase, he said.
In December, newly elected state Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham told The Tribune that he also was researching similar state legislation. Carbajal said Friday that though he hasn’t yet reached out to Cunningham, a Republican, he’s looking forward to finding out if the two can coordinate efforts.
Even though there is now more GOP discussion of a replacement for the law and not just a repeal, Carbajal said he’s concerned that any lag time between repeal and replacement could cause people to lose coverage and the insurance exchanges, such as Covered California, to collapse.
Despite the partisan gridlock in the nation’s capital, the 115th Congress’ freshman class has demonstrated a collegiality that Carbajal found heartening. Whether that bipartisanship continues remains to be seen, but Carbajal said he’s an optimist until proven otherwise.
“Our freshman class, there’s a sense of bipartisanship,” Carbajal said. “I don’t know if that’s just a honeymoon tone that we’ve established, but when we went to Harvard (for training), they told us we seem to be unique that way.”
“In light of the culture in Washington,” he said, the new members have committed to meet once a month and sit together in Congress rather than among their own party members as a show of bipartisanship.
“I’ve already made relationships with a number of people across the aisle, that’s given me reason so far to be an optimist,” he said.
Although it’s a “somewhat innocuous” bill, Carbajal has co-sponsored legislation authored by U.S. Rep. David Valadao, a Republican representing California’s 21st District, to better conceal Social Security information in government documents to prevent fraud and identity theft. The bill passed unanimously with bipartisan support.
“You have to start somewhere,” Carbajal said. “I’m trying to look for those opportunities.”
Carbajal has strongly criticized Trump for issues from ordering construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, which Carbajal called “nothing more than a multibillion-dollar symbol of xenophobia and hate,” to U.S. intelligence reports of Russia attempting to influence the election in Trump’s favor, which Carbajal called “alarming.” Trump’s willingness to dismiss the intelligence report is “very disconcerting,” he said.
But like his Democratic colleagues, Carbajal said he’s wrestled with how to deal with the Trump administration.
The party is debating whether to resist all of Trump’s proposals — as Republicans did with former President Barack Obama — or cooperate on some issues. Carbajal says he falls in the latter camp, and thinks Democrats may find common ground with Republicans on infrastructure investment, for example.
But on issues such as building a U.S.-Mexico border wall, easing emissions regulations, cutting tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, Carbajal said there is no middle ground.
“We have a president who is enigmatic and reactionary,” Carbajal said. “Whether you’re a member of the public or a member of Congress, the number one question that comes up when he says these things is, can he do that?”
“He can spout off and want to impose a tariff on Mexico all he wants, but unless it’s part of a compact or legislation, it’s just a big statement. A big, divisive statement,” Carbajal said. “Mexico’s one of our biggest trading partners. Why get into those silly skirmishes?”
He also stated that he wrestles with whether to take on Trump and Republicans at every turn, or to carefully choose his battles.
“He comes forward every day with audacious things and it really makes that difficult,” Carbajal said. “I think enough of the residents that I represent are waiting for my reaction ... and I’d rather err on the side of speaking out than not, and be perceived as not standing up for issues important to the Central Coast.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, of which he is a member, is drafting an invitation to the president to meet, although it has not yet been sent, he said.
One of the issues most important to his constituents is immigration reform, Carbajal said.
Many of his constituents are concerned that Trump will repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, which protects immigrants who were brought to the United States as children from deportation.
Trump has been vague on that law, possibly because of bipartisan support for the Bridge Act, which was introduced late last year and seeks to codify DACA, Carbajal said.
Carbajal predicted that agricultural interests may get Trump’s ear and push for an expanded H2A guest worker program. But Carbajal said Congress should avoid a piecemeal approach and, instead, pursue comprehensive reform that includes more resources for processing immigration applications faster and providing a reasonable path to citizenship for people already in the country.
“A path to citizenship doesn’t mean immediately,” Carbajal said. “But we have to provide an avenue where people aren’t waiting 10, 12 years to become a U.S. citizen.”
Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909