Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Q&A: Senator discusses health care, military, immigration


U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., was on a visit through eastern New Mexico last week.

He toured Cannon Air Force Base and met with Clovis community leaders and Eastern New Mexico University leadership, along with his visit to Tucumcari.

Udall, a former state attorney general and member of the House of Representatives, is in his second term as senator.

The following are questions he was asked by reporters of the Eastern New Mexico News during his visits to Clovis and Cannon:

What brings you here?

I'm here because I love Clovis. I just wanted to visit with people, as you can see from what we did here, on the things that are going on in Washington. We want to protect health care, as I talked about. There's a prohibition on lifetime (coverage) limits. We want that to stay. We don't want them to be able to put a lifetime limit on it. We don't want them to have preexisting conditions that prevent people from getting health care. We want those kids to be able to stay on their parents' policies until the age of 26. There's a lot of health care issues I wanted to visit on. Right now, in Washington, they're about ready to repeal a health care law and it would do all of those bad things.

Continuing with that ... consider the gridlock in D.C., Republicans' consistent efforts at repealing the Affordable Care Act, their difficulties so far getting something they can pass via reconciliation (requiring only 50 votes) and Democrats' willingness to filibuster. Is there a chance any meaningful health care legislation gets done?

We want to work with them in a bipartisan way to improve upon the Affordable Care Act. We've made a number of proposals. We're saying, "If you want to bring down the costs of prescription drugs, we're ready to work with you. If you want to work with us on bringing down the overall costs to health care, we're willing to work with you. If you want to work with us on bringing down premiums, we're willing to work with you." They have not said they're ready to do that, but we and I are ready to step forward. They're doing this bill that you're talking about totally with Republican votes, which is completely opposite of the way we did the Affordable Care Act. We had an open process, their process is behind closed doors. Our process had 141 Republican amendments that were accepted, so we had an open process and we accepted amendments. We took two years. They're doing it overnight in closed-door, secret meetings. It's a pretty bad process.

You said you wanted to work to improve the Affordable Care Act, which seems like an important distinction. Do you think you can approach a position of what you can do to improve the American Health Care Act?

I don't think so. What I view this as, the president is pushing this, he's saying, "Just repeal." This is Trumpcare, and Trumpcare's going to be very bad for America, and particularly bad for New Mexico.

Speaking of President Trump, have you had an opportunity to meet with him on anything?

We've told him, "We want to work with you on infrastructure." Democrats have put a proposal together on infrastructure. There couldn't be anything people in New Mexico would like better than a bipartisan infrastructure bill - build roads, renovate schools, build bridges, things like that. You put people to work, help communities, help small businesses.

What makes you so passionate about the military?

We live in a very dangerous world; we need a strong, capable military, and we need to always be asking questions. That's why I like to eat lunch with the average folks here. I told them I wanted to have lunch with the airmen. They seem like they're very committed to their mission.

Do you feel like another round of base closures should take place?

I think that we should try to listen to the reasons coming from many of the administration. We've now had two administrations who have argued for (base realignment and closures). In the last four or five years, most of the time when I come and I talk about the things I want to see done, they say, we can do a lot more if you let us have a BRAC. That's the administration side.

I don't see any real interest in the Congress right now in going through a BRAC. And I hear that from my Republican colleagues, the people that I work with on the defense subcommittee and others.

We're (legislators) a little reluctant right now, and we're not convinced it's needed right now, so that's kind of where we are.

I feel pretty good about our three Air Force bases here (in New Mexico). I think we've seen major improvements. Holloman (Alamogordo) has just attracted two new squadrons of F-16 fighters, and Kirtland (Albuquerque) has always been strongly tied into Sandia National Laboratories. And they've grown.

And the real thing that's important to these three is this is the best flying space in the whole country. If you're a base in the middle of a big city and that city has commercial aircraft - like Phoenix - then you're in a much different situation.

If another BRAC were to take place, your feelings would be that Cannon is still needed?

Yes. First of all, the conflicts we're going to have in the future very much involve special operations, more than big armies being deployed. You're seeing more and more smaller confrontations; you're seeing the surveillance that's done (by special ops).

There are only two (special operations bases) - there's an east and a west special operations in the Air Force, and one's in Florida and one's here. Those have grown over the last 10 years ...

I think the military is looking more and more at the kinds of conflicts we've been in and realizing that there are going to be more of these insurgency-type operations, the guerrilla war-type operations, so we need to be prepared for that and special operations is where you want to be to do that and the remotely piloted aircraft.

The military is increasingly seeing we need to adjust to the kind of conflicts we have.

Your website references coming up with a "long-term, comprehensive solution to fix our immigration system." What does that entail?

Part of a long-term plan, first of all, is that we have 11 million people in the United States of America that are undocumented. The first thing you need to do is figure out how you're going to deal with that situation.

Some of the people are people who are coming here to work, but they don't want to be citizens; they just want to continue to work - that's a more discreet problem to deal with. That's a very important part to New Mexico, because we are a big agricultural state, and we need the people here.

Many of the people who come here are coming here to have a better life or to have a better life for their families.

I think if they're here in the United States and they haven't broken the law, they've obeyed all the rules and paid their taxes, they should be put on a path to citizenship. And it's a path to earn citizenship.

The second part is they're coming here for jobs, so you have employers who are hiring many of them, and they shouldn't be hiring them. What we try to deal with there are what are called employer sanctions to encourage employers to not be doing this in the future.

A comprehensive immigration bill would put a system in place to make sure that in the future, if you're hiring people who are illegal, you're going to be punished for it.

The other side of it is the undocumented people who are here who are criminals, they should be deported - violent criminals, people with criminal records, people who have come here to deal drugs - we need to have a really strong effort to make sure that they don't stay.

- Compiled by managing editors Kevin Wilson and Alisa Boswell


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