Good day, Austin:
A week ago, U.S. Reps. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, and Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, won the seventh annual Allegheny College Prize for Civility in Public Life “for their bipartisan road trip’ last year, when the two congressmen from opposing parties livestreamed collegial discussions on the divisive issues of the day over a 1,600-mile drive from Texas to the Capitol.”
The 2017 winners were Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and, posthumously, Justice Antonin Scalia.
In 2016 it was Joe Biden and John McCain.
In 2015, when the award looked for historical examples, Wendell Wilkie won an honorable mention.
But these are, of course, times that test the limits, or even the wisdom or moral appropriateness, of civility.
On the very day they shared the Allegheny College award, the civility bros were saying some uncivil things about President Donald Trump for what I supposed could be construed as the president’s being inappropriately civil/servile to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Last night, I received an automated call from Hurd’s congressional office inviting me to join a telephone town hall. It seems I get one of these calls every couple of weeks, and this time I decided to listen in.
It was interesting.
It consisted of Hurd taking questions from among those people who had punched a certain number on their telephone key pad to get into a queue.
Here are a few of the exchanges.
HURD: The first question I would like to go to John. John how are you?
There was no response, so Hurd tried again.
HURD: Steve. Hey Steve, sorry about that. How are you?
STEVE: Good, how are you?
HURD: Good. I’m up here in D.C. It’s a little bit cooler than it is in Texas right now but I’m glad to be talking to y’all.
Thanks for joining us tonight and do you have a question?
STEVE: Well, my question, and I know that this is not politically correct, but it’s what in the world is wrong with Washington, D.C., today?
We all hate the other side. And I’m old enough that I remember the old days when Democrats and Republicans joked and teased each other, had fun with each other, made fun of each other and laughed about it.
I heard somebody say not that long ago, Bobby Kennedy, he was a great Democrat, unfortunately he was assassinated, he had a Republican as the godfather of his first-born as the godfather of his first-born child.
That made me curious. Kennedy had a lot of children but I did not recall there being a Wendell Wilkie Kennedy.
I looked to see who that Republican godfather might have been.
I was soon sorry I did.
From the Evan Thomas biography of Kennedy.
So, Joe McCarthy was either godfather to Robert Kennedy’s first-born, or Robert Kennedy boasted that he was as an act of belligerence.
Returning to the Tele-Town Hall and Steve.
STEVE: What Democrat would have a Republican as the godfather or godmother of their children today? What’s wrong.
HURD: Steve. Thank you for the question and the comment.
I actually would agree with a majority of what you’re saying.
The only way we get big things done up here in Washington, D.C., is if we do it together, and I’ve gotten, I think the number is now at 15 or 16 bills signed into law, that’s under a Democratic president and a Republican president, and the only way you do that, is you work together.
And one of the things that was shocking to me when I first got up here is that when the cameras are off, the relationship between members is fairly warm across the aisle. I’ve learned that as I’ve criss-crossed the district, the 23rd District of Texas, and one of the things that makes the 23rd unique is that it’s 50-50. Fifty percent Republican , 50 percent Democrat, and guess what, most people care about the same things.
Food on their table , a roof over their head, and that the people that they care about are healthy and happy, and these are some of the issues that I’ve been trying to work on. Issues like immigration, and this is a very partisan issue but I’ve been able to work with folks like Pete Aguilar, he’s as a Democrat from California, and someone we’ve worked closely together on this issue. When it comes to some of the IT issues that I work on and cybersecurity, Robin Kelley, a Democrat from Illinois. We have a great working relationship. And Steve, what I’ve learned, as I’ve crisscrossed these 29 counties is far more unites us than divides us as a country and we can disagree without being disagreeable.
And that is something that we have to remember. And guess what? If we can’t do this, if we can’t disagree without being disagreeable, if we can’t be civil and reintroduce some civility into our lives, then our kids won’t be able to do it and our grandkids won’t be able to do it.
So Steve, I’m glad you asked the question, and I’m sure you’re trying to be an example and I’m trying to be and I hope everybody that’s listening on this call believes it too. So thanks for the call Steve.
HURD: Next we have John from San Antonio.
John. How are you?
JOHN: Yes sir. I just wanted to let you know that I’m a strong believer in you. I voted for you three times.
My question and my worry is what are you going to do or say to keep people like me – conservatives – not me, but people like me, because you’ve got my vote, but I worry about you swinging to the middle and to the left by the statement you made about Trump being manipulated by Putin, instead of siding with him, even though he did sidestep and make some errors. I do worry about you losing some votes by trying to get independent and Dem votes by making that statement.
But I wished you could clarify and try to get other people back on board . You’ve got my vote.
Here is what Hurd wrote in the New York Times — The New York Times! — on July 19, to considerable national notice.
Trump Is Being Manipulated by Putin. What Should We Do?
Lawmakers must keep the American people informed of the current danger, writes a Republican congressman from Texas.
By Will Hurd
Mr. Hurd, a former C.I.A. officer, is a congressman from the 23rd District of Texas
Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.
The president’s failure to defend the United States intelligence community’s unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.
As a member of Congress, a coequal branch of government designed by our founders to provide checks and balances on the executive branch, I believe that lawmakers must fulfill our oversight duty as well as keep the American people informed of the current danger.
Somehow many Americans have forgotten that Russia is our adversary, not our ally, and the reasons for today’s tensions go back much farther than the 2016 election. For more than a decade, Russia has meddled in elections around the world, supported brutal dictators and invaded sovereign nations — all to the detriment of United States interests. Mitt Romney had it right in 2012 when he told President Barack Obama that Russia was “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
Our intelligence community has concluded with high confidence that President Putin personally ordered his security services to undertake an influence campaign aimed at undermining confidence in American democracy to sow chaos in our electoral system. Russia’s efforts to hack political organizations and state election boards are well documented, as are the Russian disinformation campaigns on social media platforms.
Russia is an adversary not just of the United States but of freedom-loving people everywhere. Disinformation and chaos is a Russian art form developed during the Soviet era that Russia has now updated using modern tools. The result has been Russian disinformation spreading like a virus throughout the Western world. From elections in Britain, France and Montenegro to invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Moscow has pursued an aggressive foreign policy aimed at spreading disorder and expanding Russian influence in states formerly under the heel of Soviet Communism. These efforts weaken our allies and strengthen those who seek to undermine the democratic order that has helped prevent another world war in Europe since 1945.
Moreover, the threat of Russian meddling in United States elections is not behind us. Just last week, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, cautioned that “the warning lights are blinking red” that Russia and other adversaries will undertake further cyberattacks on our digital infrastructure. This includes many of the energy companies in my home district in South and West Texas.
Make no mistake, Russian disinformation campaigns are working.
It goes on like that.
Of course, as President Trump put it in his opening remarks with Putin, in his view, getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing
Back to the Tele-Town Hall, and John’s question.
HURD: Well John thanks for the question and thanks for your support.
For me, my statement was very simple. It wasn’t for the left or the middle or the right. It was a statement that was based on nine-and-a-half years as an undercover officer and, for those that don’t know, I made a statement about the Helsinki press conference between President Trump and President Vladimir Putin and my concern with that press conference is that it was a form of disinformation that was being used by Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Putin said some things that were pretty outrageous and said them next to the leader of the free world.
And when the leader of the free world is standing there shaking his head about thing like on the Ukraine — if Russia wanted to change its relationship with the United States or the West it would leave Ukraine.
The Russians invaded Ukraine. Period. End of story.
And the Russian are trying to say this was a separatist movement that was happening in the Ukraine and that they were trying to help this separatist movement. It wasn’t. It was an invasion.
So when you see Vladimir Putin make comments saying that, “the Ukrainians are being unreasonable,” and that is not rebuked, that has longterm ramification with our allies and even with our adversaries.
So for me, I spent nine-and-a-half years as an undercover officer in the CIA. I was the guy in the back alleys collecting intelligence on threats to our homeland. I did two years of training in D.C., two years in India, two years in Pakistan, two years in New York City doing interagency work a year and half in Afghanistan, where I managed all of our undercover operations. I chased terrorists. I chased Russian intelligence officers. I put nuclear weapons proliferators out of jobs.
And for me it was important to let the world know that this disinformation was going on and to speak up and so, my dad always said, “Be honest,” so that’s what I did in my comments on the press conference and I will continue to be honest and I think that’s something that folks in the 23rd Congressional District have come to expect from me and to use my background as a leader in national security to provide context for such important issues. But John, I really appreciate the comment and you bringing that up to today.
The next caller in the queue said he was just there to “spectate,” so Hurd launched into a vigorous defense of NAFTA, another Trump bugaboo.
At this point, Hurd offered one of several poll questions he asked during the call.
HURD: Do you believe Russia is an enemy or friend of the United States Press one if you think Russia is an an enemy Press two if you you think Russia is a friend of the United States. Press 3 if you do not know.
HURD: Now we’re going to go to Mary from San Antonio. Mary, how are you?
MARY: I’m fine, how are you sir?
HURD: I’m doing fantastic. Thanks for calling.
First of all I think you’re doing a fabulous job. I’ve been with you since you first ran and I think you’re just one of the few honest ones up there. I hate to sound so critical but its’ just getting ridiculous up in Washington. You know we Texans like people that tell the truth and just stick to the issues.
My question is, the one thing I kind of break with you on lately is the immigration issue. My husband was career Air Force as was my father and grandfather. And I’ve lived all over the world, like you have. I haven’t been in back alleys. I have lived in areas such as Turkey and all across Europe.
My question is why are you not agreeing with a wall, a boundary for our country, to stop illegal immigration. I’ve seen the boundaries in Europe and I’ve seen them, even in Turkey, the Air Force would put up big fences and walls around us to keep us safe, and this was back in the ’70s even. And it worked.
I agree with you on the drones and the IT situation that you’ve sponsored and we’re already using. It does help but it’s not stopping them.
I mean you see all of them coming across the border. And with the situation in Nicaragua, I’m really concerned that you don’t think adding something extra, like a boundary wall of some type would not help. I’m confused about that.
HURD: Well, Mary, one, thank you for the service of your family; two, I appreciate you joining (the call), and three, I appreciate your question.
I believe that building a 30-foot tall concrete structure from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security. I do believe we should protect our borders.
It’s 2018 and we don’t have operational control of our border. I think at any moment, the head of Border Patrol should be able to say, “Pull up Mile Marker 18,” and we should be able to know what’s happening at Mile Marker 18. We don’t have that capability right now.
And one of the reasons I have a problem using a Fourth Century tool for a 21st Century problem is that the response time from Border Patrol to problems at a wall is oftentimes measured in hours if not days. If the response time is measured in hours to days, then that wall is not a physical barrier. And when I was in embassies, yes in embassies we had fences and walls around them, but you had Marines there to respond immediately to somebody who was at that fence or at that wall or jumped over it.
At some areas in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is in my district west of San Antonio, the response time of the Border Patrol was measured in days.
So I believe that we should be using all of our tools within our toolkit to the most effective way possible. The technology exists today to determine the difference between a bunny rabbit and a person coming across the border. We can deploy a small drone to track that person until the most important resource we have, the men and the women of the Border Patrol, can deploy and do the interdiction.
And that’s why I call it the smart wall, it’s utilizing that technology, because you know you’re right, it’s not just Nicaragua, it’s El Salvador, it’s Guatemala, that is fueling the illegal immigration that’s coming up here.
You also have the drug trafficking organizations in Mexico and the rest of Central and South America making $66 billion dollars a year on selling drugs in the United States. There are more people who die of drug poisoning in the United States than they do in the global war on terrorism.
We’re starting to see fentanyl coming in in high numbers into the United States. Fentanyl is similar to heroin but with a main difference — 0.2 grams of heroin can kill somebody; 0.002 grams of fentanyl can kill somebody. Eleven pounds of fentanyl could kill about three million people. The only way we can stop this from coming into our country is utilizing technology and making sure we have more men and women in the Border Patrol.
Right now the Border Patrol has trouble retaining people because oftentimes, if they have to move from Arizona to Texas, they have to pay for their own move. That’s outrageous. And only DHS would think that would be OK. We’re not hiring enough people and retaining enough people in the Border Patrol. So we should use every tool in our toolkit, and in some places a barrier makes sense but for all 2,000 miles of the border it does not.
So I’m about being smart. I’m about dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. And oh and, by the way, we also need to be addressing and working with those countries to address the root cause of immigration coming out of Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, and these are some of the areas we’re working, and also we need to be increasing the number of immigration judges, once people are apprehended, to get them through the judicial process.
So that’s my take on the wall and I really, I really appreciate calling in and thanks for your service and your family’s service.
HURD: Next, we’ve got Freddie, Freddie, how are you ma’am. Is it hot down in Eagle Pass?
FREDDIE: Lets just say I’ve been campaigning for a special election outside from 8 in the morning to 5 at night and it’s been 100 degree by the time I”m up at 6:45 a.m.
HURD: Well, that’s crazy. 100 degrees by 6 a.m. Well, thanks for calling in, I’m sure you have a question.
FREDDIE: Yeah, I was wondering how were you over the president handling the situation with Russia because, the one thing I’ve always liked about you is you play tough with tough guys and you play nice with nice guys, and I don’t think Putin’s very nice. So I’m wondering how you would want him to handle the situation with your background in national security and what have you?
HURD: I appreciate the question, Freddie, and you’re absolutely right.
When I was in the CIA, be nice with nice guys and tough with tough guys and there’s not a tougher guy out there than Vladimir Putin.
And I would agree with folks that say having a better relationship with Russia would be a good thing for everyone, however, there have to be some pre-conditions to show that Russia is interested in changing the nature of its relationship with the United States.
Every president since the fall of the Berlin Wall has thought they were going to have the opportunity to reset the U.S.’ relationship with Russia and they have failed to do that because ultimately Russia, and Vladimir Putin specifically, are interested in one thing and one thing alone. He is interested in re-establishing the territorial integrity of the USSR.
Vladimir Putin has said the worst thing that has happened in the last century was the fall of the Soviet Union, and he is the one trying to re-establish that, so what I would like to see is some continued support for sanctions against Russia for a number of reasons.
They invaded Ukraine. In their invasion, they manipulated the utility grid of the Ukrainians. They’ve tried to do that in Estonia. Even the UN hs said that doing something with someone’s utility grid electricity is an act of war, so there have been sanctions against Russia for doing that.
They have invaded Ukraine, so they should leave, they should take their troops and their tanks and they should leave Ukraine, plain and simple.
They should stop supporting Iran, especially when it comes to Syria. They should make sure that these Iranian irregular units stop killing American forces, and they should be pushing Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, to come to the negotiation table in order to have a political and military solution to he issue in Syria.
These are all things that I’d like to see our president stand up to Vladimir Putin on and use as, when those things get resolved, a pre-condition to continue to trying to improve a bilateral relationship. Republican presidents and Democratic presidents have gotten Vladimir Putin wrong and he’s proven himself to only care about one thing and that one thing only and that’s the USSR and re-establishing that.
So thanks for the question Freddie.
There were some other questions. Hurd talked about bipartisan efforts to restore national parks. He answered questions about community health centers and mental health services for veterans. He talked about small businesses in the district.
Altogether, in tone, it was a very civil and substantive telephone town hall.
Hurd’s differences with President Trump were very apparent and he did nothing to obscure them. On the contrary.
It’s a tricky business in a district in which most of his votes will have to come from Trump supporters, but victory will likely depend on drawing some voters appalled by the president.
There are very few districts like the 23rd in all of America.
Hurd is a skillful politician, not to be underestimated
And so far, he has also been lucky.
President Trump, it seems, wasn’t listening in on Hurd’s telephone town hall, or become personally exercised about Hurd’s New York Times op-ed.
Or, at any rate, if he was, he hasn’t tweeted about it.
And that’s remarkably, uncharacteristically, civil of him.