Updated at 10 a.m. Aug. 5, 2018
Rep. Susan Davis, widely seen as cruising to a 10th term in Congress, navigated road bumps from the left Saturday morning in her first Town Hall of the year.
First out of the gate was Ernest Danese, who noted Davis’ vote for the $717 billion Pentagon bill and accused the San Diego Democrat of catering to defense contractors.
“Will you return $14,500 in bribes you took from Northrop Grumman, $10,000 from General Atomics?” said the Normal Heights resident.
Some of the 150 people at Southwestern College’s Mayan Hall booed Danese, 63, who at a Town Hall last year had stung her about health-industry donors.
But more audience members saluted Davis’ defense of HR 5515, which Danese rapped for raising defense spending $100 billion annually — “more than Russia spends in a year.”
“My interest has always been in our men and women who serve our country,” Davis said to applause. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take away from that 1 percent (of Americans in uniform).”
She said the bill had things she didn’t like but compromised “around that.” Davis hailed its spending on “intel” and the fight against cyber-hacking.
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“Nothing is worse than getting into a plane that doesn’t work,” added the 53rd District rep. “It’s really interesting when you start following that money, and eventually it comes back to hurt someone in uniform if we don’t do it right.”
Davis was to the right of many of the 20 questioners Saturday, including Steve Gross of La Mesa, a 73-year-old retired clinical psychologist and real estate man who challenged her to co-sponsor a Medicare-for-all bill — HR 676.
She defended the current “hybrid” system, where many get health care via employers.
She said Americans would be uneasy “giving up something they know for something they don’t,” which also carried the same problems as Medicare, which leads seniors to buy supplemental policies.
(But she also said the nation has to “move to a system of universal health care.”)
Fifty-five minutes into the 101-minute event, Barbara Brown of College Estates asked about what Davis called “the elephant in the room.”
“When are we going to start looking at possible impeachment, getting rid of [Donald Trump] somehow?” said Brown, a 70-year-old medical coder for Sharp Health Care.
Davis again explained her hesitance.
“We want all of our energies focused on helping the [Robert] Mueller investigation be able to get everything that they need — and a lot of them are tax returns,” she said.
But Davis, 74, noted that a “critical point” may arrive when “people in the majority party begin to realize it’s not in their best interests any longer to support whoever that president might be.”
For now, the votes don’t exist in the House to impeach and the Senate to convict, she said.
She also warned the “fabulous [Democratic] candidates” running in red states not to highlight that cause.
“For them to focus all their energy on [impeachment] is not helping them,” Davis said. “We need to understand that a little bit. Hold their fire.”
She said everyone wants the special counsel’s investigation to move forward and “I wish him well.”
Several audience members implored Davis for more action to combat climate change, including Michael Anderson of North Park, who as a father of a year-old child said he “questioned whether it’s justified” to bring a life into the world.
Davis said: “It’s crazy, right?” — citing efforts by the White House and EPA to “basically cut all the hard work that California has been doing on fuel emissions and frighten people.”
“Why would you go in this direction?” she said. “Somehow someone’s come up with this idea that the lighter the automobile, the less safe they are” — and therefore cars should be heavier with fuel.
That isn’t proven, she said, but even if true, it could be mitigated.
Her theory on why Trump is imposing tariffs on Chinese solar panels?
“I think President Trump is trying to use tariffs to help promote coal — rather than letting Americans pick clean energy,” she said.
California wants to go solar, she said.
“We now have an administration making this really difficult because new solar companies that want to buy panels from China won’t be able to do that, and we’re just not going to manufacture enough of them here,” she said. “That’s the reality.”
Michael Brackney, who operates a book-indexing service, pushed Davis to condemn Israel’s recent deadly attacks on “nonviolent protesters” — Palestinians at the Gaza border fence.
“We need to say something definite that we won’t stand for this,” said the 73-year-old Hillcrest resident and member of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Brackney urged Davis to invoke the Leahy Law, which bars the State Department and Pentagon from giving military support to foreign units that violate human rights.
Davis, who is Jewish, cited the nation’s “strong relationship with Israel as a democracy” but agreed it’s “important that we communicate our feelings to Israel, as a Congress and as individuals.”
But she said the government can’t necessarily continue to “single out actions that Israel may be suspected of. … They’re in a tough neighborhood. … We want to keep democratic principles there.”
Democracy at home was a concern of several audience speakers, including 17-year-old Eastlake High School senior Lilly Schaefer, who said “students aren’t caring about politics.”
Dorothy Gesick of North Park, a 66-year-old retired Poway school administrator, bemoaned the “dumbing down of the electorate,” and mocked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Davis recalled a visit to e³ Civic High, “a very prestigious” school at the downtown library.
She said she encountered a student who expressed fear of voting and asked why.
“Ma’am, I’m afraid of making a mistake,” the young woman said, confessing that while watching TV ads, she couldn’t “figure out who the good guy or bad guy was.”
Davis suggested checking resource sites like the League of Women Voters.
A Bonita woman named Lisa also sought clarity.
“It’s hard for me to tell on this side of the country just how crazy it is on the other side of the country,” she said of Washington, citing a “long list of things that are making no sense at all [getting] longer and longer.”
She was concerned about Russian influence in the November midterms.
“Are you concerned, in a deep fashion, that we are in serious danger? It feels like that to me,” Lisa said, drawing applause.
Davis said areas exist “that we should be concerned about” but took heart in high government officials expressing determination, “in the last few days,” to safeguard the election.
But she said: “You’d be surprised — people don’t think about [things like climate change] in other parts of the country. They just don’t.
“We really are in a bubble sometimes.”
She said she’s been talking to both sides “because I’m always a [pro-and-con] person.” But she called the debate “pretty complicated” in terms of funding.
“I don’t quite have all those answers. I’m trying to get them,” said the one-time San Diego school board president, while allowing “I’ll be honest — my sympathies will always be with an education establishment.”
Davis also addressed the issue of family separations at the border (“How we open the door to our country .. says a lot about who we are”) and how Democrats are resisting rollbacks on certain “settled” matters (“We clearly have been punching above our weight on some issues”).
“The [Republican] majority has not accomplished many of the horrible things they could have,” she said, citing attacks on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Trump’s unrealized border wall.
She said the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” would never get old, and called wage stagnation a concern despite Trump’s boasts of an improved climate.
Near the end, Robert Fox asked Davis if she’d be willing to debate her main opponent (Republican Morgan Murtaugh, who in June drew 14 percent of the vote to Davis’ 64 percent).
“I’m always willing to talk to anybody,” she said.
“So do I take that as a yes?” Fox said.
“Yeah,” she replied. ‘I think the problem sometimes is you need to have a host.”
Afterward, Davis press secretary Aaron Hunter told Times of San Diego that Murtaugh hadn’t sought a debate.
Murtaugh’s campaign took issue with Davis on Sunday, saying the 25-year-old La Mesan has made it clear at numerous campaign events that she wants a debate.
“We are in the process of working with media outlets to get something set up,” said Josh Wagoner, a spokesman for Murtaugh.
“The problem is Susan Davis has been successful at dodging debates for 20 years. Her answer (of) ‘meet with anyone’ appears to be a calculated political maneuver to avoid committing to a formal televised debate. Morgan stands ready and willing, should the opportunity arise.”