Simpson Sticks to
by Nathan Brown
Dam / Salmon points at the bottom of this article
Eastern Idaho's congressman reiterated his support for immigration reform on Wednesday while criticizing the Democratic Party's more progressive wing.Simpson answered several questions from the audience, including one on how to save Idaho's salmon. In a speech in Boise this spring, Simpson said he is committed to saving the threatened fish and raised the possibility of breaching some of the hydroelectric dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers. Simpson said Wednesday he isn't necessarily in favor of removing the dams but he wouldn't take it off the table. He said his goals are to save both the salmon and the financially troubled Bonneville Power Administration, which is a major provider of hydroelectric power to Idaho Falls and other communities in the region. He spoke at length about the life cycle of salmon, which spawn in the Sawtooth Mountains near Stanley, swim out to the Pacific Ocean, then five years later return to their birthplace to spawn and die.
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson told the Idaho Falls Rotary Club undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to the U.S. as children, often called Dreamers after a never-passed bill to give them citizenship, should be allowed to become citizens.
"This is the only country they've ever known, and I think the humanitarian thing to do is to give them citizenship," Simpson, an 11-term Republican, said. "That makes sense to me."
Simpson also said he supports letting most other undocumented immigrants stay in the country with some sort of permanent residency. While Simpson said they should only be able to become citizens if they go through the regular process, he said most of them came here to work. He told the story of a conversation he and former Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb had with the gardener at a resort they stayed at in Cabo San Lucas. Simpson said that if that man saved his entire salary for a month, he would have been able to afford one night in that resort.
"Put yourself in that situation," Simpson said. "What would you do? You'd try to improve your life and your family's life. That's what attracts people here."
While Simpson's stance on immigration isn't new — he has been calling for years for some version of what he laid out Wednesday — the politics surrounding the issue have hardened in both parties.
"The problem is, Republicans fear that no matter what you do, someone is going to start screaming amnesty," Simpson said. "And if you don't know, in a Republican primary that (can be) devastating. I know that. I've been accused of that."
Simpson opposes building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexican border, one of President Donald Trump's signature campaign promises. Meanwhile, many Democrats have been calling for policies such as abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Simpson defended ICE, which has come under criticism for conditions at detention camps along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the agency is "following the law, and they're actually going beyond the law trying to help these people."
Simpson said he used to believe immigration issues should be handled all at once but he no longer thinks comprehensive reform is possible. He said he now supports dealing piecemeal with issues such as agricultural visas and citizenship for Dreamers. However, he said, the looming presidential election and the push among some Democrats to impeach Trump have made it hard to get anything done.
Simpson has frequently disagreed publicly with the more right-wing House Freedom Caucus, and on Wednesday he compared the "Squad" — a high-profile group of freshman progressives Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. who have clashed repeatedly with their party's more moderate wing — to the Freedom Caucus.
"Just as some members of the Freedom Caucus drive most Republicans crazy, the squad drives about three-quarters of Democrats crazy," Simpson said. "And I can tell you, (House Speaker) Nancy (Pelosi) is going nuts about how not to present them as the face of the Democratic Party."
Earlier this month Trump tweeted, clearly directed at the squad, all of whom are nonwhite, that they should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." All four are U.S. citizens, and all but Omar were born in the U.S. Simpson said Trump shouldn't have said that.
"They're American citizens, and they're elected by their constituents," Simpson said. "They have every right to be crazy like the rest of us."
Simpson said in an interview after his speech that many of the candidates in Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate were making unrealistic proposals.
"Nobody on that stage last night should be president of the United States," Simpson said. "They're making promises they can't keep. ‘Medicare for All' is not going to happen. Can't afford it. Paying off all the student debt is not going to happen. Reparations is not going to happen. Health care for all the people who are here undocumented and stuff, not going to happen. Can't afford it. ...You need some modest changes, and the guys who said that got the hell beat out of them."
Much of Tuesday's debate was a faceoff between the more progressive U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are among the front-runners for the nomination, and a collection of low-polling moderates. Warren and Sanders at times accused the CNN moderators of parroting "Republican talking points" when they asked critical questions about policies such as Medicare for All. Simpson disagreed, saying candidates such as Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former U.S. Rep. John Delaney were being realistic.
"It does make you wonder what happened to the Democratic Party of ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,'" Simpson said, quoting a famous line from President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address. "It's become the Democratic Party of ‘What can I give you?'"
"They go 900 miles up a river over eight dams," Simpson said. "A mile-and-a-quarter altitude they gain. This is an amazing species. We shouldn't mess with it. And we should do what we can to preserve it."
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