Rep. Walker Speaks Out on Triad Today

Rep. Mark Walker, R-NC

Representative Mark Walker, R-NC
Politics has become a dirty business. Campaigns are laced with mudslinging, and once in office, candidates spend most of their time harvesting money and votes for the next election. Mark Walker has proven to be a refreshing exception to the rule. A former minister from Greensboro, and now second-term Congressman for the 6th district, Walker has never run a negative ad, never spoken an unkind word about an opponent, and has never compromised his principals in order to stay in office. And, while many of his colleagues in Washington are avoiding town hall meetings, Mark meets regularly with constituents, and listens to their concerns. Moreover, his thirst for knowledge extends far beyond the borders of his district. An experienced missionary from his days as a minister, Walker now travels to global hotspots to observe first-hand, the kinds of human suffering and political tensions which can have a direct effect on American foreign policy. His dedication to the job is a big reason why Mark was recently elected to chair the powerful Republican Study Committee, and though he now enjoys direct access to the White House, Walker is anything but a yes man for the party or the president. Mark has appeared on my Triad Today television program numerous times, and last week he stopped by the studio during a break from Congress, to discuss a wide range of issues. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

JL: A new poll shows that 6 out of 10 Americans are fearful of a conflict with North Korea. Are their fears justified?

MW: I believe that some of that fear is legitimate. Just last year I was there at the DMZ, and it’s interesting as you look across the border and go right up to it, the posture of the North Korean soldiers each day is basically a stare-down, so it’s very tense. And you have to understand that we have Americans as well as American interests literally 20 kilometers away in Seoul, so there are some concerns when you’re dealing with somebody who is so irrational as Kim Jong Un.

JL: The President bombed a Syrian airfield recently in retaliation for Assad dropping deadly gas on innocent women, children, and babies. Most people agree it was the right action for us to take, but should the President have first sought the permission of Congress?

MW: I’m OK with the way he handled it. I felt like there was an immediate response that was needed. You can draw a direct line from that to our war against ISIS, and the President has promised to take them out. Having spent some time over there in refugee camps, I can tell you that these people have been begging for help for years. So I think it was legitimate to send a message that we’re watching what’s going on.

JL: But as a result of that bombing, tensions between the United States and Russia have increased. Are you concerned that we can’t do whatever we need to do to depose Assad because of what Russia might do?

MW: I think we always have to be concerned with Russia because what they say versus what they do, sometimes is not very congruent. I think we need to continue to monitor Russia’s actions, because they create an additional dynamic between them and Syria.

JL: The Guardian recently reported that there is “concrete evidence” that there was collusion between someone in the Trump campaign and the Russians in trying to affect the outcome of our 2016 election. Are you buying that?

MW: I don’t know if I’m buying the collusion, but do I believe that contact was made successfully? Potentially so. I’m confident that Mike Conaway and my friend Trey Gowdy are going to look at it very thoroughly from the House side, and that Senator Richard Burr will do a good job investigating the process on the Senate side.

JL: Let’s talk about healthcare reform. You and I spoke several times during the negotiations over AHCA, and I expressed concerns about what the Republican package was going to do to seniors, specifically imposing a rate hike in premiums five times greater for older folks than those for younger folks. Ultimately the package didn’t pass, so are we going to get some kind of healthcare reform in this calendar year?

MW: I believe that we are. And let me throw out a quick compliment. You were the first person who contacted me specifically with concerns about that 50 to 64 age demographic. We went back and looked at that, and there were some additional tax credits added for that particular age group, so I think we’re doing a lot better there. I’m hoping that we’ll get together this spring, but we’ve got some issues with the Freedom Caucus wanting to take away coverage for pre-existing conditions. The President and I feel that is a bit of an overreach at this point, but I’m hoping that we can repeal these trillion dollars worth of Obamacare taxes, and take out all of the mandates from individuals as well as employers. This is a huge thing, and the final thing it does is, it reforms Medicaid for the first time in 52 years, something we’ve been needing to do for awhile.

JL: You and I have always liked town hall meetings, but recently many of them have really gotten out of hand, and have been full of vitriol. I know that some of it is orchestrated by one political party or another. Regardless, I am reminded of what Captain Call said in Lonesome Dove, “I hate rude behavior in a man., I won’t tolerate it.” A lot of these folks in town halls now are just plain rude. What’s your take?

MW: My job is to remember that I don’t just represent Republicans or conservatives. I also represent Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents. So whatever their party may be, I love to have dialogue. I love to talk about the issues. I want to have a chance to share my beliefs, and then listen to those who may have an opposing view. But if you’re not able to even share, it makes it very difficult in these town hall formats.

JL: Are you going to do less town halls because of the increasing vitriol?

MW: We did a couple of them this year already, and we’re looking at ways to add some additional ones next month.

JL: Well, if it will make you feel more comfortable, I’ll be happy to interrupt everything you say for the rest of this interview.

MW: [laughs] It’ll be good practice.

JL: Are we going to get a tax reform bill this year?

MW: I think so. We are concerned about the delay in passing the AHCA. The reason why that has slowed down the tax reform is because there are a trillion dollars worth of Obamacare taxes that need to factor into this tax reform. Rep. Kevin Brady, the Ways and Means chairman, has promised that he will get it in this year. As of last week, I’m hearing August.

JL: But many Democrats say that unless Trump releases his tax returns, they won’t support any kind of tax reform. Isn’t that sort of cutting off their noses to spite their faces?

MW: It can be, and we’re asked about that a lot. As Congressmen, we have to reveal our taxes, so my personal opinion is I would prefer that he release his returns. However, it’s not illegal if he chooses not to do so, and it shouldn’t prevent us from passing legislation that benefits the American people.

JL: The President just signed an Executive Order, asking companies to “Hire American and Buy American”, yet his and Ivanka’s products are made mostly overseas. Does the hypocrisy of that bother you at all?

MW: It does a little bit. I get it, though. Our corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world, and it’s driven a lot of manufacturing jobs overseas, But if we’re bringing the corporate tax rate down 15 to 20%, then I want to make sure they’re leading by example, and bringing those products back to America.

JL: Are you concerned that the President’s repeal of many EPA regulations will leave our air and water unprotected?

MW: Not at this point. When you talk about draining the swamp, I think you have to start with some of these federal agencies, like the EPA. Our farmers have been damaged by these regulations, like when a puddle is considered a lake. We want to make sure that kind of overreach is pushed back.

JL:You have indicated strong support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Exactly how do you intend to support their mission?

MW: We’re already starting to support it, by becoming the first Congressional office to offer paid internships for HBCU students, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to come and live in Washington for four to eight weeks. We also brought in 88 HBCU chancellors, and one of the things that came out of that meeting was a proposal to have year-round Pell grants, which, for many students, will provide a quicker opportunity to reach graduation. For me it’s personal because my wife did her undergraduate and graduate work at Winston-Salem State University. Since then she’s gone on to manage a Level I trauma unit, so it’s a great education, and we want to support it.

JL: Mr. Trump wants to allow churches to support political candidates. Are you OK with that?

MW: It depends on the definition. I think the focus of his plan is to roll back the Johnson amendment, where the senior pastor can’t talk about anything political. However, there are issues that sometimes cross over, like pro-life, so I believe the pastor should have an opportunity to speak. But if it gets to the point where entire churches are endorsing candidates, then that is a problem.

Upon his return to Washington later this week, Rep. Walker, now head of the 155-member RSC, will be faced with reforming healthcare and tax codes, and the prospect of a government shutdown if upcoming budget negotiations should fail. They are just several of the many challenges he must deal with on our behalf, and thus far, Walker has proven that he’s up for the challenge.

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