Rossi's back again, making his fourth bid for major public office. The former Washington state senator from Sammamish is on arguably easier turf this time as he seeks to succeed retiring Republican Congressman Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District.
The last time Dino Rossi ran for office, Barack Obama was in the White House but Republicans had national momentum as a conservative tea-party movement arose for the 2010 midterms. That wave crested before hitting Washington state, and Rossi fell short of unseating Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
Rossi’s back again, making his fourth bid for major public office. The former state senator from Sammamish is on arguably easier turf this time as he seeks to succeed retiring Republican Congressman Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District, which has always been held by Republicans.
But as the 2018 midterms take shape, Republicans and Democrats have in some ways flipped positions compared with 2010. Polls and special-election results show a potential blue wave brewing in congressional races as energized Democrats look to capitalize on President Donald Trump’s sagging job approval.
Washington Democrats are sure to highlight Trump’s controversial behavior and the White House’s burgeoning scandals as top issues.
How will Rossi respond? In an interview with The Seattle Times last week, he downplayed the Trump factor, using lines voters are likely to hear repeatedly in the coming months.
“For me, the most important part is I am not running to be ‘The Apprentice.’ I am running to be the congressman from the 8th Congressional District,” Rossi said. “The way I am going to treat Donald Trump is just the same way I would have treated George W. Bush or Barack Obama. If I agree with them I agree with them, and if I don’t, I don’t.”
Rossi said he will not spend his time reacting to the president’s frequently controversial tweets. “He’s had 2,811 tweets since he was president up to now. If I answer for one I am going to have to answer for all. I am not going to get into that spiral,” he said.
As a delegate for Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Rossi clashed with some other Washington Republicans who participated in a last-ditch, failed fight to deny Trump the GOP nomination. He said at the time Trump was his least-favorite choice in the GOP field, but that he was still better than allowing Hillary and Bill Clinton, “a habitual liar and a sexual predator, back into the White House.”
That’s a different stance than the one taken by the 8th District’s incumbent, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, who called Trump’s candidacy “a joke” and refused to endorse or vote for him. Reichert announced his retirement in September and is supporting Rossi.
In the interview last week, Rossi said he voted for Trump in 2016 largely because he trusted him more than Hillary Clinton when it came to choosing Supreme Court justices. Rossi said Trump came through with the nomination of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.
“That was the most important piece for me,” Rossi said, saying he wants judges “who look at the Constitution and follow what it says and not what they wish it says … If you have a rule of law that just blows in the wind, you have no law. It’s just based on popular culture at the moment. It’s not a rule of law.”
He did not name any particular U.S. Supreme Court ruling he disagreed with, but pointed to the Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which found the state had failed to adequately fund public schools, as well as the court’s Hirst decision restricting water-well drilling, as examples of what he views as judicial overreach.
Asked to name a Trump policy that he would push back on, Rossi cited the president’s recent announcement of tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel, which critics argue could spark a trade war harming U.S. companies and consumers. He said Trump’s national-security justification for the tariffs made no sense.
“I don’t think anybody wins a trade war,” Rossi said. “Eighty percent of our steel is made domestically. We also import from friends like Australia and others. I am not really convinced that somehow it is national security if 8o percent of your steel already comes from America.”
“And so I am hoping it is more posturing … that’s how he negotiates. He wants 100 and he asks for 200 and then he gets 110 and complains,” Rossi said, adding that he does agree with the notion that international trade agreements like NAFTA need to be revised periodically to ensure they are fair.
Rossi also weighed in on several other topics in the hourlong interview at his campaign headquarters, set up in an Issaquah office suite with drawn window blinds and no visible campaign signage outside.
At his desk, Rossi keeps an enlarged quote from one of the Democratic candidates who dropped out of the 8th District race earlier this year. That candidate, Mona Das, noted that among the Democrats, “not a single one of us has any experience. That to me is really shocking.”
On gun control and the National Rifle Association
Democrats have criticized NRA spending of $400,000 in support of Rossi in his 2010 U.S. Senate run. Rossi said that was an independent expenditure over which he had no control. “I didn’t even know it happened,” he said.
Rossi said he’s “willing to talk to anybody and listen to anybody that comes up with solutions that are effective and constitutional.” He said laws like a ban on bump stocks make sense, because it stops people from getting around the existing ban on machine guns.
But he declined to endorse a new ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. He pointed to failures of law enforcement in the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 high-school students and adults in Parkland, Florida. “How many people saw something and said something and nothing happened?” he said.
On the Republican tax-cut law
“All my opponents on the other side are all on record of being against it. I guess they can explain that themselves. It’s an average of $3,357 per family in the 8th Congressional District … I know that some of them have called it crumbs, along with Nancy Pelosi. I don’t know how rich these people are but that’s real money to most people.”
On the Mueller investigation and Russia
“Let it play itself out. To this point I haven’t seen any evidence of collusion. Of collusion by Trump.”
“What I read was that apparently they helped fund an anti-Trump rally and an anti-Hillary rally. So they were trying to just cause trouble.”
On climate change
“Honestly, with seven and a half billion people in the world, it’s not out of the question that human element can have an impact on the environment and those issues. To what degree, I don’t know. I’ll let the scientists argue about that.”
On DACA and border security
“I just don’t think you are going to round up 690,000 or 1.8 million people and send them back to a country they know nothing about. It’s not even logical … You’ve go to do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Our immigration system is broken. There needs to be an orderly way for people to come here, where we know who they are and we know there aren’t issues where they come from.”
“A lot of people who are concerned about this think Democrats are just using these people as political pawns.”
On raising the retirement age or other changes to Social Security and Medicare
“There isn’t going to be any change for anybody who currently gets it or is nearing the time to get it. That’s not going to happen … It would have to be a whole package. You’d have to see what they propose. Any changes — a lot of them would probably be for people who aren’t even born yet.”
“I am willing to work with anybody, I really am. That’s the way I was in Olympia. I am willing to work with anybody that wants to work in good faith, to try to solve these problems. It’s not theory, it’s not talk. I’ve done it before. That’s really the difference here. Everyone else I am running against, it’s all theory and talk … They’re all part of the angry crowd is what it looks like to me.”
On holding town halls if elected
“Yeah. I would. Especially if it was productive. If people want to behave like adults and have an adult conversation. But if it’s just a yelling match on one side … if that’s what it is, it’s not a conversation and there is no way I am going to learn anything from that. I’ll try it. Absolutely.”