Retiring GOP Rep. Dave Reichert is no anti-Trump resistance figure, but in an interview this week he did condemn the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and said the Russia probe of the president should continue.
Congressman Dave Reichert has never been a big fan of President Donald Trump.
The Auburn Republican called Trump’s 2016 candidacy “a joke,” and refused to endorse or vote for him. A former King County sheriff, Reichert said last year he would have arrested Trump over videotaped boasts about groping women if they’d occurred in his jurisdiction.
Still, as Reichert enters his final year in the House, he isn’t clamoring to be defined as an opposition leader in the vein of retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who recently compared Trump’s anti-media rhetoric to Stalin’s in a dramatic floor speech.
In an interview this week at his Issaquah district office, Reichert criticized Trump, but in more measured terms. He prefers to look past the president’s statements and tweets to work on shared agendas, such as the recently signed tax legislation.
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“I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to respond to each and every comment that Donald Trump makes,” Reichert said.
But as a Republican, Reichert said he does feel obligated at times to separate himself from the president’s words. He called Trump’s disparaging comments about immigrants from Haiti and Africa “180 degrees totally opposite from where I put my faith and my belief.”
During the hourlong interview, Reichert expressed support for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia — but also said he’s troubled by accusations of bias lodged against the FBI.
Reichert also said he’s committed to a deal to prevent deportation of children who entered the U.S. illegally, and downplayed projections that the GOP’s tax cuts will balloon the federal deficit.
And he suggested he may not be through with politics after retiring from Congress, leaving open the possibility of running for governor.
Seen as moderate
Reichert, 67, has represented Washington’s 8th Congressional District since 2005, staking out a reputation as a relatively moderate figure in the House GOP.
His retirement, announced in September, has put the traditionally Republican 8th District seat in play for the 2018 midterm elections, with several Democrats competing to take on GOP front-runner Dino Rossi this fall.
Over the past year, Reichert has mostly voted for the Trump agenda, siding with the administration on 88.7 percent of votes tracked by FiveThirtyEight.com, the politics and analysis website.
But Reichert has broken from Trump and his party on some high-profile issues. He voted against the final version of the GOP health-care bill, and has opposed administration efforts to penalize so-called “sanctuary cities” and roll back clean-air and stream protections.
As a free-trade advocate who chairs the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, Reichert has found himself on the opposite side of Trump’s protectionist agenda.
In that role, Reichert has had firsthand experience with the president’s policy ad-libs.
He said he got a surprise phone call from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last year as a “heads up” that Trump had abruptly made public threats to terminate or renegotiate a trade pact with South Korea.
“He said, ‘I just want to let you know that he said that and it surprised me. I didn’t know it was coming either,’ ” Reichert said.
‘Not my job to judge’
Like many GOP members of Congress, Reichert’s office has faced a flood of phone calls and protests driven by anti-Trump sentiment. (He’s also been targeted for refusing to hold any town-hall meetings.)
In the interview, Reichert was reluctant to make an overall assessment about Trump’s character.
“The way I believe is that God is the only one who knows what’s in your heart and what’s in my heart. I am not a mind reader and it’s not my job to judge people,” he said.
However, Reichert said he does object to Trump’s habit of insulting people, pointing to his recent tweets mocking Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer as “Cryin’ Chuck.”
“I taught my children not to call people names, not to be bullies, to treat people with respect. Those are things that I believe, and those are things that, you know, bother me a little bit,” Reichert said.
While he doesn’t respond to every Trump controversy, Reichert did condemn the president’s reported comments lamenting immigrants from “shithole” countries. In a Jan. 12 statement, Reichert said he was “extremely disappointed” in the comments and did not support such views “in any way.”
Reichert has been an advocate for immigration reform, including a solution to give legal status and a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
“I think it’s wrong to require people that were brought here by their parents and have spent 25 to 30 years here leave. It makes no sense to me at all. It’s not the American way and it certainly isn’t a compassionate human thing to do,” he said.
Amid speculation Trump might try to shut down the criminal investigation by Mueller, Reichert said he supports allowing the probe to run its course.
But he said investigators also should pursue leads of potential wrongdoing by 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I do think the investigation needs to continue and I think there is enough information around both of those personalities that needs to be followed up on,” he said.
Asked how he’d react if Trump moved to fire Mueller, Reichert said, “I don’t deal in hypotheticals.” (The interview took place before Thursday’s news reports that Trump had indeed sought to fire Mueller last June, but backed off after White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit.)
Reichert added he is “disappointed in the FBI to a certain degree,” referring to GOP accusations that some agents may have had a secret anti-Trump bias.
He said he had not yet read a classified memo written by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, which allegedly details FBI misconduct. The memo is available to House members but not the public.
Trump allies have agitated for its release, while Democrats have called it a distraction aimed at undercutting the Russia probe.
Proud of tax bill
Reichert said he is proud of the recently passed GOP tax overhaul, which gave Trump and congressional Republicans a long-sought legislative victory. He pushed for some of the small-business-focused provisions of the tax law, including a doubling of the business expense write-off.
The law will cut taxes starting this year for most Americans, with the largest benefits accruing to the wealthiest.
Reichert waved off as “talking points” the criticism by Democrats that the law will exacerbate income inequality or lead to cuts to social programs.
Arguing the tax cuts will spur wage and job growth, he was unfazed by official projections by the Congressional Budget Office that the cuts would increase federal budget deficits between 2018 and 2027 by $1.8 trillion.
“This is on the other side called ‘the trickle-down economic theory’ obviously. But we believe that if you are able to incentivize those businesses, you lower their taxes, put more revenue back in those companies, they can then grow their business, produce more products and hire more people,” Reichert said.
He pointed to announcements by dozens of companies — including locally based firms such as Starbucks — of raises or bonuses for their employees since passage of the tax cuts.
“There are far too many companies to say it is a coincidence,” he said.
As for Reichert’s own future, as he often has over the years he left the door open for speculation that he could run for governor or another statewide office.
“What I have always said is — and people seem puzzled by it — I have never had a plan in my life. God has a plan for me,” Reichert said. “And so when God opens doors of opportunities, then I have to have the courage to step through those doors.
“If somebody comes to me and says ‘would you run for governor?’ and the timing is right and the stars are aligned and I think I can win, that’s not out of the realm of possibility,” he said.
“On the other end of the scale I could be in downtown Seattle volunteering at a homeless center.”