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Know Your Legislator: Tom McClintock
Congressman talks border security, debit limit, water
Tom McClintock
Congressman Tom McClintock talks with the Journal editorial staff about current topics at a recent interview (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).


Turlock Journal


While Republican Congressman Tom McClintock (CA-5) is a new face for Turlock residents, he is not new to politics. The veteran legislator’s political career stretches back 30 years. He has served in both houses of the California legislature and ran for governor in the 2003 recall election and for lieutenant governor in 2006. He most recently represented California’s 4th congressional district.

McClintock defeated Democrat Mike Barkley last November for the new Congressional District 5 seat, which includes Turlock’s east side and Denair and stretches from the eastern Sacramento area, through Tuolumne and Mariposa counties and down into Kings Canyon, jutting west into Stanislaus County to include a portion of Modesto and all of Oakdale, Waterford and Hughson.

In the 118th Congress, McClintock serves on the House Judiciary Committee; chair of the subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement; member of the subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government; House Natural Resources Committee; member of the subcommittee on Federal Lands; member of the subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries; House Budget Committee.

The Journal editorial team was recently able to sit down with the Congressman and talk about his views on current issues. Here are the highlights:

Journal (KH): I enjoyed your speech at the State of Turlock (event held May 19), I thought it was very inspiring. Tell me a little about it.

McClintock: Well, I do think we're at a turning point as a society. People often ask me why are they so partisan in Washington? Why can't you just get along? And our response is, well, things are very divided in Washington right now because they're very divided among the American people and Washington is simply a reflection of Americans. If  you think things are bad now, there was a day in  1856 when Congressman Preston Brooks walked across the Capitol rotunda took out his walking stick and broke it over the head of Senator Charles Sumner and almost killed him. Brooks constituents reacted to this by sending in new walking sticks to replace the one that broke. And two years after that is when Lincoln gave his famous House Divided speech … And I just think the wheel’s come full circle. And now the two antithetical principles are freedom and socialism … And that's the question that we're now resolving as a society … What society are we going to be? Are we going to recover the uniquely American principles that founded this country or are we going to become another socialist state? That's the great question that hovers over all of these discussions, I think.

Journal (KH): Let’s get to what’s going on right now … Tell me about the Secure the Border Act and why you think that it will make a difference.

McClintock: It essentially restores the policies of the Trump Administration that had actually secured the border. By Inauguration Day of 2021, the Remain in Mexico policy had slowed illegal immigration to a trickle. The border wall was nearing completion. ICE was actually enforcing court order deportations. And that first day in office, Joe Biden reversed those policies, and the result is the largest illegal mass migration in history. Since Inauguration Day, the administration's admitted 2.1 million illegal aliens directly into the United States in contravention of federal law. And while the Border Patrol has been overwhelmed, changing diapers and taking names at the border, we've had another one and a half a million known got-aways, these are people that we actually watched on video that we could not intercept. How many more we didn't see is anybody's guess. So, 2.1 million illegal entries — that’s largely the population Nebraska — in 28 months. That one and a half million known got-aways, that is an additional illegal population larger than the state of Hawaii… How does it help our schools to pack classrooms with non-English speaking students? How does it make our hospitals more accessible by flooding emergency rooms with illegals demanding care? How does it help a social safety net that was meant to help Americans in need that is already stretched to the breaking point? How does it help working families by flooding the labor market with cheap illegal labor? And what's it doing to our communities to introduce cartels and their related gangs into our neighborhoods and all of this going on? So, again, it restores the Remain in Mexico policy. These laws are being circumvented by phony asylum claims. And there's every reason to file a phony asylum claim. All you have to do is make that claim. And under this administration, you are automatically admitted to the country. You are given indefinite residency, indefinite work authorization, lots and lots of free stuff. And you can be reasonably sure that when your case is finally rejected five or six years from now in a flawed court system — and some of these notices to appear stretch to 2027 and beyond — you can be able to remain in the country anyway because deportation orders are not being enforced. This bill essentially takes away those incentives to make a phony asylum claim. You can make the claim but then, as the law requires, you’re either detained in the United States or you remain in Mexico or some other safe third country while your case is being heard. That removes the incentive for people to do this. Right now, if an unaccompanied minor arrives from Mexico or Canada, we make sure they get them safely home. Any other country, we send them to so-called sponsors in the United States. This bill requires that all unaccompanied children return safely home the month they're encountered at the border and, by the way, that will stop the trafficking of these kids. The cartels are paid thousands of dollars to traffic these children north, and as the Border Patrol's often explained to me, the cartels don't give refunds. You start returning these kids back to their homes, word will get around very fast that it’s not a smart way to spend $4,000 or $5,000 and the trafficking will stop. It does a lot of other things like finishes the border wall. That's one of the most frustrating things. I've been on several trips down to the border. You have these construction gap materials waiting to be lowered to be lifted into place. The president's Executive Order forbids that from happening. So you have these gaps and that's where I've watched hundreds and hundreds of migrants come across come through these gaps. In fact, they run buses on the Mexico side up to these gaps. They just drop them off, they walk through the gap into the United States and are put on buses and sent for processing. It is crazy. No country has survived this magnitude of massive illegal migration and yet we're watching it before our eyes. So, the bill simply restores our immigration laws and makes it much harder for future presidents to circumvent them. 

Journal (KH): Do you think (the bill) will pass the Senate?

McClintock: I'd be surprised. But it has been able to pass the House, which is something we weren't able to do a few years ago, with a much larger majority. And it will give us the ability to take that to the American people next year and say look, you see what's happening on the border you now see how that's affecting your communities. We passed legislation out of the House, please give us a Senate that will pass it and a president that will sign it.

Journal (KH): OK, so now I'm going to switch over to something that's very key to everybody in your district — water. Tell me about your bill, HR 186, and how you feel like that would help people here in the district.

McClintock: That’s the one-stop shop for dam construction. Yeah, we folded that into the (Rep. David) Valadao bill. So, that'll be going to the floor probably in the next several weeks now. Simply, it cuts through a lot of the red tape in dam construction. It places one agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, in charge of all new dam construction applications. It requires that the environmental studies, which right now are done consecutively … this tool requires that they all run concurrently. So, all of  the environmental reports will be done at the same time, from all agencies, all coordinated by the Bureau of Reclamation. It should take the approval process down to about two years, and with it, a lot of the costs that are involved in these endless delays … I've been 15 years now on the Natural Resources Committee, I served as chairman of Water and Power Subcommittee, and as Chairman of the Federal Lands Committee and both problems come down to the same laws — the  National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, which make it impossible for us to actively manage our forests anymore, and at the same time make it impossible for us to build new reservoirs for water storage. They make the approval process endlessly time-consuming and ultimately cost prohibitive and brought these projects to a halt. And that's why our forests are burning today, because we haven't been able to manage them in 40 years. And that's why we haven’t added a major reservoir of over a million acre feet in California since 1979. 

Journal (KH): In Mayor Amy Bublak’s State of Turlock address, she mentioned a few local infrastructure projects that were made possible by earmarked federal funding. I've heard from other legislators that you're against earmarking funds for specific projects.

McClintock: I ran on a very clear platform opposing earmarks. I think they do enormous economic damage for a variety of reasons. Number one, we'll start with the Constitutional issues involved. It's been a principle of good governance since the days of the Magna Carta that the organ that requests funds should not be the same as the organ that grants and spends the money. That was what parliament was originally designed to do, the king could spend the money but Parliament had to appropriate. And that is reflected in our constitutional arrangement. Congress appropriates funds but can't spend them and the President spends funds but can't appropriate them. That division of powers is absolutely essential as an anti-corruption measure. What earmarks do is to combine both of those powers in the same hands. And it should be no surprise then, that most of the corruption scandals in Congress 10 years ago revolved around earmarks because the same individual that has appropriated the money is also spending. It also violates central questions of federalism. Projects that exclusively benefit local communities ought to be paid for by those communities. We shouldn't be robbing St. Petersburg to pay St. Paul. And yet that's what these programs do. They rob one community to pay for projects that exclusively benefit some other community. And thirdly, my experience has been, overall, when a local government requests earmarks, it is usually for a project so low on their priority list that they can't fund it, but they're perfectly happy to have some other community fund it for them. And you end up with a lot of questionable projects. Certainly, there are some good earmarks, but the price for those are all of the boondoggles that are included in the thousands of earmarks that some of these bills contain. My policy is I know I will oppose grant funding generally … If a program is established with grant funding, I will fight like hell to get whatever grants we can for the local community. Taxpayers are paying for that and they deserve those programs, but it should be done through the competitive process. Meritorious projects don't need earmarks, they can do quite well in competitive funding. It's the questionable projects that require earmarks.

Journal (JB): The FBI has been in the news quite a bit. I think all of us grew up respecting the FBI and now we're seeing that the leadership is weaponizing against political enemies. And I think I heard you on the radio talk about the fact that some of Congress wanted to defund the FBI. That's a huge step. So what do you see going on with that?

McClintock: We're doing the hearings on the weaponization right now to determine how far the rot goes. And I don't know yet exactly what the solution is. I think first and foremost, we need to get back to some basic principles. Law enforcement is quintessentially a local function … I think we have put far too much emphasis on federal law enforcement, where it really needs to be at the local level. The politicization of the Justice Department and the FBI is a very, very dangerous thing as we can see from the Durham Report. I'm not quite sure what the answer is yet. I think, it might be a very good idea to identify those parts of the FBI that still work, the FBI Crime Lab, for example, and establish them as independent entities that can't be politicized. But I think more comprehensive approach is going to come forward once these hearings have fully explored the scope of the problem.

Journal (JC): Congressman, we've had three other legislators in here for the sit-downs and each time they visited it's coincided with a mass shooting. I haven't checked the news today to see if there's been a shooting. And that’s a rather remarkable sentence when you step back and think about it. Does America need tougher gun legislation?

McClintock: America needs to get criminals off the streets. That's the answer. We have 50 years of experience with gun control laws. We've found them to be very effective at disarming law-abiding citizens. We've also found them very ineffective at disarming criminals and madmen and terrorists. Fifty years ago, we didn't have these gun control laws. We also didn't have this gun rampage. If gun control laws work, you would think things would be getting better and not worse. The good news is we know what works. Executing murderers works. Putting gun predators behind bars until they’re gray works. Getting criminals off the streets works. Identifying the dangerously mentally ill and getting them into institutions where we can treat them works. I looked at the percentage of the population in California in mental institutions in 1960 and that percentage today. With the population growth, if we had the same percentage of individuals in mental institutions today as we did in 1960, that would be 100,000 dangerously mentally ill off the streets. Where are those 100,000 dangerously mentally ill? A lot of them are homeless. A lot of them are in prison. We've been doing the exact the opposite of these policies. We've all abandoned capital punishment for convicted murderers. We've emptied our prisons of dangerous criminals. We've made it all but impossible to deport criminal illegal aliens as the law requires. And these woke DAs are refusing to prosecute criminals. And for that matter, the first thing that they plea bargain out are the very gun laws that we're told are supposed to stop these crimes. So, the good news is we know what works: enforce the laws and take criminals off the streets.

Journal (JC): The debt limit … are you optimistic a deal will get done in time?

McClintock: The House has passed a one and a half trillion dollar debt limit. And if you remember your “Schoolhouse Rock,” the next thing that is supposed to happen is the Senate is supposed to amend it. If they don't like the bill, they're supposed to amend it. And then they send it back and there's a conference committee and we negotiate the differences. So, for 90-plus days for Joe Biden to say, well, he's not going to negotiate, well I asked him on the House floor, rhetorically, “Why do you think we have this big building in the center of town?” It was specifically built so that we talk through all of these problems, specifically to negotiate these things. So, I'm very frustrated by that. Again, I can't tell fortunes and I can't read minds, so I don't know what's going to happen. The debt limit will have to be increased. We have spent far more than we've taken in, but the reason we have a debt limit … is the same as any as any family that's gotten in over its head is spending far more than it’s taking in, is living off of its credit cards, and now has hit the credit limit. As it goes to the bank to see that credit limit increased, it damn well better have a serious discussion about why it's spending more than it's taking in and what they're going to do about it. And that's what the debt limit is there for. And most of the major spending reforms over the past several decades have been attached to debt limits.

Journal (JC): Lastly, I was at a ribbon-cutting ceremony today for a cannabis dispensary here in Turlock. Is it time to take cannabis off the Schedule 1 and treat it like tobacco?

McClintock: I believe so. And it’s not because I have anything nice to say about pot. My wife and I successfully raised our kids to stay away from it. I've never gone there. I think that there is a great deal of evidence that it is harmful, particularly in large quantities, to young people as their brains are still developing. It can do long-term damage in that period of youth. But the power of prohibition bills have been utterly counterproductive. They have created this huge, violent underground economy. They have failed to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people. The story I like to tell is a deputy sheriff who said look, I can take two kids at random from any high school in America. Give them each $20, tell one to go out and buy pot and the other to go out and buy booze. The first one back will always be the one I send to buy pot because they all know where to get it. And the dealers have got no problem selling to them. The kid I send to go out and buy booze is going to go to one liquor store after another, get carded and kicked out. That made a lot of sense to me. I mean, there are many things I disapprove of. Marijuana is one such thing, stamp collecting is another (laughs). It’s a terrible waste of time. But I don't believe that we should make everything that I disapprove of illegal … I have enough trouble running my own life without trying to run everybody else's. We need to do everything we can to keep it out of the hands of young people and the laws have certainly failed to do that. And we need to educate people about the risks that are involved. After that, as grown-ups, it's up to them in my judgment. So, for many years now, I’ve supported decriminalization.