Hromadske recently had a chance to talk to Republican Party politician, David Dreier, who served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from California from 1981 to 2013. We discussed why interest in US domestic politics is so strong abroad, what are Trump's ties to Russia, Republican Party support for Trump, and Ukraine's Relations with the West.
Congressman Dreier admitted that Americans are often just as surprised as the international community at recent developments in US politics. Nevertheless, he maintained that President Trump's success will lead to success around the world. He also added that the United States has strong, democratic institutions that provide the necessary checks and balances on President Trump's power.
When asked about the recent firing of FBI director James Comey, the Congressman responded that he believes Trump still supports the notion of the investigation, despite denying the allegations of a Russian connection to the Trump campaign. He added that the investigation will be very enlightening and should quell Ukrainian fears about Russian influence over the American President.
Congressman Dreier stated that he thinks Trump is performing his duties as president, although he disagrees with much of what the President says and does. The Congressman maintained that the Republican Party is not entirely supportive of Donald Trump and his proposed policies, but he believes the President has generally embraced the Republican philosophy. In other words, President Trump is more supportive core Republican values than the Republican Congress is supportive of Donald Trump.
The Congressman was also very confident in the United States leading Western support for Ukraine and saw potential for strengthening the bilateral relationship between Ukraine and the US, "I am optimistic about the prospect of seeing the relationship between Ukraine and the United States grow to be an even stronger one," he said.
Everyday we are waking up to some more breaking news coming out of the White House of the United States. With all the turmoil and with President Trump having his first foreign trip to the Middle East, how would you in general describe what’s going on in Washington?
David Dreier: Well the first thing I would say is just like the people in Kyiv in throughout Ukraine, we wake up in the United States, every single morning with some new very very challenging developments so that’s obviously universial now because this is such a challenging and such exciting time. In many ways it’s intriguing because if anyone thinks they are leading a dull life all they need to do is turn on the television and they’ll see something very surprising coming out of Washington DC. I would say that there are mixed feelings. Personally I am a Republican, I’m proud to be a Republican. I’m a Republican for four simple reasons, I believe in a free economy, limited government, a strong cost effective national defense, and personal freedom. But I did not support Donald Trump, I didn’t vote for him, I actually wrote in a friend of mine on the ballot for president of the United States. But now that he’s the President of the United States, as former President Barack Obama said when he met with Donald Trump in the oval office, he said I want you to succeed because your success is our success and I believe that the success of President Trump is going to lead to success around the world.
Now, having said that, I will admit that there are lots of things that have happened in the last 115 so days since he’s been president that have surprised me, many have disappointed me, but I am actually encouraged with what I’ve seen just in the last 24 hours.
There are a lot of people who, in the press, characterize Donald Trump as the next Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini and one of the arguments that was made was that he somehow was going to be this dictator. But in an editorial written in the Wall Street Journal just a few weeks ago they pointed to the fact that while Donald Trump may want to think that having been a businessman he can control everything, democratic institutions are strong.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m here in Kyiv is to encourage the development of strong, democratic institutions. In the United State we use the term, “we’re not a nation of men and women, we are a nation of laws” and rule of law has to be preeminent. So, Donald Trump proposed a Muslim Ban, a ban on Muslim coming into the United States, people from certain countries in the arab world, which they didn’t call it “Muslim Ban” but it was interpreted as a Muslim ban. The courts have blocked Donald Trump in his efforts to do that.
The United States Congress has been attempting to pass an appeal of the Healthcare Law, it defeated, it didn’t happen at the beginning, it finally through one house of congressmen was able to do it. So you can go through a litany of items that Donald Trump basically said he was going to do, but because of the existence of checks and balances and the three separate independent branches of government, congress has blocked him and the judicial branch has blocked him, so he’s been unable to do a number of things, which says to me that the institutions of democracy are strong, and well, and they’re going to strive.
Congressmen talking about the checks and balances and the three branches of government, the firing by Donald Trump of the FBI director James Comey sent shockwaves throughout the establishment of government in the United States. Do you personally think think this was a mistake?
David Dreier: I can’t say whether or not it was a mistake. But what I can say is that I think that Donald Trump has admitted that he is shocked. The reason he admitted that he is shocked is that the democrats were harshly critical of James Comey, and some of them, if they’d not flat out called for his firing, they indicated that they would very much like to see him not there because they believe that he in criticizing Hillary Clinton during the campaign actually played a role in helping Donald Trump win the election. So that was a surprise for Trump.
The reason I said earlier that I’m encouraged is that this appointment that has just taken place since I’ve been here in Kyiv, of the former director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, to investigate what the ties are between Russia and Vladimir Putin and the potential ties with the Trump campaign which Donald Trump says are non-existent, is something that again demonstrates that the institutions are working because is Donald Trump’s Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Mister Rosenstein, who has bipartisan support, he is highly regarded by both democrats and republicans across the board, I’ve never heard criticism of the deputy attorney general, he’s the one who’s made the appointment of this investigator who’s going to be looking into all of this.
Today I heard Donald Trump say that he supports the appointment of this investigator, former FBI director, he said that it’s a witch hunt and he used other words to describe it saying that none of it is true, but he does support the notion of this investigation. So that gives me some hope and encouragement of the future here.
With all the hope and encouragement which you have, are you also concerned that there is Russian influence over Donald Trump? Because here in Ukraine people are terrified.
David Dreier: Well I wouldn’t use the word terrified to describe my sense about it, and the reason I don’t use the word terrified is that I think again the institutions within the United States, the recognition that Vladimir Putin is a barbarian, who has tortured, who has been responsible for heinous acts under his leadership. I mean he is an authoritarian dictator. And to argue that Russia is a vibrant democracy is just plain wrong. I’m here in Ukraine in large part because this is a country that is at war.
You as Ukrainians deal daily with the fact that there are Ukrainians being killed everyday, we were just talking about this on the way over here. And so, I’m hoping that there are no ties, but I think that this investigation, which is charged specifically with looking into whether or not there are ties, will be very enlightening. And I think that this investigation should be something to which the Ukrainian people look for some direction and some encouragement. I think that that’s a positive sign. So it should make the Ukrainian people feel less horrified.
In the past several days we have been hearing more and more the word impeachment. Some people in the US say that President Trump might not be fit to be President. And despite the fact that you didn’t support him during his campaign, but you now support him as president, do you believe that Donald Trump is able to perform his duties as the President of the United States?
David Dreier: Well obviously he’s doing that, he is performing his duties. I disagree with much of what he’s done to put it very directly, I said during the campaign that Donald Trump says and does everything that my mother and father told me to never say and never do. And so I personally have a difficult time with his style, I have a difficult time with many of the things that he’s said. But he is President of the United States, he won the election fair and square, and by virtue of that I am giving him support as an American citizen. I also am a subscriber to the view put forth by the late Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan who, going back seven decades said partisanship ends at the water’s edge.
Meaning to engage in criticism of a sitting president of the United States while you’re outside of the United States is not a healthy and good thing. Now, having said that, in this day and age, unlike when Senator Vandenberg said that, everyone has one of these [a cellphone] it means that information flows internationally and so I feel a little freer than i would have at the time of Vandenberg’s directive of not being critical. And again the fact that I’m a former congressman, I’m a private citizen now, has given me a little more freedom, but I’m concerned and I’ve heard the term impeachment.
Again, like the people of Ukraine, everyday it is fascinating to see. I will say this to be brutally honest, I feel very grateful that I’m no longer in the United States congress because as I look at what’s going on in Washington, I’m happy to be back in California.
Do you think that the Republican party will bear responsibility for what President Donald Trump does?
David Dreier: You know I think that’s an interesting way that you pose the question, will the Republican party take responsibility for Donald Trump does, if it’s good I suppose the Republican party will. If it’s bad, there will be republicans who understandably will not. Again, I want Donald Trump to be successful. I virally disagree with him on more than a few issues, the trade issue has been a very tough one for me. I am so proud, I worked on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Transpacific Partnership and virtually every trade agreement into which the United States has embarked in two decades. So I disagree with him on that issue. But I’m encouraged in that he seems on the issue of trade, for example, rather than saying he’s going to tear up trade agreements, he wants to improve them and that to me is a positive sign.
So I hope very much, and I should say, and I’ve said this is our meetings here, I’ve long been a supporter, and this is my sixth visit to Ukraine and Kyiv, and I’ve long been a believer that Ukraine should be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, I worked on it was called the Membership Action Plan, going back several years to make that happen, and I believe that Ukraine should be able to accede to the European Union as well. And by virtue of that, working on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, I would love to see Ukraine as part of what would be a free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.
Congressman, the reason why I was asking this question about the Republican Party, because the Republican Party has a majority in the Congress and in the House of Representatives, from what we see, and maybe we don’t know all the ins and outs of US politics, but from what we see President Trump enjoys the support of the Republican Party in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. So if it were, for example, a Democratic House or a Democratic Congress, they could have blocked some of his initiatives, but he is twisting arms.
David Dreier: The Republican House and Senate have not stood in lockstep with what he’s been proposing. One of the thing Donald Trump does, and I think his goal is getting something done. That’s played a role in his election. This notion that Donald Trump would come in and as a businessman he would get things done. So he, as we’ve learned, does not get immersed in details. Two of my former colleagues in the United States Senate now, Senator Cassidy of Louisiana and Senator Collins of Maine, have come together with a modification to the Healthcare Bill in the Senate and it’s not what Donald Trump has wanted, but he’s said recently that he recognizes that the Senate is going to do it’s own bill. So is there support for addressing the problems of the so-called Obama Healthcare Bill? Yes there’s bipartisan consensus on the need to address it. It’s how it’s done. I think we’ve gotten to the point where complete repeal is probably not going to happen. And I think that because of the fact that’s in been in place for many years now that improving it is a better way to deal with it.
So I guess I’m getting into the weeds and the details here on an issue saying that the Republican’s aren’t in lockstep support of Donald Trump but they support the general thrust, I mean I gave you the four reasons as to why I’m a Republican, a free economy, the limiting of the scope and reach of government, a strong cost-effective national defense and personal freedom. That’s the Republican philosophy and by and large Donald Trump has embraced that. In many ways, Donald Trump is supporting, now, sort of core Republican values rather than seeing the Republican Congress supporting him.
How do you see the future of the West and Ukraine relations? Again Ukrainians who were, Ukrainian politicians, government officials, they were concerned with Rex Tillerson being appointed secretary of state because of his ties to Moscow, and despite the fact that the sanctions will continue, still there is this fear that they might continue for the next half a year but nobody knows what will happen next.
David Dreier: I think that the Ukrainian people should feel very confident at the level of support from the West, led by the United States, for the strengthening of this bilateral relationship. As I said, I’m here on my sixth visit to Kyiv, we are here as part of the National Democratic Institute, and the House Democratic Partnership and what we’re trying to do is build that tie between the Verkhovna Rada and the United States Congress and we want to work on dealing with a wide range of these questions that are out there. And similarly there is a recognition by people within this administration of the great things that the Ukrainian people have done, and the challenges that they’re facing today so I am optimistic about the prospect of seeing the relationship between Ukraine and the United States grow to be an even stronger one.
/ Interview by Volodymyr Solohub