AUSTIN — Ensuring America is safe and secure is one of Congress's top responsibilities. Since taking office in 2005, Congressman Michael McCaul (R-Austin) has worked directly on those efforts by serving on the House Homeland Security Committee. In 2013, he was selected as chairman and continues to hold the position.
Rep. McCaul represents District 10, which stretches east from Travis County through Bastrop, Lee and Fayette counties, all the way to Houston.
He sat down with KVUE's Ashley Goudeau to discuss the issues and why he's running for re-election.
Ashley Goudeau: Thanks so much for joining us this morning
Michael McCaul: "Thanks for having me."
Goudeau: Let's begin by talking about the issues. When we look at District 10, it is a large district encompassing such a large area, what do you feel are the three most important issues to your constituents?
McCaul: "You know, I think I've represented this district for a long time and I really think the economy is probably the number one issue. Jobs, unemployment and I think with the tax cuts, it's really starting to boom throughout my district. I think, you know, national security's always been an important issue to me. My constituents, whether it be being safe from terrorism to immigration, criminal aliens, really the peace and prosperity issues are always number one, I think, in the district. There's a lot of, some
military presence as well, so I think our defense budget means a lot in the district. We have the largest defense budget since World War II and I think that's important. I think here in Austin, the Amy Futures Command coming to Austin is a huge issue that I worked very hard to get that piece of the Pentagon moved from D.C. to Austin. And that's going to spur a lot of innovation, a lot of high-tech. I think tech in the Austin area obviously is huge, research and development -- big issue, and I think energy on the Houston side of my district, are important."
Goudeau: One topic on the minds of a lot of people is immigration. Particularly when we saw those family separations happening at the border. It is a broad question to say 'what do you want to see done about border security and immigration in the United States,' but share with us some of your thoughts.
McCaul: "Well, on the separation of family issue, I came out very strongly from day one with a statement condemning that practice, asking the president to reverse that policy. He, in fact, did with an executive order later. I was also on Fox News Sunday. I called it inhumane and that it was not the face of America. And I still believe that. You don't separate a mother from her child, no matter what the situation. And so, yeah, we want a stronger, more secure border and I think my bill will help achieve that. But that's going way overboard and I think it was a practice that I think we'll look back historically and we'll think that was really wrong.
I had a border security bill, along with the Chairman Judiciary, to reform our immigration system, to secure the border and to fix DACA. And, unfortunately, it was defeated on the House floor. Every Democrat voted against it, and I think that's unfortunate because it was a really historic opportunity to get that security piece, reform the legal loopholes that cause the problem in the first place down there and then fix DACA, which I think most people want us to do."
Goudeau: President Donald Trump has been very adamant and vocal about the fact that he would like to see a wall built on our border. What are your thoughts and where's your stance on the wall?
McCaul: "Well, we're from Texas, we know the border probably better than anybody. I've been down there probably more than most members of Congress. I think physical infrastructure has its place down there, but I think technology is very important. I think it's a little simplistic to say let's build a 2,000-mile wall. I think you need a 2,000-mile virtual and physical wall down there. You also need aviation assets to see what's happening on the ground. That's the best way to get that security piece done. My bill would have had an advance appropriation of $25 billion to achieve that. And it's not just the physical infrastructure of the fencing and the like, but the technology piece I think is very effective and cost effective as well."
Goudeau: So moving forward, if you are reelected, will you try for that bill again and if so, where's that funding coming from?
McCaul: "Well I think, again, this bill came very close to passing the House and I feel very confident that we'll take it up after the election in the 'lame duck session,' they call it, to get this piece done. I'm the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. I want to get the security done there that people, I think in my district, want as I go throughout my district. And I think also these immigration reforms are important. The legal loopholes, we need to provide a deterrent so they don't come from Central America. Right now, the message is, if you come, you can stay. The message is, if you get caught, you're released into our society. And that's essentially what happens. Until we change that law, you're going to continue to see the movement. And I think it's also important to look at on the Foreign Affairs Committee helping out the Mexico and helping out the Central American countries, so they don't have a reason to leave their country in the first place. I think most of them would prefer to stay but they're in such impoverished conditions and, quite frankly, so threatened by traffickers and gangs down there that that's why their parents are willing to pay their life savings to get their children on a dangerous journey with a coyote up into the United States."
Goudeau: When you mentioned that $25 billion, is that funding just from the defense budget already?
McCaul: "No, that would be an additional appropriation to what we've already appropriated -- almost $2 billion for technology down on the border. This would be an additional $25 billion that would go into replacing the fencing that's down there to putting the technology, putting the aviation assets. And this is more than just a land border, it's a sea border as well. So, the Coast Guard, you know, can only hit one out of every three targets now. The United States Navy has pulled out of the Western Hemisphere. So I think it's important to have, as we secure the land more they're going to go more to sea to try to get into the United States. And, you know, we're talking not just about illegal immigrants, we're talking about opioids, fentanyls, really dangerous individuals, potential known or suspected terrorists that we know have tried to get into the United States. And I think it's important that we have security down there to keep all this bad stuff and bad people from getting in."
Goudeau: When most people hear $25 billion they want to know where's the money going to come from, that's one of the big questions?
McCaul: "Yeah, and it would come, you couldn't offset it completely within the Department of Homeland Security, but it would be similar to what we do with the Defense Department budget, where it would be an emergency spending item."
Goudeau: Let's talk a little bit about gun control. When we see these shootings happening at high schools, particularly Parkland, Sante Fe High School in Texas, it brings this conversation back where we start to hear more calls for gun control. Do you feel like we already have good legislation in place or are there some things you would like to see changed?
McCaul: "Well, we passed a school safety bill. I have a bill that would allow DHS money to be used as grants to schools to help harden. What we need to do, you know, the school are soft targets. And I spoke at the conference here in Austin with the police chief. And they're very soft targets. We need to harden those targets so that our kids aren't preyed upon. You know, when I was growing up, there may be a fight on the playground but it was never a school shooting like this. It's become a health care, I think sort of mental health issue as well. It's a societal problem. I think the parents have a responsibility here. I think the teachers have a responsibility. We want more school resource officers at each of these schools so that we know they're better protected. And, I think, if you see something, say something. If there are warning signs out there, then you certainly want those reported to the school teachers and the school resource officers so we can stop it."
Goudeau: Let's chat a little bit about education. Obviously, in Texas, the Legislature, the State Legislature, has the most power when it comes to education funding and things of that nature. But are there some things that you think could be done on the federal level to boost Texas schools, given the low rankings they get?
McCaul: "Yeah, I think the standards; we need to, you know, we've tried to, at the federal level, increase the level of standards that state and local. It is primarily a state issue but it is, it does, it's a bad commentary on the state. Our kids are the future and our educational system provides that future for them. So I think providing, there are federal monies at the federal level, but I do think providing those higher standards at the local level."
Goudeau: The Census Bureau's community survey recently came out and it stated that Texas again ranks at the bottom when it comes to healthcare. We have the most uninsured people in the country in our state. What are your thoughts on how we address healthcare?
McCaul: "I think access, affordability, better choices. We repealed the individual mandate. We thought that when your choices are getting very limited to only one choice of healthcare, that's not a good health care system. And when the cost, you know, we all got on, you know, Obamacare and our premiums went up and our choices went down. We want better choices and lower premiums, and I think the best way to afford that is through the private sector market, free market. Better competition between insurance companies allow them to, people to purchase insurance across state lines with greater competition to bring down the price of healthcare. Otherwise, it will continue to go up. Some say we should mandate, have really socialized medicine that would take all the choices out of healthcare, employers could no longer provide healthcare to their employees, that would be illegal if its mandated that a one-size-fits-all and we don't think that's the right answer to this."
Goudeau: So you'd like to see some deregulation if you will?
McCaul: "Yes. And I think allowing the insurance companies, people to purchase insurance across state lines would bring greater competition to insurance companies, lower the price of health care and provide more choices to that. I think again too, the sort of Medicaid-for-all concept would mean the government would take over the health care system, and so many people get their health care from their employer; that would no longer be an option. Or many people get health care through a union; that would no longer be an option. There would be no private health care option left. And we know from countries like Canada and some other countries where they socialize it, the standards go way down, the quality of healthcare goes way down, and then it becomes a two-tier system."
Goudeau: When we think about the economy, you mentioned that as being the top issue for people in District 10. There has been some talk about the future of NAFTA and what's going to happen. The President saying he wants to end that and have separate agreements with Mexico, a separate agreement with Canada. What are your thoughts on that and what it could do to impact Texas?
McCaul: "Well, I think we're getting very close to the Canada agreement. I was very pleased to see the agreement with Mexico. I chair the U.S.- Mexico Inter-Parliamentary Group, so I meet with their congress and they meet with us. Look, Texas, Mexico's our number one trading partner, NAFTA is very important to Texas, and the United States for that matter, so I was pleased to see that an agreement was worked out. We're going to take a look at the details and we have to ratify that in the Congress, but NAFTA is vitally important to the Texas economy, and I was a very strong advocate for us not scrapping NAFTA but rather modernizing NAFTA and bringing it up with the times rather than doing away with it."
Goudeau: Do you think that's still a possibility on the table?
McCaul: "Oh, it is. And I think with the new agreement that was reached, I think all parties seem to be somewhat satisfied by that. But we want to look at all the details and make sure that Texans are protected. And yeah, we want to have access to markets down there and they want to have access to Texas and their our number one trading partner so NAFTA is vitally important."
Goudeau: What are your other ideas or things you would like to see when it comes to strengthening the economy?
McCaul: "Well I think, you know, look, we had the biggest tax cut overhaul since Ronald Reagan was in office. You know, President Kennedy cut taxes. He said a rising tide floats all boats and we had a stronger economy. We saw Reagan do that; we had a stronger economy. We just did that in the Congress, this Congress, and now we're seeing a booming economy. Unemployment, it's really at an all-time low, particularly here in Austin. You know, we're seeing consumer confidence rising, GDP growth rate is over four percent. All these numbers, these indicators are the strongest we've seen, really in decades. And I think that's going to bare out when more people have good paying jobs. It's rising the level of wages and the standard of living not only in Austin, but across the state of Texas and the United States.
I mean, for instance, when Apple, when I meet with Apple here in Austin, Texas, they are reinvesting $350 billion over the next five years in Austin, in the Texas economy, largely in part because of the tax cuts. Exxon Mobile on the Houston end, $50 billion reinvested in the United States. We cut the business tax so that we can be more competitive overseas. We had the highest business tax rate in the world, we cut it to one of the lowest. So now we're very competitive and we also allow companies like Dell to bring offshore profits back into the United States without such a high penalty. So you're going to see a lot of money reinvested in the United States and in Texas, and that's only going to help our economy."
Goudeau: And do you feel like the that things we lost in those cuts, some of that money was used for other programs, it's worth it?
McCaul: "Well, our tax code essentially forced companies and jobs off-shore. So we saw a lot of companies, and tech companies as well, pushing it offshore because it didn't make since to keep it in the United States because of the tax code. Now that we've changed the tax code, we made it more competitive to do business here in the United States. That's attracted so much more investment and opportunities in the United States where they really wanted to be in the first place."
Goudeau: Let's talk a little bit about your time in office. You've been representing District 10 since 2005, what work have you done that you are most proud of?
McCaul: "I think the work I've done in national security. I think the work I've done to protect the American people. I think my threat briefings working with the FBI Homeland Intelligence community stopping so many terror plots from happening. I would say we probably stopped about 99 percent. And the terror threat was very high, very high in 2016. And now with the collapse of the caliphate, that terror threat has gone way down. And so, I'm very proud of that record. I'm proud of the work I've done on cyber security, passing major cyber security bills to protect the United States from foreign adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. I think it's gone a long way in that respect. And I think, finally, it's protecting our children through what I've done forming the Childhood Cancer Caucus. I just had a rally on the mall last Saturday, we had thousands of advocates coming to the mall. They gave me this big award because I've gotten four major pieces of legislation passed that have led to major developments and have, in the end, saved children. Most recently we passed the Creating Hope Act, which led to the discovery of a cure for neuroblastoma. So little Rex Ryan at Dell Children's Hospital, I went to visit him, and he's alive today because we have that new drug out there. It also led to the development of CAR-T, which is an immunotherapy drug which uses your own T-cells and then re-injects that to attack the cancer. So no longer are we relying on chemo, which is a World War I chemical agent derivative, but rather personalized medicine so we can use your immune system to attack your cancer skills. That's going to be the future and the vision of cancer treatment, and I think this legislation went a long way to change that. The Race Act to allow adult cures to be used for children. And we just passed the most comprehensive childhood cancer bill just recently, which I think is going to go a long way. So, the advocates know the work I've done in this area and it's very gratifying and rare to, number one, pass a bill in the Congress, particularly this Congress. But to then to see those kind of results where you're actually, it's making a difference in children's lives, I think, is really what it's all about."
Goudeau: I want to give you an opportunity to address some criticism. There have been some people who say you are not as accessible to your constituents as they would like, not meeting with people, not holding town halls, what do you say to that?
McCaul: "I come home every weekend. I travel my district every week we have back in the district. I meet with my constituents every week. I think this is just agenda. It's actually, it's very deceptive. This week I'm meeting with my constituents all across my district, whether they're elected or community leaders. I call them community meetings, town meetings. I meet with companies all the time, I have open Q&A sessions, I talk to chambers of commerce all across my district, have it been open to question-and-answer series. I think this criticism is just directed because there's one group that I won't have an open town hall, which I think would be not exactly a fair town hall."
Goudeau: Your opponent Mike Siegel has talked about your connections with the NRA. Thoughts on that or anything you want to say?
McCaul: "I think he'll find when he travels my district that most people in my district believe in the second amendment. And, yeah, I think we need to do a lot more to make our schools safer, and harden those targets, but it is a fundamental constitutional right. I was the architect of Texas Exile, which was a gun prosecution statewide program which brought down the level of gun violence. And that's basically targeting the criminal with the gun, not the gun itself. I got a lot of bad people off the streets and we stopped a lot of violence from happening through this program that I initiated in the state of Texas. And so I'm proud of that record."
Goudeau: What do you want to say to your constituents about why they should vote for you opposed to Mr. Siegel?
McCaul: "Well, I think, you know, I know my constituents. I have a track record of leadership in the Congress. I think I've gained respect among my colleagues. I've been able to get a lot of legislation passed. And as chairman of a major committee in Congress, I think that carries a lot of weight to say that your congressman is chairman of a powerful committee in the United States Congress, one that has, at the end of the day, protected a lot of Americans from terrorist threats. We have a threat right now to the aviation security that I'm working on very diligently because they still want to blow up airplanes this far after 9/11. I was at the Pentagon 9/11 ceremony just this past 9/11. But I've done a lot to protect my constituents from the threats that I have seen, done a lot to help protect children with cancer, and I've done a lot for the economy to make sure we have a booming economy and not a weak economy. And so, I think, my record I'm very proud of. It's very strong and I think it represents the core values of most of the constituents in Texas 10."
You can read more about Representative Michael McCaul here.
To see Ashley Goudeau's interview with his opponent, Democrat Mike Siegel, click here.