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The Conversation: Congressman Ed Case Talks COVID-19 Restrictions, Infrastructure Bill

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Congressman Ed Case speaking at a Problem Solvers Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill on July 30, 2021.
Office of U.S. Rep. Ed Case
Congressman Ed Case speaking at a Problem Solvers Caucus news conference on Capitol Hill on July 30, 2021.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case joins us to discuss the recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill, how Hawaiʻi should handle the latest surge of the coronavirus, and the U.S. Army’s proposal to renew leases on state land.

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Below are excerpts from Congressman Ed Case's interview with The Conversation's Catherine Cruz, edited for length and clarity.

On vaccinating more Hawaiʻi residents against COVID-19 as cases spike

CASE: The bottom line has always been that if you get to a great level of vaccination as soon as possible, that it accelerates a recovery that much faster. And we got to a pretty good level of vaccination early on, and then it started to lag. And then there was a lot of misinformation out there about vaccinations, a lot of resistance. And so we're not at the point we need to be where we can start opening up, especially with mutations like the Delta variant. That's the reality of public health. It's not something I like, it's not a political issue. Of course, it has an impact on our economy and on our communities, but if you don't solve the public health side of it first, you don't get to solve the rest of it.

Congressman Ed Case with The Conversation's Catherine Cruz at Hawai'i Public Radio on Aug. 11, 2021.
Office of U.S. Rep. Ed Case
Congressman Ed Case with The Conversation's Catherine Cruz at Hawai'i Public Radio on Aug. 11, 2021.

On the bipartisan infrastructure bill and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

CASE: I think it is critical for us to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill out of Congress, and give it to the president as soon as possible. I think it's critical, not only because our nation and our state desperately need assistance with our, in many cases, literally crumbling infrastructure — this bill that the Senate passed just days ago. Sixty-nine votes out of the Senate, which is unheard of for the Senate to pass something of this magnitude with that level of majority support. So obviously, it was bipartisan. That is critically needed for our state, for our country. What is critically needed, even more important than infrastructure itself, is that folks out there desperately want their government to work. They desperately want us to overcome our partisan divides and get things done for the country. And that's what the Senate did and that's what the President has been advocating. So I recognize him for his steadfast support of a bipartisan bill that could come out of Congress. I certainly was working with folks, like-minded colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the U.S. House, towards that end. It's important for us to deliver on the promise that government can work. It is almost even more important for us to make sure that we don't muck it up so that people's hopes of government working are dashed even worse. There's this idea that we would combine the bipartisan infrastructure bill with other stuff and condition it and not accelerate it straight through the House to the President — I'm not on board with that.

CASE: What I've just described is me differing with my own speaker (Nancy Pelosi) on the direction that we should take because the speaker wants to hold up the bipartisan infrastructure package, to pass out of the House and the Senate an even larger package at $3.5 trillion. And I disagree with her on that, I think we should pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill now, it's right in front of us. It's there for the taking. It's what the American people want by a vast majority. And frankly, the $3.5 trillion package is very problematic in both the House and the Senate, it needs a lot of work if it's even going to pass. To kind of hold up the infrastructure bill, which you can get done right away, to kind of take a chance that you can finish another bill — that doesn't make sense to me. I'm one of the folks that, in this particular case, I just don't agree with where my leadership is going, and I'm going to try to pass a bipartisan infrastructure package as soon as I can.

CASE: (The national debt) is one of my major concerns with both bills. We have seen our national debt go from $23 trillion to $28 trillion in 18 months — that was because of COVID-19. It took 200-plus years to get to $23 trillion and we just went up another five. And so to go out there and actually borrow even more money from the current and next generations for areas that are not directly related to COVID-19 emergency, it's not something that I can support. It's very important to me that these large packages do have a pay-for element. That's a tough political and legislative and policy call because that means stuff that people feel very strongly about — like not allowing the Trump tax cuts to continue anymore, resuming levels that predated President Trump, which I personally have no problem doing.

On the Navy's Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility

CASE: Red Hill is a concern. It's a concern of mine. It should be a concern of everybody. We have been working very closely with all of the parties concerned. We've certainly been in touch with the U.S. Navy over the last two and a half years to be absolutely sure that they understand the concerns of the citizens; that they're doing everything they possibly can to assure the safety — and if they cannot assure the safety, then to phase it out. And I have been working through my appropriations committee, especially my subcommittee on military construction, to be sure that they do have those resources. And those monies are in the bills that we've been passing. Beyond that, the military has spent somewhere in the range of $500 million over the last couple of years in various maintenance and repair efforts at Red Hill in the normal course. And of course, we have the ongoing contested case hearing at the state level as to whether, and under what conditions, the Navy should have a continued permit to use Red Hill. I'm very supportive of that process and want to see it finished.

On state lands leased to the military that retired Army Colonel Ann Wright says "are not critical to the national security plan."

CASE: Well, I know Colonel Wright. We have interacted many times over the course of a long period of time, and we disagree on this subject. I say that with respect to her service and to her commitment. But essentially, Colonel Wright does believe that the military should get out of Hawaiʻi. And I don't believe that. I believe that as we look to the next generations, the next century of an ascendant China, of so much difficulty throughout the Indo Pacific, that our country needs our military to be present in the Indo Pacific. And Hawaiʻi needs our military to be here. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that the military itself completely disagrees with her statement that this is not necessary to our national security. The military views these training facilities as critical to our national security.

CASE: Now, I'm not gonna sit here and say that the military gets to do whatever it wants with our land. I don't believe that, I think the military has to be good neighbors. I think the military has to try to accommodate legitimate concerns about the use of our lands. And I think the military needs to needs to utilize our lands in a way that is fair on both sides. But I'm not of the view that these training leases should be canceled and that the military's presence in Hawaiʻi should end. And frankly if we don't have those training bases, the military will significantly downsize its presence here because it needs to train somewhere, and these bases are valuable training assets for them in their positioning in the Indo Pacific. And so I welcome the military going out for public comment. These are state lands, they're state leases, people should have their input on it, we should have this debate. But this is where I am on it.

CASE: And so I don't subscribe to the "let's get rid of the military" view. And by the way, let's make one more comment along those lines — and I don't think this is the reason to keep the military here — but let's recognize that the defense effort of our country is our number two industry here. Throughout COVID-19, it was our number one industry. And if we had been down travel and tourism, and defense, we would be in far worse of a world of hurt here. And so as we talk about diversifying our economy, let's remember that diversification should be at least two industries, as opposed to one to start with, and then let's move from there. And so let's realize the impact that the military has on our own economy and community here, and balance that against legitimate concerns as Colonel Wright has.

On federal funding of the Honolulu rail project

CASE: First of all, the federal government, through the Federal Transit Administration, committed in an agreement to fund $1.5 billion — of which half has been paid, and half has not been paid yet. And so the FTA is concerned as everybody is about the plan: can there be a plan that the public will trust, that is carefully thought out, that handles the contingencies, that answers the question about whether we should or should not stop downtown or at Middle Street or Ala Moana? The FTA is going to require that plan before they cut loose any further monies. And I think that's a proper position for the FTA to take. But the actual decisions on what to do about rail are state and county decisions.

On criticism of former President Barack Obama's birthday party

CASE: I don't know what happened at the Obama birthday party. I don't know whether there were 400, 600 people dancing. I had thought, frankly, that they had a much more limited group, and that the requirement was that everybody was vaccinated for that party. That is under the law of Massachusetts, there are different standards in place. I don't think anybody should be exempt from the standards so I'm not going to defend President Obama if, in fact, they were violating the laws and standards of Massachusetts or, for that matter, the CDC concerns.

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Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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