Sonja Diaz, director of the UCLA Luskin-based Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle about the potential political repercussions of declaring a national emergency to secure funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, an action that President Trump is contemplating. Declaring an emergency would allow Trump to secure funding for the wall without congressional approval. This action may please Trump’s current base; but it could also benefit Democrats by ending the government shutdown triggered by the budget battle over border security while allowing them to keep the campaign against the wall alive. Diaz commented on the impact that building the wall may have on Trump’s chances of reelection. “In 2020, states like Arizona and Texas [with surging Latino turnout] are going to be critical,” she said. “This is going to be very impactful on who they choose on that ballot.”
UCLA Luskin Public Policy’s Joel Aberbach commented in a Roll Call article about House Democrats and the risks of launching rigorous oversight of President Donald Trump on many fronts. Aberbach said Democrats would be wise to “pick things that don’t get stymied right away by total obfuscation or refusal to cooperate.” He added that, in today’s hyperpartisan atmosphere, the results of investigations into Trump may not change how voters feel about him. “We may be at a point where people who sympathize with Trump aren’t going to accept anything as legitimate” grounds for impeachment, he said. “And people on the other side will accept almost anything.” Aberbach is a distinguished professor emeritus of political science and public policy at UCLA.
ABC News spoke to Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, for its report on Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s bid for reelection to the House of Representatives. Rohrabacher, the article noted, is a staunch Reaganite who took an unexpected ideological turn in advocating closer ties with Russia. In the November 2018 midterm elections, he is one of several California Republicans scrambling to defend his seat. Observers noted that Rohrabacher’s longevity and conservative record give him a strong change of reelection. “He’s been around for almost 30 years in Congress,” said Yaroslavsky, who has known Rohrabacher for decades. “Don’t underestimate him because he will fight.”
In an opinion piece for the political news website The Hill, UCLA Luskin’s Martin Gilens, professor of public policy, joins co-author Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University in proposing a set of reforms that would actually increase democratic responsiveness. They say their research indicates that the most important and most promising changes fall into five groups: 1. Give equal political voice to all citizens; 2. Curb the political power of money; 3. Democratize the electoral process; 4. Improve House and Senate representation of all citizens; 5. Overcome remaining sources of gridlock.
By Zev Hurwitz and Stan Paul
Public policy students at UCLA frequently study the goings-on in Congress as a matter of historical fact, but the learning really comes to life when a Capitol Hill veteran makes his way to the Public Affairs Building in person.
That’s exactly what happened when M. Robert “Bob” Carr, a former longtime congressman from Michigan, spent several days at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, lecturing and meeting with Public Policy students. Carr, a former Luskin Senior Fellow, visited Luskin May 15-19, 2017, as a Regents Lecturer — part of the University of California’s Regents Professors and Lecturers Program.
During a busy week at UCLA Luskin, Carr spoke to public policy graduate students over lunch, participated in a Senior Fellows conversation, lectured to intimate groups of students and faculty, spoke to students in a first-year public policy course, and held a series of one-on-one office meetings with Luskin students.
Carr served 18 years in Congress between 1975 and 1995 in a district that includes Michigan’s capital, Lansing. He currently serves as adjunct professor of ethics and congress at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
Public Policy Department Chair and Professor Mark Peterson introduced Carr during a May 17 lecture, noting that the former congressman was elected to the House of Representatives as a Democrat in an otherwise heavily Republican district in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
“As we know, Congress goes on to experience all kinds of periods of time, including the current one,” Peterson said. “Few people have more insight on that than Bob Carr.”
Wednesday’s talk was titled “Congress: A Political Institution, Not a Policy Shop” and focused on the nuances of policy pursuits in a highly politically charged governmental body.
“In most languages, ‘policy’ and ‘politics’ are the same word,” Carr said. “I’ve wondered out loud how this affects our thinking about these areas. We tend to categorize — that’s how we communicate. In English, ‘politics’ and ‘policy’ are related, but have two very different meanings.”
Carr discussed how different branches of the government interact with policy, noting that the rules of the House of Representatives tend to mandate a focus on procedure over policy-formation.
“If I have all the right arguments, I’ve got the best policy prescription, I’ve done critical thinking, and everyone agrees with me — but I don’t know the rule book — I’m not going to win,” he said. “Procedure will win every time over policy and politics.”
In the Senate, however, policy and procedure are secondary to the political environment.
“Senators are very important people. If you don’t know that, just ask them,” he joked.
Because the Senate places less emphasis on rules, every Senator has the ability to hold up legislation. “Every Senator, regardless of where they’re from or their party, is essentially equal, and they cling to that equality,” he said.
Because both chambers of Congress vary on their priorities and operations, policymaking is strained when the two chambers need to work together to pass bills, that arise from differing priorities. The executive branch, by contrast, lays out a policy agenda but is powerless to act unilaterally to introduce new laws.
A more productive form of government, he said, is one where the executive branch is not operating in a manner inherently at odds with the legislature.
“It’s relatively efficient,” he said of parliamentary democracies such as in the United Kingdom. “Parliamentary systems are designed to make things happen.”
Carr’s talk to UCLA Luskin Senior Fellows, “Can This Divided Congress Govern?” was moderated by Bill Parent, lecturer in the Department of Public Policy.
Carr provided a bit of U.S. history, discussing the political environment of the late 1700s. Carr said that at that time the framers of the Constitution did not want another Parliament, which he said was making life in the colonies “miserable,” citing the passage of the Stamp Act as one example.
In addition to making laws, budgets and playing a key role in the balance of power, “what’s the job of Congress?” Carr asked the audience. “Congress is about politics. Congress is about the struggle, not the policy,” he said.
“Can you have democracy in America if you don’t have democracy in the House?” he asked. “No, you can’t. And we don’t have democracy in the House today.”
Asked what a run for Congress in a state like Michigan would look like in today’s environment, Carr said it would not consist of a single message. Considering the makeup of the state, “It just wouldn’t work. You have to make a connection, find out what their story is. The message has to speak to the people’s story.”
When asked what things he would like to see change, Carr listed:
- Gerrymandering, especially in an age of computers and big data. “Members of Congress are selecting their constituency and not the other way around,” he said.
- Campaign finance, which he said is a corrupted system, citing super PACS and the “terrorism of money.”
- And getting rid of the filibuster and a “return to a majoritarian body,” Carr said. “I know people on my side of the aisle go nuts about that, but long-term we have to transact with the American people.”
By Stan Paul
John Villasenor, professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, told a U.S. Senate committee that Congress might want to consider a deliberate approach to any attempts to legislate the use of unmanned aircraft.
He testified on March 15, 2017, before the full U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation chaired by U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), on issues related to unmanned aircraft in the national airspace system.
Villasenor, who also holds UCLA faculty appointments in engineering, management and law, was among a group of witnesses who were representing government and industry interests. The witnesses included the director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Members of the Senate committee were briefed on a wide range of issues that will affect the emerging technology as legislation catches up with innovations to and applications for the hundreds of thousands of unmanned aircraft systems — commonly known as drones — already in in the hands of individuals, commercial interests and government agencies.
Focusing on privacy aspects of drones, Villasenor cautioned the committee that while unmanned aircraft can potentially be used to gather information in ways that violate privacy, this does not mean that new federal unmanned aircraft privacy legislation is immediately needed or should quickly be put in place.
“Rather, the key question is: Do unmanned aircraft put privacy at risk in ways that fall outside the scope of existing constitutional, statutory and common law privacy protections?” asked Villasenor. “There are good reasons to believe that the answer to that question is ‘no.’ As a result, I think it is premature to enact broad new federal legislation specifically directed to unmanned aircraft privacy.”
He further explained that while limiting unmanned aircraft in obtaining and using information, “It is far harder to do so in a manner that is consistent with the full scope of the First Amendment.” At the same time, he commented that unintended consequences of legislation are especially heightened in areas where rapidly changing technology and privacy intersect, such as autonomous vehicles, location-aware smartphone applications and “always-on” devices with audio and video capabilities.
Other witnesses testified about the variety of issues to be considered, including limiting drone technology for use in agriculture, air traffic safety, infrastructure inspection and protection, and as critical tools in saving lives in natural disasters and search and rescue efforts.
Villasenor, while recommending restraint, concluded the hearing by stressing that Congress still has a vital role in addressing the challenges of emerging technologies. He urged dialogue among lawmakers, regulators, consumers, the commercial sector and civil liberties groups, so all parties can gain a better understanding of the issues.
“Part of that role involves identifying where existing legal frameworks are working well and where they are falling short,” Villasenor said. “Part of that role involves knowing when not to legislate. And part of that role involves enacting carefully targeted legislation at the right time.”
After his appearance before the Senate panel, Villasenor said he was grateful to have the opportunity to testify.
“Congressional hearings provide a very important opportunity to contribute to the dialog regarding today’s complex policy questions,” he said. “I appreciated the chance to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on the privacy challenges being raised by rapidly changing technologies.”
In addition to the archived webcast, the full written testimony of Villasenor and the other witnesses may be found online.
By Stan Paul
Reaching across the table was good form at a luncheon discussion with a bipartisan group of former members of Congress visiting the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on Oct. 7.
The former U.S. representatives — two Republicans and two Democrats — and their spouses held informal breakout discussions with Luskin Master of Public Policy (MPP) students and undergrads in the school’s Public Affairs minor program. UCLA Political Science graduate and undergraduate students also participated.
“Congress has come to us,” said Mark Peterson, chair of the Luskin School’s Department of Public Policy, as he introduced the guests, all members of the United States Association of Former Members of Congress (FMC). The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting an understanding of the role of Congress and the importance of public service in the United States and abroad.
Lynn Schenck (D-CA, 1993-95) shared her experience in public service and fielded questions from students on subjects ranging from the California ballot to emerging democracies.
“Democracy is hard work,” said the UCLA alumna (BA ’67) and lawyer who served in California Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet — in his earlier term — and as deputy secretary for the state’s department of business, transportation and housing. She later became the first woman to represent San Diego in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“You have to have an interest in people,” Schenk advised the future leaders and policymakers, stressing the importance of making connections. “Start now — stay in touch with people.”
Joining Schenck and Pete Weichlein, CEO of the Former Members of Congress Association, were Bob Clement (D-TN, 1987-2003), Phil Gingrey (R-GA, 2003- 2015), and Peter Smith (R-VT, 1989-1991), all of whom had a front row seat to the inner workings of Congress and life in Washington. Conversations with the couples buzzed from the start, a wide range of talking points that included this year’s historic presidential election, the economy, social media, taxes, immigration, super PACs and the pressures of fundraising.
Ramandeep Kaur, a first-year MPP student, said she appreciated the opportunity to participate one-on-one in a discussion with a former Republican representative.
“I am definitely not a conservative Republican but this gets me out of my bubble,” said Kaur, who spoke with Gingrey and his wife, Billie.
Also part of that discussion was MPP student Estefania Zavala, who said she gained insights about the difficulty of working across party lines as well as the time and effort spent on running for re-election. “What I took away from the conversation is that the process needs to be streamlined so that our elected representatives can focus on policy and not partisan politics,” Zavala said.
Axel Sarkissian, a political science major completing the Public Affairs minor at the Luskin School, said that hearing about the day-to-day aspect of governing “from the people who did it” was an invaluable experience.
“As a student of government, I study Congress and policymaking from an academic perspective,” Sarkissian said. “Being able to hear the candid thoughts of political leaders who put these things into practice created an interesting frame of reference for my future studies.”
One topic brought up by students dominated the conversation, said Peter Smith, a former representative from Vermont and founding president of Open College at Kaplan University: “Where did all the partisanship come from at the expense of compromise? When did it change and how can we get it back?”
“I was very impressed with their preparation from their studies and their interest,” said Smith, who also served as a state senator and lieutenant governor in Vermont. “They are looking for ways to be involved in public policy that can be productive.”