For more than a year, Rep. Devin Nunes’ name has been plastered across media reports and bandied about by politicians, activists, top law enforcement officials and the president of the United States.
The Tulare Republican, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, became one of the most visible members of Congress with his involvement in a House investigation into alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election. He has maintained a high profile with his participation in sweeping congressional legislation, from the narrowly approved tax reform bill to the narrowly defeated health-care bill.
At the end of January, he rose once again to the forefront of political chatter as he pushed for the release of a memo he wrote that describes alleged Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice bias against President Donald Trump during an investigation of his campaign.
Nunes is currently waging his ninth campaign for re-election to Congress.
The congressman has refused to speak to The Bee for at least a year, citing what he believes to be unfair coverage and editorial page attacks of him. However, he agreed to a 20-minute question-and-answer session, provided his answers were published in full and without editing. The Bee was free to ask any question.
What follows is that interview, in which Nunes discusses pressing issues such as school shootings, health-care reform and immigration, as well as his ideas on what the American government needs to do next on problems like health care and how government institutions – like the FBI and DOJ – should protect the president.
About two weeks ago, you released a memo that accused the FBI and DOJ of bias during the last election. What was your intention behind releasing it, and do you believe that you were successful?
Nunes: Well, the challenge is that I have to watch over FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And when you see abuses, I’m one of the few people who can not only alert other members of Congress but also the American public. And there’s clear evidence of abuse. And that’s the challenge that we had.
And so there was – DOJ and FBI had abused the system. They did not tell the courts that this was political dirt paid for by the (former Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton campaign then used against the Trump campaign. That’s a big no-no and not OK in this country.
Some of the critics of the memo and you in general say it caused harm to the country’s intelligence agencies. Do you agree?
Well, that was a criticism before they saw it, but then afterward that argument went away.
President Trump has demanded that Congress address immigration. Your district has a large number of undocumented immigrants. What do you plan to do to address immigration, and would you ever support a DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act?
Well, first of all, I was for the DREAM Act before it became a political football for the Democratic party. So let’s not confuse the two anymore. There’s a real Dreamer problem with kids here that were brought here under no fault of their own. But it’s been politicized over the last five, six, seven, eight years.
But people are crazy right now if they don’t take the offer that’s been put on the table by President Trump. This really would solve a big chunk of the problem in terms of taking care of anybody who’s remotely affiliated with the DREAM Act problem, and it would also provide for strong border security, which has been a necessity for a long time.
We recently had another horrific school shooting in this country. What should Congress do to ensure this stops happening?
The main problem is that, are the gun laws on the books actually being enforced? And then we have this policy in this country – er, not policy, but it’s been talked about since 9/11: If you see something, say something. And unfortunately, this is somebody (Marjory Stoneman Douglas High confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz) that we knew about, and it wasn’t acted upon.
So, are there other – are there things – I always worry about people thinking that like, more gun control somehow is going to solve this problem. I don’t see that. Do I believe in bump stocks? No, but I didn’t even know what that was until the Vegas shooting.
So, you know, if there’s ways to make sure that we’re enforcing the laws on the books, that’s helpful. If there are ways to improve background checks, that’s helpful. But I don’t think there’s – nothing takes the place of when someone’s turned into law enforcement, and it’s not dealt with promptly and swiftly – there’s nothing that replaces that. Somebody who – because remember: Even if you institute gun control, the guys who want guns are going to be able to get guns. Most of the crimes that we have here in the United States that are committed with guns are not guns that are registered to those owners.
What would you say about the critics who say that most of the school shootings are committed by people who’ve purchased firearms legally?
Well, that – I would just say the same thing. Should those people all be getting guns? Should this person – the latest guy that shot up the school …
Should he have been able to get that? You know – I don’t know. I don’t know – I mean, we know the answer: No, he shouldn’t have. But, you know, were all the proper steps taken in the process under current law, or do you need to make sure that the law is changed so that the background checks do work.
Because something went wrong.
In 2016, you invited President Trump, who was then a candidate, to Tulare to discuss water problems with farmers. Water storage remains an issue here. Temperance Flat is still not funded. If re-elected, what legislation would you introduce to address this?
Well, we’ve been pushing the GROW Act for many Congresses. So this is (Rep. David) Valadao, and myself, and (Rep. Kevin) McCarthy and all the Valley delegation. So for the first time – this is the first year that we actually had support from the president of the United States. President (Barack) Obama did not support that act.
That act solves our water problem long-term because it makes all the changes that we need to have made to federal water law to allow us to move water around. And then it makes projects like Temperance Flat actually viable.
And so, Temperance Flat – which is a project, by the way, that I started – and the sad part is that the state – we continue to vote. We vote for funding, and the voters approve it thinking it’s going to go to water storage, yet the water storage projects never get built. So there’s clearly, I think, a disconnect between what voters believe they’re voting on, and then what the politicians in Sacramento actually do. And I think it’s going to continue to be a challenge moving forward.
How will the Tax Reform Bill, which you supported, help residents of the 22nd District, and how will it help America as a whole? And are you worried about an increase to the deficit?
So, the big component of tax reform that’s most important is the full expensing provision. So, this allows businesses – especially small businesses – to not have to worry about what the tax man – what the IRS – is going to say about what they purchase and when they purchase it. This is, I think, really going to be the biggest change that’s going to help out America in the long run. So, we’re basically wiping away a big part of the (tax) code.
We’re also taking – if you make under $250,000, which is almost everybody in the San Joaquin Valley – the code’s going to be much more simplified, and you’re going to have a lot more money in your pocket. So the average family here is going to get basically a couple thousand dollars back in their pocket. That’s all good news.
As it relates to the long-term budget deficit, it’s mainly a driver of what we have left to fix: the health-care problem, which we took care of a little bit of that with a small fix to Obamacare. But Medi-Cal is broken – still got to be fixed. We tried to do it. We were unsuccessful. And then Medicare continues to be just an archaic system that’s got to be upgraded to meet today’s needs. But the challenges of that remain elusive.
That’s the driver of our budget deficit. The thing that we have to have now.
We, for a decade, we’ve had anemic growth at best. You’re usually between less than 1 percent to 2 percent at the high. We need to have sustained economic growth above 2 percent. And right now we’re seeing that. I hope that – my goal is that that continues.
What would you say about a lot of the criticism about the tax reform – and particularly what you said about the working families and people making under $250,000 – is that in the next few years, they would end up actually paying more? Is that true?
That’s something that I’ve seen sort of …
Yeah, because that’s a silly talking point
… shared around.
So, yeah it’s poss … Congress has to, like all the time, Congress would have to redo – would have to extend these provisions. I can’t imagine a Congress not extending those provisions.
Gotcha, OK …
But that’s how – because of the archaic rules of the House and Senate, especially the Senate, this is how a lot of times how we have to pass these laws …
Just a little bit at a time?
Well, because you can’t – it’s hard to make them permanent. Because of the way the law is, if you don’t have 60 votes (in the Senate). And unfortunately, we only had 50 votes – 51 votes for this tax bill.
You’ve now been in Congress for 15 years. What do you believe has been your major accomplishment in that time?
Well, I would say the water issue is now a national issue. I’m not satisfied with where it is, but people now know – the San Joaquin Valley is on the map because of the work that we’ve done in Congress. People understand the San Joaquin Valley has a big water problem. When I say people, this is the American people through the U.S. Congress.
So our challenge has been at the state level, the state continues to become more and more left wing. They don’t really care if land here goes idle. It’s a problem. But I think the good thing is that we have highlighted this area as being a water deficit area and where the Endangered Species Act and the state government are hostile to the Valley and to agriculture. That’s one of the things that I’m most proud of even though I’d like to get solutions.
The second thing I would say is the tax – the fixes to the tax code. This took us over a decade to craft this legislation, and like I talked about earlier, one of the major components is my component. And it was the first time we’ve done – that was the largest bill and the most consequential bill to pass the Congress since the ’80s – since the Reagan administration. So I was proud to be part of that. And then …
And what was your component in that again?
The expensing provision within the bill, which is one of the largest parts of the bill. And then it’s the little things that probably go unnoticed, but we’ve helped a lot of people. So at the end of the day, I’m the last link, right, I work for the people of the 22nd District. I’m the last link to the federal government for them. We have hundreds and hundreds of cases open at any given time, and we have a good track record of delivering for the people of the Valley in terms of having good constituent service.
In the beginning, you ran as a political outsider looking to bring Washington’s help to the Valley with issues like water.
Now your opponents would accuse you of being in the pocket of the president, of (House Speaker) Paul Ryan. Are you still Devin Nunes, the Tulare farmer, or have you become Devin Nunes, the Washington politician, or are you a bit of both?
(Nunes laughs). So, it’s tough to argue – it’d be tough to argue that I’m not still an outsider in that I’m taking on these institutions. Big institutions, right? I mean that’s the big thing that nobody – you asked earlier about the situation with the FBI and DOJ. Well, for a long time, Congress was like a rubber stamp for these agencies. And I’m providing real oversight to these agencies, and I’m not afraid to take them on.
Just like we’ve taken on the water issue. I haven’t been afraid to take on the governors of California. I haven’t been afraid to take on the senators. I’m not afraid to take on big government agencies, and so – this president is an outsider. He has a lot to learn, but the institutions should be there to protect him and help him – him or her, whoever the president is going to be – the institutions should not be political. And unfortunately, we have a lot of very political institutions that need to be reined in, and Congress is the one to rein them in.
So you mean institutions like the FBI, DOJ …
FBI, DOJ, all of the agencies.
IRS, USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) – they all get big and bureaucratic and become political. And it’s up to Congress to rein them in.
What do you say about the rumors that you’re jockeying to try and get some sort of position in the Cabinet or anything like that?
Yeah, well, I think that’s pretty silly because if I had wanted one, I could have had one. So why would I be doing that now?
Were you offered one previously?
Well, I’m not going to get into what I was offered or not. I was on the transition team, and clearly there were several positions they would have liked for me to be interested in. But I told them from the very beginning – as a matter of fact, when I was asked to be on the transition team the day or two after the election, I told them very clearly that I would only serve on the transition team as long as I was not asked to take any position. Because I’m not interested in taking any position.
How do you plan to campaign in 2018? You’ve had a fairly easy go of it. In pretty much all of your elections, you’ve won by quite a large margin. I think the left and, in a lot of ways, the media have thrown a lot of weight behind one of the challengers, Andrew Janz. Are you planning to campaign any differently than you have in the past?
No, we’ll continue to campaign like we always have. Despite what your paper will say, and some of the other corrupt media, we always run a tough campaign. We always put up signs. We always raise a lot of money. And I’m not afraid to go out and spend money to get my points across, but the key will be that we always focus on education. I believe that voters in the Valley like to be treated like adults, and that’s how we always treat them.
Are you going to be holding any sort of forums that are going to be open to the public during the election cycle? I know that’s another one of the criticisms …
I mean we’re not …
… a town hall is a little different in an election …
Your paper is a joke to even bring these issues up or raise these issues. You know – it’s actually sad. I actually feel bad for the people who work at The Bee, because sadly it’s become just a left-wing rag. And it’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, but when your – when the paper becomes just part of regurgitating Democratic talking points, it’s no longer a news outlet that’s actually being fair or objective. It’s not objective journalism.
Just the fact that those would be issues are silly – because The Bee especially should know this – that for many many years I’ve held a lot of educational forums over the years. Big forums, small forums. And we continue to do that. And we will continue to do it.