July 14, 2019
Candidate Jeff Burdick spars with U.S. Rep. Ami Bera
over border emergency bill in first engagement
LA RIVIERA, Calif. – It wasn’t Lincoln-Douglas or even Kamala Harris versus Joe Biden, but yesterday U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) and his Democratic primary opponent Jeff Burdick engaged for the first time on a public issue. Burdick appeared to not only win the engagement, but he even caused Bera to momentarily blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a recent Republican legislative victory.
At issue was Congressional response to the humanitarian crisis in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexican border. House Democrats recently advanced a version of the Emergency Border Aid Package. This differed from the Senate Republican version backed by President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by featuring stronger oversight and accountability measures to better combat globally condemned detention conditions.
Media outlets such as The New York Times and Politico reported the House version was ready for passage along party lines on June 27.
This would have triggered the need for a Congressional conference committee to negotiate a compromise between the Senate and House versions. But according to reports, the Democratic members of the Bera-founded Problem Solvers Caucus threw their crucial support behind the weaker Republican version and “pushed Pelosi to take up the Senate bill.”
“In the town hall, Bera said House Democrats needed to stand up to President Trump’s dehumanizing policy in the border detention camps,” Burdick later said. “But Bera conveniently omitted how his Problems Solvers Caucus backed Trump and McConnell’s bill. This blocked the House Democrats’ version that was designed to better address the deplorable lack of showers, running water, hot meals and access to health care in the centers.”
The bipartisan Problems Solvers Caucus was co-founded by Bera and presently comprises about 40 moderate members of Congress split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
While avoiding mention of his caucus’ role in the border bill, Bera did ask the audience to unify against the Republicans. “We have to keep pressure on Mitch McConnell and the Republicans,” Bera said.
But one question later, the moderator called on Burdick, and Burdick returned the discussion to the border issue.
“You mentioned,“ Burdick addressed Bera, “we have to find more ways to put pressure on Mitch McConnell. I feel in the battle over the House version of the Border Emergency Aid Package, we just gave away that leverage by not going to conference committee. In the last elections, Democrats worked really hard to get that right to have more say on legislation and go to conference committees.”
The audience applauded. Burdick then noted the reports of Bera’s Problem Solvers causing the demise of the House bill and asked what was Bera’s position on the House bill.
“I was fully ready to support the House version,” Bera said, “but at the last moment the Speaker decided that she was going to put the Senate bill on the floor.”
In media reports, Pelosi has only said the House version of the bill “didn’t have the votes” to pass, in a possible reference to the Problem Solvers’ push for the Senate version. Burdick pounced on Bera’s appearing to shift blame onto the House Speaker.
“So do you blame Pelosi?” Burdick asked.
Bera quickly backed off and said he wasn’t blaming Pelosi. This left the audience confused who Bera faulted. Bera moved on and suggested if only the Emergency Border bill had come to a floor vote weeks earlier, perhaps the outcome could have been different.
Earlier in the town hall, Bera said the Senate version wasn’t perfect but that “80 percent of what we wanted was in that bill.” He said the challenge for Democrats is figuring out “how can we get the other 20 percent.”
But as the audience learned in Bera’s exchange with Burdick, that is even more challenging when Bera’s own caucus blocks House Democrats’ efforts to deploy an established negotiating tool such as a Congressional conference committee.
A resident of Arden-Arcade, Burdick is a former journalist, has worked in public affairs in the public and private sectors, and has worked on previous Congressional campaigns.