FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said he would support legislation to simplify the immigration visa system if both parties cannot come to an agreement on a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“Absolutely, as we make sure that people are properly vetted for Homeland Security purposes. But, yeah, even the path to citizenship, there’s much we can do before that — letting people get driver’s licenses, making sure people are paying taxes — those aren’t necessarily citizenship but it takes them out of the shadows, takes the families away from fear,” he told PJM at the Virginia Democrats’ election results event in the Beltway on Tuesday evening.
“As a Democrat I would like comprehensive immigration reform, but I’ve talked to Bob Goodlatte, the [Virginia Republican] congressman who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and if there are incremental steps let’s take the incremental steps — things that we can agree on,” he added.
Beyer suggested that the first step on immigration should be some kind of “identification document” that recognizes the presence of an undocumented immigrant who is paying taxes and “not breaking any laws.”
“Do that first before creating the path to citizenship and that might be something we can get a lot of Republican votes for,” he said.
Beyer said the current level of border protection is sufficient, calling the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border a “silly idea” that is never going to happen.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told PJM the visa process needs changes. He recommended that Congress reconsider the comprehensive immigration reform bill that failed in the Senate in 2013.
“Clearly there are needs to have reforms of the visa process and both on H1B and H2B, both of those programs need reform. I know in terms of agriculture workers there are a lot of Virginia jobs that would be lost, particularly in the seafood industry if we didn’t have the guest-worker program,” he said.
Warner was asked if he agrees with Vice President Biden that Democrats need to examine what drove Donald Trump’s supporters to the polls.
“I believe not only do the Democrats understand the discontent of many of the Trump voters is real, but also the Republican establishment has to understand that as well. And that’s going to take, though, a more focused solution on how you deal with technology and globalization other than simply some of the angry rhetoric that Trump has put forward,” he said.
Beyer said he “wholeheartedly” agrees with Biden’s assessment.
“That white working-class men and women — we are the Democratic coalition that elected Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, even Bill Clinton, and now it’s part of the Trump contingent. And I don’t know that we ignored them, but clearly as Democrats we have to have a message that makes them feel good about their future — that we really care and are putting policies in place that will bring back their communities and their jobs,” he said.
Warner said Trump is the “wrong messenger” of the anger certain voters have toward the federal government.
“I think the anger and discontent that a lot of Trump voters feel, it’s real. I think Trump was the wrong messenger for that, but the truth is we’ve got to have an economy that allows everybody to participate. I spent a longer time in business than I have in politics, but too often in today’s American capitalism we see such focus on simply the next quarter rather than the long-term investments that traditionally have been part of the free enterprise system,” the senator said.
“So I have somebody who’s been a beneficiary of our free enterprise system. I want it to work in a way where we still make investments in human capital, where we still have a social contract with social insurance from people regardless of how and where they work,” he added.
Beyer was asked how Democrats should interpret Trump’s message on trade policy, which appears to have resonated with voters in many key battleground states.
“I don’t think we can abandon our trade agenda. We have trade agreements with 20 counties and we have trade surpluses with each one of those 20 countries — those are not the places we are losing jobs to. We are losing jobs to China, with whom we don’t have a trade agreement. So I think what we have to do, for those of us who believe trade is good for our country, is to make sure we are doing the proper investments for people that are left behind,” Beyer said.
Beyer added that there are Americans without college degrees who are not participating in the “new economy.”
“When their manufacturing job went overseas or when coal became uncompetitive to natural gas, they are out of luck, and we’ve got to help them first. Those are the people I think responded to the Trump message of ‘tear up the trade agreements’ — that won’t do anything, that won’t help them, so we have to help them in ways that are real,” he said.
Warner said he supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because he wants to make sure America “sets the rules for trade in Asia, not China.”
“I think we still need to move forward with a trade agenda but there needs to be much more reimagining both in terms of training and, for example, supply chain jobs at some of the companies that are going to benefit from trade being located in some of those communities that have not benefited from trade – so it’s going to require a fresh look,” he said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said TPP is “dead for the lame duck” session of Congress but the U.S. should not walk away it.
“I happen to think the TPP is in the national interest and that we are retreating from world leadership and creating a vacuum for the Chinese,” Connolly said, adding that he is open to making improvements to the trade deal.