Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer discusses bipartisanship, civility in Congress and impeachment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, during the opening session of the 116th Congress.
Susan Walsh
The Associated Press
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, during the opening session of the 116th Congress.

Like Washington's other congressional Democrats, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer supports the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. It's a polarizing discussion that Kilmer — who is part of a bipartisan working group in the House — says he doesn't "run gleefully into."

During a visit to the new KNKX studios on Monday, Kilmer spoke with KNKX's Kari Plog about a variety of subjects, among them the challenges facing a growing Puget Sound region, including his 6th Congressional District — or in his words “70 percent of Tacoma and everything to the west.”

He also addressed civility and bipartisanship in the other Washington, and efforts to modernize Congress.

Here are some highlights from his interview (these remarks have been edited for brevity): 

On the biggest challenges — and opportunities — facing the greater Tacoma area: “You’ve seen a lot of change in Tacoma over the years. As someone who worked in economic development for a decade, I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet to growing economic opportunity. I think it’s more like a silver buckshot. There’s a whole bunch of things you’ve got to do, and it looks different here in Tacoma than it looks in Aberdeen or Port Angeles.

“I think our infrastructure issues are real. If you drive through Tacoma, too often the speed limit signs coming through (the city) on Interstate 5 are only there for nostalgic purposes in that we’re all sitting in traffic. … And the final thing I’ll mention is we’ve seen substantial residential growth in Tacoma. Some of the commercial and industrial growth hasn’t necessarily followed as quickly.” 

On the importance of planned visits to colleagues’ districts across the country: “I’m increasingly of the belief that if you want to get a better understanding of where people are coming from, there’s value in actually trying to understand where people are coming from — to put eyes on their challenges and opportunities.” 

It’s one thing to talk about an issue, Kilmer says; it’s another thing to be able to put eyes on a village that’s below sea level, for example.

On why the bipartisan working group is the best hour of his week: “The bipartisan working group is a dozen Republicans and a dozen Democrats who meet for breakfast every week when we’re back in Washington, D.C.” 

The meetings are divided into three parts: inviting co-sponsorship or collaboration for the work they’re doing, talking about what’s going on in Congress that week, and talking about a “big, hairy issue facing the country.” 

“It’s sort of the hour of each week where I find myself thinking ‘You know, we’ve got to do more of that.’ Not only as a Congress, but as a country. … I think there are examples, on even some of these difficult issues, that when we do the hard work of trying to find common ground we can actually make some progress.” 

On the bipartisan work of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress: “About every 20 or 30 years or so, Congress realizes things aren’t working the way they ought to and they create a committee to try to fix it. ... Interestingly, (this committee) has been nicknamed the ‘Fix Congress Committee.’ When I tell people that, they usually respond with an offer to pray for me. It’s a committee that was set up to look at some of the systemic problems facing Congress that have, in many ways, stymied the ability of Congress to make progress on behalf of the American people.”

Among the specific tasks assigned to this group of lawmakers: discussing recruitment, retention and diversity of staff within Congress; looking at how Congress uses technology; and addressing issues of civility

On his stance regarding the impeachment inquiry: “At some point the rule of law needs to mean something. I don’t run gleefully into this conversation, because I acknowledge that we’re already a really divided country. And the issues of an impeachment inquiry are even more divisive. … I think the evidence that is laid out is, at the very least, sufficient to pull on those threads and to see where the facts lead. I think what you’ve seen over the last 10 days is even more alarming (than the Mueller report). Having a situation where the leader of our country asked a foreign leader to manufacture dirt on a political rival is unprecedented, and is unacceptable.” 

On appealing to the progressive base amid bipartisan efforts: “I wake up every morning trying to figure out how do we create more economic opportunity for the folks I represent. If you travel around the district the way I do, there’s really two things you hear: one, a desire to see the economy work better for folks; and two, to have government work better for people. And that’s really what I focus on.” 

Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.