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Rep. Raúl Grijalva on Gov’t Shutdown & Why the Impasse Won’t Slow the Fight for Immigration Reform

StoryOctober 10, 2013
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As lawmakers face increasing pressure to come to a resolution 10 days into the government shutdown, we are joined by Arizona Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “This shutdown is contrived,” Grijalva says. In speaking about shutdown, Grijalva objects to oil and gas exploration being allowed on federal land while the public remains locked out. He continues to push for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. He was among eight Democratic lawmakers arrested on Tuesday in a large civil disobedience rally for immigration reform on the National Mall. “The fight over the debt ceiling and the budget is a harbinger of the fight over immigration,” Grijalva says. “Those 30 to 40 to 45 tea party extremists have done nothing but to try to block any effort with threats within their own caucus on immigration reform … The urgency is still there, and now I think it’s up to us and community organizations throughout this country to ratchet up the pressure.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ten days into the government shutdown, lawmakers are under increasing pressure to come to a resolution. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor met for the first time in days on Wednesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But no deal has been reached. Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting jobless claims rose by 66,000 in the latest week, the highest since March.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by a lawmaker who has called the shutdown a charade. Congressmember Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wants a halt to oil and gas exploration on federal land until the public can also enter. And he’s also found time to push for the passage of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. As thousands gathered on the National Mall Tuesday to rally in support for an immigration bill, he joined seven other congressmembers—all Democrat—in getting arrested after they linked arms and blocked a street. The National Mall was closed at the time due to the government shutdown, but the Park Service allowed the rally as an expression of “First Amendment rights.”

Yes, Congressmember Grijalva is joining us from the Cannon Rotunda at the Capitol.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what’s happening. How much longer do you see this, well, partial government shutdown going on and moving into the debt-ceiling issue?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: I think that there was a strategy to try to blend the two and create a real crisis in terms of extracting more concessions, more giveaways on the part of the Democrats and the administration. I think that was the strategy. But the public outcry continues to get louder. Every day, incrementally, this shutdown begins to add more and more pain to the American people. And the piecemeal, “let’s fix this little part because we’ve been criticized” that the Republican majority is attempting every day on the floor, whether it’s Head Start, whether it’s Impact Aid, whether it’s making sure the troops get paid, all these issues are not taking away from the fact that this shutdown is contrived. It is a mean—we’ve seen this before, where, you know, I’m going to—this kind of extortion. And then, unfortunately, Democrats give in, give in too soon. We have sequestration as a result of threats. We have the budget cuts, that were already in the budget, as a result of threats. And I think this is the same extraction. You don’t hear them talking about getting rid of health reform now. They’ve moved on now to deficit reduction, entitlement programs, Social Security, Medicare. That’s always been on the agenda. And the fact that Boehner, who is the titular head of the House of Representatives and the speaker of the House, is not able to control or ignore 30 to 40 extremists in his caucus from the tea party is beyond any—any reasonable person trying to figure this out.

I’m glad that Democrats are standing firm. And as we go forward with this, how long can they drag it out? I think that time is working against the shutdown. And as the public continues to feel the effect, as one area piles on another, that eventually they’re going to have to re-examine and pull away, allow a clean CR, and then we’ll go from there. You know, and even the clean CR is at the sequester levels. It’s at the Ryan budget levels. So it’s not like, you know, there’s a big gain there. It’s basically—you know, reasonable people say we need to keep this government open, and then we’ll fight that fight over the budget down the road.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congressman, I’d like to ask you—you got arrested this week over the issue of immigration reform and basically the gridlock that’s occurred on that issue, as well. Do you have real hopes that you can still get immigration reform this year, given the—given the battles over the budget and over the debt ceiling in the House of Representatives?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, I think—I think the fight over the debt ceiling and the budget is a harbinger of the fight over immigration. Those 30 to 40 to 45 tea party extremists have done nothing but try to block any effort, with threats within their own caucus, on immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform. And it’ll be the same scenario. So, you know, demanding that Boehner allow a vote on the floor and let democracy work its will, that’s going to be the goal.

Am I optimistic? I am. I really feel that what I saw with the 25,000 people that were here the other day and the fact that the urgency is still there—and now I think it’s up to us and community organizations throughout this country to ratchet up the pressure. If this Congress is going to respond, it’s going to respond to pressure. You know, intelligent debate, facts don’t seem to move this Congress. So, it’s going to have to be public pressure.

And those of us that got arrested, what a privilege to be part of that that day, and what a privilege to be alongside John Lewis and my esteemed colleagues to say, you know, we’re part of this urgency. And there’s some of us in Congress that are not going allow you to put this on the back burner or to continue to ignore, which I believe is one of the—if not the priority domestic issue that this government has to deal with in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grijalva, although the shutdown is attributed to the tea party, isn’t this John Boehner the speaker’s shutdown? Because if he simply brought the issue of the shutdown to a vote, it’s quite clear that a number of Republicans would join the Democrats in ending the government shutdown. But he won’t. Can you explain why that is and why he particularly, this emphasis on the speaker himself, is not more prominent?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Well, the role of the speaker has always been to bring legislation and try to reach compromise and try to move an agenda. Boehner’s agenda has been—nobody has been able to define what his agenda is. At the beginning of this session, it was Cantor and Ryan basically running the House. They’ve faded into the background a little bit. Boehner—and now it is people like Gohmert and Steve King and other members of that tea party faction that are running the Congress in the House of—

AMY GOODMAN: But Boehner could call a vote, right? In—

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: He could call—

AMY GOODMAN: Today, he could just call the vote. He—


AMY GOODMAN: He’s the one who has that power to do it.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: He has absolute power with regards to that. And the fact that he’s not and the fact that he’s prolonging this and the fact that he is unwilling to even have a plan as to what he wants to negotiate or how he wants to get out of this mess that he created, he has the power. He needs to exercise some courage, and he needs to put the interest of this country ahead of whatever fears he might have. I think, you know, it’s a speakership full of insecurity, and that insecurity is being played out on a huge stage.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Social—

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: And that stage is—

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember—


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Congress—rather, talk about Social Security now being put on the table, and President Obama accepting it, in order to negotiate an end to all of this.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: That’s regrettable, regrettable when the president put it on the table. And even the fact we’re having that discussion about chained CPI is unbelievable. A hundred and eleven members of Congress, if not more, wrote to the president and said, “We do not support putting chained CPI or any discussion about Social Security as part of any deficit reduction or debt ceiling.” And then 27 said, “If you put it on, we will vote no.” And I think that sentiment remains, and I think the White House and the Democratic leadership have better pay attention to that sentiment, because it is real. It is our base. It is something that we’ve fought for. And all of a sudden, to make it a throwaway issue in this discussion is something that—support for that initiative, that is not compromises. That’s what’s happened for the last four years, three years under Republican leadership in the House: We capitulate, and then we call it a compromise. Chained CPI should not and cannot, and many of us, including myself, are prepared to vote against any package that includes that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we just have about a minute, but your response to this absurdity that the—with the shutdown, the public—the national parks are closed to the public, but that private companies can continue to work in them to exploit the resources there?

AMY GOODMAN: To drill?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Yeah, those are public resources. Yeah, we’ve had—the Interior Department sometimes seems like a real estate department, giving out drilling and excavation permits right and left. And so, while concessionaires are closed, people cannot use the businesses, services or scenery of our great national parks—they’re locked out—and the workers are locked out of their jobs, drilling goes on, and gas extraction goes on, and mineral extraction goes on. That’s hypocrisy. And so, if the hurt is to be on the public and the workers that are locked out, then those people making a profit off public lands, of which they pay very little for that resource, they need to be—they need to be shut down, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grijalva, has the insurance website in Arizona started to work yet?

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Yeah, it did. And we’re going to get some numbers today. We worked really hard in particular in the poorer areas of my district, of which I have too many, and in—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

REP. RAÚL GRIJALVA: Yes, it’s working. A dumb glitch in not having it bilingual, but assurances that’s going to be corrected.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Congressmember Raúl Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


AMY GOODMAN: That does it for our show. Tonight, I’ll be speaking at Princeton University, Wilson College, at McCosh Hall. You can check our website at

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