Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat political writer Louis Peck sat down with the major party candidates for the 6th Congressional District to discuss the issues. This week, Bethesda Beat is running each candidate’s Q&A interview, in alphabetical order of the candidates’ names. For more information on the candidates, check out our 2018 General Election Voters’ Guide.
Monday: Amie Hoeber
Tuesday: David Trone
Age: 76 (born Nov. 14, 1941, Austin, Texas)
Home: Potomac; married, one child, five stepchildren
Education: bachelor’s degree, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, 1963
Professional background: defense specialist (System Planning Corp., Rand Corp., Analytic Services Inc., SRI International); federal government official (deputy undersecretary of the Army, 1981—1986; U.S. representative to the Joint Commission on the Environment of the United States and Panama, 1990-1994); national/homeland security consultant (AMH Consulting, Potomac, 1992-present)
Political experience: ran for U.S. House of Representatives in District 6 (2016); co-founder and chair, National Women’s Political Caucus chapters in Northern Virginia and Los Angeles (early 1970s)
During your 2016 campaign for this seat, you expressed a desire to be appointed to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee if elected. Does that remain your preference?
That’s certainly one of my top three choices. I think I have a lot to contribute to [the] Armed Services [Committee], Intelligence [Committee], Foreign Affairs [Committee]—any of those that revolve around my real expertise. But Transportation is clearly an important one to the district, and I would want to serve on it. It’s the one where I could best help Gov. [Larry] Hogan with his transportation infrastructure improvement plan.
During a radio interview this past summer on WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show, you were quoted as saying of President Trump, “I am definitely pleased with many of the things he’s doing, but certainly not all.” Could you be more specific?
The things I am primarily pleased with are economic. We have the lowest unemployment rate we’ve had in a very long time. We’ve got better economic stability and certainly a lot more consumer confidence than probably we’ve had in at least a decade.
I also think he’s done very well in the matters I know a lot about. He has put in one of the best secretaries of defense [James Mattis] that we’ve had in a long time. I’m very pleased with specific things he’s done [abroad], like moving the embassy to Jerusalem, like tearing up the Iran agreement, like opening communications with North Korea.
I’m less happy about the way he has treated our NATO allies. I think he’s absolutely right that they have not contributed what they committed to in the way of defense expenditures and support. I’m not sure I would have been quite as vehement [toward] them in response to that. I’m less happy with his—let’s say personality. I think the tweeting is sometimes a little out of hand. I wish he were a little gentler as a human being. But that’s a personality issue—we didn’t hire him for his personality. We hired him for his policies.
You also said during that radio interview, “I would like very much to get us back to a less divisive world.” Do you think Mr. Trump has exacerbated the worsening of that division?
It’s not only the tweeting that does that; it’s a lot of other things. I think we were divisive, and trending more in that direction, before Trump was elected. That saddens me a lot. The key plank in my platform is to restore civility as much as I can—and I think personally I can.
The nomination process [of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh] was painful to watch. It is clearly additional evidence of the tensions and dysfunction today in Congress. I’m running to counter this—to bring an approach of civility to try to unite us again and to re-establish civil conversations aimed at finding common ground, rather than simply resisting each other. We cannot send a partisan like my opponent to Washington. We must try to come together as a nation. America deserves better.
On the economy, you give the president credit for the current state of affairs. Economic growth has been taking place for more than nine years, well before he took office. What steps do you feel Mr. Trump has taken that have been beneficial to economic growth?
The single thing he’s done was the tax cut legislation [signed last December]. I think that stimulated a lot of investment. The fact that it was a bit of a tax cut on companies allowed the companies to invest better in research and development and things that involved growth.
Maryland is one of several states where there has been criticism of that legislation for the provision that limits deductions on state and local taxes. Do you take issue with that provision?
No, I think it probably is a good move. It only applies to some people—those that pay a fair amount of … state income taxes and property taxes. In that sense, it’s an additional tax on the wealthy, which I guess I don’t disagree with. It will raise my tax bill—I’ll get to buy a larger piece of the next aircraft carrier (chuckles).
When Mr. Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last summer, the late Republican Sen. John McCain was quoted as saying: “… It is clear the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake … . No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.” Sen. McCain’s comments were aimed at the president appearing to take the word of Mr. Putin over that of the U.S. intelligence community regarding interference in the 2016 election.
Well, I issued a press statement on that, and I did chide the president for the way he behaved and the things he said. I do think that was a mistake. I have worked with the intelligence community most of my career. They’re not perfect, but in general, I trust their judgment—and I would have supported the intelligence community had it been me.
In your press statement at the time, you said, “I personally believe the intelligence community assessment that the Russian government tried to influence our election in 2016.” As someone with a background in national security, if you were in Congress, what steps would you would be advocating to protect the integrity of the election process going forward?
I agree with the conclusion that the Russians attempted it—I don’t think that’s the first time, and undoubtedly won’t be the last. And I’m not sure the Russians are the only ones. There are a lot of ways they could try to interfere, among them being things that relate to computer hacking and cybersecurity issues. But I think the key is human behavior. I think increasing awareness of potential attempts to connect with human beings involved in the electoral process is probably the most important single thing—more awareness on the part of people in the system of what could happen, what sorts of things the Russians or the Chinese or any other hostile country might attempt to do.
There needs to be more education, there needs to be more communication of things that are found—like I am concerned about the company that Maryland hired that [handles] the voting that turned out to be partially owned by Russia. [Editor’s note: Maryland officials learned this summer from the FBI that, three years earlier, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin had acquired a large stake in an internet technology firm used by Maryland to store voter registration data.] … Awareness of other countries’ ownership interest in companies that deal with election [processes] is important.
You earlier praised Mr. Trump for opening lines of communication with North Korea. Since the summit with Kim Jong Un in June, there has been criticism of the president meeting with the North Korean leader without some specific understandings first being reached. Was it a mistake for the summit to take place that quickly?
No, it was not a mistake. I think it was the only way the North Koreans could conceivably be brought to the table … . I strongly advocated for a summit meeting more than a year before it ever happened. I believed that the interests of both of the parties involved could only be satisfied by a face-to-face meeting. Kim was not going to come to the table unless he specifically met with Trump—and it gave Trump an opportunity to play his role in terms of his negotiation. The fact that it hasn’t succeeded so far doesn’t mean it won’t. I do know that North Korea hasn’t tested anything since the initiation of the effort to do the summit—and in my view, that’s a good thing.
[As a member of Congress], one of the things that I would advocate is considerable increases in our defense capability, specifically the anti-ballistic missile defense capabilities in Alaska and California… . We need to show … not only North Korea, but the world that we will take the measures that we have to take to protect ourselves.
You indicated that you agreed with the president’s move to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement reached in 2015 by the Obama administration, even as our NATO allies are continuing to abide by it. How would you propose to curtail potential threats posed by Iran to international security in the absence of this agreement?
I’ve been opposed to the Iran agreement since Day One; I wrote [about] that, I think, four or five years ago. I think the first thing to do is to try and negotiate a better deal—one that actually does satisfy the needs of ourselves and our allies, particularly Israel. Now, I’m not sure that’s doable today—and we can’t impose the same economic sanctions we did before, because we have in fact given them back a lot of the funds. [Editor’s note: The Iran deal freed up billions of dollars in Iranian assets, although the precise amount involved remains a matter of dispute.] But I think a certain degree of economic pressure is good—and hopefully [will] get them to a negotiating table where they feel they can benefit from agreeing to some better measures.
President Trump also has stirred controversy by withdrawing from the Paris climate accords designed to contain global warming. Do you believe that was a mistake?
Probably not. I’m not an expert in the climate accords and what they contain. But I think he was looking more at what the U.S. has to do for its own [economy] rather than worrying about the rest of the world … . In fact, for my district, coal [mining in Allegany County] is an extremely important part of that [economy] … . We are not the largest generator of the carbon problems in the atmosphere. China is No. 1. They’re not abiding by very much of [the Paris accords]. You go to China, and it’s full of smog all over the place.