During U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s time in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, she’s seen a lot of things that don’t quite make sense to her.
To name two in particular – climate change doubters and protestors in tin foil hats. The former tend to give her the most trouble.
“It’s the Twilight Zone,” Castor said.
Castor shared these experiences and more Tuesday night at a talk to students in the Honors College about Washington and her opinion on recent developments in the federal government.
Castor began by saying that when she was first elected to office in 2006, the primary issue of the day was the war in Iraq. She said she felt the Bush administration had misled the public concerning the real reason behind the war.
When the campaigning for the 2008 presidential election began, she put her support behind Barack Obama instead of Democratic establishment candidate Hillary Clinton. She said she felt he was running a different kind of campaign.
“I had confidence in him very early,” Castor said.
In 2008, when Obama first took office, the U.S. went into a recession. Since then, Castor said, his focus has been on the economy. As she is a representative of Florida, a state that relies heavily on its real estate and tourism industries, she said a recession that may have ended for the rest of the U.S. still lingers.
“Our recessions are deeper and they’re longer here,” Castor said.
Recent events in the past week, however, have shifted her concerns a bit. She said she and her colleagues have been thinking of the path forward after President Donald Trump launched missiles at Syria late last week.
She passed out copies of the U.S. Constitution to her guests, and had them turn their attention to one particular piece of it, Article One Section Eight, which states that Congress has the power to declare war. This power was given to Congress by the Founding Fathers, something Castor said the legislative body takes pride in.
“But what’s happened over many years is the Congress has kind of abdicated its authority,” Castor said.
She mentioned the War Powers Act of 1973, which spelled out the conditions under which Congress’s approval was necessary for actions of war. She said that even when Obama acted ahead of Congressional approval, he sent over a bill to ask for it afterward. Trump, Castor said, hasn’t, and the old bills related to the Middle East aren’t along the lines of his actions.
“The old ones don’t mention Assad or Syria at all,” Castor said.
She argued that submitting something for Congressional approval was crucial. She said what is needed is a coherent strategy that is debated. She said compared to Trump, Bush doesn’t look half bad, commenting that Trump’s social media activity is not a similar picture to presidents past.
“This is not normal right now,” Castor said.
Although politics are quite divided these days, Castor said she has friends on the Republican side. She said she participates in a charity softball game where women of Congress play women in the Press Corps. She also has gotten to know the Florida delegation well from spending so much time with them at Tampa International Airport.
“It is true that if you don’t interact on a personal level it’s easy to demonize the other side,” Castor said.
Overall, she said, she is frustrated by what she feels is a lack of focus in Trump, but said she spends every day cutting through red tape, which is rewarding in its own right, whether that be helping a veteran connect with Veterans Affairs or helping a student stranded in another country return home.
After she spoke, Castor answered some questions from her audience. She talked about working with people of opposite ideas and how, during the health care repeal, she was in committee for 27 straight hours.
“I never got tired at all and I haven’t pulled an all-nighter since college,” Castor said.
She also spoke briefly on the role of social media in politics, saying it has shaped Washington in good and bad ways. One example of a good way that she gave was members of Congress using Facebook Live and Periscope to livestream a sit-in that Castor was a part of regarding gun violence.