After his address to AmeriCorps graduates in Lone Tree on July 14, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet granted an exclusive interview to Colorado Community Media to talk about food insecurity, healthcare, Russian election interference and how he feels volunteer service can lead to opportunities for jobs and unity.
On volunteer service:
“I think that one of the great opportunities we have to pull people together in this country at a time when our politics is so divided is service in our communities … I’ve seen teams of veterans, returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan working in teams, in service, to do fire mitigation in the forests and then after that successful completion of a fellowship of some kind, going on to be hired by the Department of Agriculture or the BLM and the Department of the Interior. Having a pipeline (to employment) for young people, for veterans, even for people who are switching careers, through a year or two of service, I think would be a very positive thing for this country.”
On economic recovery and those left behind:
“We’re fortunate in many ways because Colorado has the lowest unemployment rate of any states in the country. But even in our state, you see the people who haven’t had the benefit of that … People are earning the same, in their wages, as they were earning 20 years ago … but their cost of housing, their cost of healthcare, their cost of higher education, their cost of early childhood education is conspiring to create much less purchasing power for them to move their family ahead or to be able to save. Even in a county as wealthy as Douglas County we see that (food insecurity) exists and that’s why it’s so great that (the Parker Task Force) is here and that’s why I’m going to see it. It’s not just about what the federal government can do, it’s about what we can all do to help.”
On Senate Republicans’ latest healthcare bill:
“Whether you support the Affordable Care Act or you don’t, I think people are deeply dissatisfied with the way our healthcare system works … I wish we were focused on those questions — how do we create more affordability for families, how do we create more predictability and more transparency? We’re not, because what Mitch McConnell is focused on is a seven-year campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, which they’re having a very hard time doing, because it turns out what they said Obamacare was, it actually wasn’t, and the American people and people in Colorado have said ‘don’t do any more damage to our system than we already have, we want to see improvements’ …
“So they ought to scrap this very damaging bill. The cuts to Medicaid are just brutal, and start over again with a bipartisan bill and see if we can actually address some problems.”
On Russian election interference:
“The heads of (President Trump’s) intelligence agencies have all said that Russia interfered with our election. And anybody that’s seen that intelligence, and I have, knows that it’s very, very serious. Now there’s a whole other question about whether the Trump campaign was involved.
“I have no idea about that, but I do know that Bob Mueller, who has been appointed the special prosecutor in this case, is somebody who’s respected by everybody in Washington. I think we should let him do his work, let the committees in the House and the Senate do their work. But I don’t think we should blow this off.
“There are people who are saying this is a distraction, it’s not. This was an attack by Russia on our electoral process whether the Trump people were involved or not, and that needs to be responded to, because if we don’t respond to it they’ll do it again and they’ll do it again. They’re already doing it in Europe, and if you speak to any of the European ambassadors to the United States, it raises the hair on the back of your neck, what they’ve said the Russians are doing.”
On the political divide in the United States:
“I live in a state that’s a third Republican, a third Democrat and a third independent, and I believe that if left to our own devices here in Colorado, that in all these counties, whether they’re Republican, Democrat or neither, there’s about a 75 percent consensus around things like infrastructure, higher education, the economy, and if you can get (politicians) into a place where they are considering what we’re doing for the next generation of Americans … if that were our organizing principle in Washington, I think you’d see a lot of this divisiveness just go away … It’s up to all of us, those of us who care about it and believe the republic needs to be sustained for another generation of Americans … to rise above the partisan nonsense of the day and take a longer view. And that’s going to require not just senators, but citizens to take that view.”