2022 election: Q&A with Sara Jacobs, 51st Congressional District candidate

2022 election: Q&A with Sara Jacobs, 51st Congressional District candidate

Apr 27th, 2022San Diego Union-Tribune

There are three candidates on the June 7 ballot in the campaign for the 51st Congressional District that represents parts of San Diego and East County. Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs is being challenged by small business owner Stan Caplan, a Republican, and customer service representative Jose Cortes, a Peace and Freedom Party candidate. The top two vote-getters will advance to a Nov. 8 runoff.

Q: What more can Congress do to combat climate change?

A: As one of the youngest members of Congress and the youngest member from California, I am proud to represent a generation that is taking on climate change with the urgency it deserves.

My generation knows we can’t take small steps to solve big problems — we have to think differently and reimagine a better future. And San Diegans are all too familiar with how devastating unchecked climate change is for our community.

That’s why I supported the energy investments in the House-passed version of Build Back Better, and why I co-sponsored many pieces of environmental and environmental justice legislation in my first year in office.

We must transition to an entirely clean energy economy, starting with the most polluting sources of energy first. We need to make dramatic investments in clean energy — and in doing so, make sure clean energy jobs are good-paying union jobs. We need to repair and upgrade our existing energy infrastructure to reduce pollution, save families money and remain competitive in a 21st-century global economy.

We also need to do this work through the lens of environmental justice. Low-income communities and communities of color are the most vulnerable to natural disasters and emergencies, exposure to pollutants and depletion of natural resources. It is crucial that our advancements in environmental infrastructure continue to exist at the intersection of economic and environmental justice.

Q: How do you assess the Biden administration’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine? What would you have done differently?

A: President Joe Biden has been masterful in his handling of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin thought the West would be divided, but because of the Biden administration’s focus on coalition building, and early public sharing of intelligence on Russian plans, the transatlantic alliance has remained incredibly strong. Our partners and allies in Europe and around the world are united in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination through our coordination of both sanctions and appropriate arms transfers, and the decision not to put troops on the ground or create a no-fly zone.

Representing a military community that knows the consequences of war better than most, I’m especially grateful that President Biden has been mindful of escalation and remained committed to not sending American troops to Ukraine. I also think President Biden should be commended for not getting distracted by shiny objects, and staying focused on getting Ukraine the weapons it needs to best protect itself and its civilians. As the conflict continues, we must continue supporting Ukraine, while always looking for ways to end the conflict.

I appreciate the Biden administration’s commitment of humanitarian assistance and pledge to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the violence, but the scenes we’re seeing play out in Ukraine are sadly not unique. Places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia continue to experience the same destruction and chaos that comes with war. It’s time we lift the refugee cap and not only welcome Ukrainians but all those fleeing from violence.

Q: U.S. immigration policy is complex. What two areas would you focus on to make changes to it?

A: Congress is long overdue for a complete overhaul of our immigration system. I support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living in the United States, including Dreamers. And while a comprehensive approach to immigration reform has hit roadblocks in Congress, there are still actions we can take to make progress in repairing our broken immigration system. First, we need an immediate increase in the number of federal immigration judges. Right now, we have a large backlog of immigration cases. Increasing the number of judges within the Executive Office of Immigration Review is imperative to cutting down the backlog and getting asylum seekers a permanent legal status so that they can start their lives in this country. This is something that the Biden administration is working on, and I believe it would alleviate much of the pressure stalling our immigration system.

Second, and along the same lines, we should provide legal counsel to those facing immigration proceedings. I am proud that San Diego County is working on a program that would provide legal representation to those facing removal and deportation. By providing people with legal representation, we also set up a more fair and efficient legal process. Congress should look to this program as a pilot for expanding legal representation at the national level, and at the bare minimum, should ensure that no minor is without legal representation in immigration proceedings.

Q: How should the United States handle the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers from Ukraine, Afghanistan, Central, and South America, and elsewhere?

A: We need to make sure that the United States upholds its legal obligations and affords all asylum seekers the right to request asylum at our ports of entry — which is why ending Title 42 and lifting the cap on the number of refugees are important steps.

However, President Donald Trump decimated our refugee system, severely underfunding it and therefore gutting many of the resettlement agencies. We need to fully fund these agencies so they can better assist refugees integrating into our society, and we also need to increase the number of agencies in highly impacted areas such as San Diego.

San Diego is a testament to the fact that refugee and asylee communities contribute greatly to our economy and the fabric of our society. While San Diego is a high-cost region, we also need to recognize that many refugees have networks and communities in cities like San Diego. So we can’t only resettle folks in lesser populated, lower-cost areas. We have to also ensure that places like San Diego, where there are already thriving refugee communities, have the resources they need to be able to resettle people.

Lastly, we need to address the international system for asylum seeking and refugee processing, including by providing more resources and support to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, increasing in-country processing so people don’t have to arrive at the border to claim asylum, strengthening support and protections for organizations and people along the border, and increasing funding allocations for programs like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program.

Q: How would you try to improve border wait times for personal and commercial crossers at the U.S.-Mexico border?

A: Border wait times are something that I hear about frequently from my constituents, and I understand how frustrating those long wait times can be, especially for those commuting across the border for work.

That’s why I have been a strong advocate for infrastructure projects like the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry that demonstrate how investments in infrastructure can make real, tangible improvements in people’s daily lives. I was proud to be part of a binational roundtable of dignitaries working on solutions to wait times at the border. Implementation of smart technology, like a data-driven release valve and electronic toll rates, will mitigate traffic backup while connected-vehicle technology offers more efficiency to commercial crossers. When pairing these tools with an increase of enrollment with the Trusted Traveler Program to streamline Customs and Border Protection screening, we can significantly reduce the wait times — and improve air quality — at our border.

Q: What specific steps does the nation need to take immediately and over time to ensure it’s better prepared to handle the next pandemic?

A: Our best defense against future COVID-19 outbreaks is to support global vaccination efforts, and one of the smartest investments in our own public health is to make a more robust commitment to global public health. As we saw, a small viral outbreak thousands of miles away can end up shutting down entire cities within a few weeks and killing more than 5,000 people in San Diego County.

Domestically, in order to better prepare for the next pandemic, we need to focus on bringing back manufacturing of critical diagnostic and therapeutic supplies so that testing capacity is not constrained by a shortage of chemical reagents as happened in the summer of 2020. Some of this reshoring can happen through tax incentives and federal investment, but some require larger changes in government procurement. We need to guarantee purchase of critical industries if we have any hope of spurring the investment necessary, including increased use of the Defense Production Act.

Finally, we need to increase our ability to fight viruses once they emerge; the best way to do that is to make sure the U.S. continues to have the most cutting-edge biomedical research industry in the world. That’s why we need to pass legislation like the CURES 2.0 Act, which would radically change and speed up the way the U.S. conducts medical research. Medical technology is helping lead us out of COVID-19, and we need to ensure that infrastructure is prepared for the future.

Q: What role, if any, should the government play in helping American workers obtain health insurance? If you support a government-related insurance plan, how would you finance it?

A: Health care is a human right, and we need to be doing everything we can to get universal coverage. I’ve lived and worked in countries around the world and have seen firsthand how universal coverage is an achievable goal, especially for the wealthiest country in the world. Many examples around the world show that a strong public role in health care can provide affordable, universal coverage. I support Medicare for All and am an original co-sponsor of the Medicare for All Act in the House.

So much of the conversation around how to pay for universal, single-payer health care neglects to address how expensive and unsustainable our current system is. Families are already paying thousands of dollars for co-payments, deductibles and exorbitantly expensive emergency services all because they couldn’t afford preventative care in the first place. The real question we have to consider is how much Medicare for All costs versus what our current system costs us now. Fortunately, research shows that transitioning the U.S. to a single-payer health care system would save taxpayers $450 billion each year, with the average American family saving about $2,400 annually, with long-term savings of 13 percent in national health care costs, and the prevention of about 68,000 unnecessary deaths each year.

We also need to finally let Medicare negotiate drug prices, so that no family is crippled by soaring prescription drug prices, which, according to the Congressional Budget Office, could save taxpayers nearly $500 billion.

Q: How would you use your federal position to advance local issues, such as housing, homelessness and veterans affairs?

A: I have a track record of fighting for San Diego kids and families in Congress. In FY 2022, I secured $3 million across four projects — for the Linda Vista Branch Library, the City Heights/Weingart Library, the Balboa Park Starlight Bowl and the San Diego County Child Care Expansion Fund. In last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, I was also proud to work with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, to create a Basic Needs Allowance to support low-income service members who are currently not eligible for food assistance benefits.

I’ve also introduced legislation to address local priorities. As a third-generation San Diegan, I know how important these issues are for our community, which is why I’ve introduced two bills with Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina, to specifically address the overlap of housing, homelessness and veterans issues. The Ending Veteran Homelessness Act would study the effectiveness of the Shallow Subsidy rental assistance program for veterans and provide Congress with the data necessary to permanently expand the program. And the HUD-VASH Improvement Act would encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs to look for contractors who have experience providing case management services to veterans in administering the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program.

I also worked with Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, to get funding for housing into the House-passed version of the Build Back Better Act, and will continue fighting to get federal funding to help address the housing crisis we face in San Diego, including by funding and improving the Section 8 housing voucher program.

Q: How would you address economic pressures facing Americans with high inflation, gas prices, and other costs and how would you address the massive national debt clouding America’s future? A: Rising costs have made our already high-cost region feel unlivable, and I’m working with the Biden administration and my colleagues to address it.

The effects of COVID-19, together with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the steps we’ve taken to hold Putin accountable, have led to increased energy, food and consumer goods prices. I support President Biden’s decisions to open our strategic reserves and allow greater ethanol use to bring down gas prices — and I’ve championed legislation, like the America COMPETES Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, to address decades of infrastructure disinvestment that left our supply chains vulnerable. This crisis also highlights that ending our dependence on fossil fuels is a national security imperative.

We also must recognize that for many families here, the rise in economic pressure is driven by the cost of health care, child care and housing. That’s why I’ve led the effort in Congress to limit the cost of child care to 7 percent of a family’s income — helping families directly and bringing down inflation by allowing parents to go back to work and increasing the labor supply. When it comes to the deficit, we also can’t look at every dollar as equal. Investing in early childhood education and fighting childhood poverty have significant returns on investment; every dollar we spend now saves us $7 in future poverty alleviation measures. I have also worked to rebalance our defense budget, so that we prioritize investments in our service members and their families over costly, outdated and inefficient weapons.

Q: How worried are you about how polarized the U.S. has become? Do you think our democracy is at risk?

A: I never could have imagined that my first year in Congress would start the way it did. It was my fourth day in office when insurrectionists stormed the United States Capitol and my colleagues and I watched, hiding under our chairs, wearing gas masks as guns were drawn to defend a barricaded door to the House Chamber.

Having worked in conflict abroad, I know that incidences of political violence like Jan. 6, 2021, are often the first in several attempts to delegitimize our institutions, and it’s usually the second or the third attempts that are most successful — and those are usually quieter movements through the very institutions that are meant to protect our country and democracy. So I’m very concerned at what we’re seeing at the state and local level, with voting rights and with attempts to put in place people to oversee elections who don’t support our democracy. We need greater accountability for those who planned the attack on Jan. 6, and to continue to hold members of Congress accountable for inciting violence. We also need to address the underlying societal fault lines, like racial inequality and the enabling environment that allowed someone like Donald Trump to mobilize this attack.

But having worked in places far more torn apart than the United States is now, I also know that it is possible for a society to rebuild and come back together. And I’m confident that working together, we’ll be able to do that here.

Q: When have you shown independence from your political party on a significant issue?

A: Over the last 15 months, I have been a forceful critic of the White House regarding refugee policy, urging the administration to welcome significantly more refugees than President Biden initially planned. Even prior to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States set admission levels far too low. I’ve spoken out on this issue in formal correspondence to the White House, on social media, in hearings and in interviews. Last April, when the White House announced it was maintaining Trump-era caps on how many refugees we could accept, I spoke out strongly, which led to a reversal from the administration. Now we need to go further.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have also pushed for additional oversight over the military’s handling of civilian casualties. I am deeply concerned that we don’t have the proper processes in place to appropriately mitigate the risk to civilians, and that there isn’t enough transparency and accountability when fatal mistakes are made. This April, I pressed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on this matter publicly in committee, and have demanded answers from the Pentagon on what led to tragic events like the strike in Kabul last August that killed 10 civilians, including seven children. I’ve also led efforts for Congress to have additional oversight and human rights vetting of our security assistance and special operations programs like 127e, and to question whether our long-standing approach to counterterrorism operations has actually made us safer.

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