Arizona Sen. Martha McSally Talks Water, Gun Violence, China And Trump

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 1:09pm
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 1:17pm

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LAUREN GILGER:We begin this morning with a conversation with Arizona Sen. Martha McSally. She, like the bulk of our elected officials, has spent the last few weeks of congressional recess traveling around the state, talking to constituents about issues ranging from health care to gun control. When she came into our studios [Wednesday], we began our conversation with the issue of water. McSally joined Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to co-sponsor a bill that would set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to support things like water recycling, desalination plants and water storage projects. And she and Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva were key players in getting the Drought Contingency Plan passed earlier this year. But there remains a lot more work to be done on the issue of water in our state. Rep. Grijalva says states need to reduce Colorado River water use and account for climate change. I asked her if she agrees.

Martha McSally
Tim Agne/KJZZ
Martha McSally

MARTHA MCSALLY: Well, let me just say I'm glad to have worked with Congressman Grijalva on the Drought Contingency Plan. This was a unifying issue in a time when I think people feel like everything is divisive in our country. And then on the water infrastructure, there is a couple bills. One that you mentioned is related to like future projects and investing in better conservation and other technologies. But there's also a bill that I led, on and Sen. Sinema joined me, where I went down to Yuma, and I listened to the water experts down there. And they were talking about how the Imperial Dam, for example — a lot of our dams and infrastructure's over 50 years old, and there is just real safety concerns and other concerns about investing in it. And because of some technicalities in the way the funding is structured — in some cases because of how that works — if they were to invest in upgrades to the dam infrastructure-wise to sustain it for longer, some communities would actually have to pass all of that on to their water users in one year and not spread it out over many years like we often can do and other infrastructure projects through bonds or other things. So what we did is introduce legislation that allows that extraordinary maintenance funding to be available up front and then it be spread out over many years, just like any other investment. So these are little wonky issues, people might have fall asleep listening to that, but these are really important you for us, for Arizona. And look, climate is changing, for sure. That's an element of what's going on. But I what I'm trying to do is come up with thoughtful solutions that are executable right now to address our issues here on water and fire, forest management, other elements that actually are not going to harm the people that I represent right now.

GILGER: I also want to talk about the issue of guns in this country. So we're coming off another round of devastating mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso this summer. You said you're open to new legislation that would work to prevent gun violence. What does that look like in your mind?

MCSALLY: Yes, so I think we first have to recognize that this is a whole of society issue. There are some things that the federal government can look at. There are some things the state government can look at but ultimately we, together as a society, also need to be addressing. In these cases, for example, both the shooters in El Paso and Dayton passed background checks. What else can we do? Couple things we're looking at, and my principles are 1) we should all be unifying against hate crimes, domestic terrorism, white nationalism, anti-Semitic violence. That should be a unifying American issue. I discovered in the wake of these tragedies that domestic terrorism is not a federal crime. If you were inspired by ISIS, and you go take action, you will be brought up on terrorism charges. But if you commit a crime like it appears to be in El Paso, that clearly is terrorism motivated, which means to instill fear and and to influence policy against the civilian population. I mean, there's very specific definition of international terrorism. We don't have that as a crime for domestic terrorism. So the FBI Agents Association was asking Congress to address this. So I immediately sprung into action. We put around a discussion draft of legislation. Immediately I heard from the White House. I heard from Democrats, Republicans in the House and the Senate, "Hey, let's see what we can do to move this forward." That's point one. Point two is, I think we can all agree we need to do everything we can to keep weapons out of the hands of those who are violently mentally ill, unstable or gonna commit acts of terrorism. So how do we do that? What is it that needs to be strengthened in our system? And all elements of that. At the federal level, we're having conversations of what we could do to either support states with red flag laws like Gov Ducey's trying to lead an effort there. Where if somebody knows or really feels like their loved one is a threat, and they're trying to get an intervention to get them the help that they need or to make sure that they don't have access to weapons to hurt themselves or others, what is it that can be done to go before a judge in a very emergency way that also protects their due process, so that it's not abused? And us incentivizing that. Is there anything else we can do to strengthen the background checks that we have? I mean, I led in this on the House. You know right now, if you are a felon, if you're a domestic abuser, if you are adjudicated to be mentally ill by a judge, if you're not here [legally], you'll be what's called a prohibited possessor. You go to buy a gun, and you go through a background check — it's going to be denied. But the background check system — the NICS system — oftentimes the fact that you committed a crime is not in the system. Or the fact that you were adjudicated in a deal is not the system. So there is legislation that I let on that mandates that federal agencies put that stuff in the system, and we have to incentivize and encourage state and localities to put that in the system. It's only as good as what's in the system.

GILGER: Right. But so there are loopholes to that though, right? Like what about universal background checks? Because when you're talking about "red flag" laws, are they going to be effective without that? Because somebody could still go to a gun show, for example and buy a gun.

MCSALLY: So, what is not covered right now is private sales and transfers between family members or somebody who is actually not a firearms dealer but they have a hunting rifle and they are wanting to sell it. And so that's the area that is not covered right now. And so, how do we getting onto the third principle, protect people's constitutional rights, who are law abiding citizens? Is there anything else that can be done in that space that also protects a grandfather handing their hunting rifle down to their grandson? Or somebody in unique circumstances, where a federal firearms dealer, they'rea rural area, it's two hours away and their husband's a domestic abuser — or ex-husband or whatever — and they borrow the neighbor's weapon? You don't want them to be a criminal for for doing that. So we're so we're looking at kind of what's left in that space. Because if you sell more than a few weapons you need to register as a federal firearms dealer, and then you have to go through this whole thing. There's a lot of talking points on this and a lot of misinformation. What's left in that space that can address any concerns where people might fall through the cracks but also allows law abiding citizens to be able to have some flexibility with friends and family and people that they know for their own constitutional rights. That's what we're looking at.

GILGER: I will also want to talk about China. President Trump's trade war with China is escalating at this point. Many businesses, many people on both sides of the aisle are not happy about this. How do you think and how are you seeing this affect Arizona businesses, Arizona agriculture?

MCSALLY: Well let me first say I am a free and fair trader. You know, that's my philosophy. Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers are outside America, and there's so many opportunities for our businesses to be able to export. And as much as we can remove trade barriers like tariffs and non-tariff barriers like government subsidies and all those types of things, we need to do that around the world. From a national security point of view — and this is my life's expertise — China is a threat to us. And they are on a path, if you just read their writings of where they want to be in 2025 and 2050, both militarily and economically. They have been cheating economically, stealing our technology either by cyber attacking and stealing or by the way they do economic business. They government subsidize a lot of companies so that they compete around the world better than we do. So I think most people appreciate. Like talk to [Sen.] Chuck Schumer. Chuck Schumer appreciates President Trump taking on China, that for decades they've been allowed to get away with this. We need to take them on. It is an economic threat. It's a national security threat. Now how we do that and how we hopefully get breakthroughs soon — and the impact on that is something that I'm certainly concerned about. I'm concerned about the impact on agriculture community and others that are being impacted by this. They're trying to provide relief for the short term. That's not a long term answer. I hope that there's a breakthrough soon. We want to make sure that we're not hurting our businesses here, hurting opportunities for jobs here. But we've got to take a long game as well. Business as usual is not acceptable. It's going to hurt America in the long run.

GILGER: So what is your message to the president on something like that, where it's sort of creating a rift within the party, it seems? And I wonder also, how difficult is it as a policymaker to sort of decipher the president's messaging on things like this, with his Twitter account and his sometimes contradictory messages on the on these issues and others?

MCSALLY: Yeah. So I talk to the president often, and I share my perspectives on a lot of things you know whether that's in person or on the phone. And I make sure he knows where Arizonans are on issues and where we can agree and work together and where we disagree, I let him know. I speak my mind. I'm a fighter pilot. You know, I I talk very candidly. And so we have conversations on this topic and many others. Look. in the end, he wants a breakthrough. Other administrations, both Republican and Democrat, were not willing to take on China. This administration has taken on China. The economy is doing well right now because of our deregulation and tax policies. We're providing more opportunities for people to grow their businesses. I pray we got a breakthrough soon on this — as I think China is starting to realize — both sides of the aisle believe we need to take on China. So let's use the elements that we have, get a breakthrough soon and provide more opportunities for businesses to grow and us to really compete on the world stage. And so I share my perspectives with him a lot on this and another things. Some people want to do it on cable TV or Twitter themselves. That's just not my style. My style is talk to his face, talk him on the phone and speak truth to power.

GILGER: All right, Sen. Martha McSally. Thank you for coming in.

MCSALLY: Thanks a lot.

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