Editorials

Rep. Josh Harder on guns, racism and impeachment. And what he really thinks of Trump

Congressman Josh Harder discusses gun control

Congressman Josh Harder, D-Turlock, discusses gun control with The Bee's Editorial Board on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, following a weekend in which two mass shootings left more than 20 people dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
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Congressman Josh Harder, D-Turlock, discusses gun control with The Bee's Editorial Board on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, following a weekend in which two mass shootings left more than 20 people dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

As usual, U.S. Rep. Josh Harder on Monday was happy to talk until the cows come home about noncontroversial policy issues he’s focused on, like water and jobs.

But put on the spot about stickier questions now gripping the nation — gun control, racist rhetoric, potential impeachment — it was good to see Harder, still a new congressman, come forth with measured but firm words.

Spoiler alert: Harder supports a federal ban on assault weapons, and thinks President Trump has exhibited “bigotry and hatred” but should not be impeached. More on that in a bit.

Harder, a Turlock Democrat, on Monday was eager to discuss with Modesto Bee editors a 12-page summation of his first seven months in Washington, D.C. He claims that he has so-sponsored more times than anyone in Congress for legislation authored by the opposing party. He is justifiably proud of having personally hosted 12 town hall meetings, plus two by telephone. He says he’s helped secure more money for water projects in these seven months than his predecessor, Jeff Denham, had during his eight years in Congress.

And Harder continues to claim that he’s not getting sucked into political drama driving a “daily Washington food fight. Turn on any news show and you’ll see (politicians) screaming at each other,” he said. When he meets with people he represents, they want to talk about things immediately affecting their lives, like immigration, health care and a new threat to subsidized school lunches, Harder insists.

All well and good.

Opinion

But hours after a bloody weekend of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, with wall-to-wall news coverage of both tragedies, did Harder have anything to say about gun control? He is not, after all, representing us at the Capitol in California, which has relatively strict gun control; Harder is our representative in the federal government, which does not.

“It’s horrific,” Harder said of the shootings, “and I’m very concerned about it.” If all states had the same measures as California, the July 28 shooting in not-so-distant Gilroy that left four dead, including the gunman — who bought an assault rifle legally in Nevada, then transported it illegally into California — may have had a different ending, he said.

Harder voted for a bill requiring universal background checks for gun purchases, which passed the House but has stalled in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should bring it to a vote, Harder said; “We need,” he said, “to make sure the political consequences of the Senate for their inaction are felt.”

What about the current GOP emphasis on questions of shooters’ mental health?

“Every country in the world has mental problems,” and we certainly should address ours, Harder said. “But not all countries have these mass shootings.

“Violence to achieve a political aim,” he continued, “is terrorism, and we’ve been far too slow to condemn that. We do have an epidemic of white supremacy.”

Harder stopped short of calling Trump racist. But some of the president’s tweets represent “bigotry and hatred and put fuel on the fire,” he said. “These words speak for themselves; you can’t call it anything else.

“When the president is calling on members of Congress to go back based on the color of their skin, that very clearly is bigotry and hatred.”

A recent tally of House members showed that more than half now favor impeaching the president. Should that happen?

“No,” said Harder, whose 10th Congressional District is about even split between Democratic and Republican voters. He prefers waiting to see what ongoing investigations come up with before taking such a step, he said, while he focuses on educational and agricultural issues affecting the committees he sits on.

It’s understandable that Harder prefers not “getting lost in the noise,” as he puts it, of never-ending Washington drama. But we also expect our federal representative to speak up on federal issues that people across the United States are talking about, regardless of whether people agree with him.

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