ESCONDIDO — In the morning, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) learned that his federal criminal trial for alleged acts of public corruption had been rescheduled to begin eight days later in January. And then later that afternoon, Hunter addressed questions from a small group in a conference room at the Escondido Chamber of Commerce.
The roundtable event featured discussion of topics ranging from the state of the California Republican Party and his primary race for the 50th Congressional District seat, the impeachment process and the trade war with China, as well as the local issues he works on as a federal representative and the status of mass transit and transportation in San Diego County.
Hunter faces 60 federal counts of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign finance violations and conspiracy for allegedly using campaign finance money to fund personal vacations. His trial is set to begin on Jan. 22, 2020, at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego.
The intimate setting, with just over half a dozen guests present in the small conference room, facilitated frank dialogue.
Hunter was blunt about the current state of play in the U.S. House of Representatives and Congress at-large, with an impeachment inquiry ongoing regarding President Donald Trump. He said that, since Democratic leadership launched the probe on Sept. 24, things have reached a standstill in the chamber because it’s “all that’s happening” and he’s never “seen it so slow” in the House.
It’s a state of play he anticipates continuing through Election Day 2020 because it’s “tied into presidential politics at the highest level.”
And by his estimation, it will end up hurting the Democrats in their effort to unseat Trump. Hunter said he believes that will be the case because of its central focus: an initial desire by Trump to look into potentially untoward business maneuvers in the Ukraine by the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden.
“I think it helps the president. It helps him fundraise. It helps him because I think people are just tired of it,” he said. “It’s been two years now. In fact, before the president got elected, people were talking about impeachment. It’s not like it’s new.”
Hunter also delved into how his work in the nation’s capital impacts those in his district, stating that it has become much harder in recent years to earmark federal money for in-district projects. He pointed to an earmarks curtailment successfully pushed by President Barack Obama and then-House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) as the reason why.
Instead, to bring federal money home, representatives must lobby federal agencies to facilitate funding for programs which then goes to states. That money then flows to counties and then to cities.
The one issue that sits at the center of Hunter’s efforts to bring federal money back to his district, he said, is “transportation, transportation, transportation.” He added that he was happy with the Sept. 26 vote taken by the San Diego Association of Governments to study the potential to widen State Route 78.
And he does not foresee the county having a mass transit system comparable to other metropolitan areas anytime in the immediate future because “it’s too hard in Southern California to not drive.”
“The way that San Diego works and the way that southern California works, mass transit doesn’t work,” said Hunter. “It’s not like Washington, D.C., where everyone leaves their zones and goes into D.C. to work. It doesn’t work here like that. You can’t mass transit to your brewery down the road or wherever.”
Hunter also said that he supports the steep tariffs placed on China, which he views as a “great” policy. He said that, though Wall Street and other “globalists” and “corporatists” may not like it, he believes it will ultimately help American manufacturing because it changes an economic paradigm incentivizing the offshoring of plants.
The tariffs “might hurt the market short-term, but for the bedrock of the country’s economic output, which is making things here, it helps,” he posited. “You can’t have a country that’s totally a service nation. You can’t have a country that’s only insurance brokers and financial analysts.”
With the primary election forthcoming on March 3 and three other Republican opponents signed up to run against him — two of whom do not live in the 50th Congressional District — Hunter said he intends to run on his congressional record as his path to victory. He pointed to his congressional seat as one of only two currently held by a Republican south of Los Angeles.
“It kind of tells the tale of the Republican Party, at least in Southern California, that two Republicans that don’t live in the district don’t want to run against Democrats,” said Hunter. “They want to run against one of the only guys that won in the bloodbath last year. That shows me that there’s a problem with the party.”
And asked if he was offended that the Republican Party did not ask for the other candidates not to run, he responded sharply.
“If you feel betrayed in politics, find a new job,” Hunter stated. “These guys are politicians. That’s how politicians are and that’s how it works. That’s why people don’t like politicians.”
During the current term, he touted the work he did to push for an end of a bid to create a partnership between the San Diego-based telecommunications company Qualcomm and Broadcom. Hunter wrote a letter to Trump on Feb. 22 arguing that, because Broadcom had several documented business ties with Chinese state-owned companies, sharing sensitive information technology could pose a national security risk. Trump ultimately made headlines by blocking the bid just weeks later.
The Escondido Chamber of Commerce said it hopes to do more events like this one moving forward.
“The Escondido Chamber of Commerce continues to build on our mission to be the conduit between community and business to foster a thriving and healthy environment here in Escondido,” said James Rowten, president and CEO of the Chamber. “Our hosting the roundtable was an offer made by the congressman’s office on short notice and we chose to accept this opportunity and engaged our membership on this. We welcome all candidates to reach out to the chamber with similar opportunities.”
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.