National Spotlight: An interview with Rep. Don Beyer

National Spotlight: Interview with Rep. Don Beyer

conducted by Russell Brooks from the staff of The Blue View

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity)
Congressman Beyer, thank you for sitting down for this interview for the Blue
View. Let’s begin with this question, what motivated you to get into public service?
Beyer – “I think I was born into it. My parents were Roosevelt people. My
grandmother spent 50 years in the Department of Labor. Two grandfathers
worked in the Roosevelt Administration, so I grew up here. I was just always
really interested in what they had done, and the commitment to public service
and to government. My first campaign was John Kennedy’s in 1960. I was in
5th grade and both of Bobby Kennedy’s kids were in the same little Catholic
school that I went to, so we were deeply, deeply involved, as kids, emotionally
involved in that campaign and then Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, that sort
of sealed it, that we had a responsibility to public service.

Blue View: You are in the Congress right now and I’m sorry to say but it seems
like it is pretty dysfunctional. What keeps you going?
Beyer – “It is pretty dysfunctional. The only good news, if you can call it that,
is that Democrats are in the minority in the House, so my primary job is to
keep them from doing bad and stupid things. And Republicans make that
relatively easy because they are so chaotic and disorganized and have trouble
staying on track with anything. We call them the Chaos Caucus. It is still a
friendly place. It gets frustrating because you want to do really good things,
but I have to be realistic enough to know those good things are only going to
happen when we are in the majority again, so I do spend a lot of time trying to
recruit the very best candidates to beat Republicans in November. I chair the
recruitment effort for the House Democrats and so even this afternoon, I have
two half hour Zooms with prospective candidates running against
Republicans we think we have a chance of beating and I spend a lot of time
raising money, not for my race, but to give to those people who have very
expensive races, to either to keep their seats, endangered Democrats, or to flip
a seat that is now held by Republicans.”
Blue View: How difficult is to work with Republicans when to get anything done,
you need to reach across the aisle?
Beyer – “It is not hard to reach across, as I mentioned it is a friendly place,
what’s much harder is to get them to actually do something. I spend a lot of
time trying to get Republicans to co-sponsor my bills, bills that I think they
should be interested in or to just get them to agree to bring it up for a vote,
and that’s pretty tough but you have to keep trying and most of the successes
that I’ve had in the last nine years have been because I’ve have had
Republican co-leads on it that actually got it through the House and got it
through the Senate.
Blue View: What issues are most important to you?
Beyer – “In the last Congress, I chaired the Joint Economic Committee and
that’s where I had a chance to work on overcoming the huge income
inequality and wealth inequality in our country. For example, the average
white family in America has eight times the wealth of an average black family.
I just saw a thing today that showed the average wealth in America is second
highest in the world behind Switzerland but when you look at the median
wealth, it is about one fifth the size, so what it means is that most of the wealth

is concentrated in the very top and that I think is at the heart of the division in
our country. There are so many people who feel left behind. Thirty years of no
growth in wages, the pensions that have gone away, homes are unaffordable,
kids are bearing college debt. For a very, very rich country, wealth is
distributed very unequally. It makes people very unhappy.
Blue View: What issues do you believe are necessary for Democrats to stress to
win back the House?
Beyer – “Number one, despite all the incredible successes that the Biden
Administration has had such as the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure
bill, the Chips and Science bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, we still need to
show the American people that we feel their pain, that an awful lot of people
are still struggling, that it is difficult to buy a house. Inflation has come way
down but prices haven’t come down. They aren’t going up very quickly
anymore. We need to help the American people realize that we are fully
committed to renewing the American Dream, a much fairer economy where
when people can work hard and actually see their lives getting better. That
they can afford a home, afford a car, afford to send their kids to college. That
The second thing is very much like it, which is to be able to connect with rural
voters. Right now, the biggest Democrat versus Republican divide is urban-
suburban Democrat versus the rural, living in the country Republican. That
isn’t the way it has been throughout much of our country’s history. So much
of it is that rural Americans think that Democrats aren’t listening to them and
that we are the coastal elites, who went to fancy universities, have jobs in
offices, and don’t know what it is like to live in a small town, work in a
factory, or farm the land. I know we care very much about them, but we have
to be able to communicate that to them. A lot of that is going to be showing up
in rural Virginia, rural America, hearing their problems and then addressing
them as successfully as we can.”
Blue View: Can you point to a Democrat who is doing a particularly good job of
connecting with rural Americans?
Beyer – “Let me give you three elected officials off the top of my head. Marie
Perez in Washington State has a very rural district. She and her husband run
a little six-bay service garage. She is very good at it. She’s gonna win again.
Jared Golden represents most of Maine, it is a completely rural district and
he’s again done a great job. Even though it is a huge Trump district, they elect

him because he let’s them know that he is one of them. Another is Mary
Sattler Peltola of Alaska. The first Eskimo Inuit to be elected to Congress. A
Democrat but she gets the people of Alaska, where she was born and raised
there. They love her there! Monica Tranel is running in Western Montana.
She barely lost the last time and she’s gonna win this time because she’s a true
Montanan. She’s listening and working hard. Another is Adam Frisch who’s
running in Colorado Three, the district Lauren Boebert represents. It is all of
the western slope of Colorado, very, very rural, ranchers and farmers. He has
spent the last many years of life just traveling, talking to every person and
organization in rural Colorado that he could, the ranchers’ associations, the
farmers’ associations, the hunting lodges, the Chambers of Commerce, and
you see that he gets them, he hears them, and he is of them. He lost the last
election by 586 votes. I think he is going to win this time.”
Blue View: We saw Democrats win a number of races in the aftermath of the
Dobbs decision, do you think it will continue to resonate in the upcoming
Beyer – “Oh, very much so. The IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) decision by the
Alabama Supreme Court will only make that more relevant. You have people
like Speaker Johnson that would ban contraception in America, now we have
a State Supreme Court that says a multi-cell organism that you need to see
with a microscope constitutes a human being. And to destroy that embryo is
murder. These are really extreme religious positions that have no place in U.S.
law. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, it is really the first time in American
history that we’ve taken away a right that people had for more than fifty
years, and it doesn’t work well, especially for the Republican Party that likes
to say it is all about freedom. And, in fact, they are anything but, they are
constantly seeking to restrict people’s choices, their gender choices, their
sexual orientation, what they can do with their own bodies, how they worship,
it is very hypocritical and I think abortion is going to be a major factor in a lot
of states.
Blue View: How important to you are foreign policy issues and how important will
they be in the upcoming elections?
Beyer – “Typically Americans don’t make their Election Day decisions based
on foreign policy. Usually, they are much more interested in “kitchen table”
issues. So, I don’t know that Ukraine or Israel and Gaza will play that big a

role, or China, but I think it is extraordinarily important, especially for those
of us who want to be in positions of leadership that to abandon Ukraine would
be a decision that would be seen as a tragedy for hundreds of years to come
and open the door to lots of other nations falling to dictators. It is just
unthinkable and yet it may happen because of the bad and short-sighted
leaders who are out there right now in the Republican Party. On Israel and
Gaza, we need the fighting to end. We’ve had 30,000 Palestinians, at least
10,000 of them children, killed. Ten times the trauma that we had on 9-11,
where we lost 3,000 people, in one of the darkest days in American history. We
know that Israel has to prevent Hamas from every doing another October 7 th
again, but we are pushing hard for a much more surgical, tactical approach
rather than the cluster-bombing of apartment buildings.”
Blue View: The war in Gaza seems to be captivating a lot of young people and
they are seemingly very critical of President Biden and the approach that he has
taken. Is that what you are seeing on the campaign trail?
Beyer – “I’m seeing it too. It makes me sad because it displays an absence of
[awareness of] history. I’ve been to Israel and Palestine a number of times and
spent a lot of time, talking to people on both sides. You can’t just say one side
is right and one side is wrong. You can’t place the blame on President Biden.
Joe Biden has no control over Netanyahu. We are doing the best we can, to try
to coax, to persuade a foreign government, the government of Israel to do
things as we would. Remember, this is a war that Israel did not start. As
Sherman said, war is hell! This is why we are trying so hard to get a
resolution, to get the hostages out, to get a cessation of hostilities. I don’t know
what the young people who want instantaneous peace think can be done. You
can declare a cease-fire but Hamas is not going to go along with it. Hamas has
said they will continue attacking as long as they are alive. It is disappointing
that there is not a lot more understanding of history.
Blue View: Returning to domestic politics, how confident are you that Democrats
will win back the House?
Beyer – “I am pretty confident about winning back the House. I am in charge
of recruitment, and I feel really good about the candidates that we have. There
are thirty-six races that we have targeted, now held by Republicans, that we
have a chance of winning and we only need four or five to capture the
majority. We will have to defend about twenty-nine seats and it is unlikely

that we will win every one of them but every one of our incumbent candidates
has already won two or three times and they are really good people. I feel
great. In the Senate it is gonna be harder, we will almost certainly lose West
Virginia but again John Tester of Montana has a seven point lead and people
like Bob Casey and Sherrod Brown are really good political leaders. I think it
is quite plausible to come back with a 225 to 210 House and a 50-50 Senate
with Kamala Harris being the tie-breaker and then we will get a lot more done
over the next four years.”
Blue View: So how are things looking for President Biden in Virginia?
Beyer – “I think he looks good in Virginia, for two reasons. One, Virginia is
thriving in the Biden years and two, Virginians do not like Donald Trump.
They never have! In Virginia, we think we’re special because we have
integrity, we have discipline, we show respect to different people, that’s the
Virginia way. Donald Trump is the opposite of the Virginia way. He’s crude,
evil, he is only about himself, there is not a bit of public service in him. He’s
the opposite of what we value in Virginia.
Blue View: Even with a Republican governor, you wouldn’t consider Virginia to be
a battleground state?
Beyer – “No, I do not. Youngkin’s win was a fluke. We won ten straight state-
wide elections before that. And Youngkin, at two years and two months in,
doesn’t have many accomplishments other than taking books out of schools
and libraries or establishing snitch lines on teachers. Now he’s marching with
the anti-choice people. I don’t think Virginians have any appetite for Donald
Trump and Youngkin can’t run again and I don’t think he would win if he
Blue View: So you expect President Biden to recreate the coalition that carried him
to victory in 2020.
Beyer – “Yes, the coalition always changes … you may gain some on one end
and lose some on the other but remember there wasn’t the Dobbs decision in

  1. That is a whole new basis of political energy that wasn’t there before.
    Donald Trump is far more erratic, crazier now than he was four years ago,
    inviting Russia to invade NATO countries, refusing to honor our Article Five
    (of the NATO Charter) responsibilities, saying nutty things like that.

Blue View: Turning to young people, who are unsure of how they will vote in
November, what would you say to them?
Beyer – “Our campaign is going to largely focus on the eighteen to twenty-nine
year olds. We need many more of them to come out and vote. I am not worried
about them voting for Donald Trump, he is the opposite of their values. The
worry is that they won’t vote at all. If you don’t vote, you don’t get to make a
difference, you are sitting it out, letting others make the decisions. Our
message to young people will be, if you care about climate change and the
environment, well then you have to vote for Joe Biden and Democrats. If you
think you want to buy a house someday, then you should vote for us. If you
care about getting your student debt wiped away or reducing college tuition
costs, then you should vote for us. If you care about changing the economy
from one in which the rich keep getting richer and everyone else is left behind,
which is what the Republicans are all about, tax breaks for the rich and
keeping the little guy down, so if you are interested in something different, you
should come with us.
The younger generation is also the most color-blind in our history, much more
tolerant of personal preferences, gender identity or religious beliefs. They are
much more tolerant than ever before so why would they vote for a party that
is more intolerant in every respect.”
Blue View: This has been a great conversation. Thank you very much for your time