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Interview with Rep. William Timmons

Updated: Aug 24, 2019

(Feb, 26th) Luke Quillen - Spartanburg’s freshman U.S. Rep. William Timmons announced through twitter that he was going to be making a few stops around the district last month, one of which would be at USC Upstate. After seeing this, I reached out to his office to see if he’d be willing to sit down with “The Carolinian” for a few questions while he was on campus - eventually it was determined that his schedule was too full for a sit down on campus so we settled on a phone interview for the following day, which is transcribed in ful below.

Note: {i.e.} annotates points of clarification done post interview. 

Rep. Timmons: I’ve got 19 or 20 meetings today, so sorry, I can’t talk long and I’m late so..

Luke Quillen: No you’re fine

Rep. Timmons: So what can I do for ya?

LQ: We just have a couple of questions and we’ll just go ahead and dive right in - this is Stephanie, she’s our head editor, she’s going to take over on the first question. 

Rep. Timons: Lead the way

Stephanie Sawaked: Hello how are you doing today?

RT: I’m doin’ great.

SS: Awesome, so since taking office in January, this has been your first time serving in the minority of any elected body. What are some key differences you’ve noticed thus far between serving in the majority of the SC Senate and the minority of the US House?

Rep. Timmons: So interestingly, I would actually argue that my time in the state Senate prepared me for this, because I would say we [Republicans] have an illusory majority in the state Senate. If you look at a lot of the votes, there were 6 chairmen of the 6 most powerful committees and they voted in lockstep with the Democrats on all major issues. So, I’ve kind of learned to operate effectively in the minority in my view. That said, the things I focus on are relationship building, I gotta be friends with everybody, I gotta build trust and friendships where I can find things that I agree with people across the aisle on so I can, you know, move the ball forward wherever I can.

LQ:  Are there any key friendships you think that you’ve made thus far, like with people across the aisle? 

Rep. Timmons: So in Columbia, Mike Fanning was one of my good friends, Gerald Malloy was one of my good friends, but up here, really the person I’ve gotten the closest to is Dean Phillips out of Minnesota. He is really just a fantastic member, we agree on a good bit, and what we disagree on we understand that our motives are pure and we disagree on policy and I allow him to make his pitch for his policy perspective and why he thinks that prescription is the best path forward and he allows me to do the same. 

LQ: That’s awesome, okay I’m going to throw it over to Melissa for our second question, she’s our managing editor.

Melissa Breazeale: According to Forbes, the average American student will come out of college with around $37,000 in student-loan debt; a lot of our readers, whether they be current students or alumni, are dealing with this issue. What are you doing to help Upstate area students with the student loan crisis

Rep. Timmons: There’s a lot of variables to that. #1 is the cost of tuition has been rising, #2 is interest rates, #3 is this push for people’s kind of..I don’t know how it happened, but everybody needed to get a 4 year degree - and I have 2 friends who I like to use as foils of each other. One has $400,000 worth of debt and has a dental degree and is making good money but it’s going to take a very long time to pay that off, and then the other one went to trade school and owns a plumbing business and makes double what the dentist makes and has never had student loan debt. So bringing thoughts like that to the forefront, to where a 4 year degree in philosophy bringing $108,000 in debt on the back of it, what exactly is the objective?  What are you going to be doing long term? How are you going to raise a family? What are your life goals? These are conversations that I think students leaving high school need to really think about - not just ..”oh I don’t really know what I’m going to do yet so I’m going to go and get a four year degree and figure it out”. And again, everybody’s different but I definitely think that people who rack up student loan debt because they’re not sure what they want to do when they grow up is something that needs to be brought to the forefront to make sure that people are making well informed decisions.

LQ: I don’t know if you had a chance to look at Sen. Alexander’s (R) plan out of Tennessee, to address student loan debt? It includes what some people have called “wage garnishment” or automatic wage deductions for people who owe money [on their student loans] - would you support something like that?

Rep. Timmons: I’d need to read the legislation first, but, you know, generally speaking I’d prefer that the government have less of a role than more of a role and I would argue that that’s more of a role. But the other thing is the government has gotten in the business of this, so really that’s the biggest challenge. If the government is going to make sure that anyone who wants to borrow money can borrow money, that creates a challenge to market forces in that everyone’s interest rates are going to be higher because they’re sharing the risk of those loans. 

LQ: I’m going to move on to our third question, and this one {laughs} is actually about a specific piece of legislation as too and I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read it so..if not, I guess we can cross that bridge when we get to it. But, according to Pew, public trust in government is at historic lows, and many theorize this has to do with what is seen as systematic corruption within, and around, government (campaign finance, partisan gerrymandering, lobbying, etc). Ethics reform was a key platform point in your 2016 campaign for State Senate - keeping that in mind, can you say at this point how you plan to vote on HR 1 once it comes out of committee and to a full house floor vote?

{HR 1 is a sweeping piece of legislation that, according to the Washington Post “..confronts core problems our democracy faces by banning gerrymandering and calling for the use of paper ballots in federal elections to protect against hacked voting machines”, amongst other anti-corruption measures. Since the time of this interview the bill has been passed through the US House, Rep. Timmons did not vote for it.}

Rep. Timmons: Sure, so pretty much all the votes we’ve taken thus far, all the major votes that have been reported on, are not real policy uh policy based votes - they’re political votes. So, we’ve got HR 8 coming up, and HR 8 is a great example. There’s some good things in it, but it’s genuinely not a good faith effort to fix the problem, which is gun violence and to make us safer. There are things in it that are just absolutely ridiculous,  such as..I could not give my mother, I could not sell my mother, a gun without getting a background check performed on her. I couldn’t give a gun to my neighbor, or [inaudible], it would be a felony to me to do that. So, you know, I want to make our society safer, just like I want to make politics and the political system more ethical, so with HR 1, just as with HR 8, there’s just a bunch of ridiculous things in it. Public funding of elections, where Beto would’ve gotten 80 or 100 million dollars for his US Senate campaign. 

LQ: Well it’s 6 to 1 so I guess it would’ve been about 15 million

Rep. Timmons: How much did he raise overall?

LQ: He raised 80 [million], so he would’ve gotten 1/6th of 15..I think..if my math is correct {laughs}.

RT: No! So it’s the opposite of that, so the way that the bill is written is that if I raise $1, I get $6.

LQ: Okay, well..

RT: Yeah, because the goal is for it to equalize high dollar contributions to low dollar, so it’s the opposite of what you just said - that’s my understanding, you can by all means follow up if that’s not true.

[As it turns out, we were both pretty far off, the following is from the Washington Post’s description of the bill’s details on public campaign financing, “The House bill would provide a 6-to-1 match for donations - [but only for donations] of $200 or less, [and] with significant caveats that are missing in the GOP talking points. For instance, candidates must meet a certain threshold: They must raise at least $50,000 in small dollar contributions from at least 1,000 individuals during the qualifying period. Moreover, while individuals can currently contribute as much as $2,700 a cycle to congressional candidates, participants must agree to accept no contributions larger than $1,000.” Since such a bill would drastically change campaign fundraising strategy, it’s difficult to determine the amount of public money a past particular candidate would’ve gotten based on past fundraising performance, but Beto’s amount would’ve certainly been closer to $15 million than $240 million, since a very small percentage of his donors gave less than $200, and considering that any contribution over $1,000 (and there were many) would have to be cut down to $1,000 for him to qualify for the public financing.]

LQ: Okay

Rep. Timmons: But that’s just one of the examples, there’s a few others. The Republicans jokingly called it the “Democrat…” oh I can’t remember the name of it..but again..I’m sure I can find something in HR 1 that I like, but for that 1 thing I could find many that I would never support. So, and by the way, if they were serious about any of these issues they would peel things out and they would actually have a vote on individual items, because if they wanted to increase the number of days you have to wait for background checks from 3 to 5 or 3 to 7, you know that would be something that would be tough to argue against if they have the data to prove that that was going to make us safer, but that’s not what they did.

{It should be mentioned in regards to data on gun violence,  “In 1996, the Republican-majority Congress threatened to strip funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unless it stopped funding research into firearm injuries and deaths. The National Rifle Association accused the CDC of promoting gun control. As a result, the CDC stopped funding gun-control research — which had a chilling effect far beyond the agency, drying up money for almost all public health studies of the issue nationwide” (Washington Post, 2017).}

LQ: Sure, and..

Rep. Timmons: Instead they went from 3 to 10 and said that if anyone sells a gun to somebody, and if that gun is used in a horrific criminal act, the person who sold it is civilly liable, which is a non-starter.

{We found no evidence of this in HR 8. Neither the word “civil” or the word “liable” is in the text of the bill, and we found no analysis that mentioned changes to civil liability law.}

LQ: In HR 1, if they introduced the stricter lobbying oversight mechanisms independently, does that sound like something you might support? I know it’s kind of reminiscent of some of the bills you filed in 2017 in the South Carolina Senate.

Rep. Timmons: I’d have to look at it before I gave you an absolute answer, but there’s a lot of things that I could support as it relates to ethics reform. And, you know, there are a lot of things that are impossible to argue against. But I would love to get an up and down on those but all they’re doing is they’re packaging a whole bunch of stuff in that has no chance of becoming law and using it to run for reelection.

LQ: Ok I’ll move on, following the government shutdown, it was reported by the Post and Courier that you agreed with President Trump in his efforts to receive more funds to allocate to a wall through an emergency declaration than that which Congress will authorize. What is your thought process here?

Rep. Timmons: So there is a crisis at the southern border, anybody who says that there’s not is really just...I don’t want to use the word “fake news” but..I would love to hear their experts. We’ve had homeland security, we’ve had border patrol agents come up here, my colleagues have been to the border. We have 12 million people in this country illegally, so we have to do something to secure our southern border and we have to do something to address the catastrophe that is our illegal immigration system so yes I do support securing our southern border and I hope that we can do that and fix our immigration system once and for all. 

{Since the time of this interview, multiple GOP Senators and Representatives have denounced the president’s declaration of emergency, and a vote formally rejecting the claim and its authority is expected to pass the House and Senate with significant GOP support.}

Rep. Timmons: We got 1 more minute! 

LQ: Okay!

Rep. Timmons: Lead the way

LQ: Okay, I’ll just do a quick follow up and then one more quick question. 

LQ: So according to the [confidential] GOP judiciary committee note sheet [talking pints], since the emergency declaration law from 1976 does not strictly define what a national emergency is, it then leaves the definition up to the president, as long as what it is used for is “integral to our national defense”. [Under this logic] could the argument not then be made that a national emergency could then be called for any reason the president deems “integral to our national defense”? Like..anything?

Rep. Timmons: So, I can make arguments on all sides of the national emergency, but what I can’t do is make an argument over President Obama’s ability to create DACA through the executive function. He, the constitutional law professor, time and again said he did not have the authority to do it, and then he did it. And then the same people who are going to ask me to vote to strip the president of his potentially lawful authority didn’t care and they cheered that action.

{DACA is a program through which immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally as children under the age of 16 before 2007, and who met other strict eligibility requirements, would not be actively prosecuted by the federal government for illegal entry into the country and would be permitted to obtain legal documents and essentially live as legal residents. The program’s later expansion was then blocked by an injunction that was held by a divided supreme court in 2015. Then in 2017 president Trump attempted to rescind DACA, but that action was blocked by the court system, and his administration has been ordered by the courts to continue receiving and processing DACA requests. Litigation over DACA is ongoing}.

Rep. Timmons:  So, again, this is just politics, not policy. The Supreme Court will do its job.If the president has the authority to declare a national emergency, the supreme court will find that, if he does not, the Supreme Court will find that. But again, it’s just politics, it’s not policy. And, you know, going from $5 billion to $1.3 [billion] you would think that they got there through some “these miles of border security are not necessary”, but that’s not what happened. The Speaker said you’re not getting 1 dollar more than you did last year, and that’s she..she helped it, so.

{CNN described the bipartisan border deal that ended the government shutdown in February that Rep. Timmons is referring to as,“..$1.375 billion for barrier funding that will cover roughly 55 miles of new barrier -- including parts of the Rio Grande Valley, which had been a priority for the White House. The 55 miles is double the amount allocated in the last spending agreement..}

LQ: {laughs} Okay, we’ll throw it over to Stephanie for one last quick question and we appreciate it.

SS: Alright, well one of USC Upstate’s biggest points of pride is in our diversity. We are a regional public institution made up of mostly working class students, including many minority and immigrant students. On your campaign website you state, “We must fix our broken immigration system once and for all. I support President Trump’s plan to build a wall, secure our borders, and stop sanctuary cities. I also believe we must end chain migration and go back to immigration based primarily on merit”. 

Your family is steeped in South Carolina history, but, like many early American immigrants, the Timmons family first immigrated from France as people fleeing religious persecution. Under your current philosophy on immigration, would the Timmons family be barred from entering the United States, either as refugees or immigrants? 

Rep. Timmons: So, my family came over here under the law of the land at the time, so I support following the law. I couldn’t be more pro legal immigrant, I want people to come here legally. But people who cross our border illegally with the intent to defy the laws of this country I cannot and do not support and I think that there’s a very big difference between people who came to Ellis Island to seek a better life, using the laws in existence at the time, and people who intentionally go around our ports of entry and violate our laws. And they they should be treated very differently and it’s just not productive to look at them in the same light, so..

{There were no immigration laws when the Timmons family arrived in the colonies in 1700’s as religious refugees}. 

SS: Alright, thank you for answering that. We appreciate you for answering all of our questions today thank you for your time.

LQ: Yeah thank you for making the time, we know you have a busy schedule.

Rep. Timmons: I was just there a couple of days ago, I wish I could have seen y’all, we could have done this in person!

LQ: I know, well we’d love love to do that next time, just reach out next time you’re in the district.

Rep. Timmons: Hey, thanks guys, have a great day.

All: Thank you!

This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

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