By TOM HARALDSEN
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart is frustrated. Like many Americans, he views the gridlock in Congress on a daily basis, but perhaps “more intently than most people, because I live in it every day.”
During the recent Congressional break, Stewart visited with the Iron County Today editorial board. His message was cautionary about the state of Congress, the ongoing war of words between leaders of the United States and North Korea, and the need for revamping both health care and income tax codes.
But he is also optimistic in all areas.
“I think the top three concerns I have are making sure we continue to protect our national security, and that we work on health care reform and tax reform,” he said. “We promised the American people that we would (health care and tax reform), we haven’t done it yet, and the Senate needs to find a way to work through that.”
Stewart says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a real threat, but he’s not concerned on how President Donald Trump is handling it.
“Kim Jong Un is a bad man—there’s no question about it,” he said. “This president has said we won’t allow him to put those nuclear tips on those warheads and he simply has to do that. You can’t allow a man as unpredictable and evil as Kim Jong Un, who seems completely willing to challenge the U.S., to have that kind of capability. The United Nations is not a bastion of clarity, and sometimes diplomatic speak isn’t clear and I don’t think particularly moves the ball. This president speaks very differently.”
Stewart said China’s recent announcement that it has discouraged its banks from doing business with North Korea “was an important first step. The last thing (Trump) wants is a war on his hands. But with diplomacy, at the end you have to have a credible threat of a military option in order for diplomacy to work. I think we’re at the beginning of a tense diplomatic effort. We’re not at the end of it.”
While the healthcare debate has stalled for now, the Utah congressman says proposals for tax reform are often misunderstood, even though Americans would benefit from them. And Congress needs to move on that reform.
“A lot of people think that tax reform means only rich people get a tax break. It’s really not that,” he said. “It will generally decrease how much we pay. The biggest thing is the economic output from it.”
He said that for the past eight years since the recession, the nation’s economy has grown at about 2 percent a year. President Trump’s goal is to move that to 3 percent.
“If we can get to 3 percent growth, that means an average family of four will have an additional $7,000 a year. And on the fourth year out, that grows to $11,000 a year. That doesn’t come just from tax cuts, but from the economy growing. I am optimistic that this will get done.”
And Stewart added that his experience working with President Trump the past nine months “has been almost entirely positive. I’ve met him many times, and a few weeks ago he called me and we chatted for quite awhile. I don’t blindly follow the president. His style is a little abrupt for me and he says things I wouldn’t say, and I am not afraid to challenge that. But I support his goals. He’s trying to help America and he’s trying to accomplish things that we just haven’t been able to do.”
He added that Trump sincerely cares about Utah’s rural communities.
“He said, ‘Chris, we’re going to help you out there in Utah with the monuments. And we’re going to help you with your horses.’ A lot of Utahns don’t realize that we have a problem with wild horses, but the President of the United States does. And I think that’s a great indicator that he’s aware of problems in parts of the country that the previous administration did not know a thing about. He’s aware of what we’re trying to do out here to help rural Utah.”
In short, he remains upbeat.
“I’m probably more optimistic than most people,” Stewart said. “A lot of people have almost given up on Congress, on Washington. The pace of it frustrates me, but I see the commitment of the Republicans in Washington to do some of these things. And like I said, I believe we’ll get it done.”