American Hazmat

Jared Huffman talks shutdown, Green New Deal, mother-effing impeachment

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These elephant seals in Pt. Reyes National Seashore loudly bellow at any implication that they shut down the government.

North Bay U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman says that by the time the federal government shutdown ends—and, nearly three weeks in, who knows when that will be—they’ll need to deploy hazmat suits at Pt. Reyes National Seashore to clean up the despoiled bathrooms and other facilities.

“It’s not an exaggeration,” says Huffman, who visited the park this week and spent last weekend picking up trash in his district, at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, with fellow congressperson Jackie Spiers. He says the shutdown’s ill impacts have hit the GGNRA, the Redwood National Park in Del Norte and Humboldt counties, and Muir Woods in Marin County.

In an interview this week, Huffman shared his views on the shutdown and its local impact, and also gave some insight into the current lay of the land in Washington, where it appears that hazmat suits may also need to be deployed, eventually, to drain the stinky swamp-waters from the White House.

He posted a photo on Facebook this week of a “Trump Trash Can” filled with garbage collected in the GGNRA, and says he and Spiers plan to bring the bins back to Washington with them. “We’re going to take some of that trash to Donald Trump, because it’s his trash,” he says.

Huffman’s in an interesting place these days, as a freshman class of Congress has instantly diversified the lower chamber with the nation’s first Muslim American woman representative, its first Native American women representatives, and its first openly bisexual female congresswoman—not to mention the media-savvy, if occasionally fact-challenged, New York firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Must be a tough time to be a middle-aged white guy in Congress, no?

No. “Our congress is becoming wonderfully representative, and that feels good to me. I’m not defensive of being a straight white male in the Democratic caucus. I think that it’s kind of cool that our caucus has become so diverse. I detect a positive energy around that, and it’s not at all threatening to me.”

Huffman predicted in this paper last year that, were the Democrats to win back the House, Donald Trump would leave office around mid-February (which also happens to coincide with Huffman’s birthday on Feb. 18).

He says with a laugh that his prediction was only partially based on his birthday wish. “It also has to do with all these other factors that are coming into alignment. There is a great convergence of pressure on Trump. It may not be exactly February, but the time to catch the next bus out of the White House is coming. I’ve still got seven weeks for my prediction to come true.”

Huffman was an early proponent of impeachment proceedings against Trump and says he’s never heard a peep from Nancy Pelosi about it. “I just didn’t use the m-f-word,” he says, referencing freshman Detroit congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s pungent putdown of puny-fingers. “There’s been no pressure from Pelosi to back off from the impeachment stuff,” he says. “We’re all individual members of congress.”

Huffman’s an environmentally oriented legislator and is looking forward to a reformed House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, whose proponents have called for limiting committee membership only to members who have never taken money from the fossil-fuel industry. Not a good idea, he says. “It’s not an enforceable or implementable standard,” Huffman says, “though I am sympathetic with the intent.”

A no-fossil-fuel standard would, he says, foreclose on any Republican who might want to join the committee, but it also could foreclose on any lawmaker who ever received a contribution from anyone associated with the fossil-fuel industry. This, he explains, is part of the reason Beto O’Rourke’s been getting a bad rap among progressives lately; he ran for Senate in Texas, “where every third person is either working in the fossil-fuel industry or knows someone who is. That’s just Texas.”

Huffman doesn’t have that problem and says anyone who looked into his campaign contributions would have a hard time finding fossil-fuel contributions—but adds that the standards being set by the climate activists at the Sunrise Movement also “include individuals that may work directly or indirectly” with a business where fossil-fuel money is at play. Bottom line: Huffman doesn’t want to be denied access to the committee because some guy who happens to work for Chevron is also a supporter of his. He says a “more practical approach” would be to appoint leaders to the committee who “are champions on these issues.” That would include him. “I’m interested in being on the committee.”

The congressman is also welcoming the anti-fossil-fuel Green New Deal being championed by Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives. “It’s totally consistent with what I’ve been standing for over the years,” he says. “It could do great things,” he adds, “if we can marry support and enthusiasm with some of the experience we have in the caucus, and maybe apply a set of strategies that actually produce legislation that can move forward.”

Closer to home, Huffman recounts his visit to Point Reyes National Seashore where he met with a skeleton crew of “essential” employees continuing to work through the shutdown. “It’s hurting the Parks Service in obvious and less obvious ways,” he says. Point Reyes is a porous park with no entrance fees, and the crowds are still showing up.

The obvious impact has already been noted: break out the hazmat suits, those bathrooms are a mess! The less obvious impact, he says, is how the shutdown is turning worker against worker, very Trumpian, as it creates internal friction. He explains that staff at the park told him that workers who were deemed “non-essential” were sent home without pay and resent being called “non-essential.” Workers who were deemed essential are being forced to work without pay and resent that.

The shutdown, too, has suspended a contested and ongoing general management upgrade process at the park that’s trying to balance the demands of ranchers against a more wilderness-only approach to park management. Thanks to the shutdown, “there’s a ripple effect that will likely be an even greater delay in getting that done.”

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