U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, D-Bourne, was on Island Thursday talking about the state of politics in Washington, the freshman class of Democrats, his right whale legislation, and that one time when he was mistaken for Vineyard legend James Taylor.
In a wide-ranging conversation with The Times, the congressman said he met earlier in the day with business owners on the Island concerned about H-2B and J-1 visas. Keating said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has the ability to allow up to 69,700 H-2B visas over the cap. He’s hopeful a decision will be made prior to the busy season. “The key will be it’s really not valuable to businesspeople if they wait until the end of July or August, because it’s too late,” he said. “You need lead time.”
More than 100 members of Congress have signed a letter to ask her to free up those visas.
Keating pointed out that President Donald Trump uses visa holders at his resort in Florida. “He has no problem with them,” Keating said. “It’s a myth that this is the option of first resort for employers. In fact, it costs more, because many times they hire someone and then they’re paying upfront housing and transportation and advertising that’s required as part of that. And they’re paying, at least the businesses I’ve talked to, $15 an hour on top of it. It costs them more to do that.”
Keating spoke about some of the early issues tackled by Democrats, including HR 1, which passed the House and dealt with putting some language in to ban members of Congress serving on corporate boards, voting rights, requiring presidential candidates to disclose their taxes, and campaign finance.
“That passed the House; it’s going to face hard scrutiny in the Senate where Mitch McConnell said it’s dead on arrival, but let’s see,” he said.
The House has also looked at gun laws that close the so-called Charleston loophole on waiting periods and background checks, as well as requiring stronger background checks, Keating said. Healthcare, particularly the increasing cost of insulin, also remains a priority, he said. “For such an early time of the session, we did quite a bit,” he said.
Keating also held a town hall meeting at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center later that day. Here’s what he had to say to The Times on some key issues.
On his right whale legislation: “There are roughly 400 right whales in existence. So that’s extremely fragile … The support is there to try and target grants to get more research into this, and to coordinate our efforts. Time is of the essence. At the hearing, there was a pretty aggressive back and forth, on the issue of the effects of offshore drilling and testing, and the dangers that presented to the right whale … At least out of the House, I’m very optimistic about that moving in a good direction.”
Thoughts on the shift left in the House, with reps like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “There are, I would say, three or four members who came in that class who are very much to the left, but the facts are the remainders are pretty much to the center; they came from districts that shifted from being Republican districts to Democratic districts. A lot of them have military and CIA backgrounds, and they’re not exactly far to the left. The greater bulk of that new class is more center than maybe a lot of the other members that are already there.”
On the Democratic majority in the House: “One of the things that the last election told me and when I met with the Speaker at the beginning of the session, giving her my input: We were elected to govern. People didn’t use those words, but in the course of the campaign, to me and to most of us — and she agreed — people want to see us get things done. They want to see us start acting as we should as an effective, functional Congress.”
On Speaker Pelosi’s recent comments on impeachment: “It’s consistent with what I said during the campaign and the way I addressed the issue. A couple of things, in the bigger perspective, we have to be kind of careful right now. If we start in such a partisan environment moving to impeachment as a knee-jerk reaction, we could fall into a pattern in this country where whoever loses the presidency, the first thing that they’re talking about is what are you doing on impeachment … that’s not good for democracy. I think impeachment is organic in nature, and it has to come from the public and work its way up. If you’re just doing it without that kind of push from the public, it could be dangerous in the future. I say, it’s not the “i” word, impeachment that I’m looking at. I’m looking at the “t” word, transparency.”
On the 2016 election: “What I fully believe is we were attacked by Russia and that triggered a lot of what went on in our elections. So we’re looking at that. We’re not investigating Donald Trump, we are investigating the attack on our system — the foreign involvement.”
On Robert Mueller’s report: “I do hope that the Mueller report and the hearings that we have are public. I want the public to have this, and if you’re concerned for political reasons that you’re being unfairly accused by some, wouldn’t you want that information out there? … The country would be better served. If there’s nothing there, have it all out there, and the president would be benefited by it and the rest of his administration through this Congress would be benefited by it. And if it is there, we want to know about it because that could compromise ability to do the job — and we should know about it.”
On presidential candidates: “It’s early. One thing that’s happened in this campaign, it’s early. I’m hanging loose. If it’s done civilly, it’s going to be a real positive for the country. What is it, 14 now? I don’t know if maybe since we got on the boat, if that’s gone up … I’m worried from a Democratic standpoint, from a party standpoint, I hope it doesn’t result in infighting. That’s not good.”
On offshore wind: “Probably 25 percent of all the offshore wind in the country is going to be off this coast. That’s because of natural forces and the winds there. It’s going along well. Vineyard Wind is going along well. I do think people understand this isn’t going to be a failed Cape Wind project. That these are moving forward. That this is real.”
On tariffs: “I’m afraid this tariff approach has already affected exports. It’s too early to have something definitive, but for instance, the New Bedford area, the top 10 leading ones, the exports have gone down.”
On being mistaken for James Taylor: “People recognize me as congressman now, I don’t know if that’s good or bad … When I was campaigning over here on the Vineyard, I was campaigning and people around me, gentleman and his son came up to me and said, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ I said, ‘What would you want my autograph for?’ He said, ‘I know who you are?’ I said, ‘You do? Who am I?’ He said, ‘Well, you’re James Taylor.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘I know that’s what you’re supposed to say, but I know who you are.’ And then he said, ‘My son’s a real fan and he’d like an autograph, but if you don’t want to give him an autograph …’ And I was really in a tough situation because he was going to go on forever and say James Taylor never gave his little son an autograph. So I must apologize to James Taylor if I made the wrong decision, so I just said, ‘Here it is …’ He was happy. His son was happy. ‘James, I appreciate it. Anything I can ever do.’ So I said, ‘Where do you live?’ He said on the Vineyard. So I said, this is confession time, this is bad, I shouldn’t have done it, I said, ‘Well, I have this friend who’s running for Congress if you’d consider supporting him.’”