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Fixing Congress, Fighting China: An Interview with Rep. Mike Gallagher

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Mike Gallagher is the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District. First elected in 2016 at the age of 33, he previously served for seven years as a Marine Corps counterintelligence officer, including two deployments to Iraq. Since assuming office, Gallagher has emerged as one of the Republican Party’s youngest foreign policy wonks, an outspoken advocate for Congressional reform, and a conservative with an independent streak. He was recently one of only 13 House Republicans to vote against President Trump’s declaration of an emergency on the southern border.

TAI recently invited Colin Dueck, Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and the author of Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy since World War II, to interview the Congressman in his office on Capitol Hill. The following interview has been lightly edited and is also available as an episode of our podcast.

Colin Dueck (TAI): The first question I’ve got for you is this: There’s a sense today that the temperature in Congress and American politics more generally is a little overheated. Others think it’s just healthy competition between and within the parties. Where do you come down on this? Where do you think the rhetoric is right now?

Mike Gallagher: On the scale of healthy to unhealthy I think we are leaning towards unhealthy. Now, that being said, I know we share a mutual love of history. To quote one of our favorite movies, True Romance, I read a lot of history, I find that stuff fascinating. Obviously, there have been times that have been more intense. Right behind me is a picture of Wisconsin’s most famous politician then or since, Bob La Follette. This is an old cartoon during World War I where the German Kaiser is pinning medals on him because he had led the opposition to World War I—he very much did not want us to get involved.

He led a filibuster of Wilson’s bill to arm merchant vessels, which he thought, correctly, was a prelude to war, and at one point there was a rumor going around that one of his colleagues was actually going to shoot him on the Senate floor. He called his son, who subsequently became a senator from Wisconsin, as well, and told him to go bring a shiv to the House floor. The whole thing was very intense. Perhaps that was because what happened on the House and the Senate floor back then actually mattered, whereas in the present day we just do political theater.

But I do think the rhetoric fueled by social media is getting out of hand and it’s not actually resulting in better debate. It’s very rare that we have actual meaningful debate on ideas here in Congress. To the extent that we do, it happens in the committees that still function. I’m lucky to be on the Armed Services Committee, which I think is the exception that proves the rule. Every year we pass an authorizing bill. We’re one of the few authorizing committees that do that. We go through a very laborious process of oversight of the Pentagon, of debating things. We have an all-day, all-night debating committee, but I do think that doesn’t happen enough here in Congress.

TAI: I know that Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. once beat a pacifist on the steps of the U.S. Senate, so this isn’t the first era where we’ve had heated disagreement! Now, you’ve been outspoken the last few weeks, particularly as a number of your colleagues have been on foreign policy issues in relation to the President. Is Congress sort of reasserting itself right now? What’s going on?

MG: I was struck at one of these defense conferences recently. There seemed to be a bipartisan and uncritical acceptance of the premises laid out in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. On the one hand, Trump gets criticism from the other side for everything he does, but on the other hand I don’t see anyone on the Left right now saying, “No, the National Security Strategy actually got it wrong. We’re not in a period of great power competition with Russia.”

As we’ve talked about before, when it comes to Russia, which has been a source of a lot of criticism and controversy, the actual policy that the administration has been pursuing has been one that is quite strong and quite tough on Russia. I actually think there’s more consensus than dissensus right now on foreign policy in Congress. I do think, however, that you are seeing younger, newer members, particularly those with foreign policy backgrounds, engaging in this question of “How can Congress reclaim some of its foreign policy authority?” How can we restore the role of Article I in the foreign policy process, for example, by clawing back our constitutional authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations and pushing back on some of the things that the administration wants to do on Section 232 national security tariffs?

There’s an interesting debate happening right now on Yemen as to whether we’ve actually triggered the War Powers Resolution, whether what we’re doing in providing support to the Saudis constitutes engaging in hostilities. I do think there’s a weird thing going on—or a healthy thing going on, let me say—where there’s a bipartisan group of foreign policy-interested members in the House that are trying to reassert Congress’s role in foreign policy.

TAI: You listed a number of regional issues. Functional ones too. Let’s go down the list. You’ve been outspoken about the notion that the U.S. might withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan. What’s your reason for this and where do you think things stand at the moment?

The complete interview is available here, on the American Interest.


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