U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., took to the national stage last week as his star continues to rise on Capitol Hill.
Curbelo took part in an event with Axios hosted by Mike Allen last week in which the South Florida Republican weighed in on a host of issues.
Asked about working across the aisle, Curbelo pointed to his work in the Problem Solvers Caucus and insisted he worked closely with freshman U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-NJ, and other House Democrats.
“Bipartisanship is not an end, its a means to achieving good, lasting policy,” Curbelo said at the event. “So, I’m part of the Problem Solvers Caucus and, you’ll have Josh Gottheimer here in a few minutes, and we work very closely together, but this dialogue that we are having is wonderful – and it’s important because you can’t have good results without good relationships and sober conversations – but that’s not the end.”
Curbelo pointed to a host of issues where bipartisanship can be play on Capitol Hill.
“The end is to have good policy and that’s why we are hoping to play a role in an immigration compromise,” Curbelo said. “Obviously, there has to be a spending compromise that’ll happen at the leadership level. Tax reform, there may be room and should be room for bipartisanship there.
“So, the idea is that, and I think our framers obviously given the way they developed the Constitution, the idea is for people to come together and have rigorous debate and the settle on something where they can all agree, knowing that not everyone is going to get everything they want,” Curbelo added. “So, I think that once we have a couple of major bipartisan wins, Congress can be conditioned into this kind of behavior and we can kind of crowd out the forces that always try to prevent that type of compromise – either for political gain or financial gain.”
“We were talking about two factors that are most important in working across the aisle. I thought these were very fascinating,” Allen said. “Congressman you said your two factors were first – you said personal discipline.”
“Yeah, you have to really fight the instinct to fall into the roles,” Curbelo answered. “Everyone knows what the roles are here, right. If you’re Republican, you have to kind of ignore an issue like climate change. Now, I don’t do that. Number one because I understand the science. Number two because I represent a district where most people live near sea-level and near the sea. So, it’s a local issue for us. But that’s the key... It’s easy, it’s expected of you, to fall into these buckets, into these roles, into these silos. And you really have to fight that, and on every issue say ‘Well what’s the right thing to do? What makes sense?’ So yes, it requires discipline in that sense where you have to fight the inertia that is so strong in our politics.”
“And Congressman, your second one, you have a counterintuitive take on risk-taking,” Allen noted.
“Yeah, so a lot of people, especially I think people who cover politics view bipartisan conduct or compromise as something that’s done by those that are seeking political cover or who are trying to play it safe,” Curbelo replied. “It is the opposite in most cases today in our country. Partisanship is what’s expected of you, it’s what’s safe, it’s what Republicans and Democrats do. Republican members of Congress support the Republican president. Democratic members of Congress oppose the Republican president. That’s what you’re expected to do.
“So, I think to try to break that actually takes more effort,” Curbelo answered. “And I don’t want to say – people use the word courage – I don’t think anything we do here on the Hill is courageous. People who are out fighting for our country – they’re courageous. But it certainly takes effort. It takes introspection and self-reflection to break those habits and say, ‘No I’m actually going to work with someone who I’m told I’m not supposed to work with because it’s the right thing to do and because I think we can come up with a good idea.’”
Curbelo has not exactly worked closely with President Donald Trump. In last year’s presidential election, Curbelo stayed on the sidelines refusing to back Trump, citing the Republican presidential candidate’s immigration policies as one reasons he did not support him.
Speaking with Allen, Curbelo weighed in on his thoughts on Trump.
“I tell people, ‘I’m not obsessed with the president.’ There are people, both those that are for him and those that are against him, that are obsessed with him. Their day revolves around what the president says and does,” Curbelo said. “I just can’t do that. I don’t think that’s healthy about anyone. By the way, I have a wife and kids and I think about them all day, but my whole day doesn’t revolve around them either. That’s just not healthy.
“I don’t let myself be defined by this president just like I didn’t let myself be defined by the last president,” Curbelo continued. “Going back to referring, people ask me all the time, ‘How do you deal with Donald Trump?’ and I say, ‘The same way I dealt with Barack Obama. When I agree with them, I’m supportive and I’ll get behind their ideas, but when I think their ideas are bad, then I’ll oppose them.’ And I think that’s what every member of Congress should do. This is not about if they’re from my party I have to agree every time or if they’re not I have to oppose them every time. This is about institutions and the balance of power. I think that’s our constitutional duty – to work with the executive when we think they are working on something worthwhile and to oppose them when they are not.”
The South Florida Republican focused on immigration back in March when he brought out a bill updating much of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program giving younger illegal immigrants, often called DREAMers--those who entered the country before 2012 and who were 16 or younger when they entered--a path to citizenship.
Curbelo turned to immigration during his talk with Allen.
“I think there are some issues that just cry out for obvious solutions,” Curbelo said. “We’ve been debating immigration in this country – the first DREAM act was filed in 2001 and we’re still talking about DREAMers in 2017 having done nothing; broader immigration reform was introduced by President Bush in ’05 and ’06 – but nothing has happened. And the solutions, at least to me, are fairly obvious. One of the thing that I’m optimistic about in this Congress, especially before the end of the year, is that we may have the first, meaningful, significant immigration compromise since the NACARA legislation in 1998.”
“So, this would be extending DACA protections – the DREAMER fix,” Allen replied.” Speaker Ryan said that will be part of the budget bill at the end of the year. Is that what you’re –”
“That’s our hope and obviously that would be accompanied by some reasonable border security measures,” Curbelo said. “I think most Americans agree that we have a right and a duty and a responsibility to control our borders. There’s a lot of drug activity at the border, and most Americans want to stop that. Now, when you start talking about a wall, I think that’s where most people start to get divided. I don’t think anyone actually believes that we are going to build a 2000-mile wall, but we should do everything we can to have reasonable sensible border security.”
Turning to tax reform, Curbelo said it was “one of the biggest things we can do for this country because greater growth is going to make people feel better, it’s going to make people more confident, they’re going to be less prone to scapegoating fellow Americans or blaming trade deals for some of our challenges in this country, and people are just going to feel like they can thrive.” He also insisted the chances were “pretty good” that some Democrats would work with the GOP on tax reform.
Curbelo, who was born in 1980, also weighed in on being one of the younger members of Congress and what millennials and other younger Americans bring to the table with their politics.
“We bring a different perspective,” Curbelo said. “I think we are a little more sober about politics. I find that people in my generation – in both parties – are less into some of the role-playing that I think many in Washington have become accustomed to. So, I tell young people all the time, especially people younger than me, that I really think it’s going to take the new generations in the United States in order to have the political renaissance that I think that we sorely, desperately need in this country to bring a more sober, thoughtful consolatory approach to politics.
“I think millennials have to stop waiting our turn and we have to start making demands of our leaders in the House on both sides," Curbelo added. “We need to tell people ‘We want to do this differently, we want to help restore the trust and confidence in this government.’ We want people in our generation who, by the way, don’t care for the government at all – ask any millennial if they think that Social Security or Medicare is going to be around for them and they’ll laugh – they just don’t trust our institutions.
“We want to make our generation believe and in order to do that we need to change how this government works or how it doesn’t work,” Curbelo insisted. “So, that’s the approach that I bring to this work and I encourage all millennials, don’t sit back and complain. It’s easy to tweet or send out a message over social media and go back to whatever you were doing. Get involved, vote, but also communicate directly with your representatives and let them know that you want things to change for the better.”
Curbelo also took to the national stage last week, appearing on the Fox Business Network and at a media event held by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., to cheer the GOP’s push for tax reform.
Earlier this year, with Ryan‘s support, Curbelo was named to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee which has jurisdiction on taxes.
“The House Committee on Ways and Means has broad jurisdiction over many issues Carlos has made a priority in Congress, including tax policy, free and fair trade, health-care, and entitlement reform,” Ryan said when Curbelo was named to Ways and Means back in March “Carlos’ appointment makes him the only South Florida Republican on the Committee. His proven work ethic and diligence in finding common sense solutions to some of the most serious issues facing our country will make him a great member of the esteemed Committee on Ways and Means.”
Curbelo was first elected to Congress in 2014 when he defeated U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla. Two year later, Curbelo held off Garcia in a rematch.
With Curbelo’s district considered a possible battleground in 2016, four Democrats have already lined up against him to take him on in 2018. Former congressional aide Ricky Junquera, attorney
Steven Machat, community activist Debbie Mucarsel-Powell who ran for the state Senate last year and Army veteran and businessman Steve Smith are currently running for the Democratic nomination.