WASHINGTON — Hawaii Congressman Ed Case is no stranger to working in the minority in Washington.
When he was first elected to office in 2002, Democrats were not in control and George W. Bush was president. Case was out of office before his party could retake the chamber.
It wasn’t until Case won a second stint in Congress in 2018 that he finally understood what life was like in the majority. But after this year’s midterms, he’ll now find himself in a familiar position, but one in which he holds more sway.
Republicans will have a narrow edge in the House, which some say will give more power to small factions, whether it’s the Freedom Caucus on the far-right or the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which is made up of moderate and centrist lawmakers, like Case, who still hopes to cut bipartisan deals in a fractious political climate.
“Achieving your goals is easier in the majority than it is the minority and I wish it was different,” he said. “But my sky is not falling because this has happened.”
Civil Beat caught up with Case to discuss what is expected to be a flurry of congressional activity to finish out the year, which includes Democratic attempts to pass a series of spending bills for Fiscal Year 2023 and the completion of the National Defense Reauthorization Act, which guides how the U.S. military operates and spends its money.
The congressman also talked about his concerns about working in a GOP-controlled House that includes a number of far-right extremists, who have denied the results of the 2020 presidential election and have expressed sympathies for the insurrectionist mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol when the results were being certified.
“I fear most the influence of that part of the Republican Party that fundamentally does not believe in our democracy and wants to erode it rather than strengthen it,” Case said. “One of the positive outcomes of the midterm elections is that voters said they didn’t want that. I hope that translates into the Republican majority, but we’ll see.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
There’s a lot on the agenda to finish out the year, including same-sex marriage, NDAA and an omnibus spending deal. What are a few highlights from these bills that you think are particularly noteworthy for Hawaii?
Clearly, Congress’s priority and my priority should be to complete the appropriations bills for the current fiscal year 2023 and complete the NDAA.
For me the most critical component of those bills is Red Hill and to ensure that the funding needed to defuel and close Red Hill and to address all the related Red Hill issues are buttoned up. That’s the No. 1 priority.
Another area I’m particularly focused on is that both the NDAA and appropriations bills make major advances in terms of our country’s engagement in the broader Indo-Pacific and reengagement in the Pacific Islands. There are certain provisions in each of those bills that advance that in one way or another whether it be from overall defense spending to military construction to the non-defense side of the table.
I just spent most of (Tuesday) afternoon at the University of Hawaii focusing specifically on UH’s current and, I hope, expanded future role in all of this, which would enhance Hawaii’s position — in conjunction with other institutions, such as the East-West Center, the Center for Security Studies and Indo-Pacom — in providing the expertise, knowledge and focus that we’re going to need in the Indo-Pacific.
It’s expected that the NDAA and budget will get done this year, right?
Yes, but it’s not something that’s going to happen automatically. I feel a lot more confident that we will get the NDAA done this year. It looks like the negotiators are on track and we may have a bill as early as next week, which is good news all around.
But the appropriations bill is still quite tenuous as to whether we’re going to have an omnibus this year or whether we’ll have to do another continuing resolution in mid-December to kick it to next year.
I hope and believe that we will get it done this year, but that’s by no means a guarantee. It’s very, very up in the air at the moment and it would be a real tragedy if we didn’t get it done.
If it does get kicked to the next year, how does the fact that Republicans will be in charge of the House change the process and what goes into the bill?
I don’t think it will be a complete start over.
The Republicans in the House will have the ability to decide what comes to the floor and when, and so they will make that call assuming the majority hangs together. The Senate of course is not going to fundamentally change.
We’ll still be in a dynamic where as a practical manner you will need agreement from the Republican and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to get an appropriations bill done.
How are you preparing for life in the minority come 2023?
You have to remember I’ve already been to this party. In my first four years in Congress, from 2002 to 2007, I was in the minority the entirety of those four years. There was a Republican president in Mr. George W. Bush.
I’ve been here before so I’ve seen it from both sides. It doesn’t fundamentally change my focus or my efforts. On balance, I wish I was in the majority, but that’s not what the voters of this country decided.
There’s no real difference in how I achieve my priorities. I’m still one member of a small two-member (House) delegation. I still need to develop and strengthen relationships with others. I still have to find my fellow travelers and work with them. I still need to help other members achieve their goals and hopefully they will help me with my goals where they can. I still have to try to find a way to develop solutions that can actually pass in Congress.
Achieving your goals is easier in the majority than it is in the minority and I wish it was different. But my sky is not falling because this has happened.
Moderates, even those in the minority party, are hoping to hold outsized influence in a closely divided House. So where are some places where you see yourself working together with your Republican colleagues? And what do you think can actually be accomplished in a divided Congress?
First, I think it’s on the Appropriations Committee, which I hope and expect to continue on.
The Appropriations Committee is partisan, but it’s definitely one of the least partisan committees in Congress. It’s very common to work collectively in the subcommittees and try to accommodate each other’s goals across the aisle and forge some solutions where one can.
I of course have a couple of caucuses that are bipartisan that I have been involved in and expect to be involved in.
The Pacific Island Caucus has always been bipartisan and that caucus has been a great avenue not just to address Pacific Islands’ issues, but the broader Indo-Pacific. The Problem Solvers Caucus has really been an invaluable organization to try to find partisan solutions that can actually get through a divided Congress.
On the issues front, China and the Indo-Pacific continue to be areas of bipartisan consensus so I’m going to focus there to achieve what I think we need as a country, which of course includes Hawaii.
I think that those of us who have a less extreme and polarizing political philosophy are going to be particularly valuable in getting anything done in this Congress so I expect to play my part.
Do you see the next Congress accomplishing as much as the current Congress, which passed several pieces of major legislation, whether it was the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill or the Inflation Reduction Act, that’s considered the single largest investment in green energy and other measures aimed at addressing climate change?
It is unlikely, unless one is dealing with very large and very important areas where you already have consensus, for example, in foreign affairs in the Indo-Pacific, generally, and China, specifically.
I think it’s fair to say that the bipartisan infrastructure plan and Inflation Reduction Act did rely in large part on majorities in the House and Senate. We won’t have that and we’ll also have the added complication of the upcoming presidential election, which also adds complexity to the passage of bills.
I hope I’m wrong because I think there are areas where with bipartisan efforts we can forge a global solution. Immigration would be one of those. There’s no reason why we can’t get ourselves to a comprehensive immigration reform package if people want to do it and of course that’s a big if.
In a divided Congress, you have to be realistic. It’s going to be an uphill climb, but uphill climbs are worth taking.
What do you think about Nancy Pelosi’s decision to relinquish her leadership position and do you support Hakeem Jeffries in his bid to become the next Democratic leader?
There is a time for every leader to step aside and give way to the next series of leaders. I think this was her time and I felt that this was the right decision.
And, yes, I do support Hakeem Jeffries to be next leader of the Democrats in the House.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service. That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help keep our journalism free for all readers. And if you’re able, consider a sustaining monthly gift to support our work all year-round.