Congressmember Lois Capps thought President Barack Obama had lingered longer than usual on the House floor after his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night. She said she felt like a “groupie.”
“I had an opportunity to shake his hand and tell him how proud of him I was,” she said. “Then I turned around, and he was still there.” Most importantly, Capps had the opportunity to give Obama a photograph of Christopher Michaels-Martinez as a young boy.
Michaels-Martinez was a bright UCSB student gunned down last May in the Isla Vista massacre perpetrated by a mentally ill City College dropout. His father, Richard Martinez, a Santa Maria lawyer turned gun-control activist, was seated in the gallery as Capps’s guest.
Martinez has been jet-setting around the country as a representative of the advocacy organization Everytown for Gun Safety, which grew out of the Newtown school shooting. Obama did not speak to gun-control in his address, although he did reference some other recent sites of gun violence.
Capps said she thinks gun violence policy will come from the bottom up. “When we’ve had enough as a nation in communities, the Congress will change. It might not show exciting leadership. It might need to be dragged kicking and screaming, but it won’t be the first time that grassroots activity has led to national policy change.” Earlier in the day, she reintroduced the Pause for Safety Act, which would give families and law enforcement more power to keep guns away from dangerous individuals.
While Martinez was making his rounds in D.C., Obama must have been taking a dip in the Hot Tub Time Machine because he delivered a State of the Union address in which he reiterated policies and themes that he championed as a bushytailed candidate — closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, practicing diplomacy, acting on climate change, investing in infrastructure, and reducing partisanship. Such goals have been buried for years under attention to a cataclysmic economic collapse, two wars, partisan retrenchment, and the consuming effort to pass a health-care reform bill.
With the wars (officially) over and the economy showing increasing signs of life, Obama laid out plans to bolster what he called “middle-class economics,” including tax breaks for childcare and tuition-free community college nationwide.
Capps said, “I think [SBCC President Lori Gaskin] is sort of in a state of disbelief that we would ever actually do that, but that’s what happened when our current governor’s father was governor. The Master Plan included two free years of community college, and it was good for the economy.”
Responding to criticism that Obama’s vision is just typical liberal tax-and-spend orthodoxy, Capps pointed out that the economy has improved even with Obama increasingly asserting executive power to enforce policies anathema to Republican lawmakers.
She praised the president specifically on the separate executive actions he has taken to defer action against students and workers in the country without immigration documents, singling out comprehensive immigration reform as the first legislation package she would like to see Congress pass this term. While some Republican lawmakers have accused Obama of poisoning the well with his most recent decree on immigration enforcement, Capps believes he’s actually lit a fire under Congress to get something done.
Referring to the last Congressional term as “the most divisive I’ve ever served on,” Capps defended Obama’s go-it-alone approach. “When comprehensive immigration is passed by one chamber and not the other, he stepped out on that. When we failed to act on paid sick leave, which is such a common-sense thing to do, which is so family friendly and economically valuable, then he’s going to do things where he can on his own.”
However, Capps said both she and the American people prefer that Congress do its job, and she holds out hope that she can be an effective legislator despite the fact that Democrats are now the minority in both Houses. When asked if Obama’s statement that “I have no more campaigns to run” would fit her as well, she said, “I’m focused on this new session of Congress. We’re only two weeks into it. I don’t know what my future holds. That’s as much as I can say.”