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Why Eric Swalwell thinks he can win over Trump supporters — like his parents

Presidential candidate and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said Thursday that House Democrats were “on the road to impeachment” with President Donald Trump, but he stopped short of calling for the party to launch impeachment proceedings right away.

Swalwell, who sits on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, said in an interview with the PBS NewsHour’s managing editor and anchor Judy Woodruff that he trusted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approach of exhausting every oversight tool before considering an impeachment inquiry.

But Swalwell said the White House was leaving House Democrats little choice by refusing to comply with subpoenas related to congressional investigations of the president’s actions in office, including his business dealings and whether he impeded special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

I think he’s backing us into the only other remedy,” Swalwell said of Trump, referring to impeachment. He added: “I want to make sure we do everything else first before we get there. I think we’re pretty close.”

Some 2020 Democrats, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., have gone a step further, calling for Congress to start an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump obstructed the special counsel’s investigation. Others have echoed Swalwell in arguing Democrats should evaluate all the evidence first, including the underlying evidence Mueller used to write his report.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • On gun control: Swalwell said he felt “demoralized” watching the country go from “mass shooting to mass shooting.” Swalwell has made gun control a centerpiece of his campaign, and has called for a mandatory national ban on and buyback of military-style semi-automatic weapons.
  • On trade: Swalwell said a trade war with China was not beneficial to the United States and said he believes Trump has alienated nations with longstanding relationships with the U.S.
  • On his Midwestern roots: Swalwell represents  diverse California congressional district that spans the east Bay. But his parents are Midwestern Republicans who voted for Trump. Swalwell argued his life experience of growing up in the Midwest, being educated in the South and now representing a liberal enclave in California could help him appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are now 23 candidates in the 2020 presidential race, and among them is California Congressman Eric Swalwell.

    At 38, he is one of the youngest candidates running in the Democratic primary, and has made gun control the key issue of his campaign.

    I spoke to Congressman Swalwell yesterday about his run for the presidency.

    So, why should voters support a four-term congressman from the state of California for president of the United States?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.:

    Well, first, I know how hard people work and what they expect it to add up to.

    I was the first in my family to go to college. I have two kids under 2. I'm paying off student loans. And so I see the promise of America for many Americans broken, which is, you work hard, you do better, dream bigger.

    But I have been in the Congress on the Intelligence Committee as our democracy has been on the ropes. And I have stood firmly for the rule of law. I have gone to the war zones. I have met with foreign leaders. I have taken the classified briefings.

    So, on day one, I will be ready to know who we need as friends in this world and who the threats are, but also just to bring generational optimism that I think is needed, fresh ideas on the issues of health care, education access, and, of course, the centerpiece of our platform, being safe in your schools and reducing gun violence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have emphasized youth. And you are 38 years old.

    There is one candidate, though, who's younger.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's Pete Buttigieg, who's…

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    He's too young to run.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … 37.


  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    I'm just kidding.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But he's got executive experience.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    Yes, he does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He's been the mayor of a small city in Indiana.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why are you more qualified?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    No, I like Mayor Pete.

    There's Tulsi Gabbard and Seth Moulton, others who are in this millennial generation.

    I believe that it's being connected to everyday folks, knowing why they work hard through my working-class roots. It's the optimism that I can bring, believing that health care cures is a way, not just coverage, but seeking cures to bring down costs, and having a college bargain.

    So, if you go to college, do work study, serve a community that needs it when you get out, it adds up to a debt-free education. And then, finally, again, that experience of being day-one ready while our democracy has gone in this deep dark hole.

    I'm on the Judiciary Committee. I'm on the Intelligence Committee. We're not rolling the dice on someone who doesn't know how the federal government works, as we did with this last president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to come to that issue of gun control. You are making it a centerpiece of your campaign.

    But you do have other candidates in the race who have been on this issue for years. Joe Biden worked for years on an anti-crime bill. Kamala Harris, her work in California. She's talking about using executive authority.

    How are your views, in a nutshell, different from all the others?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    Well, I was a prosecutor who worked in Oakland as a prosecutor. So I saw what gun violence does to our cities.

    I went to Chicago yesterday, similar issues there. So, from the cities to the suburbs to the rural areas, it's access to firearms, it's investing in mental health services in our schools.

    And my — I'm the only candidate who's calling for a ban and buy-back of the 15 million assault rifles that are on our streets today. I came to Congress when Sandy Hook happened, and was demoralized as we went from mass shooting to mass shooting.

    I sat for 26 hours on the floor after Orlando in protest. So I want to seize the momentum that these moms and the students and community activists have done to take out 17 NRA-endorsed members of Congress. I want to seize it and negotiate up, not down on policies on gun violence.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you think this is an issue that can galvanize voters?

    I ask because, in the past, it hasn't — it hasn't seemed to be something that gets voters energized enough to vote one way or another.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    I was in Fairfield, Iowa, a very rural community, earlier this week.

    I did a gun violence town hall. Over 125 people showed up. And I asked a woman. I said: "I know why I'm here, this issue I care about a lot. But in this safe community, why are you here?" And she said: "Because we don't want a shooting to happen at our church."

    It's also about our kids. I took my son to his preschool orientation last week. And I thought about something I didn't have to think about when I was going to school, which is, is he safe in this building?

    And so this issue of safety in our schools and our churches and the places we gather, it's top of mind now for voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now I'm going to turn — turn the corner now and ask you about something that's on a lot of people's minds and certainly farmers and others in business around this country, and that is the trade war with China.

    You have said you don't think the trade war is beneficial. But, again, what would you do differently from what President Trump is doing specifically? Would you go back to the Obama-Biden trade policies?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    Yes, I would form a class-action.

    We're in a significant trade deficit with China today. Going one-on-one with them in a trade war is ineffective, and the way the president is prosecuting it is incompetent.

    They are a bad actor on intellectual property, on dumping steel, on manipulating currency. That's not the issue. The issue, though, is, can you band together with Australia and Japan and South Korea, other victims of what China is doing, to prosecute the case against them?

    Our president has alienated us from our traditional allies. I would know who our friends are, and go to them to make the case against China to protect our farmer, to protect our steel workers, to protect our intellectual innovators.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And on a subject that is on the minds of Democrats and Republicans right now, and that is impeachment.

    I think it was just a few nights ago you said in an interview that President Trump is giving Congress no option. But if Speaker Pelosi is right, what she's saying, it's better to wait, see when you get the facts, let's keep studying this, let's keep trying to gather information.

    Do you believe that she is inevitably going to have to change her position on that and that there will be impeachment proceedings?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    Yes, I don't really question the wisdom of Speaker Pelosi. She's been in these fights before.

    I think she sees where this is going. I think we're on a road to impeachment. And she, like myself, believes that you have to exhaust all of the remedies to show the American people you're following the rule of law, that we're not going to do Donald Trump justice.

    The first remedy was the American people. They voted him in. We respected that. Then we put a balance of power on his abuses of power in the midterms. He has not respected that. He's outnumbered. The subpoena power and the courts are on our side.

    But I think he's backing us into the only other remedy that's the most extraordinary remedy, which is impeachment. But I want to make sure we do everything else first before we get there.

    I think we're pretty close.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think you're giving, in some way, the president a boost, as Democrats, if — the more there is even talk about impeachment, much less moving to impeachment proceedings?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    I honestly I try not to think about it that way, because that means I'm not looking at the evidence.

    And the evidence is, you have a lawless president who is telling his administration officials not to comply with the law. He's been characterized as a double-digit obstructor in the Mueller report.

    No one's above the law in this country. No one could get away with what he's getting away with. And that's what I have to focus on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Speaking of President Trump, finally, you said when you announced that you have family members — I believe your own parents…

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … who are supporters of President Trump. They have a magnet on the refrigerator in the kitchen that says Trump-Pence.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that magnet still there?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    I hope it's not. I may have to go into the voting booth with my parents if I make it to the general election.

    But my parents, I would say, are strong Ronald Reagan Republicans. And I was raised in the '80s. And they wanted us to be strong in the world and not waste the taxpayers' dollars.

    And I think I can win over people like my parents. I was born in the Midwest, have that fiscal prudence, American values. And we see a president who has just racked up debt with tax cuts for the wealthiest, and has alienated us in the world and has drawn us closer to Vladimir Putin than he has to the Brits and the Australians and people that we need.

    I think these never-Trump voters are going to need a place to go. And the son of Reagan Republicans might be that candidate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you don't have any doubt your parents would vote for you?


  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    They will vote for me, yes, yes. Of course they will.

    But my wife's also from Southern Indiana. And we just did an Indiana town hall over the weekend in Columbus, Indiana, and saw hundreds of people show up there, many Republicans.

    So, born in Iowa, married to a Hoosier, educated in the South, elected in a diverse part of California. I can add states in the general election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Eric Swalwell, running for the Democratic nomination, we thank you.

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell:

    Thank you, Judy.

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