Rep. Dan Crenshaw Talks Gun Violence and Healthcare

Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas was a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan eight years ago when he sustained a shrapnel injury to his eye. Thus healthcare is high on his list of priorities, especially because he lost his mother to cancer. Walter Isaacson speaks with Crenshaw in his home state of Texas about these and other election issues on his radar, as he faces his fight for re-election this November.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: And our next guest is hoping to be reelected to the House of Representatives this November. Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas was a Navy SEAL who wears an eye patch after being struck by shrapnel in Afghanistan eight years ago. So health care is high on his list of priorities, especially as his own mother died of breast cancer when he was just 10 years old. Crenshaw spoke to our Walter Isaacson in his home state of Texas about that and other election issues which are on his radar.


WALTER ISAACSON: Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): Oh, great to be with you.

ISAACSON: You were, famously, a Navy SEAL, five tours of duty, 10 years. After you lost your eye, you went back for two more tours of duty. Tell me now, do you think we should still be in Afghanistan?

CRENSHAW: I was in Afghanistan in 2012. And the question is, why was I there, all right? So, we were attacked in 2001, and I was there in 2012 getting blown up. Why was I there? Well, I was there because I knew and understood that, if I didn’t go fight them there, they would have this time and space to plan another 9/11. We have been telling the American people for a very long time — and we meaning the left and the right — we have been telling the American people for a long time that there’s a mission accomplished sign at the end of the tunnel.


CRENSHAW: It’s like, what does mission accomplished look like? And people have gotten frustrated as a result. They think we’re fighting endless wars and that we need to bring the troops home. But the reality is, these are just slogans. They’re just slogans. There’s actually not a place you can look to around the world where we just left. And, if we did leave, it didn’t turn out well. We didn’t leave Japan. We didn’t leave South Korea. We didn’t leave Germany. And what happened? Not bad things. Good things. That’s what happened. So, you — we have to start being honest with people about why we send troops there. And people are frustrated with nation-building. I get that. And I agree with it. I don’t think you can nation-build in Afghanistan. But you do need some kind of force there to continue to build up the fragile government that we have left in place, as well as to counter the terrorists that inevitably reside there. And it’s come time that we’re just very honest with people about what the mission is. The mission is to prevent another 9/11. And, in fact, every day that we don’t have another 9/11 is a good day. People too quickly forget what happened then and why it happened. It didn’t happen because we were in Afghanistan. It happened because we were not in Afghanistan. That’s the truth. And I don’t know why that argument isn’t made more often.

ISAACSON: And that applies to Syria as well?

CRENSHAW: Yes. Yes. It does. I mean, you know my thoughts on Syria. I wrote about it. And I felt that we had a very economic force there, in the sense that we were getting a lot for what we were paying for. We had very few troops, and they were doing a very specific mission. And that’s, frankly, the right balance. And maybe nation-building is going too far. And Americans don’t like that. I think that’s clear. But doing nothing doesn’t have to be the option either.

ISAACSON: You’re here at Rice University today for a Health Innovation Summit that you’re a part of. Explain to me what that’s doing.

CRENSHAW: So, this is our second annual Healthcare Innovation Summit. And, needless to say, Houston is a hub of innovation and medical breakthroughs. You have the Texas Medical Center here. And so what better place than to highlight some of the people and some of the technologies that are up-and-coming? So I designed this kind of like a TED Talk.


CRENSHAW: And I want to recognize some people who’ve done some amazing things in health care, and we want to reward them. And we want to let others talk about what they’re doing and tell the public, because we invite everybody. Tell the public what they’re doing.

ISAACSON: So this Health Innovation Summit at Rice, it’s somewhat personal for you, right?

CRENSHAW: It is. It’s personal from a family perspective. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 10 years old. And before she died, she was actually patient number one for a brand-new treatment called Taxotere. And they just started trials. And she didn’t make it, all right, because she was part of that first contingent of patients. But that trial, that innovation and that investment, that led to countless other cancer drugs that a lot of people now survive because of. And so, when I give an award to somebody, like I’m going to do, the award is called the Susan Carol Crenshaw Award. And it’s indicative of the fact that innovation saves lives, and we can’t sacrifice that.

ISAACSON: One of the problems here in Texas is that you have got the largest number of uninsured kids. When you look at policy now, what should Texas be doing to make sure more kids get insured?

CRENSHAW: Yes, the insurance markets are broken, and they have gotten way more broken under Obamacare. Prices have skyrocketed. We were told that, hey, if you like your doctor, you can keep them. We were told that premiums were going to go down. And none of that happened. So, when we look at this problem, we have to look at, what’s the number one problem that we have? It’s affordability. It’s affordability. It’s cost. It cost too much, so you can’t get insured, because you’re not going to pay that astronomical premium. So, we have to be looking at policies that drive down costs, so that we can afford these premiums, so that everybody can get access to them. Drug pricing, that’s a big one. So that’s a big driver of health care costs. What else? E.R., emergency room costs, right? People aren’t getting primary care. So what do we do to fix that? One of my big projects in Congress and that we’re constantly working on and trying to figure out how we can expand is direct primary care. So, this is a model that’s actually somewhat popular in Houston. And I want to make it more popular throughout the United States. We’re talking about a price of a primary care doctor per month that’s about the price of a cell phone bill. OK? And then you get unadulterated access to that doctor, right? There’s no insurance, there’s no third party. You just have access to your doctor. We’re trying to reignite the relationship between the doctor and the patient. It’s affordable. It keeps people out of the emergency rooms. You’re engaging in preventive medicine, all right? And it’s easily accessible. So there’s some ways to do that. Maybe it’s subsidizing the poor through HSAs. Maybe it’s looking at Medicaid programs. We’re exploring those ideas. But there’s ways to do this here in Texas. And I’m working with Texas think tanks as well that are looking for what is the right state policy and then what’s the right federal policy to allow the state to do that? So, we really do have some pretty interesting ideas out there.

ISAACSON: But that would cut out the insurance companies?

CRENSHAW: Yes, this is for primary care. So if you’re going to solve health care as a — in general, you have got to start with primary care, right? That’s your first touch point in health care. Who is your doctor? Do you even know your doctor’s name? A lot of people don’t, because they have lost that relationship, because the insurance company is driving your health care, or the government is driving your health care. None of these things are good. You want to start with a doctor that you trust. And this is why I’m such a big fan of direct primary care as a model. Again, it already exists. It’s really great. We’re talking about a Web site that you go to. You put in your zip code, and you have a list of doctors. We’re talking 75 bucks a month, and you have total access to that doctor. That’s what people are looking for some, especially my generation. You want to be able to go on an app and find a doctor that way, make your choice, and find them. And then choose your insurance. Maybe your doctor helps you choose what insurance works for you. Let’s make insurance more portable. Let’s make it cheaper, have more choices. And let’s not rip away the insurance that you might already like from your employer via Medicare for all.

ISAACSON: But if you have that primary care system that you talked about, and you don’t have insurance, what happens when that primary care doctor says, you need some serious medical–


CRENSHAW: I’m not claiming that this solves the insurance problem. I’m claiming that there’s a lot of steps we need to take. If we’re going to be — if we’re going to be smart about this, there’s a lot of steps we need to take to make insurance cheaper, so that you can buy the insurance. Right now, you can’t afford that. OK? But, now, if you’re so poor that you can’t afford it, you are eligible for Medicaid and things — and programs like that. So, also, it’s kind of like this notion that we don’t have any sort of subsidies or any sort of public options is false. We do, right? And they target the right people. So what I’m talking about is primary care, which is your first touch point with health care.

ISAACSON: But, if you did that, wouldn’t it make sense to expand Medicaid, which has not been done in Texas?

CRENSHAW: Well, I’m not a Texas legislator. But the — but the argument is pretty strong against that. What you’re doing is inviting more — more federal — more federal involvement in your Medicaid system, and potentially making it completely unsustainable, fiscally speaking. That — that — that’s why Texas has been reluctant to do that.

ISAACSON: Has your opinion guns changed at all over the past couple of years, because of the number of mass shootings we seem to have had?

CRENSHAW: In the past couple of years, we have had less shootings than we had over the past 30 years, so, yes.

ISAACSON: And mass shootings too?

CRENSHAW: And we have had more — we have had more guns than we have ever had. So, it depends on how you want to torture the data, right? You can make any argument you want. Is more guns being in the hands of society actually causing mass shootings, or is there a deeper problem, a deeper cultural problem that’s occurred ever since the Columbine shooting? Ever since the Columbine shooting, we have had sort of copycat crime, where somebody who’s disturbed and unhappy and angry, they look to this model. They look to this horrible, dramatic model of a shooting. And they want to do that. And if they can’t do that, maybe they will do a mass stabbing or drive a truck through somebody. You’re seeing these copycat crimes happen. We used to have guns in schools, right? People used to take their hunting rifles to school. We didn’t have this. So why is that? And — and I wish we would stop being overly emotional about how we’re trying to assess this problem and realize that it’s a very hard problem. But — and it might feel good to ban some kind of weapon that’s responsible for less than 3 percent of all deaths. But the question is, is it going to do good? And the answer is very much, I think, pretty obvious that, no, it won’t. It might make you feel good for a little bit, until the next crisis happens. And then you will — what are you going to do? You are going to infringe on more people’s rights to defend themselves? The thing is, every time you have a shooting, and you want to implement a certain policy to prevent that shooting, you have to be able to tie that new policy to the shooting itself. And you can’t do that in any of these, on any of these cases. I mean, and I have looked into this. Like, literally, none of these cases would the Democrats’ gun control measures be able to be tied back to that shooting that we’re all angry about. And so that should be your first level of analysis. And if you can’t do that, then maybe we were asking the wrong questions to begin with.

ISAACSON: What do you think is — are the main causes of this? I mean, what can we do?

CRENSHAW: Gun violence in general?

ISAACSON: Gun violence in general, especially random shooting?

CRENSHAW: Yes. And that’s what gets people upset, right, because — and you have got to distinguish between these things. So, crime as a whole has gone down dramatically. It’s going up lately because of some of our bigger cities have — and then the reforms that they’re making, which are not generally good. But, overall, crime has gone down a lot. When there are shootings and a lot of gun violence, it’s generally criminal-related, drug-related, gang-related, OK? That’s a certain problem set that we have to solve, usually solved through better law enforcement practices. Then there’s these dramatic shootings that are random. And a better way — I think a better word for the mass shooting that you’re trying to describe is a randomized shooting. It’s almost like a terrorist attack in some ways. It’s indiscriminate. And, therefore, it’s scary. It’s extremely scary, because you never know what can happen. So what can you do about it? I think you have to look at the ultimate cause. And the cause was — ever since Columbine, ever since Columbine, there’s been this copycat crime. So is it better mental health practices? Is it — is it — is it more investment and the right kind of practitioners at our schools? Is it better investment in school safety, so that somebody can’t actually access a school? Here in Houston, I think we do that quite a bit. Like, I can’t access to school, not without an appointment. And maybe that’s — maybe that’s the right way to do it. So — and a lot of those solutions have to be localized. Some school districts are fine with arming some teachers who are maybe ex-veterans, things like that. Other school districts aren’t. That’s not — that’s not a policy that should really be coming from the federal government down to the local level.

ISAACSON: Yes, you are a Republican from Houston, and you’re in the lead, in some ways, on environmental issues for the Republican Party, you and Congressman McCarthy and others. Explain to me your bill and what you would do on environmental issues.

CRENSHAW: So, my bill is the New Energy Frontier. My bill is the New Energy Frontier. My bill is — it’s a part of a much larger plan that McCarthy is leading. And it deals with carbon capture as it relates to natural gas production. So, carbon capture is a proven technology. And we have plants right outside Houston, whether coal-burning or natural-gas-burning, that, on the natural gas side, have zero emissions, and they power 5,000 homes. Right? So it recirculates the CO2 through the plant and powers 5,000 homes. That’s natural gas, oh, my God, fossil fuels and fracking. And it turns out, if you ban fracking, you actually increase emissions. Why? Because, well, you have to rely on coal-powered fire — coal-powered plants. There’s — again, there’s a coal-powered plant right outside Houston that takes the equivalent of 350,000 cars off the road every day by carbon capture. So, we need to be looking at technology that’s functioning, that works, and looking at ways to scale that out. All right? So, my bill simply repurposes DOE grant money to focus on projects like that. I also want to create a carbon innovation hub, tell us that, does the fundamental science on what kind of utilization can be derived from carbon dioxide? Why does it have to be a waste product? Maybe it’s a commodity, not maybe — it is a commodity. It can be used in cement production, chemical processes, greenhouses, algae farms, enhanced oil recovery. There’s actually a lot of uses. Let’s figure those out. There’s actually — there’s people out there who theorized that you can create energy right out of CO2. So, this isn’t science fiction. This is real stuff.

ISAACSON: What else would you do in terms of both climate and environment, besides carbon sequestration?

CRENSHAW: Well, part of that plan is resiliency. So, we need to prepare for rising sea levels. And a good way to prepare for rising sea levels is not to make your economy poorer, which was like more of the Green New Deal approach. Planting atrillion trees, the Trillion Tree project, Sounds simple. People think — people kind of laugh at it at first. It’s not. Carbon sequestration technology, we already have it, as it turns out. It’s called trees. Plant more of them and lead the way on that. A lot — and there’s a lot of momentum behind that already. You know, it already happens at a local level. A lot of corporations have signed on to this idea. yes, let’s keep planting. Let’s actually capture carbon that way. Just in the last few years, President Trump has signed into law pro-carbon capture legislation and in the form of 45Q tax credits, pro-hydropower legislation, making it easier to permit hydropower, carbon- free. And pro-nuclear legislation is too. And pro-nuclear legislation is also part of this broader plan. So, it’s an all-of-the-above strategy that focuses on the actual problem, which is reducing emissions. The problem is not fossil fuels. The problem is emissions. And if the problem is emissions, then how do we reduce those? We should look at what’s working worked and what will not work. And we could just look in the last couple decades to figure that out. So, in the last couple of decades, the U.S. has led the way in reducing emissions. Why is that? Well, it’s mostly fracking, almost entirely because of fracking, because natural gas burns cleaner. And we have — we have transitioned a large part of our energy use to natural gas. If you look at countries like Germany that basically implemented their own form of a Green New Deal, focusing totally on wind and solar, investing I think $580 billion on wind and solar, what’s happened to their emissions? They’re stagnant. And not only that, but they’re importing dirty Russian gas, because when the Russians make the gas, it’s about 40 percent more emissions. So, the last thing we would want to do is remove market share from the United States’ oil and gas companies, which burn cleaner, because we just have more regulations, better environmental standards, and give that market share, because it — it has to be a global problem, right? Give that market share to Saudi and Russian natural gas and oil companies. That doesn’t make any sense. But that’s almost entirely what the left is advocating for. Begs the question, is their goal really to reduce emissions?

ISAACSON: Do you think so?

CRENSHAW: No. No, I don’t. I mean, I really don’t. I think — I think they’re very good at convincing people that it is, but their policies do the opposite. So, it’s — it’s hard to make the case.

ISAACSON: I was somewhat surprised that the Club for Growth and other very conservative fiscal groups were opposing your plan. Why is that? And what do you say to them?

CRENSHAW: So, they need to read it more closely. It’s — yes, these are — these things can be expected. No plan gets out there and has zero — zero opposition, of course. Some of these groups are opposed to any kind of government action in any kind of way, all right? So, you will never please them. But this is — this — this plan takes conservative principles and the conservative problem- solving framework and looks at a problem and says, let’s solve it. If this is our goal, how do we actually get there? And how do we get there within conservative principles? And I think this plan meets that standard very clearly.

ISAACSON: You have talked about mitigation. What did Houston and what did you learn from Harvey, the storm, and the flooding?

CRENSHAW: Oh, on flood mitigation in particular? Quite a bit. It’s one of my big focuses. And there are so many elements to that. As it pertains to my district, it’s figuring out where we need more retention. It’s figuring out where the floodplains are. The reality is that these places have been floating for a very long time. And we haven’t really done the right kind of infrastructure investment to do something about it. We’re long past due on these kind of investments. You can look at maps from the ’50s that say, don’t build here. And yet we built there. So, we have got a lot of work to do. And there’s enormous studies happening right now. And if you’re going to invest tens of billions of dollars, you need big studies to figure out where exactly you should invest. What canal do you need to widen and deepen? Where do you need to build the retention? So, some of these things, we are already doing, right? We’re doing a lot of dredging in San Jacinto. We have been — we have plans to put gates at the Lake Houston Dam Spillway, instead of just a spillway, and improving the drainage system, which happens at the local level. There’s a lot of aspects to this.

ISAACSON: Good to talk to you, Congressman. Thank you.

CRENSHAW: Thank you.

About This Episode EXPAND

Sanders 2020 campaign co-chair Nina Turner explains why she thinks the senator has what it takes to go up against President Trump. Jill Wine-Banks tells Christiane about her experience as the only woman on the prosecution team during the Watergate investigation. Congressman Dan Crenshaw of Texas sits down with Walter Isaacson to discuss healthcare, gun violence, the environment and more.