Congressman Moulton Talks Mental Health, Taiwan, Illegal Immigration & More
Earlier this month Congressman Seth Moulton, who represents Massachusetts’s 6th District and hails from Marblehead, sat down with Marblehead Beacon for a wide-ranging discussion.
Mental Health: There is Still More to Do
One of Representative Moulton’s top goals for his next term is to further tackle mental health legislatively–something on which he says he has already made meaningful progress. In 2020, he co-sponsored and helped successfully pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2020. It established “988” as a phone number that people may dial to be connected to a suicide-prevention hotline. Early usage numbers, said Moulton, are incredibly promising.
This law represents only one piece of a three-part mental health program the congressman hopes to establish. The remaining two components–mental health checkups for every service member when returning from deployment, and extending such checkups “to every kid in America”–are both things Moulton is pursuing in Congress.
The former Marine Captain who did four tours of duty in Iraq believes it is imperative to offer soldiers returning from war meaningful mental health care not only because it will help them acclimate back into society, but because treating veterans will set a good example. “If these tough Marines can get mental health treatment,” he noted, “the rest of us can too.”
Public Transportation: Moulton Unimpressed With Names Being Floated
Moulton sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, so naturally the subject of transportation ranks high on his list of priorities. While he plans to address matters such as high-speed rail nationally, he noted that in Massachusetts, “we have a huge opportunity with the new governor.” Finding a new manager for the MBTA, he believes, is of paramount importance. “I can tell you,” he said, “that the early names being floated around are remarkably devoid of experience running world-class transit systems.” Asked about the politicization of the choice for this role, particularly with one-party leadership, Moulton said that it would be a mistake to make the selection about anything other than qualifications. “These [candidates] are great, politically appealing people,” he said, “but I want someone who has led world-class transit systems–a place you would come and say, ‘I wish this were what the MBTA looked like.’”
Though the congressman would not share his roster of candidates, he acknowledged that he does have such a list, and would be sharing it with Governor-Elect Maura Healey, and is also “working together with Senator Warren on some recommendations.”
With respect to whether he believes that building a state-of-the-art transit system is an either-or question of being green or affordable, he said the two options “are not mutually exclusive.” The goal, he said, “is to have a transit system that everyone wants to use, so yes, it needs to be affordable for people who don’t own a car, but it also has to be appealing enough for those who do want to get on board.” Transit systems that “only cater to one segment of the population do not succeed like those that [cater to both] like London.”
Moulton’s Secret Trip to Afghanistan
When President Biden initiated what many, including Moulton, considered a catastrophic and poorly executed withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, Moulton, along with fellow veteran, Republican Representative Peter Meijer, made an unannounced trip to Kabul. Having chosen to go without seeking the Pentagon’s permission and without notifying other relevant parties, both congressmen took heat from the White House, the State Department, and others in Congress. Asked about this decision and whether he had any regrets about being in the “dog house” with Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, he said, “it’s hard to think of a more important thing I’ve done in Congress and something that is more widely respected by the American people.” Apart from the political fallout he faced, including some calling the move grandstanding, self-serving, a distraction, or a trip that took away resources desperately needed to help evacuate Afghans, Moulton noted that “I don’t think I’ve ever done something that more people from across the country have reached out to me and said, ‘thank you for doing your job when the rest of the government wasn’t.’”
One-Party Rule in Massachusetts
With political polarization on the minds of many, the numerical breakdown of party representation in government can be pivotal, particularly when it comes to matters such as potential filibusters or veto-proof majorities. In Massachusetts, for many years, every congressperson and senator in our delegation has been a Democrat. Beginning in January 2023, our governor will also be a Democrat, and the state legislature remains a Democrat supermajority. Asked his thoughts on whether the approximately 55 percent of voters in Massachusetts listed as Unenrolled or Republican can be represented when virtually all of government is in the hands of one party, Moulton believes they can. “My job is to represent everybody in this district: Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and people who don’t even vote, so I don’t think for a second that we’re a one-party state.” He also pointed out that due to “extremism in the Republican party…the most popular governor in the United States [Charlie Baker]” might not have won his own primary had he run again. The congressman does not blame Republican citizens of Massachusetts, but instead blames party leadership that “has gone so MAGA, so Trump, so extremist that a lot of Republicans don’t feel represented.” He noted that such individuals, “are more interested in banning books and boycotting Disney.”
Asked about popular polarizing figures in his own party, such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Moulton contended that those who push such things as defunding police represent only a “handful of members in our party,” whereas “70 percent of Republican candidates have said they either question or outright deny the results of the 2020 election.” To the question of whether those Democrats who he contends comprise only a small minority might have a loud and effective voice on platforms like Twitter, Moulton said, “Twitter is absolutely not real life, which is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last five years,” though he acknowledged that “there is a lot that begins on Twitter and then becomes a story in the news.” In terms of politicians using TikTok and Twitter to reach teens, young potential voters, and others using social media, Moulton is concerned. “The average age of the American voter is 54,” he said, “so it’s a mistake for our party to think that we’re going to win elections by catering to Twitter.”
Though illegal immigration is not on the list of Moulton’s top three priorities for the coming term, we asked him about an episode last September involving Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor. Governor DeSantis had arranged for flights carrying some 50 undocumented immigrants to travel from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, in what some considered a publicity stunt, and others an important message on sharing the burden of the crisis at our southern border. Moulton told Marblehead Beacon he considered what transpired to be “human trafficking.” Pressed about how flying several dozen undocumented people to Martha’s Vineyard compares with the the burden of an estimated 7,500 illegal crossings per day faced by states on our country’s border, Moulton said he believes the solution would be to move ahead with Congress’s bill that “the Republicans would not pass.” Last year the House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021. It appears that in order to get Republican buy-in in the Senate, any legislation would have to address the border security and the havoc being wreaked on border states in particular–things that were lacking in the House bill.
As Americans remain deeply divided on the subject of immigration–with Democrats more likely to focus on giving legal status to undocumented individuals and Republicans more likely to pursue a solution for the roughly 2.76 million illegal border crossings in the 2022 fiscal year and the continued tide–it is unclear if there will be agreed-upon legislation to remedy the growing problem.
Taiwan and China vs. Ukraine and Russia
Connected to border security are our national security and interests abroad. Moulton sits on the House Armed Services Committee, and said that his third area of focus is on ensuring that we avoid a war in defense of Taiwan. “The consequences of going to war with China over Taiwan–which we’ve essentially committed to doing–are that we will lose thousands of American lives.” Earlier this year President Biden made what many believed was a shocking and aggressive threat to China that the United States would get involved militarily should China invade Taiwan.
The United States is supporting Ukraine in its battle against Russia, something that Moulton believes is defensible and distinguishable from the dangerous promise to engage in battle against China. “We cannot let Vladimir Putin walk all over Ukraine and then continue walking all the way through western Europe.” It is “a war we can’t afford to lose,” he said, whereas our China policy, he believes, should be that a war is something “we prevent from ever happening.”
Is “President Moulton” a 2024 Option?
In 2019, Congressman Moulton ran for president. One in a field of 27 candidates in his party, he suspended his campaign after only four months. As to whether he plans to run in 2024, he does not. And with respect to whether he believes Biden would make a good candidate for re-election, while he “is confident in President Biden’s ability to lead the party,” Moulton is reserving judgment on whether to support him for re-election, preferring to wait “to see what the President decides to do and if any other candidates emerge in the meantime.”
Editor’s Note: The author’s husband, Dwight Robson, donated to Congressman Moulton as well as to his PAC in 2014 and 2021, respectively, and in 2020 the author’s son invited the Congressman to participate in his virtual Eagle Scout project pertaining to the topic of suicide.