Transportation and trade were a couple of talking points at a Manassas event.
Congressman Gerry Connolly spoke at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce headquarters on Tuesday.
Connolly represents the 11th district, which includes parts of Prince William County.
The discussion was part of a Congressional Series the chamber hosted.
Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton talked about legislation and various topics, including the Rural Crescent and the National Rifle Association (NRA) last month.
Here is a video of the event:
Below, is the video transcription:
Gerry Connolly: Thank you and good morning. Well, I’m not quite sure where to start. There’s a lot going on in my life. In fact, I’m supposed to go to a deposition this morning to hear from our ambassador to the European Union who was involved in asking the Ukrainian president to cooperate with getting political dirt on a prospective political opponent of the president.
Gerry Connolly: So these are serious times and a lot going on. Theresa mentioned I’m also senior in foreign affairs, I co-chair the Turkey Caucus, among other caucuses. What happened yesterday in the pull-out of US troops as a buffer between Turkey and the Kurds is potentially tragic. The Kurds have fought with the United States, the only group that fought with us and successfully defeated ISIS on the ground in Syria, destroying the so-called caliphate and winning back territory with our cooperation. They were the only allies we had, and they fought quite bravely.
Gerry Connolly: They lost thousands of their fighters in that effort against terrorism, and for us to decide that we’re going to pull out and allow the Turks, who see the Kurds as all terrorists because there is a Kurdish independence movement, is going to put those Kurds at risk. You’ve seen a lot of criticism… By the way, a lot of it’s coming from Republicans who are very concerned about the import of this decision. So on both fronts we’re busy. But let me talk about other things. We can talk about all that stuff too, if you want.
Gerry Connolly: One of the important things about our region is this partnership between the Federal Government and the private sector. That is what, in many ways, created the economy of much of Northern Virginia. How many of you are federal contractors? Unusual. If I ask that same question in the other county almost every hand will go up, because it’s a source of huge employment. I probably represent the third or fourth-largest number of federal employees in the United States of any congressional district, but I bet you, for every federal employee I’ve got, I’ve got two or three federal contract employees. So contracting with the Federal Government, huge source of employment and growing in terms of outsourcing for government goods and services.
Gerry Connolly: Increasingly in our district, and in Northern Virginia generally, we’re providing a lot of intellectual heft for the Federal Government. If you look at the development of the internet, a lot of it took place here in Northern Virginia. The maintenance of what was called DARPANET at the time was done by Northern Virginia companies. NextGen work for the FAA, done here. Drone technology research, unmanned vehicles of all kind, just all kinds… robotics, cybersecurity. We are a key place for doing all of that and that’s going to generate new technologies and new jobs, for our region especially. So prospects are very bright for economic development here, but we have to make the necessary investments.
Gerry Connolly: Now, when I was on the board of that other place, I made as my number one goal getting the Silver Line from East Falls Church to Dulles Airport, as my number one priority. Now, that was in 1995. In 1995, nobody was talking about rail to Dulles. It had died. In fact, when I brought it up, saying I’m going to actually run on that, that’s going to be my number one priority, people thought, are you crazy? We tried that, done it, never going to happen. It’s too complicated, you got to put together a tax district, the Feds won’t fund it, the state won’t even pay attention. Focus on other things.
Gerry Connolly: What I learned from that experience was nothing happens if you don’t start imagining it. Here in Prince William, we got to start imagining alternatives to the automobile. And we better do it quickly, because every… You know, I was looking at the oh-my-god-congestion going the other way, coming out of [inaudible 00:05:46] this morning. They’re all going to jobs outside of Prince William County, and there’s a reason for that, because we don’t have transit. When we were looking at sites for the new FBI headquarters, Prince William had a site near Quantico, it was thrown out immediately. The reason? No proximity to transit. That was the Federal Government, a major employer. If you talk to millennials, they want to use transit, they don’t want to drive. My daughter’s a classic example. She left her car at home… it doesn’t even start anymore… and she moved downtown. Everything is transit to work and Uber at night. They want to be near, or be able to get to work through methods other than the automobile.
Gerry Connolly: So Prince William is going to grow, our congestion will only get worse. So we need to get smart about, well, okay, what investments should we be looking at? What I’ve been arguing since I became congressman here is, at least, how about we look at the feasibility? We don’t have to do it. We can decide, even if it’s feasible, we don’t want to do it. We don’t want to pay for it, we don’t want the disruption, we don’t want the commitment. But if we don’t at least imagine it, I assure you it will never happen. Transit is hard enough. I have the scars all over my body in terms of the ups and downs of the Silver Line. It’s a complicated process because the Federal Government makes it complicated and financing it is not easy, but we’ve got to have leadership at the county level here that has that vision and is going to engage state and federal officials to begin that conversation.
Gerry Connolly: There are quarters in Prince William that lend themselves to transit. I guarantee you, when you do polling of Prince William, they want these transit investments. They want us to be exploring them. I just think the longer we ignore that, the more expensive and the more difficult it will become. Transit never gets cheaper. Yesterday was the most affordable, today is sort of affordable, and tomorrow becomes more difficult, so the sooner we can have the opportunity for Prince William to take this bull by the horns and show some vision and leadership… I think it’s just necessary for our future and necessary for businesses. The Silver Line… If you look at what is happening because of the Silver Line in the Dulles corridor, it is exploding. New growth and it’s the right kind of growth. It’s mixed-use development.
This transcript was exported on Oct 10, 2019 – view latest version here.
Gerry Connolly: I’ll give you a little story. Tysons Corner is as big as my home town of Boston. Only 17,000 live in Tyson’s Corner, but 150,000 commute there at precisely the same time every morning. 150,000 people leave there at precisely the same time every night. You can actually see it. If you’re in a window in an office, looking down at those traffic patterns, you can actually see it’s all combined in peak hour. Right after peak hour… Easy. Silver Line is transforming that. All of a sudden we’re going to have mini… almost cities… all over Tysons that are going to have all kinds of amenities, including environmental amenities we don’t have now, [inaudible 00:10:02] streets we don’t have now. We’re going to go from 17,000 people living there to 100,000 people living there.
Gerry Connolly: The good news about that is they’re going to use Metro to work, right? I mean, why would you pay a premium for an apartment next to a Metro station so you can go in your car and drive? You wouldn’t, right? You’re going to leave the car in the garage or not have one at all, and you’re going to use Metro. Also, employment’s going to start clustering because employers realize their millennial employees want to use Metro, so they’re going to try to find a site closer to those transit nodes up and down the corridor.
Gerry Connolly: And you see it. You can go to Tysons, you’ll see the transformation before your eyes. Likewise, Reston and Herndon and Route 28. Ultimately, Loudoun will benefit from this because Loudoun decided… even with a conservative Republican majority on their board at the time, they understood the economic… that if they didn’t get in the game, they were going to lose. They’re already talking about… even though they’re only going to have the station at Dulles and one beyond. So it’s not like a huge intrusion of transit into Loudoun, but it’s enough of one to actually start economic planning around that feature.
Gerry Connolly: So we need to be talking about that in Prince William in a creative way. The business community needs to get involved because you can’t do it without the business community. When we did the Silver Line, we had to have a special tax district to fund it and that meant that 51% of the landowners in the corridor had to say, please, tax me extra. That’s the law in Virginia. We couldn’t oppose it. That was a devil of a time, but you know what? They saw what advantages would come from Metro being extended in the Dulles corridor.
Gerry Connolly: Now, there’s a reason there are 650,000 jobs in that other county. 650,000 jobs. Only the Federal Triangle has more jobs in the region, and it’s growing. In fact, if you add full-time and part-time, that other place is number one in the region. That corridor is beginning to show what it can do. I mean, the Dulles corridor is going to be the economic juggernaut of the entire region. It wouldn’t have happened without the key investment of the Silver Line. Just would not have happened. Land values, the willingness to invest and develop and re-develop, you know, people wanting to live there, all that good stuff.
Gerry Connolly: So I want to see Prince William, and I want to work with the incoming leadership to have a different vision for us that we offer to people, and they can decide if they want to do it. But not having that vision, doing nothing… we’re going to get more of the same. Because we’re going to grow by another 50,000 or 60,000 people and a lot of people are coming through Prince William to get to those jobs somewhere else. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more Iron Mountains and Microns that kept people here? All right, that’s the message.
Gerry Connolly: Government shutdown. Last year, the government shut down for 35 days. It was unprecedented. It had never happened before. If there’s a region in the United States disproportionately affected by government shutdown, guess who? It’s us, and it’s because of that partnership that I talked about earlier. So many jobs, so many businesses heavily relied on that federal partnership and the flow of federal revenue. It’s disheartening for a lot of companies because a lot of companies embed in federal agencies. They not only provide services that get purchased, they provide personnel who work in the federal agency, side by side with a federal employee. You wouldn’t know who’s who. When we have a Federal Government shutdown, that federal employee is guaranteed to be made whole once it’s over, but the federal contract employee is entirely at the mercy of his/her company in terms of what they work out, because they’re not getting paid, and they may not get paid.
Gerry Connolly: If you’re a small vendor, this may put you out of business. A 35-day shutdown could put you out of business, because maybe you’re a five or 10-person firm providing a specific service. You know, I had a constituent, still do, who ran a coffee shop at a federal office building downtown. He hired ex-convicts who were getting rehabilitated. He had a real… by the way, a conservative Republican… but he wanted to give people a second chance. He said all but one were incredible employees, really motivated, always reliable. He ran the coffee shop and the sandwich shop, so morning business, lunch business. It wasn’t open for dinner. Low margin kind of thing.
Gerry Connolly: It was in the federal headquarters building downtown. I won’t name the federal headquarters… GSA… but when the Federal Government shut down for 35 days, he couldn’t pay his rent. Business completely collapsed because people weren’t coming to work. He had to lay off all of his employees and he’s not sure he can survive, even now, because the backlog of debt and what he owed. Because his rent kept on going. They didn’t cut him slack for the rent, even though the Federal Government is his landlord. There were a lot of stories like that that didn’t get the attention in the press, but in our district we had a lot of small businesses that were affected very adversely by that shutdown.
Gerry Connolly: We want to avoid shutdowns, right? So we got the majority in January and we pledged we were going to try to move as quickly as we could on getting appropriations bills passed. The House has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. The other two are ready to go but there are controversies unrelated to the normal funding that have held up two of those bills. They’re ready to go, but the Senate has not passed a single appropriations bill. And oh, by the way, sometimes we get asked, impeachment’s going to just… you know, that’s all the focus and we’re not going to… We’ve passed over a hundred bills unrelated to impeachment, on immigration, on health care, on the economy, on jobs, on transportation, on voting rights, on women’s reproductive rights, on violence against women, all kinds of bills that have been passed in this Congress.
Gerry Connolly: The Senate, of course, has become this slow meat grinder to not act on a lot of that, even after massacres, more massacres, including one right here in Virginia, again, this year. We thought we had agreement, even with the president, on trying to have background checks, legislation what would kind of toughen that up and make it more enforceable. By the way, that was a position favored by the NRA not that long ago. Then those Republicans came out in favor of it, but we couldn’t get any action on the Senate. We passed it in the House, crickets in the Senate. Sam Rayburn, the late Speaker of the House, used to say… As a Democratic speaker, he said, “The Republicans are the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy.” Sometimes it feels that way in terms of the legislative process, so we’ll see what happens.
Gerry Connolly: But our goal is, obviously, not to have another shutdown. We’re operating now on a continuing resolution that will expire later this fall after our election here in Virginia. One always worries, even if no one goes into the process intending for a shutdown, it can happen. We really, after the experience we’ve had of the 35day shutdown… What I worry about is, frankly, there were almost no political consequences for that. That’s what’s remarkable about it. Who paid a price for shutting down the… Because if someone had paid a price, politicians would look at that and go, well, we don’t want to do that anymore, my god, look at what happened to him. But nobody paid a price for it, and that worries me a lot. The longest shutdown ever and nobody had anything to worry about. I mean, people affected paid a price, but politically no one paid a price, and that’s something to watch. So we will see.
Gerry Connolly: What else would you like me to talk about before we open it up? All right, trade. How about trade? I’m a free trader. I was one of only 28 Democrats to support the Trade Promotion Authority that was necessary to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was a big free-trade agreement for the Asia-Pacific Partnership, which was a big free-trade agreement for the Asia-Pacific region, which we wrote, the United States wrote. I’ve supported free-trade agreements with Panama and Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Israel.
Gerry Connolly: To me, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a very important step forward. It had protections on labor and the environment and human rights, but it also united a number of countries to counter China in an economic, competitive way. I mean, they were really excited about wanting to do that because, if you’re Vietnam, where do you turn? China is your neighbor, you fought a war against them.
This transcript was exported on Oct 10, 2019 – view latest version here. Guess who they turn to? The United States. I mean, they were eager to be part of what’s called TPP. I paid a price, as a Democrat, for supporting TPP. Organized labor decided to sit out my race that year and, for the first time in my career, not endorse me. I’ve never made a secret of my free-trade position since the day I ran for this job, but they decided to make examples out of the Democrats that supported the TPP.
Gerry Connolly: I believe President Trump made a tragic error and really hurt America’s interests by walking away from it, our own treaty, the TPP, because now those countries have no place to turn but China. And the last thing in the world we want to be doing, it seems to me, is retreating from the Asia-Pacific region. That’s the fastest-growing region in the world. Economically, that’s where the future is and we are a Pacific nation. Our West Coast looks East. We need to play and we need to be competitive, and we can be. Why would we cede this unilaterally to our competitor? The Chinese are still drinking champagne in Beijing over this decision. It’s not in our economic interests. My hope is, that when this period ends, we will revisit this issue and re-join our own treaty and try to salvage what we can to plant our stake in the region and be competitive with the Chinese.
Gerry Connolly: The Chinese are doing a lot of things we’re not doing. They’re making incredible investments domestically. I talked about the Silver Line earlier… The first time the idea of… maybe, I don’t know, spitballing here, maybe we should have a rail link between the nation’s premier international airport, so designated, Dulles, and the nation’s capital, just a thought, because they seem to have it in every other industrialized capital in the world. That was 1962. We signed the FullFunding Grant Agreement with the Federal Government to proceed in 2009, 47 years later. I don’t think the Chinese take 4.7 years to build high-speed rail, new metro systems, new bridges, new ports, new airports. I was there, three years ago I think. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I was dazzled by the investments they’re making in infrastructure that take us forever. Now, their public process isn’t everything we’d like it to be, but maybe we get a little too carried away sometimes with ours, certainly the approval process, because it impedes our ability to make decisions sometimes and to make these infrastructural investments.
Gerry Connolly: We need trade as a country. We need open trading systems. We need to enforce the rules of the road in trade. The one thing I give the Trump administration credit for is, they’re willing to call out the strikes with respect to Chinese behavior in trade and intellectual property in a way that both Republican and Democrat presidents before had been shy, because China’s so big and, oh my god, we need them and so forth. Well, their predatory behavior has to be called out. They’re no longer a developing country, they are a major economic rival. Their GDP is probably going to pass ours in the next couple years, two or three years. They’re going to be number one in the world. Think about that.
Gerry Connolly: I’m old enough to remember famine in China. It’s a very rapid development, but we should have no illusions about who is our prime economic competitor as we move forward in the future. We need to make sure we’ve got the tools to compete. One of them is free trade and trade alliances with countries that want to work with us. So we got to be careful that we’re smart, and we don’t do stupid things, like walking away from our own trade agreement just because somebody else negotiated it.
Gerry Connolly: We have pending before us, I would say amendments, modifications, to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. You may recall, when President Trump became president, he threatened both Mexico and Canada, our number one and number two trading partners in the world… ripping up NAFTA and just nullifying it because he thought we were getting a raw deal. So negotiations began and, essentially, what they’ve produced are some modifications to the underlying North American Free Trade Agreement. I don’t know. It’s not a major rewrite at all. He says it is, it isn’t. There’s some dairy provisions that help our dairy farmers. US content is maybe the biggest thing affected, so that it increases the amount of domestic content required for… especially automobiles, things like that, and there are some pharmaceutical provisions. That’s sort’ve it.
Gerry Connolly: They want to get a vote. They need Democrats to vote for it, right, to agree to it. Given how the Democrats did not vote for TPP under President Obama, how likely are they to vote for a trade agreement under President Trump? I will say that Ambassador Lighthizer, who sort of is their point person on trade, has done a good job in reaching out. It’s the only example I can point to where they have genuinely made an effort to reach out to both sides of the aisle. We’ve had him come before one of the groups I belong to and talk about this.
Gerry Connolly: I would say we’re probably on a path to agreeing to it. My concern is that impeachment may make that hard. If you’re a Democrat getting ready to vote to impeach the president, how readily do you want to turn around the next day and vote to give him his free trade agreement and make that a priority in your life? It’s not going to be a part of it for Democrats. It’s going to be something they might get round to doing but not in an enthusiastic way.
Gerry Connolly: So I would say that what looked to be on track to pass this year… I think he calls it the United States Mexico Canada Agreement or something, USMCA… it really is a series of amendments to NAFTA. If they come up, I’ll certainly support them, but I don’t know that I’ll make it a priority in my life, given everything else we’re doing. I do think that the fate of this… The closer we get to the presidential year in 2020, this fades as a priority for a lot of my colleagues. So that’s one to watch.
Gerry Connolly: Finally, let me just end on where are we in impeachment. I personally believe… I waited until Robert Mueller testified. I read the Mueller report carefully. I was deeply disturbed by what I read. If you frame the issue as a Democrat, politically, at least until the last two weeks, you did not support impeachment because politically it looked too risky. We don’t want to do things that make it harder to try to prevail in next year’s elections.
Gerry Connolly: I did not frame it that way. I took an oath. I take that oath every two years, if the voters have me, to protect and defend the constitution of the United States. I didn’t take an oath to protect and defend the political prospects of my party. I didn’t take an oath to listen to where popular opinion is and follow that. I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States. And when I see somebody violating the constitution of the United States, abusing his office, violating the law, I feel I have a duty to act on that, however unpopular or popular it may be. That’s how I framed the issue, and that’s why I came out in favor of four categories of… potentially four articles of impeachment… in early August, after Robert Mueller had testified.
Gerry Connolly: That was before Ukraine. Up to Ukraine, about 183 Democrats and one Independent, who had been a Republican, came out in favor of impeachment. After Ukraine revelations, 87 more Democrats joined in calling for impeachment. Why? Well, we have prima facie evidence in front of us that the President got on the phone… Oh, the President inexplicably suspended $400 million worth of military aid to Ukraine. Why is that important? Because there are Russian troops in the eastern part of their country fighting them as we speak. As you may recall, Russia illegally occupied and annexed Crimea, part of sovereign Ukrainian territory. Because they did that, they were kicked out of the G7 and sanctions were imposed on the Russians by the Europeans and by us because of what they did. Nonetheless, fighting still goes on in the eastern part of Ukraine.
Gerry Connolly: The Ukrainians decided to elect a new president. I was there two weeks before the election. They decided they were so sick of corrupt politicians in their system… unlike here, they have corrupt politicians… and they decided to throw everybody out. There was a guy named Zelensky who was a popular TV star. He played an ordinary Ukrainian who kind of suddenly stumbles into the presidency of Ukraine as this man in the street who just is honest and non-political and… and we said, well, that’s a pretty good idea… and they elected him as president. No one knows what’s his foreign policy, what are his politics, does he like Russia, does he like America, will he cooperate with us, will he cooperate with them, is he pro-European? I mean, where’s he want to take the country? No one knew.
Gerry Connolly: So he’s untested. He doesn’t know anything about diplomacy or talking to foreign leaders on the phone, so you can imagine. And of course, who’s the one place, the one country, he’s got to have on his side if he’s going to fight Vladimir Putin and the Russians and get them out of his country? Us. So what happens? Inexplicably, in July, the United States announces it’s suspending all military aid to Ukraine. Meanwhile, some of our diplomats are negotiating with the new president of the Ukraine for a special visit to the United States to meet with
President Trump, but there are conditions. It turns out the condition is, we want you to cooperate with Rudy Giuliani, when he comes to visit you, who is seeking dirt on a particular American political figure of the opposition.
Gerry Connolly: Now, that is wrong. That is an abuse of office. It is also illegal. I went to the deposition last week to hear the man who had been President Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, who resigned his job when this all came out and came before Congress to testify. He gave us a series of text messages and emails that he had kept, between himself and other people in the State Department and with the Ukrainian government, explicitly confirming that this was understood as a condition. It most certainly was a quid pro quo, and it’s extortion.
Gerry Connolly: I think, for a lot of Americans and certainly for my colleagues in Congress, that is crossing a line we cannot allow. Because if we let this go, then somebody has to tell me, what is the limit on a future president? I guess we can use all foreign relations to our own political benefit, to keep ourselves in office and to smite our political foes as we see fit, and to engage foreign powers in that effort. We can’t have that. So that’s what’s happening. There’s a series of depositions. I belong on two of the three committees that are undertaking these depositions, one of which is this morning in about 25 minutes. There’ll be others as well, and we’ll see where this goes. I would say to you candidly, I believe firmly the president will be impeached by the House, and I believe it probably will be this year before Christmas
Gerry Connolly: Then, under the constitution, the House has sole jurisdiction with respect to that. The Senate has sole jurisdiction to have a trial. We’ve only had two in our history, so we have some protocols about how that happens. Then it’s the moment of truth for the United States Senate and we’ll see where this takes us. It’s a very grave moment, not something I relish at all. It’s something I’ve spent a long, long time thinking about, researching, and even praying about, frankly. I may not like a particular political figure in the White House, but impeaching that individual is a very different matter. That’s not about liking him or what political parties we belong to, it’s about behavior and respect for the constitution and separation of powers in this country. Our freedoms depend on insisting and forcing that fundamental respect. If we don’t, then you have to ask yourself, what will be the behavioral norms in the future? What will be the limits on the president in the future?
Gerry Connolly: Our founders were extremely sensitive about limiting the power of the executive. They had George III in mind. That’s why Article One of the constitution is Article One, about the legislative branch and its powers. It’s not Article 16, it wasn’t an afterthought. It was the first thought. Presidential powers are Article Two. If you read the Federalist Papers, Madison certainly… one of the chief authors of both the constitution and the bill of rights… he felt that actually the House, the people’s body, was the preeminent part of the new government. So we have a very important role to play, and we will try to do it as judiciously and carefully as possible. Thank you. Let’s open it up.
Speaker 2: Thank you, Congressman Connolly. Do we have some questions? Yeah.
Speaker 3: Thank you. As much [crosstalk 00:39:17]
Gerry Connolly: Thank you.
Speaker 3: You’re welcome, you’re welcome. As much as I’d like to talk about three or four things that you’ve already discussed, I’m going to try to limit my question to an economic deployment one. I am familiar and have watched some of the stuff with the Silver Line in Tysons and what’s going to happen in Reston and farther out. I would be curious how you contrast that with the Yellow Line and the Springfield station and the further expansion to what, frankly, is becoming a clean slate for development in north Woodbridge. It seems to me that, in Springfield, the massive development didn’t happen the same way. How would you contrast those two?
Gerry Connolly: Well, I think one of the things about the Silver Line is it’s in a corridor. I mean, a real, defined corridor, roughly airport to East Falls Church, with some really important economic anchors already. We weren’t starting de novo. We had Tysons, we had Reston, we had Herndon, we had Route 28, and then the airport. So very clear what you had to do, very clear you could do it from an engineering point of view.
Gerry Connolly: Now, there was a big debate that got started, under and not over. We had a big engineering debate about that. If we had tried to do it all underground, it would have added probably a couple of billion dollars to the project. We didn’t have that and the Federal Government is very strict about the financial feasibility of these transit projects. They don’t do the same thing with roads, but they do with transit. So we definitely would no longer have qualified and we would have been kicked out of the approved projects and start all over again. That would have killed the project. So we had to fight that one and we did.
Gerry Connolly: I look at… I’ll give you an example. Fort Belvoir gives us the opportunity, when you look at Route 1, for a mini corridor, all right. A lot of the people who come to Fort Belvoir come in from here and south, so it lends itself to a rationale for transit. We could move those people to this huge source of employment. Fort Belvoir now has more people working there than the Pentagon. Yeah. It’s astounding. And if you think of the Pentagon, it’s served by Metro, it’s served by buses like you can’t believe, go look at the bus bays there, it’s got a grid of highways that service it very well as well. I mean, it even has helicopters. So Fort Belvoir is served by 95.
Speaker 3: And Route 1.
Gerry Connolly: Yeah, and Route 1. That’s right. That’s it. We’ve got a little bus express program called REX in that corridor, but that’s an interim solution, right, and it doesn’t really serve the people coming from here. So we have an opportunity to look at a corridor and use that anchor that’s already there, Belvoir, to try to move people and maybe in the process revitalize the corridor.
Gerry Connolly: Now, the county has to do that. The county has to envision all of that, but that’s how you do it. What are the logical corridors, you know. Getting to Potomac Mills has been suggested as another logical corridor. I think we’ve outlined three or four corridors we think… in Prince William… that might makes sense, that you ought to look it. Maybe the county would look at others as well, which they should. But helping to imagine this, engaging the business community and local residents about, well, okay, how do we see this, and what might happen, and what do we want to happen? Then you can look at feasibility. Well, how would we pay for that?
Gerry Connolly: My hope is, over time, the Federal Government will make it easier. I mean, when you look at… I’ll give you an example of how hard the Federal Government has made it now, and that’s why the local vision and action is so critical here. The original Metro in Washington was 80% funded by the Federal Government, and in some cases 90%. Silver Line… The Federal Government originally capped its entire participation at $900 million, which would have been about 17% of the cost of the project. A complete reversal. And we were responsible for figuring out how we financed the rest of it. I’m thinking, well, this is the nation’s capital. Rome didn’t have to do that, Tokyo didn’t have to do that, London didn’t have to do that, Paris didn’t… It was clearly a federal responsibility to connect the premier airport to the nation’s capital. Somehow, here, that’s a local responsibility.
Gerry Connolly: So if we can free up, not only more federal dollars but make it easier for people to qualify for those dollars, that makes things a lot easier, too, in terms of, okay, now we know what we’ve got and all that. If you make it too difficult, people throw up their hands thinking, well, even if we could get consent for other financing, the Feds make it so hard we may never get that in our lifetime, or something like that. But we got to start and there has to be strong will here if that’s what we want. If that’s what we want. I’ve always said, we may look at the feasibility and decide it isn’t feasible by our [inaudible 00:45:37] or not desirable for various reasons. Then we have taken our fate and the wrong hands have made a decision about it, but let’s not do that by default. Let’s do that in a thoughtful way that engages everybody and we come to some kind of decision through that process.
Speaker 3: Thank you.
Gerry Connolly: David.
David: First of all, let me give you a plug. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of your former colleagues, Republican and Democrat, for decades, and it amazes me. How much time you spend in Prince William probably equals all of the others combined. We do appreciate that.
Gerry Connolly: My wife thinks I have an apartment here.
David: Well, we’ll give you a letter, whatever you need. I too support Metro. I think it’s imperative that sooner or later, hopefully sooner, we do that, but in the interim, we’ve got the Virginia Railway Express. It took us years to get that, but on June… whatever the date was… of 1992, about a mile from here, we had the grand opening of the… inauguration of the Virginia Railway Express.
David: Governor Wilder was the speaker and the governor at the time. I recall, as vividly as it was yesterday, that I said in my remarks that I would hope that in the next couple of years we’d be able to make the VRE bi-directional, like the Long Island Rail Road, so that our community could go up and down, instead of just up in the morning and back at night. Here it is, 27 years later, and it still is not bi-directional. I think until Metro does come here, that really is a sore spot on our economic development and liveability in Prince William. So I just urge you, do whatever you can do, negotiate with the railroads, the Long Bridge, whatever it is, to try to finally get that expedited and get some service for Prince William County.
Gerry Connolly: Well you know, David, thank you so much for saying that. At my level, I’m a partner. I can help, and I can try to grease wheels in the federal system, but I need to have a local partner. When we did the Silver Line, it was my county’s leadership that was critical. We enlisted the governor and the members of Congress. But they weren’t going to do anything. I mean, there’s a limited amount of political capital that you’ve got, the time you’ve got, and you place it where it’s going to make the most difference. And if I have an unwilling or indifferent partner in the local level, I move on to somebody who wants to work, you know.
Gerry Connolly: So we need, really, have a serious conversation about transportation options. I agree with your point. My view is, move on all fronts. The key to managing congestion is not that we’ll eliminate it, it is to provide commuters choices. If I can give you six choices today and every day, you can decide what’s best for you that day. But right now we don’t have choices here, or limited choices. So can we expand those choices, can we make other investments, what are we willing to do?
Gerry Connolly: I mean, with respect to Metro, Prince William is a free-rider. There are a lot of Prince Williamites who use Metro, but we’re not a member of the Compact. It saves us money, but it also kept us out of the game. We’ve got some catch-up to do. But VRE is absolutely something… It’s successful. You’re old enough, I’m old enough, to remember when people made fun of it and called it a white elephant. Nobody would use it, what a waste. Well, I don’t know, I think we’re at 22,000 riders a day and we need more capacity. And if we could have more capacity, we could… I don’t know what the limit is. We probably could get to 35,000, you know. That’s great, it siphons of some of that congestion and it’s a necessary choice we need to exploit and build on, but we also have to look at other choices as well, but as you said, while we’re doing that.
Gerry Connolly: It’s a classic story. That was 27 years ago, I wonder what happened to that? So we’ve got to have a mechanism for follow-up and stick them with it and building a team that will advocate for the choices we decide we want to make and the investments that are going to be required. If you’re not willing to pay for the investments… I mean, the one thing I learned in 14 years in local government, infrastructure is not financed by fairy dust. At the end of the day, someone’s got to pay for it. And new infrastructure requires new revenue, there’s just no getting around it.
Gerry Connolly: We’re trying to face that at the federal level. We haven’t raised the gas tax. We haven’t even indexed it to inflation, so we haven’t touched it since 1995. Well, the buying power has decreased. As vehicles get more efficient, that source of revenue starts to decline and so it’s less reliable. Meanwhile, our infrastructure deteriorates all over the United States. So we’re facing, in some ways, the same kinds of dilemmas. There are not easy choices, but you’ve got to pay for it. I think, in infrastructure, when people can see what something pays for, it’s easier to say, all right, that one I’ll pay for. It can’t be abstract. That’s why I really believe in helping people visualize.
Gerry Connolly: On the Silver Line, when we started showing renditions of what the stations would look like, so that you could now help imagine what a neighborhood or an apartment building or whatever might look like in contrast to what was on the ground, people got excited and the support kind of jumped up. So I’m hopeful, but I’m impatient about… We need leadership in this county that’s going to get serious about this, but we haven’t had it. Not you, but I’m talking about more [crosstalk 00:52:56]… Andrea, speaking of new leadership [crosstalk 00:53:01].
Andrea: Absolutely, absolutely. Thank you so much. I agree with David, your partnership with this county is impeccable and we need you. I will be the next leadership to partner with you and to make sure that it is holistically growing. I’m a former resident of that other place that you talked about. When I saw it growing and your vision for the Silver Line, and to see it come to fruition, that tells me that there is hope for Prince William County.
Andrea: So for me, as a future leader, there’s an intangible that… We can talk about the infrastructure, we can talk about the funding, but there’s an intangible with the community that we have to build as well in support of to move forward. So my question to you is, from your leadership in that other place, what are the intangibles that the local leaders need to do to build that trust and to build that let’s-lock-arms-and-move-forward?
Gerry Connolly: Lots of engagement mechanisms, right, so task forces and town hall meetings and using forums like this to make this the topic of at least some of the conversation. I think talking about benefits. When you make this kind of investment, it has a huge return on it. Let’s take the Silver Line. Okay, the Silver Line will have cost, I don’t know, probably $5.5 billion, $5.6 billion. So what’s the return on that? Well, it’s going to attract, and already is, billions, you know, many multiples of that in new development.
Gerry Connolly: It’s going generate, we think, a billion dollars in tax revenue for the county. A billion. You go to schools and say, what do you think you can do with that? Or libraries, or parks or… This is all money being generated that is not being required of the homeowner on the property tax. So I can bring you relief because of this huge new base we’re building, much of it commercial. So we’re diversifying our tax base, less reliant on the homeowner. Meanwhile, it’s a better place to live, it’s a more interesting and vibrant place, it’s economically successful, and it’s giving us this return on this investment we made that allows us to reinvest in the things that improve our quality of life. Education, public… you know, open space and environment, law enforcement, so forth, to keep the crime rate low and parks clean and open and children healthy and getting educated. I mean, not a bad a deal. Wasn’t that a worthwhile investment?
Gerry Connolly: Not everyone thinks it is. Some people want to pay for nothing and don’t want anything to change, but the fact is things do change if you don’t change too. Everything we experience will get worse, congestion-wise. I guarantee you that’s going to happen. You’ll see it deteriorate. We’ll make improvements, but most of those improvements are designed to simply absorb new capacity. I tremble to think what it will look like 20 years from now. What will our community be?
Gerry Connolly: I can tell you, representing the two counties, when I do a telephone town hall meeting… I’ve done about almost 30 now since I’ve been in Congress and they’re great mechanisms, because people don’t have to come out, they can be in their PJs and get on the phone. We reach 10,000 – 20,000 constituents at a time with each of these telephone town hall meetings, but I have to wait to 8:00 to do it because of Prince William. People aren’t home. I could to it at 7:00 if I only wanted to reach people in that other county, but I represent both, so we have to wait for 8:00. Now, that extra hour in a sense, of commuting, tells you a lot about culture. It affects civic life.
Gerry Connolly: In that other county, if you’re getting home 6:30, 7:00, you can have dinner, interact with the kids, and go out to your civic association meeting or your league meeting or whatever it is. Here, if I’m getting home at 8:00 and I haven’t eaten yet and I haven’t even seen my spouse or my kids, I’m not sure I’m that eager to want to go out that door and go to a meeting. It’s a little harder. Quality of life is affected, it affects everything, and I’ve seen it, representing both counties. I’m very sensitive to that because it’s a huge burden on people.
Gerry Connolly: One of the worst commutes in America, time-wise, was from Prince William, Bristow, to downtown. I actually… It was one summer. I was going to spend the whole month of August in different commuting patterns with constituents to experience what… or highlight it. We knew somebody in Bristow and I said, I’d like to commute with you, you pick a day. So we’re in the car and he said, really, this is the worst commute in America in an urban boundary? And I said, yeah, you’re number one. He said, oh, I can’t believe that. I said, well, really, tell me about your commute. He said, well, I get up at 4:00 and I try to hit the road by 5:00, 5:30. I get downtown, I go to the gym, because my office isn’t open yet, and shower and have a little breakfast, then get to the office. I try to stay late so I beat the evening rush hour, so it’s 7:30ish when I finally hit the road. I’m home by 8:30. And I’m thinking, you don’t think you have the longest commute in America? You just described a horror show, every day.
Gerry Connolly: I commuted with one guy on a Slugging. I went Slugging with him. He was still recovering from heart attacks and his doctor had said the stress of the commute. So by Slugging, he had actually improved his health because he wasn’t solo. I mean, the impact of this congestion dominates our lives. We’re one of the few places in America where we don’t talk about how many miles is it. Everything we do we describe in time.
Speaker 6: How long does it take.
Gerry Connolly: Yeah. When someone says, well, how far away is it, we still answer in time. It’s about 45 minutes. Mileage doesn’t… I have colleagues… That would be such an alien concept, right. If they are in Montana, they’re describing distance… 127 miles… but not here because the commute is so unpredictable. If something goes wrong, oh my god, that timeframe changes. So it’s a very impactful thing on everything we do, and we have to try to make it better.
Speaker 3: In Montana that’s a 75-minute drive, I think.
Gerry Connolly: Yeah. They probably don’t have speed limits. Yes [inaudible 01:01:32].
Laura Keys: Hi, I’m [Laura 01:01:34] Keys, AARP, and some of your ardent supporters here. I’ve been asked to ask you, would you support H.R.3, that’s Nancy Pelosi’s health care bill, when it comes to the floor?
Gerry Connolly: Yeah, H.R.3 is about drug pricing.
Laura Keys: Yes. [crosstalk 01:01:49].
Gerry Connolly: Yes. I’m a strong supporter. Look, I’m all for free markets and I’m all for private companies… I come from the private sector. I worked for two big companies before I got to Congress and I’m a strong pro-business Democrat. But some of the practices of some of the pharmaceutical companies are life-threatening.
Gerry Connolly: I’ll give you an example, insulin. Now, if the argument is we have to charge a very high price to recover the R&D costs we put into developing this drug, all right. That’s a fair argument if it’s a brand new drug. Insulin is over a hundred years old. There’s nothing new about insulin, but it’s a life-saving and necessary drug for people who are diabetics. To jack up the price 300% or 400% because a company took over another company and it can is really, I think, predatory behavior that puts lives in jeopardy.
Gerry Connolly: All of sudden people are cutting back on how much they use, skipping sometimes, and that… If you’re a diabetic, if you’re not careful about your blood sugar and managing it, you risk kidney failure, blindness, neuropathy, all kinds of horrible things. A lot of Americans are diabetic. It’s epidemic in America. It’s not an uncommon or rare disease. So you ask yourself, what is the responsibility of government to protect Americans suffering from that condition with respect to the price of their drug that they need daily?
Gerry Connolly: We’ve had other examples. EpiPen, same thing. Well, EpiPen’s not… The only new thing about the company jacking up the price… I think they jacked it up 750%… was packaging. I mean, I don’t think they did a thing, not even in terms of how they deliver the drug. It was just somebody who took over a company and decided to maximize profit. Well, there are a lot of people who need EpiPens who are anyphylitic, right. If a bee stings them, it’s life-threatening for them. Or certain kinds of things they’re exposed to, food allergies, they can be life-threatening because the respiratory system shuts down. That EpiPen is essential to shocking everything back into functioning. Schools know this. Because if a kid has that condition, the nurse often has that EpiPen for that kid, knowing if they have an asthma attack or whatever it may be, that’s the instant thing to do before you call 911, to save the life.
Gerry Connolly: So I’m all for pharmaceutical companies having a realistic profit, but I’m also about protecting consumers from confiscatory, predatory practices that are pure greed. There has to be a balance. We have an obligation, it seems to me, to have a free market but make sure it serves the needs of the people we serve. So yeah, I will support H.R.3 for those reasons.
Speaker 8: Final question. Anybody?
Gerry Connolly: How about… Why don’t you each ask your question, then I’ll take them as one. Is that all right? Go ahead.
Speaker 9: Good morning. I’m Jerome Johnson. I have a political question for you. You said that all the bills that the House have passed… It’s ready to go to the Senate, but the Senate’s not acting on it. You said that TPP, we wrote the bill and the President just walked in and just walked away
Gerry Connolly: No, no. I said the United States.
Speaker 9: The United States, yeah. So my question to you is… For the bills that you have sitting waiting for the Senate to act on, you’re not educating American on it, because the news media always say, oh, the Congress ain’t doing nothing, they’re not doing anything. You passed all these bills. She asked you about a bill, you said, yeah, I’ll support it. Well, it’s not going to go anywhere if the Senate doesn’t act on it, so it dies. How do you see the Democratic Party educating the public, putting more pressure on the Senate to take action on all this work that you’re doing that is just sitting there?
Gerry Connolly: Great question. I really do think the media is a big problem here. I’ll give you an example that happened to me. A media team came in, two reporters from… It was HBO and Axios, and I guess it was going to be shown on HBO, right. So they interviewed me for 30 minutes they would distil down to one. And for 30 minutes, every question was about impeachment. This is months ago. This is six months ago, right, long before current events.
Gerry Connolly: They were pressing me because I had not come out in favor of impeachment. Why not, and don’t you think and, you know. Only after all that, the very last question, the female reporter says to me, well, aren’t you Democrats worried that impeachment’s just going to overpower everything and nobody will pay any attention to your agenda? I said, you’ve just spent 30 minutes interviewing me, and you didn’t ask a single question about gun control. You didn’t ask one question about my position on Dreamers. You didn’t ask a single question about how we’re going to fix certain health care issues, like drug pricing. I said, not one question, and then you dare to ask me to explain why the Democratic legislative agenda is not getting attention? What am I supposed to do? Put a gun to your head to make you talk about what we’re… because it’s not like we’re not doing it, but you’re not giving it any attention because that’s not the shiny object, and that is a problem. It’s incumbent on us to try to figure out that problem, as you say. I think we have to do a better job of that.
Gerry Connolly: You know, as one member of Congress, I try to… I use e-newsletters and other methods of communication to talk to people about what we’re doing. Theresa introduced me… Despite this conversation, my lane in Congress has been to champion Federal employees and to try to modernize the Federal Government with respect to IT, a really sexy topic. [inaudible 01:09:09]. The Federal Government spends over $100 billion a year in IT. $100 billion. I mean, we’re the largest single driver, if you think about it, of IT in the world, of any customer. And yet, about 70% or 80% of that $100 billion is spent on legacy systems, just maintaining them. Well, we need to free that up and reinvest in ourselves to come into the 21st century.
Gerry Connolly: There are real problems with legacy systems, including encryption, right. They’re much more vulnerable, with one exception. The Chinese don’t know how to hack into Cobol, so that’s a good thing. But we’ve got some mainframes we’re still using that are 40 years old, some even older. We don’t refresh PCs in the government the way we do in… When I worked for one of the companies I worked for, we probably replaced… We had 42,000 employees at the time. We replaced computers for everybody about every two or three years. There are federal agencies where that is seven or eight years. In computer world, that’s a lifetime, that’s… What can go wrong with that? Hard drives crash, archiving material is a problem, data can be breached, hacking is easier. So I’ve spent a lot of time, and I’ve had a lot of success, as Theresa said, on a bipartisan basis. I’ve always had Republican support for this. We’ve passed a number of bills, we’re holding oversight hearings to make sure those bills get implemented. Who would know?
Gerry Connolly: In fact, even my own local newspaper… Do you think the Washington Post has printed one word of that? We actually got it done. We’re not talking about it, we did it. And we are moving federal agencies into the 21st century. You know, go to the cloud, consolidate data centers, streamline your management… have a chief CIO, not a whole bunch of people running around… manage your software, manage your intellectual property. We have a scorecard, we have hearings twice a year. We score people in the seven categories of the scorecard and then give them an overall grade to try to nudge them to improve. We give the CIO some tools to go to the boss saying, we don’t want another D or F, we want an A, right, or a B. It’s actually working. If we are successful, it will free up billions of dollars to reinvest in the enterprise, to make it more efficient, more secure, and serve people better in terms of their mission.
Gerry Connolly: So I really agree with your challenge. I get frustrated that engaging the press… I mean, if I go to this deposition this morning it will be mobbed with press, and they’re only going to ask me about one thing. They’re not going to ask me about, well, now that we got you, what are your thoughts on drug pricing, even though that’s a pretty important and sexy topic. So the media is part of the problem. They’re single-minded, they can only handle one thing at a time, and breaking through is a huge challenge for us. Sam.
Sam: My question is probably considered political, but I’m asking it from a humanitarian perspective. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to meet a student at the Woodbridge Campus of NOVA. A bright young lady, doing well, honor graduate, from one of our local high schools, taking one course that her family paid by credit card. She’s undocumented and her family’s undocumented. She wants to get an education, she’s charged out-of-state tuition. Is there anything happening that could help the many young people in our community like this?
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Gerry Connolly: Not yet. If you remember, when the President revoked President Obama’s executive order protecting Dreamers, Mr. Trump said, I feel that that order was illegal and I will work with Congress, my heart goes out to these people and let’s get a legislative fix. So there’ve been a number of proposals we’ve gone to him with. In all cases, he’s backed off. So he says something in the morning, but by the afternoon Sam Miller or Mulvaney or somebody got to him and all of a sudden he’s changed his mind. This has been public, right. People have seen this in public. It was reported. So trying to get… There is absolutely a legislative majority, and I think there are a number of Republicans as well as Democrats who want to fix this yesterday. These Dreamers are innocent victims of the system or of decisions made by others.
Gerry Connolly: I’ll give you an example. I brought a Dreamer to one of the… two years ago… to the State of the Union Address as my guest. She is a high school scholar at Annandale High School, she mentors kids who are struggling in schools with academics as a tutor and volunteer, she’s an athlete, I think she wants to be an entrepreneur when she gets out of school, she’s looking forward to going to college. She did not know she was undocumented. Her parents had to tell her when she turned 16 to get her drivers permit. The only country she knows is this one. As far as she’s concerned, she’s an American. If you met her, you sure wouldn’t know. I mean, unless she wore a sign saying “I’m undocumented,” you would assume she’s a normal high school kid, and a bright one, one you’d love to spend a little time with and be proud of, by the way. Very articulate.
Gerry Connolly: I just think we’re making a terrible mistake as a country, turning our backs on those people. I mean, these are fellow Americans. They don’t have the right papers. We can regularize that. Why do we want to cause so much grief and stress on people who want to be Americans? I’ve met with dozens of them, like you have. I mean, honestly, they’re wonderful young people. We need them. They want to be proud Americans, they want to make their contribution. It’s just not in our self-interest to behave this way.
Gerry Connolly: I can tell you… We sometimes use language and act like this is a new thing, these people undocumented. I could tell you that’s not true. I know all kinds of people who came to America without documentation. Some of them lived in the shadows and in shame all of their lives, afraid. Afraid to admit it or let even their family know. But we have a solution here that’s humane and that will work and will allow folks to become productive citizens, as they want to be. They came to America as children, little babies in some cases. Are we going to treat them like criminals? What’s wrong… You know, no. That ought not to be our value system or our ethos.
Gerry Connolly: I know there are people who feel differently. We got to crack down and all that, and I understand that. I don’t share that view, I really don’t. I think there’s a better way to approach this that makes America stronger, and makes our communities stronger, and gives us the talent of the future we’re going to need. Our history is replete with people who came here and made us stronger. I could take you to the Capitol of the United States. The first architect of the Capitol was an immigrant. The great painter inside the Capitol was an Italian immigrant. Carnegie was an immigrant. Marconi was an immigrant. Einstein was an immigrant. Did they make America better or weaker? Should we have deported them? You’re teaching the future Einstein maybe, you never know. But I do know that our country needs that talent to grow and prosper, and to fill…
Gerry Connolly: Theresa, I know your company, along with a lot of other tech companies, has a huge problem in getting the talent they need because we’re not producing enough of that skilled workforce. A lot of those jobs can also be met, at least for a while, with rational immigration.
Sam: Thank you.
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