California Sen. Alex Padilla has been in office for just over 100 days after being appointed to the seat left vacant by Vice President Kamala Harris.
Already facing an election next year, Padilla — the state’s first Latino U.S. Senator — is on a short timeline to prove he’s up to the task.
"As far as my fate and my future, the best thing I can do to help make my case to the voters next year is to do the job and to do it well," Padilla told CapRadio Insight Host Vicki Gonzalez Wednesday.
Padilla cited his involvement in passing the last federal stimulus package, which sent people $1,400 checks, expanded the earned income tax credit, and sent billions to local governments to fight the pandemic. Republicans called the package too expensive, and progressive Democrats said the government should have done more.
Looking forward, Padilla said his focus will be modernizing the country’s infrastructure, climate change and immigration.
This Congress is the most diverse in U.S. history, but that means 11 senators are a racial or ethnic minority out of 100. Do you feel the cards are stacked against you?
No, I don't feel like the cards are stacked against me. But certainly I feel like we have a lot of work to do. And it's both the opportunity and the responsibility to bring the diverse voices of California and to represent the diverse experiences of Californians in the deliberations of the United States Senate in a way that hasn't been done enough over the course of our nation's history. So, I do think people are acknowledging that the nation is more diverse by the day, not just the state of California. And so I haven't had any colleagues saying, no, no, no, that's not the way to get around here. To the contrary, a lot of colleagues saying, thank you for bringing additional and fresher perspective. And now the challenge is how to have that reflected in legislation in our work product.
The Senate is pretty much split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, and that's a starkly different negotiating field when it comes to legislation where ideals are one thing and actually passing something is another. So how are you adapting to that learning curve?
I find myself going back to some of the basic ideas that I leaned on throughout my public service career. When I was first elected to the city council in Los Angeles, the best piece of advice I got was to sit down with each one of my new colleagues and begin to get to know each other.
Building a majority vote for a bill or an initiative, sometimes it's a different group of people that gets you the votes that you need depending on the issue or the item. And even when I was secretary of state in California, gets an executive branch, but working with Republican and Democratic secretaries across the country to help modernize elections and defend voting rights, it's what got us to do the 2020 election despite the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the outside, California is viewed as a progressive blue state. But as you more California Republicans voted for President Donald Trump than any other GOP candidate in state history. What does this tell you, especially with your perspective as secretary of state, about California voters who will ultimately decide your future senator?
As far as my fate and my future, the best thing I can do to help make my case to the voters next year is to do the job and to do it well. So that's been my focus … It's been a momentous first 105 days, whether it was my involvement in the passage of the American rescue plan or at the COVID relief package that was approved just a couple of months ago. And literally billions of dollars are arriving as we speak to working families throughout the state of California, small business owners throughout the state of California, state and local governments throughout the state.
As far as, you said the folks who feel like they aren't as heard in the political process, it was an interesting 2012 election cycle. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in large part because of the new policies that we put in place, making it easier for any eligible voter to register to vote, to stay registered, to vote, to cast their ballot. We saw the highest voter registration in the history of California and the highest voter turnout in the history of California on both sides of the aisle. So for anybody who thinks their voice isn't being heard, step one is making sure that they can participate in the political process. And we've established that. And the second is that regardless of who the winner is in any particular election, making sure that we are properly serving and are responsive to all of our constituents.
During one of your Senate speeches, you said that we need to bring humanity to our immigration system. Why has humanity been missing in this process?
I think humanity specifically is especially addressed that what we've seen in the last four years. And just to be as honest as I can be, the Trump administration wasn't just bad on immigration policy. It was, frankly, very cruel. We saw the images of children being separated from their parents and the conditions that many of them were held in for extended periods of time. You know, that's just a big, big example of how overdue reforming our immigration laws have been.
And so credit to the Biden administration there setting a different tone. They repealed some of the Trump executive orders, but now Congress needs to advance a comprehensive series of reforms, you know, restoring the asylum system in a way that's smart, frankly, bringing justice in the form of security and a pathway to citizenship for so many immigrants that have been living here in the United States of America, working, paying taxes, contributing to the success of the nation. And no state more so than right here in the state of California.
We're not just the most populous and diverse state in the nation without more immigrants than any state in the nation. And by the way, we are the largest economy of any state in the nation. And that's not a coincidence. The contributions of the immigrant community is a big part of California's strength.
Some criticize you for focusing so much on immigration instead of focusing on how to help those in the country that are in need of assistance. Homelessness is a main priority in California, a huge issue. How do you plan to help those constituents who need support to get through the rest of the pandemic or just, frankly, get a roof over their head?
Yeah, look, it's not an either-or and it's in many cases, it's one in the same. So, yes, I have been vocal about wanting to better support immigrant families and immigrant communities in California. Guess what? They're my constituents, too.
Many naturalized immigrants that are now citizens, many permanent residents that have been in California for years and years, and, yes, many undocumented immigrants in California that are nonetheless raising families, working, paying taxes and contributing. Every resident of California deserves constituent services and support resources and representation from me as their United States senator. But that's not in lieu of other priorities, whether it's helping people access their Medicare benefits or obtain their passport or assisting veterans with much-needed health care that they've earned and deserve.
In your first 100 days you're tackling COVID-19, immigration, climate change, all while you officially have a campaign to keep your Senate seat in 2022. That's a lot and a little amount of time, about 18 months. What do you foresee as your biggest challenge?
Besides juggling the schedule, there's only 24 hours in the day. I think we already delivered on the first big priority. When I was sworn in, I made it clear that the first item on the agenda was delivering that much needed assistance to frontline workers and the communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. So thanks to the American rescue plan, we're turning the corner. Vaccines are up, case numbers are coming down. We've got to keep doing what we need to do to get to the other side of the pandemic.
Now, the next step is advancing immigration reform and making those smart strategic investments in our infrastructure, tackling climate change as we go, protecting our fundamental right to vote. To think that fundamental voting rights are still being debated in the year 2021 is a shame, but it's necessary.
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