Voter guide: John Sarbanes, Congress, District 3
The Baltimore Sun
Democatic candidate for Congress, D3
Residence Towson, MD
Occupation Member of Congress; previously an attorney
Education I graduated from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, studied law and politics in Greece on a Fulbright Scholarship, and graduated from Harvard Law School.
Previous political experience
Member of Congress representing Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District since 2007
Why are you running for office?
I am running, as always, to serve the needs of my constituents. In this moment, that means being a steady and trusted voice as we navigate the ferocious challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. On the policy front, I will bring my background in the health field – seventeen years representing health care providers in Maryland – to inform our deliberations in Congress on how to address this public health crisis. Along side the full-court press on public health, I will continue my work to strengthen our democracy by ending the influence of big money in politics, protecting the right to vote and ensuring that public officials work for the public interest. To make progress on the most pressing issues we face – including designing a health care system that serves everyone -- we need a government that responds to the many, not the money.
How do you assess the Trump administration so far? Name at least one positive and one negative.
Since his election, President Trump has aggressively pursued policies that favor big money donors and well-connected special interests over the health, safety and livelihoods of everyday Americans and the most vulnerable in our society. I am strongly opposed to his rollbacks of environmental protections needed to combat climate change; his efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, push people into junk insurance plans and kick people off of Medicaid; his cruel immigration policies, including family separation; and his tax cut bill, a $1.5 trillion giveaway to corporate America and the wealthy.
Beyond this, the President has been relentless in his attack on the rule of law, the foundations of our democracy and the ideal of public service. His policies, behavior and temperament have frayed national unity at a time when we need that unity to face our greatest challenges such as the coronavirus outbreak. Too often, it feels as though Americans are being left to marshal their efforts in spite of the President’s actions.
One of the President’s few decisions that I agree with is removing Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Erdogan’s Turkey is an ally-in-name-only and should have no role in the development of our next generation military hardware.
2017 TAX CUTS
What effect do you believe the federal tax cuts of 2017 have had on the economy thus far or will have in the future and why? Do you support the cuts?
I opposed the Republican tax bill, which was written in secret with no Democratic input, because it directs money to the wealthiest Americans by slashing the corporate tax rate and consolidating tax brackets for individuals; further limiting the estate tax, which only applied to estates valued at more than $5 million; and dramatically reducing the tax rates for pass-through companies, creating a loophole for wealthy individuals like President Trump to disguise their income and artificially reduce the amount they owe. These massive giveaways were paid for by capping or eliminating provisions relied on by millions of middle-income Americans like the state and local tax deduction and the mortgage interest deduction.
Unfortunately, the post-tax cut experience has validated analytical predictions. While some companies announced one-time bonuses for some employees immediately following the passage of the tax cut, real average hourly earnings have not risen dramatically. The tax cuts are not trickling down to workers, as was promised, but instead are going to executives. The first two quarters of 2018, immediately after the bill was passed, had record levels of stock buybacks, with companies spending $436.6 billion on buybacks during that time. Like most of the President’s policies, the benefits flowed to the wealthy while doing little for most Americans.
Furthermore, I am concerned that Republicans will use the increase in deficits caused by the tax bill to push for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other programs on which millions of Americans rely.
Is the level of economic inequality in the United States a problem, and why or why not? What, if anything, should the federal government do to address it?
Income inequality is among the most pressing issues facing our nation today. For decades, the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of America has steadily increased. This trend was exacerbated after the Great Recession, as income gains during the recovery flowed almost exclusively to the top 1% of earners.
The depths of income inequality in America will be laid bare by the current public health crisis. That’s the reason that access to testing, treatment and eventual vaccine opportunities must be carefully monitored to ensure that underrepresented and poor communities are not left behind.
Ultimately, our failure to counteract growing income inequality is a symptom of the issues in our democracy. In order to address income inequality, we need a government that responds to the needs of the average American, instead of one that leans heavily in the direction of wealthy special interests.
Should federal gun laws be changed, and if so, how and why?
I believe that gun violence is a serious public safety concern in our country and that Congress is long overdue in passing commonsense legislation to address this issue. I supported both H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, and H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act. The vast majority of Americans, including a majority of NRA members, support closing loopholes in our background check system. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has abdicated his responsibility and refused to even allow debate on these bills.
I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 1296, the Assault Weapons Ban bill. It is irrational and irresponsible that dangerous individuals are able to easily and legally obtain military-style weapons of war. I am also a cosponsor of H.R. 1186, the Keep Americans Safe Act, which would ban high-capacity magazines, and H.R. 1236, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, which would provide federal support for states to enact Red Flag laws, like Maryland’s. These commonsense measures would make Americans safer while respecting the Second Amendment.
What should Congress do with respect to the Affordable Care Act, how and why? If you believe it should be scrapped, what, if anything, should replace it?
The Affordable Care Act made significant gains in expanding access to health care for Americans and reining in some of the health insurance industry’s most flagrant abuses. It began to turn our health care system in a new direction, where prevention and primary care take center stage. But we’re not there yet. The failure to implement coronavirus testing in a timely and effective way demonstrates how much work remains to establish a robust, modern public health system.
We must build on the foundation of the ACA. During the drafting of the legislation, I supported a public option to allow individuals to buy insurance directly from the government. I continue to support a public option, which would expand access and drive down costs. Ultimately, I support moving to a single-payer, Medicare for All system, which will guarantee coverage for all Americans and give the government greater latitude to lower health costs.
Unfortunately, Republicans have attacked and undermined the law since the day it was signed by repealing a reinsurance system meant to reduce premium costs, spreading misinformation and cutting funding from enrollment programs, reintroducing short-term and junk health insurance plans, and refusing to expand Medicaid in many states. The cynical rejection of the Medicaid expansion has placed those states in a particularly precarious position as we now combat the coronavirus outbreak.
What role should the federal government play in helping cities? What, if anything, would you do for Baltimore, specifically?
The federal government should combat housing discrimination to allow disadvantaged communities to build wealth; increase funding for public transportation, which expands access to economic opportunities; increase support for education to ensure our nation’s youth can succeed; and fund green infrastructure with a focus on environmental justice, so that our communities do not suffer the negative effects of pollution. While states and localities must lead on reforming criminal justice systems, the federal government can provide incentives to move toward a more rehabilitation-focused system that does not lock communities in cycles of incarceration.
I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 2741, the LIFT America Act, which would help rebuild and modernize the United States’ infrastructure. Importantly, this bill would increase funding for the replacement of lead drinking water pipes in cities like Baltimore. Lead has been shown to have long-term detrimental effects on the health and development of children exposed to it.
I am also a cosponsor of the TREES Act, which would increase tree-planting in urban areas—particularly for low-income areas—thereby mitigating urban heat island effect, reducing stormwater runoff, and promoting cleaner air quality.
I’ve also championed transformational projects for Baltimore, including the revitalization of Penn Station, which is a source of economic opportunity; the Middle Branch redevelopment project, which will provide recreation and community engagement; and Baltimore Shines, which will provide low-income households with access to solar as well as job training for local Baltimoreans. Through these initiatives, Baltimore can bolster its communities and invest in its residents’ success.
Do you back Elijah Cummings’ bill -- which Republicans say is too expensive -- to provide $100 billion over 10 years to fight the opioid epidemic? Why or why not?
I was proud to cosponsor Congressman Cummings’ Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency Act when he first introduced it and again this Congress. The opioid crisis is a public health emergency. I am glad Congress has taken steps to address the crisis in the near-term, such as legislation I authored to increase the prescribing of overdose reversal medication, and long-term, including legislation I authored to expand the substance abuse health workforce, but there is more to be done. The crisis has ravaged communities, and children whose parents struggle with addiction will continue to feel its effects for many years. The sustainable, long-term funding that Rep. Cummings’ legislation would authorize is essential to providing the continuous support that providers, patients and communities need.
What changes, if any, should Congress make to our immigration and deportation laws and policies? Should the DACA program be preserved? Why or why not?
Contributions by immigrants are at the heart of American society. My grandparents undertook an ocean voyage from Greece to begin a new life as restaurant laborers here in Maryland and committed themselves to strengthening the democratic fabric of this country. I see that same commitment in the families of our immigrant communities all throughout America.
The Trump Administration has pursued immigration policies based on xenophobia, not the best interests of our nation. The refugee ban, changes to asylum policy, family separation, attempting to end DACA and TPS and pursuing vulnerable individuals for deportation are just some of this Administration’s policies that I have fought against.
We need to support an immigration policy that takes into account national security and economic interests, as well as the need to provide a fair legal framework for those seeking to come to our Nation from other countries. DACA in particular must be preserved until we can codify the DREAM Act. DACA recipients are promising young people, most of whom have known no other home than the United States. They were brought here by no fault of their own and should be afforded the educational and economic opportunities that the United States has provided to immigrants for generations.
How would you rate the Trump administration’s trade stance with China and why?
Unfortunately, our trade policies have long assumed that "free trade" is the same as "fair trade." That assumption has touched off a race to the bottom where American jobs are shipped overseas to countries with non-existent labor standards or environmental protection laws. My highest priority is preserving high-wage jobs and increasing the competitiveness of American companies domestically and abroad. We must reset our nation's trade policies to ensure that fairness and American values regarding worker rights guide U.S. trade agreements so that we can level the playing field for American businesses.
While I supported the USMCA because it was an improvement on the status quo of NAFTA, there’s no doubt it could have been stronger, particularly as it relates to action on climate change. Beyond that particular agreement, I continue to have concerns about the Trump Administration’s trade policies, including the trade war with China. As in other policy realms, the President has pursued trade policy in a haphazard manner that often seems to be more concerned with fulfilling campaign promises than supporting the American economy. Sudden changes to our trade policy have hurt American businesses and necessitated billions in payouts to American farmers. Going forward, we must carefully implement a trade policy that supports Americans workers and businesses without unnecessarily shocking the economy.
Do you support the president’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal? Why or why not?
President Trump's reckless decision to violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) weakens the United States, isolates us from our allies and undermines our credibility in future diplomatic efforts. Prior to Trump's decision, there was no evidence that Iran violated the terms of the agreement and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Secretaries of Defense and State, the National Security Advisor and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had all attested to Iran's compliance. In response to the United States re-imposing and implementing new sanctions against Iran and its leaders, Iran began enriching uranium above levels that were permitted by the JCPOA agreement. Rising tensions between the United States and Iran threaten to further destabilize the region and it is important for all sides to deescalate and seek diplomatic resolutions.
I am under no illusions about Iran’s role in spreading instability throughout the region and world. The JCPOA was not based on illusions or trust, but rather on a stringent inspections regime and enforceable snapback sanctions. I believe we must once again work with our allies to impose restrictions on Iran that prevent the development of a nuclear program while allowing Iran the opportunity to change its behavior, which will make the United States, Israel and the world safer.
How should the United States address the rise of North Korea’s nuclear program?
I believe that nuclear nonproliferation, as well as securing loose nuclear material, should be a key U.S. policy objective. Nuclear weapons testing in North Korea makes it necessary for the U.S. to take a leadership role in reining in nuclear proliferation. I am extremely concerned by statements made by President Trump that indicate a nonchalant attitude towards nuclear weapons and will fight to preserve nonproliferation as one of the chief aims of United States foreign policy.
While I am glad that President Trump has moved away from making incendiary statements about North Korea and attempted to engage in diplomacy, I am concerned that he is more concerned with winning flattery from Kim Jong Un than pursuing meaningful restrictions on the North Korean nuclear program. We must continue to support diplomatic efforts to lessen the threat North Korea poses to us and our allies in the region, including South Korea and Japan.
How should the United States address climate change?
Once we get past the current public health crisis, we must refocus our attention on the most persistent existenial challenge to the human species, which is climate change. Science shows that climate change is a real threat to human health and our environment. Unfortunately, at a time when we should be confronting these challenges and transitioning from fossil fuels, Republicans have undermined climate science and declared open season for polluters and special interests. We must reverse the Administration’s environmental rollbacks and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord so that we can work with international partners to lower emissions across the globe.
I am a cosponsor of H.R. 5221, the 100% Clean Economy Act of 2019. H.R. 5221 would set a national goal to achieve a 100 percent clean economy no later than 2050. The bill would use existing authorities to replace carbon-polluting energy with wind, solar and other clean sources of energy across all sectors of our economy - from transportation to manufacturing to electricity.
I am always willing to consider innovative policies and solutions to reduce our Nation's carbon emissions. The science behind climate change is undeniable. It's time to end the partisan political games that have long delayed comprehensive energy policies and climate change solutions. If we meet this challenge, we can address our economic, national security and environmental policy priorities in one fell swoop.
GREEN NEW DEAL
Do you support the Green New Deal? Why or why not?
I strongly support a green new deal that invests in a cleaner, healthier future for all Americans. That is why I am a cosponsor of H.Res. 109, which provides a framework for climate action that acknowledges the broad impacts of climate change and our nation’s duty to ensure a just transition for all Americans.
Climate change is an existential threat, and I believe the federal government must step up to meet this challenge. We must take swift, meaningful action to meet our climate goals and protect the health and livelihoods of all Americans, especially our most vulnerable, for generations to come.