With Democratic leaders standing firm against giving any money to President Donald Trump to build a border wall, the comments of one 15-term Democratic lawmaker stood out Tuesday.
Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, is a founder of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, and despite having a close relationship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he’s known for bucking his party. He couldn’t even bring himself to vote in the 2016 presidential election after backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.
“I’d give him the whole thing … and put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be,” Peterson said Tuesday. “Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.”
Peterson said he wasn’t sure he’d want Trump to get “a blank check,” suggesting some of the money could go to the U.S. Border Patrol or to improving security at points of entry.
Along with seven other Democrats — all freshmen from competitive districts — Peterson last week voted against an amendment to a disaster supplemental spending bill that would prohibit funds for the Army Corps of Engineers or the Homeland Security Department from being used to construct a “new physical barrier” along the U.S.’s southwest border.
“The White House hasn’t called me,” Peterson added in Tuesday’s radio interview. “When I bring up what I have to say (to Democrats), they look at me cross-eyed.”
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One of three Democrats remaining in the House who voted against the 2010 health care law, Peterson is probably used to getting those looks. He sided with former President Barack Obama just 46 percent of the time during the eight years he was in office, according to CQ’s Vote Watch.
It’s widely acknowledged that Peterson is the last Democrat who can defend Minnesota’s 7th District. Trump carried the seat by about 30 points in 2016, when the congressman himself had a surprisingly close re-election against an underfunded opponent. He defeated the Republican by just 5 points. In last year’s midterms, Peterson conducted polling and ran a campaign (which he hadn’t done two years before), but he defeated the same Republican by an even narrower 4 points.
Still, Peterson is no fan of Trump.
“He’s a New York guy, and I’m a rural guy. We didn’t hit it off,” the congressman told Roll Call last fall while driving around his district. He said he’d rebuffed entreaties to serve as an ambassador in the Trump administration. And despite his votes against Democratic leadership, he’s refused to change parties.
With many more Democrats now in Congress representing Trump districts, Peterson may not be so alone.
Seven freshmen voted against the same disaster supplemental legislation last week: Reps. Anthony Brindisi of New York, Andy Kim and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Kendra Horn of Oklahoma.