Jay Inslee’s town hall: 6 takeaways

2020 presidential candidates
Copyright 2019 CNN
DROPPED OUT: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, withdrew on Aug. 21, 2019.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is proudly running for President with a laser-like focus on climate change, entered the CNN town hall stage on Wednesday with a goal: Let voters know that he has a broader record than the key issue he has staked his campaign on.

The Democrat launched his campaign last month, honing in on climate change and talking about it at every turn. But on Wednesday, Inslee sought to expand on his other stances as he worked to convince voters to donate to his campaign and get him on the primary debate stage this summer.

Inslee, who comfortably parried questions from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer during the town hall, removed his glasses near the end of the hour-long event to make the point that climate changes matters and the best way to make sure the 2020 nominating fight focuses on the issue is by helping him meet the DNC standards — 65,000 individual donors and a polling threshold — so he can participate in the Democratic Party primary debates.

Shake up Senate rules to take on climate change now

Inslee did not mince words when asked about how he would combat political inaction on climate change.

“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we are the last generation, literally, who can do something about it,” the governor said.

Inslee said, in order to take action, he would push to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate if he wins the presidency, believing that it is the largest impediment to passing health care reform and climate change legislation.

Inslee was one of the earliest candidates to support getting rid of the Senate rule, which requires legislation to have the support of 60 senators before it can be voted on.

“We are not going to be able to get health care done — or anything else for that matter — unless we get rid of the filibuster,” Inslee said. “If the filibuster is still in Mitch McConnell’s hand come 2021, all hope is sort of down the tubes to be able to do real significant reform. So, I’m telling you, if I’m given this highest honor, I will lead the charge to end this senatorial privilege, which is an ancient artifact of a bygone era in time, and let’s get some health care reform and climate change legislation and reform the United States of America.”

Regrets? Jay Inslee had a few…

Inslee, unlike some 2020 candidates, has been in public life for upwards of 40 years. In that time, as governor and a congressman from Washington, Inslee has taken positions that he now says he regrets.

One of those is his support for the 1994 crime bill, a now controversial piece of legislation that included stiffer penalties for drug crimes and contributed to the massive incarcerations of people of color. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support for the bill as first lady was a constant knock against her 2016 campaign and the bill still looms large in 2020, especially if Joe Biden, the bill’s author, enters the presidential race.

“Listen, that was a situation where many Democrats, including myself, believed we needed some response to the epidemic of crime at the time. But I will tell you that — this, if I knew then what I know now, I would not have cast that vote. It has resulted in racial disparities in our system,” he said.

President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in 1994. The legislation included the federal “three strikes” provision and mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes.

… But he proudly stands by much of his record

Although Inslee said he regretted his vote on the 1994 crime bill, he also said Wednesday that he did not regret his vote in favor of the assault weapons ban that the same year, despite the fact that he believes he lost his congressional seat because of it.

Inslee was a freshman lawmaker representing eastern Washington in 1994 when he voted for the assault weapons ban. Inslee said Wednesday that he was told he would lose his seat if he voted in favor of the bill, but he opted to do it anyway.

“I voted for that bill. I provided one of the critical votes to get it over the top and I lost my seat,” he said.

“But I’ve never regretted that vote. Because I do not believe any congressman’s or politician’s seat is more important than any child’s life. And I fundamentally believe that.”

Despite losing re-election during what came to be known as the Republican Revolution in 1994, Inslee would return to the House in 1999 and become Washington’s governor in 2013.

Contrast with Trump

Inslee spent little time on Wednesday focused on his fellow Democrats running for President.

Instead, the Washington governor looked past the nominating fight and directed most of his fire at President Donald Trump, drawing a distinction with the Republican president as much as he could.

Inslee said he would have grounded the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes sooner if he were president, as significant comment because Boeing is based in Washington.

“This has been a painful thing for the people who make these airplanes. But I have to tell you, I would have grounded these jets much sooner. And don’t hold me totally to this because I didn’t have all of the briefing. But I would have been given serious consideration to grounding them after the first loss,” he said.

On foreign policy, Inslee said he would “have a diametrically opposed position” to Trump, whom he described as someone who views foreign policy as a zero-sum game.

“He has a worldview… of thinking that for him to win, somebody else has to lose,” Inslee said. “And I really believe he extends that to our international policies.”

He added: “So the only way he believes America can succeed is if another country somehow is subjugated or loses some treaty right. That’s a dangerous policy. It has damaged us in our international relations.”

But he’s not ready to impeach

Despite the constant contrast with Trump, Inslee said on Wednesday that he supports voting Trump out of office in 2020, not impeaching him — at this time.

Inslee said he is as angry as anyone about some of Trump’s decisions, but he added that he thinks the most fruitful way for Democrats to oust Trump is at the ballot box.

“I believe the current situation right now is that we should have a dramatic, engaged, concerted, energetic and successful effort on November 2020 to make Donald Trump a blip in history,” Inslee said. “… Because filing articles of impeachment, as you know, doesn’t solve the trick. You have to have conviction in the Senate.”

He added: “So for my money at the moment, we’re doing what we should be doing, which is to get ready to remove this person from this high office.”

Still, Inslee didn’t say he would never support impeachment, noting that not everything about Trump is currently known.

“For instance, we just discovered a black hole. Did you see the picture the first black hole?” Inslee said. “We think Donald Trump’s tax returns are in there. We need those tax returns.”

Missing some answers

In one of the more curious moments of the night, Inslee — a candidate whose campaign is almost entirely focused on climate change — said he didn’t know enough about the recycling system to say how he would change it.

“I thought I had the answers to every question and I don’t have (an) answer to that. But next time we meet, I’m going to have a better approach. I know that I have a team of people who are looking for options on this. We know how important this is,” he said.

He went on to say that companies need to stop making products that have to recycled and said that he would support “redesigning our systems, our packaging systems.”

But at no point did Inslee actually answer the question.