30 minutes with my Congressman: Jason Chaffetz

During the first week of May, Utah Politico Hub contributing writer and Salt City Throwdown podcaster Shon Harris was able to spend some time in Washington D.C.. During this unique “behind the scenes” experience he met with all six members of the Utah Congressional delegation.

This is the 21st year the University of Utah has offered this unique program to qualified, students who are unable to take part in a full semester term internship at the local or federal level. 

Over the next couple of days, he will post about the time spent with all of them; because each of them were interesting in their own way and had their own quirks.

Jason Chaffetz was the outlier of my week in Washington, D.C. My group had met with five out of the six members of the Utah delegation earlier. We weren’t able to meet with Congressman Chaffetz until Thursday. We woke up early, and after a day of traipsing around the D.C. Metro area, we finally made it to the Rayburn House office building.

Chaffetz, a former democrat (who worked on the 1988 Dukakis  campaign) was first elected in 2008 after defeating longtime Congressman Chris Cannon in a primary battle after both failed to secure the nomination outright in Utah’s unique caucus/convention system.

Representing one of the most conservative districts in the United States, it is easy to see why Chaffetz has a Cook Partisan Voting index of R+28. He ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and immigration reform and he has never met a camera he didn’t like. He is also famous for sleeping on a cot in his office as opposed to getting an apartment in Washington, D.C.

Chaffetz entered one of the meeting rooms within Rayburn promptly on time. He strolled in and was not a fan of us standing when he walked in. After the pre-functionaries and introductions, he quickly moved to our questions.

The first question was if he supported the idea of a pathway to citizenship for immigrants. Yes, he does, but he also supports asking illegal immigrants to go to the back of the line.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 03) discussing illegal immigration (Photo Courtesy; Koji Haraguchi)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 03) discussing illegal immigration (Photo Courtesy; Koji Haraguchi)

At this point it got fun. A young woman from Russia asked Chaffetz to refer to immigrants as “Undocumented Aliens” and Chaffetz said, “No.”

“No, I will not change my terminology to make it more palatable for you. They are illegal, they broke the law.”

A nursing student reminded him that it is a civil infraction (something Lilly Eckleson Garciá had reminded us all earlier in the week during our meeting at the National Education Association). They went back and forth about what is illegal and what isn’t. With no resolution to her question, he went back to his original support of pathway, and highlighted some of the bi-partisan reforms he had passed.

While discussing this bi-partisan bill, it gave the Congressman the opportunity to remind us about evil Harry Reid™ and how he was gumming up the works in the Senate with a blockade of bills. He also used this to remind us that while the Obama administration and the Republican controlled House have their differences, the real problem is the Senate not hearing House-passed bills.

Another question came up about working together and bi-partisanship. The Congressman continued complaining about Obama, and how he (Chaffetz) felt about the Administration and its priorities. He mentioned that the Executive Branch needs to work together and better with the House to get solutions to big problems.

At this point another student piped up with “Well, have you tried to reach out to the Obama administration?”

Chaffetz at this point became visibly frustrated. He said that he shouldn’t have to reach out to the executive; they should reach out to Congress. He then went on to point out that he (again, Chaffetz) thought that Speaker of the House John Bohener could do a better job with bi-partisanship.

Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 03) discussing "bi-partisanship" in congress
Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 03) discussing “bi-partisanship” in congress

With our group were a group of very bright, and intelligent nursing students, who were asking questions about healthcare policy, and if our delegation would sign on to a bill making the rounds through the house to support additional funding support for nursing programs nationwide.

About then, we ran out of time.

Chaffetz ended by thanking us as a group for participating in the process and learning more.

He then reminded us that he is working for “us” (a collective “us” I assume) and here, at 28 and a half minutes into the conversation with Chaffetz, the one who hasn’t been able to stop talking about Benghazi, reminded us that Benghazi, the Fast and Furious Scandal, and the IRS issues with Lois Lerner are all things we should pay attention to.

Yes. It took 28 minutes for Chaffetz to mention Benghazi, his pet project.

We lined up for the following group photo, and he made sure to shake and thank each one of us individually for coming.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 03) with Hinckley Institute of Politics Students (Photo Courtesy Koji Haraguchi)
Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT 03) with Hinckley Institute of Politics Students (Photo Courtesy Koji Haraguchi)

I also had the opportunity to ask him about the lapel pin he wore. All Members of Congress I had seen during the week had the same lapel pin. He said that while in the Capitol complex we had seen many different uniformed officers and there are more who are undercover. The lapel pin is how they identify members in a discreetly. (He also told me I couldn’t have it).

Chaffetz was his normal jovial self. I had more questions lined up about Patent Reform and his work on network neutrality (something he and I have discussed earlier. Similar to Congressman Jim Matheson, he was very amicable.

We then parted ways, and he ran off to the floor, or a hearing (I didn’t catch what he had next).

Chaffetz is a decent guy, and it is easy to see why though we disagree he does such a good job for the Utah 3rd Congressional District.


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