Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers was once the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, but with Democrats winning the majority last fall, McMorris Rodgers elected not to continue as a member of the House minority leadership.
However, she plans to play a big role as the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.
McMorris Rodgers, , R-Wash., spoke with the Capital Press by phone. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Q. Anything you'd like to say about the government shutdown and its impacts on agriculture and research?
I believe we need to strike a deal. In a divided government, when you have Democrats in the majority in the House and Republicans in the majority in the Senate, divided government means you have to come together, you have to come to the table and strike a deal. We need to do that. No one benefits from a shutdown.
Q. Why aren't you in a leadership role any more?
In the new Congress, I felt that I could be more effective by focusing on my role on the Energy and Commerce Committee and work legislation in a bipartisan fashion that will get real results for the people I represent.
It was just announced today that I'm the lead Republican on one of the subcommittees on Energy and Commerce, the consumer protection and commerce subcommittee. So that's good news. It absolutely will position me to work on common-sense policy that will make a positive impact in Eastern Washington.
Q. What does this mean for your ability to represent the state's farmers and ranchers?
As always, advocating on the issues that are important to farmers and ranchers will be a top priority. Agriculture is the number one industry in Eastern Washington. My priorities around agriculture have been driven by listening to the farmers and ranchers. I have great relationships with Sonny Perdue, the secretary of agriculture, and the members of the House Agriculture Committee. I was really pleased we were able to get the farm bill signed into law at the end of 2018. It reflected the priorities farmers had voiced to me around market access programs, research and the crop insurance program.
Q. Are you still going to be able to work with the Trump administration and Congress?
Sure. I have good relationships within the administration and certainly Sonny Perdue is a good friend and has been to Eastern Washington per my request to hear first-hand from the farmers and ranchers in Eastern Washington.
Q. We hear you weren't interested in becoming Interior secretary. Why not? It seems like it would be a natural fit.
It is not the position for me at this time.
Q. What does a Democratic House of Representatives mean for agriculture?
Certainly, yes, the majority has changed. I think it's important to reflect on the fact we got a bipartisan farm bill passed last Congress. ... From my perspective trade is at the top of the agenda. The last two years, the Democrats have been calling for free trade, like I have been, too, and I hope those calls don't stop now that they have the majority and the power to influence and vote on important trade negotiations and deals that will be presented to Congress over the next two years.
Q. How well will you work with Nancy Pelosi? Is there anything you can work together on that's going to help farmers and ranchers?
Yes, I can work with Nancy Pelosi. My goal is always to find the common ground and work with whoever's willing to get results for farmers and ranchers. At the top of the list right now is moving forward with the U.S.- Mexico (and Canada) trade agreement. My hope is that this new Congress will take action, bring that up for a vote as soon as possible. We need that certainty, and our farmers and ranchers need the certainty that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement will provide us. If we can get that agreed upon, that allows us to move and focus on an agreement with Japan or with the EU and further take action against China.
Q. Do you have biggest goals for 2019?
Well, sure. I'm really excited about the new Energy and Commerce Committee. That committee will have a real impact on Eastern Washington, around the issues of the cost of prescription drugs, rural broadband, protecting our Columbia-Snake River dams, other infrastructure projects.
Q. What is agriculture's biggest need?
The biggest need for agriculture that I hear is opening up the trade markets and providing some certainty so that our farmers in Eastern Washington know they can actually sell the product that they have grown. That was part of why getting the farm bill in place was so important, because of the Market Access Program, the certainty around crop insurance as well as research.
Trade is at the top of their minds, at least from my understanding.