BROWNSVILLE, RGV – If his presidential campaign rhetoric on issues important to the border region turn into White House policy, Donald Trump will have a “war” on his hands, says U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela.
The Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM interviewed the Brownsville Democrat soon after he was sworn in for the 115th Congress. Asked if he and other border congressmen would be playing defense once Trump becomes president, Vela said:
“With respect to issues on the border, if Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric turns into Donald Trump policy, he is going to have a war on his hands and we are going to be part of that.”
Asked if he was referring to the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants, messing with trade with Mexico and building more border walls, Vela said: “Exactly.”
During the presidential election campaign, Trump spoke about deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, building more border walls and messing with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Vela said border congressmen would be working together on many issues, particularly he, Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo and freshman Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen.
“Vince and I have been friends for probably 12 years. Having the opportunity to work with him, I am really looking forward to working on it. We are going to be sharing legislative directors. Jose is going to be his chief of staff. The issues we work on really don’t have boundaries because when you take the Rio Grande Valley and the Matamoros and Reynosa metroplex, we are kind of tied at the hip. Those of us who live on both sides of the border in South Texas and those of us who represent the region, at either the federal or state level, all have the same mission, which is to make the entire region better,” Vela said.
The “Jose” Vela referred to is Jose Borjon, who used to work for Vela and is now chief of staff for Gonzalez.
“For those of us that have been through this (swearing in), it is not as exciting as the first time. We all share the excitement for all the new members and for Henry and myself, the fact that Vince is local makes it all the more fun,” Vela said.
South Texas Congressmen ready to work together
In a sign that they will be working closely together, Vela, Cuellar and Gonzalez issued a joint news release about the start of the 115th Congress. The news release included a picture of the three of them together on the House floor.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan presided over the ceremony when the three South Texas congressmen were sworn in to serve their two-year terms. For Cuellar, it is his seventh term, while for Vela it is his third, and for Gonzalez his first term.
Cuellar, Gonzalez and Vela each serve a portion of Hidalgo County, and while their agendas can be different on some points, they assured they will work together during the 115th Congress.
“The three congressmen have pledged to work together in the new Congress to bring results (…) by working to enhance border security, international trade, jobs, education, health care and veterans’ affairs,” their news release states.
Cuellar spoke to Rio Grande Guardian and explained that every ceremony is special, but nothing measures with the first one.
“I think Vicente will remember this one because the first one is special (…) and it is very exciting,” Cuellar said.
He added that this is a good time to work as a team while representing the people of South Texas and the border area.
“Working jointly will allow us to be stronger, to have a stronger voice for the South Texas area, for the border area,” Cuellar said. “We might disagree in some aspects, but in certain issues we will be on the same page. We will be working as a team.”
Gonzalez said he takes this responsibility very seriously.
“I will work with our parents and teachers to improve education and expand opportunities for our students, and work with state, local, and federal officials and stakeholders to address local transportation needs, make healthcare more patient-friendly and affordable, and to secure more federal resources for our communities,” Gonzalez said in a press release.
He also highlighted the importance of commerce to South Texas.
“The trade that comes through Hidalgo County at our ports of entry on our southern border supports jobs in South Texas, in my district and scores of other places in the United States,” Gonzalez said.
Vela mentioned his plans to work alongside Cuellar and Gonzalez to “increase the economic vitality of the Rio Grande Valley and all South of Texas.”
“Together, we will continue to fight for families, veterans, education, and increased investments in our roads, ports, and infrastructure,” Vela said, in the news release.
During the interview, Cuellar also mentioned the importance of working with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
“I am hoping (Republicans) will stand up and not only be partisan, because we can do more with bipartisan legislation,” Cuellar said. “They all have been to the border, and they know what has to be done. Let’s give them an opportunity. I think if we do that, we can come up with ways to work together.”
According to Cuellar, Speaker Ryan expressed his desire to find common ground.
“I hope (Ryan) follows through on working with the Democrats (because) getting a legislation passed by just Republicans won’t be good, just like Democrats did that also,” Cuellar mentioned. “If we can make things bipartisan, those are going to be the ones getting more support by the general public. And we are hoping to have more bipartisan legislation.”
In conclusion, Gonzalez mentioned he hopes to develop policies that promote economic growth and job creation in the South Texas region.
“And ensure that President-Elect Donald Trump and his administration recognize the important role South Texas plays in our economy,” Gonzalez said.
The 115th Congress will run until January 3rd, 2019.
Editor’s Note: Senior reporter Melva Lavín-Castillo contributed to this story from Laredo, Texas.