One month after his defeat at the hands of Antonio Delgado and three weeks before he leaves office, U.S. Rep. John Faso reflected on the future of New York’s Republicans, what he accomplished during his single term and his efforts to enact change in his final weeks in office.
“My job will be done here,” Faso said in a conference call with reporters from his Washington D.C. office on Dec. 6. “But I very much appreciate the opportunity that the people of this district gave me.”
Faso was one of 40 Republicans swept out of the House of Representatives in last month’s “blue wave” election. Voters dealt steep losses to moderate Republicans in politically mixed districts like New York’s 19th. Statewide, Republicans suffered major losses on virtually every level. The GOP lost control of the state Senate for the first time in years and seeing their numbers in the state’s congressional delegation drop to just six of 27 seats. Faso attributed the losses, including his own, to voter anger over President Donald Trump’s style and conduct in office. Faso, who was singled out in a Trump post-election tweet as having lost because he didn’t sufficiently embrace Trump, said the election should serve as a “wakeup call” to the party.
“This was an election where most of the Democrats and most of the people who voted for my opponent were motivated by opposition to the president,” said Faso.
The electoral axe fell hardest on politicians, like Faso who have tried to tread a moderate course in suburban swing districts where well-educated white voters — traditionally a reliable Republican demographic — turned away en masse from Trump’s GOP. The result, Faso hinted, would be a more hard-line party less inclined to bipartisan deal-making. Asked if he believed Republicans in the next Congress would come around on the need for action to address climate change, Faso replied, “The irony is that the [Republicans] most willing to work on this issue were defeated in the election last month,” said Faso. “I’m not optimistic.”
Looking back on his two-year term, Faso said he was proud of the his role as a lead sponsor of the opiate-fighting STOP Act and his efforts to include a provision targeting the importation of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl from China by means of the U.S. mail. Faso also expressed regret that a deal he worked out with fellow New York Congressman Chris Collins as part of Republicans’ failed effort to roll back Obamacare never came to fruition. The amendment would have forced the state to end its practice of charging counties a portion of the state’s Medicaid costs. Faso said the measure would have offered tax relief that he believes is critical to revitalizing upstate’s economy.
“Upstate New York is slowly hemorrhaging people and hemorrhaging jobs because it is too expensive to live here and too expensive to do business here,” said Faso.
Discussing foreign policy, Faso said that he was greatly concerned by the ongoing trade war with China and other elements of the administration’s trade policy. Faso praised Trump for renegotiating the NAFTA agreement, though he expressed doubt that the new deal would make it through a Democratic-controlled Congress, and for taking China to task over intellectual property theft and other trade issues. But, he said, the president’s “bluster” on trade issues is an impediment to getting deals done. Faso said he was particularly dismayed by a Trump tweet earlier this year in which the President boasted that trade wars are “easy to win.”
“Trade wars are not easy to win, they’re never easy to win,” said Faso. “They have unforeseen consequences that affect business and jobs in our district.”
Faso also weighed in on the ongoing international furor over the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi Arabian intelligence operatives. While Trump has cast doubts on assertions by the CIA the murder inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul was directed by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Faso said he believes it is “highly likely” that the prince either ordered or had advance knowledge of the assassination. But the outgoing congressman said that punishment of Saudi Arabia for the murder must be weighed against the kingdom’s status as a valuable ally against America’s greatest adversary in the region — Iran.
“It is important for Americans to realize that we have strategic national interests that mean we want to have a good relationship with the Saudi state,” said Faso who likened the U.S.-Saudi relationship to FDR’s wartime alliance with the genocidal regime of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
With just a few weeks left before he departs Washington, Faso said he hoped to accomplish one more thing: using the economic power of the federal government to rein in a New York labor law that he said drives up construction costs statewide, enriches trial lawyers and does nothing to protect workers. The state’s “Scaffold Law” establishes an “absolute liability” standard for all gravity-related construction accidents. Faso said that New York was the only state to employ the standard, which does not allow builders to argue in court that an employee’s negligence caused the mishap. Faso said that he had sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urging her to pre-empt the law on all federal projects in New York State.
“I’m trying to lay a marker down and make sure this issue gets some attention,” said Faso.
As for his future, Faso, who served in the state Assembly from 1987 to 2002, did not rule out another run for elected office. He did however shoot down a report that he was planning to take on state Republican Committee Chairman Ed Cox for leadership of the party. Faso also offered a word of advice to his successor.
“Be true to your principles,” Faso said when asked if he had any advice for Delgado. “Do what you think is right and let the chips fall where they may.”