Rep. Adam Schiff

Schiff Seeks Re-Election as National Profile Rises

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WASHINGTON — Until a couple of years ago, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA 28) was known well to those in Washington and those in California in his district, as well as Armenians around the US.

Schiff represents the most Armenian district in the country — Glendale, Burbank, Hollywood — and his presence is felt there.

Plus, as a longtime member of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues and its current co-vice president, he has often spoken out about and sought recognition for the Armenian Genocide as well as US aid to Armenia and Artsakh.

However, since April 2017, as the ranking member on the House Select Intelligence Committee which conducts inquiries on Russian interference in the 2016 elections, he has often appeared on television programs to offer his analysis of possible collusion. And he often has disagreed with the committee’s Republican chair, Rep. Devin Nunes, a fellow Californian.

In return, he has seen his national profile skyrocket as one of the most vocal critics of the president and has earned pejorative nicknames from Trump.

“It’s brought about a dramatic change and most of it very positive,” Schiff said in an interview earlier this month from his Washington office. “People thank me. More than a few shout at me from halfway down the block or come up to me virtually in tears” about “rule of law [being] under assault.”

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He continued that the judiciary and the free press “all are at risk.”

Schiff has taken Trump to task over his attacks on the media. “He is attacking our own press as ‘fake news.’”

Schiff has also been outspoken about financial ties between Trump and Russian cash of dubious origins, before Trump entered politics directly. He cites circumstantial evidence which can point to money laundering.

While he opposes much of what the president does, in opinion pieces in the New York Times and the Washington Post, he has suggested that Democrats should not focus on impeachment efforts because there is little chance they will succeed.

During the interview, Schiff also spoke about the explosive anonymous opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times, purportedly by a senior staffer, who suggested that the president is immature, uninformed and impulsive and was being controlled by staffers who knew better.

For Schiff, what was interesting, he said, was that “no one seems to question the accuracy of the op-ed,” instead only concentrating on the identity of the writer, noting that the president is “essentially amoral. He has no agenda apart from himself.”

Schiff said the writer should resign rather than continue on the job. “The underlying facts,” he said, are mainly that “we have a president that can’t be relied upon” in the job.

As a result, he said it is important that the Democrats take back the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections this fall. “We can’t afford to have a Congress that is merely a rubber stamp for him,” he said.

Schiff is now running for his 10th term as a member of Congress. He is being challenged by Republican Johnny Nalbandian (https://mirrorspectator.com/2018/07/19/political-outsider-johnny-nalbandian-gets-himself-on-ca-november-ballot/).

In 2000, Schiff challenged Republican incumbent Jim Rogan and defeated him in the most expensive House race ever at the time. During the 18 years he has been in Congress, he said, his district has changed a great deal.

“All the seats were Republican, but now most are Democrats,” he said. “It still remains very ethnically diverse” and is very “fun.”

He rattled off some of the gems in the district, home of movie and television studios, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

His district is also home to the largest concentration of Armenians in the US.

“From the very beginning, they welcomed me like I was part of the family,” he said. “It is such an interesting and talented community.”

He praised the presence of Armenians in the fields of finance, science, medicine, law, politics and education in the district.

Being Jewish, he said, he has empathy for Armenians’ history with the Genocide.

“I know what it’s like to be part of a people with affinity for a distant country,” he said.

On a lighter note, Schiff praised Armenian hospitality. Before he adopted a vegan diet, he was a fan of the kebabs and cheese. Now, he said, he fills up on the vegan appetizers. In fact, he recalled during one of his first meals hosted by people in the community, he didn’t realize that the full table with various salads and appetizers was simply the beginning, with full dinner to follow.

Congressional Actions

Schiff has long served on the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues. In addition, he has served on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, co-chaired the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus, co-founded the Democratic Study Group on National Security and co-founded the Congressional Caucus on Freedom of the Press, among others.

“We have not been able to get a hearing on the Genocide bill,” Schiff said. “I hope that will change” when the Democrats become the majority party, he noted.

He added, however, that the Trump administration has correctly taken to the task the government of Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for its increasingly dictatorial actions.

“There is also an opportunity with the administration and given the degree with which Turkey … descends into authoritarianism,” he said, might make the administration more amenable to recognize the Genocide “and not say that Turkey is an ally.”

He added that it is hard to see the future in terms of Turkey. “It has been moving in a really worrying direction for the past decade,” Schiff said.

As part of that wrong direction, he said, Erdogan is systematically getting rid of his opposition, even jailing them, while coalescing his powers. One opposition candidate running in the June elections was Selahattin Demirtas, the head of the HDP party, campaigning from his prison cell. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/opinion/president-turkey-elections-demirtas.html)

After Erdogan won the general election, Schiff put out a tweet: “Erdogan ‘won’ reelection in Turkey this weekend only by decimating the opposition through arrests, violence and squashing freedom of the press. Turkey’s descent into autocracy is another reminder that democracy is under assault worldwide. DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”

Schiff said he got an immediate response from Erdogan’s spokesman. “President Erdogan certainly does not need YOUR @RepAdamSchiff congratulations. Turkish people have spoken up. You need to shut up,” said İbrahim Kalın in a tweet on June 26.

The attack on a member of the US Congress made news in Turkey and beyond.

Again, Schiff said that he was disappointed with the response of the US president to news of Erdogan’s victory.

“Instead of urging Erdogan to be more devoted to the rule of law, the president gives the signal that he admires” his election and positions, Schiff said.

Armenia Pre- and Post-Velvet Revolution

If there is a change in the House, he said, there is much more of a chance that the Democrats would increase appropriations to Armenia and Artsakh.

Schiff said that Armenia has always had good relations with the US, both the previous and the current regime. The relations, he said, transcend party or governments on both sides, he noted.

Now, however, he said, with the new government and new prime minister in Armenia, “there might be opportunities we did not have before.”

As for the shaky ceasefire in Artsakh, Schiff said he would love to see increased pressure on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group tasked with bringing about a lasting solution to the issue.

Solving the very real hot war in Karabakh is “one of my significant issues,” he said. “It is one match away” from explosion, he noted.

One of the notable changes on the part of the US government post-Velvet Revolution will be the reinstatement of the Millennium Challenge Corp. (www.mcc.gov), which had been stopped by the Obama administration in the wake of inaction on large-scale corruption in Armenia.

“There should be baseline commitment to the rule of law,” he said. He also praised the anti-corruption efforts.

“Armenia had fallen below that,” he explained. “Now it’s in a different position.”

Post-Velvet Revolution, Schiff added, Armenia might be in a position to have a parliamentary exchange program with the US.

He is also supports modernizing the Double Tax Treaty between the US and Armenia.

The revolution in Armenia this spring caught him off guard.

“When the arrests happened, I thought I knew where it was headed,” but “I was stunned” when instead the government resigned and the demonstrators won.

“There is a new optimism. It is a great challenge but also a great opportunity,” Schiff said. “We have to look at it as a fresh opportunity.”

Armenia, he said, has the means to “be the Silicon Valley of the Caucasus and become less dependent on Russia.”

Syria

One of the quagmires in which the US is finding itself is Syria and its disintegration in the wake of a civil war. The intervention of the US forces started on September 22, 2014, during the administration of President Barack Obama.

“I don’t want to see us get mired in another Muslim country,” Schiff said, adding, “I think we have a powerful moral interest in Syria.” Schiff said.

He added, however, the US has an obligation to the Kurds in the region.

“They have worked with us, side-by-side,” he noted. “We have an obligation and interest in protecting Kurds.” He cautioned, however, “We don’t want to become an occupying power.”

He defended Obama for his handling of Syria. “There has been tremendous criticism of how President Obama handled Syria. I don’t think there were any easy answers in Syria. We couldn’t betray” the civil disobedient movement in the country, part of mass uprisings in the whole of the Middle East.

The US, in essence, he said, had to choose between supporting the Islamic State versus supporting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

“There were a lot of bad options and the outcome has been a terrible one,” Schiff said.

He noted, “We can’t stand by and watch someone gas their own people,” he said, referring to the Syrian leader, who has been accused of committing that very crime against his people.

“It was a vexing problem,” he said, “and then the Russians and Iranians intervened.”

Now, as a result of the collapse of Syria, among other countries suffering from debilitating political and economic situations, there are many refugees trying to flee toward the west.

President Trump has made the dramatic reduction in the number of refugees admitted to the US a centerpiece of his domestic policies.

“We are trying in the Democratic Caucus to push back against efforts against refugees,” Schiff said. “It is a priority of the president to ban people coming from Syria. He has shut off the flow of refugees.”

The US, he said, has an important role to play in accepting refugees. “We can’t say it is the responsibility of other nations,” he said.

Schiff might have the glow of a Southern California resident yet his roots are across the country, in Framingham, Mass. His family moved to California when he was 9. “I feel like I have a foot on both coasts, but I am very much a Californian.”

After graduating from Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif., he attended Stanford University, followed by Harvard Law School.

With his presence and recognition skyrocketing, it is easy to assume he has his eye on even higher office. However, he said, he has not made any decisions yet.

“I really don’t know what my future plans are,” Schiff said. “I don’t know beyond the next two months.”

The elections will be held on November 6.

 

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