Thursday, September 29, 2022

Talking with Congressman David Rouzer: Earmarks, beaches and farms

U.S. Representative David Rouzer speaks at a Trump rally last week. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
David Rouzer, in his seventh year in Congress, said he’s poised for chairman positions in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Port City Daily/Mark Darrough)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. –– U.S. Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC) represents a district that spans from the Cape Fear region up to Johnston County, roughly along the path of Interstate-40 — and he sees himself on a trajectory. 

Rouzer won the seat in 2014, beating out Wilmington players Woody White and Jonathan Barfield Jr. in the process, then quickly became chairman of a subcommittee within the House Committee on Agriculture. 

Now in his fourth term, Rouzer — a Four Oaks native who staffed for U.S. Senators Jesse Helms and Elizabeth Dole — is the ranking Republican on the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee. 

“Presuming that we win the majority in the next election, I would be in line to be the chairman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee,” Rouzer said in an interview. “And that has jurisdiction over the Army Corps of Engineers, which myself and my team work very, very closely with.” 

His district is a farming powerhouse that, as of 2017, ranked 22nd in the nation in total agricultural sales –– sweet potatoes and tobacco are two of its most significant cash crops. And the southern and coastal chunk of the 7th District, which includes New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, requires special attention from federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers due to its coastal landscape and various water features.

“I’m certainly considered to be one of the future chairmen of both the House Agriculture Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” Rouzer said. “And in both perches, either one which may come first, that would be an exceptionally good thing for not only southeastern North Carolina and the 7th District, but the state of North Carolina as a whole.”

U.S. Congressman David Rouzer swaps business cards with a rally attendee Wednesday evening. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
U.S. Congressman David Rouzer swaps business cards with an attendee at a Wilmington MAGA event last year. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

The Congressman’s second term was marked by a two-chamber Republican majority and the entrance into the White House of Donald Trump, to whom Rouzer attached his fate. 

Rouzer said he played a hand in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and the 2018 Farm Bill. Before Trump, he sponsored the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016, which became law in the final months of President Barack Obama’s administration. 

Under Trump, Rouzer helped finished off a local project of great interest to Wilmington-area politicians and veterans: the naming of Wilmington as the first World War II Heritage City. 

The effort began under Democratic Congressman Mike McIntyre (who narrowly defeated Rouzer in the 2012 race then resigned after that term) but gained pace in the Trump era. The idea was the brainchild of retired navy captain and Wilmington author Wilbur Jones, who had long championed the city’s historic significance in the war as a shipbuilding force and site of prisoner of war camps.

The bill to crystallize the designation cleared the Veterans Affairs Committee, Rouzer said, before its backers reshuffled it through the Department of the Interior. Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) mounted a challenge to the project: He considered it to be an “earmark,” a then-outlawed maneuver, in Wilmington’s benefit, despite the bill not involving any money.

“Because we specifically named Wilmington as the number one, or the first city, he had objections to that,” Rouzer said. “So we crafted the program in such a way that really made Wilmington the most competitive for that designation as the first World War II city to be named, and then worked very closely with President Trump’s administration to get it done.”

Former President Donald Trump greets N.C. politicians on the tarmac of the Wilmington International Airport last September. (Port City Daily/Mark Darrough)

During the 2020 election cycle, Rouzer partook in “Make America Great Again” rallies and rhetoric as a surrogate for Trump; he was invited to fly in Air Force One when Trump came to Wilmington to make the designation official last September. 

“We’ve had a seismic shift in the Republican base and party because of President Trump and his ability to communicate with the working class — which, quite honestly, most previous Republican nominees for president just could not do,” Rouzer said. 

After the election, Rouzer joined the group of Republican Congressmen prepared to oppose the certification of Joe Biden’s win in Congress on Jan. 6. They sustained objections to slates of electors from states the GOP members claimed made “unconstitutional” changes to election law. 

“That usurpation of the legislatures’ sole authority, delegated by the Constitution, was a primary reason why the election of 2020 became riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities,” said the Congressmen in a 10 a.m. statement on Jan. 6. “National polls indicate a large percentage of Americans now have serious doubts about not just the outcome of the current presidential contest, but also the future reliability of our election system itself.”

After rioters flooded the halls of the Capitol building starting at around 1 p.m., Rouzer released a statement calling the violence despicable. His loyalty to Trump over the election, and role played in delaying the certification of the results, drew heavy ire from Democrat groups in his district. (His margin of victory in 2020 was nearly 100,000 votes, far greater than his 36,000-vote win over Wilmington physician Kyle Horton in 2018.)

Now, Rouzer’s opponents, including Democratic candidates Jason Minnicozzi and Steve Miller, are campaigning on his posturing and votes that day, arguing the congressman ignited an insurrection. 

Rouzer maintains that it was “constitutional and appropriate” to vote to sustain objections to some electors on Jan. 6: “While many citizens of this country had — and continue to have — major concerns regarding voting irregularities and election integrity, members of Congress are not in any position to judge the amount of fraud that may have occurred as a result of the late changes made to the election laws,” he said in a statement, “but it is our duty to highlight that many of those changes were unconstitutional.”

Now in the post-Trump era, Rouzer is in his seventh year as a Congressman, starting his second consecutive term with his party in the minority. This is also the year that earmarks have returned to the House of Representatives: Of the eight Republicans in N.C.’s Congressional delegation, Rouzer is one of only two who submitted earmark requests by this summer. 

All of Rouzer’s earmark projects — which had to be proposed by local actors and reinforced with support letters — have made it through votes in the House and await movement in the Senate as part of the Omnibus bill process that will go down later this year, he said.

“I don’t anticipate any problems keeping any of those earmarks in the final package, which usually is passed right before Christmas,” he said. 

The 10 project requests include radio upgrades for the Clinton Police Department ($173,000), money to fund an assessment at the Port of Wilmington ($500,000), and improvements to the Black River Waste Water Plant ($1 million). 

READ MORE: High-priority Wilmington transportation project gets a shoutout in Congress

READ MORE: NHCSO asks David Rouzer to use earmark for rapid DNA testing machine

Rouzer spoke at a Mike Pence rally at the airport last October, where he hyped up the Trump administration and then-U.S. Senate candidate, incumbent Thom Tillis. (Port City Daily/Johanna F. Still)

Even when his own earmarks are included in packages, he isn’t guaranteed to vote for them. When the bill that included his Drysdale Drive Extension earmark went to a vote in late July, he was tied up in a private meeting: “Had I been present, I would have voted ‘nay,’” he said later on the floor, according to the Congressional record. 

“I have a number of provisions of law and statute that are things that I’ve worked on that get included in other pieces of legislation,” he said in an interview. “Some of which I vote for because the package is good, some of which I don’t vote for when the bigger package is not so good.”

In March of this year, Rouzer introduced a bill that would abolish the U.S. Department of Education and repeal “any program for which it has administrative responsibility.” 

Four months ago he put forward the Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients Act, which would deny benefits to people who fail drug tests for controlled substances. A social conservative, he is opposed to cannabis reform even as local Republican senators slowly advance a medical cannabis bill through the N.C. General Assembly. 

He’s also railed against the Cuban government on the House floor — “Madam Speaker, I rise today in absolute and unequivocal support of the Cuban people protesting their evil and oppressive Communist regime” — and signed onto a bipartisan letter urging the Biden administration to “expeditiously” start leasing wind farms in offshore N.C.

Also included in his 10 earmark requests this year were multi-million dollar expenditure plans for beach renourishment projects on Wrightsville Beach and Pleasure Island. After New Hanover County was slighted earlier this year by federal bureaucrats who did not appropriate expected beach funding, Rouzer has been involved in back-channeling a solution. 

READ MORE: Beach renourishment endgame starts to crystallize after months of uncertainty

The potential path forward involves the feds allowing the local district of the Army Corps of Engineers to move unused money from another project into the New Hanover County beach renourishment projects. If that play is successful, it’s unclear what would become of the $25 million in earmark money tentatively slated for the beach towns. 

“The citizens of the Seventh District, through me, we have a direct seat at the table when it comes to those matters and dealing with the Army Corps, and we have a very good working relationship with them,” Rouzer said. “It’s a relationship that’s fostered a lot of really good things for the district on many different occasions.”

More from the interview with Congressman Rouzer: 

On President Biden’s mandate that requires companies with more than 100 employees to vaccine all workers or test them weekly for Covid-19:

“I don’t like mandates in any form. What a private entity chooses to do is what a private entity chooses to do. I don’t think that it’s wise for the president to go out and say that every business has to mandate it, to tell the military that they’ve got to mandate it. I think if you’re having difficulty getting folks to take a vaccine, you have to take a step back and ask the question: Well, what’s this reluctance from? Identify those problems and then present the facts of the case so that people can make an informed decision about it.

I think there’s just a lot of people out there that are worried about long-term effects and I think part of it is their concern that the CDC and other typically very reliable instruments and functions of government — they don’t find as trustworthy anymore. And I think that’s the bigger underlying problem. 

Americans have taken vaccines for years, whether it be for smallpox, measles, or anything else. And I don’t remember this kind of backlash. A lot of things are how you go about them and I think that’s the case in point here.”

On U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s recent excursion to Johnston County where he led a protest against masks in schools:

“I talk to Madison all the time. I see him on the floor. We talk by phone. We text back and forth. He obviously accepted an invitation to go to Johnston County and talk about an issue that was before the Johnston County School Board, and I get invited other places to speak from time to time as well. He and I are good friends, and he’s a good colleague. Anytime he wants to come to the 7th District he’s welcome to come.”

On his thoughts about the origins of Covid-19: 

“We’ll never know for certain because China has eliminated any evidence showing one way or the other. We just don’t have access to the material to make a definitive conclusion. But you can certainly make a definitive conclusion based on circumstantial evidence, and the circumstantial evidence is very clear that this came from one of the Wuhan labs. No doubt about that in my mind. There’s no doubt that China covered it up, there’s no doubt that they withheld information and destroyed any evidence of it in the Wuhan lab. And that’s just where we are. I think it’s pretty clear China is the culprit. You have to consider it’s the Chinese communist party, the CCP. Lying to them is just as good as telling the truth, if in fact it serves their benefit. That’s how communists are.”

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