On July 3, Iraq veteran and Michigan businessman Peter Meijer released a video announcing his candidacy for the House of Representatives. He will be facing incumbent Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) in the 2020 primary.
Meijer is one of five candidates taking on Rep. Amash, who has served in Congress since the Tea Party wave in 2011.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak with Meijer, and discuss a broad range of topics, including his reason for entering the race, his work with veteran organizations, his views on President Trump, and much more.
The following is part one of our interview. Parts two and three will be released Saturday and Sunday on The Daily Wire.
DW: Including Rep. Amash, there are already five people in the race. What made you feel like being number six was something that you should do?
MEIJER: I’ve always had a very strong service mentality, starting from joining the military after high school and spending time with the Army in Iraq, to serving in the veteran’s community as an advocate on the education side, to working in disaster response and also serving in humanitarian aid missions overseas. So, I’ve always been looking to get more involved on the political side. I started getting involved with the veteran’s Super PAC called With Honor. That was a bipartisan group that was recruiting and supporting principled, post-9/11 veterans on both sides of the aisle, and I also had come out strongly working on John James’ early campaign about two years ago. So, I’ve been right alongside there, and very involved.
West Michigan’s third congressional district is where I was born and raised. I’m a fourth generation West Michigander. It’s a place I deeply love. And I want to make sure that we have strong, stable, and effective representation.
DW: Do you think that your work with the “With Honor” PAC could hurt you with conservative voters because there was advocacy on both sides of the aisle?
MEIJER: I mean, if you take a bipartisan organization, chop it down the middle, and then only focus on the half you don’t like, it looks negative, right? But I’m a very firm believer that I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on. I’m a Republican, and proud that With Honor played a pivotal role in electing conservative combat veterans like Dan Crenshaw, but if I have to be across the table from a Democrat, I would much rather have that Democrat be someone I know has put the country first in the past, understands some of those core military values, and will be, I think, more open and reasonable than a member of “the Squad.”
DW: What is your philosophy on foreign policy?
MEIJER: I believe we need to have a strong diplomatic engagement, but I am firmly with the President when it comes to viewing our conflicts overseas right now as wasteful, destructive, and not in the best interests of this country or promoting our national defense.
DW: You’re an advocate for veterans. How would you go about attempting to fix the VA system? It’s been in the spotlight since at least 2013, and six years down the line, little seems to have been done that’s been effective.
MEIJER: The President’s made some very good progress on the VA Accountability Act. I was actually in the room when that bill was signed. We just need to really keep the pressure up on some of these institutions, like the VA, that have a critical charge, that have the same problems that any large administrative, bureaucratic system has. You have some individuals there who are fantastic and are dedicated to the mission and doing everything they can, but then the more that you take a sort of ruleset and you force everyone within an organization to apply a rule, and not be able to use their best discretion and judgment, then you’re left with a lot of the incredible frustrations that I know a lot of my fellow veterans have faced when dealing with the VA.
So, I don’t subscribe to the kind of VA-bashing narrative. I think it’s never been a perfect organization. We need to keep working on it so that it aims toward perfection, but that’s going to be a work in progress. I don’t know that there’s a silver bullet, but I know this is something the President cares deeply about, and he’s put a lot of effort into trying to make improvements there. And frankly, I’m open to all suggestions, and looking forward to helping him continue to improve upon the reforms that have been made.
DW: Are there any specific solutions that you would bring to the table?
MEIJER: I’ve been mostly involved on the educational side. On the education side, you actually act at the intersection of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Education, and then occasionally with the Department of Labor on a few things. And on the education side there’s a lot more going well than going poorly. To me, we have a broader need for some civil service reform when it comes to the way that employment is handled within a lot of these bureaucratic organizations.
I hate the idea of any federal government agency having a “jobs program” mentality, that their goal is to employ people, and once you’re in, you’re golden, and you get insulated from any criticism. To the same extent that the VA Accountability Act introduced more discretion and flexibility at the management level in terms of hiring and firing, promoting and otherwise holding folks to account for their performance, I would like to see that spread more widely. But I don’t necessarily have any one policy or legislative agenda item on that front. I don’t think there’s a silver bullet. I think it’s really in the oversight capacity that the best work is going to be done.
DW: What are your thoughts on the current state of politics? In your announcement, video, you spoke about politicians fighting on social media, specifically Twitter. Do you believe that social media or Twitter should be sort of off-limits? What’s your position on that aspect of politics today?
MEIJER: I think there’s a strong temptation for a lot of politicians to become talking heads and to build up a personal brand – and I think oftentimes, that comes at the expense of focusing on their legislative and oversight responsibilities. The idea that if you don’t have a couple hundred-thousand Twitter followers, that you’re not effective in your job, I mean, it gets back to a saying that I really enjoy, which is, “there is a difference between heat and light.” What shines bright and what actually provides warmth are often two very different things, and we need to be focusing on outcomes. We need to be focusing on results. And when we put the rhetoric ahead of actually delivering, or when we discount, as has happened to the President all too often, when you discount results because you don’t like the rhetoric – I would much rather have a better end state than really give too much credence to folks who complain about how that end was achieved.
It’s that sort of empty focus, howling into the abyss, a simple emotional response rather than actually approaching issues rationally and saying, “On a lot of these fronts, whether it’s national security or the economy, we may disagree on some elements of the outcome, but I think we all agree that a strong economy is better than a weak economy; good national defense is better than being in a position where our adversaries have an advantage over us.” And oftentimes, social media and a 24-hour news cycle just inflames the points of difference and makes it harder to arrive at a point of agreement.
DW: There are a lot of elected Republicans who are conservative and who admire some of the policies and initiatives that the president has implemented, but who are afraid or unwilling to call him out over some of the things that he says or over a policy that he implements that might be antithetical to conservatism. Are you willing to call the president out when he says offensive things or enacts policies that are antithetical to conservatism?
MEIJER: I keep a very open mind. I think the amount of times I’ve watched a press conference by the President and I’ve seen the same words get put into completely contrary context, depending on what side someone’s coming from – I mean, look at the recent press gathering where he was talking about China. He made kind of a joking reference on, “Oh, I’m the chosen one when it comes to China.” And all of a sudden, the left-wing erupts, “Oh, he’s a megalomaniac,” and all this. I mean, it’s just this absurd obsession with whatever narrative you want to project; you cherry pick words and you cherry pick actions and kind of shove it in there.
I’m sure the President and I are going to have disagreements. The way that I view it, a representative should be advocating for legislation and policy outcomes that are in the best interests of their district. And when it comes to a disagreement, you handle that with a sense of good faith. You handle that with a sense of having a shared goal and a shared outcome.
For example, the President proposed a budget that took away funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. That’s something that’s very important to the people of West Michigan. Michigan has the third largest fishing economy in the country behind New York and Florida. It’s a $7 billion industry in this state. And instead of taking to Twitter – to the earlier social media point – instead of taking to Twitter and accusing the President of betraying the people of West Michigan, several Michigan Congressman, Representatives Huizenga, Bergman, and Moolenaar, reached out to the President, sat down with him, said, “Well, here’s why this funding is important.” The president listened and he restored it.
I think what we have to have is a spirit of good faith and a spirit of cooperation, not presumption of the worst case insinuation, and then moving from there. Instead, saying, “We all share the same outcome. We all have the same goal on a broad-picture mind. We’re all Americans. We’re all trying to drive for what’s in the best interest of the country.” Start from that position of cooperation and good will, and then work together.
Stay tuned for parts two and three of my interview with candidate Peter Meijer, where we discuss China, trade, the border crisis, the rising popularity of “socialism,” and more. Part two will go live on Saturday, and part three will go live on Sunday.