Democratic State Sen. Ted Lieu and Republican District Attorney Elan Carr may be competing to fill longtime Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman’s seat in November, but in an era in which the two parties rarely work together, the similarities between these two candidates are one of this race’s greatest distinctions.
Both men are sons of immigrants (Lieu came with his family to the United States from Taiwan when he was 3; Carr’s mother is from Iraq and his father was born in Bulgaria and moved to Israel). Both have assisted Iraqis while serving in the military: In 1996, Lieu was a JAG captain in the Air Force and, in Guam, helped process thousands of Kurds who were airlifted by the military from Iraq after facing mass murder by Saddam Hussein. In 2003, Carr was an anti-terrorism operative in Iraq, helping secure neighborhoods following Hussein’s ouster.
Both oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act, the signature Democratic health care act widely known as ObamaCare (although Carr wants to significantly reform it). Both oppose deporting law-abiding foreigners who entered the United States illegally, and both, at least when it comes to foreign policy, sound a lot like, well, each other.
In June, when Carr was asked by the Journal how the Obama administration should respond to ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), the terrorist organization that has been closing in on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, Carr cautioned against any U.S. military involvement unless the White House commits to destroying the group. In an Aug. 4 interview, Carr held that position.
Lieu’s immediate take on ISIS during a recent interview in Beverly Hills?
“I want to crush them,” he said without hesitation. “ISIS is an incredibly extreme and dangerous organization that uses violence to achieve its goals.”
But when asked how he would go about doing that, Lieu chuckled, paused and said he supports, for now, President Barack Obama’s current tactic of providing a few hundred military advisers to the Iraqi government:
“If the U.S. is going to get involved in Iraq again, I think it needs to figure out what its objectives are” before launching a major military operation, Lieu said.
And as much as Lieu feels a connection with the Kurds of Iraq — both because of his work with them in 1996 and because of their warm feelings toward America — he still holds out hope for a unified Iraq, one that sees Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds coexisting peacefully, or at least not submerged in civil war.
“This is what Iraq could be,” Lieu said, describing the northeastern part of the country, which is heavily Kurdish and would likely comprise part of any autonomous Kurdish state. “It’s got open-air shopping centers, amusement parks, they’ve got nice hotels.”
On the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lieu struck a more conservative tone than that coming out of the White House, calling Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas “absolute” and casting a skeptical eye on international efforts to pressure Israel into a cease fire.
“I don’t see how the U.S. or the international community could impose any sort of agreement [on Israel],” Lieu said. “They should read the charter of Hamas. I don’t think many of them have. It doesn’t just talk about Israel, it talks about killing all Jews.”
Lieu also spoke skeptically of the United Nations and the “international community,” which he said “has no teeth” when it comes to keeping hostile countries or terrorist groups in line.
“Countries and organizations respond primarily to two things,” said Lieu, a graduate of Air War College and a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. “Force or economic sanctions — or the threat of those two things.”
Asked about recent data suggesting that Democratic and Republican voters may, for the first time in decades, have significantly different views on Israel, Lieu said that the gap may be due more to age than political affiliation. The data, pulled from a Pew Research Center poll released on July 28, says that 60 percent of Republicans blame Hamas for the violence, a view shared by only 29 percent of Democrats.
“I do believe that Democrats and Republicans share the same views on Israel,” said Lieu, who supported emergency funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has shot down most rockets fired by Hamas that pose threats to Israeli population centers. On Aug. 1, the House of Representatives approved a Senate bill providing $225 million in emergency funds for the Iron Dome. Obama has approved the measure.
Even on immigration, a wedge issue between Democrats and Republicans, there is little air between Lieu’s and Carr’s stated views. Lieu supports increased border security but is not confident a fence would efficiently secure the border, and he wants to reunite those living here illegally with their families, whether that means sending them to Latin America or keeping them here.
Carr, in a recent interview with the conservative publication Weekly Standard, said he opposes deporting law-abiding undocumented immigrants when it is the U.S. government that created the problem, a position that puts him at odds with more conservative factions of the Republican-led House.
“Why wouldn’t we embrace them and welcome them when we are the ones who didn’t secure our borders?” Carr asked, clarifying, though, that he does support securing the southern border to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Central and South America.
However, as much as the two might appear similar now, how either would govern in the House could evolve, depending upon which committees the winner might join, as well as the issues that either would prioritize.
Lieu is an outspoken advocate of alternative forms of energy and views global warming as an existential threat to humanity. Much of his work in the California Legislature has reflected his overriding concern with environmental issues and his belief in the government’s role in growing the economy, creating jobs and helping workers — all core issues for the Democratic Party’s liberal wing.
Carr told the Journal in an Aug. 4 interview that his priorities would include support for Israel, education, public safety issues, and tax and regulatory policies that he said encourage companies to hire workers outside of California and the United States.
On Israel, for example, Carr contrasted what he said is providing a reliable vote on Israel — which Lieu would likely consistently provide — versus assuming a leadership role on pro-Israel legislation, much like former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“What we need now is leaders,” Carr said. “Not simply votes that may be reliable votes on Israel, but leaders on the issue.”
As Lieu noted, though, in 2007 he was a co-sponsor of AB221, which called on state pension funds to divest from companies that do business in Iran's energy and nuclear sectors.
Although the two candidates have not yet held a public debate, a spokesman for the Lieu campaign said that at least one can be expected as Election Day nears.