Texas Rep. Will Hurd reflects on his time in Congress
WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - After representing the 23rd Congressional district in southwest Texas for 6 years, Representative Will Hurd is retiring on January 3.
Hurd is currently the only black Republican serving in the House. Prior to being sworn in as a member of Congress, he was an undercover officer for the CIA, an expert in cybersecurity and intelligence.
Read the extended interview below:
JILLIAN: First of all, tell me, how does it feel to be entering into retirement as a congressman?
REP. HURD: Retirement is such a weird word. I’m 43 years old, I feel like I’m just getting started. But, you know, this is a situation that I’ve been in before. When I left the CIA to run for Congress, everybody was like “Why are you leaving the job you’re good at and really enjoy?” I thought I can help the country in a different way. And so, likewise, I feel like I have the opportunity to help the country in a new way, and these jobs aren’t designed in my opinion, to be in forever. And so I’m proud of my accomplishments in three terms and looking forward to the next exciting thing.
JILLIAN: You are the only Black Republican in Congress. Tell me, what does this mean for you to be retiring at a time where there’s such racial division in the country.
REP. HURD: One thing that the Republican party needs to do and the one thing I’m trying to help it with is, if the Republican party doesn’t start looking like America there won’t be a Republican party in America, and that means we got to grow our brand to communities of color, to women in the suburbs with a college degree and people under the age of 29, and we can do that. And that’s something that I’ve been able to be successful electorally by appealing to all groups, and I think it starts with the recognition that way more unites us as a country than divides us, and again, I’m not dying, and I’m looking forward to continue working on these important issues for the country in different ways.
JILLIAN: Tell me some of the things that you’re proud of during your three terms in Congress.
REP. HURD: Well I can honestly say that the country is safer now than when I first got to Congress. I mean in the 2014 election cycle, one of the biggest issues on folks' mind was ISIS, and terrorism was a number one issue across the country. This is when ISIS was cutting people’s heads off, it was inspiring foreign fighters; even though they were 6000 miles away they were doing that through social media, and in our first year in Congress working with guys like John Katko and Michael McCaul and Martha McSally, we were able to pass a number of bills, dealing with this foreign fighter pipeline. We’re not talking about that now. But also, you know, I was able to work on things to strengthen our digital infrastructure. I think COVID-19 and the pandemic has shown us how vulnerable and fragile our digital infrastructure is, and so this is something that we’ve been able to work on and strengthen, whether it was through modernizing the government’s Technology Act, which improves how the federal government introduced technology into the government so that we can be safer and more secure, but also offer better services to constituents. And then, you know, my title is representative, so my job was to represent everybody, whether you voted for me or not. And I don’t think there was a problem too small, or a goal too large, and that we weren’t able to work on whether that was helping a young woman in high school start a group organization to work with kids to prevent distracted driving or developing a national strategy on artificial intelligence to make sure that the United States stays a leader in advanced technology. These were all the things that we were able to work on in six short years, and I’m proud, I think the count now is on 15 bills signed into law, we possibly have three more coming. That’s a record that a lot of members who have been here for two or three decades don’t accomplish and I’ve done that with a Democratic president, a Republican president, a Republican speaker, a Democratic speaker. And when you solve real problems, and make sure people are focused on those things that unites us, you can get a lot done.
JILLIAN: You’ve introduced so many bills if you take a look at Gov tracker or congress.gov you’ve introduced so many, you’ve sponsored so many. Some have not made it into law. Is there anything that you feel like you left on the table that you really wanted to get through that just didn’t quite happen?
REP. HURD: We came two signatures away from having a permanent legislative fix for DACA. These are young men and women who have only known the United States of America as their home. They’re helping us now deal with the COVID pandemic. This is an issue that both Republicans and Democrats think there should be a permanent legislative fix. I was one of the co-authors with Pete Aguilar in the USA Act, this was something that we knew it had gotten above the Senate was four votes shy with those votes probably, we would have gotten those votes. This would have come up, come forward. We try to jam leadership and and into making a, forcing a vote on this, and we came two signatures away from doing that, that’s one. Another concept that I’ve been championing was the idea of a cyber National Guard, where you ask folks to come work in the federal government and they go work in the private sector, but they loan their services back in the government, you know, let’s call it 10 man or woman days a year to keep that cross-pollenization of ideas when it comes to defending our digital infrastructure. That was one that we weren’t able to get over the finish line. I think those are two, two areas where those would have been pretty good successes and I hope that somebody picks up that mantle and runs with it.
JILLIAN: And what was that name of that DACA bill, that you were talking about?
REP. HURD: The USA Act. The USA Act was something that Pete Aguilar, a Democrat from California, and I had developed over, you know, probably months worth of negotiations, and that was a couple of Congresses ago.
JILLIAN: That was bipartisan too - it sounds that the explanation you describe as much of what Democrats are pushing for. So you’re definitely, you were willing to move across the aisle and work with the other side.
REP. HURD: Absolutely, it would have gotten an overwhelming number of Republicans as well too, but this was something that someone else is going to have to, to pick up and run with hopefully in the next Congress.
JILLIAN: Is there anything that you’re hoping or a message that you’d like to send to your constituents as you leave?
REP. HURD: Well, I still got a couple months left and we’re gonna run through the tape. And, you know, I was a little disappointed because of COVID-19, I wanted to do one more final DC to DQ. But ultimately, I think the way we’ve operated is to show that way more unites us as a country than divides us. We are in a generation of defining struggle right now with the government of China, and they’re trying to surpass the United States of America as a sole hegemon. The only way we’re gonna win this struggle is if we remember and recognize that way more unites us as Americans than divides us. If we’re able to focus on those things, we can solve big problems, and ensure the American economy stays the strongest on the planet.
JILLIAN: Sorry, you said DC to DQ. Is that what you said?
REP. HURD: Yeah, DC to DQ. It was a trip that I would do, usually every summer where I would hit all the Dairy Queens in the district, I’d do about 35 town halls in five days.
JILLIAN: So funny I did hear about that from Callie Strock before. That’s so funny you mentioned that. That makes sense. Um, yeah that’s probably not gonna happen in COVID times. What’s next for you in life? I mean CIA, Congress, I don’t know, you can’t really go up from there. It’s been said that you could be one of the contenders for the 2024 election. Is that something that you have in your back pocket?
REP. HURD: If I have an opportunity to serve my country, I’ll obviously evaluate that, but my next phase is going to be continue to work on those issues of natural security technology and public policy. Finalizing what I’m able to do, I can’t do that until I’m actually out of Congress, but I’ll probably do something in academia, probably be able to advise companies on how we make sure that the private sector stays and plays a role in this generation-defining challenge, and I keep talking about these issues that I care about. So, San Antonio’s home. I’m looking forward to getting all those honey-dos done and I haven’t been able to do over the last six years, but like I said, I’m excited about what’s next.
JILLIAN: Any specific colleague that you’re going to miss the most?
REP. HURD: Well, I’m gonna miss my team, right, for sure. I’m gonna miss, you know, a group of folks that have been there and work long, long hours, in order to serve the district. I’m gonna miss those visits and criss crossing a part of the state that I didn’t really know that well prior to running for Congress. I was born and raised in San Antonio, but I hadn’t spent much time in the eight national parks that I represented, so I hadn’t spent as much time on the border as I have now, so those are the things that I’m going to miss. One of my best friends up here is John Katko and Elise Stefanik. Elise Stefanik’s office is across mine, Katko and I came in together, so there’s some folks I’m going to miss. Susan Brooks from Indiana is amazing. And look, Henry Cuellar and I have done so much together to help San Antonio, and the great state of Texas, so I’m going to miss working hard with him.
JILLIAN: Can you describe, you mentioned, working under a Democratic president, then a Republican president. Who do you think was easier to work under?
REP. HURD: Well, for me there was...my goal, I’ve always been in divided government, is to solve problems, and so I try to maintain relationships with both sides. When the house is, it’s easier working under a speaker of your own party, because you have more control over what legislation that passes in the house and being able to get things done. So I... that’s that’s significantly easier, but because I’ve had good relationships with Democrats, I’ve been able to still be quite effective. This initiative on building a national strategy for artificial intelligence, you know the fact that we’re getting this done under a Democratic leadership in the house is an indication of our ability to get things done. But, but having a speaker of your own party, it’s a little bit easier up here in Washington DC.
JILLIAN: Anything else you’re going to miss in Congress? I know a lot of congressional lawmakers travel around, visit with constituents. Are you going to miss that part of it, meeting so many people?
REP. HURD: I feel like I’ve gotten 25 master’s degrees in a number of topics that I didn’t know about before coming to office, and so every day, whether the morning, we may have started talking about mohair and goats to the afternoon dealing with a national parks, you know, I had never really traveled, you know as a kid to national parks and so being now I’m the co-chair of the National Parks caucus. And so, those issues that everybody deals with on a daily basis, you learn something new every day. And that was one of the exciting parts of the job. I think a lot of people see these positions as being a Washington D.C.-based and yes I’m your representative in Washington, but the parts I’m going to miss is the stuff back in the district and solving problems for people that really had a problem back home, right? And those are the stories that warm my heart, and to be in a place where you can do something about that, and fight the bureaucracy for people that need it fought was pretty exciting. So I’m going to be, definitely be missing...I’m gonna miss that.
JILLIAN: Are you at all sad that your last year in Congress after three terms was defined by coronavirus and such a strange moment in our country’s history?
REP. HURD: Well, I will say, every high school senior or college senior that was graduating, I kind of appreciate and understand, you know, how they felt, but in the end, the fact that San Antonio has been dealing with the coronavirus since the third week in January. We had the 91 Americans that were evacuated from Wuhan, China coming to Lackland Air Force Base. So this has been something I’ve been intimately involved in since before this really was a national thing, and so to be able to play a part in helping my communities and helping the great state of Texas weather such a thing that none of us have seen before and proba bly will never see again, I’m glad to be able to be in a position to be able to do that. I don’t think this is how I envisioned my last year of being here. But that’s life, and you know, you gotta roll with it. I’m healthy, my family’s healthy, so I really can’t complain.
Like I said, I’m not dying, and I’m just getting started.
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