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Rep. Mike Doyle On Gun Control, Impeachment And His 2020 Primary Challenger

Matt Nemeth
90.5 WESA

In the wake of the recent deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there have been calls for legislative action, particularly by House Democrats who passed universal background check legislation earlier this year. That legislation has been stalled in the U.S. Senate.

“I don't know what it takes,” U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle told WESA. “We've seen this tragedy in Pittsburgh [in last year’s Tree of Life synagogue shooting], it's hit us. It's everywhere, and the Senate owes the American people at least to put themselves on record and say where they stand on these things.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he’s willing to discuss the issue when the Senate returns from August recess, but did not say whether there will be votes on any gun-control measures.

“I personally would go a lot, lot further” than current proposals that include expanding background checks, Doyle said. “I don't believe military weapons should be sold to civilians. If that shooter in Dayton had a handgun or a hunting rifle, he couldn't have shot 43 times in 30 seconds. It's just not possible. No one's talking about taking away people's hunting rifles or even a handgun. But these weapons that allow you to shoot 100 bullets without reloading -- what's the civilian purpose for that?”

WESA’s Lucy Perkins spoke with Doyle. Excerpts from their conversation are below:

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Many have linked the manifesto believed to be written by the alleged shooter in El Paso to President Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric. To what extent do you think the President bears a responsibility for something like this?

Words matter, and especially when those words come from the President of the United States. When he talks about people “invading the country,” that stokes up images in some people's minds – especially some people who are filling their minds with other hate rhetoric – that somehow it's their duty to somehow stop this “invasion” that these people are coming to harm us.

We recently heard President Obama basically [say] that as leaders we have a responsibility to not use the kind of rhetoric or language that incites people's worst behavior, or that pits one group of people against another group of people. You can't go in front of a press conference when a tragedy happens and talk about unity and then the next evening tweet something out on Twitter that divides us again.  

You are being challenged in the 2020 primary by Gerald Dickinson, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He says the district that you represent is more progressive than its current representation, and in the current political climate Pittsburgh should be a louder Democratic voice. How do how do you respond to that?

Well, first of all, I don't have opponents yet. There's three people that I've read that are interested in my seat, and I'm sure there might be more than that come the filing deadline. So ... I don't really pay much attention to [them]. My job is to represent the people of the 18th Congressional district, and if I do my job elections take care of themselves. I don't waste a lot of my time worrying about what other people say who may or may not be on a ballot eight months from now.

I think my record reflects the people of Pittsburgh. I've lived in my district my entire life. I've [been] married to my wife for 44 years and we raised four children here. I think I have a pretty good idea what Pittsburgh and people in the 18th Congressional district think, and I think the fact that they've sent me back as many times as they have, is proof that I do reflect their hopes and dreams and their values.

When a politician is weighing a question like impeachment, to what extent should they weigh their own re-election or the broader impact of their party's success in upcoming elections?

For me, it was a matter of: are we a nation of laws, or aren't we? I wasn't originally, you know, the first person to sign on to an impeachment inquiry. I wanted to see the process take its course. I wanted the committees of jurisdiction to do the job that the Constitution requires them to do on oversight. Where it changed for me is when it became obvious to me that the administration had no intentions of cooperating: telling witnesses to not honor subpoenas, refusing to hand over information and trying to just run the clock out in the courts.

For me, my decision to sign on to an impeachment inquiry was to give the committees of jurisdiction additional powers to be able to do their job. No president, or no administration is above the law, and to tell members of your staff not to comply with subpoenas and to not hand over information, to me, is the beginning of a very dangerous precedent in the country