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Finishing kick: Udall outlines goals for his last term

Sen. Tom Udall appeared at a leadership conference on the House floor at the State Capitol in 2017, answering questions from high school students from around the state. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Tom Udall may not be running for reelection in 2020, but New Mexico’s senior senator insists his battles in the chamber are far from over.

With 20 months to go before retirement, he hasn’t given up the hope of blocking President Donald Trump’s national emergency. He still wants to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan, and wants to prevent war with Iran.

Udall in an interview with the Journal said he wants to protect the planet “from further damage” from climate change, and will continue to focus on public lands and Native American initiatives.

“This isn’t a retirement,” said Udall. “I am looking for areas where I can make a difference.”

Udall didn’t expand on his decision to leave the Senate beyond the reasons he gave when he made his announcement last month.

He said not having the distraction of a campaign would help him be focused on the tasks remaining at the end of his term, again asserting that “the office belongs to the people” and not to him.

He faces an uphill battle in the Senate with many of the issues he’s taking the lead on with Republicans in the majority and resistance from the Trump White House.

One of the initiatives Udall introduced – the For the People Act – faced roadblocks in the Senate earlier this year.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., in 2018. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

Udall sponsored the Senate companion to the same measure that passed the House and addressed voter issues and campaign finance issues. The bill would allow voter same-day registration nationwide, restore ex-inmates’ right to vote and set up a public financing system for congressional campaigns. It would require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns and Election Day would become a holiday for federal workers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged not to bring it up for a vote. The White House called the bill “micromanaging” the electoral system, with Trump promising a veto.

Udall said he wanted to stop the Trump administration from “assaulting our democracy.”

Udall said the frustration of dealing with the Republican majority and the Trump White House did not factor into his decision not to run for a third term.

“It’s always a battle in the Senate,” Udall said. “And I want to continue to fight hard on the issues that have New Mexico in the bull’s eye.”

Bridging the divide

Udall said he would be “looking for Republicans to work with” and believes it is possible to build a consensus even on issues where there appears to be a partisan divide.

“I still hope we can get many things done,” Udall said.

He mentioned passage of the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act as an example of what can be accomplished. The act was enacted into law last month.

It had bipartisan support in both houses. The act designated more than 270,000 acres as wilderness areas in New Mexico. Udall, Senate colleague Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., sponsored key provisions of the law.

It is for that reason he believes the effort to block Trump’s national emergency on border security issues is not dead. Trump vetoed the previous legislation after it passed the Senate.

“Twelve Republicans crossed the aisle and voted for the legislation,” Udall said. “I believe if we continue working, we can get enough votes for a veto-override.”

Udall and other members of the New Mexico congressional delegation are trying to stop the Trump administration from using funding appropriated for projects at military bases for construction of his proposed wall.

Optimism and realism

The senator said his biggest disappointment in serving in the Senate is seeing “many of the things I’ve worked on not get accomplished.”

“But we’re not giving up,” he said.

He’s still focused on the nation’s renewable energy standards, but admits “it takes a long time to build a national consensus.”

He is working on a national renewable energy portfolio with a target of having the nation using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

His office said he plans to unveil the legislation in May. It is similar to the Energy Transition Act enacted into law in New Mexico last month.

Udall said one of the aspects he’s enjoyed most as senator is talking to his constituents, hearing their innovative ideas and seeing if the innovations can be used on a national level.

He said he is also focused on building a consensus to “end the scourge of war.”

Udall – who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq – has cosponsored legislation with Kentucky Republican Rand Paul to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan.

It is one issue where he appears more in line with the Trump administration.

“We should have long ago ended the war in Afghanistan,” he said, adding he’s talked to parents of soldiers who have served there and had to answer questions about why their loved ones are not coming home.

He is further apart with the administration on Iran.

Udall fears the Trump administration is preparing for war against Iran. He said he is working on legislation to prevent it, saying only Congress has the authority to declare war.

The road ahead

He said he wanted to continue to champion the cause of Native Americans, and mentioned fighting for provisions helping Native Americans in the 2018 Farm Bill and the 2013 Violence Against Women Act.

“That’s up for renewal again, and we’re going to fight to keep those provisions in,” Udall said.

The renewal of the Violence Against Women Act passed the House and is now before the Senate.

The senator said his time in public service won’t end when his term expires in January 2021. He said he will continue to work on issues he’s championed in the Senate, but said he was not ready to announce what his future plans will be.

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