Top Stories
Top Stories
Politics

California Democrat Eric Swalwell is close to deciding to run for president in 2020. Here's where he stands on key issues

Key Points
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., tells CNBC he expects to make an announcement "soon" about whether to run for president in 2020.
  • He says he would have a largely economic message that appeals to voters who feel left out and left behind.
  • Other major issues for Swalwell are a "health-care guarantee," more federal spending in medical innovation and gun violence prevention.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, on Feb. 8, 2019.
Bloomberg | Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., told CNBC he expects to make an announcement "soon" about whether to run for president in 2020.

He has already added staff and offices in some key early states as he builds out a national campaign infrastructure.

"It's just making sure that we find the right moment when we're ready to go," Swalwell said of his 2020 plans last week. "But right now I see nothing but green lights."

The north Silicon Valley congressman sees the focus on jobs and the economy and how Americans are struggling and feel "disconnected" and hurt by the policies of President Donald Trump. He proposes a variety of initiatives to create more jobs and opportunities, including workforce training, infrastructure investment and tax changes to boost growth in low-income communities.

Swalwell has been to North Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida in recent days. And he plans over the next several weeks to return to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he has been adding staff and some offices.

The 38-year-old lawmaker, who sits on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, would be the youngest president ever elected if he were to win the Oval Office in 2020. He chairs the Intelligence Modernization and Readiness Subcommittee, a panel with oversight for the U.S. intelligence community's policies and programs, including information technology modernization.

He has made headlines during House hearings and has become familiar face on news networks discussing Trump and the Russia probe.

Talk of Swalwell's presidential ambitions came up Friday in an unlikely place: a televised House Judiciary Committee hearing where acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was grilled by the California congressman. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking GOP member of the panel, objected to a question Swalwell asked Whitaker and then blasted his colleague: "Ask questions instead of running for president."

An Iowa native, Swalwell was raised in California and elected to his first term in Congress in 2012 by defeating Rep. Pete Stark, a 40-year Democratic incumbent. Swalwell previously was an Alameda County prosecutor and city councilman in Dublin, a suburb in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area.

As a 2020 candidate, Swalwell would face competition from another Northern Californian who already has thrown her hat in the ring for the nomination — Sen. Kamala Harris. Both worked in the same district attorney's office and got their start in the Bay Area.

Here are some key issues Swalwell plans to run on as the field of Democratic presidential candidates grows nearly every week.

Jobs and economy

Swalwell said a top priority issue is creating new jobs and "connecting the disconnected. So many people feel disconnected from opportunities. Americans need a leader who can connect to them."

To boost jobs and new opportunities, he supports workforce training, infrastructure investment and policies that encourage entrepreneurship in communities. He also believes the current tax code should be changed to spur economic activity in low-income communities.

In addition, Swalwell said he's supportive of principles of the Green New Deal, the proposal unveiled last week to address climate change.

"If you're a worker who is on a [gas or oil] pipeline, you should have a skills and wage guarantee as you transition from dirty fossil fuels to a green economy," he said.

At the same time, he believes many workers are hurting due to a combination of flat wages and high health costs, and they deserve relief.

He said Trump has "done nothing" for Americans who are struggling to make ends meet and instead is more concerned with "top-floor executives."

Swalwell also rejects Trump's State of the Union claim of the nation being an "economic miracle," suggesting unemployment numbers and the stock market do not tell the full picture.

"There may be some economic miracles on the top floors of buildings across our country," Swalwell said, "but for most workers on most floors who toil away, they're not seeing the benefits of this economy. They feel like yeah they're working but just running in place, and health care is eating up their paychecks and they're just one emergency of a flat tire or a washing machine going out or a kid going to the ER from being wiped out."

Moreover, Swalwell said he's familiar with the everyday struggles of families. He was the first in his family to go to college, and he and his wife, Brittany Watts, have two young kids and nearly $100,000 in student loan debt.

"We're very connected to grit and struggle and the belief that if you work hard, you do better and dream bigger," he said. "I think you need to have that in the Oval Office."

Health care

Swalwell supports a "health-care guarantee" that would offer all Americans guaranteed coverage and has been critical of the Trump administration's efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

"The president pointed out in the State of the Union this 10-year-old girl who has childhood brain cancer," Swalwell said. "And it was a really moving story how she had gone out on her own and had raised $40,000 for her treatments."

Then again, Swalwell said that same story the president highlighted is "an unintended indictment on Washington's inability to have a health-care system that takes care of everyone. So when a young girl has to go out and raise money [and] her hope is based on the charity of others ... that's a failure of our health-care system."

Swalwell said he's seen other examples of people struggling to pay for medical care, including noticing collection jars inside convenience stores in middle America.

"You'll see a collection jar with a picture of someone in the community who has a catastrophic injury, or has an illness or diagnosis — and they're relying on someone at the cashier's counter putting their quarters and dollar bills in the jar," he said. "And that's their hope. That's wrong. That shouldn't be someone's health-care plan in America."

The lawmaker also is calling for a "cures in our lifetime" initiative that includes robust spending on medical research by utilizing the latest in advanced technology to find cures for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer. He called Trump's plan to spend $500 million over a decade on childhood cancer research "a drop in the bucket."

"Innovation has to be a part of the health-care agenda," Swalwell said. "That will reduce costs, that will extend quality of life, and that would create jobs. I don't see anyone trying to unify us and reach for that goal."

Gun violence

Swalwell also intends to make prevention of gun violence a "front-burner issue." He points to mass shootings at schools and places of worship as well as his experience as a prosecutor as reinforcing his belief in the need for "common sense reforms."

One controversial plan he has suggested is a ban and federal buyback of semi-automatic assault weapons.

As a prosecutor, he tried murder cases and crimes involving the use of military-style weapons. Also, his father is a retired cop and he has other family members who are in law enforcement.

"My dad used to take me hunting when I was a kid," he said. "When I was a prosecutor, I would go to the range and shoot to understand the weapons on the streets."

In 2013, he co-sponsored a bill to ban assault weapons shortly after being sworn in as a member of Congress. The legislation, which was similar to a ban that expired in 2004, failed to get through Congress.

Swalwell believes the American public is ready for federal legislation that can "take the most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous people." Besides a ban and buyback of every assault weapon, he also wants to improve the system for background checks.

He also wants to invest more resources in mental health support, do more to prevent gang violence and better enforce laws on books.

"Nothing about that plan would keep a family from having a shotgun in their home to protect against an intruder," Swalwell said. Also, he emphasized it wouldn't prevent families from having a long rifle for hunting or a pistol to go to the range and shoot.