SALEM, N.H. — U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, the Salem, Massachusetts, Democrat who last month became the 19th of his party to join the race for president, met with 50 or so party faithful on Saturday in the lakeside home of a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia to begin the work of separating himself from the others in the race, which now numbers 21.
Moulton has attempted to do that since declaring his candidacy on April 22 by focusing on defense and foreign policy issues. The setting Saturday, in the living room of former ambassador James Smith – also a former Air Force brigadier general and, like Moulton, a Gulf War veteran – matched Moulton's message.
“I think that Donald Trump is a greater threat to this country than a lot of people realize and a lot of Americans appreciate,” Moulton said, responding to a question about the risks Democrats may face in having such a crowded field of presidential hopefuls. “I also think it's going to be really hard to beat him. And I don't think we can beat him if we're not wiling to take him on where he's actually weakest, which is in his job as commander in chief, on the security and safety of the county, on moral leadership and moral authority and what it fundamentally means to be a patriot. He tries to own those issues, but he should not. There's no one else in the race talking about that.”
If anyone missed the point, a copy of “Presidents at War” by historian Michael Beschloss was set on the coffee table beside where Moulton spoke, along with a copy of “Air Force Magazine.”
Moulton, 40, a former Marine lieutenant, has represented the Massachusetts Sixth Congressional District since 2015 and serves on the House Armed Services Committee. His audience Saturday was older, left-leaning and clearly anxious to defeat President Trump, but focused mostly on domestic issues during 30 minutes of questions.
Moulton took more than a dozen. He said he would toughen gun laws, legalize marijuana, reform criminal justice, increase investments in solar power and other renewable energy sources, spend more researching cures for Alzheimer's Disease, give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and give up on “the 5th-Century wall” Trump wants to build along the Mexican boarder in exchange for more high-tech boarder security and rebuilding Central American economies. He acknowledged that the waves of Central Americans showing up at the southern boarder have created a crisis, but refuted Trump's notion that they would displace U.S. workers.
"They're not coming to steal our jobs," Moulton said. "They're fleeing for their lives."
Moulton said he would repeal the Trump tax cuts, which he said reduced corporate tax rates too much. He said the corporate tax rate should be raised to 25 percent, up from the 21 percent where it was set under last year's tax cuts. He noted that Delta Airlines and Amazon paid no federal taxes last year.
Ambassador Smith, who besides his service in the Gulf War was a fighter pilot in Europe, during the Cold War, asked Moulton how he would confront Russian interference in U.S. elections. He hosted the event with his wife, Janet Breslin-Smith, who is chairwoman of the Salem Democratic Committee.
“We had to be airborne in five minutes, because if the Russians came across (to Western Europe), we had to be there to stop them,” Smith said. “So what does it say when we let the Russians inside the wall, denying they're even there and doing nothing to stop them.”
“What it says is that we don't take NATO seriously,” Moulton responded. “What it says is that we don't take the Russian threat seriously and that we let Vladimir Putin just do whatever he wants, whether its in Eastern Europe or right here at home. What it says is dangerous for our country and our allies. What it says is, 'You should feel welcome, Mr. Putin, to interfere in the 2020 election because we haven’t changed anything since 2016.' ”
No one questioned Moulton's view of the findings in the recent report by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who concluded that the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election but left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice by his efforts to block Mueller's investigation. He answered those questions after the event, when asked by reporters in the driveway outside the Woodmeadow Drive home.
Moulton said he would support holding a debate in the House about whether to impeach Trump, but stopped short of saying he would vote for impeachment because he said a lot still isn't known. But he said the House should consider impeaching Attorney General William Barr for lying to Congress when he said he was not aware of concerns that Mueller’s investigators expressed about his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings.
“I think we absolutely could vote on that,” Moulton said. “Whether that's the best course of action to hold him accountable, I don't know. The most obvious option right now is to hold him in contempt. Politics aside, it's just our constitutional duty to hold the administration accountable. And if you're the top law enforcement official in the country and you come before Congress and you flat out lie, that's not acceptable."
“The constitution is at stake here,” he added. “We have an attorney general and a president who we fundamentally can't trust to tell the truth.”