Rhode Island Congressman Jim Langevin has been in the news of late.
Early this month, he took up a new post as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Strategic Forces, which means he'll be wrestling with issues of nuclear proliferation, missile defense and other light fare.
Then there was word that State Representative Elizabeth Dennigan may be gearing up to challenge him in a primary next year.
And in recent days, the pro-life Democrat made headlines when he joined with a handful of pro-life and pro-choice congressmen to propose a compromise on an abortion funding spat that threatened to derail health care reform.
The Phoenix caught up with Langevin a couple of weeks ago. Democrats in Congress were getting cold feet on health care reform. And President Obama had recently returned from Russia, where he signed an agreement to reduce American and Russian nuclear stockpiles as part of a broader effort to prevent the spread of the weapons.
The interview is edited and condensed for space.
HOW DOES CUTTING BACK ON WEAPON STOCKS REALLY HAVE AN IMPACT IF THE CONCERN IS THAT ROGUE STATES LIKE IRAN OR NORTH KOREA WILL PURSUE NUCLEAR WEAPONS ANYHOW? If the United States really hopes to be a leader in counter-proliferation, then we have to lead by example. And that means we can't be saying to other nations, 'Don't build nuclear weapons and don't test nuclear weapons,' if we're not cutting back ourselves. If we take the lead by actually reducing our own stockpile of nuclear weapons, as is the goal of President Obama's policy, then it is more likely that greater pressure will be put on other nations to reduce their own nuclear weapon stockpiles or stop pursuing the development of nuclear weapons in the first place.
DO YOU THINK [IRANIAN] PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD CARES IF WE'RE LEADING BY EXAMPLE? IS THAT GOING TO SLOW HIM DOWN? I think it puts pressure on him, I really do. I think Iran has the goal of developing a nuclear weapons program, and I think they are aggressively pursuing that goal right now. What will get them to stop, I believe, is the United States and its allies working very closely together to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. That goes for North Korea as well. It's going to come from diplomatic pressure with our allies and other nations around the world, particularly Russia and China, to get North Korea and Iran to give up their nuclear weapons program.
THERE IS A LOT OF SKEPTICISM AROUND COUNTER-PROLIFERATION. CAN IT REALLY WORK? IS IT NAÏVE, OR DANGEROUS EVEN, TO REDUCE OUR OWN STOCKPILES? IS THAT CYNICISM A MAJOR OBSTACLE TO COUNTER-PROLIFERATION EFFORTS? That's why having a robust ballistic missile defense program is also incredibly important. If we are to deviate from our strategy of mutually assured destruction and reduce our amount of nuclear weapons then we are going to need strong defenses in place that could protect the United States from a missile launch.
HOW ABOUT HEALTH CARE? WHAT ARE THE REFORM PROSPECTS THESE DAYS GIVEN THAT CONGRESS SEEMS TO BE GETTING A LITTLE NERVOUS? I am still optimistic that we are going to pass health care reform this year. I'm in my ninth year in Congress this year and I've never been so optimistic that we're going to fix health care. It won't be easy. It is complicated. Along with the economy, it is the most pressing domestic policy problem that we have facing the country right now. But it is a goal that is worth pursuing and achieving. I am going to do everything I can to lend my voice and my support to achieving the goal of universal health care.
LASTLY, THERE'S BEEN SOME CHATTER LATELY ABOUT A POSSIBLE PRIMARY CHALLENGE. YOU'VE HAD A COUPLE CHALLENGES IN RECENT YEARS. WHY DO YOU THINK YOU ATTRACT MORE CHALLENGES THAN OTHER MEMBERS OF THE RHODE ISLAND DELEGATION? My magnetic personality [chuckles] — they all want to challenge me. It's part of the democratic process to have competing ideas. I welcome all challengers that feel they'd do the job differently than I would do it.