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‘We all sound like it’s the 1990s,’ says Rep. David Schweikert

‘It’s like we missed an entire technology revolution,’ Arizona Republican says of Congress

Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., holds a coffee cup in his Cannon Building office in December.
Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., holds a coffee cup in his Cannon Building office in December. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“Do you want a coffee? A latte? I make a mean vanilla cappuccino.”

David Schweikert is about to pour his seventh — wait, no, maybe it’s the eighth? — coffee of the day. It’s only a little past 2 p.m., but Schweikert loves his cappuccino machine.

Heard on the Hill declined, then reclined in one of the Arizona Republican’s sumptuous leather chairs — another perk of his coffee mania, he said. When Schweikert arrived on the Hill a decade ago, a senior lawmaker was retiring. “I had been going around making vanilla cappuccinos for a bunch of the moving staff,” he said. “Next thing I knew, I came in and I had the best couch, the best chairs.”

Schweikert didn’t always get along with his colleagues in Congress, but over the years the disagreements have mellowed, like a good slow roast blend — even though they formally reprimanded him in 2020 for violating ethics rules and misusing campaign funds. (Voters still reelected him for a sixth term.) He barely blinked during this interview in December, which has been edited and condensed, but he did say a lot about floor speeches, Barry Goldwater and winning over his GOP peers.

Q: I hear you’re an avid hiker. What’s the best hike you’ve ever been on?

A: I have an incredible love of the Grand Canyon. I just finished my 38th time camping overnight in the canyon. No two trips are ever the same. We’re learning there are so many different trails, you could probably spend a lifetime and never cover them all.

Q: You decided to adopt a daughter in 2015. What was that process like for you?

A: When we got married, we were older, and my wife had just finished going through cancer treatments. So we signed up for every adoption registry you can imagine. I’m adopted, all my siblings are adopted, my father was adopted. I was born in an unwed mothers home in Los Angeles.

We’d sort of given up. And then on a weekend night at like 2 a.m., the phone rings and a doctor friend says, “Hey, are you still looking? I have a 28-year-old mom. No drugs in her system but no prenatal care. She wants a Catholic family.” I woke up my spouse, Joyce, and we met the little girl at eight hours of life. That’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Imagine having a day-old child in the bassinet, going through Target because you have nothing, looking at your little internet list going, “What’s butt balm?” 

I have the world’s best little girl. The only tricky side is she has an absolute crush on Kevin McCarthy. I’ve been trying to explain to her that all boys are bad except daddy. 

Q: Your parents were friends with Barry Goldwater. Do you have any memories of them from when you were a kid?

A: The Phoenix area, if you go back to the ’60s and ’70s, was a lot different. Mother had a social relationship with Peggy Goldwater and with Jackie Laxalt, who lived in the Scottsdale area. So there was a little clique of them. 

In some ways you didn’t really think of them as political people, they were just family relations. You have to put it in the social context of what the early ’70s were like. Barry Goldwater, you knew he was important, and he was a bit of a jokester. 

Q: You give a floor speech almost every week. You’re one of a few regulars, but why? Usually the House floor is empty these days, and it’s not like a ton of people are watching on C-SPAN. 

A: If you walked into most offices and said, “What’s the driver of U.S. sovereign debt?” you would get the rhetorical stuff: “Waste and fraud, foreign aid, defense.” No, it’s Medicare, and the rest is Social Security. 

How do you get up in front of a room and explain the actual drivers are not necessarily Republican or Democrat? It’s demographics. We’re getting old very quickly as a society. And if you could have a revolution in the cost of health care, you would have the single greatest effect on dealing with the sovereign debt crisis I believe is coming, and you’d also end a lot of misery. 

What if we did an Operation Warp Speed on diabetes? My rage around this place is how hard it is to get folks to think differently than the six lines we have for our campaigns. We all sound like it’s the 1990s. It’s like we missed an entire technology revolution. We now have wearables to manage our health care, messenger RNA and even the stem cell therapy that just cured someone of Type 1 diabetes. 

There is something crazy going on, though. The last couple months, my floor speeches are getting over a million views on YouTube. I used to get, like, seven. Maybe there’s a hunger for solutions. Who wants to watch some pasty white Scottsdale Republican who sounds like an accountant on steroids ramble on about deficits, debt and synthetic biology saving the world? 

Q: When you first got to Congress, you had a contentious relationship with some of your colleagues, especially leadership. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case anymore. Was that just you mellowing out?

A: I think it was more understanding the rhythm. Senior members had this freshman walking around giving them what they thought were radical ideas. A lot of times I came across like I was challenging their knowledge, challenging their authority. I have to give McCarthy credit, because he and I went from clashing a lot, to one day, “OK, that’s a quirky idea, but it might work.” [I also learned] you don’t correct them on television.

Acceptance of technology has moved in my direction. Take telehealth. Five, six years ago, if you were an advocate for telehealth around here, you were a messenger of the Antichrist. There was an army of lobbyists saying, “Schweikert’s telehealth ideas are going to blow up your hospital.” And then we hit the pandemic.

Quick hits

Last book you read? Please don’t laugh at me. I probably have about six or seven books on my nightstand right now, and they’re all on synthetic biology and CRISPR. I just have a fascination with the subject.

In politics, can the ends justify the means? Yes, but within some ethical parameters.

Least popular opinion? Trying to get our brothers and sisters around here to understand Medicare is the primary driver of U.S. debt. 

If you could do anything else for a job, what would it be? I’d be back home, managing money, doing little developments. I’m blessed to live in just a really beautiful place.

Closest friend across the aisle? I’m very fond of Jimmy Panetta on Ways and Means, just because he’s one of the few people who seems to be willing to laugh at my humor.

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