DSCC Vice Chair Alex Padilla on the 2024 election, immigration and the worst rule in baseball
His fundraising work is focused on growing support in his home state of California and beyond
Politicians come in all colors of charismatic, from red-faced rabble rousers to silver-tongued orators, and Alex Padilla’s hue is the faded blue of some everyday jeans. Sure, he’s California’s first Latino senator, a rising star in the Democratic Party and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who’s the son of uneducated migrants.
But in conversation, Padilla comes off as a regular guy, someone who just wants to talk about baseball or his kids, and — since you asked — the intricacies of electrical engineering or immigration policy.
Padilla can still give a cagey response to a question he doesn’t want to answer, though, like whether newly independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema can expect the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s full support in 2024.
CQ Roll Call sat down in Padilla’s office in mid-March to talk about DSCC inside baseball, actual baseball, and the bad physics jokes he shares with the Senate’s other engineers.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: You’re a dad with three kids. I’m also a dad, and all the other dads I know, we talk constantly about issues like child care, education, saving for college. Why do you think these are still labeled women’s issues, like it’s almost a special interest?
A: It’s not a special interest. It’s our collective and truly national interest.
A little bit of it may be generational. You think of somebody who might have joined the Senate 30, 40 years ago, the cultural norms at the time were different. [When] I joined about 10 years ago, I was still changing diapers. I remember the first time walking into a restaurant restroom where there was no changing station. California law now requires changing stations in both men’s and women’s restrooms. Why didn’t somebody think about that before? Culture norms were a little bit different — not right or wrong, just people’s awareness evolves on that kind of stuff over time.
Last year, my wife, Angela, came out to the Senate spouses’ lunch with the first lady. Traditionally, that evening there will be a dinner hosted by the Republican and Democratic leaders for senators and their spouses. Well, my two younger kids came along because we didn’t have anybody to leave them with, but it’s members and spouses only — no kids. So, we didn’t go. Maybe next year they’ll set up a kid’s table.
Q: You recently became a vice chair of the DSCC along with Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota. What’s the remit of that role? How are you divvying up responsibilities with Sen. Smith and Chair Gary Peters of Michigan?
A: It’s all hands on deck. A lot of calls to be made, a lot of events to help organize and attend. I think my more significant value-add is that the DCCC has raised a lot historically out of California, but there’s a lot more untapped potential there. I’m spending time focusing on growing opportunities and support out of California in particular.
But we’re not out on the campaign trail yet; that’ll be next year. Right now, it’s a big emphasis on fundraising for our early investments in digital, ground [campaign operations]. It’s still a lot of time on the phone.
Q: So, you’re not on the trail yet, but let’s look at 2024. What races have you the most worried, and why?
A: With a margin of one? After two years of a 50-50 Senate, every single one is important. There’s West Virginia, there’s Montana [and], there’s Ohio that some people say are the toughest races.
But there’s several others that shouldn’t be taken for granted. You saw how close many of them were this last year. Thankfully, Georgia is not on the list, but Arizona is, Nevada is, Wisconsin is. So, we have our work cut out for us to defend every incumbent.
Q: You said defend every incumbent — is Kyrsten Sinema still considered an incumbent?
A: She’s a colleague that’s great to work with and the top goal is to keep that Senate seat out of the hands of Republicans.
Q: Do you plan to endorse in the primary to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein?
A: I do not. My goal is, whoever wins, to welcome them into a Senate that’s still a Democratic majority.
I know all three of the major candidates at this point. I work with all three, and all three supported me when I was running for the Senate.
Q: You head the Senate Judiciary’s immigration subcommittee. The Biden administration is implementing an asylum rule that you oppose. What do you say to other Democrats who argue that harsher immigration policies are politically necessary?
A: I disagree. For people who think they may be politically advantageous, the proof is that they do not work. As harsh as Trump tried to be with immigrants and asylum seekers, his measures did not deter people who were fleeing poverty, fleeing violence, fleeing natural disasters from coming to the United States seeking asylum. We need to be more thoughtful, we need to be more humane, in how we approach it.
Q: But some argue that the GOP focuses on the border because it’s politically advantageous to cast it as chaos caused by Biden’s policies. So, politically, how do you think the Democrats should respond?
A: I think it’s shameful. If you poll the American people, Democrats and Republicans support modernizing our immigration system. You just don’t find that political will here on the Republican side in the halls of Congress.
The other thing I’d mention is: Anybody who’s worried about inflation, a significant cause of inflation has been the workforce shortage that we have in large part because migration to the United States is way down. The backlog for folks wanting to come in lawfully through different visa categories is ridiculous.
Q: You’re one of the rare Senators with an engineering background. What is one thing that you constantly have to explain to your lawyer colleagues that they just can’t get because they can’t do math?
A: Thankfully, I’m not the only one; Martin Heinrich [D-N.M.] is also a mechanical engineer and Mark Kelly [D-Ariz.] was an aeronautical engineer and pilot before he was an astronaut. So, it’s a small circle of “F=MA” jokes.
The two areas where it comes up most regularly are in tech conversations — cybersecurity, privacy, data, digitization — [and] in the energy space. We can push for renewable energy, clean sources of electricity, all we want — whether its wind, solar, geothermal, etc. But [you also need to understand] the dynamics of transmission distribution — getting the resource from where it’s abundant to where we need it. Transformers [are] the next challenge.
What’s the last book you read?
The Invisible Storm, by Jason Kander.
In politics, can the ends justify the means?
It depends. Life is complicated, politics is complicated.
What is your least popular opinion?
I think pitchers should hit. I am not a fan of the DH rule. I was not a fan when it was [just] in the American League, I’m less of a fan now that it’s worked its way into the National League.
What’s something that your friends know about you that your constituents don’t?
I like to laugh more than I think the public may perceive, and I like to cook.