California congressman Ted Lieu has become a Twitter superhero for his Trump-trolling
You might be seeing Congressman Ted Lieu’s name a lot lately. Or, at least, seeing his name pop up on your Twitter timeline with RT frenzy. Though the California politician, who represents Southern California’s 33rd district, has been doing serious legislative work in the past few weeks—he’s currently a pushing a bill he authored restricting the president’s ability to use nuclear weapons without a declaration of war from Congress—he’s become celebrated for his acerbic and critical tweets targeting our new Commander in Chief. His Twitter banner is a comparison photo of Trump and Obama’s inauguration day crowds. He refers to Sean Spicer as a #FakePressSecretary and accuses him of lying. Following Kellyanne Conway’s infamous “alternative facts,” Lieu tweeted a photo of the entrance to his office in the capital, which now bore a sign reading “Alternative Fact Free Zone.” The tweet generated almost 3,000 retweets and more than 7,500 favs. His followers number at more than 49,000.
This may be surprising to some who had come to know Lieu as the congressman who used to make headlines for taking fairly uncontroversial positions on issues like bear hunting and construction on earthquake faults. And certainly, the Armed Forces veteran and former California senator didn’t immediately take a hard-line stance against Trump. On election day, he tweeted somberly, “If #HillaryClinton won, we would have wanted those who did not support her to congratulate her. I congratulate President-elect #DonaldTrump.” But as time wore on and inauguration day approached, Lieu’s tweets became scathing towards the sitting president.
Lieu is part of a growing contingent of democratic politicians like Representative Maxine Waters and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who have become energized and mobilized under the current presidency. GOOD talked to Ted Lieu about his tweets, President Donald Trump, and the moment he decided he’d had enough.
At what point did you say, “I’ve had enough. I’m no longer going to be silent.”
A few days after the November election, I sent an email to my supporters saying, “What makes America great is our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump won the Electoral College. We should give him the chance to govern and I hope he will govern differently than he has campaigned.” Since then, not only did he not govern differently than he campaigned, he actually became even more extreme in making wild destabilizing statements, such as suggesting that NATO is obsolete.
He has also said that we should take Iraqi oil. That is a war crime. But in addition, he has just increased the risk to our service members who are deployed overseas in the Middle East in countries like Iraq. Now the residents and governmental members there and the translators helping our US soldiers might question our motives and think that we’re actually there to steal their oil.
Then he imposes a Muslim ban that is so poorly written, [the White House counsel] had to modify it because of constitutional problems. I believe the whole thing is unconstitutional. The message it sent was not only horrible to the people of America, but to our allies, such as those in Iraq, right? We’re trying to defeat ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the message this Muslim ban sends is: “You Iraqis, we hate you. Now please help our U.S. soldiers defeat Al-Qaeda and ISIS.”
And you went down to LAX with the protestors to protest the ban. What was that like for you?
It was very energizing. I was somewhat depressed until January 21 (the day of the Women’s March). The Women’s March was awe-inspiring and it showed to America that our populist movement is bigger than Trump’s populist movement. It showed that there was this large reaction to the current administration. And then you have these multiple organic protests occurring at airports across a nation after Muslim ban was ordered. That also showed that there was a groundswell of opposition to President Trump.
Maxine Waters and I went [to LAX]. We also worked with mayor Eric Garcetti who did a fabulous job both privately and publicly and we wanted to get the detainees released. Who had been held since the Muslim ban had been ordered. And later Sunday evening, all the detainees that were released since the Muslim ban was—or were held since the Muslim ban was ordered were in fact released. So, there is an important consequence to these rallies and protests. They do result in change and I think it’s also helpful to have these protests and rallies give more sort of evidence and also courage to our courts to strike down these executive orders.
Your language has become much stronger in the last few months, especially on Twitter. You’ve been getting a lot of press for it. When did that become a strategy for you?
Yes. It sort of evolved since the election. After November, I did not think that I was going to boycott the inauguration. I intended to go, but then Trump started nominating not just extremists but people who were totally incompetent to the cabinet. Like Betsy DeVos. And then he started to make statements that were to me unconnected from the truth.
I think what really sort of showed me that we were in a totally qualitatively different reality is that the very first press event of his administration. It was on January 21. Donald Trump sent secretary Sean Spicer to speak to the American public and the reporters. They could’ve talked about jobs or healthcare. Instead, they talked about crowd size. And then they lied about it. I watched it and I thought that is one of the most bizarre things that I have seen. It sort of just hit me that we’re now dealing with an administration that not only lies pathologically but has no regard for objective reality. They had to even make up a term for it. So, the next day, or two days later, Kellyanne Conway had to call this “alternative facts.” And I simply concluded that Donald Trump was a danger to the republic. We cannot have an American President that lies pathologically, who blurs the distinction between truth and fiction and who assaults the free press and stifles dissent. That’s how authoritarian regimes start happening.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]I’m still working on legislation. But I’ve also concluded that the most important and patriotic thing I can do is to not normalize Donald Trump.[/quote]
How have your goals as a congressman changed? Or have they changed before and after the election?
So last term, I worked across the aisle with colleagues on both sides. In terms of legislation, I introduced a number of bills. The language of seven of those bills became law. I’m still working on legislation. But I’ve also concluded that the most important and patriotic thing I can do is to not normalize Donald Trump, to show that he is a danger to the republic and to highlight the harmful and unhinged things he’s doing, so that in 22 months when voters in America all vote again in Summer elections, they can have those facts into account before they do. So, I’m trying to do everything that I can to change the make-up of Congress in 22 months. So that we can stop the crazy Trump agenda.
What does that entail on your part?
Getting information out there. For example, this Yemen raid that Trump ordered—that resulted in nearly 30 people dying, including women and children—was not front page news. You didn’t see CNN lead off with it. Or MSNBC. So we sent a press release saying that—to highlight this, even though it’s dealing with a country that many people probably can’t locate on a map. The fact that the President ordered a military raid without adequate intelligence and ground support is highly shocking. So, I want to highlight issues that maybe folks hadn’t seen or been aware of the first time it happened.
Senator Anne Markey and I have also introduced HR 669, which says that the President of the United States cannot launch a nuclear first strike, without getting a declaration of war from Congress. It’s based on the Constitution and the framers gave the greatest power they knew at the time—the power to declare war—to Congress, not the President. And our view is that a nuclear first strike launch that could kill hundreds of millions of people in less than an hour is war. Our belief is that the current launch approval process, that simply has the present giving the order with no checks and balances from Congress is unconstitutional.
Are your constituents worried about all this? It feels very dark these days. How are they reacting to all of this?
Yes. I think many constituents are afraid. And Donald Trump is not easing their fears, unfortunately in these past few weeks. Now the flip side of that is it is also driving people to take action. So, you’ve seen not only the largest marches and protests in U.S history but also great organizations like the ACLU have fundraising historical highs because people realize it could work. That civil rights groups make sure that the third branch of government, the judiciary, has a check and balance on the President. I myself became a donor also to the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’ve given to environmental groups, to women’s groups, and you’re seeing a surge in memberships and contributions. So, I think that’s very helpful. And this energy is something that I’ve never seen before and seeing right now to be eclipsing the energy that helped elect President Obama to office the first time. If this can be sustained for the next 22 months, you’re gonna see a huge change in Congress.
What do you recommend to people who are looking to feel or to do something useful? What do you recommend for the regular people to do? How should they be organizing or taking action?
So, one way is to join organizations that you support. I would buy newspaper subscriptions. When President Bannon—I’m sorry—Steve Bannon went out and said the media should shut up and went on a historical rant, calling the media an opposition party, I bought four newspaper subscriptions for my son. So, I’m trying to support the press, because I think that there is an assault on the press. I hope folks also go ahead and continue participating in marches and rallies because the visual images on TV is not is going to affect the President, but it’s going to affect his staff and every member of Congress and US senator watching. I can guarantee you the Women’s March put a lot of doubt in Republican members of Congress and Senators’ minds about the perceived mandate that Donald Trump has. Because it showed me that he doesn’t have a mandate. He was at a 36% approval rating. Basically, I think the lowest in history for a President in his first week in office. So, I think people should be heartened to know that the majority of Americans are on the right side of history. The majority of Americans believe that Donald Trump has taken a series of actions that are not supported by most Americans. It’s important that we keep up this energy and I think we’re going to take our country back.
Have you received any flak from anyone about your tweets or about the kind of hard line stance that you’ve taken?
Oh yes. So, Breitbart posted an article saying that I should be court-martialed. I’m still in the act of duty. I’m still in the military. I do research and they believe I should be court-martialled about the statements that I’ve been making about Donald Trump. I am being attacked.
Does that scare you or deter you in any way?
No. It sort of makes me angrier. And it makes me want to fight back even more. And by the way, the Breitbart article—not surprisingly—was just factually wrong. The uniform code of military justice does not apply to reserves who are not on duty. So, when I’m not on duty, I’m just like you—I’m a civilian.
You say factually wrong, but they say alternatively right.
There we go.