On Thursday, Aug. 10, three Democratic Congressmen — local representative Jimmy Panetta, along with House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Congressman Jim Costa (Calif.), held an agriculture roundtable session at Hartnell College in Salinas. (BenitoLink will have a story on the roundtable in the coming days).
The trio came to hear the concerns of local agriculture producers, farm workers, and nutrition organizations regarding the nation's food policy that they would take back to Washington with a goal of affecting the drafting of the pending Farm Bill. What they had to say about agriculture, however, took a sudden detour into the glare of recent headlines when Panetta and Costa stood before reporters after the session.
Costa and Panetta were casually trading compliments for each other’s contributions to agriculture and covering some of the points made earlier during the roundtable session when the conversation went off-topic as a reporter asked about their thoughts on President Donald Trump and North Korea. The two politicians were momentarily caught off-guard, but quickly recovered.
Panetta seemed hesitant to switch gears, but took a deep breath and tackled the thorny issue by saying it was unfortunate that the leader of the country has used the words he has about North Korea. He said the president needs to be more diplomatic, especially when dealing with the rogue nation's volatile leader, Kim Jong Un.
“We need to make sure that we approach that carefully, but also diplomatically in reaching out to him,” Panetta said. “You can’t bully and, unfortunately, I think Donald Trump has gone about it the wrong way. Fortunately, we have a number of Congress members to balance him out.”
Costa first thanked Panetta as a naval reservist (who served in Afghanistan alongside Special Forces) and his agility as a new member of Congress to take on important foreign policy issues.
“(What) the president demonstrated in the last couple days, concerns a lot of us in terms of his impulsiveness and in terms of responding to a crisis,” Costa said. “Clearly, this is not a new issue. The last three presidents had to deal with North Korea, and it was the issue that President Obama most emphasized President-elect Trump in their last meeting before the president took office that ‘keep your eyes focused on North Korea because this will probably be your first crises.’”
Costa said he was somewhat hopeful that with H. R. McMaster serving as the National Security Advisor, James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly advising Trump, the president would realize that tweeting responses to North Korea is not the way to handle a crisis that could result in dramatic ramifications throughout the world.
“We got a unanimous vote in the United Nations on increasing sanctions and we need to make sure they’re implemented and enforced,” Costa said. “China has an opportunity to play a role and the president has talked about his relationship with China. Now’s the opportunity to see whether or not that relationship is going to provide results.”
He went on to say there are essentially two choices:
“Try to find some kind of diplomatic, negotiated settlement or to do the worst-case scenario that would result in millions of casualties in a very short time period,” Costa said. “Clearly, nobody wants that. As we look at the discussions that are taking place with this administration, with this new president, cooler heads must prevail.”
Costa and Panetta's comments were followed the next day by Trump's Tweets Friday warning that the U.S. is “locked and loaded,” and Kim Jong Un’s factions saying the country could launch missiles toward Guam as soon as next week.
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