KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why Rep. Debbie Lesko Broke Ranks With Trump And Arizona's Republican Congressmen

Debbie Lesko
Debbie Lesko in 2019.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The four Republican members of Arizona's congressional delegation rank among the most conservative lawmakers in the House. And Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Debbie Lesko and David Schweikert have been loyal supporters of President [Donald] Trump. Lesko departed from her colleagues on recent votes related to pandemic relief and the National Defense Authorization Act, choosing to support some versions of those and siding with the Democratic majority. Emily Ryan of Copper State Consulting is with me to talk about Lesko and the rest of the state's GOP delegation. Emily, first, why do you think Rep. Lesko, who has been a vocal supporter of President Trump, voted this way recently?

EMILY RYAN: You know, I think it has to do with two things: One, her district and two, Debbie Lesko's personality. You know, she is party loyalist, but she's also not one to be told what to do or how to do it. And I think she takes the concerns of her district really to heart. And you've got to remember, she's got Luke Air Force Base out there when it comes to defense. And as far as [COVID-19] relief goes, she's got Sun City and Sun City West in her district. And while they may not be getting stimulus checks, I think all of the money geared toward vaccine distribution and help for people in assisted living communities — I think that just shows you that Debbie's got an ear to her district and she is incredibly loyal to President Trump. But at the end of the day, she's going to do what she thinks her district needs.

GOLDSTEIN: Well, that's interesting. Again, the loyalty to President Trump, because we have, obviously, seen examples where he can turn on people fairly quickly. But do you think that's one of those things where she either through a conduit or to himself, she would say, "Obviously, I'm a big fan of yours, I love you, but I need to do this for my district," and he would hear that?

RYAN: I think in normal political circumstances, that would be how it would be handled. I don't think that's possible with President Trump. I think he just wants what he wants when he wants it. But I had the opportunity of working closely, both with and in opposition to items that Congresswoman Lesko worked on at our state Capitol. And she's a fearless person. You know, she always has a smile on her face. So you might underestimate her, but she's not one to be bullied or pushed around. So I just think she would accept the fact that he might not be happy and accept the consequences.

GOLDSTEIN: And do you think that matters to the rest of the delegation, at least as far as the GOP members go? Andy Biggs has been very outspoken. We see him on Fox quite often. He writes a lot of editorials. Does that matter to someone like Debbie Lesko? Or would Andy Biggs or Paul Gosar understand where she's coming from?

RYAN: I don't think it matters. I mean, I think she cares. I think that she would prefer to be in step with the rest of that Arizona delegation. But at the end of the day, Debbie is a strong-willed person, and she is going to have the fortitude to just, right or wrong, do what she perceives as the best thing to do for her district.

GOLDSTEIN: There's this discussion about whether the lawmakers at the state Capitol are in step or out of step with voters. That, yes, Arizona is a center-right state, but not as conservative as many in the state Legislature. How does that apply, do you think, to our, our GOP congressional delegation? Because it seems to a lot of folks that at least two of them are extremely right and maybe Debbie Lesko from time to time is as well.

RYAN: You know, I think that that's probably a fair thing to say. I think your vast majority of voters aren't quite as extreme. But that's sort of our political system, where extremism is rewarded on both sides, and that's who you end up in office because that's who you end up having win primaries. So a lot of times you end up with someone that's a little bit out of sync with where mainstream voters are or what they care about. And I think what we're seeing with Arizona's right-based congressional delegation is trying to make political points and pursue some pure ideals in a time where those things are not a priority for most voters.

GOLDSTEIN: We're going to have a new president on Jan. 20. Do you see anything that, again, the GOP members of Arizona's congressional delegation can come to any agreement with Joe Biden in his package of ideas? Or is this, again, as we talked about, we're such in a partisan situation right now coming out of the Trump administration, any reason for bipartisan optimism there?

RYAN: You know, I don't have a lot of optimism in the early months because I think it's just too fresh, and I think we'll have President Trump tweeting nonstop and rallying those voices. Again, I think that Congresswoman Lesko is going to have a bit of a pragmatic streak on some things. I think what you'll see from Gosar, Biggs, Schweikert, is a lot more of the same. You know, they'll be in the minority and it's going to be their opportunity to pull on the other end of the rope and fight against anything that the Biden administration and the Democrats want to pursue. And it's sort of safe to do that because even, even with this COVID relief bill, those that voted against it weren't the vote that put the nail in the coffin. You know, they didn't kill it. So it's sort of a, "I didn't deny you your $600 check or your $2,000 check, but I voted against this because I'm pure, I'm Republican in principle, reelect me." And so it's sort of that, a big grandstanding vote without a lot of consequence.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, your point on the minority is a great one, because Andy Biggs, when he was in the state Legislature, was, of course, always in the majority. And he's been in the minority now for a while. And he's made his, his mark as someone who's a real darling of conservatives — you know, the House Freedom Caucus, that sort of thing. You know, of the four folks on the GOP side of Arizona's congressional delegation, does any of them have a chance to really become someone who's extremely impactful?

RYAN: Andy Biggs. You know, I think he's got a lot of potential to have an impact. You know, and that that is the minority role, no matter who's in it — is to scream and rail against. It's a lot of speechifying. And, and that's what he'll be good at doing. He's managed to seamlessly sort of shift into that new role from majority to minority pretty well. And I think that he's got a good reach and a lot of support in his base. I could see him sort of being a darling of the extreme right. You know, it will just be interesting to see in the next couple of years how that holds with Trump gone and not sort of cheerleading that, if the Republican or conservative movement will morph into something else, as political parties often do without Trump at the helm. I think we'll see some changes over the next 18 months to two years.

GOLDSTEIN: Emily Ryan of Copper State Consulting. Emily, always appreciate your time. And Happy New Year.

RYAN: Happy New Year. Thank you, Steve.

More Stories From KJZZ

Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.