DULUTH -- U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber watched President Joe Biden’s speech to Congress this week and reacted immediately, but was in no hurry to join any chorus comparing the president to historic reformers like Franklin Roosevelt.

Instead, the Hermantown Republican dismissed the Biden address with an email minutes after it was over late Wednesday. Stauber made it clear he was not thrilled to be among those left out of a socially distanced and limited House Chamber.

“I am disappointed by this break from tradition as members have been cleared to vote together and the vast majority are inoculated,” Stauber said.

Biden introduced transformative spending plans paid for through their own growth and by raising taxes for large corporations and the wealthiest citizens.

"Trickle-down economics has never worked, and it's time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out," Biden said at his most resonant.

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Stauber wasn’t buying it.

“The spending alone is very, very concerning, because make no mistake about it: The middle class will pay for these tax increases,” Stauber told Forum News Service. “It trickles down to the consumer and the vast majority of the consumers are the middle class.”

Stauber referenced President Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down theory: that relieving taxes on job makers spurs their largesse and growth, creating better wages and rewards for the working masses.

“The last administration,” Stauber said, “they cut taxes and it led to an economic boom for our small businesses.”

For Stauber, imposing higher taxes on the upper crust will result in higher prices on everyone.

“Absolutely,” Stauber said. “We’re going to pay more for items we use and purchase every single day.”

Stauber struggled to find slivers of common ground with Biden to go with ample waves of disdain.

“I was present at his inauguration address, where he talked unity the vast majority of that address,” Stauber said. “And within the 100 days, that’s not what he has brought to the American people.”

Reminded that Biden applauded the Senate Republicans’ counterproposal on infrastructure, even though it was a third the price of Biden’s $2 trillion proposal, Stauber said: “Actions speak louder than words, so we’ll eventually see how that plays out.”

He was discouraged by the partisan American Rescue Plan — the first of the pandemic rescue packages passed in Congress that was “purely partisan,” Stauber said of the $1.9 trillion plan adopted early in the Biden term to contend with the ongoing societal fallout of the pandemic.

Forum News Service noted 200 million Americans have been vaccinated and one million jobs created as that plan has taken effect.

“Those two items you mentioned, those are bipartisan, those are things we can agree on,” Stauber said. “But the additional spending? That has nothing to do with COVID-related investment … the other stuff didn’t have that bipartisan support.”

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the dais behind him April 28, 2021 in Washington. Melina Mara / Pool via REUTERS
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the dais behind him April 28, 2021 in Washington. Melina Mara / Pool via REUTERS

Some of that spending includes $400 billion expansion of long-term, home- and community-based care services. Why not want to fund care for aging Americans? Stauber balked, calling it incorrectly tied to infrastructure, and a topic for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and legislative committees related to it.

“Those are good things that we need to invest in and talk about, but under the infrastructure package, under the traditional infrastructure package, we know that we have high priority projects not only in our district, but across America,” Stauber said.

Lately, his office is being served up shovel-ready projects from jurisdictions throughout Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. From the Minnesota Transportation Department on down, public works agencies have been told to get projects submitted to their federal legislators for inclusion into the anticipated infrastructure funding plan.

“I’m convinced that if we focus on those traditional projects under this transportation and infrastructure package, we can do a whole lot of good,” Stauber said.

Stauber spoke about progress in his effort to influence federal police reform.

He and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, have co-authored police reform in their JUSTICE Act, elements of which they’re still trying to see through with Democratic colleagues. Stauber called the House Democrats' George Floyd Justice in Policing Act nothing but partisan, and said, “we can do better.”

“What I will say on police reform is that it is needed, and we need a bipartisan solution and myself and a small group of federal elected officials both in the House and Senate, a very small group, are trying to work through some complicated issues to get police reform across the finish line,” Stauber said. “Which will benefit the communities these officers serve and the officers themselves.”

The big hurdle right now, he said, is qualified immunity, the status which protects law enforcement officers from civil prosecution for any harm inflicted during use-of-force incidents.

Stauber doesn’t believe there’s a reason to remove such language.

“If you go outside policies, procedures and training,” he said, “it doesn’t protect you.”

He noted how the state of Minnesota had to reach out to Indiana and Ohio for state patrol reinforcements during the trial of Derek Chauvin, and said issues that put officers at risk of prosecution keep prospective new employees away from joining policing or even departments from providing mutual aid.

“North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin — they were hesitant,” Stauber said of neighboring states to help Minnesota, before harkening onto his former career in law enforcement as a 23-year Duluth police officer. “Does that mean the city of Superior, Wisconsin, that we grew relations with, is going to now be hesitant to help us in the time of need? We work very well with the Superior Police Department.”

On mass shootings happening regularly, Stauber called “every single mass shooting and loss of life a tragedy.” His solution remains to address mental health instead of any form of gun control.

“If you look at the incidents, you will see, if you backtrack, there’s a mental health component,” he said. “And there’s also an opportunity for us to intervene if there’s something put out on social media.”

Democrats’ solutions don’t solve gun violence, Stauber said, believing “the vast majority of guns used in crimes, or the purchase of those weapons, are through the black market or they’re stolen.”

On vaccinations, Stauber declined to say if he’d received one, calling it a personal choice. Unprompted, he defended liberties not currently in jeopardy: “I would never support any piece of legislation that would force somebody to get vaccinated,” he said.

Asked if he supports vaccinations, the congressman said: “I’ve encouraged people to get vaccinated after consulting with their family or their doctor. It’s their decision whether they get vaccinated.”