Questions for Joseph Cao, only Rep. to Vote for Health Care Bill


Has No Life - Lives on TB
Published: November 17, 2009

A first-term congressman from New Orleans, you are the one and only Republican in the House who voted in favor of the Democrats’ health care plan. Have you been scolded by the Republicans for breaking rank?
Not my party leadership, but only by Republicans all over the United States who are disappointed with my vote. But not at all from the party leadership.

So not by Eric Cantor, for instance, the House minority whip, who, just days before the vote, claimed at a rally that “not one Republican” would support the bill?
Correct. Actually, I just had lunch with Eric Cantor down here in New Orleans, and he was very supportive of who I am and what I have to do to represent the district. He fully understands the politics of the district.

Did you support the bill to curry favor with your constituents? You represent a mostly black district that is among the poorest in the nation.
This is a personal position of mine. I do believe that we need health care reform. I do believe that we as a government have a duty to help those who are in need but who cannot help themselves.

So you’re saying you voted out of personal conviction, not politics?
Correct. I spent six years in the Society of Jesus, training to be a priest. I always adhere to what I call “the politics of the Gospel.” You have to take care of the poor, take care of the widows, visit the sick, help those who cannot help themselves.

Why did you become a Republican?
Because of their strong pro-life stance. That alone.

Do you find it awkward being a Republican whose ideas on both economic and social policy diverge from those of your party?
It’s not awkward because we’re all professionals. We know that we are a diverse group.

Republicans need you precisely because they’re not a diverse group. They like having you because you’re not another pale white face.
I believe that they like me for who I am, not because they want the Republican Party to look something different than just white.

Of the 177 Republicans in the House, are there any other Asian-Americans?
There’s one, Steve Austria. He’s from Ohio. He is a Filipino-American.

You were born in Saigon, where your father, a soldier, was taken prisoner by the Communists, and your mother arranged to send you off to the States when you were 8 years old.
My mother decided to send her only two boys because she feared that if we were to grow up in Vietnam, we would be drafted into the military by the Communists and probably sent off fighting some war and get killed. My parents came over to the U.S. in 1991, 15 years after I did.

You lived with an uncle in Indiana. What was school like for you?
Instead of going to the third grade, they actually put me back in first. I was two years older than all of my classmates.

Was that difficult?
No, because I am petite and I looked quite young. I’m 5-foot-2. Now I look 18, even though I’m 42.

Have you been back to Vietnam?
1994 was the first time. Then in 2001 after I got married.

On your honeymoon?
Yes, which was a bad mistake. We stayed with relatives, and it was noisy, it was hot, kids were coming, people were coming, we didn’t have any quiet time together.

What is it like in South Vietnam now?
Well, economically people are a lot better off, but there’s still a great deal of religious persecution, human rights violations. I am working very hard to change that.

You were in New Orleans when Katrina struck.
We had eight feet of water in the house. I decided to run for office because I thought that I could contribute to rebuilding this area.

You won your House seat when you defeated William Jefferson, who had been accused of hiding bribe money in his freezer.

Louisiana is known for corruption.
Not anymore. We are squeaky clean.