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U.S. Rep Will Hurd Speaks at Kickoff JFK Jr. Forum

The Harvard Kennedy School, where the Institute of Politics is located.
The Harvard Kennedy School, where the Institute of Politics is located. By Sanjana S. Ramrajvel
By Isabel L. Isselbacher, Crimson Staff Writer

United States Representative William B. Hurd (R-Tex.) spoke about national security issues facing the nation at the Institute of Politics Thursday, kicking off this semester’s speaker series.

The event — moderated by Harvard Kennedy School professor Juliette N. Kayyem ’91 — was attended by scores of College students, graduate students, and faculty. Hurd, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s plan to construct a wall along the border between Mexico and the United States.

“Building a 40 foot high concrete structure, from sea to shining sea, is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security,” Hurd said.

He instead proposed that the United States should construct a “smart wall” that utilizes natural elements such as lakes and digital technology to bolster border security. He also called for greater attention to the humanitarian crisis at the southern border.

“People are still coming because the environments in which they’re living are so terrible,” Hurd said. “And if the United States of America snatches children out of their mothers’ arms as a policy, we need to rethink that.”

In addition to the crisis at the border, Hurd discussed the threats posed by other countries such as China and Russia. He said he acknowledged the dangers of Russian interference in American elections and was concerned about Chinese intellectual theft, rapid economic expansion, and human rights abuses.

“China is the next big threat to the United States of America,” Hurd said. “It is no longer guaranteed that the United States can maintain economic or military dominance in the world.”

Though Hurd was critical of China, he said that the United States is “frenemies” with the country and that its economy is linked to China’s. Hurd also said the United States should work with other countries such as Japan and Vietnam to strengthen trade.

“The only way to deal with an existential threat like China is to strengthen our alliances,” Hurd said.

During the conversation, Kayyem said Hurd’s criticisms of the Trump administration put many of his viewpoints at odds with the rest of the Republican party.

“You don’t sound like what we hear from the party,” Kayyem said. “That’s not the Republican talking points.”

Hurd responded that the Trump administration’s policies do not reflect his conception of the values of the Republican party.

Hurd — the only black Republican U.S. representative — announced in August that he will not seek reelection in the next cycle. His imminent departure adds to a wave of resignations from Republican lawmakers as the party seeks to maintain its majority in Congress. Hurd became the sixth House Republican and the third Texan to announce his retirement this summer, though he said Thursday he hopes to help other Republican candidates win seats in Congress.

“I want to go and help Republicans in primaries,” he said. “Let’s make sure you get a good Republican coming out of the primaries.”

Law School student William A. Greenlaw ’17, who attended the talk, said he found Hurd’s perspective insightful.

“I think it was interesting to hear an inside look from the congressman on how he views the current sin of the Republican Party, how he views Congress and his job,” he said. “I find his commentary, although sometimes guarded, potentially more truthful than he would normally be able to say if he were rerunning for Congress.”

IOP Executive Board Communication Director Grace K. Bannister ’21 said she was enthusiastic about beginning this year’s programming with Hurd.

“Congressman Hurd was fantastic to have the opportunity to speak to everyone before the forum started,” Bannister said. “I just really think he's very much on the edge of what politics is today and has some great ideas about what is going on.”

Correction: Sept. 10, 2019

A previous version of this article misstated Grace K. Bannister's title.

—Staff writer Isabel L. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @IsabelLarkin.

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