U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) on Thursday outlined a new approach to efforts to secure a nonstop flight between San Antonio and Washington, D.C.

In a press conference held as Congress takes a break for the Fourth of July holiday, Cuellar also discussed NAFTA and issues surrounding the state’s Senate Bill 4 at the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse.

Cuellar and other members of the state’s Congressional delegation have been assisting the City of San Antonio in its push for a direct flight from San Antonio International Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

But establishing a flight into Reagan is no easy task, as tight Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations make it difficult to add new flight slots into the central D.C. airport. The regulations first originated in the 1960s in order to make Dulles International Airport more competitive and to reduce congestion and air traffic noise around the D.C. area.

“The way we traditionally [approach] this is we look at the FAA reauthorization, which is still pending, or a transportation bill,” Cuellar said. “This time, we decided to look at the National Defense Authorization [Act].”

That law specifies the annual budget and spending for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Although San Antonio had enjoyed informal recognition as “Military City, USA” for some time, the City registered a trademark and made the designation official in June. Cuellar said establishing the route through a defense authorization amendment is easier to argue since it would provide easier travel for the vast military communities in San Antonio and the Washington metro area.

Going the defense authorization amendment route would potentially avoid a tougher fight on the House floor between Texas representatives and those from Virginia and Maryland.

“We’ll get a big fight from the Virginia folks,” Cuellar said. “They’ll fight it because they feel that if you put another airline in Reagan then it takes away from Dulles.”

But adding the amendment would not relax FAA regulations to add another slot into Reagan. Instead it would offer airlines – Southwest Airlines is said to be considering the possibility – an option to replace a current route from Washington with one to San Antonio.

“If they want to stop going to somewhere in [say] Colorado, and they want to change it to San Antonio because the market is here, then we’ll give them that,” Cuellar said. “We get away from the traditional fight about a new slot in Reagan, and we’re saying whoever already has a slot, we want to give you the option of changing.”

Much of this new approach relies on support from fellow Texas representatives. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) chairs the House Committee on Armed Services, which is responsible for the National Defense Authorization, and is said to be onboard with the idea by Cuellar.

The final hurdle before bringing the vote to the House floor is getting amendment approval from the Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). Although Cuellar is optimistic that the committee will allow the entrance of the amendment, he stated that nothing would be certain until July 14 or July 17.

In addition to elaborating on developments in the pursuit of a direct flight, Cuellar also commented on the ongoing controversy surrounding Texas’ “sanctuary cities” law and President Donald Trump’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA.

Despite wanting to overhaul existing immigration policy in order to improve the functionality of the border, Cuellar believes that border laws must be enforced. However, he also believes that the recently passed Senate Bill 4 goes too far in its pursuit of undocumented people in the state.

“I know that immigration is a very emotional issue, but the thing is the extremes are carrying the days,” Cuellar said.

From his perspective, polarized factions on both sides of the political divide drive immigration discussions to unproductive places. Some on the right want to see more mass deportations while some on the left are willing to forgo deportation for undocumented criminals.

Cuellar disagrees with the provision in the pending legislation that allows law enforcement officers to request documentation from individuals who have only been detained, or those not arrested and jailed for a crime. He made comparisons between those individuals unwilling to enforce immigration law on the left with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who received national attention for refusing to follow federal law requiring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“Some people don’t want to enforce some of the immigration law,” Cuellar said. “I’ll say this as a Democrat: It is dangerous for a Democrat to not want to deport criminals.”

Cuellar also answered questions surrounding new NAFTA negotiations. Despite feeling more optimistic about the agreement’s longevity, he recognizes that U.S. border businesses have hurt economically because of rhetoric directed toward Mexican citizens in the midst of the renegotiations.

“Mexicans are getting insulted by, quite honestly, the President,” Cuellar said. “There’s a lot of pride there, and they’re [wondering] why should we go over there and spend money when you don’t want us?”

Cuellar said that discussions on NAFTA held last week brought better results than previous talks. He mentioned working alongside Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) on the topic of energy components in the agreement.

“I don’t think President Trump has shifted positions,” Cuellar said. “He still thinks it’s the worst trade agreement, but the good thing about it is his cabinet members get it. Once you get the cabinet members it will tone things down, bring some adults into the room. “

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.