Representative Katherine Clark is among Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill calling for Labor Secretary Alex Acosta's resignation. WGBH's Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu spoke with Clark about Acosta and why she thinks he should step down. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Acosta yesterday defended his role in this plea deal. He talked for about an hour [and] said he got the toughest deal he could. Do you still want him to go?
Rep. Katherine Clark: Absolutely. What we have here is a situation where we heard Secretary Acosta once again not standing up for people [and] children who were the victims of sexual assault, but siding with the wealthy and the powerful. He has shown throughout his tenure as secretary, and certainly from his time in Florida, that this is what he does. He is trying to revise history — as one of his fellow prosecutors in Florida pointed out yesterday — and say that he did the best that he could. But when he was the U.S. attorney in Florida, he had a 53-page indictment involving over 30 minor children with the most serious charges of rape [and] human trafficking. And he decided to let him go and give him a sweetheart deal with a very short jail time that included a six days a week work release.
Mathieu: Congresswoman, it seems you were ahead of the game on this story, as you brought this matter to Secretary Acosta during a committee hearing in the House back in April. You did not think he should have this job to begin with based on his proposal to combat sex trafficking.
Clark: That's right. When Secretary Acosta came before the Appropriations Committee in April, he was calling for an 80 percent cut to the division of the Department of Labor that is responsible for making sure that human trafficking laws are enforced, [and] that child exploitation and labor laws are enforced. An 80 percent cut. If we cannot trust him to stand up for children in a case as egregious and horrifying as Jeffrey Epstein's case was in Florida, how can we trust him to be the person to stand up for American workers, to make sure that they have equal pay, a safe working condition and that he will be responsible for enforcing our anti-human trafficking laws? He has dodged his responsibility, he will not take accountability for his actions, and I think that he is unfit to be secretary of labor.
Mathieu: Apparently not on his own will he leave, Congresswoman. Should the labor secretary then be impeached?
Clark: We have every tool in front of us, and I think that we have not taken any option off the table. But at this point, I think, that as this case in New York unfolds, there is going to be continuing and mounting pressure. What we saw yesterday in the press conference was excuses and dodging instead of standing up and taking responsibility. Mr. Acosta himself has said that Jeffrey Epstein is a monster. And yet when faced with the decision to be a voice for children [and] young girls who have been sexually assaulted and raped, he decided to make a secret deal and keep that information from the victims. This is a person who has not earned this place of trust and honor as secretary of labor.
Mathieu: Congresswoman, I'd like to ask you about a conversation you're leading tonight in Washington as part of your role as vice chair of the House Democrats. You'll be talking about solutions to gun violence. I remember the sit-in two years ago that you helped to prompt on the U.S. House floor over gun violence. It was right after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Did you think then that anything would change by now?
Clark: I certainly hoped that things would change. What I am so grateful [for] is that the voters gave the majority to Democrats in the House. And with that we've been able to pass two gun violence reform bills, including a universal background check, and making sure we close the loophole that let the shooter in Charleston, South Carolina obtain a gun illegally. And we put $50 million into gun violence prevention research.
What we're doing tonight is part of why I ran for leadership: to bring the ideas [and solutions] from our communities in Massachusetts to Washington. Tonight we're going to hear from College Bound Dorchester and from General Jack Hammon, who runs Home Base with the Red Sox Foundation, about how we tackle the daily gun violence that [is] experienced in our communities, [and] how we help create a path for young men and women who haven't ever looked at college or school as a part of their future. That's what College Bound Dorchester does. [It] recreates a path of opportunity for people away from violence, away from criminal behavior and gives them a path and the support to get there. And with Home Base we're seeing them tackle the issue of suicide among our veterans and often among law enforcement. We put a lot of attention on mass shootings, but tonight we're going to hear from two organizations that are focusing on that daily violence, and really holding out a path of hope and optimism that we can reduce these deaths and injuries.