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Congressional Corner With Anthony Brindisi

U.S. Representative for New York's 22nd congressional district Anthony Brindisi
Official Portrait 116th Congress
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Today we’re featuring a Congressional Corner first: an interview with a member in quarantine.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Anthony Brindisi of New York’s 22nd Congressional district speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock. 

This interview was recorded on March 23.

Here we are with Congressman Anthony Brindisi, a first term Democrat from New York's 22nd congressional district. So you are in the House of Representatives, you came into contact with somebody who had had the virus. And so now you're self-quarantined? Yes?

That’s correct. I came into contact with Congressman Ben McAdams from Salt Lake City. He had tested positive for COVID-19. And my last contact with him was on March 13. On ironically Friday the 13th. So I'd learned midweek last week that he had tested positive and based on the recommendations of the doctors, I've decided to self-quarantine up until this Friday, which would be the 27th. That would put me 14 days since my last contact. But fortunately, I haven't had any symptoms and I’m about 10 days since I last saw him, so hopefully it stays that way.

Have you been tested?

I have not been tested. Since I haven't been having symptoms, my doctor felt it wasn't necessary to get tested. And certainly with the lack of testing that's out there right now, I want to make sure we're reserving that for people who truly need it right now.

Was it a Republican or a Democrat you came into contact with? And do you suspect anything?

No, it's a Democrat. He's actually a friend of mine. Congressman McAdams and I are both freshmen. We're friends. I had a couple of meetings with him last week, and anytime you're in close contact with someone who tested positive, the doctors are recommending they just self-isolate. So that's that's what I'm doing and hopefully keep myself symptom free throughout this 14 day quarantine.

OK, so your predecessor in the seat that you hold one of your predecessors, Representative Richard Hanna recently died and you called him a friend. What was that relationship like?

We had a very, very good relationship. Richard, he endorsed my campaign. He's someone that I worked with very closely when I was a member of the state legislature. He's someone I consider a mentor. I know it wouldn't be uncommon for us to speak multiple times a week, I would call him or he would call me and we would just check in with each other. And if there were big decisions in Congress, Richard was always one of the first calls that I would make, just to get his advice, and I'll certainly miss his counsel. And I think the country as a whole will miss Richard Hanna. He was a giant, and he is someone I've think represents the best of what a public official is. Someone who puts country first and really works for both sides and doesn't do what's in the best interest of the party, just does what's in the best interest of our nation, and we need more people like Richard Hanna in Congress.

So let me go back to the coronavirus with you. Do you think the president is doing a good job in terms of well, anything?

I think from my perspective is, this gives me a lot of time to go back and really look at how he responded, how his administration responded. Are they doing enough? Are they not doing enough? I think what I'm really focused on right now is just making sure, one, we're doing everything we can I can in response to the public health crisis that our country is facing right now. I think this is a time for leadership. People are looking for reassurance because they're scared and they have questions and they need reassurance both from the commander in chief, our president, but everyone down the line and that's what I'm really trying to do right now is get the best information out there to the public, to the constituents that I represent. Making sure that our healthcare workers and our first responders have the tools they need. There's been a tremendous shortage of personal protective equipment and face masks and things like that. I’m working very hard to try and get more of that into the district. I'm also working very hard just to deal with the economic fallout as a result of coronavirus. Now I want to make sure that we're getting as much aid to the workers in the small business that are hurting the most right now. Not taking care of the larger corporations. You know, obviously there's time, there's gonna be a time in place to help out some of the larger industries that are impacted. But we really got to help the families and the workers who are hurting the most right now and get them immediate aid as soon as we can.

Now, Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader McConnell are at odds. Pelosi says under the McConnell plan, too much is going to the corporations, not enough directly to the people and that she won't budge on this. Meantime, you know, people aren't getting what they need. What do you make of that?

Well, I think we have to, we have to end the game of chicken we're playing between Democrats and Republicans and really come together to pass this economic stimulus. I tend to agree with the Speaker the senate package right now, I think, is geared too heavily towards larger industry and not enough towards small business, and workers, and families, and I'm not against helping those larger industries, you know, the airline, the airline industry, for example. They're not responsible for this. But they're feeling the brunt of it right now, and other industries are feeling the brunt of it. But if we're going to help out these larger industries, I don't want to see is us repeat the mistakes of past stimulus packages where there was not enough oversight over funding that's going to larger corporations. So for example, I don't want to see taxpayer dollars going to support CEOs, bonuses, I don't want to see taxpayer dollars going to support stock buybacks. I think the government should have some equity in some of these larger corporations. So when they do turn profit, again down the road, which they will, that they are in a position to pay back the government the money that they had to take during this time of crisis.

Have we learned anything since the great bailout of the corporations and the banks in ‘08?

Well, some have. Unfortunately, some in Washington haven’t. I have certainly watched and learned those lessons, and have realized that when we're helping out these large industries, you can't give a blank check. And you gotta have some strings attached to the funding that you're giving to them. Otherwise, what you're going to see is what you saw in the aftermath of the financial collapse in 2007, 2008. You're going to see CEOs getting bigger bonuses, you're going to see corporations using their money to buy back shares that enrich their shareholders. That can’t happen in a stimulus package, not when you're talking about taxpayer dollars, not when you're talking about money that the government has to borrow. To get us through this economic crisis. There has to be strings attached to this funding going to these larger industries. And we have to not lose sight of those small businesses that are really struggling right now, that can't survive for another two, three weeks because their cash flow isn't there. Those are the industries that we got to get funding to right away, to be able to keep people employed and make sure they have a job. When these shutdowns reopen.

Congressman Anthony Brindisi is the first term Democrat from New York's 22nd competitive congressional district. Anthony, if I may call you that, we're delighted you're able to join us from quarantine. And we'll talk again soon.

Thank you Alan.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.