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Congressional Corner

Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

It is a dark time in the United States.

In today’s Congressional Corner, New York Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th district, speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Alan Chartock: Hi, this is Alan Chartock in the Congressional Corner we one of my favorite people in the world, the great Paul Tonko, the congressman from the 20th district. He's been around in office since 2009. And before that, he was in this New York State Legislature. Paul, always wonderful to talk to you. Thanks for being with us.

Congressman Paul Tonko: Well, thank you. It's good to be with you and these are challenging times, but it's always good to communicate what's happening and how we try to get things done and what the hurdles might be

In your lifetime, Paul, have you ever seen anything like this Coronavirus thing, anything like it?

Not really, because it's had such a huge impact on how people connect, how they interact, to teleworking has become an instant go-to and there, in and of itself, is in a learning curve beyond belief. You know, a month ago, I didn't really know about the Zoom and now all I do is Zoom my life through every day.

You Zoom away. My question to you is, what's the House of Representatives doing so that they can get their work done?

Well, a lot of it is being done, the conferencing. I know that there are tons of conferences every week, either for the full caucus, for the committees on which I serve. The subcommittees have even delved into conferencing. They've been bipartisan. They've been just the majority caucus. But work is continuing because there's such a degree of urgency to all of this. And every effort is being taken to revisit how we do conduct session, especially with technology that is an offering to each of us, and to society, and it may adjust. You know, there's talks of proxy voting, there's talks of tele voting, so it may be adjusted in the near future as we go forward, based on recommendations from a panel that is reviewing the operations of the house.

And I know that our friend Jim McGovern, the chair of the Rules Committee, who is on this program, as you are, in a regular turn, and a great guy, is sort of the whole thing has sort of fallen on his plate.

It has because he has been in charge of that whole redo. He had recommended proxy voting, and we'll see where we go with that. I think it's important for us to adjust so that there is that checks and balances, that there is the opportunity to have co equal branches of government, offering the best checks and balances, and providing for the best outcome for the taxpayers and for the people of this country.

So explain to us exactly what proxy voting is.

Well, it still would allow members to be named by a colleague to, in person, present their vote. They would direct them how they wanted that vote to go a yay or nay. And they would be committed to that, but your physical presence wouldn't be required, especially with the concern for travel these days. I mean, my colleagues on the West Coast require that air flight and you know, with the sealed environment that that produces, there are many who suggest that that is putting people at risk. So, you know, the fact that you have to resort to various forms of travel, have required us to refocus on just how we can keep business moving. And again, the checks and balances alive and well, in the midst of a pandemic.

You know, back in the day, my very good friend, the late Maurice Hinchey who I still miss all the time…

Absolutely.

Used to get in a car rather than fly and drive down there. You ever think of doing that?

Well, I drove down for the last session because I'm just concerned for public transit, making certain that you're not putting yourself at risk or becoming an asymptomatic individual that's spreading the virus to others. So it's, you know, we're in this together, we have to think of the impact on each other. It's not just the self-exercise, it's about community experience.

Are you getting a lot of pressure put on you to help get this thing open in the Trumpian way, even if it means, you know, some people may die?

Well, you know, there's pressure to reopen the economy. I think that you know, so much talk in so much in a solution format has said in terms of share in terms of the of ready to resolve the pandemic to beat that challenge of COVID-19 on whether you underpin and reopen the economy and provide for its come back to be the one in the same exercise. You cannot grow the economy without meeting the challenge of COVID-19 and vice versa. So we need to see that as a common same as exercise. And we need to do that by investing in various elements of the community, from healthcare to the workers or the planners, the businesses that provide jobs for the employees and those retirees. This is just important to make certain testing kits available, and, you know, personal protective equipment stays available. All of this is just critically important, and it's a common agenda. Both of those have to be achieved as one exercise in order to have a strong economic comeback and, and not put people at risk with what is a public health challenge.

Hey Paul Tonko, let's talk about Nancy Pelosi. See, you know, when she took over the speakership, there was a lot of moaning and groaning and people were saying, she's not up to it. Now she's a national hero.

So, absolutely, I think, well, number one, she knows. She knows the process. She knows how a bill becomes a law. You know, that sounds somewhat trite. But, you know, as someone who had served several years, and on some very significant committees, she knows the whole process of negotiating to get a bill to the floor and signed by the president. Beyond that, she has good negotiating skills. And you know, as I said to so many when I was helping with her with her election as Speaker, you don't want to send a novice into what is going to be a very difficult moment in history. Never dreaming of a pandemic, thinking of an all-out attempt to undo programs that serve the great many of us as working members of working families. But both of those elements, her ability to negotiate, her awareness of how best to get a bill through the process have enabled her, both those dynamics have enabled her to be a strong leader. And I think at times, she does work circles around some of the folks in the negotiating process, which has been a very helpful thing because she has embraced the values that are embraced by the caucus in which I serve, which speaks to the great many of us, people who live in many cases, paycheck to paycheck, those workers who are trying to set something aside to educate their children, maintain a home pay a mortgage and the like. These are these are the driving forces of the values that are developed by our caucus.

Do we have a choice? When I say we I mean you, as to whether Nancy Pelosi should stay on or she should keep her word and only do one term as speaker. What do you think?

I think that she, you know, has proven herself to be an outstanding leader. And she should continue in the midst of this pandemic, to provide that stability, which has been a very driving force for the economy of the country for the economy of New York, and has spoken to the needs of workers and retirees that are, you know, all so important of a population right now. They, they require thoughtful, decisive, bold legislation that will get us through what is the challenge of our times.

It's great to talk to our wonderful friend Paul Tonko, Democrat of New York's 20th district, and a great guy and somebody who is always makes the time to get with us and to talk to us, and I so appreciate it, Paul. Thank you for being here when we come back next time, I have lots of other things to ask.

My pleasure.