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Congressional Corner

Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

Who will join Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket?

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

Alan Chartock: Paul Tonko of New York’s beautiful and wonderful 20th district, let me ask you a question. A lot of talk now about who should be the vice presidential candidate under Joe Biden. Now, he says it's going to be a woman. And there's a general agreement it might be somebody of color. When asked who it should be, people overwhelmingly want Michelle Obama. But she has been saying all along, I want no part of it. Isn’t there a time to be a patriot and step forward and say even if I don't want to do it, I should do it.

Congressman Paul Tonko: Well, she certainly knows what the role is about. And I think if it were to add vibrancy to the ticket, you know, it's, you know, there is an order of patriotism there that when your nation calls upon you, you serve. We'll see how that goes. I think that certainly the vice president has in his statements narrowed that field by saying it shall be a woman that he's choosing. And he's got a very good list that has been shared. I'm certain there might even be names that haven't been publicly shared on that list. But, you know, all of them, whether they're a governor or a senator, or public servant of some great candidate in the past, they all bring, I think, great qualities to the country for their willingness to serve. But wow, what a ticket it would beat if you have Biden/Obama.

I would, I would say so. Let's assume for a second, just let's play the game, that she's not going to be the candidate. Who you got?

Well, I think you know, if you're looking for a woman of color, I mean, Kamala Harris, comes to mind immediately. Articulate and experienced as not only a senator but as a state leader, as an AG. But you also have, you know, individuals who had run for office, like Stacey did in Georgia. And, you know, I think her eloquence, her articulate narration of the issues has made her a very popular choice also. But I’m certain there could be some business community folks who are women of color who might be on that list and that we’ll be surprised to hear. So, you know, I do know that, you know, he is putting a lot of thought into this because of the point we're at as a nation, looking at a pandemic that has driven down the economy, and a challenge, that dual challenge that needs to be addressed, to grow back our economy and to save us from the COVID-19 risk.

You haven't mentioned Elizabeth Warren. She comes from Massachusetts. Of course there’s a Republican governor. If she steps out you might get a Republican senator appointed, although I think that could probably be worked out since Governor Baker is a Republicrat, if I ever saw one. But what about Warren?

I think, you know, we were talking to women of color, but I think Elizabeth Warren, I'm a big fan of who she is and what she stands for. She has a boldness to her that I think is a great additive to any administration, and if it's indeed going to be a woman of color, and she doesn't make that list. As you know, she is she is probably, her campaign ability and her ability to just be very articulate on the issues will make her an outstanding campaigner for this ticket. She would be great as a VC contender, but I would love to see her play a major role in the administration in a way that really speaks to the reform of the economy to make certain that we're all sharing in an economic recovery. And not having two separate economies of this nation. That has been very hurtful for many, many households.

I want to switch topics. There are several environmental groups who are suing the EPA over its decision not to do enforcement during the pandemic. How do we make sure that the EPA is doing its job?

Well, we have, I filed a suit with my colleague, Congressman Huffman from California, against what this administration, specifically the EPA is doing in regard to the Clean Power Plan. You know, their desire to rollback progress over the last several decades, is a very disturbing outcome. There's no regard, no respect for clean air, clean water, remediation of soils that have been contaminated, none whatsoever. And, you know, Republican and Democratic administrations alike, Alan, have driven an agenda for the environment. And when you look at the degradation of our environment that would be authorized by this administration, simply through executive order is discouraging. And I think that, you know, it will ignite, I believe, a great outburst of support, a great advocacy for the environment, post this administration. It’s a solid, solid focus of reason this administration should not be granted another four years.

Now. I know New York State has a great deal to lose. Depending on how many people answer the census, it's a big issue, right? Because we decide every year how many congressman, they're going to be from each state. And right now it looks like New York could lose one or even two Congress people because not enough people answer the doorbell or fill out their forms. What do you make of that?

Well, you know, I'm quite disturbed by the outcome here. That the pandemic has impacted the census, respond to the census, volunteering. We put a lot of work over the last year, it's a lot of public information accesses, community gatherings. We targeted many groups that we thought might be underrepresented. The census people do, the bureau does a forecasted shortfall areas study. They will determine which areas they think may be undercounted. So we made a targeted effort at reaching into those communities. We believed we were going to do very, very well, I think we still will. There's been an extension here and people are rightfully focused on their own health and wellbeing, and perhaps the struggle of loved ones, or the loss of work being furloughed and the like. As we move to a comeback as we get more stabilized into the future. I have every reason to believe we will do better with that census data. But I'm doing essays I'm doing whatever I can to encourage people to complete their census form because it's safe, it's easy, it's important, and it's urgent.

Now, let's talk a little bit about getting people to come to the polls. There's been a lot of talk about voting by mail voting electronically. You know, we know that this president and Republicans in general don't love the idea of expanding the franchise. I think they think that there'll be more democrats who vote that way. What do you make of that?

Well, I think I would take your statement a bit further, I would say they're not even that interested in expanding but they want to suppress the vote. And we see that in several states. You know, I remember the, the focus they made of a 96 year old woman of color in Florida, who had to stand in a very long line because they shut down her traditional voting place, and they made it more difficult for certain communities to vote. So every effort should be made here, especially with the public health risk that is out there. Every effort should be made to enable us to vote by mail. We should be able to do outreach to all of the registered voters and encourage them to vote by mail. A democracy functions, the cornerstone of our democracy is the ability to vote to be that voice every year, to state what the feelings are, and where the think of the country should go, and what direction it should take. And that's, that's fundamental to our democracy, to this republic, and or individuals to, you know, be a counter voice that serves to slow that sort of opportunity or deny it, that is a voice for suppression of the vote, is not acting in the best interest of what this country needs in this given moment. I think the president is concerned about a large voter turnout. He knows that if the Democrats stay ignited as they are, their desire to go to the polls, that is a risk to his being reelected. But I think the failure here to respond aggressively to the COVID-19 crisis, the failure to or the absolute obnoxious concerning the environment, are reasons enough that he has lost the trust of the American people and has not put our interests ahead of his self-interest. And that's troublesome.

Well, that's the damn sure. And it's also for sure that we love having Paul Tonko on with us. Paul, you're an amazing individual. We are delighted that you come back and talk to us every once in a while about what you're doing. And again, thank you so much.

My pleasure. Always a pleasure to join you and the crew.