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Congressional Corner With Richard Neal

Congressman Richard Neal
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Voters are about to decide in the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ first House district.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This interview was recorded August 6.

Alan Chartock: Richard Richie Neal from Massachusetts first district, my district, is a Democrat. He's been in office since 1989. And Richie Neal, welcome to the Congressional Corner which you've been doing so well for so long. I appreciate it.

Representative Richard Neal: Thank you, Alan.

Okay, so Richie, what's your case to the Democratic primary voters to be sent back to Congress again?

Well, I think it's a career that's been marked by accomplishment upon accomplishment upon accomplishment. As recently as the last few months, the role that I along with the Ways and Means Committee has played in writing major legislation called the CARES Act as an example of just how important that is to all the people of America. But in the first district of Massachusetts, 10,400 businesses have taken advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program for loans under $150,000. Unemployment compensation which is in the direct jurisdiction of the Ways and Means committee has been a lifeline for 10s of thousands of people and for 31 million Americans nationwide. I also think that the stimulus checks that people receive, those are within the direct jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. So about 70% of the CARES Act was written by the Ways and Means Committee, and about 70% of the Heroes Act, that Speaker Pelosi is now negotiating was written by the Ways and Means Committee. And I think that it's consistent with these achievements over a long, long period of time.

I know that you've always been somebody who doesn't blow his own horn. And I think if there was ever a time to do it, but when you say, these acts were written by the Ways and Means Committee, you're the head of the Ways and Means Committee.

That’s correct. And I think that part of it is the temperament that you bring to getting this legislation out the door and to get it to the House floor. Which by the way with the CARES Act, 388 members of the House voted for the CARES Act, and only five in the House voted against it. And my opponent said he would have voted against the CARES Act. That means he would have voted against unemployment insurance, the stimulus checks for people, support to our hospitals, and the Paycheck Protection Program. They were all in the cares act. So it's unusual for me to have in this atmosphere where the CARES Act has received strong and positive reviews across the country to have somebody say, I would have voted against it despite the aid for colleges, despite the aid for nonprofits, all of which were, were extended in the CARES Act. So I think that in and of itself, is a defining part of the debate.

Well, he said, and I interviewed him recently, he said it wasn't enough. It should have been stronger. My comeback to him when I was still talking about it, but isn't that a question of negotiating with the Republicans? What do you say?

Well, it's very simple. The Democrats, we are one half of one third of the federal government. So we have to negotiate with them in the Senate, you have a Republican president, and I think coming away with the CARES Act, the fact that we were able to get 388 votes, is in and of itself a very significant achievement. And again, it has really worked for members of the American family. And by extending it now through the Heroes Act, which will also help state and local governments extensively, I think that highlights again, the differences in the two candidacies. I got it done. He talked about saying he would vote against it.

Well, he did. I asked him several times. And, you know, he finally said, yes, I would have voted no. So we did interview him, of course, as we always do with WAMC. And he leveled a number of criticisms against you. I'd like you to respond to them.


He says, you waited too long to access President Trump's tax returns and now it's unlikely we'll see them before the November election. He says you could have gotten his New York State returns months ago. Your response?

Well, my response is that Adam Schiff supports my position. My response is that Laurence Tribe supports my position, that the House Counsel Doug Letter supports my position who has argued, by the way, four times in front of the United States Supreme Court. This was not about politics. This was about policy. This was about the establishment of Congressional Review, making a request of the President of the United States for his tax forms. We looked at the New York State case extensively, and came to the conclusion that we couldn't do it because much of the information would have been redacted. So I'll take the affirmation of Adam Schiff, who says I handled it the right way. Laurence Tribe, a well voted Harvard law professor says I handled it the right way. And Nancy Pelosi says I handled it the right way. The eagerness to put together a case that was likely to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, if it failed, the same people would have been saying you were too hasty. So we decided that this was going to be about substance, and not about entertainment. And we proceeded on the basis of a methodical approach to securing those tax forms.

Well, now that the Supreme Court has, in fact ruled, I think the indication is that they would have gone against you had you pushed too hard in the beginning.

That's exactly right. Both the cases that have come back were seven to two decisions. And House Counsel advises me that this puts us in a very good position with Judge McFadden in the federal district court of Washington, and the appeals court, which currently has our case.

How so when it's going to go back to McFadden now and the appeals court and then what happens?

We think that the appeals court waited for the Supreme Court to make those two determinations, and that they will follow suit and Judge McFadden, we believe, who has waited on purpose, to see what those two courts would do, we believe he will offer an affirmative judgment as well.

But it may not well be before the November election. Is that correct?

Well, that's true. But at the same time, recall that judges move with their own, quote, deliberate speed. They make determinations. And one of the parts of the genius of our constitutional system is that members of Congress don't get to tell federal courts when to render a decision, just as federal courts have to take into consideration what Congress thinks as well. So I feel very strongly that the position that I had taken on this, developed carefully with House Counsel was the right path to travel and we will win. And by the way, an interesting point that you raised Alan is the following. This is not a moot question, if Donald Trump loses the presidential election. I intend to stay with it.

Now, we learned recently, that New York State has been negotiating separately with Deutsche Bank and that Deutsche Bank has given a good deal of the material that you're after, apparently, to the New York State legal people. What do you know about that?

Well, I know that the House Counsel Doug Letter has been in touch with New York authorities to discuss these issues. I noticed the other day that District Attorney Vance said that he could not comment on the case because of a criminal proceeding in front of the grand jury. So I simply accept what Doug Letter, our House Counsel has brought to my attention.

Now, your opponent says you are standing in the way of Medicare for all. Just so everybody can know, what kind of health policy, care policy do you want to see?

Well, I take great pride in the fact that I helped to write the Affordable Care Act. I worked closely with President Obama. 100% of the children in Massachusetts are covered. And 97% of the adults in Massachusetts are covered. I'm not opposed to Medicare for all. I think this is an evolutionary process. And I'm for universal access. And I believe that the path that we took with President Obama was the right path. And I think that in time people will see it with Medicare and Medicaid as an extraordinary achievement when you consider that at its inception, 20 million more Americans have health insurance than before the Affordable Care Act. So in that sense, I think that the measure that we took is compatible with the idea of universal access. But this idea that I'm opposed with intransigence to Medicare for all is simply nonsense. It's a political talking point.

Now, Mr. Morse says you take millions in corporate PAC, political donations, and this means you're in the pocket of Wall Street. What's your answer on that one?

That's ridiculous, coupled with the fact that we have today the most diversified Congress in American history, I helped to elect that diversified Congress on the Democratic side. Speaker Pelosi, she and I were the Democratic Party, who went out and helped these candidates, we recruited them. We talked with them about how to put together a good message. And simultaneously we helped to get them funded. This idea that you are in the pocket of somebody is nonsense. And in the case of Mayor Morse, I hope somebody takes a look at the tax breaks he granted and the campaign contributions he took from automotive dealers in the city of Holyoke almost simultaneously from the time he signed the tax break. And, again, making that argument that all of a sudden that you're in the pocket of some group is absolutely nonsensical.

People in glass houses is what you're saying?

Oh, I think it's very clear that information has been carefully documented.

And just for the sake of the record, what are you saying that that he did what?

He accepted campaign contributions from people that did business with the city of Holyoke, and then granted them tax preferences afterwards,

Richie Neal, my Congressman, first district of Massachusetts, I so appreciate your coming on in the midst of this campaign and being with us, as you always have. I do appreciate it and thanks for coming back. I'll have many more questions for you.

Delighted to be with you.

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.