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Congressional Corner With Ed Markey

Senator Edward Markey
Senator Edward Markey

Summer will soon give way to the fall campaign.

In today’s Congressional Corner, WAMC’s Alan Chartock speaks with Massachusetts U.S. Senator Ed Markey.

This interview was recorded on August 12.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Senator Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts in office since 2013. Served in the House from 1976 to 2013. Now he's in the Senate, and now he's in a primary battle with Congressman Kennedy. So welcome, Mr. Markey, and thank you so much for being with us.

Senator Ed Markey: No, great. I love being on with you.

Okay, great. Okay. So what do you think of the selection of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden's running mate?

Oh, I think it's great. She's gonna add a real X-factor to the ticket. She's got a magical quality to her. She's a very good friend of mine. She and I actually have a bill which would give $2,000 per individual on a monthly basis to everyone in the country so they'd have enough money, for food for rent, for food, for medicine. And, we're good friends. And there's just something magical about her that I think is really going to help to propel Joe Biden to win the presidency.

What exactly I mean, there are a couple of things that occur to me. One of them is that both of her parents are immigrants, and she is going to be on a ticket that is facing one of the most anti-immigrant guys ever. What do you make of that?

Well, as you're saying, she is someone who is of immigrant stock, but she's also a perfect example of how well immigrants do in the United States if they're given opportunities. And so I think that's going to be a very powerful message to our country, so that on the one hand, we're making a strong statement about the value of immigrants, but on the other hand, it's going to be motivating, I think a lot of first generation Americans to get out there and to vote to make sure that there's someone like her in the White House, who will have their back for the next few years. So I think in a defensive tone, of just pushing back on Trump's racist, anti-immigrant message, it's valuable. But then on the other side, she's going to be an inspiration to immigrants all across the country to get out there and to vote this year.

Now, your Senate colleague and friend Elizabeth Warren was not ultimately picked for the VP slot. What do you think her future holds?

Well, again, she begins with being one of the greatest senators in our country and with a Biden administration, I think there's a lot of great partnering that's going to go on to ensure that we have a progressive agenda, which is, which is enacted into law next year. So I think she's going to play a really pivotal role in helping to reshape our country over the next couple of years.

You know, Senator, one of the reasons people are suspecting she may not have gotten the nomination for to be vice president was because you have a governor who's a Republican who might have picked a Republican to take her place in the Senate. What do you know about that whole thing?

Well, I don't know anything about that, to be honest with you. I am not privy to any of those conversations.

Okay. What has to happen to win back the White House in November?

Well, we as Democrats have to capitalize on the criminal negligence of Donald Trump. His handling of the corona virus on a continuing basis and his as a result of prolongation of the economic morass that the whole country is in. I mean, here in Massachusetts right now, we have the highest unemployment rates since the middle of the Great Depression. So we just have to, as Democrats make this case, as Democrats did in 1932, that Herbert Hoover was just out of touch, was waiting for some miracle to occur, and we needed an activist president who would come in and deal with all the problems in our country. And that's how we got our FDR moment. And I think we're now set up for a second FDR moment because Donald Trump is just Herbert Hoover on steroids. I mean, he adds an extra levels of racism, bigotry that is absolutely unprecedented in our country's history. And so our job will be to mobilize all those who have been harmed. Isn't there's an ancient Greek saying that when they asked the Greek philosopher, when would we know true justice? And he answered, we will know true justice when those who have not been harmed are as angry as those who have been harmed. And I think that's what's happening all across the country right now. I think we can see so many people who are rising up who haven't been harmed themselves, but they can see all the harm that has been done. And I think electronically, it's setting up a pretty substantial electoral wave in November of this year.

Do you think it's gonna be close? Or do you think it'll be a blowout?

I, you know, I hope that it's big, but at the same time, we already made this mistake once in 2016. We assumed that Trump couldn't win. The polls are off because so many people don't want to admit in a poll, who they’re for. So I think the national polls are very deceptive. They keep running these national polls that have that have Trump being defeated by 15 points. Well, how is he doing in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania, and Michigan? He's not losing my 15 in those states. So this focus on the three states that we have to win. And then I think there's an additional level of paranoia that will be built into Democrats to work a lot harder to make sure that we don't make the same mistake we made last time.

Do you ever talk to him? Have you ever stood face to face with this guy who many people consider to be an ogre? And when you're talking to him, if you're talking to him, what are you thinking?

Well, interestingly, very interesting question. Yeah, he asked me to have lunch with him back in September of 2017. He was going off to China in Japan and Korea and I had just been there. And I was the lead Democrat on that committee. So he asked me to have lunch with him along with Cory Gardner who was the lead Republican on the committee, and then he had General Kelly there at the lunch as well and General McMaster to talk about the Asian political situation. So I actually had two goals that I wanted to achieve in the lunch. Number one it was to make sure I let him know that North Korea has nuclear weapons. And that when the President talks about fire and fury, that a nuclear war against North Korea would wind up with a complete destruction of South Korea, of Japan, of Guam and that, it just is something that we have to avoid under all circumstances. So I came back to that a couple of times. The other thing was that I wanted him to know that far many more people were going to be dying from fentanyl that was coming in from China, because that by that point, 80% of all the deaths in Massachusetts were as a result of fentanyl in our opioid crisis. And I said if people were dying at the same rate as Massachusetts, then 100,000 people would be dying every year. 100,000 people, two Vietnam Wars. So I sent it to him just like that. And he so he took it in, he turned to his aide who was sitting over at the table on the side, who was his legislative director. And he said, that's a good idea. We should work on that. And so in January of 2018, in the Oval Office, I stood over his shoulder as he signs my Fentanyl Detection Bill, $65 million for fentanyl detection devices along our border, inside of our country to detect it. And before it actually gets into commerce inside of our country. So those were the two times when I was interacting with him. But it was towards the goal of actually getting an opioid bill passed. And I had learned that out in Springfield and Holyoke and my trips out there, in terms of how dramatic the rise was in opioid related deaths and fentanyl was playing a key role.

Ed, we have we have to go. But let me ask you this real quickly. And you were able to control your temper or your feelings about the man in order to get the substance of stuff done?

You have to. You can't allow personal feelings get in the way of a need to really protect 10s of thousands of Massachusetts families from the scourge of opioids. And so yes, so I have that bill he gave me he actually gave me the pen that he signed the bill with. There were six or eight other senators there. And at the point at which he signed it, he said who should I give the pen to? And Rob Portman who's a Republican senator from Ohio yelled out, well, it's Eddie Markey’s bill. So he turned and he looked up. That being said, I can't believe I'm giving this pen to a Democrat. You know, so but that's the only way Mr. President, you get anything done that's good.

OK, so we're, we're done with this session. We'll come back and we'll talk some more. We're here with Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, in office since 2013. He served in the House from 1976 to 2013. We’ll be back soon.

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..