Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

Oct 5, 2020

The New York Times reports President Trump pays almost nothing in taxes.

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

This interview was recorded September 28th.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Paul Tonko. Paul, it's wonderful to count you as a friend and I so appreciate your coming back and talking to us as often as you do, because it's an invitation that not everybody would take us up on, but you do and we appreciate it.

Representative Paul Tonko: Well, I appreciate it from this end.

Okay, let me start by talking Coronavirus. There are many people who think if we had done in this country what the South Koreans did, we'd have maybe a couple of hundred, not 200,000, deaths in this country. Do you believe that?                                                                                        

I believe that we failed in how we address this virus in the beginning. You know, the House passed the Heroes Act on May 15, I believe, and in the four months since then, more than 110,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.  What we needed was a plan, a strategy, by which we had a national commitment, not state by state, in making certain that testing and tracing and treatment were the guiding forces and that we committed our plan to one that is science based. This president seems to walk away from science. He challenges the CDC, the FDA, his own select panel, when they don't agree with him. The reason we have these scientific minds put into the strategic positions is that they work in a pure way to advise and how best to respond to a public health crisis. This President has not enabled those groups or those individuals or those institutions to do their thing.

Well, I just can't understand the basis for his resistance to doing the right thing. He just hasn't done it. There's got to be a philosophy behind it.  Is it more throwing red meat to the right wing base or what do you think it is?

Well, I think there's a certain force of wanting the economy to be unobstructed. And, you know, we had a virus, it's a national virus. I think it's very disparaging for him to call it the China virus, because, you know, he wants to pit us against, he wants an out here and he's using China for that but it's racially offensive. I think that basically, he was worried about the economy and he simply didn't pay attention. You know, we're now told that he was given documents that talked about the severity of the crisis, he understood the depth of that, of that scientific impact, and did nothing about it. And so now, you know, it's not too late to start to put a plan together, which is why, for four months, we have implored the Senate and the White House, to do something.  If you don't agree with heroes, as a Heroes Act, put your own plan together, but let's get something done. We have our local governments, our state governments and our local governments draining of revenues, precipitous amounts of revenues drop from these given entities, that means layoffs, that means firings, that means diminishing or undoing the essential services, and adding people to the roles of the unemployed. That's a very critical bit of behavior. We need these services and we need to make certain that we assist local governments, which the Heroes Act does.  Nearly a trillion dollars would go towards state and local and territorial and tribal governments to help pay for essential services, essential workers, and I just don't understand how that alarm is not sounded within them. They just keep denying.

Well, considering the way that Trump has been gaming the system, it does seem particularly disgraceful, which we know from the New York Times and his text information, it seems disgraceful that he won't help the people on the lower end of the ladder.

Yeah, it is kind of offensive that we didn't mind, he didn't mind, bloating the deficit of this country, giving tax breaks to the largest corporations in the world and giving the wealthiest people in this nation a tax break. You look at his tax record and just put that all into working order.  Who pays is the person who lives paycheck to paycheck, the person in the middle class, or those looking to ascend the middle income community, it's essential workers like our teachers, our nurses, our police or firefighters, our first responders, infrastructure and maintenance workers. This is the heart and soul of America, it is the lifeline of services that really provide for quality of life in our country, and these people are abandoned. But for him, you know, relieve the tax burden on that wealthy crowd, relieve it on corporate America and on global corporate. And now we see why, because he doesn't think they need to pay their taxes. I mean, the President didn't think it was an essential responsibility.

Paul Tonko we only have a couple more minutes but I wanted to ask you, it must be talked about in the cloakrooms, that if you find a president who doesn't get elected, tries to rig the election, and then won't leave, and is also bragging about the fact that he’ll have another supreme court justice to back whatever claim he makes to that court - What if he decides not to leave? What are your fellow congressmen saying?

Well, first, they're deeply disappointed that the president would work this hard to make excuses before he's even lost an election. It strikes many as self-serving. While it helps him, it hurts the country, and the legitimacy of our elections, and it all plays right into the hands of our enemies who want exactly this, to sow doubt in division. I mean, we've had our own FBI Director, Wray, nominated by President Trump, just testifying that there is no evidence of widespread manipulation of voting by mail. So he should stop with that talk. He should accept the decision of the American people as to who the next president is. And, if he is going to refuse to allow for a peaceful transition of power, it plays again, right into the hands of our enemies, who want exactly this, you know, to sow doubt and division. And what is really disappointing is the fact that my colleagues, who have sat on their hands this whole time, and continue to dodge the basic responsibility of governing in a free society would continue to stay quiet. They continue to make excuses for this behavior.  There is no excuse for this kind of behavior. This is, you know, it's unAmerican to not allow for a peaceful transition of power. Hopefully we will have the strength of sound elections, with no manipulation of voting by mail, I mean, everything points to a sound track record there. Let's just go forward and make certain every ballot is counted. I've encouraged my constituents to vote very early, as soon as they can, which I think is the 24th or so of October. Please vote early and make certain that that vote is counted. I just get concerned what he might do with the courts, especially if he can stack that court by election time.

It's wonderful to talk to our pal Paul Tonko.  Paul “the tonk” Tonko, always great to see you here and we hope you'll come back.

Well, thank you very much, Alan, it's always a pleasure to join you and your listeners. I hear about the show all the time when I'm in the district. You have a great a great group of listeners out there.