Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

Oct 7, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic rages on.

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

This interview was recorded September 28.

Alan Chartock: Here we are on the Congressional Corner with Paul Tonko. Paul, in the wake of the New York Times dramatic story about Trump and avoidance of taxes, I have a question for you. And that is, something seems to have gotten overlooked, which I think Trump thought he was going to get great credit for, the appointment of a Supreme Court Judge.  Is there any way that that can be stopped? Because if it's not stopped, it'll be six to three conservative to moderates on the court.

Representative Paul Tonko: Well, I think the cloud that overshadows the whole process now, with the report of the president's taxes, may add some difficulty as we go forward.  I know that there was this great rush to fill the vacancy, and done so as the nominee being named in a way that, to me, appeared to be very disrespectful.  With that instant declaration that we need to rush and cut corners, my gosh, you know, we had such a towering and beloved figure, a brilliant jurist with an enduring legacy that had advanced the cause of justice for all. And, you know, here we are in the midst of her lying in state, by the way, the first woman, the first Jewish American, to lie in state. In the shadows of that to just come forward and rush this process, kind of was very, it appeared to me to be very, disrespectful. I think it is disrespectful. But it also suggests that there's such a desire, this obsession, to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and to deny people their access to insurance if they have a preexisting condition.  To deny young people to continue to be on their parent’s policy, or to cast tens of millions of Americans into the roles of uninsured. So, you know, I think that, with all of that coming forward, with all that concern being expressed, and with this cloud of the tax liability issue over the process, I would hope that there would be some opportunity to slow this process, and to really recognize that with a lifetime appointment here, that affects all of us with decisions that range from our health care coverage to our individual civil rights. We need to make certain that this process isn't rushed.

Well, is there any way to stop it?

Well, you know, just because you have the power, the constitutional power, doesn't mean you don't bear responsibility here. And I think that, you know, the fact that no one had been named, or nominated to, the Supreme Court after July 1 in a presidential year, and I think it gets even more complicated now, with so many states involved in early voting. Many people, there's robust early voting going on, as this process is continuing. And it's also, I think the public has very clearly indicated, that they prefer that the president decided in this given election in a few days, is the choice of the people.  The people should be heard here, it's their decision in a way, to appoint this individual that will serve and have a life appointment here. So while the constitution may allow for this to happen, I think just the mere responsibility to act honorably here, and to do well by the people as they desire is, I think, what we hang our hat on as the rationale for making certain that the arguments be waged that speak to the public sentiment in the whole issue.

Well, Paul Tonko, you know, you can say we should hang our hat there, but this president is a guy who breaks every norm that he possibly can. I'm not seeing him doing anything. I'm asking, is there anything that the democrats can do? For example, we've heard about plans, some people saying, you know, you're gonna have to pack the court because this is just not right. All the things you've said just now are not right. We'll have to pack the court. There are other people who are saying, you know, impeach him again because impeachment comes up as a priority before the installation of a new judge - got any ideas?

Well, you know, I'm sure all these ideas will be brought up. Everything from term limits to increasing the numbers of justices on the court to running forward with placing high priority on the impeachment issue. I think that the Senate Democrats will look at every, and all, options that are that are before them, and determine what serves the American public best. But there's no denying there is some tremendous concerns, many issues of great risk here right now. And prime amongst them the Affordable Care Act and all that could be lost there. This president has been obsessed with getting rid of what he calls Obamacare. And I think that, again, we need to go forward with every opportunity to make certain that the impact of filling the court, with this sort of approach, at a time that we're in the midst of an election is simply stalled as the best we can do, if not stopped, by engaging the public sentiment out there, which may be the tool we need to use.

You’re a legislator in the house, the problem seems to be what's going on in the other house. You’ve got a bunch of Republicans, you’ve  got a Republican majority, you’ve  got two who have announced that they're not going to go along with this replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, give us some insight into what must be in those republicans minds. Seems to me, this is a very dangerous time for them.

It is, and I think what they've done is played it very politically.  They've had people who are running in a very difficult election in their home state and I think they've protected them. My sense that, you know, these people were out there saying they're not going to vote at this time. It shouldn't be, we shouldn't be, filling that that vacancy. But then again, they're confident they have the votes they need, so they put their most marginalized out there, from the way I see it, and say, well, you exonerate yourself but we're still going to go forward with this exercise. What we need is for people, rightfully, the right question here is, are you a Republican or are you an American?  That should be posed to each of the U.S. senators in the majority, and I would hope country comes first here. And the fact that they even set up a standard when Justice Scalia passed, and now they're abandoning that standard is very telling, you know, the public knows that they're being played here, and we need better from the senate majority. I know the public is watching and they will bear this in mind come November.

Seems to me you're right about that. One of the things is that there is a competition between needing to win in these Republican senators minds, and being an outcast by this president who says I'm going to get rid of you if buck me at all.  It's got to be a rough situation for them.

Well, a rough situation, but then again, the public would recognize, I think, you gain support when you stand up against someone who would stand as a bully against our democracy. I think there's much to be said for that. I think people cherish that integrity, they cherish the sort of loyalty to the public and the putting America before party sentiment, which I think would motivate people of whatever persuasion, political persuasion, in this country.

One last question, it is going to be very quick.  Your opponent in this election who is, I think it's fair to say, a Trumper. So my question is, are you paying attention to her or is there something - what's the strategy?

My strategy is to continue to talk about what we have worked on in terms of needs for the district. We have an innovation economy that is very strong and can be stronger if we invest in R&D and certain policies that will strengthen the go to for the capital region of New York as a major contributor to green collar jobs and clean energy jobs.  Also, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We can't ignore it. I think it's a public health crisis. You know, I don't I agree with the president that we're through it or over it and can get back. You know, simple things like social distancing and washing your hands and wearing a mask. Things that he is just is cavalier about, and encourages many of his followers to do likewise, are things that really create a difference in how I approach the four crises that we face; being an economic crisis, a public health crisis, a climate change crisis and a racial injustice crisis.  We're responding to all of those, and we have and we will during the course of the campaign.

Paul Tonko when we come back we'll be talking about the Coronavirus a little bit more. Thank you so much for being with us. Always a pleasure.

My pleasure. Always