Americans are taking to the streets in record numbers.
In today’s Congressional Corner, New York representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from the 18th district, speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.
This conversation was recorded June 9.
Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat of New York's beautiful 18th district. He's been in office since 2013. Hey, Sean, welcome back. It's been too long. Great to have you.
Representative Sean Patrick Maloney: It's great to be with you.
Let's talk about the protests. Have you ever seen anything in…I mean, I'm much, much older than you are but I've never seen anything like it in my life. What do you make of it?
No, I've never seen anything like it either. And I what I make of it is that there is tremendous pain out there. There are a lot of people who have experienced injustice and they want real change. And it is a change that all of us will be better for. I mean, this is not just about any one group of Americans any more than the civil rights movement was. This is about all of us having a country that is more fair, more inclusive and supporting good police who are honest and who are out there making sacrifices and taking risks for our safety. We want to lift them up. We want to do better recruiting and training. But there needs to be accountability, and there needs to be reform.
What really strikes me, Sean, when I watch these televised protests, is how many people are there of not only blacks and browns, but whites. That’s very encouraging, I suspect?
Yes. And when you speak to colleagues of mine, like John Lewis, or Jim Clyburn, who lived through the earlier civil rights movement, they will tell you that that strikes them powerfully. You know, when you talk to senior members of the congressional black caucus, it's an encouraging thing. President Obama mentioned the same thing recently. We should all take pride in that. I've participated in a number of events that are multicultural, and that's my point. This is about all of us. It is about whether we live in a country where everybody is treated equally under the law. That's a simple, powerful idea. And all of us should care about it.
Simple, powerful, encouraging. So I guess I'll ask you the next question. How do you rate President Trump's leadership during the Floyd protests?
Well, he started out saying some things that were consistent with what everybody else is saying. I do think he has failed the test of leadership, because they don't have any specific reforms they want to see happen and he then lurched into this disaster in Lafayette Square where they attacked peaceful protesters using federal law enforcement in an outrageous way. So the president's actions have been terrible. He's his words initially were supportive of George Floyd and his family. And yet, I'm waiting for real action. We are going to pass sweeping reforms out of the House of Representatives. He needs to support that and the Republicans need to get out of the way and or come to the table with their own ideas, because doing nothing should not be an option.
What reforms in that package do you find most attractive?
I think there's a number of very important things. First, we should have a ban on the type of chokehold that we saw take the life of George Floyd. There's just no place for that and most good police departments already ban that practice. We should also ban racial profiling. We should have mandatory dashboard cameras and body cameras. We should have a national police misconduct registry so we don't move bad officers from precinct to precinct where they can engage in bad conduct again. We've seen this in other contexts. So we need to know when somebody has been adjudicated as a wrongdoer. And we need to have better federal jurisdiction. It should not be the impossibly high bar we now have to have any type of federal criminal prosecution, so we should move that standard from a willfulness standard to a recklessness standard. We should reform qualified immunity so that that wronged individuals can get some justice. We should have better training and better public safety grants so we can reimagine policing. So we can have more responses to things like mental illness or substance abuse, not just criminal enforcement. And we should have more reporting of data, so that we can understand what's really going on out there and we can all agree on a common set of facts. And finally, I would give the Justice Department better jurisdiction to do what we call pattern and practice investigations, so that they can look at bad departments and hold them accountable, because my experience is that this is a very local issue. You have some departments that have great leadership and great culture and who have a good record. And then you have other departments that have bad leadership or terrible records. And so it is very much a local, almost jurisdiction by jurisdiction issue, but we should have some standards at the federal level that raise the bar on everybody
Now, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, in case you just tuned in, let me ask you this. There are those people who are talking about a chant that goes up from some of the protest crowd, “defund the police”. What do you think of that?
I think I understand why people want to have funding to schools and to mental health and to substance abuse and to the services that wealthy communities take for granted. You know, some of us are blessed to live in wealthy communities with good schools and public services that work. We don't have to worry about our housing. We don't have to worry about the services we get, if we get sick, if we get hurt, if we need help for substance abuse. I understand why when you're arguing about the relative amount of resources going to police departments, I think that's a very fair debate. But I want to mend it not end it. I think the police, you know, continue to engage in in really important work when you're talking about, you know, you talking about criminal drugs. I mean, excuse me, gangs or groups involved in organized crime, or people who are preying on the vulnerable. There's obviously a role for law enforcement. We just want it to be honest and transparent, and fair to everybody. And so I think what I would say is we need to amend it not end it.
Now, you've got a Justice in Policing Act as you just said, coming out of the House. The Senate is showing signs that they understand that there's an awful lot of angry people out there. Do you think this thing has any chance at all in the Senate?
Look, Mitch McConnell has bragged about being the graveyard where good ideas go to die. By the way, we have passed $64 billion in assistance for state and local governments out of the House of Representatives for the state of New York. It’s sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk. So if anybody's defunding the police right now, it's Mitch McConnell, because he is going to preside over the cuts to first responders and law enforcement that are going to be necessary unless New York gets help. So let's be really clear. The Heroes Act that was passed out of the House is the most important work we've done this year to support our first responders, including the police. But Mitch McConnell has made some noise about you know, reforming some of the things I just talked about, but I am very skeptical because we have seen time and again, that they that they play games where they you know, they'll talk a good game, but when it actually comes down to doing something, I do not trust Mitch McConnell or President Trump as far as I can throw them. So you know, but we're gonna find out. And I think it's gonna be on the list of things people get to think about when they go to the polls this year.
Now, your district, if I remember correctly went for President Trump, and yet his numbers are going down, down, down. Have you noticed any of that in terms of the people you're talking to?
Look, I think there are a lot of people who hoped for better from this president. I think there are a lot of people who took a chance on him. I think there are a lot of folks who believe that the system before wasn't working for them, and they wanted to see change. Whether they still see that in Donald Trump or not, I don't know. What I can tell you is that I think his response to the pandemic was appalling and incompetent, and a lot of people have paid a terrible price for it. I do not share the same values as the President when he degrades people, when he when he does things, you know, like the things that got him impeached where he's trying to launch a foreign investigation of a domestic political rival. These are outrageous actions, when he fires Inspector Generals because they're doing their jobs. There's a long list of actions by this president that I find deeply offensive on a personal, moral level. And I don't know how many of the people I represent can look past that. That's their decision, ultimately. But I can tell you, I think we can do better. I think we can do a lot better than the response we've had to the pandemic. I think we can do a lot better than what we're seeing in our national dialogue, in the divisive and harmful attitudes and policies this administration has pursued. And I would love to see a change and it can't happen soon enough.
We've been talking to Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney from New York's 18th district. Sean when we come back, I got lots more for you. Thanks so much for being with us.