It is a busy period in Washington: House Speaker Paul Ryan is leaving office, the Mueller investigation is heating up, and foreign policy matters are once again in the forefront. Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal of the first House district spoke with WAMC News.
“In the case of Paul Ryan, I think that he — in the end — suffered the same fate that John Boehner has, and that is that it’s very difficult to get up and go to work with the 40 members of the Freedom Caucus," said Neal. "They’re really not for anything, they’re just very clear on what they’re against.”
Neal, a 15-term Democrat, shares little political ground with the departing Republican House Speaker.
“Paul was an interesting fellow, in the sense that where most of the world has rejected supply side economics, Paul was an acolyte of Jack Kemp, for whom he worked," said Neal. "And he stayed with that position that in the end tax cuts pay for themselves — and I don’t see any evidence during my time in Washington that that’s accurate.”
Neal had a front row seat to Ryan’s rise through the ranks; the two served together on the House Ways and Means Committee.
“The position that we had personally was amiable," said Neal. "We used to chat. He was on the Ways and Means committee for a long period of time before he ascended to the chairman’s position and moved to the speaker’s spot, so I think that while the friendship personally was fine, I think the professional relationship – we found ourselves in sharp disagreement.”
Ryan’s departure after this term is seen as a possible harbinger for November’s midterm elections.
“You’ll now see the jockeying to succeed him on the Republican side, but I also think that there is a different agenda that needs to be acknowledged, and that is, the individual that campaigns to succeed Ryan may well end up being but the minority leader,” said Neal.
Neal is careful to temper his optimism.
“Well, I’m confident but not cocky. I think that there’s a nuance there that we need to adhere to. And I think that the number of candidates that we have across the country are superb. I’ve been very helpful for many of them already, I’ve been out campaigning for some of them and helping them raise campaign funds," said Neal. "So I think on that front, I think that we are in a far better position than we’ve been in recent memory.”
Drama in Washington is hardly limited to Congress. Questions continue to surround the White House as Robert Mueller investigates connections between the Trump administration and Russia.
“Anybody who has witnessed the work of special prosecutors as I have during my time, they generally are not confined to a mission statement," Neal said. "In fact, if they come across additional evidence of something that has happened — it might involve real estate in New York, it might involve tax matters — and a special prosecutor, he can refer that to the jurisdiction of the U.S. attorney in that respective area or pursue it themselves.”
Neal also weighed in on the missile strikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by embattled Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s military earlier this month.
“Because it was a onetime only attack, I think it demonstrates that the president apparently pays some attention to the military command, suggesting that restraint is where we need to be. There are 2,000 American troops in Syria in the moment, but it’s complicated across Syria by the Russians, the Kurds, the Israelis, the Iranians — but to mention a few," Neal said. "So I think there’s room here for the United Nations, and I also think that there’s room here for the Arab League, but I think we’re all mindful of the fact that gassing people in this day and age and throughout history is unacceptable.”
Democrats want Congress to vote on an authorization for the use of military force.
“I think Congress should debate what the long-term position of the military is going to be as it relates to Syria. We continue to have soldiers in Iraq, we continue to have soldiers in Afghanistan, as well as other hot spots across the globe," Neal said. "I think in this instance here, that the situation in Syria, the president has to give clarity to — and then Congress can also I think respond appropriately, given the fact that the president just but three weeks ago indicated that he was going to withdraw troops from Syria, now the military advisors around him are saying that that is inappropriate and that they’re going to have to be there — not by the way, for the purpose of just battling some of the rebels, but most importantly — ISIS.”
Congressman Richard Neal faces a Democratic primary on September 4th; he is being challenged by Springfield attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud.