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Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

Even with the coronavirus outbreak, it’s still a presidential election year.

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

Paul Tonko is the Congressman from New York's 20th district. He's been in office since 2009. I count him as my friend, maybe not the other way around. He doesn't count me, but I do. And I'm so delighted to have you back on the show here. Paul, thanks for being with us.

Well, my pleasure and I do count it the other way around, so it’s a two way friendship.

OK. Let me let me start with asking about the other story besides coronavirus that's going on, and that is the final countdown to a Democratic candidate to run against President Trump. We saw a debate. Bernie Sanders, who has a passionate following as we know and Joe Biden, who is ahead in most of the polls and showing that he is sort of on the track to be the candidate. You've been careful about, about endorsements. What do you think?

Well, I think it really has come down to these two people as the the race for the Democratic nomination, and I think both their great relevance here, they are addressing the same issues and principles and concerns. They're offering solutions that may vary a bit. But certainly, I think from the many debates and the discussions that have been had up late, it becomes very obvious that either of these individuals would be a far better officeholder for president than what we now have. And so I think that's good news for the country. It's good news for the party. I think that it becomes pretty evident too, that in polling and in discussion, it may be that while people voted for a risky outcome and Trump four years ago, perhaps driven by fear and anxiety or concern about their household income, or whatever the dynamics were, they have now really realize that that extreme that he brought to the equation is something of which they carry grave concern. And it may be that the more traditional route that Joe Biden is offering may be a strength for him, rather than a setback. So I would think that things are mounting his way. But, again, we've seen crazy reactions in this given campaign season. I would only hope as a Rep in the House that either of these gentlemen would support the other. If they're the candidates, I think we need that sense of unity. I think we need that sense of coming together that will really speak forcefully to putting all of our forces to play to defeat this President so that the number of programs that are being dismantled, like clean air and clean water will not be further damaged.

There's been a lot of talk, Paul Tonko, about election security, and about elections. And I wonder if you want to talk about that, because I'm getting a lot of mail from people who think that Trump is going to call off the election, the national election, or that he will postpone it. He's behind in all the polls. What do you think would be the reaction if he tried that?

I think that people would reject that. I think there would be great upset with that. Now, people are still talking about the reports that were issued, that showed definite hacking of our elections, that Russia has certainly favored the now president over presidential candidate, Clinton, Hillary Clinton. I think that the potential for hacking still exists. And I know that in the House, there's every effort being made to make certain that we protect the election process, and that we make a very strong statement that America, Americans should elect, select their President, not some foreign entity. And so it's important for us to make certain that we have learned from past experiences where there was proof positive, there was hacking going on. And then hopefully, we will do the best thing. You know, modifications have taken place with the petitioning process already, because of the coronavirus. But that at least offered an order of fairness where they reduce the threshold of numbers that you need. And because they have to reduce the timeframe by which you could get those signatures, something like that I think that people will accept, but to cancel an election and to move out further into the future, I think would cause many to be opposed to that idea.

So Paul Tonko, here's a tough question. I'm known for trying to put you on the spot. You think he's got it in them to try to do that, Trump, that is?

I think there is, you know, nothing surprises me now with this president. I think that he does think sometimes against the advice of even his own cabinet members. And there is that narcissistic behavior, where it's all about what's in his best interest. And so that alone would trigger some concern within me. But again, I hope for the sake of integrity of the system and for fairness for the general public of this country, that we maintain that process as solidly as we can, in spite of this virus.

Both candidates on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, have announced that they would, well Biden more forcefully, but you know, Sanders seems to have gone along with it. They would select women as their vice presidential candidates. And so I'm wondering who you got?

Well, I think there are a number of people. There's obviously Elizabeth Warren, Senator Warren, Senator Kamala Harris, who were both actively involved in the process, along with our own state Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. But, you know, there are also state senators that exist out there. I know that Stacey Abrams, has been mentioned many times from the state of Georgia because of a very strong run for the US Senate. I think that, you know, there are a number of individuals who could fare well. I know that as a Latina, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada, has also been mentioned. So you know, being that women are more, the greater part of the majority of our nation's population, that you know, the time many people believe has come for them to be on the ticket in a way that is meaningful. I know many people had hoped that with many women in this sweepstakes, political sweepstakes, would enable us to elect our first female president. So I was not surprised to hear that statement last night, when the when the debate was being had, and I think that, you know, it'll be interesting to see who is the go-to, for the VP slot?

My my, my very good friend, Paul Tonko. Come on now. Who you got? Which one of them do you want to see?

Well, I you know, I think it's very difficult to, I would love to see polling on, you know, what strengths they bring to the ticket, but I think someone perhaps from the, you know, I didn't make mention of Senator Amy Klobuchar, but I think someone from the South or someone from the Midwest, they provide a geographic balance. You know, there's a balance being done with gender. There may be a balanced done with race, there may be a balanced done with geography, which may produce someone like a Stacey Abrams or Kamala Harris. It’s hard to tell what strengths Vice President Biden is looking for. But I'm certain that there will be all sorts of measurements done to show what candidate would bring the greatest balance to the ticket.

It's always wonderful to talk to our very good friend, a man, I respect greatly, Representative Paul Tonko, Democrat from New York's 20th district. He's been here with us in office since 2009. And for a long time before that in the New York State Legislature. So Paul, thanks for being here.

My pleasure.

Joe talks to people on the radio for a living. In addition to countless impressive human "gets" - he has talked to a lot of Muppets. Joe grew up in Philadelphia, has been on the area airwaves for more than 25 years and currently lives in Washington County, NY with his wife, Kelly, and their dog, Brady. And yes, he reads every single book.