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Congressional Corner With Richard Neal

Congressman Richard Neal
public domain
Public Domain

January 6th was one of the darkest days in Congressional history.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Massachusetts Democrat Richard Neal of the 1st district speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

This interview with was recorded January 11.

Alan Chartock: Okay, here you are and here I am with my favorite congressman, my congressman Richard Neal of the Massachusetts first district where I happen to live. Richie Neal is of course one of the most powerful men in the United States Congress. And I am so delighted that you are here with us, Richie. So the first question is, where were you when the hordes invaded?

Representative Richard Neal: Well, I started the day in my office room 208, which is a Ways and Means office, and it's literally 10 feet from the floor of the House of Representatives, maybe 15 feet from the entrance to Statuary Hall where mayhem originated. And I was conducting regular business, going through a lot of tax matters, talking about trade with staff, signing letters, writing documents, and at 1:30, I was in the midst of a phone call with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis. And we were talking on a Zoom presentation about Brexit. And as you know, we pushed very hard through the Brexit negotiations to make sure there would be no reestablishment of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland. Right, and that did not happen. So I was in a pretty good mood, saying that, although I disagreed with Brexit as a strategy, I was pleased that there would be no border reestablished on the island. And the conversation was going swimmingly well. And all of a sudden, two of my staffers started to signal to me that I needed to get off the call. So I just said there's turmoil here and delighted to talk to you, and then went to look out the window and notice that they were literally at my windows and yelling and screaming, pounding on the windows, which they subsequently broke. The Capitol Police rushed into my office, they pulled a Republican fellow, a new one whom I'm not sure of his name, off the floor, ordered him into the office with us. I was with two staffers, I think three Capitol Police officers and a Republican member. And the officer said, look, this table, which is massive can seat up to 16 to 18 people. We need to barricade the door. We picked up the table the six of us, pushed it towards the door. The doors were being pounded on, people were yelling about the Ways and Means Committee, pushing. We were sandwiched between those pounding on the glass on the outside and those pounding on the door on the inside. I thought the door at one point was gonna bow and the Capitol Police at the end of the table, he drew his gun. And we turn off the lights, went silent on our calls, and the deputy director of the house security, she said I'm going to have to ask all of you to write your names and your addresses and the state you represent on this piece of paper. In case this really goes awry. And she carefully folded it, put it in her pocket, and for 40 minutes they pushed amd shoved at that door but they couldn't get through.

What do you think she meant, in case it goes awry?

Well, I think that if all of a sudden there was a stampede, and there was a somebody was killed, that they would want to know how quickly they could identify the people that were in the room because that's what the marauding was like on the outside the mayhem, chaos. And after about 40 minutes, radioing back and forth, they came to the conclusion that was okay for us to move out of 208. In the capital itself that these cavernous staircases. So we were to avoid the elevators, move down, there was a capital police officer that moved ahead of us to make sure that the crowd wouldn't be waiting at some interval that you couldn't see around the corner. And we made our way over to 1100, which is another Ways and Means room, it’s where the hearings take place, and the markups take place. And we sat there for four hours until Speaker Pelosi and Hakeem Jeffries and then Liz Cheney, they defiantly announced at about seven o'clock that evening that we were going to resume our work, that the Capitol had been secured, and we were going on to embrace our constitutional responsibility to confirm the election of Joe Biden, which I think historians are going to look back at as a very important part of the calamity that confronted this nation last Wednesday.

Richie Neil, do you think that if the marauders had come into the room, the guards would have been justified, I hate to ask you this because it's a tough question, should have shot? Should have used their guns?

They were armed and they incited the violence, yes. I think we all have this horrific picture of that Capitol cop being chased up the stairs. Even though he had a baton in his hand, he was trying to do everything he could to avoid a confrontation as he's being rushed up the stairs, I think I would have probably reacted differently than the cop did. Because I think that his life at that moment was under threat.

What do you make of those two officers who died as a result of what these people did?

Well, I think that this is the logical outcome of rioting and chaos and lawlessness that was embraced by the president just hours before. And he encouraged them to go up to Capitol Hill and, in his judgment, question the legitimate election, which Joe Biden won. And I think that if we move down this road, where all of a sudden these elections are going to be questioned because of the Parisian mobs inciting violence and perpetrating violence upon those electors and those who are responsible for conducting what heretofore had been a very perfunctory outcome. You know, I had vivid memories of Richard Nixon with some humor, accepting the election result in which he had to declare the John Kennedy had won the election. Al Gore, who certainly could have been sour, but decided instead, after a five to four decision at the Supreme Court that he had lost, he announced the election of George W. Bush. John Adams accepted defeat to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, establishing the precedent. And I think, in this instance, here, for President Trump to have begun the drumbeat last July that the election was rigged, from his perspective, it can only be rigged if he loses. And for him to say that the election not only had been rigged, but the electors had been delinquent in their responsibilities, and then use those months to continue to perpetrate the lie that that he had won the election. And then for two months after the election, to establish January 6 is this day of showdown, almost Armageddon between his followers, and those of us who are responsibly elected, and have been seated, to call the election for Joe Biden, as the American people have prescribed is an example of what's gone wrong in the terms of the political dialogue.

Richie Neal, are you satisfied that the President of the United States incited the mob?

Yes, I am. And I don't even give that a qualified answer. Yes, I do. Because I think that it's not just what he did on that morning. It's what he did for two months, saying things like, it's impossible that I lost this election. He lost the election by almost 7 million votes. He lost the election because Joe Biden got 306 votes in the Electoral College, which had benefited him four years previously. And I think for him to declare, as I noted, beginning last July, that the question of rigging the election was the only way that he could lose was not only nonsense, but it allowed for the violence that we all thought could never have happened in America last Wednesday.

Let me ask you a question. Up in our North Country of our seven state listening area, we have Congresswoman Stefanik, who, after the after the mob was there, was still talking about a corrupted election. I'm sorry to ask you this but what do you what do you make of that?

I think it's irresponsible. And where was the corruption? Where was the fraud? Are they suggesting that it was mail-in balloting, which gave us the largest turnout in more than 100 years? Are they suggesting in the midst of a pandemic that it was illegitimate to use mail-in balloting to allow people to participate in their own democracy? The system worked very well. When you have the Secretary of State in Georgia, and the governor in Georgia, and legal counsel in Georgia, all three Republicans who had supported Donald Trump saying there was no fraud and in the state of Georgia alone, the Secretary of State said I came up with two cases of questionable balloting. They went back and reviewed the film footage. It was obvious to everybody. So I think for an elected representatives to say that they question the outcome of the election, not only is it unwarranted, it's unwise.

Should she be reprimanded officially by her own House? Should she be expelled?

Well, the answer there is that their own voters back home should be the judge of that inquisition as well as I think the outcome of those individuals who marched back into the house floor, I think 127 of them, and voted to question the legitimacy of an election that had been affirmed by 50 secretaries of state and signed by governors in all those 50 states as to what happened.

I want to congratulate you, Richie and your colleagues for having known what they had to do to move forward. And that was, that really was an inspirational moment. One last question. Do you think this is the worst time that this country has ever faced?

Well, I think it's a bad time, given the amplification of conflict, social media and all but I, I think that the better answer there because you know, my interest in history, I think the Civil War is still our most perilous moment. And, but I also think that if you had a president who said, with malice toward not a charity for all, and a president who said, Let's appeal to the better angels of our nature, like Mr. Lincoln did, to heal the nation's wounds, we'd have been far better off to the division of tone that was offered by our incumbent president,

Richie Neal, I'm proud you're my congressman. Thanks so much. When we come back, I got lots more for you.

Thanks, Alan.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.
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