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Congressional Corner With Richard Neal

Congressman Richard Neal
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The safety of the U.S. Capitol is in question.

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

This interview with was recorded January 11.

Alan Chartock: Here we are in the Congressional Corner with my congressman Richard Neal, Massachusetts first district. He's been in office since 1989. He is chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Richie, I know the last time we spoke, you talked about what happened the day of the great hordes descended on the Capitol. So what has to happen now, to make sure that you folks are oh, cause somebody's got to take out a gun, they had guns, they had explosives. Somebody could have been shot, two policemen did die, terribly. So what has to happen? Is there going to be a way of making sure this kind of thing cannot happen again?

Representative Richard Neal: I certainly anticipate that it will. And I think that this calls for hearings, review, when I think an independent commission should examine precisely what happened here and what did not happen. I recalled and said to my staff right away, how did they get up those stairs? I mean, they were literally up my windows. I said, how do they ever breach, the Capitol staircases? There's an area there on the east front of the Capitol. There was plenty of room for them to demonstrate between the Jefferson Building and the parking lot. And instead, as they rushed the police and you saw the Capitol Police running up the stairs to avoid them and then allowing them to do what they wanted, I remember saying to a staffer, when we were holed up in 208, with the doors being pounded upon, the windows being subsequently broken, saying to a staffer, where is the National Guard? Because that, in my judgment, should have been part of ample advance notice in preparation for what was to be an ugly day. I've been a witness to over many, many years, ugly crowds, where their emotions are so worked up, that they say and do things that are totally irresponsible. But in this case here, these individuals, they acted upon their emotions, they damaged the Capitol, those pictures of them, defiling the Speaker's office, those pictures of them walking with the Speaker's rostrum, across the rotunda, those individuals standing with Confederate flags inside of the Capitol, that's the closest the Confederacy ever got to the Capitol, running those flags in there during the Civil War, those flags weren't in the Capitol. And I always recall that people will say it was the Civil War, Lincoln said it was an act of rebellion. It was treasonous would have been done it for these individuals to mount the Capitol stairs with Confederate flags, is an example again, of just how far outside of the normal boundaries of public discourse that we've arrived at.

So the President incites? Should he be impeached?

Yes, he should. And I think I would prefer as everybody else would, because of the short timeframe that's involved and the fact that we want Joe Biden to get off to a fresh start with his own agenda, I would prefer that the 25th amendment be invoked. I believe that, even as we speak, that is being offered on the floor of the House of Representatives. And I think that that would be the most measured way to proceed. I’m worried that I think some of those cabinet officials resigned so that they would not have to cast a vote on that outcome. I think Mike Pence has been notified by Speaker Pelosi that she wants an up or down decision on that as quickly as tomorrow morning, or articles of impeachment will be filed. And I think that if we've reached the point where the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which I read every day, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, calls for the resignation of a Republican president, I think it tells you about the situation in which we find ourselves. They have, in some measure tolerated many of his policies because of tax cuts and deregulation. And at the same time, they've been very critical of his personal behavior. But last week, they said, it's time for him simply to resign.

You and Speaker Pelosi are close, I know that. Are you ready to move ahead, you think he should be impeached? What's gonna happen? Can you let us all of us know what we expect to see and when?

We are in the midst of doing a Zoom call this afternoon, in which the Speaker will lay out her proposals, and then there will be a vetting that will take place in the caucus. And I think that we would be wise also to seek the counsel of President-Elect Biden and the new attorney general, who by the way, I am delighted with his selection. And I think that as emotive as we all feel, and as angry as we feel that we want, by my judgment, Donald Trump gone, I also think that it's important to understand that we don't want anything to get in the way of Joe Biden getting off to a really good start and not being caught up in this battle for months and months and months.

So is it better to get the program, putting food on the table for people who have no food for their children, and taking care of COVID more important than tying up the country with a with an impeachment mess in the senate?

I think it's a legitimate question. And here's where I think that we could find a path, I think censure could accomplish much of what we want here. And I think last week, when the Speaker did the conference call with the members, she said, look, I'm going to be seeking a word with Joe Biden, later on this afternoon. And I think that's what she's going to report to us what that private conversation was about. He's been pretty careful, and I understand it, this is going to be a pretty subdued inaugural. But we do need to get that $2,000 check authorization out to people who need it. 19 million Americans are receiving unemployment insurance. That was a very bad jobs report last Friday. And not to miss the point that we also are looking at now almost 22 million Americans have been infected with COVID. And so I think there are a lot of questions that we're going to have to try to juggle. But I think Speaker Pelosi is looking for wisdom and counsel with Joe Biden as we proceed.

I love the idea of censure. I think it's a great idea, Richie will the Republicans in the senate be persuaded to go for censure?

I think they could be I think that for all of them, and, look, I'm critical of them, because they've enabled this for four years, actually five years, as they watch their Republican counterparts decimated during the primary season, five years ago, but they bought into this. And they were reluctant to say anything or to offer any criticism. I thought Mitch McConnell’s speech declaring Joe Biden the winner was very important. But I think that that sort of a speech could have been a calming influence, if it'd be given four years before that in a matter or matters that were related to it. I've watched them privately roll their eyes. I've watched him privately offer critique and criticisms of the President, but they would never say anything publicly about the behavior. And that's how I think this was fomented. And that's how we came to the day of January 6. And I also think that when you consider censure in the Senate, this is a very important part of their responsibilities, and not to vote for at least censure strikes me as condoning what happened last Wednesday with his support.

So when did you last speak with Joe Biden?

About those six weeks ago. I've been in regular contact with his staff. But I talked to him he was pleasantly surprised. He said the president-elect is looking for your phone number again. And we chatted.

That great. So what about Chuck Schumer? Have you had any conversation with him? Do you have any sense of how things are gonna be different between the House and the Senate once Chuck takes over?

Well, I think he's gonna really make a good leader to be frank. I've known him for a long time I, in my first two years in Congress, I was on the banking committee. And that's how I got to know Chuck Schumer, he was on the banking committee. And I knew him from that time of writing fire Ria (8:43), in the midst of the banking crisis that the country faced, the savings and loan crisis. So I've known him for a long time and whenever we see each other in the hall, we never just do the perfunctory hello. It's always to stop and talk and to see how things are going. I think he's an Institutionalist as I am. I think he will be very interested in getting the Biden agenda off the ground. I think infrastructure comes up immediately. I think economic relief, I think that that additional round of checks, I think for unemployment insurance is going to be necessary. I think we need a speedy path to vaccinate those millions of Americans where Dr. Fauci has said if this is done correctly, we could do a million a day. So that would I think, create the herd immunity that we've been looking for, perhaps by late summer. So do I think that he's very skilled? Yes, I do. And I think that he's going to have the slimmest of majorities, but I think he's going to be a really good leader.

Richie Neal, always great to talk to my congressman from the first district, the beautiful district of Massachusetts. When we come back the next time I got lots more.

Thank you 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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