Coronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney
The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.).
Read excerpts from the interview below.
Clemons: How is your district weathering the ongoing issues related to COVID-19? And how is it handling the health guardrails as it tries to reopen?
Maloney: We’ve been to hell and back in New York with the coronavirus. We’ve been blessed with some good leadership at the state level here, which has filled some of the vacuum we’ve seen at the federal level. And we are in a much better place. We have seen new infections and hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus come way, way down, and we are reopening. And thank God for it. I’m in a district that is just north of where the original outbreak in New Rochelle occurred. And so, we are right on the edge of where it all started. We’ve had a lot of cases in my district, but we’re better off than the city and in places that will have to reopen more slowly. Well, look, we’ve lost a lot of neighbors, we’re never gonna be able to repair all that damage. On the economic side, there’s a lot of people struggling, but paradoxically, some people have come through pretty strong. I think professional services, if you’re a lawyer or a banker and commuting into the city, you’re doing okay, for the most part. The real estate industry in my part of the world has been pretty strong and the construction industry as well. So, we’re hanging in there, and I do think the federal programs are having a big impact. PPP programs as you pointed out, is $30-plus billion in New York to small businesses. Don’t forget the direct loans from SBA as well, another $6 [billion] or $7 billion there. So, we’ve got about 400,000 small businesses benefiting from about $45 billion in assistance, just as of say, last weekend. That’s in addition to the cash payments, in addition to the unemployment. So, the federal programs are working, I think, in large part in New York. And we’ve turned the corner therefore on the public health emergency, and I think increasingly on the economic one. But hey, look, we need the state and local assistance in the corona package that the House passed in the HEROES act. The budgets at the state and local level are going to be in very dire shape and if we don’t get assistance, they’re gonna be huge layoffs, often of the very people who were the first responders in the crisis, and that would be unacceptable.
Clemons: Does that needs to be part of another CARE package yet to do?
Maloney: Absolutely. And, you know, don’t take my word for it right? Pete King called Mitch McConnell the “Marie Antoinette of the Senate” over this issue. The Republican county executives locally, that I work with in Dutchess County, Orange County, they support the HEROES Act, which is the bill the House passed, which is sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk. This is a bipartisan issue in my part of the world. Remember, we also would give back people their full state, local property tax, and state local tax deductions. That’s a big deal in our part of the world. We have good support from mass transit like Metro North, and we’ve got, of course, great support for schools and for hospitals. There’s a lot for New York in this legislation and it’s bipartisan here.
Clemons: Are you worried about a second wave? And have you seen any improvement in White House competence on managing this?
Maloney: Yeah and I wouldn’t overthink it. I mean, you’ve got 115,000 Americans dead and 40 million people out of work, you know? How’s it going? The fact is is that our national testing program was a disgrace. I don’t care what the White House says, and if you look at every country on Earth that has got a handle on the virus it is because they had a national testing program in place early, aggressively. They did contact tracing and containment. And we have never gotten our act together on that at the federal level. And we are paying a terrible price for it. And we will never get those days back. We will never be able to put that suffering back together because we’ve paid that price already. And at the state level we’re now testing 50,000 people a day, and that’s great. We’re doing all the things necessary to win, but we didn’t have to be. We didn’t have to be hurt this badly and I’m sorry. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but the administration will never convince me that they handled this properly.
Clemons: How is your district managing through these challenges on race, racial identity and inclusion?
Maloney: Yeah, well, it’s been an extraordinary few weeks. An almost unspeakable tragedy that we all witnessed in Minnesota. All of this energy we see in the streets for change, for justice, and we’ve had that here in New York, in my district as well. In my district, interestingly, we’ve had no violence. We’ve had entirely peaceful protests but massive protests in places you might not expect like the middle of Orange County, New York, that supported Donald Trump by 7 points in 2016. You have police involved in the protest holding signs, participating, kneeling. This is an unusual moment; it is a unique moment. I’ve never seen anything like it. And I think that the Supreme Court ruling and the success of the LGBT equality movement should give us some lessons about building coalition now, because going backwards in the area of LGBT equality is almost unthinkable. And you saw, you know, two conservative justices joined with the more liberal justices on the recent decision, you even saw Brett Kavanaugh in dissent, praising LGBT equality, the point being that we built a coalition that is enduring. What encourages me about what’s happening in my district is that you see white people joining with people of color and saying, “This is not an equal society, and we need to make real changes, substantive policy changes.” And you see some of that in Washington. And that’s encouraging.
Clemons: Do you think in the middle of this crisis they’re going to be some big changes that strengthen our commitment to civil rights, that strengthen the social contract? If you look at those people who have been vulnerable in this case, gay and lesbian and transgender workers or communities of color. What do you think could possibly happen that moves the sort of broad social justice fabric in a better place?
Maloney: Well, I think you have three major streams coming together, tributaries into one very powerful river of change. You have the entire Trump dynamic, which has created energy particularly among young people in multiple areas — look at Parkland and the kids there; look at the “Me Too” movement; look at the Dreamers; look at the climate movement; and now Black Lives Matter. These are all youth-led movements and in some sense responses to Trump. But you also have then this pandemic, which has created, I think, an enormous sense of vulnerability and has laid bare how unequal our society is in so many ways. And finally, you’ve had the recent events with George Floyd. That is just a searing reminder that we have work to do in this area. And all those things combining, I think, are creating the sort of energy you see. It is youth led, you have the most energized generation since the ’60s. I think it’s really encouraging, and I think you’re seeing it show up in politics and in a lot of campaigns and in a lot of things, like the desire to register voters, the desire to fill out the census. I mean, you’re seeing activists and street protesters connect up their movements to specific things like that. And I think you’re gonna see a hell of an election. And I wouldn’t want to be on the red team, frankly.
Clemons: Are you worried about getting a fair election in November?
Maloney: Absolutely, I am. And I sit on the House Intelligence Committee and the issues of malign foreign influence at scale have not gone away. By the way, events like the killing of George Floyd are exactly the kind of thing that malign foreign actors like to use and whip up on the internet to divide us. Not the truth, but fake versions or exaggerated versions or explanations or conspiracy theories, things that sharpen the divisions that divide us. And then, of course, I’m worried about the president and the things he says about mail-in voting, which is just outrageous. We should let people vote by mail if there’s still a health emergency. What are we going to do, put old people in line or people with compromised immune systems or fighting cancer, tell them they can’t vote? It’s nonsense. You can audit voting by the way. You know who voted, not who they voted for. But, you know, if they voted, so if dead people are voting, it’s pretty easy to find out. It’s all nonsense. We should let people vote, and I’m worried that the president won’t respect the results. And I think actions like that circus in Lafayette Square should make anybody concerned about his willingness to use the military in domestic politics. And that calls into question the peaceful transition of power and that better get everybody’s attention because we need to have a free, fair election, and we need to respect the results.
Clemons: So, you are putting on the table that you have big worries about the president respecting the election results, his willingness to use the military in some way if those election results don’t go his way? What you’re saying right now is the president could usurp power?
Maloney: If you’re still not concerned about that, you have not been paying attention in June. I mean, the fact is, the president wanted to use U.S. military forces against American protesters and began to do so and co-opted people like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense secretary, until they sort of came to their senses. That should scare the hell out of all of us. There’s a reason Jim Mattis is speaking up. There’s a reason Colin Powell is speaking out. There’s a reason for Adm. [Michael] Mullen and Adm. [William] McRaven, guys who never weigh in — those guys say nothing about domestic politics, and yet they’re all in on this one. Why? Because they saw a president who’s flirting with some very dangerous things. And I think if he loses this election, it’s very possible that he could dispute the results and crash around in all kinds of dangerous ways to try to stay in power.
Clemons: Are you confident that, in contrast to what happened in 2016, that information about malign actors is being communicated to the states, and is there now a bridge of communication over the vulnerabilities out there?
Maloney: In 2016, what we saw was a hacking and dumping operation against the DNC and the Clinton campaign, and we saw a social media operation. Neither of those things necessarily involved, you know, coordinating with boards of election and the state authorities. There is where you’re talking about the actual registration rolls or the results or getting into the machines. That’s much harder to do than the two things I just mentioned. What I’ll tell you without getting into classified information is that you’ve got extraordinary capacities within your government. We spend a bunch of your tax dollars on this, we’ve got really dedicated people at the agency level. People like Paul Nakasone at the National Security Agency. I have a lot of confidence in them. They take this stuff very seriously. They’re on offense, not just defense and the fact is that I feel pretty good about our ability to protect ourselves. But we need to have doctrines on this. We should be communicating to our adversaries that there will be consequences the way there would be if they engaged the kinetic military attack on our country or our institutions. We don’t need to just sit back and take it. And the fact is that I am impressed with our capabilities, and I think that we’re gonna be in pretty solid shape. What worries me is when they get interference from the top. What worries me is when you see the intel community politicized with a guy like Ric Grenell, as DNI, or now John Ratcliffe, who are willing to blow off the oversight process, who are willing to fire inspectors general, who are willing to politicize intelligence and intelligence gathering the way they have, in my opinion, the Justice Department under Bill Barr. That’s real corruption in these institutions, and it puts a spin on the ball that is dangerous.