U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice held a town hall meeting in Rockville Centre on Feb. 28, at which calls for progressive action in Washington were met with both support and reluctance from the Democratic congresswoman.
Roughly 100 people gathered in the auditorium at South Side High School to share concerns with Rice about climate change, foreign policy, immigration and health care, which also led to comments from Rice on “fake news” and the 2020 presidential campaign.
Before opening the floor to questions, Rice, who represents New York’s 4th Congressional District, spoke about the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would require background checks for all gun sales in the country. The resolution had passed in the House of Representatives earlier that day.
“When the Republicans in Washington insist on doing a moment of silence after another school or mass shooting, I walk off the floor,” she said. “I will not engage in that B.S. I don’t do it, because we have the ability on that floor to make sure that these mass shootings don’t happen anymore. And today we did it.”
She noted that only half of the job is complete. She urged everyone to call and ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take the bill to a vote in the Senate.
During the public meeting, Laura Burns, of Moms Demand Action, lauded Rice for helping pass the background check measure in the House. “Thank you for voting ‘yes’ this week,” she said. “It’s been really, really long since Congress addressed the gun epidemic in our country. We’ve been working really hard for years now to do the very basic thing of closing those loopholes.”
Of 20 or so constituents who addressed Rice in the two-hour meeting, about half a dozen urged her to sign off on the Green New Deal, a progressive plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which would phase in renewable energy and promises the creation of sustainable jobs.
Rice cited the need for more hearings and data-driven research as reasons she has not yet signed, as well as “poison pills” in the proposal that she said would make it difficult to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I would have liked to see a Green New Deal that only talked about climate change,” she said. “I hope that the committees of jurisdiction in the House start to do hearings so we can have the public see and hear the testimony of scientists who actually base their opinions on fact — not politics and not pressure.”
Some residents advocated for Medicare for All, another bill Rice has not signed onto, and she again called for hearings with experts on financing and implementing the potential program.
Immigration was also discussed, including issues of asylum seekers, family separation and the future of Temporary Protected Status. Rice said she planned to address these issues during her trips to the Mexican border in the coming months.
“Most of the people who are here illegally are visa overstays,” she said. “They went through the legal process and at some point just overstayed. It’s not people pouring over the border. There is no crisis at the southern border. It’s a fake emergency.”
Throughout the evening, Rice emphasized the importance of electing a Democratic president to office in 2020, saying any Democrat would do, regardless of his or her policies, as long as Donald Trump did not get re-elected. “It’s all about winning,” she said. “I’ve lost before, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Losing in 2020? That could be the end of the world.”
Rice, who said she has had a bipartisan approach to politics in her four years in Congress, urged the public not to demonize people on the opposite side of the aisle and, instead, encourage the dissemination of facts. “What we can do between now and 2020 is get a Democrat elected and get the Senate Democratic,” she said. “So just keep active and get people out to vote.”
Nikhil Goyal, co-founder of Young Progressives of Nassau County, called Rice’s outlook on next year’s election “appalling,” noting that it is important to pay attention to the Democratic candidates’ policies.
“It was pretty clear that her constituents were not happy with her stances,” he said. “She gave excuses and wasn’t able to explain her decisions.”
After the town hall, Indivisible of RVC Co-founder Jaime Jordan reacted to Rice’s comments. “We’ve been wanting Kathleen Rice to have a town hall for two years now, since Donald Trump got elected,” she said. “We’re glad that she showed up, but we found her a bit pessimistic. You can’t say, ‘This is never going to change, so why try?’”
The Green New Deal “is unlikely to get passed as is,” she added, “but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to sign on. Whatever traction it gets is better than doing nothing.”