Sharing a Washington, D.C., apartment with two other freshman congressmen and waking up early for bipartisan workouts in the gym might not have been how Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi imagined how politics at the Capitol would be, but he says he is loving every second of it.
Suozzi, a Glen Cove native, held a conference call with several news organizations on April 7 to discuss his progress as a new member of the House of Representatives. He marked his 100th day in office on April 13.
“It’s a very sobering and humbling experience,” he said. “Over 30,000 people have contacted my office since I took office, and at any given time I have over 1,000 different meeting requests.”
Due to his extremely busy schedule, it is important, Suozzi said, that he prioritizes his time. He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he has focused on the Middle East, Africa and North Africa. He also sits on the Armed Services Committee and on two of its subcommittees, the Tactical Air and Land Committee and the Oversight and Investigations Committee. “It’s been a very interesting experience,” he said, “and I feel that I’ve learned a tremendous amount and that I’ve already started to contribute.”
While on these committees, Suozzi has questioned the chiefs of staff of the armed forces and met with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, of whom he spoke very highly.
He also devotes a large chunk of his time to the Problem Solvers Caucus. He is the vice chairman. This group of 22 Republicans and 22 Democrats work to try to find common ground across party lines. “The reason I went to D.C. is because people are sick of politics; they’re sick and tired of politicians,” he said. “They want people to get things done and solve problems.”
The caucus has already requested a meeting with President Trump to try to find areas in which the parties can agree on the issues of infrastructure and tax reform.
When it comes to health care, however, that task may be more difficult. “Health care does need to be reformed — Obamacare has its problems,” Suozzi said. “I’ve said since the beginning we have to mend it, don’t end it. But I haven’t seen any indications from the Republicans that they’re even willing to consider that.”
Suozzi is also co-chairman of the Quiet Skies Caucus, which aims to reduce the noise of airplanes and helicopters to improve people’s quality of life. This is a big issue in Nassau County and Queens, which are home to or near major airports. The caucus is working to acquire funding from the upcoming budget to undertake a study to determine how the noise impacts people’s health.
“The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t think it’s a real issue,” Suozzi said. He has already visited the air traffic control tower at LaGuardia Airport, and plans to meet with air traffic controller Laura Stensland from the FAA and Delta Airline officials in the coming weeks.
He also co-chairs the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus. He is focusing on the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the toxic underground plume flowing from the former Grumman property in Bethpage. Suozzi said he believes he can get a great deal of help from Republican Rep. Peter King, since the plume is making its way toward his district.
“One of the reasons I went into the Armed Services Committee in the first place is because the responsible parties for the Bethpage plume are the U.S. Navy and Grumman,” Suozzi said. “I figured if I was on Armed Services, I’d have more influence on trying to get them to pay attention to this issue that’s been there for 40 years.”
The Friends of the Bay, an Oyster Bay nonprofit that monitors the quality of local waters, claimed in an email to its members that the state Department of Transportation has paid Parsons Brinckerhoff, a consulting group, to help determine the feasibility of building a bridge across the Long Island Sound from Oyster Bay to Rye. The idea is extremely controversial, because of the potential impact a bridge would have on nearby communities, including Oyster Bay, Bayville and Glen Cove.
Suozzi said he was unaware of the email from Friends of the Bay, but insisted that his opposition to the bridge has never wavered. “I’m 100 percent opposed to a bridge going across the Long Island Sound into my district,” he said. “I will investigate that carefully and do anything I can to try and block that from happening.”
The night before the conference call, Trump had ordered the airstrike on Syria in response to the chemical weapon attack on its citizens. “We had to send a very clear message that this was an affront to humanity, but it’s also in our national interest, because you don’t want other countries to think it’s OK — you can get away with using chemical weapons,” Suozzi said. “I support what the president did, but if he wants to move forward, he has to have a long-term strategy and go to Congress and get bipartisan support for it.
“One of the big challenges in Washington is that there’s no time,” he continued. “There’s no time to sit down and talk to your colleagues and find common ground. That’s why a lot of stuff doesn’t get done.”
“Arguably, people perceive the congressional job as being a bigger job and a more important job than mayor or county executive,” he said. “But in reality, I had much more responsibility and a much more direct impact on people’s lives [in those jobs]. But I’m learning so much, and I’m contributing as well and I’m very happy to be here.”