Democrats need to adopt new leadership and an agenda to help the American people, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said in a sitdown interview on Friday morning, while working across the aisle to solve problems.
Rice, who is seeking her third term as the U.S. representative for New York’s 4th Congressional District and facing a challenge from Republican Ameer Benno, said national Democrats have largely failed to communicate an agenda that appeals to the average voter and goes beyond being “anti-Trump.”
New York’s 4th Congressional District includes much of southern and central Nassau, including Floral Park, New Hyde Park, Mineola, Westbury, Carle Place, Lynbrook, Freeport, Hempstead, Bellrose, Bellmore, and other areas.
“In any other walk of life, if you presided over a losing season or losing quarter, you’re gone,” Rice said. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown and we should have made a leadership change back in 2010.”
“Anyone in a leadership position in the Democratic Party right now on the national level has some responsibility for the diminished state of the party. Period,” Rice added.
Rice said that while she believes Democrats are in “lock step” with most voters on social issues such as reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, she said it’s mainly “the economic message that Democrats fail at.”
One example she gave was a tendency for Democrats to say they would raise taxes to get the economy going again.
“That’s not a winning strategy for the economy,” Rice said.
Rice said that there needs to be more conversation on how the federal government is going to invest in infrastructure and job training for jobs of the future. Rice also said that many voters in her district have voiced concerns about gun violence, healthcare and whether people with pre-existing conditions can still get quality coverage.
Additionally, Rice advised seizing the president’s message on tax cuts for the middle class, as well as raising the federal minimum wage and reforming entitlement programs so they last.
“I think we have to raise the water for everyone to succeed,” Rice said. “A lot of that has to do with putting more money into regular people’s pockets like us, not rich people or corporations.”
On the issue of healthcare, Rice said she has worked with a group of bipartisan lawmakers to tweak the Affordable Care Act. Among the solutions were adding an auto-enrollment component with an opt-out option to get more healthy people in the system and maintaining cost-sharing reduction payments, Rice said.
Rice said she would “possibly” be behind a public option, but that proposals like this and like Medicare for All need to be studied.
“These are things that we should be talking about, but this issue of health care has become so politicized that people are not having actual discussions about the viability of universal health care or Medicare for All or whatever kind of system you want to come up with,” Rice said.
On Social Security, Rice said the age should be raised to 67 and the cap on income taxed should be increased.
But Rice also took issue with the Republican leadership, including Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House.
She said that bills fixing the Affordable Care Act, addressing gun violence and DACA – or deferred action for childhood arrivals, which allows some people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to defer deportation and apply for work permits – “would have been passed,” but have not been brought to a vote.
“If he didn’t get the support of the Freedom Caucus on those bills, he wouldn’t put them on the floor,” Rice said.
Additionally, Rice said, the Senate’s intelligence and judiciary committees have been weaponized into “political machines” for the administration.
“I hope that people see that it’s important for there to be checks and balances, but I also think it’s important for Democrats to put out an agenda in the event that we take the majority,” Rice said. “What are our priorities going to be?”
Among the things she and fellow Democrats would support are legislation to protect Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is leading an investigation on Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election and any potential links with the Trump campaign.
“What we can do is hopefully do everything we can to protect the independent counsel, but also not allow individual committees within the House and the Senate to be armed as political weapons,” Rice said.
Regarding the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Rice said she would not have voted for him because she didn’t find him “credible” in countering Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he sexually assaulted her and his involvement in crafting policy in the George W. Bush administration.
“The most disturbing thing about that hearing to me is looking at the left side of the room as you’re looking at the TV – it’s 11 white men, same thing as 30 years ago when Anita Hill was going through the Clarence Thomas hearings,” Rice said.
She also cited this as a reason for implementing term limits of four terms for the House of Representatives and two terms for the Senate.
“If we’re not going to get rid of gerrymandering and draw districts that are even somewhat remotely competitive, without disenfranchising any particular group, then yeah, there should be term limits,” Rice said.
On immigration, Rice said she was among a bipartisan group of legislators that visited the border and concluded more should be done to secure it.
But there are also a number of issues that need to be addressed like the lottery system, family reunification, how many refugees the country should accept and how the asylum process is fixed, Rice said.
“All of us Democrats said we need to do more to secure our borders, but we also cannot be ripping babies from mothers’ arms,” Rice said.
“The answer is we have to have a seat at the table,” Rice later added, “and we haven’t had a seat at the table in two years.”