U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) discussed a litany of issues before a crowded Town Hall at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck on Monday night, emphasizing the importance of starting discussions and solving problems despite division in the country.
Suozzi, who represents the 3rd Congressional District spanning the North Shore, was asked about a variety of issues, including health care, anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party and climate change. He also spoke about immigration, his thoughts on the Democrats running for president, and the cost of living.
“My focus right now is the middle class,” Suozzi said, noting that wages have not increased for most despite the rise of GDP, wealth and productivity.
Some audience members pushed Suozzi to support a “Medicare for All” program, a single-payer health care system they argue would be able to cover all Americans. They also described quality health care as a “human right” that is currently difficult for many people to access.
Suozzi said he agreed that health care is a human right and that many people appear to support “Medicare for All.” But many people are satisfied with their health care, he said, and that support declines when people are asked if they would be willing to lose their own insurance.
Suozzi said people should focus on other areas of health care, which is a very complicated issue, and improving the Affordable Care Act, rather than slogans.
“We need to mend it, not end it,” Suozzi said.
Suozzi also said support for Medicare for All is going to require a president running – and winning – on the issue.
Suozzi was also asked about the safety net and how, over the years, politicians have said Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security are going broke but they don’t seem to be doing anything about it. Specifically, one man asked why the cap for paying into Social Security hasn’t been raised.
“Everybody’s afraid to do something that will be perceived as raising taxes,” Suozzi said, adding that it’s “just a matter of getting the votes.”
Some people also raised concerns about anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party in the wake of controversial comments from Rep. Ilhan Omar, including a suggestion that American support for Israel is fueled by donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group.
Suozzi said he believes most members of the Democratic Party do support Israel and the Jewish people, but that anti-Semitism is real and appears to be growing in the United States and around the world in general.
“We have to be very vigilant. This is very dangerous,” Suozzi said. “It’s more than just talk, but talk is a big part of it and we have to be very, very clear and very bold when speaking out against anti-Semitism, even when it’s members of our own party, which I did and will continue to do.”
Suozzi was also asked if he would support HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a bill that would essentially require companies to pay a monthly dividend to homes that are affected by carbon emissions.
Suozzi said he plans to look into the bill, before highlighting that he is a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus and Republicans are starting to “come around” on the issue of climate change.
He also said that there was a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that the Department of Defense consider climate change as part of defense strategy, as storms can disrupt the world, bases could be underwater and that in the future, the biggest wars will likely be over water.
“I believe climate change is real,” Suozzi said. “I believe it’s going to get worse and worse and worse unless we try to do something to deal with it.”
One audience member also asked about illegal immigration and the possibility of having ICE officers in the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Suozzi said that the discussion on immigration should start with the concept of “all men and women are created equal.”
While he is all for securing the borders and deporting those who commit serious crimes, he said most undocumented people are just overstaying their visas and that there are 1.9 million so-called Dreamers – people who were brought to the country illegally as children – who deserve a pathway to citizenship.
He also said that those with temporary protected status should have a pathway to permanent residency.
Suozzi was also asked about the prospect of impeaching President Donald Trump. He said he doesn’t support impeachment at this time, suggesting the appearance of partisanship could actually help Trump, barring something significant coming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
“If you want to beat the president, you’ve got to beat him at the polls,” Suozzi said.
Asked about his thoughts on the Democratic field and what he’s looking for from a candidate, Suozzi said he is looking for someone experienced who is visionary, able to talk to all Americans and be a leader.
“I’m looking for somebody that can give a vision for the future that is dramatic,” Suozzi said. “I think that if the Democrats are going to win, we’re going to need the whole team.”