Jerry Nadler Says, ‘I’ve Been More Principled’ – West Side Rag
By Michael McDowall
Primary day is August 23 and one thing is certain: Manhattan will lose at least one of its most powerful political players. Next an awkward recutting process, longtime allies Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler suddenly find themselves competing for the same turf: New York’s 12th Congressional District. Each has represented the East Side and West Side respectively since the early 1990s; today, Congresswoman Maloney chairs the House Oversight Committee and Congresswoman Nadler chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
The Rag spoke by phone with Congressman Nadler about the indictments, the helicopters, Israel and Iran, the Supreme Court, and the significance of the experiment.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
WSR: Have you ever thought that you could represent the Upper East Side?
jn: No, never done. Heck, it’s been split East/West since the 1870s, so it never occurred to me that that would change.
WSR: How do you feel about it now?
jn: I’m not happy about it, because it puts me in the same neighborhood as Carolyn Maloney, who I worked with for many years and who is a friend.
WSR: One of your opponents, Suraj Patel, has argued that you and Rep. Maloney are, for the most part, old and out of touch, “1990s politicians,” he said during a recent debate. You argue that voters should stick to age and experience, why?
jn: There is a major reason, and a question. Is the person still able to do the job? The answer in my case is yes. As proof, look at all we have accomplished in the past few months: we passed important gun legislation, the Protecting Our Children Act; we passed the Respect for Marriage Act to codify marriage equality; [and] we passed the ban on assault weapons.
The way Congress works is that with experience comes weight. You accumulate seniority. No matter how good a new member is, he cannot have the effectiveness of a senior member, especially not a committee chair.
And there are a lot of generational changes happening. I work with young leaders, [Representatives] Hakeem Jeffries [D-NY-8] and Joe Neguse [D-CO-2], and others, to frame them. But it’s still true that influence is something you shouldn’t give up, because with influence comes not only the ability to pass laws, but the ability to bring money to the state and to the district.
WSR: Many Democrats are wondering where the indictments are? Do you think former Trump administration officials, including former President Trump himself, should be charged?
jn: I certainly do. I suspect they will be.
The problem is you’re not notified of an indictment until the grand jury votes and the indictment is announced, and that’s at the last part [of the investigation]before the trial.
Now you can pull clues from who is being subpoenaed, and we’ve certainly seen people around Trump being subpoenaed. So I strongly suspect that we’re going to see prosecutions against Trump, and many people around him, for seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct government administration, among other crimes—even a [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] criminality.
WSR: Do you see good arguments against the indictments?
jn: There’s an argument being made, and that’s that you don’t want to set the precedent of indicting a presidency, and becoming like a banana republic where whoever wins investigates and indicts their predecessor, or a party wins and they indict the leaders of the other party.
But I don’t think that’s a very valid argument when there’s an insurrection and the first attempt — which almost succeeded! — the first attempt in the history of our country to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
WSR: I know that you worked on a code of conduct for the Supreme Court, which you pushed forward. Are there other oversight tools to curb what many Democrats see as an out-of-control court?
jn: First of all, we are not working on a code of conduct for the Supreme Court. All federal judges, other than the Supreme Court, already have a code of ethics. We simply want to apply the same code of ethics to the Supreme Court.
I think we have an uncontrollable tribunal. You saw that in [Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization]and in the [gun] decision banning Sullivan, who has been on the books since the 1890s in New York. I think [the Court] was deliberately packed by [former president Donald] Trump and [Kentucky Senator Mitch] McConnell. The answer is in a bill I introduced about a year ago with two colleagues and Senator Markey from Massachusetts — add four justices to the Supreme Court.
It was seen as a very, very radical idea, but I think it’s not going to seem that radical because the Supreme Court continues to make more outrageous decisions. And remember, this isn’t the first time this has happened. President Lincoln expanded the Supreme Court. President Roosevelt tried to do that.
WSR: If re-elected, will you investigate or hold hearings into Judge Clarence Thomas’ alleged conflict of interest?
jn: We are under instructions [from Speaker Nancy Pelosi] to defer to the Commission of January 6 on all that relates to it, and until they are finished, I cannot answer this question.
WSR: You have had a long and accomplished career. If you had to choose one thing you would love to do, no matter how many terms you could serve, what would it be?
jn: I recommended [for] construction of a rail freight tunnel [from New Jersy to Brooklyn] since I was in the [New York State] Assembled many years ago. It’s been delayed, but it’s on track — the governor endorsed it in his state of the state message. New York is the only major city in North America where 93% of everything comes [in] comes by truck. In the rest of the country, it’s about 43%. Trucks tear up our highways; they put a lot of carbon into the atmosphere which is obviously not good for the climate and that’s why [neighborhoods near] the Cross Bronx highway have the worst asthma rates in the world.
The rail freight tunnel will eliminate these problems: it will connect Bayonne to Bay Ridge and the existing rail lines on the New York side with the existing rail lines on the Jersey side; it will connect the city and the region.
WSR: Rep. Maloney described herself as a tenacious and heartbreaking New York woman who gets things done. Who are you and why are you the best representative in the district?
jn: I think I’m more principled. I think I cast braver votes, and I was right on those votes. I will give you a few examples: she voted for the war in Iraq, I voted against. She voted for the Patriot Act, I voted against it, even though 9/11 happened in my district. She voted against the Iran Deal, and I voted for it.
When I voted for [the Iran Deal] — [Benjamin] Netanyahu [then prime minister of Israel] spoke out against. I saw, one by one, all the Jewish organizations opposing it, even the most liberal ones, and all the Jews [Congressperson] in the Northeast opposed it. Remember, I have the most Jewish neighborhood in the country, and I really thought I would take my political life into my own hands, but I voted for [the Iran Deal] because I thought my political career was less important than Iran having a nuclear bomb and threatening Israel and the whole Middle East.
So I would say I was a more principled progressive than Carolyn.
CSR: How would you characterize the relationship between the Iran Deal and Israel’s security?
jn: Very, very important, because this agreement is what prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, and if this agreement does not exist, Iran could very easily obtain a nuclear bomb and Iran thinks that its holy cause is to destroy Israel.
In fact, I don’t understand Netanyahu, who came to Congress in 2015 and said, don’t do the deal. But when [Netanyahu] said that I had in my office the former heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad, and the former chief of staff of the [Israel Defense Forces]saying, for God’s sake, go with this deal.
WSR: Helicopters. What’s the latest?
jn: The latest is that we have petitioned the [Federal Aviation Administration] and they won’t do anything about it, and we’ve introduced legislation in Congress that hasn’t passed yet. We will continue to try to adopt it.
We also call on the City of New York to deny landing rights at heliports owned by the City of Manhattan. The city administration could do a lot to solve this problem by doing this.
WSR: But the helicopters will always arrive from New Jersey.
jn: And that’s why we have federal legislation.
WSR: Whether it’s ice cream or egg custard, how did you manage to stay cool during what seems to be one of the hottest summers in the city in recent memory?
jn: That’s why God invented air conditioning.
Read Rag’s interviews with fellow 12th District congressional candidates Carolyn Maloney and Suraj Patel.