By Adrian Flynn
We were incredibly fortunate last Wednesday to host not just one but two sitting congressmen at Beacon. Both Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-10) and Rep. Max Rose (D-11) of New York were able to answer questions from students and explain their motivations, musings, and roles.
Nadler arrived at Beacon for E band in the auditorium, and many students jumped on the opportunity to see the current Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the administration of justice within federal courts, agencies, and other law enforcement entities, as well as impeachments of federal officials. Nadler, 71, was first elected to Congress in 1992 and took over from Michigan representative John Conyers after his resignation in 2017 as the Ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee under Republican leadership. When Democrats won the majority of the House in the 2018 midterms, Nadler was named Chairman of the Committee. Nadler was at Beacon due to the courtesy of a parent who works in his office. When Nadler arrived, however, he had to do what History teacher Harry Feder called “the people’s work”, as Robert Mueller had begun his news conference concerning the Special Counsel’s Report at the Department of Justice.
As students filed in and found their seats, the environment grew tense as people were confused as to what was happening. Nadler sat in the front row, holding a phone to his ear with the screen on, listening intently to Mueller’s comments. Mr. Feder, having unsuccessfully tried with junior Chance Chamblin to project a feed of Mueller’s statement onto the screen, quickly shushed everyone. The auditorium grew silent, and though everyone was glued to their seats, there was an undeniable tilt towards Nadler, who held the phone playing Mueller’s voice on speaker. When Mueller had finished speaking after around ten minutes, Nadler gave the phone to an aide, spoke to him briefly, then sat in a chair facing the audience along with Mr. Feder. There were many bottles of water on the side of the room, possibly placed to avoid what happened the week before, where Nadler appeared to faint at a hearing due to dehydration.
A short Q&A ensued where Mr. Feder relayed to Nadler a few of the top lines of questioning that his students had submitted the week before. Of course, the topic on everyone’s minds, the question of impeachment, drove the discussion. Nadler stated that he believes President Ford’s view that an impeachable offense is “whatever the majority of the House [of Representatives] says at any point in history” is “too cynical.” He went on to explain that he believes that a crime does not have to be an impeachable offense, and by the same token, an impeachable offense does not have to be a crime. Nadler set the bar higher, stating that “an impeachment is a defense of the Constitution, and defense of the Republic against a President who would… upset the separation of powers or threaten liberty… [condone] any conduct that would upset the structure and function of government.” Nadler used this logic to defend President Clinton against his impeachment proceedings, stating that Clinton’s perjury concerning a “private sexual affair” was not an impeachable offense because it did not “impact structure of government,” although it was a crime. Applying this to the current President, Nadler stated that if President Trump hypothetically “committed perjury about some real estate deal in Manhattan”, it would be a crime but not impeachable.
However, Nadler unequivocally voiced his view that there is “ample evidence for a dozen different counts of impeachment against the President in plain sight.” To begin, he cited the fact that Article III of Impeachment against Richard Nixon was that he defied Congressional subpoenas, while “President Trump has not only defied all Congressional subpoenas and ordered all of his people to defy Congressional subpoenas, he stated ‘We’re gonna defy all Congressional subpoenas,’ he was stupid enough to say that out loud! That is most certainly impeachable.” Furthermore, Nadler noted another possible road to impeachment for the current President by stating that “The framers made clear anything you do before you’re President is not impeachable except for one thing: if you gain your office through corruption, in other words, you try to rig the election.”
“You don’t want to tear the country apart. So you shouldn’t do impeachment if the result of it is going to be that for the next thirty years, half of the country is going to accuse the other half ‘We won the election, you stole it from us.'”– Congressman Jerry Nadler
In response to the question of why impeachment is not happening at the moment, Nadler noted that although impeachment should be a defense of the Constitution in theory, it is still a “political act, not a judicial act” and that “you must have the American people on your side.” He cited this belief as the reason for him calling in witnesses and holding hearings in the Judiciary Committee, so that the picture can become clearer not only for members of the Committee but for the American people. Nadler also warned, “You don’t want to tear the country apart. So you shouldn’t do impeachment if the result of it is going to be that for the next thirty years, half of the country is going to accuse the other half ‘We won the election, you stole it from us.’” He elaborated that this is a tough line to walk, because he believes that they would need “such evidence and such dire leads, [that] by the end of the inquiry you will be able to persuade at least some fraction of people who voted for Trump that you have to impeach.” Further diving into political ramifications of impeachment, Nadler noted that even if they make it as far as the House of Representatives voting for impeachment, it is then up to the Senate, of which two thirds must vote in favor of impeachment in order to remove the President from office. Nadler commented that “The Republicans at this point are like cultists… the head of the cult can do no wrong,” further adding that if that environment in the GOP does not change, then Nadler sees a great loss in the prospect that Trump could get impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate, and then claim to the American people that this means he did nothing wrong, and further, then what the President Trump is doing gets “really normalized,” destroying the original intent of impeachment.
The conversation then shifted into concerns raised by Beacon students about how the intensified gaze and analysis of the media impacts Nadler’s political maneuverings in regard to his work as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Nadler noted that “Other than the occasional ‘Gee, that’s a good idea. I didn’t think of that,” you know there’s always a market for good ideas, [the media] in a general sense helps set political climate… indirectly.” Mr. Feder then connected this to how his history students have been intrigued by the question of whether legislators throughout political history should be more guided in their work by their own conscience or what their constituents want. When asked about which one should be weighed more heavily, Nadler slightly grinned and stated “Hopefully there isn’t too much divergence… and I’ve been very lucky in that my district and I have been pretty in sync for a long time.” Nadler, representing New York’s 10th district, which the Cook Partisan Voting Index rates as D+26, is in a position as a liberal Democrat where he does not have to compromise too much between his own judgments and the views of his constituents. As such, Nadler believes that the decision depends on the importance of the judgment, and that he weighs his own conscience more heavily than usual if the moral stakes of his vote are high. “Ultimately, you have to live with yourself,” he said, citing the examples of him voting against The PATRIOT Act of 2001 and for The 2015 Iran Nuclear deal. In the case of the Iran Deal, he received heavy opposition from “almost all the Jewish organizations” in his district and many other constituents, but he supported it anyway, because he believed that the Iran Deal would be able to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapons. Here, Nadler found that his conscience weighed heavily on the fact that he would not have been able to live with his vote if it increased the odds of another nuclear arsenal to form and therefore increase the odds of nuclear conflict. He also noted that after he was able to explain and justify these decisions to his constituents, he did not have to suffer electoral consequences and was easily re-elected.
Nadler had to leave early to participate in a Democrat leadership conference call regarding Mueller’s statement. To further reflect the urgency of the matter at hand, a member of his team interrupted Nadler speaking a few times to show him some information on a phone, which Nadler would read and then whisper a response, before continuing. This was truly seeing Congressional leadership at work during a turbulent time in history, and we were all privileged to bear witness to it.
Then, after school, Congressman Max Rose of Staten Island addressed students in the library. Rose was invited by Student Government and the Women in Politics club. Rose was all smiles as he was offered Beacon-branded reusable cups. While Rose and Nadler share the same side of the aisle, their respective entries into politics could hardly be more different. Rose, currently the youngest male member of the House of Representatives, was elected in the 2018 midterm elections, defeating Republican incumbent Dan Donovan. He is a decorated veteran of the US Army, with such awards as the Purple Heart and the Bronze star medal, and was wounded when his vehicle hit an IED in Afghanistan. After his active service ended in 2013, he was the Director of Public Engagement for Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson and then later served as Chief of Staff at Brightpoint Health, a nonprofit operator of medical clinics in Staten Island and elsewhere in New York City. He commented on his road from there to elected office, saying “it’s fascinating because a year ago, I was technically unemployed… I proposed to my wife and then quit my job… every woman’s dream!” He emphasized how all the “so-called experts” said that his race was impossible for him to win and that it was a waste of time and money. He says there has to be a distinction between a district that is “Republican-leaning or somewhere that has a legacy of bad democratic candidates at the Congressional level,” and believes that his district is the latter. Even in the year of the Blue Wave, the race wasn’t even ranked in the Top 50 competitive in the country, according to Rose. But by starting with family and friends, expanding his base from there and knocking on around 740,000 doors, he was able to win in a district that he proudly mentions Trump won by a more significant percentage margin in 2016 than he won the state of Texas.
From this historic victory, Rose emphasized to Beacon students that “the policies are gonna change, the debates are gonna change, the issues are gonna change, [so] if there’s anything you take away from this though, please do not let anyone tell you to wait your turn, especially when it comes to politics.” He struck down the notion that politics is run by key donors and political bosses, boldly stating “we have never had a more egalitarian political system in the history of this country, and it’s incumbent upon all of you to seize that opportunity.” Also, with regard to the involvement of young people in politics, he noted that his campaign did not have a position of a youth outreach organizer of anything of that sort because it’s “patronizing,” going on to say that youth voters care about the same issues that others do but have the insight to see issues within the political system itself, even in his own party. He takes issue with Democratic candidates who do not take the components of gaining trust and promoting tangible results into their races, and fail to show voters how government can make their lives better. Rose calls the lack of faith in government the “greatest crisis that we face today,” because without it, absolutely nothing will get done.
Rose made sure to give Beacon students a view of what politics really looks like. Jokingly, he said that real politics is nothing like the show “West Wing”, and instead consists of shaking a lot of hands, going to people where they are, finding out what their concerns are and seeking to earn their trust. He completely dismisses the idea that campaigns are run on singular issues, saying “as if it was that easy… as if I could just mix up a little cocktail of healthcare, infrastructure, this and that and win an election. It doesn’t work that way and nor should it, because the political process is one gigantic trust-building exercise because we have no idea what problems we’re actually gonna face down the road.” Instead, he says the political process should be concerned with electing people on “both sides of the aisle who are going to put the country first and who are going to have the right values and morals. That’s what this is all about.” After telling a brief anecdote about meeting a bartender from Staten Island who told him she didn’t like Max Rose, clearly not recognizing him, he said something dawned on him after leaving that bar with his “ego in tatters”, that he is represents that woman and her family just as much as he represents those of his most ardent supporters. Through this, he realized the importance of delivering results for his constituents and stopping the constant wheel of running a campaign and smearing opponents. Indeed, he finished by saying “The American people are unbelievably united… this is a tough thing to do but for the purposes of this conversation we should, if you put immigration aside… Donald Trump co-opted a Democratic agenda, speaking about infrastructure, lowering healthcare costs, universal healthcare coverage, draining the swamp, ending our forever wars, protecting medicare and social security, that’s what Democrats talk about! In 2018 Democrats took back the House talking about exactly those seven things… The American people have been consistently for more than a decade voting for those seven things and voting for change, and they still haven’t gotten them. So really the dichotomy that we face today is between the American people and an entrenched class of folks who do not want to get things done… and that’s what your responsibility is coming up to help fix.”
On a lighter note, after a tough round of questions from students ranging from his belief in capitalism to solve issues of inequality to how to fix the current state of politics, he joked that “Okay, I am very happy to be done with you guys and on to Chris Hayes, he’ll give me less of a hard time!”
For Beacon students, having both Nadler and Rose in the same day gave a great image of the diversity of seniority and opinion in the Democratic Party. While Nadler, considerably more senior than Rose, is concerned with impeachment, which is reasonable, Rose paces much more value on making government tangible for people. For many who are interested in government, Nadler and Rose represented the dichotomy of the roles of the House of Representatives in both legislation and oversight. Indeed, for the remainder of the Trump Administration and beyond, we must stay informed on how the chambers of Congress and branches of government work so that we may influence good policymaking and a government that works for the betterment of its citizens.
“We have never had a more egalitarian political system in the history of this country, and it’s incumbent upon all of you to seize that opportunity.”– Congressman Max Rose