Jerrold Nadler is a congressman who has represented neighborhoods on Manhattan’s West Side and parts of Brooklyn in New York’s 10th District since 1992.
This interview with Mr. Nadler was conducted by the editorial board of The New York Times on July 26.
Read the board’s endorsement of Mr. Nadler for the Democratic congressional primary for New York’s 12th District here.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Congressman, I understand that you have to reject the premise of this question. So please excuse me in advance. But I hope we could start by talking about what you think you’d be able to accomplish in a Republican-controlled Congress, and is there one big idea that you would pursue on a bipartisan basis?
Well, yeah. Remember, I was ranking member of the Judiciary Committee before I was chairman, so we’ve gone through this. I think we could accomplish some antitrust stuff. [Inaudible] and I are working well on that. We discussed the tech antitrust deals that we reported out a few months ago, we got very — we got bipartisan support to it. That would be the most obvious thing.
Mara Gay: So inflation is hitting very hard across the country, obviously. But especially in New York, where the cost of living is already very high, especially in housing. What would you do to ease that burden for your constituents?
Well, first of all, inflation is not just a New York problem. It’s not just an American problem, it’s a worldwide problem. Probably caused to a large extent by the dislocations due to the pandemic and the resulting problems to supply chains and [inaudible].
The best thing we can do on the national level is to sharply raise taxes. Raise taxes on very rich people, that would cool down the demand side, which would have an impact on inflation. In New York, obviously, the housing is a big crisis. We have to build more housing. There’s no question.
Mara Gay: What can you do as a member of Congress to do that?
Well, we have to fund it. Nydia Velázquez and I two years ago introduced the bill for — to increase funding for NYCHA by — well, not for NYCHA, for public housing. NYCHA is the majority of public housing in the country. So, in effect, for NYCHA, by $72 billion.
[Representatives Velázquez and Nadler introduced a bill in 2019 seeking to allocate $70 billion for public housing capital repairs and upgrades and $32 billion for the New York City Housing Authority.]
There’s additional money to the Build Back Better bill, which, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to pass. But we will be if a Democratic Senate — we’ll pass that.
And we just have to fund housing a lot more. And we have to allow the construction of housing by removing a lot of the restrictions on density housing. The Urban Renewal Corporation — it always changes names, the Urban Development Corporation — has that authority to remove local zoning. So use it for other purposes as you use it for this.
Jyoti Thottam: What do you think the Democrats should do to secure voting rights and, more broadly, protect democracy?
Well, as you know, I’ve been leading the fight on that. Voting rights is — the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore — and in fact would restore Section 5 preclearance underneath the Voting Rights Act, and would undo a lot of what the Supreme Court has done in narrowing down Section 2. So we restore the Voting Rights Act through Section 2.
Section 2 is of limited use because they play Whac-a-Mole. That’s a terrible bill. We’re suing the court. Takes three years to get rid of it and they do another one. That’s why Section 5 is so important for preclearance.
And that’s why I applaud the passage of that bill placed in the Judiciary Committee. And on the floor, we passed in the House. We cannot pass it in the Senate. And, again, we need two more Democratic senators.
Patrick Healy: Do you think —
That’s the answer for a lot of things. We need two more Democratic senators.
Patrick Healy: Do you think Democratic elected officials are out of step with voters on immigration, on L.G.B.T.Q. rights, on any important issue of the day?
Well, we’re obviously out of step with half the voters, roughly. But I think those half of the voters — this country is a very polarized country. Almost half the voters — I hope they’re almost half and not half — are impervious. They live in a different world. They get all their information from Fox News and Newsmax.
They think that the crime is terrible in these Democratic-led cities, where, in fact, it’s not higher than in rural areas. They think that Antifa burned up half our cities. They live in a different world.
Patrick Healy: What about Democratic voters?
Democratic voters do not live in that world. I think Democratic voters are ready for real change. And they’re showing people, I think, people have voted for systemic change. That’s why we’ve had — the Democratic Party is a broad coalition. If you were in Europe, it would be five political parties.
But that’s truly the American political system generally. The Electoral College system forces everybody into two parties. And we need, frankly, a center-left party, the Democrats, a center-right party, the Republicans.
Unfortunately, the Republicans are not a center-right party these days. They’re more like a cult group. But Democratic voters have supported very substantial steps. They’ve supported all our voting rights legislation. They supported our gay rights legislation, our L.G.B.T.Q. legislation. They supported our women’s legislation.
So Democratic voters, with coaxing, we can bring them on what we need.
Eleanor Randolph: Hi. So these are yes-or-no questions. And we’d appreciate it if you’d just limit the answer to either yes or no, which, I know it’s hard. Do you support expanding the Supreme Court?
Yes, it’s my bill.
Eleanor Randolph: Do you support ending the filibuster?
Eleanor Randolph: Should there be a term limit for members of Congress?
Eleanor Randolph: How about an age limit?
Eleanor Randolph: And should President Biden run for a second term?
That I can’t give a yes or no answer. I’ll simply say to that, I think the interests of the Democratic Party and the country are best served by waiting till after the midterms before we begin discussing that.
Eleanor Randolph: OK.
Alex Kingsbury: I’d like to ask about Ukraine. And I’m wondering if there should be an upper limit on the amount of tax dollars that we spend on the war in Ukraine. And how do you talk to your constituents about the fact that we’re spending billions of dollars on a war we’re not officially a party to, and that money isn’t going to, say, projects in your district?
I don’t think there should be an upper limit. The Russians have broken the barrier, really, imposed by World War II. You just don’t invade another country for territorial acquisition. That’s the foundation of the world order.
And if they can get away with that, you’ll have chaos and lots more wars. If this country were attacked, we would spend far, far more than we’re spending on Ukraine now. And we can afford to spend more on Ukraine. We have to spend whatever it takes because they’re fighting our battle for us.
And the country can afford it. This country has — we can afford that. And we can afford much greater social services simply by increasing taxes on the rich, which would also help with inflation, as I said before.
Nick Fox: Given the continued opposition to climate action by the Republican Party and the Supreme Court, what can Democrats do to move us forward on that?
Well, the president’s taken a number of actions within his jurisdiction. That’s what he can do. And what Congress can do is we can check that — again, we need two more votes. But we can pass very strong legislation on gas emissions. We could mandate the very, very quick convergence to electric cars.
We can mandate that there are no new coal-fired plants built. We could mandate the conversion of those coal-fired plants to green plants, rapidly. And in fact, it’s cheaper today to build and operate a renewable plant than it is a coal plant. We can do that if we have a few more votes.
Mara Gay: What further action can Congress take on gun violence at this point? Let me guess. We need two more votes.
Well, I led the passage in the Judiciary Committee and in the House of the Save Our Kids Act, which is an amalgamation of seven bills that — with the passage of — we’ve seen them pass the red flag law. We can pass those.
[The Protecting Our Kids Act passed the House in June.]
We are taking up an assault weapons ban, which is my bill. We passed that out of committee, we should be taking that up on the floor this week.
Ditto for a bill to repeal the liability exemption for gun manufacturers. That was imposed by the Republicans back in 2005. We passed that out of committee. We should be taking that up on the floor this week.
Now, most of those won’t go through Senate. Get us two more votes and they will. But I’ll say this. We did pass into law Senator Murphy’s bill. And I’ll use, just for the purposes of illustration — [inaudible] these figures. I’m just making them up. But if our bill could save 100,000 lives and the Murphy bill we passed could save 10,000 lives, I’ll take — I’ll take the 10,000 and I’ll continue to fight for the 100,000.
Mara Gay: And what about on abortion rights? Anything more that can be done?
Yeah. We can — there are a number of things that can be done. Again, we can pass and we should pass the bill to codify abortion rights. I introduced the original version of that, the Freedom of Choice Act, about 10 or 12 years ago, because they didn’t trust the Supreme Court for the future.
[Mr. Nadler reintroduced the Freedom of Choice Act in 2006.]
It’s now the Women’s Health Act. It’s sponsored by Judy Chu. We passed it in the House. And the Senate is the problem. We can make sure that the pill method — mifepristone, et cetera — is legal. We can mandate that.
I think we could probably tell the post office not to adhere to any bans in delivery by … states. We’re passing a bill to guarantee the right of free passage from state to state. But, frankly, I think the Constitution mandates that anywhere [inaudible]. We’re passing a bill on that.
And let me tell you my fear. My fear is far worse than this. If you look at the logic of the Supreme Court’s decision — and [Samuel] Alito said that, in differentiating himself from [Clarence] Thomas — Thomas was basically saying that the logic of substantive due process should endanger Obergefell and Lawrence — that is to say, gay marriage and, essentially, sodomy. And he didn’t say Loving, but … it could apply there, too.
But even Roberts, his concurring opinion when he said, no, no, we don’t have to go that far, we’re just deciding abortion for now. He said that abortion was different because the fetus is a person.
[In his majority opinion, Justice Alito argues that the constitutional rights recognized in Obergefell v. Hodges, Lawrence v. Texas and other cases aren’t threatened because they don’t involve destroying a fetus.]
Follow that logic. If a fetus is a person, the 14th Amendment guarantees any person life, liberty or — says you can’t deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law. My fear is that within the next — I don’t know how many years — but at some point in the next few years, the Supreme Court is going to decide just that. That a fetus is a person you can’t deprive of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
And therefore abortion is unconstitutional without any exceptions as a matter of constitutional law. And Congress can’t do anything about that, which is one reason that Senator Markey and I and two other colleagues of mine in the House proposed to expand the Supreme Court about a year ago, because that is the only answer. We’ve got to get rid of the filibuster. We’ve got to expand the Supreme Court.
Kathleen Kingsbury: What should Congress do to address the increasing threat of domestic terrorism? We’ve seen some horrific incidents over the past few months.
We passed the — I held hearings — I directed hearings in the Judiciary Committee, I think it was last year, to expose the threat of domestic terrorism, to show that 95 percent of the domestic terrorism comes from right-wing, racist groups and not from Antifa or other such nonsense. We held those hearings. And we passed the domestic terrorism bill. Again, in the House.
Mara Gay: OK. So we have a lightning round question for you.
Mara Gay: So the first question is, how does Plan B work?
By Plan B, you mean the medical —
Mara Gay: The morning-after pill.
The morning-after pill. You take one pill. And I think a few days later, you take a second pill. [Inaudible.]
Mara Gay: Not quite. But I’m just wondering if you could tell us, medically speaking, if you know how Plan B works. What you were talking about, I believe, is referring to medication abortion.
I think it’s designed to prevent the implantation.
Mara Gay: That’s close. It delays or prevents ovulation.
Mara Gay: Do you own a gun?
Mara Gay: Have you ever fired a gun?
Mara Gay: In what context?
When I was a kid, we lived on a farm, chicken farm in Jersey. And my father had — I don’t remember if it was a shotgun or a gun or a rifle — which he used to shoot the fox that was preying on the chickens. And once or twice, he let me — with him standing there — fire the gun. I was maybe 8, 9 years old.
[A phone rings.]
Mara Gay: What is the —
Mara Gay: Oh, sure.
Let me get that. Sorry.
Mara Gay: What’s the average age —
[The phone continues ringing.]
Mara Gay: What’s the average age of a member of Congress?
I don’t know.
Mara Gay: Fifty-eight.
Mara Gay: What about the Senate?
If congress is 58, the average age of the Senate is probably somewhat higher — 65.
Mara Gay: Sixty-four. Close. Please name a member of Congress, dead or living, whom you most admire and would potentially emulate yourself after if re-elected.
Mara Gay: What is your favorite restaurant in your district?
[The phone rings again.]
My favorite restaurant is Cafe Arte.
Mara Gay: Thank you.
I’m not going to take the call. I’m just trying to —
Mara Gay: If you hit the right side, yeah.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Congressman, you were first elected to Congress 30 years ago. And you chair the Judiciary Committee. How would you use your seniority to help residents in your district going forward? In your next term.
Well, I will use the seniority going forward exactly as you said. I would say that seniority gives you clout. And it has enabled me to bring a lot more transportation and other infrastructure projects to the district. I was the senior northeast representative on the T. & I., the Transportation Infrastructure Committee, for many years.
And so I used the seniority to be able to get [inaudible] every five years — funding for the Second Avenue subway, funding for gateway, funding for the rail freight tunnel, which I’ve [inaudible] for many years. I’ve funded all kinds of transportation projects. And seniority helps. Helps me go to other committee chairs and get all kinds of other things.
Jyoti Thottam: So, again, just in your role on the Judiciary Committee, I want to ask you about Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, who our paper has reported has urged lawmakers in Arizona to overturn the 2020 election results. She’s been widely criticized for her communication with the White House during that period.
Jyoti Thottam: Why hasn’t the Judiciary Committee done more in its oversight role? Do you think there’s a conflict of interest there?
I certainly think there’s a conflict of interest there. We have been asked by the speaker to defer all such things to the Jan. 6 commission until they finish.
Jyoti Thottam: So you just — there’s nothing else that you can do.
There’s nothing else we can do until the Jan. 6 committee is finished, which we anticipated will be in September and apparently will.
Patrick Healy: How do you feel personally about the idea of impeachment for Justice Thomas?
I think it’s probably a good idea. I can’t say that for certain until we know more about what Ginni Thomas’s role was. She has agreed to testify at the Jan. 6 committee. And I think a lot more information will come out of that.
Patrick Healy: Could you tell us about an issue or position on which you’ve changed your mind?
Sure. I voted to repeal Glass-Steagall back in 1998. I think that was a terrible mistake. And I regretted it for a long time.
[Mr. Nadler voted in favor of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, which overturned much of the Glass-Steagall Act.]
Mara Gay: Congressman, could you talk —
I bought into the — excuse me.
Mara Gay: Sorry.
I bought into the deregulationary rhetoric of the Clinton administration. That was a mistake.
Jyoti Thottam: So, then, just related to antitrust — so now we’re at this position where you’re trying to get antitrust bills through the committee. But it’s not clear if they will actually go through.
Well, they’ve gone through the committee. They have considerable bipartisan support, surprisingly. And there’s considerable bipartisan support in the Senate. Senator Klobuchar is negotiating with Senator Grassley. They’ve gotten, I think, nine Republicans so far. If they get one more Republican, it will pass.
Kathleen Kingsbury: I want to follow up on something from earlier. But I think this will be a relatively quick question. You mentioned earlier that right-wing media has perpetuated the perception of crime being up in blue cities, yet we all live in New York City. And I think that it’s safe to say right now there is a perception that crime is up and that the city is less safe than it was, particularly before the pandemic.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Can you talk a little bit about what you think the city should be doing more of, and maybe if there are national solutions there?
Well, crime is up all over the country, in rural as well as city areas.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Right, OK.
And it’s no more uptick. It’s no more uptick. It’s not further up in —
Kathleen Kingsbury: Got it.
In city areas and rural areas. And that’s probably as a result of the pandemic, the social dislocations of the pandemic. And there’s not much we can do about the past. But I think there are a number of things we can do now.
No. 1, in no particular order — No. 1, we got to get the guns off the streets. And as you know, I’ve been the leader, one of the leaders on the anti-gun legislation. We just passed — well, I mentioned some legislation we passed this week, how we’re going to do the anti-assault-weapons ban on the floor. And this week, we’re going to do the bill to revoke the companies’ liability protections.
Secondly, in addition to guns, there is a whole social services — we’ve got to get more social services into cities, especially into areas of color, because that’s where a lot of the problem is. And those are some things you’ve got to do.
Nick Fox: How do you get the guns off the street?
Jyoti Thottam: Nick, Mara had a question she’s been waiting to ask.
Mara Gay: Thanks. I just want to make sure we talk about this campaign, which is quite unusual. Could you talk to us about your path to victory? And not only is it an unusual race, but one of your opponents, Carolyn Maloney, I believe has — a bigger portion of her current constituents happen to live in this new district. So how do you overcome that?
What has your campaign been like? How many doors are you knocking on? That kind of thing.
Well, first of all, Carolyn is saying that the 60 percent of the district is her own district. I don’t know whether she means by the population or acreage. When you look at the number of registered Democrats, it’s about even.
And when you look at the number of prime Democrats, which is to say people who voted in two of the last three primaries, it’s about 52 percent from the West Side. When you look at super primes, people who voted in three of the last three primaries, it’s about 53 percent or 54 percent from the West Side. And this primary being in the dog days of summer, the worst time you can hold a primary, it’s most likely to be the super primes who vote. So I think there’s an advantage there and a disadvantage.
Secondly, we are executing a fine program. We’ve got hundreds of volunteers out making thousands of phone calls a week, identifying people. Have a direct mail program to get — not a direct mail program, a program to incentivize people who are not going to be in town to get these absentee ballots.
We’ve gotten tremendous endorsements. I’ve got an endorsement from Senator Elizabeth Warren. I’ve got the endorsement of 1199 [S.E.I.U., a health care union], the Working Families Party, just about every elected official in my old district. So I think we’re in good shape.
Mara Gay: Thank you.
Nick Fox: I just wanted to follow up. When you said get the guns off the street, I was wondering how you’re going to do it.
Well, I wish we could do what Australia did. But it’s not in the cards. We’re just never going to do that.
Jyoti Thottam: You mean the buybacks?
Under penalty of criminal law, they did that. You get the guns off the street by seeking to do a number of things. You ban ghost guns, which our legislation has done. You ban ammunition clips greater than 15, so you can’t convert a weapon into a semiautomatic weapon. You ban bump stocks for the same reason. And you enforce it nationwide. Those are some of the ways of getting guns off the street.
Patrick Healy: Some New Yorkers may wonder what the biggest difference is between you and Congresswoman Maloney. Could you tell us from your point of view what you see is the biggest difference between the two of you?
Yeah. Well, let me start by saying that Carolyn and I have worked together for a long time on many things. We worked together on the Zadroga Act. We work together on getting, funding a lot of infrastructure projects, including the Second Avenue subway and others. And we’ve worked together for a long time.
Having said that, there are differences. There are some differences in our voting record. I’ll mention three. She voted for the war in Iraq. I voted against it.
She voted for the Patriot Act. I voted against it, even though 9/11 was in my district. And she voted against the Iran deal. I voted for it.
And I must say that voting for the Iran deal, I thought I was taking my political life in my hands because I watched as every single — remember, Netanyahu came and spoke against Iran. And I watched as every single Jewish organization in the country, one by one, excluding the most liberal, came out against it. And I watched as, one by one, every Jewish member of the tristate area came out against it.
And I was standing there alone. And I really thought I was going to take my political life in my hands. I thought I had to do the right thing because when the real test comes like that, why are you there otherwise? And I knew I’d have a primary as a result of it. I did have a primary as a result of it.
But I did what I thought I had to do. And I voted for it. And I published a 5,200-word essay, which really was the record of my thoughts. This argument [inaudible] by this argument. Because I was undecided initially.
I went through a decision process. And I put it on paper. You can read it if you want. It’s online. I don’t know why you would want to read at this point. But it was an essay explaining in great detail. Now, I used the opportunity to get some guarantees from the president in terms of Israeli-American relationships. But I would have voted for it even if I hadn’t gotten that.
I just used the opportunity. I would have voted for it in any event. I thought it was — ultimately, I had to do what you have to do.
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