Mondaire Jones has represented Rockland County and parts of Westchester County in New York’s 17th Congressional District since 2021.
This interview with Mr. Jones was conducted by the editorial board of The New York Times on July 25.
Read the board’s endorsements for the Democratic congressional primary for New York’s 10th District here.
Kathleen Kingsbury: We only have a short period of time, so I hope you don’t mind if I just jump in —
I don’t mind at all.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Most polls indicate that the Democrats are going to have a hard time holding on to Congress in the midterms. Can you talk a little bit about, if that scenario plays out, what you think could get done in a Republican-controlled Congress, but also maybe one idea that gets at the way you work in a bipartisan manner.
So of course, I don’t buy the idea that we’re going to lose the House or the Senate.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Of course.
In fact I think polling shows we’ve got a really good chance of keeping the Senate. But I would start from the perspective that I already have, which is that of someone who has been a change agent in an already gridlocked Washington.
Last fall, when few people thought we could get Build Back Better passed through the House, or the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed through the House and enacted into law, I brought progressives and our conservative Democratic colleagues and, yes, ultimately, a few Republicans — 13, to be precise — even voted for that Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Infrastructure is just one example of the kind of thing that we can do in a bipartisan way. And as someone who has been more focused than probably anyone else in Congress on democracy these days, I understand that we are in a very, very polarized environment. But there are other areas.
I think you’ll see this week, for example, once the Senate hopefully passes the CHIPS bill, you’ll see bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. I will vote for that bill.
[The Senate passed the CHIPS and Science Act on July 27, after this interview was done, and President Biden signed it into law on Aug. 9.]
Kathleen Kingsbury: OK.
Mara Gay: OK, great. Thanks. So inflation is hitting Americans hard, but especially in New York, where the cost of living, particularly housing, is soaring. What would you do to ease those concerns for voters in the district, particularly on housing, as a member of Congress?
Absolutely. So starting with the cost of housing, I recognize that when health care is very expensive in America, that means that people are less able to afford housing, and the cost of groceries, and yes, paying for the cost of gas at the pump. And so I want to start by just framing it in those terms, because they’re all inextricably linked.
Housing in particular — I support building as many more units as possible. Because when we expand our housing stock, the cost of housing will go down. And we’ve seen that happen sometimes. It’s sort of a first principle of economics, I guess.
It is also the case that we need to pass Build Back Better. I mean, we are talking about tens of billions of dollars for NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] in particular, and — you know, which is going to be felt in the district and places like Campos Plaza, where I visited, and Red Hook House — it’s the single, or the second largest, NYCHA housing development in all of New York City, and obviously the largest in the borough of Brooklyn.
We also, through Build Back Better, are going to create 300,000 additional Section 8 housing vouchers. That’s deeply personal for me, as someone who grew up in Section 8 housing, and who’s housing insecure. I’m also proud to co-sponsor a bill called the Homes for All Act.
It’s ambitious. It would create an additional $9.5 million in affordable housing units throughout the country. And I’m running to fight to bring as many of those units to Lower Manhattan and to Brooklyn.
[The Homes for All Act would invest $800 billion to build 8.5 million new public housing units, and $200 billion for 3.5 million permanent affordable housing projects.]
Jyoti Thottam: Thanks. So on democracy, which you mentioned, what do you think Democrats should be doing to protect democracy and secure voting rights?
I think they should pass a bill that I co-authored. And we did pass it through the House, where we do the lion’s share of the people’s work in Congress. It’s a bill called the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.
I’ve authored key provisions of that legislation, from the Right to Vote Act, which would finally enshrine the right to vote under federal statutory law — right now, it’s just been interpreted narrowly by an increasingly right-wing Supreme Court. It also contains my bill called the Inclusive Elections Act, which responds to a Supreme Court decision issued in July of last year, called Brnovich v. D.N.C., which guts the clear intent of Congress, the original meaning of Section 2, which we amended to further clarify, even in the early 1980s.
We also have to pick up, I would submit — and I think, as everyone understands — just two more Democratic senators. We came just two votes shy of strengthening our democracy through passing the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. We couldn’t get those two to support an exception to the filibuster, simply to save American democracy.
It’s an embarrassment. And if that were happening in any other country, we would look very unfavorably on that. That is what I think history will record, more than anything this year, how we responded to the threat of fascism, which is represented by the modern-day Republican Party.
Can I also say something else on democracy? And I know that there are plenty of other questions. The Supreme Court has been an accomplice this entire time. The wave of racist voter suppression that we are currently experiencing has been unleashed in decision after decision, starting with Shelby v. Holder in 2013.
That’s how you get state laws in places like Georgia and Arizona and Texas and Florida, long before it became popular. And certainly, my colleagues on the Democratic side scoffed at me. I introduced legislation to add four seats to the Supreme Court.
The size of the court has changed seven times before in our nation’s history. More recently, I have led the effort to limit the jurisdiction of the court to review certain statutes, whether it’s with the Women’s Health Protection Act, which is intended to codify Roe v. Wade, or a bill that I just introduced with [Representative]Jerry Nadler, called the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify the right to marry in this country, regardless of who you love.
Patrick Healy: Just to step back a bit, do you think the Democratic elected officials are out of step at all with Democratic voters on any issues that are urgent now, like immigration, like L.G.B.T.Q. issues, or even some language, like fascism and the Republican Party, that some Democrats may not —
I’ve got a long list. You’re talking to a guy who, as much as he does battle with Republicans and gets attacked on Tucker Carlson’s stupid show, I am engaged in argument after argument with my Democratic colleagues who, for the most part, do not fully appreciate the threats to our democracy in this moment, and who do not fully appreciate that we’ve got precious little time left before it is too late.
It is unconscionable to me — and this is not the only solution, but it is one that I think is very important — that only one additional Democratic House member, Bill Pascrell, from the state of New Jersey, signed on to my bill called the Judiciary Act of 2001 to expand the Supreme Court of the United States. It is a real challenge within the House, as also evidenced by when we were trying to pass H.R. 1.
[The Judiciary Act of 2021 has 59 Democratic co-sponsors in the House, including Representatives Pascrell, James McGovern and Madeleine Dean, all of whom have signed on since the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade. Ms. Dean became a co-sponsor on Aug. 8, after this interview took place.]
You had half of the Congressional Black Caucus saying they weren’t going to support it, because they didn’t agree with ending partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts. I whipped votes like mad. And I worked closely with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi to make sure we passed H.R. 1. Eventually, it evolved into the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.
Patrick Healy: So you think in that sort of framework that the voters are more, in some ways, more progressive than where Democratic elected officials are now —
I don’t think it’s a progressive position to say we have to reform the filibuster to save American democracy. On another issue — oh, sorry.
Jyoti Thottam: Yeah, I think we’re going to — yeah, we have a lot of questions.
Jyoti Thottam: OK, Eleanor has some questions.
Eleanor Randolph: So Congressman, these are yes-or-no questions, but I think you’ve already answered a couple of them. One, do you support expanding the Supreme Court? I think the answer to that is obviously yes.
I do, yeah.
Eleanor Randolph: Do you support ending the filibuster?
Eleanor Randolph: I thought so. Now, should there be term limits for members of Congress?
Yes, there should be.
Eleanor Randolph: How about an age limit?
Eleanor Randolph: And should Joe Biden run for a second term?
Joe Biden should do what he thinks he should do in the year 2024. And I very much look forward to seeing if anyone else is going to run. But I’ve got to tell you, I realize that a lot of folks, including myself, have a number, or a litany, of criticisms of the president, but he’s done some really good things, and I’m really proud that he’s my president, and that he’s our president.
Eleanor Randolph: So is that a yes or a no?
Should he run? I think — I think I can’t answer that question, because I don’t know what his situation is going to be in the year 2024. And I don’t know what the state of the world will be. And I certainly hope we still have a democracy in 2024. I’m fighting like hell to make sure that happens.
Nick Fox: Do you want him to run right now?
I’m very focused on what happens in 2022. And I think it has been to the detriment of the work that we still have to do in Congress this year that so much attention has been on the year 2024.
Jyoti Thottam: OK. Alex?
Alex Kingsbury: You’ve already noted some of the needs we have here at home for building various things, and I’m wondering if you think we should still continue to spend billions of dollars to support the war in Ukraine. If so, what should the upper limit of that spending be, and should we attach conditions to the taxpayers’ money that’s going in?
Alex, it is in our strategic interest to continue to support the free people of Ukraine. I was the only House member to go on a congressional delegation with a bunch of senators a couple of months ago. And our allies, whether it is in Eastern Europe, in Western Europe, or in the Middle East, they want to see American leadership.
As a baseline strategic matter, we want to make sure that China doesn’t see what’s happening and thinks that it, too, can do the same, like it, too, for example, could go into Taiwan and invade Taiwan. China is an even bigger threat — China is an even bigger threat to the United States than Russia. And it will be far more difficult to impose economic sanctions on China, because its economy is larger, and it is inextricably bound up with economies elsewhere in the world.
So I think we have to send a message. I obviously do not support putting troops, American troops, on the ground in Ukraine. And we’ve not done that, and I’m proud that this president has not done that.
I don’t want to arbitrarily impose some upper limit on the kind of financial support that we should be providing Ukraine or our allies who are helping us in this effort. And I think doing so would be irresponsible, frankly. I will say I think we’re doing a heck of a lot already, whether it’s providing military equipment or sharing intelligence or training — training other or training with other troops from other countries. I’ve been to those military facilities, and I’ve seen the important work that we are doing abroad.
Jyoti Thottam: OK. Nick?
Nick Fox: Yeah, I was wondering what you thought Democrats could do about climate change in the face of continued opposition from Republicans and intransigence from the Supreme Court.
I am not giving up on passing some climate provisions in a scaled-down Build Back Better. Nick, you know that we had $555 billion in the version of Build Back Better that passed the House. I realize that Joe Manchin, on any given day, will say something negative about the prospects of passing climate action.
In the meantime, we should not be waiting on him. The president should be using his executive authority, including in the form of declaring a climate emergency, which would unlock federal resources. We also should not be granting additional oil and gas leases.
We’ve got existing leases, properties associated with which are not even being drilled right now. And, of course, this is an opportunity, both from a national security standpoint and from an economic standpoint, to make sure that we are transitioning to clean, renewable sources of energy.
Mara Gay: What further action can Congress take on guns?
So much more. We have to pass, over in the Senate, a bill that we passed through the House Judiciary Committee and through the House of Representatives, called the Protecting Our Kids Act. Among other things, it would enact universal background checks. It would raise the age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to 21 years old.
It would ban ghost guns. It would ban high-capacity magazines. Of course, the Judiciary Committee, on which I serve, just passed the first assault weapons ban in 30 years last week. We need to pass that through the House, and we need to send it to the Senate.
[On July 29, after this interview took place, the House passed an assault weapons ban.]
I’m under no illusion that the Senate is going to pass an assault weapons ban this year, but we need to get those people on the record. And we need to message that in this election.
Mara Gay: What about on abortion rights or L.G.B.T.Q. rights, both, if you don’t mind?
Whether it is the Women’s Health Protection Act, which we passed for the second time this year, or the Respect for Marriage Act, my bill with Jerry Nadler that we just passed in the House, we have to be responding to the threats posed by the far-right majority on the Supreme Court to fundamental rights.
And by the way, we need to go further. We need to pass a bill to codify the right to contraception — in fact, we did pass a bill to codify the right to contraception last week. Interracial marriage — I think we need to pass legislation to codify that, regardless of whether Justice [Clarence] Thomas gave us a heads-up on that particular case — Loving v. Virginia.
We have to make sure that we are responding legislatively. And it’s not just codifying this into law. It is understanding that this Supreme Court has gutted a Voting Rights Act that Congress reauthorized nearly unanimously in 2006.
And so it’s not enough to just pass laws. We have to restrain the power. We have to limit the power of the Supreme Court majority. It’s why my project has been not just court expansion, but to deprive the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to even review categories of cases.
Most of the cases that the Supreme Court adjudicates are cases for which it has jurisdiction that Congress has explicitly legislated. The Constitution is relatively narrow in the kinds of cases that it gives the Supreme Court. And I’m also really proud on this subject to have done one of the first cases of jurisdiction channeling successfully in the House.
In H.R. 1, I was able to get a provision that channeled all challenges to H.R. 1 to the district court in D.C., and then to the D.C. circuit, rather than allowing some judge in the Fifth Circuit to strike down H.R. 1. Obviously, we passed H.R. 1. in the House. We still need to do it in the Senate.
Kathleen Kingsbury: What should Congress do to address the increasing threat of domestic extremism or terrorism?
So in the House, we passed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which would provide additional resources to the F.B.I., D.H.S., and the Department of Justice. This is personal to me, as someone who is both Black and gay. I look at what happened in Buffalo, and it’s horrific.
I have currently — I’m representing a community in Monsey, where we saw an anti-Semitic hate crime committed. And so we have to make sure that we are responding in terms of providing resources to law enforcement to address the uptick in white-supremacist domestic terrorism.
I am acutely empathetic towards my A.A.P.I. brothers and sisters in Lower Manhattan and in Brooklyn who, as of late, had been bearing the brunt of white-supremacist domestic terrorism. And the same is true for our Jewish brothers and sisters, whether in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in this country, like in Texas.
Jyoti Thottam: OK. We’re going to go to the lightning round, little quiz. Mara, would you please?
Mara Gay: Yeah, thanks. How does Plan B work?
[chuckles] Plan B is — it is a pill that you take following intercourse to prevent a pregnancy.
Mara Gay: How does it work?
It … it is an oral medication that prevents … I think, um [chuckles]. It is an oral — that destroys an embryo.
Mara Gay: It prevents ovulation, or delays ovulation —
Ovulation — got it, got it.
Mara Gay: It’s OK. You’re in the hot seat. Do you own a gun?
I do not.
Mara Gay: Have you ever fired a gun?
I have not.
Mara Gay: What’s the average age of a member of Congress?
The average age of a member of Congress — I should know this as one of the younger — youngest members of Congress. I believe it’s in the late 50s. [Long pause.]
Kathleen Kingsbury: Choose one number in that category.
[Everyone laughs again.]
Mara Gay: 58. Very close. What about among senators?
Golly. Um … 68?
Mara Gay: 64. Please name a member of Congress, dead or living, who you most admire and would emulate, if re-elected to serve.
Mara Gay: What is your favorite restaurant in the new district?
So I’ve got a few because of their special meaning to me, but probably Yuca.
Eleanor Randolph: Well, speaking about your new district, Congressman, you lived outside New York City until you decided to run for Congress in this district, instead of running against Congressman Maloney. Why are you the right person to represent this district?
Voters in New York’s 10th Congressional District deserve a progressive champion with a track record of actually delivering results, and that’s what they want. I’m proud to be someone who was ranked the most legislatively active freshman member of Congress last year.
And to have, just days after getting elected in November 2020, to have been voted unanimously by my colleagues as their freshman representative to House Democratic leadership — as I mentioned earlier, at a time when few people thought we could get either the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or Build Back Better passed through the House, I was the person who bridged that divide. And we got that done.
I’m also really proud to have already delivered billions of dollars for New York City — for schools, health care and housing through helping to pass the American Rescue Plan. And this is at a time, of course, when the New York City Council just voted to cut New York City’s public school budget by hundreds of millions of dollars.
And by the way, as I fight now to represent this district, I’m also fighting to bring as many millions of those billions of dollars in infrastructure dollars to New York City to fund resiliency projects, like in Lower East Side along the East River Park, or to clean up the Gowanus Canal and to repair the B.Q.E., and of course, to make sure that environmental justice communities in Sunset Park and in Red Hook are climate-resilient. And we can do that while creating millions of good-paying jobs, including thousands right here in Lower Manhattan and in Brooklyn. When I say right here, I mean, obviously, in New York’s 10th Congressional District.
I’m also really proud, from a legislative perspective, to be leading the charge to defend our democracy and to protect the right to vote. Because I understand that if we don’t have a true multiracial democracy in this country, if we don’t have true representative government, then the work that I am doing to make historic investments in housing, to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drugs and to enact humane immigration policy — none of that stuff is possible.
Kathleen Kingsbury: In 2020, you said you supported the movement to defund the police. I’m curious if you still hold that view. And if so, what do you say to voters who are concerned about rising crime right now?
It’s a terrible slogan. But the premise of making sure that we have smart policing that keeps people safe, but that doesn’t brutalize Black and brown communities — that still holds today. That’s still something that I very much support.
You know, my dad — he’s a tough guy. He grew up in the South Bronx. He lives in the Heights. I’ve never heard him talk about crime the way he talks about crime right now, and I realize that it’s not nearly as bad as you’ll hear on Tucker Carlson. It’s not anything like what we had in the early 1990s.
But New Yorkers deserve to feel and to actually be safe. That means not being reactionary, but rather addressing the drivers of crime that we are seeing in this city. It means investing to make sure that we have high-quality schools for every public school student in this city, making sure that every kid has a roof over their head, rather than the fact that currently exists — 110,000 public school students homeless. It’s an abomination. It’s not a civilized society.
[During the last school year more than 101,000 public school students lack permanent housing, according to 2021 city data.]
Jyoti Thottam: So I know you’ve talked about your legislative record already, so — but can you just choose one — one bill or one thing that you think is your greatest accomplishment in Congress?
Bringing billions of dollars to New York City under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. That took bringing progressives and our conservative Democratic colleagues together in a way that was not going to happen until I got involved with a couple of my other colleagues.
Mara Gay: What is your pathway to victory in this very crowded race? Talk about the neighborhoods.
I’m really proud to be running a truly grass-roots campaign. I mentioned that this is a district that wants and deserves a progressive champion. I’m proud to be knocking on doors. And my team and I, we’re knocking tens of thousands of doors in Lower Manhattan and in Brooklyn.
We are reaching people on television and digitally. We are phone banking, and we are texting. We are having — and by “we,” I mean myself — dozens of meet-and-greets. I was just in Park Slope yesterday for yet another meet-and-greet.
And folks are responding to the work that I’ve been doing in Congress. They’re not focused on how long I’ve lived in the district, versus how long other candidates have. They want to know what I’m delivering and what I’m fighting for, and whether I understand what is at stake in this election.
And I’m really proud of that. And I realize that I don’t have as much money as one of my other opponents, who was up on broadcast with $1 million last week. But I’ve faced longer odds before.
The last time I met with this editorial board, you took a chance on a guy who grew up poor, Black and closeted, and who never imagined that someone like him could run for Congress, let alone get elected. And I have hit the ground running.
Patrick Healy: We’re almost out of time. Two questions — one, a quick follow-up on the Respect for Marriage vote recently. Was there a Republican whose mind you changed during the course of that, and who you spoke to — not for bragging rights, but just how you talk to your Republican colleagues.
I like to think that a conversation that I had with a colleague from Long Island around the Equality Act helped get him a year later to a point where he was willing to support the Respect for Marriage Act. Now, I can’t tell you of a recent conversation that I had with a Republican to get them to support this legislation.
Patrick Healy: And then, you’re a progressive, but the Working Families Party has endorsed a rival of yours, Assemblywoman [Yuh-Line] Niou. What should voters make of that?
Voters should know that most people abstained or voted no endorsement in that vote, and that the abstentions didn’t count. And so as a result, you had less than a real majority voting. Voters should also know that I’ve been endorsed [in a previous election] by the Working Families Party, and that I’ve been a Working Families Party champion in Congress.
Last August, when most of Congress went home on recess, I stayed behind, and I rallied alongside A.O.C. and Cori Bush, and we got the White House to reverse its position on the C.D.C.’s national eviction moratorium. And the president extended that eviction moratorium after he said he didn’t have the ability to do so.
And I was wearing my Working Families Party shirt in a photo that went viral. And when I completed the questionnaire, I was answering questions about whether I would support legislation that I myself have introduced — whether it’s the Judiciary Act or something else.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Why did you choose to move into District 10, as opposed to, you know, 12?
Thank you for that. So we also had a Republican-acting Supreme Court judge adopt what is a Republican gerrymander in New York City. And that was intended to reduce the number of Democrats in New York’s delegation and, I believe, the number of Black progressives or progressives of color in New York’s congressional delegation.
I had a choice. My residents have been drawn into a district where Jamaal Bowman announced his candidacy. My alternative was to run against a guy whose primary job responsibility is to help us keep our majority and defeat fascism in America.
I didn’t want to run against a Black progressive who’s one of the few people who actually gets what’s at stake in this moment, or the guy whose job responsibility it is to help us defeat fascism. And so I ran to represent a district that means a lot to me, because when I was growing up closeted, it was the time I spent in the Village, seeing queer people, including queer people of color, live authentically, that helped me summon the courage to live my own authentic life and to make that history back in 2020 that people like to talk about.
I’ve also worked in this district, and I have been a champion for the communities that comprise this district, whether it is getting billions of dollars for New York City infrastructure, or delivering billions for New York City schools, health care and housing, or leading the fight to end gun violence, to the point where Tucker Carlson has been attacking me on his show, and I’m getting death threats from all across the country.
I am proud to also have been fighting in the form of getting Build Back Better passed through the House for tens of billions of dollars in investments in NYCHA, and, as I mentioned, I think, earlier, to create hundreds of thousands of additional Section 8 housing vouchers. I’ve been doing the work. And when I talk to people on the ground, they’re appreciative of that.
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