Tag Archives: Congressman Tom Suozzi

Long Island Activists Mobilize to Save Obamacare, Push for Single Payer in NYS

Ron Widelec of Long Island Activists and Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-LI 3) at a packed rally to save Obamacare and support universal health care, Huntington, Long Island, NY © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Hundreds rallied at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington (UUFH), under the aegis of Long Island Activists, to strategize how to save Obamacare from Republicans who are moving swiftly to repeal it and replace it with something that is far more costly, would knock tens of millions off health insurance, would raise taxes for middle class and working Americans, and essentially be more costly for less care. But the Long Islanders went an extra step: to demand single-payer – that is, Medicare for All – beginning with New York State.

The rally was one of 150 across the country last weekend with some coordination of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution group.

The activists jammed a main room, overflowed the overflow room, and were lined up outside, producing a kind of echo-effect to cheers and boos inside the hall.

Long Island Activists rally for universal health care, Huntington, Long Island, Feb. 25, 2017.

“Something feels wrong. Public policy in no way reflects public opinion,” said Ron Widelec, a member of the steering committee of Long Island Activists (LongIslandActivists.org).

“We live in the richest country in history, yet 20 million go without health insurance, tens of millions have insurance but can’t afford to use because the deductibles so high – choosing between feeding children or going to a doctor when not feeling well. These are unacceptable choices in a country this wealthy…

“These are life-or-death situations. That’s why people are out here. It turns out, if you try to take away people’s health care, get angry and show up. Tens of thousands die without access to health care, or can’t afford access so that is the same as not having access. People die if they can’t afford an Epipen.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was not perfect because it was designed to appease conservatives. Indeed, the framework came out of the right-wing think tank, The Heritage Foundation, and was first implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Elements such as a public option or a Medicare buy-in were omitted in order to satisfy so-called moderate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, who nonetheless voted against the ACA.

“Many members of Congress are dedicated to the idea they can make the situation even worse . Our position is clear: health care is a human right,” he declared to boisterous cheers.

“While no one thinks ACA perfect, it did things we need to fight for,” Widelec said. “ACA didn’t go far enough – a human right doesn’t have co-pays or deductibles.

“On the federal level, there is very little we can do with Congress. We know Republicans want to overthrow ACA… We have to fight to protect Obamacare and put pressure even on those too cowardly to hold town halls [like Long Island Congressmen Peter King and Lee Zeldin].

Long Island Activists rally for universal health care, Huntington, Long Island © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But while progressives all along wanted universal health care – that is, single-payer or what is termed Medicare for All – the most immediate goal is to preserve the key elements of Obamacare: covering young people on their parents’ plan until age 26; pre-existing conditions; no lifetime caps; a cap of no more than 20% of the premium going for non-patient spending , and minimal standards for what insurance policies cover – which turns out can only be offered if there is a mandate so that healthy people purchase insurance; otherwise, deductibles or copays or premiums are so high, they are unaffordable.

“It’s not true that the Republicans don’t have a plan,” warned Doreen DiLeonardo, who hosts a progressive radio show. Indeed, the plan that was exposed by Politico is essentially the 2015 bill introduced by then Congressman Tom Price, now the Secretary of Health & Human Services.

According to Politico, the Republican plan would rescind the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Instead of subsidies to help people with low incomes afford health insurance, it would give tax credits based on age rather than income. That means that multi-millionaire Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon-Mobil and now Trump’s Secretary of State would get a bigger tax credit than the 30-year old who works at Starbucks. In any case, tax credits mainly benefit wealthier people. Meanwhile, the other big Republican idea is for Health Savings Accounts, which once again, benefit wealthier people, while those who are barely affording food and rent will be unable to stash away money in untaxed accounts. (See: Exclusive: Leaked GOP Obamacare replacement shrinks subsidies, Medicaid expansion)

What Democrats point to, though, are provisions that would wind up taxing middle class and working class families for the health insurance benefits they get from their employers, while at the same time ending taxes on the wealthiest Americans that funded the Obamacare subsidies.  

“If it were such a good plan, they wouldn’t be hiding it,” DiLeonardo said.

This plan is moving swiftly, she warned.

Assemblyman Charles Lavine is a sponsor of a single-payer health plan in the New York State legislature © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Republicans’ “destructive, nihilistic policy will ruin the ACA,” Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who has sponsored universal health care in the State Assembly, said. “They attempted to ruin it from beginning, based on lies. Each and every one here today, superheroesque, survivors of the ‘massacre at Bowling Green’, we know 20-30 million Americans would lose insurance, we know the tragedy that will flow from that – we will return to days preexisting conditions rob people of access to health care. You’re on your own. Lifetime caps – if someone had serious condition, cut off, no more insurance., – when that happens we all pay one way or another for their treatment. Women will pay more for identical coverage, young adults up to 26 no longer on parents’ coverage, you’re on your own.

“We know the lies being told. Trump said ACA robbed people of their insurance. We know that is just another lie. More than 20 million were able to get insured because of ACA, we now have a record low percentage of uninsured people, 10.9%.

“Trump said some plans were canceled [using this to accuse Obama of lying about ACA]. But that’s because they  were deficient, illusory plans. What Trump and his confederates want to do, is to allow New Yorkers to go into market and buy insurance from other states. NYS is not going to allow that to happen. We will demand (because NY controls insurance product) that any insurance product sold here has to provide minimum requirements, or else people will get ripped off. Those are the kind of policies people lost because of ACA.”

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa lied when he said Obamacare would create death panels that would pull the plug on grandma. But a century ago, the worldwide flu epidemic killed off 50 to 100 million people, and bodies were piled up on street corners in Chicago waiting for the city to pick them up, people were on their own, too.

“That’s not that long ago – a blink in time of human history. We stand together you rebellious Americans to demand the human right of health care, and we stand together (big applause). This is a fight for our families, our communities. We are 36 years since the first days of Reagan Administration into a philosophy that says government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem, your enemy. You and I will fight for our families, communities, and damn well we stand up and fight for our government.”

Recalling that President Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive who busted up trusts and created the first national parks, whose home at Sagamore Hill is just a few miles from where this rally is taking place, Ron Widelec  said, “Once republicans were progressives, put in policies that helped people, now they are wedded to the invisible hand of the American market, not noticing, it is a hand around throats of American people. We will fight back.”

Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) addressing the Long Island Activists health care rally in Huntington: “Mend it don’t end it. Fix the problems.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Newly elected Congressman Tom Suozzi, who has pledged to support universal health care once Democrats take back Congress (and held a packed town hall this past week in which support for ACA was a key issue), said “I believe in health care as a human right. This is a matter of life-and-death for many families now. We have to do a couple of things: protect ACA is the first thing. There is great energy behind that. But we need to improve upon ACA because there are problems – insurance companies, drug companies had too much say in writing ACA and we’re paying the price. Mend it don’t end it. Fix the problems.”

Next:  New Yorkers Mobilize for Single Payer Health Care

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

 

Long Island Congressman Suozzi Tells Frustrated, Fearful Constituents ‘The 3rd Will be Heard’

Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) answers questions from a capacity crowd during a Town Hall held at the JCC in Plainview © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Tom Suozzi’s town hall, his first as the Congressman representing New York’s 3rd District, was Standing Room Only, but he handled it with grace and aplomb, managing to organize what could have been an unruly outpouring of frustration, consternation, anger and anxiety into a productive discussion.

He presented the four key issues he believed most people wanted to discuss – Obamacare (Affordable Care Act), Trump-Putin ties and conflicts of interest, the travel ban, immigration and the environment – then held it up to a vote to ask if that met with approval. Then he picked four or five people to ask questions before moving on to the next topic.

Who wants to stay until 8:30? 9:15? 9:30? All night? 9:30 was the decision.

That’s how it went throughout the night with a return to key points: this is what democracy looks like. Let’s be realistic: I’m a junior Congressman from a minority party. And finally: it is up to you. Your voice. Your activism.

Congressman Tom Suozzi, a political pragmatist, on the difficult line between obstructing the Trump/right wing agenda and getting something done: ‘I will remain an idealist as long as I can, but with eyes wide open.’ © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Most ingenious of all: he divided up his 3rd Congressional district into 16 neighborhoods – “The Third Will be Heard” – and tried to recruit people to join committees to stay active – write letters to local newspapers (the media with the most trust, he said), go door to door if necessary, engage in conversations with friends, family and others, instead of that old-saw of politics being a taboo subject.

Whenever someone introduced themselves as an expert – such as the scientist with Feinstein Institute who is a member of a newly formed Science Advocacy of Long Island (who have much to be concerned with as the Trump Administration destroys data on climate change and looks to shut down NASA’s Climate monitoring activities) – he would recruit them onto the committee. The high school fellow too young to vote whose friends are completely apathetic? You’re recruited. Get your friends engaged.

“Take that energy, that excitement and use it in a constructive forum to win the battle,” he said.

Congressman Tom Suozzi pays respect to former Long Island Congressman Lester Wolff, now 98 © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

With the debate swirling over whether Democrats should be as obstructionist as the Republicans were during Obama’s presidency, Suozzi clearly appreciates that “politics is the art of the possible” (as Hillary Clinton said, much to the consternation of the Bernie Sanders ultra-left progressives who likely were among the 92 million voters who did not come out and vote, handing the reins of power and policy to the exact opposite of Obama/Clinton).

Indeed, Suozzi as Congressman is functioning exactly as he said he would during the campaign: as someone who prefers to find common ground in order to accomplish something.

He told the packed audience that filled the room to capacity that he is a member of a newly formed (can you imagine?) Problem Solvers Caucus, consisting of 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. They are trying to find some consensus on issues such as infrastructure and tax reform (good luck with that).

Interestingly, when Suozzi asked for a show of hands of people who had never been politically engaged before, an estimates 40% of the room raised hands.

A capacity crowd attended Long Island Congressman Suozzi’s town hall © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Some of the questions and comments were extremely moving: the woman whose husband is being treated, thanks to Obamacare, for cancer “he’s on the verge of being cured, but if Obamacare is repealed, he would have a preexisting condition”; the son whose father has advanced Parkinsons, who lost his job and if Obamacare is repealed, faces the dilemma of providing quality of life for the father or the family.

A woman speaking haltingly because of her disability, fearful of proposals to cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and instead to send money to states to use as a block grant, a fear echoed by parents and of siblings of disabled people, who declared “I’m tired of people characterizing us as lazy”.

An immigrant man whose college-age son can’t get an internship because of his status; the woman who migrated from India 28 years ago as a 15 year old, who described the “extreme vetting” then, which has only gotten more intense under Obama; and people who asked what can be done to alleviate the anxiety in their communities over sweeps.

Suozzi noted that as Glen Cove Mayor he fought against having local police become defacto ICE agents because of the importance of the community having trust in its government and law enforcement and the value of “community policing”.

A mother expresses her concern about the future of a pre-school for special needs children because of funding © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He also acknowledged when someone brought up something that he was not aware of – like the problem with a local pre-school that serves special needs children which has to negotiate individually for grants from state and county government, and has seen only a 2% increase in funding over the last six years.

“The Third Will be Heard” 

Suozzi did not disguise the surprise at the turnout, noting that in his years as an elected official (Mayor, Nassau County Supervisor) well accustomed to holding town halls, he has never seen anything like this.

He asked what groups were represented: a number were newly formed in response to Trump’s election including several Indivisible groups, who came with pre-printed signs “Agree”, “Disagree” (an effective mechanism to communicate with the Congressman. Others included Reach Out America, Moveon.Org, Science Advocacy of Long Island, Long Island Together, Every Child Matters, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, 10100, NY Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, NOW of Nassau-Suffolk, Code Pink Long Island, Long Island OptOut, Huntington Democrats, among others.

A score of groups were represented at Congressman Suozzi’s town hall, including people from Indivisible who let the Congressman know when they agreed or disagreed with a speaker © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

One of reasons Democrats lost is because they didn’t mobilize locally, he said, which is why he hopes to try to keep the energy going, and why he kept going back to the need for the people to get the change they want.

He started off with some of his own comments:

Travel Ban? We are less safe, he said, and putting the ramifications of the Muslim ban and curtailment of immigrants and refugees, he said.  “There are 80,000 people worldwide in organized terror groups. There are 65 million refugees, due to climate change, civil war, feminism. This is a nation of immigrants, a nation dedicated to two propositions: all men and women are created equal and entitled to respect and dignity.”

The enhanced sweeps of undocumented immigrants (unfurled in a way that shows the lie of only going after the “bad hombres”) “makes us less safe when communities distrust their local police force. People turn to gangs for protection when they are afraid of law enforcement.”

He was asked about the Stop Arming Terrorists Act that Tulsi Gabbard has proposed. “I have to research further,” he said honestly, adding, “It’s true the US funded Osama bin Ladin against the Russians, and Saddam Hussein, and funded the Syrian regime before, and we are still funding the Saudis who fund terror groups. We did it to have access to oil.

“But, for the first time 50 years we are not dependent on oil from the Mideast. This is an opportunity that is not likely to be seized on by the Trump Administration.”

Had Trump not reversed all the Obama policies that bolstered homegrown, clean renewable energy, the US could have said to these dictators, “We don’t want your land your oil. But we need to move more to clean energy to make this happen.” (Trump, in his speech to the CIA the day after the inauguration, as the Women’s March was going past the White House, said that he thought we would have a second chance at taking Iraq’s oil, because he had been taught that “to the victor belongs the spoils.”)

Obamacare: Mend It Don’t End It

On the first topic, Obamacare, a man said he was walking proof of the problems, because his wife suffers from cancer, and over the past two years, one insurance company after another pulled out, until the hospital where his wife was being treated said they would not treat her because there was no carrier in the exchange. Now, his wife has a pre-existing condition.

Suozzi said, “There are problems with ACA. But we need to mend it, not end it.” He said he supported single-payer (essentially Medicare for All), but that wasn’t possible under Obama, who instead bent over backwards, even picking up on the right-wing Heritage Foundation’s model that preserved for-profit health insurance companies as the intermediary for obtaining health care which had been put into place in Massachusetts under Governor Romney. Obama was unable to get a public option. But even after bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, not a single one voted in favor of ACA, but instead, spent six years voting 60 times to repeal it, even forcing a government shut down.

People raised concern about the proposal to tax people differently for health care based on age, not income, a scheme to cut $216 billion in spending ; of capping how much employers give to employees for health insurance which then would be taxed as income.

“It’s time to get out the Uzzi and go after Price [the new Secretary of Health & Human Services, whose 2015 bill repealing Obamacare is the most likely model]. Go after Republicans for raising taxes.”

A young man described how his father had advanced Parkinsons and then was laid off and lost his health insurance. Now he has a pre-existing condition. Repealing Obamacare, he said, “would force our family to choose between my father’s well-being and our family’s.”

Suozzi responded, “This is real life, the devastating effect of repealing Obamacare.”

Turning next to the Trump-Putin and conflicts of interest topic, Suozzi said he would support a bill to require Trump to release his taxes, and would support an independent (not just bipartisan) commission to investigate his ties to Russia and possible collusion of his campaign with Russian agents to swing the election.

“This is why you are so important,” he said. “I don’t want you to understate what you are doing. It’s working. We need reasonable Americans to put country ahead of party. Since McCarthy, Republicans have tried to paint Democrats as unpatriotic. This is a generational opportunity to change that dynamic.”

‘Invest in me. I’m the future.’ © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Travel Ban: Guns Kill, Not Refugees

A man noted that none of the 7 countries under Trump’s ban has had anything to do with terrorism in the US since 1975 (on the other hand, terrorist acts were committed by people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and none of these were included in the ban), using the premise of public safety. But 34,000 people are killed each year by gun violence.

“Guns kill, not refugees,” a woman said.

Suozzi said that even when he brought together gun rights advocates with gun control advocates, there was general consensus on the need for universal background checks (instead, the Republicans just overturned Obama’s requirement for mentally ill people receiving services from Social Security to be included in the database). The reason there is no commonsense gun regulation is the same that reasonable health care is blocked: moneyed interests. “It’s always about the money.”

Congressman Tom Suozzi poses for a selfie with daughters of a woman who emigrated at age 15 from India © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But the focus on Trump’s use of fear and under the guise of “national security” push through anti-democratic policies (such as his threat to “send in the feds” to Chicago and use military precision to round up undocumented immigrants with expedited review so that their cases are not properly adjudicated, his attacks on free press and an independent judiciary and reestablish private prisons) prompted a woman to remark, “Be afraid. The America you know won’t exist in 15 years. Republics disappear. Commitment is important. We should be afraid that America will slip away from us, we must persevere.”

This raised the issue of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering and voter suppression. Suozzi confessed his inability to significantly change any of that, but that it is up to the people to get people out to vote, which is another compelling reason for his neighborhood-based activism. He said his office would be engaged in voter registration campaign.

Rachel Carcalelli of Great Neck Plaza, an environmentalist, noted that Superstorm Sandy cost $75 billion. “We need to rebuild infrastructure in sustainable ways – public transportation, water systems, renewable energy, sanitation.”

Instead, Nassau County will see $6.5 million cut in bus service.

In each case, Suozzi went back to his go-to – that people need to stay active and engaged, to join his neighborhood teams in order to spread the word.

Challenged by a Sanders supporter to reject everything the Republicans propose, Suozzi said, “I’ve been in politics 20 years. I won a lot, lost a few. JFK described himself as an idealist without illusions. I’m not a sucker. I still believe in this country, the power of people. Politics is a noble profession. I will remain an idealist as long as I can, but with eyes wide open.”

A woman noted that many in the audience “are new to politics, to this forum” and might be helped to have more realistic expectations of what Suozzi and the Democratic party, being essentially powerless in the House, can achieve.

Indeed, Suozzi offered a dose of reality to many of the speakers, such as when he was asked to solve the eons old problem of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering. “Nice idea but it’s not realistic for junior member in minority party,” he told one speaker. “All the stuff coming over transom – there’s no free time.” He listed what he is engaged in so far:  foreign affairs committee, armed services committee,. “I want to focus on important things in the district- the Northport VA,  the North Shore plume (the Navy and Grumman are the responsible parties to clean up a 40-year old site estimated at $500 million to clean up); airport noise in northeastern queens, two major research centers (Cold Spring and the Feinstein Institute), a Coast Guard facility. I decided to make the Problem Solvers Caucus one of my big focuses –if I could get Republicans interested in campaign finance reform and gerrymandering.”

The youngest speaker of the evening, Zachary, about seven years old, stood on a chair to say, “Impeach Trump. He’s messed up. How did we get into this mess?”

Obvious even to young Zachary, future politician: “Impeach Trump. This guy is messed up.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

One of the older speakers of the evening, Harry Arlin, wearing an Army baseball cap, said, “I lived briefly under Hitler, had to run; lived under Mussolini and was incarcerated, then under Stalin and had to flee… Now I am living under Trump. Impeach Trump. I’m too old to run again.”

Though the issue of the alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country since Trump’s election was not specifically raised in this Long Island community with a significant Jewish population, Suozzi acknowledged at one point that the town hall was being held in a Jewish Community Center in Plainview, and JCCs have received over 50 bomb threats in recent weeks.

Harry Arlin: ‘I lived briefly under Hitler, had to run; lived under Mussolini and was incarcerated, then under Stalin and had to flee… Now I am living under Trump. Impeach Trump. I’m too old to run again.’ © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Suozzi periodically would stop and poll the audience again to get their sense of whether to move on to the next topic. It was remarkable to see how he could actually offer a wide opportunity for people to air grievances, questions, comments in such a large and energized group and have something constructive come out of it: namely, a better understanding of issues and concerns, and also to gauge where constituents are on these key issues.

It wasn’t even close: the 3rd Congressional district wants to retain and improve Obamacare, overturn the travel ban but okay to vet, end the terror and insecurity in immigrant communities and provide a path to some kind of legal status, protect the environment, protect the integrity of the election from foreign influence while protecting the ability of people to cast their ballot.

Gabby Giffords Mocks Republicans Dodging Town Halls

Suozzi’s town hall was very different from what many Republican Congressmen are experiencing around the country – Long Island’s Peter King didn’t even hold one during this President’s Week when traditionally Congress members return to their districts to hear from constituents. Trump and his sycophants have accused those coming out in force to protest the repeal of Obamacare as “paid liberal activists” or, as Trump told CPAC, “the losing side” (neglecting to mention there were 65 million voters, three million more than his side).

And ironically, many of the Republicans are citing fear of their constituents as the reason, prompting Gabby Giffords, who was a Congresswoman until she was shot in the head while holding a public availability at a shopping center in Tucson, to write:

“As a member of Congress, I believed that listening to my constituents was the most basic and core tenet of the job I was hired to do. So I was a little surprised yesterday to hear Congressman Louie Gohmert invoke my shooting as a reason not to face his constituents at a public town hall.

“I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning my offices were open to the public. Ron Barber – at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead – held town halls. It’s what the people deserve in a representative.

“So to Congressman Gohmert and others who are abandoning their civic obligations, I say this: Have a little courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.

“Many of the members of Congress who are refusing to hold town halls and listen to their constituents’ concerns are the very same politicians that have opposed commonsense gun violence prevention policies and have allowed the Washington gun lobby to threaten the safety of law enforcement and everyday citizens in our schools, businesses, places of worship, airports, and movie theaters.

“In the past year, campaigning for gun safety, I have held over 50 public events. And if I am still willing to do it, they should be too.”

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at  www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Newly Minted Democratic Congressman from Long Island Expresses Optimism in Bridging Partisan Divide to Work for ‘A Better World’

 

Newly sworn in Congressman Tom Suozzi with family and well-wishers Congressman Tom Suozzi with well wishers after being sworn in © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Newly sworn in Congressman Tom Suozzi with family and well-wishers Congressman Tom Suozzi with well wishers after being sworn in © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

The first thing I noticed on the bus from Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn, Long Island enroute to the Capitol Building in Washington DC to greet Tom Suozzi as a freshman Congressman representing Long Island, was how diverse our group was. This was even more pronounced when we gathered together with more than 100 for a reception.

Suozzi, a Democrat, moments after being officially sworn in on the House floor by reelected Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), noted as much himself in his good-natured way, pointing to the Pakistanis, the Indians (Sikhs, Hindus), Chinese, Jews, Latinos, Catholics, Italians., Irish, Polish, African-Americans (really too many to list) just in that tiny room.

The Capitol Building is “The People’s House” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Capitol Building is “The People’s House” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The observation was even more poignant after we had been treated to a tour of the Capitol Building, which begins with a film, “Out of One, Many” – E Pluribus Unum, the nation’s motto. The theme of the movie was how the Congress is organized to bring together representatives of a broad mosaic of Americans with different beliefs and perspectives, and how (and this is the part I thought was a quaint notion if ever it were true), Congress was designed for compromise. “Congress is where we can find common ground.”

Clearly the filmmakers and the nation’s founders, did not take into account the extreme partisanship that has taken hold of Washington since 1994, with Newt Gingrich’s Contract on America (yes I know it was titled, “Contract for America.”), before the speaker had to resign in disgrace (and pop up again in the Donald Trump campaign).

But Tom Suozzi campaigned on his intention and his ability to bridge the divide, to work with Republicans and Democrats to forge consensus. And he repeated that pledge in remarks to the well-wishers who crammed the room in the Cannon House office building.

Congressman Tom Suozzi poses with well wishers after being sworn in © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Congressman Tom Suozzi poses with well wishers after being sworn in © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“With all the differences that different people have, with all our different backgrounds, faiths, traditions, cultures, foods, customs, most of what we believe in is all the same,” he declared. “There are some things that divide us, but 99% of what we all believe in is all the same. And for me, that comes down to ‘Love thy neighbor.’ And love thy neighbor is about trying to help other people to make the world a better place to live in.

“Politics is the vehicle by which we try to do that in our country. It’s a wonderful tradition. It’s one of the most unique places in the world that has that tradition. And you being here to support me gives me the strength, and the courage and the ability to have this wonderful, unique opportunity that has only been shared by a few people throughout the whole course of history of the United States of America.”

Congressman Tom Suozzi and his “wall of heroes” in his new office  © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Congressman Tom Suozzi and his “wall of heroes” in his new office © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He went back to a speech that he said he used to give all the time, but hadn’t during his campaign for Congress. “It’s the speech my grandfather used to give to the new couples.

“Life is like a marriage, is like a long journey with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. But that’s okay, because in life, you can’t have a rose without the thorns. You can’t have the beautiful things in life without the suffering as well, you couldn’t appreciate the good things in life without the tough times as well.

“We see things in newspapers, on TV, we see things happening in our communities, and we have things happening in our families that are so difficult and tragic.

“But today we are celebrating the roses of life.. the best part of life, with friends and family and Americans all get together to say, listen, Let’s work together to make things better for everyone, because there are too many problems we face.

Newly sworn in Congressman Tom Suozzi, Democrat from Long Island: “If we all work together, we can solve any problem in the world.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Newly sworn in Congressman Tom Suozzi, Democrat from Long Island: “If we all work together, we can solve any problem in the world.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“As Democrats and Republicans they all want to help the same people – there are too many people poor people, too many addicted to drugs, too many wars going on, too many refugees, too many worrying about losing health care, too many problems in the world, too much suffering.

“But if we all work together, and we remember the values that we all share among all faiths, and all our traditions, and all the things we all believe in, then we can solve any problem in the world and with your help, we can do it.”

Ryan, Pelosi Make Pledges

Just minutes earlier on the floor of the House when he was handed the gavel and before issuing the oath to Suozzi and the other Congressmembers, Speaker Ryan had made the same appeal to work together, though it remains to be seen whether it was just the rhetorical flourish of the historic moment, or to opportunistically chide Democrats not to do to Donald Trump what the Republicans did to Barack Obama, when Republicans declared on his first day that their primary mission, their Job #1, instead of saving jobs, homes, health care, college funds and retirement savings, was to make Obama a failed president (Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, newly elected Minority Leader, said that Democrats would look for compromise and to work with Trump and the Republicans on those issues that did not involve abandoning the party’s values).

Members of the 115th Congress take oath © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Members of the 115th Congress take oath © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We were able to watch Ryan and the swearing in on a TV monitor, and hear Ryan say, “There’s no sense of foreboding today. There’s only a sense of potential… But there’s another reason for optimism…Just months ago, our country held a great, electoral contest…. The clash of opinions . . . the hue and cry of campaigns . . . the rancor and the dissension . . . in the end, they all dissolve in the silent and peaceful transfer of power.

“And so in just a few weeks’ time we will welcome a new president . . . who offers us yet another new beginning—a new chance to work toward that more perfect union.

“For all our arguments and all our differences, we are all united by a deep, abiding love of our country. It is the slender but sturdy thread that holds us together. We always forget about it. But it has never failed us. That is why when the votes are counted and the people have spoken, all of us accept the verdict. We come back from the campaign trail. We put away the yard signs. And today, as one body, we pledge allegiance to one flag: the red, white, and blue.

“I don’t care what your party is. Find one person in this House who doesn’t want the best for America. Find one person who doesn’t want to help the unemployed, or care for the sick, or educate the young, or honor our troops. Who here among us does not want to open wide the door to opportunity? Who here among us does not want every American—of every creed and every color—to cross the threshold? You can’t find one person—not a one. And that is a true cause for celebration.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) administers oath to members of the 115th Congress © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) administers oath to members of the 115th Congress © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“That being said, this is no time to rest on our laurels, but to redouble our efforts. It’s no secret that millions of Americans across the country are deeply dissatisfied with their current situation. They’ve looked to Washington for leadership, and all they’ve gotten is condescension. For years, they’ve suffered quietly—amid shuttered factories and shattered lives. But now they’ve let out a great roar. Now, we, their elected representatives, must listen. And so I want to say to the American people, “We hear you. We will do right by you. And we will deliver.”

“It is not enough to say that the condition of your birth should not determine the outcome of your life—no matter how much we mean it. In a few years’ time, I hope people will say of the 115th Congress that we didn’t just pay lip service to this beautiful American Idea; we made it a reality. We are not here to be; we are here to do. We are here to improve people’s lives. Grow our economy. Keep us safe. Improve our health care and our infrastructure. Fight poverty. Restore self-government. We’ve got our work cut out for us. And as your speaker, I intend to keep this place running at full speed.”

In a statement that suggests what kind of challenge Suozzi will face as a newly minted Congressman, Ryan promised to let the Minority party have a voice (but apparently, no actual say).

“And so to the minority, I want to say, ‘We’ve never shied away from our disagreements. And I do not expect anyone to do so now. But however bright of a contrast we draw between us, it must never blind us to the common ground we share. We must never shy away from making progress for the American people, wherever we can. And so, as your speaker, I promise to uphold the rights of the minority. I promise to hear you out, and let you have your say. If I had to sum up my approach, it would be, ‘Agreement whenever possible, but at all times respect.’

“And to the majority, especially to our returning members, I want to say, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ This is the kind of thing that most of us only dream about. I know—because I used to dream about it. The people have given us unified government. And it wasn’t because they were feeling generous. It’s because they wanted results. How could we live with ourselves if we let them down? How could we let ourselves down? I have for many months been asking our members to raise their gaze and aim high. Now, let us not be timid, but rather reach for that brighter horizon.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi passes gavel to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at the opening of the 115th Congress © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi passes gavel to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at the opening of the 115th Congress © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also called for working on behalf of the American people, but she also declared, “We will stand our ground.”

“In that spirit, in order to meet the needs of the American people, House Democrats pledge to seek common ground wherever we can: To forge a bipartisan path forward on job-creating infrastructure, to make taxes and foreign trade fair to American workers, to help Americans balance work and family life, and to ‘drain the swamp’ of big money from our campaigns, all of these provisions, President-elect Trump has pledged.

“We will seek common ground.  But we will stand our ground wherever in good conscience we must.

“If there is an attempt to destroy the guarantee of Medicare, harm [Medicaid], Social Security, or the Affordable Care Act, Democrats will stand our ground.

“If there is an assault on clean air and clean water; on civil rights, women’s rights, or LGBT rights; if DREAMers and their immigrant families face the nightmare of deportation, Democrats will stand our ground.

“And if there is an attempt to silence our voices for common sense gun violence prevention, with Gabby Giffords here in the chamber as our witness — Democrats will stand our ground.”

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