Rep. Charles Rangel kicked off the year with what he hopes will be monthly roundtable meetings with journalists. He opened the session attended by a dozen reporters with several issues he believes will be critical over the remainder of the year.
However, he first ruminated on Mitt Romney and the too many other Republicans who refuse to accept the fact that President Barack Obama has been re-elected. “They are in denial and can’t believe that they lost,” he said, chuckling. He compared it to their resistance to the idea that climate change actually exists.
Gerrymandering was also addressed in his prefatory remarks, and it is something he understands personally since his former District 15 is now the 13th and parceled out in such a way to make it very troubling for Harlem voters in the future. “This is particularly problematic during the election primaries,” he added.
The debt ceiling and the consequential aspects of “sequestration,” or as he defined it, the amount of money that exists between the cap set in the budget and the actual amount of money appropriated by the Treasury but not available to agencies for which it was originally appropriated. “In other words,” he explained, “this is just another way for the Republicans to hold the president hostage and possibly cause the government to collapse.” He elaborated on the problems related to entitlements, especially the possible spending cuts on Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
Later, during the question and answer part of the meeting, he said by executive order the president has the power to pay the debt without approval from Congress, rather like the constitutional guarantees of the 14th Amendment. “For the United States to be unable to pay its debts would be a major problem,” he said, explaining it would send the wrong signal to the rest of the world.
Rangel was puzzled as to why Speaker John Boehner refused to hold a vote on the Hurricane Sandy relief measure, but he was confident that beyond the $9.7 billion already earmarked for insurance payments to residents with homes damaged or destroyed, the rest of the $50 billion will be forthcoming.
Like his feelings about the Sandy relief funds, Rangel was optimistic about the steps being taken to curb gun violence. “And I would like to personally thank Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg for his efforts to bring some sanity to this situation,” he said.
On the issue of immigration, Rangel said, “We have an obligation to take care of the most vulnerable … and that’s the right thing to do,” stressing the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country.
When asked about the recent outrage over stop-and-frisk, he said that very little is discussed in Congress about this pressing matter. “First of all, let me say that I believe that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met,” he began. “But I don’t understand why he can’t see the injustice in stop-and-frisk, and that it is more injurious to people than the crimes they are supposed to be stopping them from committing.
“It is time to review the process, which is a very complicated issue, but you don’t need a judge to make a decision on something as terrible as this,” he said.
He withheld his answer on the prospects of Obama’s second term. “I have no idea which way he’s going, but I do hope he administers things with a sense of dignity,” he replied. Nor was he ready to comment on the next mayoral race, other than to voice his support for Council Member Inez Dickens to be the next City Council speaker.