Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) sat Tuesday morning with the editorial board of the Cortland Standard for a free-for-all discussion on topics including the Mueller report and infrastructure improvements.
It was a brief stop before heading to the McGraw Senior Center for a town hall meeting.
Here’s what Brindisi had to say:
The trade agreement
Brindisi said right now there are hearings taking place in the House of Representatives as well as in the Senate. Those in office are hearing from stakeholders.
The USMCA will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and will increase exports in farming, which have been recently sealed off due to federal tariffs.
“I’ve been hearing loud and clear from farmers mostly throughout the Congressional district, because I sit on the Agriculture Committee, and they have been voicing their support for USMCA,” he said.
Coupled with the USMCA, Brindisi has heard farmers call for an end to tariffs which have cut off different exports, including dairy, to countries like Mexico and Canada.
One thing Brindisi has learned from traveling across the district is farmers want certainty. “They need access to these markets, particularly in Mexico and Canada, and I think this is going to help them and support their products.”
The Mueller report
Brindisi just finished reading the redacted version of the Mueller report over the weekend. “I’d say that all members of Congress, because we voted overwhelmingly, want to see the full report,” he said. “I feel the American people should have the opportunity to see the full report.”
• President Donald Trump and people around him made bad choices.
• Russia, as a foreign adversary, clearly interfered with the 2016 election.
• The United States isn’t doing enough to prevent future interference in elections.
“It seems like there is a whole lot of focus mainly from the national media on the investigation and whether or not the president or his team colluded with Russia,” Brindisi said. “And there should be more focus on some of the legislation we’ve passed in the House already to try and strengthen our election system.”
A 70-year trend
For almost 70 years, U.S. presidents have been assuming greater authority. President Harry Truman sent troops to Korea without Congressional authority; President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded involvement in Vietnam without Congressional authority; presidents James Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama issued executive orders that bypassed Congressional authority.
To stop the trend, Brindisi said people in Congress must be willing to speak up and reassert the Congressional authority. “Particularly when it involves the use of our military in foreign conflicts,” he said. “I truly believe Congress has to play more of a role in saying where our young men and women are put in harm’s way overseas.”
Broadband and infrastructure
Cortland County and other parts of Brindisi’s district is rural. He said the area is underserved in broadband internet access.
“I believe we have to have federal investment, perhaps through an infrastructure bill, that focuses on broadband expansion and providing incentives to smaller companies to expand broadband service into underserved areas,” he said.
Looking at the history of the U.S. in the 1930s, it took almost a decade for rural America to receive electricity, he said. “We can do the same thing again with broadband if you have that kind of investment and will on the part of people in Washington.”
A lot of other countries are focusing on infrastructure development. Brindisi said America is falling behind where it should be leading.
While expanding infrastructure would be expensive, Brindisi also sees it as a fuel for jobs. “It’s going to put people back to work fixing our roads and bridges,” he said. “We need updating of our water and sewer systems. We have to upgrade our energy grid. Utility infrastructure — which I think will help encourage more clean energy down the road.”
There is no one magic answer in dealing with Latin America, Brindisi said. “I think you have to have strong borders here,” he said. “That’s why I was supportive and am supportive of the president’s call for new physical barriers.”
However, a wall isn’t the only solution, he added. “You also have to upgrade your technology at your ports and upgrade technology at boarder crossings.”
More customs and boarder agents are needed, he said. “And you have to look at how you can use the diplomatic strengths of our nation to help some of these countries where these migrants are coming from in Central America.”
Help would come through supporting education and economic development. By bolstering those developments, Brindisi said it could help cut back on gang violence and prevent people from fleeing other countries.
Other programs that were put in to place to stem the flow of people coming to the U.S. face funding cuts, Brindisi said.
“My fear is by taking away some of that funding that’s supporting those programs is actually going to have the opposite affect and cause more people to want to leave and end up on our doorstep,” he said.