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Queens Chronicle

Meng talks Trump, Hill, Dems and more

Says de Blasio has good intentions but needs more community outreach

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Posted: Thursday, November 14, 2019 10:30 am

Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) came out in support of an inquiry into President Trump’s impeachment shortly after hearing former special counsel Robert Mueller testify to the House Judiciary Committee, saying that Trump basically accepting contributions for a political campaign from a foreign entity was “most alarming” to her.

“I do believe, however, that this is not the only thing that Congress needs to focus on,” she said during a wide-ranging sit-down interview with the Chronicle editorial staff last Thursday. “There are a lot of issues, bread-and-butter issues, that the majority of American people care about, whether they support impeachment or not.”

With nearly two dozen members of Congress announcing they will not seek re-election in 2020, Meng was asked if that stems from fallout from more divisive politics since Trump became president.

“This was even before the Trump age; I always felt like there was about to be a generational shift,” she said.

But, Meng added, “I will stand by my belief that there is still so much bipartisanship going on. I know it’s not popular to talk about for Democrats or Republicans right now.”

She said conversations with Republicans are less frequent since Democrats became the majority because of added meetings and discussions.

“It’s harder to govern than to protest,” Meng said.

According to Meng, the last Republican Congressman she had a substantial conversation with was Texas’ Michael Burgess. He supported her effort to lower the voting age to 16. Her bill didn’t pass but she is hoping to bring it back.

Asked about any political benefit, she said “there is no guarantee” most of the younger voters would be voting Democrat “but I know that we need to give them more of a voice.

“Twenty years later, most people won’t know who I am and they won’t remember me, but my job is to make government more accessible and more productive for people in this country.”

Meng said she’s seen more civic engagement since Trump’s victory, with communities feeling neglected and abandoned before the election.

“Democrats can complain about President Trump all we want but part of the reason why he won is because Democrats didn’t do a good job and haven’t sustained the [outreach] efforts that might have been in place decades ago,” she said.

Meng added, “We call ourselves a big tent but we haven’t traditionally done a good job at reaching out to all the different communities.”

She said the key is not only to get people engaged but to keep them engaged.

“You can’t just be here because you don’t like the president,” Meng said. “It can’t end there, whether it’s 2020 or 2024.”

There is an organizing corps in seven battleground states, with outreach meant to help residents, not just serve as a last-ditch effort to have people vote for a candidate, according to Meng.

As vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee since 2017, Meng will not endorse anyone in the party’s primary for president but did say that candidates can become too involved in nuance. Meng often says, “It’s not about what you do for someone, it’s about how you make them feel.” And it’s her opinion that insurgent candidates who won during the 2018 midterm election weren’t focused on nuance.

“What was effective was the potential of [voters] losing their healthcare or not having options available to take care of their families,” Meng said.

When asked, Meng also addressed the resignation of former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), who stepped away after allegations of an affair with a staffer were made, including the publication of leaked nude pictures.

Meng said being in a relationship with a staffer is unethical but Hill would have been afforded a hearing process had she not resigned.

“I think there is a huge sense, especially among some of us younger and newer members, that she might have been held to a different standard because she was a woman,” she said.

Acknowledging “it’s a little bit comparing apples to oranges,” Meng noted that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) is still in office despite investigations into his alleged improper use of campaign funds for a number of affairs.

“What is that going to do in terms of what kind of signals do these send to a young woman who might run for office?” Meng said.

Turning her attention from national to city politics when asked to, Meng said Mayor de Blasio has “good intentions” but that partnerships need to be strengthened with the community.

One example is the debate over the Specialized High School Admissions Test. De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza stated their intentions to get rid of the test. De Blasio recently said his plan to eliminate the test “didn’t work” but Carranza hasn’t backtracked.

“This is a process that yet again shows their inability to reach out and collaborate with stakeholders,” Meng said.

Meng, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, has looked to preserve the test. Many Asian constituents have fought to keep the test in place. Meng called the lack of diversity in the eight specialized high schools “horrendous” but said it’s not OK to target a few of the schools and act as if it is a “sincere overhaul” of the educational system.

Would she be willing to work with Carranza on a solution?

“He has a lot of ground to make up for but I’m very willing to work with him,” Meng said.

Other topics she believes need more input are bike lanes and homeless shelters, noting that the people have worked and lived in communities for decades.

She said the problem is “For them to wake up one day and suddenly be told that there’s a certain change in their community without any real advance warning and even effort to work together.”

In contrast, Meng said, she had ideas in the past she thought were “great” but scratched them after approaching people on the ground who differed in opinion.

Last year, Meng had no primary opponent, but there are three people who will run against her in the 2020 primary.

“I think it’s good to have primaries,” she said, adding “I’m definitely not going to tell anyone not to primary an incumbent.”

Meng recalled when she was the insurgent candidate, defeating Ellen Young in the Democratic primary for Assembly in 2008. That was after Meng was taken off the ballot two years earlier when Young challenged her residency status.

In 2012, she defeated Assemblyman Rory Lancman and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley to win the race for Congress.

“I will continue to stand on my record,” Meng said.

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