Rep. Mondaire Jones: ‘No Reason To Work With’ GOP Right Now

NEW YORK ― Rep. Mondaire Jones, a New York Democrat, made history in November when he became one of the first two openly gay Black men to win a seat in Congress.

As a representative of Rockland and Westchester counties ― largely affluent, white suburban communities north of New York City ― he is also part of a wave of progressive lawmakers proving they can win in historically moderate territory.

Jones sat down with HuffPost last week to explain why he’s not planning on working with Republicans any time soon, why he thinks President Joe Biden’s performance has been a “pleasant surprise,” and why he sees abolishing or reforming the filibuster as a key test for Biden.

Below is a transcript of the interview, condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

You’ve called for Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s expulsion.

Did that call apply to all members of Congress who objected to certifying the election results?

Some people have been more egregious in their rhetoric, in their incitement of what happened on January 6 than other people have been.

However, I am sympathetic to the argument that anyone who voted to overturn the results of the November presidential election just hours after we all had nearly died, and at the Capitol that day played a role in pushing the Big Lie, which directly incited the violent insurrection that occurred [should be expelled.]

A few weeks before this all happened, Josh Hawley and Bernie Sanders teamed up to push for cash relief payments. Some people credit that bipartisan duo for getting it into the conversation and having that be part of the final bill. And then obviously, Trump did his thing.

From time to time, on issues of war and peace and surveillance, liberal Democrats have made common cause with a handful of libertarian types on the Republican side. Some people would argue that it would be a shame to just ― no matter how reprehensible the behavior ― rule out ever working with even a Hawley-type figure on something like cash payments or maybe Big Tech.

It is a coherent argument, but not one that is persuasive. In the case of Mr. Hawley, he has nearly uniformly voted to cut taxes for the rich, and otherwise empowered a GOP caucus that, at every turn, throws working people, who he purports to want to help through a $2,000 stimulus, under the bus.

So just to be clear, assuming he sticks around, and any other person that you might put in that same basket sticks around, would you ever collaborate with them in any way ― on anything ― for purely tactical reasons?

If Republicans have a majority and want to work on providing economic relief to the American people, including lifting working people out of poverty by providing a decent standard of living ― and I really do hope that we will have given people a $15 minimum wage by then ― then I’m on board. 

Right now, there is no reason to work with people who did not vote for the American Rescue Plan, despite it being popular with 77% of the American people, including the majority or about half of Republicans. I think it’s clear that our democracy is broken, and that the people who are in the Republican caucus are not interested in working in good faith. 

You know, if Josh Hawley had thought that there was an actual chance he could deliver a $2,000 stimulus check, I don’t know that he would have taken the position he did. He understands that populism is popular, and for that reason had an incentive to try to get some of Trump’s base on that effort.

But I don’t think it was genuine, because it is, in fact, belied by the party to which he belongs and his behavior otherwise. He has voted against, I think, all of Biden’s nominees or nearly all of them. Janet Yellen at the Treasury setting policy that would help working people would be as impactful as a $2,000 survival check back in December.

I did not expect that I would have to serve with people who nearly got me killed on January 6 and have expressed no remorse for doing so.
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.)

How do you assess Biden’s presidency so far?

He’s doing a tremendous job, and when I speak to progressives like myself, there is a pleasant surprise in our assessment. But it will become untenable for him to not push for a repeal of the filibuster or at least reformation of the filibuster. 

That will allow bills like H.R. 1 for Senate 1 to pass, as well as the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Equality Act, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act ― you name it.

The filibuster is going to be the test, then?

It will be the test. The American Rescue Plan is transformative economic legislation. Bernie Sanders has said as much, and I’m disappointed when I hear people not praise it as such. We are literally cutting child poverty in half. There are going to be many families that get over $10,000, between the $1,400 survival checks per person and the expanded child tax credit.

And you’re optimistic that Congress will make the child tax credit permanent, rather than let it expire in three years’ time?

I’m hoping we can do it this year.

What has surprised you most about Congress? And what’s the most frustrating thing?

I did not expect that I would have to serve with people who nearly got me killed on January 6 and have expressed no remorse for doing so. I did not expect that a substantial number of Capitol police officers would not be interested in the protection of my well-being and that of my colleagues. 

You may have seen The Washington Post article about how my chief of staff saw this anti-Semitic pamphlet, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” And that was just lying out there ― a well-worn, ostensibly, January 2019 copy of it lying at a security check. What does that mean about the culture of the Capitol Police that something like that could just be out in the open?

So you’re not satisfied right now with the work that’s being done to investigate ― 

I am not familiar with that work, because the assessment of the threat from within was never produced to members of Congress, which is something that I have raised with other members of leadership [of which I am a part].

Are there any friendships with ideologically different members or Republicans that have taken form that you did not expect?

I’m not prepared to get myself into that kind of trouble yet [laughs].

What do you think about the fencing around the Capitol?

It is necessary until such time as the threat has abated. And I must say, I have been frustrated to hear some of my Democratic colleagues call for removal of the fencing in the weeks leading up to what we saw a few days ago ― that deadly attack at the Capitol.

Of course, that attacker appears to have had a different ideology than the January 6 rioters.

Violent extremism in this country is violent extremism, whether it is motivated by one kind of ideology or another ― it’s all deadly. 

And of course, when people saw what happened on January 6, even if they weren’t white supremacists, domestic terrorists, they understood the Capitol to be vulnerable from a security standpoint. And so now, you have expanded the group of people who are interested in doing this harm at the Capitol.

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