By Michael McDowell
Primary Day is August 23rd and one thing is for sure: Manhattan will lose at least one of its most powerful political players. Following a badly bungled redistricting process, longtime allies, Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, suddenly find themselves competing for the same turf: New York Congressional District 12. Each has represented the East Side and West Side, respectively, since the early 1990s; today, Congresswoman Maloney chairs the House Oversight Committee, and Congressman Nadler chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
The Rag spoke with Congressman Nadler by phone about indictments, helicopters, Israel and Iran, the Supreme Court, and the importance of experience.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited.
WSR: Did you ever think you might represent the Upper East Side?
JN: No, never did. Heck, it’s been divided East/West since the 1870s, so it never occurred to me that it would change.
WSR: How do you feel about that now?
JN: I’m not happy about it, because it put me in the same district as Carolyn Maloney, whom I’ve worked with for many years, and has been a friend.
WSR: One of your opponents, Suraj Patel, has argued that you and Representative Maloney are, essentially, old and out of touch, “1990s politicians,” he said in a recent debate. You argue that voters should stick with age and experience, why?
JN: There is one major reason, and a question. Is the person still capable of doing the job? The answer in my case is, yes. As evidence, look at all we’ve accomplished in the last few months: we passed major gun legislation, the Protect Our Kids Act; we passed the Respect for Marriage Act to codify marriage equality; [and] we passed the assault weapons ban.
The way Congress works is that with experience comes clout. You build up seniority. No matter how capable a new member is, they cannot have the effectiveness of a senior member, especially not of a committee chair.
And there’s plenty of generational change happening. I’m working with young leaders, [Representatives] Hakeem Jeffries [D-NY-8] and Joe Neguse [D-CO-2], and others, to mentor them. But it’s still true that clout is something you shouldn’t surrender, because with clout comes not only the ability to pass legislation, but the ability to bring money home to the state and to the district.
WSR: Many Democrats are wondering, where are the indictments? Do you believe former Trump Administration officials, including former President [Donald] Trump himself, should be indicted?
JN: I certainly do. I suspect they will be.
The problem is that you don’t find out about an indictment until the grand jury votes and the indictment is announced, and that’s at the latter part [of the investigation], before the trial.
Now, you can draw hints from who’s being subpoenaed, and we’ve certainly seen the people around Trump being subpoenaed. So I suspect very much that we’re going to see a prosecution of Trump, and a lot of the people around him, for seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct governmental administration, among other crimes—even a [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations] crime.
WSR: Do you see any good arguments against indictments?
JN: There is one argument that gets made, and that is that you don’t want to establish the precedent of indicting a presidency, and become like a banana republic where whoever wins investigates and indicts his predecessor, or one party wins and they indict the leaders of the other party.
But I don’t think that’s a very valid argument when you have an insurrection and the first attempt—that nearly succeeded!—the first attempt ever in our country’s history to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
WSR: I know you’ve been working on a code of conduct for the Supreme Court, which you’ve moved forward. Are there any other oversight tools to rein in what many Democrats see as an out-of-control court?
JN: First of all, we’re not working on a code of conduct for the Supreme Court. All federal judges, other than the Supreme Court, already have a code of ethics. We simply want to apply the same code of ethics to the Supreme Court.
I think we do have an out-of-control Court. You saw that in [Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization], and in the [gun] decision outlawing Sullivan, which has been on the books since the 1890s in New York. I think [the Court] was deliberately packed by Trump and [Kentucky Senator Mitch] McConnell. The answer is in a bill I introduced about a year ago along with two colleagues and Senator [Edward] Markey of Massachusetts — add four judges to the Supreme Court.
That has been regarded as a very, very radical idea, but I think it’s not going to seem so radical as the Supreme Court keeps making more outrageous decisions. And remember, it’s not the first time it’s been done. President Lincoln expanded the Supreme Court. President Roosevelt tried to do so.
WSR: If re-elected, will you investigate or hold hearings regarding Justice Clarence Thomas’s alleged conflicts of interest?
JN: We’re under instructions [from Speaker Nancy Pelosi] to defer to the January 6th Commission on all things related, and until they are finished, I can’t answer that question.
WSR: You’ve had a long and accomplished career. If you had to pick just one more thing that you’d like to do, however many more terms you may serve, what would that be?
JN: I’ve been advocating [for] building a rail freight tunnel [from New Jersey to Brooklyn] since I was in the [New York State] Assembly many years ago. It got delayed, but it’s on track — the Governor endorsed it in her State of the State message. New York is the only major city in North America where 93% of everything that comes [in] comes by truck. In the rest of the country, it’s about 43%. Trucks tear our highways apart; they emit tremendous carbon into the atmosphere—which is obviously no good for the climate and why [neighborhoods near] the Cross Bronx Expressway have the worst asthma rates in the world.
The rail freight tunnel will eliminate those problems: it will connect Bayonne to Bay Ridge and existing rail lines on the New York side with existing rail lines on the Jersey side; it will connect the city and the region.
WSR: Representative Maloney described herself as a tenacious, ceiling-shattering New York woman who gets things done. Who are you, and why are you the best rep for the district?
JN: I think I’m more principled. I think I’ve cast more courageous votes, and I’ve been correct on those votes. I’ll give you a few examples: she voted for the Iraq War, I voted against it. She voted for the Patriot Act, I voted against it, even though 9/11 was in my district. She voted against the Iran Deal, and I voted for it.
When I voted for [the Iran Deal] — [Benjamin] Netanyahu [then prime minister of Israel] came out against it. I watched as, one by one, every Jewish organization came out against it, even the most liberal, and every Jewish [Congressperson] in the Northeast came out against it. Remember, I have the most Jewish district in the country, and I really thought I was taking my political life in my hands, but I voted for [the Iran Deal] because I thought my political career was less important than Iran having a nuclear bomb and threatening Israel and the whole Middle East.
So, I would say that I’ve been a more principled progressive than Carolyn has.
WSR: How would you characterize the relationship between the Iran Deal and the security of Israel?
JN: Very, very important, because that deal is what keeps Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and if that deal isn’t there, Iran could very easily get a nuclear bomb and Iran thinks their holy cause is to destroy Israel.
In fact, I don’t understand Netanyahu, who came to Congress in 2015 and said, don’t do the deal. But when [Netanyahu] said that, I had in my office the former heads of the Shin Bet and Mossad, and the former chief of staff of the [Israel Defense Forces], saying, for God’s sake, go with this deal.
WSR: The helicopters. What’s the latest?
JN: The latest is that we’ve been petitioning the [Federal Aviation Administration] and they won’t do anything about it, and we’ve introduced legislation in Congress which hasn’t passed yet. We’re going to continue trying to pass it.
We’re also asking the City of New York to deny the landing rights at the city-owned heliports in Manhattan. City administration could go a long way to solve this problem by doing that.
WSR: But the helicopters will still be coming over from New Jersey.
JN: And that’s why we have the federal legislation.
WSR: Whether it’s an ice cream or an egg cream, how have you been staying cool during what seems to be one of the hottest summers in the city in recent memory?
JN: That’s why God invented air conditioning.