© 2024 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rep. Marc Molinaro on the Campbell Conversations

Ways To Subscribe
Mark Molinaro
Mark Molinaro

This week on the Campbell Conversations, Grant Reeher speaks with Rep. Marc Molinaro, a Republican who represents New York's 19th Congressional District. An independent organization recently ranked Molinaro as the 2nd most bipartisan member of the House of Representatives, and the 5th most productive.

Program Transcription:

Grant Reeher: Welcome to the Campbell Conversations. I'm Grant Reeher. My guest today is New York Congressman Mark Molinaro. The Republican was elected in November 2022 to represent the 19th district. It's a large geographic area that spans from Ithaca and Cortland and the west to the Massachusetts border in the east, and includes the city of Binghamton and the southwest, among other political offices and experiences. The congressman was a Republican candidate for governor of New York state, and he has previously appeared on the program. Congressman Molinaro, welcome back and it's good to see you again.

Marc Molinaro: Glad to be back with you, Grant. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

GR: Oh. You bet. Thanks for making the time. So let me just start with, happenings from this week. I was curious if there was anything in the congressional primaries in New York that caught your eye or that you think are worthy of note?

MM: Well, I mean, certainly in my neck of the woods, your neck of the woods, just the, you know, obviously the selection of the Democratic candidate in the 22nd Congressional District of of significance that was a heated, primary. Of course, I support Brandon Williams. But, that that's been settled and now they're off and running. But I think most of the eyes of, of America were focused on, the heated primary, in, in Westchester County, and, into New York City, the Jamaal Bowman seat. George Latimer, you know, I, I don't I don't try to be a pundit. I just would offer that I think most voters want responsible members, of, responsible individuals representing them. And I just think that, they've had enough of, Bowman's antics. And then what was clearly, you know, frankly, anti-Semitic, commentary and even some policy in practice that just, you know, undermines, alienated and insulted, significant portion of his, his district. And it just goes, to, I think make a broader point we are in a moment as a country of choosing and let's let's take the politics out. Let's just, you know, when it comes to our fellow man or woman, the concept that we extend respect, irrespective of the religious, personal beliefs, critically important, the fact that, we in America are almost revisiting some of the, the hate and and anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 40s. It is frightening. it's frightening, obviously, to a lot of Jewish Americans. But it's frightening to, you know, moms and dads and, and everyone else who just want, to be a nation that embraces one another. And I think that that really, obviously impacted that race and that district is likely to send a more moderate, you know, Democrat to Congress.

GR: Yeah. No, I appreciate that. So, let me turn to some of the things that, you've been up to lately and, and you've been invested in. I understand that you have been pretty heavily involved in the Farm Bill. Which I believe, if I understand correctly, would be the first major sort of reworking of that law, since 2018. So, tell our listeners, first of all, about the importance of this bill for central New York and then what we should be aware of regarding it.

MM: Sure. So first, the Farm Bill is America's, agriculture policy. We actually, have to reauthorize it every five years. It's long enough to provide some stability, for farmers, but short enough to allow us to pivot and evolve to, to to address new, new challenges. I'm thrilled, you know, after having, town hall meetings, 11 town hall meetings, three listening sessions, specifically with farmers on farm bill development. As a member of the Agriculture Committee, that we we, developed and adopted a bipartisan Farm Bill that does a lot to help upstate New York farmers. And and so farming in New York is a little bit different than other parts of the country where smaller acreage, acreages, we kind of fit our farms in where we can. Although agriculture remains the largest industry in upstate New York, when you combine it with agricultural tourism, it's the largest industry in the state of New York. and then add to that weather conditions, infrastructure limitations, workforce challenges, and then regulations out of the state of New York. Upstate farmers are really pressed. Now, we obviously specialize in specialty crops and dairy, fruits, vegetables, Christmas tree farms, and of course dairy farms and so the Farm Bill, as has been adopted by the committee, again, bipartisan, includes ten separate provisions that I wrote to support upstate farmers. Everything, by the way, from expanding access to families with individuals with disabilities, to provide support, to enter and remain in that workforce in farming, to enhancing the dairy margin, coverage to ensure that we're providing more accurate and more robust support to dairy farmers, in order to make up those losses. Right. We don't set the pricing. They don't set the pricing for their product. And so there are times where they're just under water and dairy margin coverage provides assistance, to, to issues addressing climate resiliency. So, that's on the farm side. But the bill also includes, support for those who struggle accessing good quality food options. Snap Benefits of formerly food stamps, represent about 80% of the Farm Bill. And so as a former county executive that spent 12 years administering food stamps in the state of New York, the states administer the program and as a as a kid who grew up on food stamps myself, it was very important to me that the bill not only makes smart investments to support farming and farmers, but that we enhance the tools necessary to help people get from, independence, excuse me, from dependance, to a greater level of independence. And so the Farm Bill does not cut food stamps. It actually increases food stamps $6 billion over five years. and, three basic provisions. I just want to point to that, that expand access. Number one helps upstate New York. seniors, bill that I wrote allows for more delivery of food stamp related, fruits and vegetables to to rural and isolated seniors and families that, that may struggle. Secondly, provision that, expands access and support to food pantries and food banks, allowing broader capacity to assist. And then third, increasing the age of a child in home, who can remain, who can gain an income and remain on and supported by food stamps. What does that mean? Currently, when you hit 17 years old, we start to, draw you off of, those benefits. But 17-year-olds, of course, might still be in school. And if you are an individual with a special education requirement, you might be in school until you're 21. So we increase the the limit to to age 21. If you have a part-time job or you're still remaining at home that isn't credited against you, and your family, if you are supported by food stamp benefits. And so what we do here is broaden access, broaden the, the commitment and add more dollars to food stamps. Really in a way, to try to help people get, greater access to quality food product, greater food, and nutritional literacy. And then ultimately, we want to move people from where they are to a level of independence that allows them to thrive and survive, and really, really be successful as individuals.

GR: I want to come back to something that I heard as kind of a subtheme through what you were saying, and that is the concern that you have. And we've talked about for, individuals with different kinds of disabilities, physical and, and mental. And I see how you've woven that into what you write. Well, yeah. you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm speaking with Congressman Mark Molinaro. He represents New York's 19th congressional district. the other thing I wanted to ask you about is the fentanyl epidemic and related opioid overdoses. They continue to plague the nation. It continues to be an increasing problem. And it seems like for whatever set of reasons it is, particularly vicious in rural areas. And it's been hitting upstate New York. So I understand you've been active on this front. Tell me a little bit about what you've been, trying to do there.

MM: Yeah, I offer in New York, the 19th Congressional District is the epicenter of the fentanyl and synthetic opioid overdose crisis, with, incidents of overdose on the on the climb. But upstate New York, facing this challenge. And by the way, every family is affected. we many times don't want to acknowledge it, but every family is affected either by, some, mental health related issue that leads to substance use or substance use disorder itself. And so, and so for us, you know, there's a couple of things we've got to do. Clearly fentanyl and synthetic opioids are coming over the border. Yes, they come from entry, but we know that they are they are flooding the border and they're being trafficked by individuals, who really manipulate the system. We've got to secure the border in a very smart way. Technology, physical and staff, and we've got to make clear that if you're coming into this country and you're seeking asylum, there's a process for that. We need that to work. So I do take issue with both the president, creating a crisis, undoing a lot of the protections we had at our border that led to, about 11 million individuals crossing into into the country. But I also take issue with some of the policies in Albany, in New York state, New York City, that that's incentivized this kind of behavior. And again, there are good people coming into our country that deserve to be, in line, go through the, the asylum-seeking process, enter under legal means, and access work and benefits and become great Americans. But then there are those who are simply flooding in without any kind of, background or coordination with, with the federal government or local governments that we're seeing that pour into our, we're seeing drugs pour into our, our country that's not made up. Law enforcement talks about it, border security talks about it. We also, though, have to focus on ensuring that we give resources, why I support, appropriations, new dollars for local law enforcement to advance drug task force. We need to intercede, in our communities and that law enforcement agencies need to be able to work together in order to respond to that. And then with that, laws in New York, like cashless bail, make it very difficult for prosecutors to intervene. So if you make it a lower-level offense, we don't want to put somebody in jail for a marijuana offense. But if we have a lower-level drug trafficker right now in New York, most of that will never find its way to court until they become a higher-level offender. We can intervene early, which will get me my last point. We intervene early. We not only break the cycle of sales and hold somebody accountable for law enforcement, but we could intervene with mental health and substance use disorder, treatment, which is why I support, a robust prevention, intervention, diversion and transitionary programming. Everything from the kind of, treatment centers that we built in Dutchess County when I was county executive, which is now the model, to recovery coaches, access to naloxone, getting the state of New York to approve opvee, which is a new, overdose-deterring drug, and using all of those tools in a coordinated way. I'll close this, this one segment by just saying, you know, there are two things that we have to do better. We've got to talk about the reality. Nobody chooses to be addicted to drugs. There are people who choose to use drugs, but they don't choose to spend their lives addicted to them. And we've got to confront, the stigma associated in our own lives, in our own families, with not wanting to be good interveners. Right. What we we need to be sure that we're willing as individuals to take steps to intervene. And we want our government to stand shoulder to shoulder with us, which is why we also need not only enforcement, but treatment. And those treatment options need to be community-based, they need to be medical and non-medical based. And they need to understand and be available to rural communities, which is why I support broadening access, to telemedicine for everything from, traditional telemedicine to behavioral health, and even, using, Medicaid support easing using, telemedicine, for Medicaid related services, which often provide assistance to those living with mental illness or substance use disorder.

GR: I want to squeeze in one last question before the break, and I know this is something you could talk for a very long time on, but, I want to try to ask you some questions about, Congress and sort of the more national picture n the second half. But the last thing I wanted to ask you about in terms of these things you've been involved in and this is a, something that is close to your heart, I know, and and certainly something I'm interested in too. And I've mentioned that, but you're thinking differently. And instead of just tell me, tell me what's going on with that, why it's important and then we'll get on to some some national.

MM: Stuff I should. So, like you, I'm personally, impacted, and and have a family member living with, with a disability. But in 2014, we launched Think Differently in my home county. Again, became a national model for how to engage the community in breaking down barriers and creating opportunities for those with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities. When I came to Congress, I said this was going to be a priority. This is the population, as you know, that have an 80% unemployment rate, those with disabilities, 80% unemployed. Even though they can work, we have to be sure that we provide them opportunity to do so. Access to housing, the challenges for families. And despite the billions upon billions of dollars that we provide for special education and supportive services, it is still a labyrinth and maze of very difficult, policies, and services to access and families are left struggling. And so I make I've made this a priority we’ve proposed, a dozen separate bills with the Think Differently moniker. But but everything from the Think Differently Transportation Act to ensure that we're breaking down physical and by the way, intellectual, barriers, for those who need to access public transportation, to thinking differently about emergencies, which is to arm and enhance emergency response for families and individuals living with disabilities, to agra-ability or Think Differently About Farming Bill, which which would expand the supports that exist within the agricultural industry, to welcome individuals with disabilities to the workforce. I could go on, but I will tell you that, to your point earlier, we weave it in, whether it's the National Defense Authorization Act, which, we wrote language that would broaden support for for military families, with those that are neurodivergent or living with disabilities to standard appropriations, to getting letters with Democratic colleagues, to the architect of the Capitol to to to do appropriate curb cuts where they have crosswalks and we've tried to make it a critically, a large focus of the work we do, because if we’re not, others aren't right? There are a good number of us in Congress who do pay attention to these issues but as a dad of a child now, an adult child, with a disability, I just know that families face these challenges every single day. I mean, you know, every single day from waking up in the morning to going to getting to bed and bathing at night, these are challenges that people face. And this population is often been left on the sideline. I don't want that to happen. And so we've added to all of our legislation, and into all of our initiatives because it's that important.

GR: Well, thanks for that. You're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media. I'm Grant Reeher, and I'm talking with Republican Congressman Mark Molinaro, who represents New York's 19th congressional district. So let me ask you this question about you. You were recently ranked the second most bipartisan member of Congress by Georgetown's Lugar Center. In listening to your discussion of food stamps, if we had just taken that little clip and then said, who is speaking? Most people probably would have said a Democrat. So how have you, how have you gone about, your job to earn that ranking?

MM: Yeah. Well, first, I think that government ought to be smaller and more effective. And using food stamps by the way, as an example, as a tool to help people get from dependence to independence is a very smart, way of ensuring people have had the experiences of, of their own rights and their own liberties and their own independence. But, I've said this from the from the day I was elected. I'll work with anyone who's honest and earnest about solving the problems that face the people that we represent. And so, I don't come into conversations prejudging another colleague. If we have a shared goal, I work together, which is why, yes, I've been acknowledged as the second most bipartisan member. And I've been delivering on everything from mental health services, to support for law enforcement. Almost every provision I've written, and we we've had about 37 provisions adopted by the House. 11 now, adopted by the House and Senate, signed into law, almost all of them bipartisan, because I think it's that important. I think most of the challenges we face as individuals aren't left or right, you know, blue or red, they're simply, pragmatic, solutions are very pragmatic, and need to confront the challenges. And, and so, in our case, we just I'll just work with anybody to get the job done. And frankly, we've been successful in doing it.

GR: Yeah, you've already I the other thing I want to ask you about, but, you just answered it was you were also ranked by the Congressional Research Service as one of the five most productive members of Congress this session. So you just explained, why that's the case.

MM: So it is, and I'll say quickly, right. 37 provisions, five standalone bills, 11, of those total adopted into law, either as part of larger bills that we've moved or stand-alone. And, I think the job here is to try to make government respect the people it serves and and try to be responsive to the challenges we face. And I'm working hard to do that.

GR: So so let me ask you this, though. You those two rankings demonstrate that you are both bipartisan and effective. So it can be done. So my question to you is why don't more members of Congress seem to take this approach?

MM: Well many do. They don't necessarily get the same. They don't get it, we don't often get attention. But I listen, I think that politics today is fueled by division. And it's not just the politicians that are divided, it's the public and the public accepting that things are are one way or the other, right? Black or white, left or right. And so I just would say that I think when you keep your head down, your eyes forward, and you just earnestly work toward a goal, it is clear that you can achieve that. We can get legislation passed, we can mold consensus around certain issues, irrespective of ideology, and we can get communities like ours the attention and respect that they deserve. And so, you know, I, I fight hard and people know that if I need to throw a punch, I'll throw a punch. But I also call balls and strikes. And if you're, on one side of the aisle and you're saying or doing the wrong thing, I might. I might say it, but I also will work again with anybody who wants to get the job done. And I think that to the to your point, it'd be good if more people, focused on that.

GR: I think I think a lot of people feel that way. So, the last thing on this topic and I want to ask you about some big national questions. This may seem like a strange question, but when I look at your rankings and I look at the issues that you're focusing on opioids, mental health, and, and put that all together, you remind me a lot of John Katko, who used to represent what is now the 22nd district of New York.

MM: I'm I'm much funnier and better looking. So, no, don't quote me, please.

GR: But I my my question is, do you guys talk? I mean, do you guys do you guys stay in touch now that he's out?

MM: First I will tell you that I take advice from a lot of people. John is among them. And by the way, I will say this out loud, the entire spectrum, I welcome good ideas from from good people. And so, yeah, John and I talked my, my former, my, my predecessors I talked to, Chris Gibson, quite, quite often John Faso, of course, and I'll let you in on a little secret there. Good number of Democrats who, we have my ear as well. And, I think it's important to learn from from others experiences.

GR: Okay. Right. If you're just joining us, you're listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media and my guest is Congressman Mark Molinaro. So let me ask you a question. You talked about immigration and the need to secure the border better in terms of fentanyl, among other reasons. Do you expect a renewed effort, on immigration and the border, regardless of the outcome of the November elections, do you think that will be on the agenda for 2025?

MM: This president hasn't shown a real desire, to confront the crisis that that he did create. And so, you know, I, I, I'll be I'll be very, you know, sort of blunt about it. There were protections in place, like them or not, if you go back, all the way to, to George H.W. Bush, this country had certain basic protections at the border that President Biden undid by executive order and then spent three and a half years saying that he had no way of of of fixing that. Well, he he did by issuing executive orders and then, of course, he issued executive orders to undo the damage, but quite frankly, doesn't go far enough. And this isn't about being cruel. In fact, I think the the policy that this president has allowed is cruel. It says to people it is okay to traffic human lives and it is okay to traffic, drugs because we know who's controlling the southern border. It is the cartels from Mexico. And I know this firsthand. When I went down to the border, it was clear from local law enforcement, Republican and Democrat leaders, Border Patrol, the border is is controlled by and we have surrendered this border to drug cartels. And so knowing the game, they know how to manipulate the system and send thousands upon thousands of people in, and sadly overburdened the system. And the president was slow to act to to give Border Patrol the kind of support they need to conduct the the background searches and the asylum-seeking process which could happen, Remain in Mexico and the partnership we had with Mexico allowed that to happen actually at the border and then did one thing that was even more offensive. And I know there are those who who get upset when I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway. I don't like when states put people in busses and planes and transport port them to other countries. So therefore I do not like that the federal government has been doing it in mass. 80% of the people being transported to other cities and states around the country without the background checks, without the asylum review process, or being done so by the federal government at the direction of the administration. That is not right. It is not healthy, it is not safe. And then it puts this burden on states like like New York, New York, sanctuary city policy, is is absurd. On one hand they say, come, on the other hand they say, yeah, we didn't actually mean it. And what that has created is this crisis, that treats human souls with disregard, the souls that are coming across the border. Clearly, if we cared about human lives, we would crack down on that trafficking. And then the the in the communities that are impacted when individuals are indiscriminately transported and settled in other communities without any coordination, communication and resources, all of that is cruel. And so we do have to confront this in a very humane and compassionate way. It starts with reestablishing that relationship with Mexico, to conduct those those kind of asylum-seeking reviews at the border. And I just would close this comment by saying, something in the neighborhood of 75% of those, once we identify them, right, we're not even we're not even screening most people. But when we finally do get to screen the small number, we do 75 to 80% of them don't qualify for asylum. They're not here for asylum, and they're not leaving an oppressed nation or violence, or extreme poverty. And we have to we have to we have to send them back. That just isn't a process that makes any sense.

GR: Oftentimes when we get to this point in an election cycle, you know, we're heading into the final lap. The Congress kind of goes into a temporary freeze on action, you know, and waits until the election sorts things out. Is that is that kind of where you think Congress is right now going into the summer?

MM: Not entirely. We have an aggressive, effort to get appropriations or budget done. As you know, I'd like to say that we I wish we were more successful last year than we were. But but we are organized this year to get appropriations bills done. That's heading into the summer. And then we've got to negotiate with the Senate. That's a pretty aggressive strategy. and thankfully, we're moving in that direction. There's also a couple larger pieces of legislation. But but to your point, yes, it, you know, the fall of, of, of a presidential election year does feel a little bit less, extreme as a fall of, of a non-presidential election year. But we've got our plate full and we're still advocating for a lot of, a lot of good things for the people we serve.

GR: Great. We got about, a couple minutes left. I wanted to squeeze two last things. And if I could. We are talking, you and I, on, Thursday, June 27, I want to just let our listeners know that. And the first presidential debate is tonight. So by the time our listeners hear this program, it will have happened. I want to, but you a little bit on the spot and say, do you have any hunches of what we might expect tonight?

MM: I think that the two people running for president are exceptionally well known to 99.9% of the American public, and what you expect is likely what you're going to get. But but what I will also offer to you, at first it's very strange, right? Early presidential debate is very unusual. I just hope that we hear two people, ultimately who understand that there are a good number of Americans who feel left out. Now, I will tell you that I, the people I represent, I feel, are being left out by a federal government that too often overlooks them. And I do want a president that takes more interest in the rural and upstate, and small communities that make of upstate New York. And so I, I won't get into punditry. I just will tell you that, I think what you expect is what you're going to get, and I hope ultimately, that this, that this nation, pays attention to the forgotten folks who live in communities that are overpriced, overburdened, and overtaxed like the ones I represent.

GR: One of the things that I wanted to bounce off of you, that that occurs to me that I have not heard a lot about, and I was hoping that that debate would pull this out, is neither the both the candidates seem to be arguing a lot about the past rather than the future. And I would like to hear both President Biden's and former President Trump's vision of what they would try to do in the next four years. Do you do you agree with me that that has been missing from the, the dialog?

MM: I agree in that and that elections are always about tomorrow. Voters are always looking forward and do need leaders who are going to be paying attention to what happens next and giving a vision for what happens next. But you, as I both know, we have two entrenched candidates. And by the way, a great deal of animosity in the country, that sometimes needs a little bit of airing. Let's just hope we get to the point where, we're talking about, the future, because I still think and I that's I'm going to sound corny, but I believe it inherently. I just think that, this still is the greatest nation with the greatest capacity to do the greatest things for humanity. And we ought to be about the business of doing that. We ought to do that, by the way, by respecting the people, that pay the bills and this government is supposed to serve.

GR: That's a good note to end on. That was Mark Molinaro. Congressman Molinaro, again, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

MM: Really appreciate it, man. Thanks very much. I appreciate it, be well.

GR: You've been listening to the Campbell Conversations on WRVO Public Media, conversations in the public interest.

Grant Reeher is Director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He is also creator, host and program director of “The Campbell Conversations” on WRVO, a weekly regional public affairs program featuring extended in-depth interviews with regional and national writers, politicians, activists, public officials, and business professionals.