On issues near and far, Neal opens up with Eagle's Editorial Board
PITTSFIELD — While impeachment is front and center of all things political in the nation's capital these days, U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, still has plenty of issues on his plate to wade through.
They include pursuing President Donald Trump's tax returns, dealing with the impact of Brexit and keeping an eye on the spread of the coronavirus as cases begin to pop up in the United States.
Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, touched on these subjects and several others on Friday, during a meeting with The Eagle's Editorial Board.
Q: What is the current status of the lawsuit filed by the Ways and Means Committee asking a judge to order the Treasury Department to comply with requests and subpoenas for six years of President [Donald] Trump's tax returns?
A: [Federal] Judge [Trevor] McFadden has it. ... We're waiting for him. [President] Trump is going to appeal the decision if he comes down on our side. We think there's little room here as it makes its way through the appellate courts and that we're going to prevail.
Q: Will you and your colleagues continue to pursue this issue, even after the election?
A: Yes. We need the establishment of perhaps a Supreme Court decision that there should be no gray.
Q: What specific benefits will the new trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico that replaces NAFTA have on the residents of your district?
A: It will open up the market for dairy farmers. That's a big issue. And I also think enforcement into the manufacturing levels that we have now will be better positioned to challenge what's happened. There's a lot of trade agreements that have had good enforcement mechanisms. We just haven't used them.
Q: The United Kingdom officially left the European Union on Friday. How does the U.S. plan to establish trade relations with the U.K. now that Brexit is complete?
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A: I was informed yesterday that Prime Minister [Boris] Johnson wants a meeting in March. The promise the Trump administration has made, that it will be easy to do a bilateral trade agreement with the U.K., is not accurate. Trade agreements take a long time.
(In negotiating that deal, Neal said he will not support revisions to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 that established Northern Ireland's current government. "I feel very strongly about that.")
Q: CNN reported Friday that the Trump administration is planning to extend its travel ban to six additional countries. What's your reaction?
A: The president's positions on this are arbitrary. There's a vetting process if someone has a long history of aiding or abetting terror. I think singling out a country for their religious denomination is inconsistent with American history.
Q: Mayor Linda Tyer has indicated she's interested in pursuing the idea of bringing refugees to Pittsfield, but Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is opposed to bringing refugees to his city. What is your view on the subject?
A: My position on it is that I favor refugee resettlement, and it's up to local mayors to decide where, when and how many. In this case, I have not had a chance to really look at how many people are going to resettle in Springfield, but I don't oppose the resettlement of people.
Q: U.S. Sen. Edward Markey has co-sponsored legislation that would allow community television stations to continue to receive the adequate financial resources they need to provide local programming. What's your position?
A: I'm very familiar with this. I feel very strongly that community access, again due to the exclusive nature of the contract [with cable providers], should be honored. I'm on the companion version [of this legislation] in the House.
Q: On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in the U.S. in regard to the coronavirus. Is it time to hit the panic button?
A: I think once again that Americans should take some pride in the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health. I understand the argument about the uneven distribution of our health care system, but never forget that it's the highest quality in the world. ... My confidence rose when I heard the head of the Centers for Disease Control say we're out front on it. ... I thought that it was a little ill-considered for someone in the administration to say, "Well, this is a good chance to get some economic advantage." No, let's get out front in controlling the disease, then we can talk about those things.