Almost 20 days following the inauguration of President Biden, American politics and the American government is still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial impact, while the upcoming Senate trial of former President Trump stands as a reminder not only of the deep divisions in society and politics, but also of their culmination in the armed breach of the Capitol. Among the elected officials working to heal those wounds are the Greek-American Representatives in the House, who are also charged with the close monitoring of the US-Greece relations. The National Herald reached out to them.
Following are our interviews with:
Gus Bilirakis (R-FL 12)
Charlie Crist (D-FL 13)
Chris Pappas (D-NH 01)
John Sarbanes (D-MD 03)
Dina Titus (D-NV 01)
* The National Herald also reached out to the 6th Greek-American Representative, newly-elected Congresswoman Nicole Maliotakis (R-NY 11), who had to cancel our scheduled interview.
Greek-American Congressman Gus Bilirakis. (Photo TNH/ Archive, Kostas Bej)
TNH: Congressman, a new chapter in American politics, a new administration, a new congress has now fully begun, officially. what are you most optimistic for in the first couple of months of this new era?
Rep. Bilirakis: Well, I will tell you that I was just appointed as the ranking republican on the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, under Energy and Commerce, which is a very, very sought out subcommittee, and, also, because I’m the top republican, I will be working with the chairwoman of the committee, Jan Schakowsky, on issues that are very important to everyone. Cutting out the scams that are happening around the country, even around the world, COVID-19 fraud, issues that affect the senior citizens -these scams where they call senior citizens. You know, the thing that we hear about most from our constituents are these phone calls, the robo-calls, and the scams that take place. We'll also be looking at the internet, and you know, any kind of a freedom to post whatever you'd like.
TNH: What scams are you referring to?
Rep. Bilirakis: Ιn a lot of cases, like, for example, on COVID-19, there was an SBA loan that was given out, legitimately, but we found out through local media that people were using different names, they were looking at other people, stealing their identification and getting these loans -specifically, in this case, for farmers. And then we found out that they were using senior citizens’ names, that have small little houses and not much acreage in the Tampa Bay area, and then they're finding themselves liable to pay back these loans. So, a lot of fraud that's going on. It happens on a regular basis, and we've got to be there to help these people. So, I’m going to be very much involved. This is a very broad subcommittee: It includes travel and tourism; we'll probably take a look at the daylight-saving time issue -I think that's very important to look at. And, again, that section 230 with regard to holding some of these social media outlets accountable. And, of course, they have to be fair, and they can't discriminate against one philosophy. So, there are a lot of issues there that are very important to my constituents.
TNH: And you are uniquely placed to address them. You mentioned COVID-19 fraud, and you're on the health subcommittee as well. You mentioned freedom of speech, and, obviously, that ties into the breach of the Capitol on January 6th. First of all, how did you experience the attack on the Capitol, and how do you think the country can move on from it, politically and morally?
Rep. Bilirakis: Alex, in my case, what happened was, on the morning of January 6th I tested positive for COVID-19, so I was not able to participate on the floor of the House of Representatives -I had to quarantine right away. So, I missed the violence that took place that particular day. I wasn't feeling well, but I was trying to monitor it as much as I could from the TV, like everyone else, and it was very, very sad. I think that these people are militias, some were anarchists… I don't believe that the people that went through the Capitol were your typical Trump supporters. I think these people wanted to create violence, they're probably professional agitators. But, no excuse, it was a terrible moment in our country's history. And these people need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent, as far as I’m concerned. Very sad. But the fact that the inauguration went really well, without a hitch, and the transfer of power showed that we can recover quickly in this country, and democracy prevails.
TNH: You mentioned that they weren't typical supporters of the President. President Trump has been banned from social media, and so have some of his supporters, some of the organizations that took part in those episodes. The question, as far as freedom of speech on social media goes, is whether President Trump was typical President Trump, and whether his speech on social media was typical of him. Because it is a very pressing issue, and you're absolutely right that we should be very aware of the dangers of policing free speech. On the other hand, where is that line? When do we start monitoring that free speech's consequences?
Rep. Bilirakis: Well, inciting violence is probably where we should take a look. Like you said, it's a fine line. I don't believe that the president incited violence.
TNH: I don’t think it’s a fine line, I think it’s a very visible line.
Rep. Bilirakis: Yes. Now, do I agree with what he did that particular day, even holding the rally on the 6th, the day that we were going to certify the electors? No, I don't agree with that. But I took a look, I reviewed the President's speech several times. And even, I believe it was the Wall Street Journal that stated there was no incitement there. Was it poor judgment on his part? Sure. Did this mandate the type of response where we're going to impeach the President in the House? I don't think so. You know, we did a good job on inauguration day, but we must be united, and we must move forward as a nation. That's my spiel on it. Now, don't get me wrong: We can agree to disagree on issues. To my fellow Hellenes, I encourage us to continue to be united. We can disagree on politics, but we have a very special bond, very special bond, that most ethnicities have lost over the years. But we have retained that as Hellenes, and we have to keep that going, because it's very, very special, and pass that bond on to our children and our grandchildren. And that's why we get along -and of course we would, anyway, naturally. But it does not affect our relationship, whether we're democrats or republicans in the Congress. I believe there's six of us now. We get along very well, we are very focused, and we need to agree on the issues that affect our Ελλάδα, and our Κύπρο, and our Πατριαρχείο. And we do.
TNH: I know your opinion is that the president should not be convicted in this, the second impeachment.
Rep. Bilirakis: That’s correct.
TNH: The thing is President Trump is out of office now, and he is in the process of a second impeachment. While the democrats control the White House and Congress, what does President Trump's defeat and impeachment mean for the ideological identification of the republican party and for the party’s unity within that identification?
Rep. Bilirakis: I will tell you that I feel that the policies, first of all, of the Trump administration were excellent in most cases. And even when it affected our Ελλάδα and our Κύπρο we made a great deal of progress, particularly under Secretary Pompeo. I was heavily involved with that, having a direct communication with Secretary Pompeo. But, as far as the philosophy, the republican philosophy, I believe that it's still there. We picked up seats in the House of Representatives -quite a few seats; we were predicted to lose 15 to 20 seats, and we picked up between 10 and 15 seats. We added another Greek-American in Nicole Malliotakis, so that's very helpful, too, to our cause, the Hellenic caucus. But I believe that it's a center-right country. I think that a lot of folks that did not agree with President Trump, or did not vote for President Trump, more than likely -and I don't want to speak for them- but I think it was more (an issue of) personality. And these executive orders that President Biden has signed in the last couple days, I disagree with quite a few of them, particularly with the Keystone pipeline. I know he's a good man, but… we'll see. I don't really want to criticize at this particular point. This is a time for unification.
TNH: You've touched on so many important issues. I was going to ask what Trump policies you think should continue in light of those 17 executive actions, but you've already mentioned that you're not opposed to the policies of the previous administration. However, you've also talked about Greek-American relations and the advancements that have been made. Now, while there were concerns about President Trump's relationship with President Erdogan, Greek-American relations have been steadily growing closer during the previous administration; they're at the closest they've been in many years. But there has been some delay and some pushback from the previous administration in regard to sanctions for Turkey's purchase of Russian systems. How do you expect Greek-American relations, especially vis-a-vis Greek-Turkish relations, to evolve under President Biden?
Rep. Bilirakis: Well, I hope that we've made a lot of progress, even for placing the sanctions on Turkey. The Trump administration placed the sanctions because of the purchase of the S-400s from Russia. Yeah, I guess I wasn't crazy about the fact that President Trump had this relationship with Erdogan, but, you know, his style is to be close to some of these strongmen. But, then, out of principle, he does the right thing, ultimately. That's in the past. I understand that. But a lot of progress has been made, and I know, personally, that he contacted Prime Minister Mitsotakis within the last year on this issue, the Turkish aggression, and also contacted Erdogan. And I believe that's one of the reasons, temporarily, for the most part, Erdogan has backed off. And I love the fact that -and this was in our legislation- we lifted the embargo on Cyprus, so that Cyprus can purchase the non-lethal military equipment. I believe that we need to move forward and expand that to lethal military equipment, so that they can protect themselves. But I think there's a great deal of progress there, and it's not rhetoric. Now, I know that President Biden has been very close to the Greek-American community for years, and he knows quite a few Greek officials, personally, in Athens. I’ve spoken to those officials. So, I’m hopeful that we can build on this relationship. And, again, as you said, the Greek-American ties, and with Cyprus, have never been stronger. And the fact that we, Cyprus and Greece, of course, forged this relationship with Israel, and bringing in -I’m working on this as well with the Ambassador- and I know we have a great relationship, Greece does, with Egypt as well. But, throughout the region, there's so much potential. And I think that the American politicians in my congress are realizing the potential, and the fact that Turkey has been a bad actor, and that we can't count on them; I don't think we ever could. But they're finding out that they're not reliable, and Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, and some of these other countries -of course, Jordan; Greece has a great relationship with Jordan and other countries, as well, you know in the middle east. So, I think that there's a lot of potential there.
TNH: What would you say makes Greece important to the United States at this point?
Well, they're a regional ally, and, of course, the history. You go back to the history of Greece being a natural ally to democracies in the region, true democracies, Greece, and Cyprus, and Israel. To have that special bond with those great countries means so much to the United States. And, of course, the oil exploration plays a role as well. To go back, again, to Biden, I’m not familiar with the secretary of state that he's chosen, but I know he has a close relationship with Greek-Americans around the country, and hopefully they'll have his ear. As a Hellene, and a great supporter -and I have such love for our Ελλάδα, and our Κύπρο- I want to see action. Υou know, with the Biden administration, the ceremonial stuff doesn't really mean a heck of a lot anymore. I want to see progress. And I know that the Trump administration wasn't great on ceremonial, but there was action there.
TNH: It wasn't fast on action. It wasn't great on ceremony, but I also have to say it wasn't fast on action. We did get action, significant action…
Rep. Bilirakis: Yeah, eventually, we got it. Eventually. We had to press very hard. So, I’d like to see the Biden administration continue that. You know we're past the -and I’m not saying it's not a good thing- but we're past the ceremonial. We, as Greek-Americans, second, third generation Greek-Americans, we care about our Ελλάδα and our Κύπρο, but we're not going to be satisfied with just having the Greek Independence Day ceremony at the White House, or the τραπέζια. We want to see action. And I have confidence that President Biden loves Greece, and he's forged his relationship with these Greek Americans, but I want to see that come out of the State Department, and hopefully this administration. Because I know he's also had close ties to Turkey, as well. But I’m hopeful that we will continue this great relationship. And the ties have never been stronger, at least since WWII. So I’m very happy about that. I’m very grateful.
TNH: Final question, and I want to return to domestic politics. Florida has been hit hard by the pandemic. What would be the fastest route toward decisive action, as is needed right now on many fronts? A democrats-go-about-it-on-their-own approach, or an across the aisle effort, but at the risk of time-consuming, maybe fruitless, negotiations? Are the Republicans ready for, and do you find the Democrats open to, discussions that can quickly turn out results and produce bills that will hit the floor and become reality?
We need to address the lack of vaccine distribution. It was basically a miracle that we got this vaccine within months, and I commend the trump administration for their actions. And, of course, you know that we had a Hellene at Pfizer, who worked very hard on that, Albert Bourla. So I’m very proud of that; he's a good friend. But I think the distribution to the States, and the fact that we're getting more vaccines now, we've got to speed up the process to protect and keep our country safe from this. I believe that we will work in that respect on this particular issue, which is the most important issue right now, that we will work together and get this done. Τhe Speaker has to show some leadership, and, you know, we have a lot of politics. It's time to put these politics aside. I know you can't put it aside 100%, but let's put it aside for the most part. At least during these early days. And get these pressing issues addressed as soon as possible. Of course, it takes two. My side as well, we need to work together, instead of just trying to, you know, go for “who's going to be the next Speaker of the House?,” “which party is going to lead the House and the Senate?” We have plenty of time for that. Let's get good things done for the American people.
Congressman Charlie Crist.
Congressman, House speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters recently that she's committed to the concerns of some of your colleagues, who signed a letter, asking, essentially, for increased security. She also mentioned that “we have members of congress who want to bring guns on the floor and who have threatened violence on other members of congress.” She said that “the enemy is within the House of Representatives.” Do you agree with that?
I agree with her on that. I think that we're in a unique moment in history in our country, and in our Congress, particularly after what happened on January 6th. It's pretty obvious to me that we've got some serious challenges we need to deal with. I know that we will, and I am optimistic about the future, and I think that the speaker leads with a great heart and a great mind, and a lot of wisdom. And, because of that, I have great confidence in what she says, and (in) her guidance and leadership for all of us in the Congress.
President Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, also said that “the most profound national security challenge facing the country is getting our own house in order – a domestic renewal.” We've seen what happened at the Capitol with the terrorist attack; we see how both parties are trying to position themselves ideologically against each other in the wake of that attack. Is it an internal enemy that we're working against?
Oh, yeah, I don't think there's any question about it. This is a domestic situation. And the U.S. Constitution, and in the oath that we take in office, is to ensure domestic tranquility against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And we're dealing with the domestic one right now. So, yes, I think the answer to that is pretty clear.
But, I mean, is it an organized threat in the country, an organized situation? And how can we deal with it?
It sure looks like it's organized. I think everybody in the world probably witnessed what happened on the afternoon of January 6th; it looked like disorganized chaos, but it had to have organized leadership. And, you know, an investigation is being conducted. We'll find out if those are, in fact, the facts. And, if they are, as we all know, facts are stubborn things. So I look forward to the conclusion of that investigation, so we can move forward, and right that wrong that was done.
We talked about members of the House of Representatives; you've said that Rep. Taylor-Green should resign. Is Q-Anon a consistent and continuing threat, and how can we address it?
Well, you know, I think we need to live with more kindness and grace, which is sadly missing today in the U.S. Congress. I saw the video of her chasing around David Hogg, one of the victims at the Parkland shooting. That kind of approach to politics, or even (to) human decorum, is unacceptable and unconscionable. I hope she resigns. That would be best for the country. I think it'd be best for the district that she represents, and we can get on with someone who is a more positive person and really wants to get things done, instead of (wanting to) harass fellow Americans throughout the day. There's no place for a member of Congress to be doing that.
How did you experience the attack on the Capitol? What was that day like for you?
Well, nightmarish. (When) That day started, I had to go to the Rayburn House Office Building, which is right across the street from the Capitol, in order to get a new photograph for the new ID for the 117th Congress. When I left the Rayburn building, we were on our way to the Cannon House Office Building, which is where my office is, and we were going to wait there until it was time for votes later. And, as we're approaching the Cannon Building, Capitol police were there; they put their hands up in front of our car, told us we had to stop, and then one of the officers approached my vehicle, and I said “what's going on? What's the matter?” She said, “well, we are evacuating the building right now, and what's even more urgent is that we just found a pipe bomb across the street from your office building. So, it'd be best if you got out of here.”
Pipe bombs that, if you'll allow me, the authorities said that were planted the previous night. So, talking about that level of organization, just, you know, just a note.
Well, to your question earlier -yeah, is it organized? Well, it looked chaotic, but, apparently, it is organized. And, honestly, Alex, I think we're going to learn a lot more through appropriate investigations in the House and the Senate about how people were able to pull off what they did on January the 6th in an assault against the United States of America from within. So that's how I feel about that.
Now, president Trump is out of office, he's in the process of a second impeachment, there's an upcoming trial, but, even delayed, it dominates congressional reality. What would it mean for either party for the former president to be acquitted? As you know, we have recently seen 45 Republican senators oppose the trial altogether.
What would it mean for the unity of either party and for its ideological positioning, for the former president to be acquitted?
Well, I don't know if he's going to be acquitted or not, and I don't want to address a hypothetical that we don't know is in existence yet. I’m anxious to see what happens with the impeachment trial -in fact, whether there is one at all or not. There is a level of, I think, momentum among the Republicans. As you said, 45 have already said they don't want an impeachment at all, and are committed against it. I don't want to see our country go through a difficult protracted event again. And, so, if it's obvious and crystal clear that the trial itself would not matter, because of the commitments by the Republicans and maybe a few others, then I don't think it's in the best interest of the country to hold it. We've had enough division. And, if it's clearly obvious that acquittal is going to be the conclusion, I think it'd be better not to do it -for the sake of our country, to be able to move forward, for president Biden to be able to move more aggressively on what he's trying to do: to heal the wounds of our country, and be focused on that future.
Talking about president Biden moving more aggressively and getting legislation passed, it's ironic that talk of unity is paired with the process of reconciliation, which doesn't really speak too much to unity. But, even so, are you confident that Congress is going to pass the president's relief bill without challenges to Democratic unity?
I am. I think there'll be challenges to democratic unity from Republicans, but, I think, within the Democratic caucus, we're very solid. It is abundantly clear to me and my colleagues that Americans need help, continued assistance. People are getting thrown out of their homes, not able to pay mortgages, or out of their apartments, not being able to pay rent, having difficulty putting food on the table for their family. They need and deserve relief and help. And I know that the Biden administration is committed to it, I know that House Democrats are committed to that. Why should we not -in the middle of a pandemic crisis- invest in our fellow Americans in order to give them the opportunity to get through this very difficult time? To me it would not only be unpatriotic not to do so, it would be un-American not to help our fellow Americans, and do what the golden rule itself says, out of the bible: do unto others as you would have done unto you. I believe in that to my core, and I think we're going to get there.
Florida -your state, where you've been governor- has been hit by the pandemic rather hard in the past.
How are you monitoring that situation? What are you looking forward to in dealing with the pandemic, and what are your legislative priorities on that?
Well, the legislative priorities are what we just talked about: get that next package passed, and do it stat, as quickly as possible. It's almost two trillion dollars in additional aid and help to our fellow Americans around the country, including, obviously, Florida. That's priority one for me, as it relates to legislative business. The other thing I think that we need to be focused on is making sure that, throughout our communities, the vaccine gets distributed appropriately. Here in Florida it's been a disaster, sadly, and I think that one thing and one reason why we have such a high level of death in the Sunshine State is that we've opened up our economy completely. I think that's been horribly irresponsible. You know, what do you put first, the value of a dollar, or the value of life? And I choose to put the value of life as paramount. You know, as they say, safety first. Florida, under our governor, has not conducted itself that way, and it breaks my heart for my fellow Floridians. I love Florida. It's a place that's similar to Greece. We're surrounded by beautiful water, beautiful people within our state, (as) within the country of Greece. In fact, my grandfather's from the island of Cyprus, and I’ve been there many times; been to other parts of Greece, as well. And it seems very similar to Florida to me. So, it's very sad for me that we're facing the kind of situation we are right now, as it relates to these vaccines not being distributed appropriately, or in an orderly fashion. Florida deserves better.
Congressman, we've just had an election, but you know very well that election chatter is continuous in the country. And you mentioned that Florida deserves better. I have to ask, because of different polls that are always on air; are you considering higher office in the state in the future?
Perhaps. And I say perhaps intentionally, Alex. Yeah, I love what I’m doing, I love representing my hometown in congress. It's an honor, and it's a privilege. But, as I said before, my heart breaks also for my fellow Floridians, not only here in St Petersburg and Clearwater area, but throughout the state. So, it's something that I am thinking about. I’m not giving a lot of time to that thought process right now, because I’m focused on what we're doing, and helping the new Biden administration get off on a very good start. But a lot of friends have suggested it to me, and so I am contemplating it.
You've mentioned your personal ties to Cyprus and Greece; how do you think that the Greek-U.S. relations are going to evolve under the Biden administration? Under the Trump administration, while there have been sanctions against Turkey, and an alignment perhaps with Greece’s positions, there has also been a lot of tension, there has been a delay in applying the sanctions. How do you think the situation is going to change, if at all, under president Biden?
Well, I think that Greece ought to be you extremely happy that president Biden got elected. I think the relations between the United States and Greece are going to only improve even more. As vice president, president Biden, has visited Greece. That's an encouraging sign, I think, as well. So, I’d be very optimistic if I were a Greek citizen in what the relations with the United States bode for the near future. I think it's going to be a wonderful re-blossoming of a great and important relationship between Greece and the United States of America.
FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Democrat Chris Pappas celebrates winning New Hampshire s 1st Congressional District race in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter, File)
Congressman, good morning and thank you for joining me. You've introduced a bill on COVID-19, the Emergency Care for Veterans Act, is that correct?
Yes, it's my first bill of the new term. We're really excited to get down to work here, and I think there's a tremendous opportunity to address a variety of issues, including the crisis that our country is currently facing, which has already taken the lives of over 400,000 Americans, and threatens the health and safety of so many more. One of the things we're looking at, through the VA system, is how do we ensure that veterans get access to the care that they need, especially through this pandemic. We've known for a long time that there have been issues with veterans accessing care and emergency rooms around our country; they've been hit with very large bills as a result, and sometimes they shy away from seeking care in the emergency room, if they need it, because of a complicated bureaucratic process. So this seeks to streamline that process to make sure they know that the bill is going to be paid, that they can get care there if they need it. So, for the health and well-being and financial security of our veterans, I think, this is an important bill.
Healthcare is also the message of the day from the White House. What do you think is the immediate future of the Affordable Care Act? Where do we go from that?
Well, this is a landmark law, and it has over time been embraced by the American people, because they understand that access to healthcare is so crucial, and we've got to do all we can to make sure everyone is covered and that that coverage is affordable. I think we appreciate that. Over the past few months, through this pandemic, we know that our health is all connected to that of our neighbors and our community members. So it's important that we build on the Affordable Care Act, and make sure that we're plugging holes in the system, and ensure that coverage is truly affordable. One of the things I hope we can focus on in this new Congress partnering with the administration is adding more choice and competition to the healthcare exchanges, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, which continue to escalate well beyond the ability of people to pay for these life-saving medications, and to take on the high cost of premiums. I think we can do that. And we can do it in a way that is pragmatic, builds consensus, and respects the fact that the Affordable Care Act is on the books, it has critical health protections for people. To go back, or somehow undermine it, would really be disruptive to our healthcare system, it would jeopardize the care that people are receiving today.
This is your first bill in the 117th Congress. Of course, a Congress that has had a terrible start with the attack on the Capitol. Yesterday, 30 of your colleagues addressed a letter to the House leadership, asking, essentially, for increased security. I know you didn't sign, but do you share their concerns? Is this still a dangerous time?
I think it is a dangerous time, because the groups that showed up at the Capitol, that resulted in the violence and the death that we saw on January 6th, are still out there, and they're still organizing for potential future attacks. We've got to make sure that the Capitol police and law enforcement in DC is ready for this; that they're working with our intelligence services to ensure they have all the warning signs, and they have sort of a full view into the threats that exist in real time. I think there are lessons to be learned from what happened on January 6th, and that's why we need a full 9/11-style investigation by the relevant Oversight Committees in Congress to find out where the breakdowns happen, and to make sure that we have a better distribution of our resources and our law enforcement assets, in a way that can protect the lives of the people who work in the Capitol, the visitors who are coming to Washington, DC, and, ultimately, our democracy. So, I do have real concerns, I think that's why we've seen a change in leadership in both the House and the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms as well as the Chief of the Capitol police. I think that's a start, but, in order to honor the service of so many that responded that day and continue to work to keep our Capitol safe, there's much more that we can do, and I think we can do this in a very bipartisan fashion that understands that the threats are real, and we've got to do all we can to keep our nation's Capitol safe. We also want to make sure that it's open and transparent to the people. Ultimately, our nation's Capitol belongs to the people, and they should be able to be a part of the process in the future, especially once we've turned the corner on COVID. There's a lot of work that will happen these next few months to make sure that it is safe once we can welcome the public to the nation's Capitol again.
Tragically, the list of victims keeps growing. You mentioned Capitol police; we've seen another member of Capitol police take their own life due to the trauma from the attack. Are we doing enough to address this?
Well I think we should always do more. We've seen 140 police officers who responded that day get injured. We've seen three lose their lives. one in the violence that ensued that day, and two who died by suicide since. The trauma and stress that exists in our law enforcement community, as well as among the staff who were at the Capitol that day, who work in that complex, is a real thing and we've got to make sure that they have the support of services they need. This is an ongoing concern in our military and in law enforcement, generally speaking, among our first responder population. Might be something new to our Capitol Hill staff, but we've got to make sure that they have the connection to resources out there. I know there have been some good information being pushed out by House leadership that we've relayed to our staff, and I think there's much more that needs to be done on this front. To think that, since January 6, three police officers died as a result of that incident is just horrific, and we need to honor their service and recognize that they put themselves on the line each and every day when they show up for work, when they respond. That's something that places a lot of stress on their families, and we've got to make sure that they have the support, the thanks, and gratitude that they deserve so they can keep doing their jobs and stay safe.
Congressman, you frequently reach across the aisle you call for bipartisanship, but just one day before the Georgia election you posted legislation you would like to see passed by democratic congress. Is this the window for democrats to perhaps unapologetically pursue an agenda that likely wouldn't have republican support, or should they work to not scare off moderates. By the way, are there enough moderates left in the electorate right now?
Well, yes, there are moderate uh members of the Congress, as well as a lot of moderate and independent voters all across the country, and I think they're looking for action on the issues that matter to them. And that's long been the frustration with Washington: It's sometimes clear, come election time, what the voting public is thinking. And then, sometimes, forces greater than any individual member of Congress get in the way of progress actually being made on these issues. And so that's why some of the issues that I’ve been talking about the last few weeks, whether it's health care, climate change, dealing with gun violence, making sure that we're addressing this pandemic in a comprehensive way and looking out for those who are being economically hard-hit, that's not a republican or democratic agenda, that's an agenda that's very popular with the American people, and I think we've seen it stymied too often by forces in Washington, including over the last two years Mitch McConnell, who didn't bring up popular bills to the Senate floor, that had passed the House with bipartisan support. So I think this is a new era. President Biden has talked about unity -that doesn't mean we have to agree all the time, but it means we have respect for our institutions, for the deliberative process, and ultimately want to get something done. That's our charge. We need to deliver results for the people of this country. It's not always going to look exactly like we would design the legislation, but we should be putting some wins on the board, especially when it comes to this crisis and the economic pain that it's causing. I think we can do that work, and that's part of the agenda not just of the democratic party, but of most of the American people who showed up in record numbers in November.
You mentioned Senator McConnell; there is an impeachment trial coming up, and 45 republican senators are saying that there's no ground for the impeachment trial. How would it affect the ideological positioning of both parties for president Trump to go into a second impeachment trial, and be acquitted?
I think there needs to be accountability, and that's why the House took the action it did to impeach president Trump for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol. He ginned up, manufactured, and created the lie that was perpetuated, and drew big crowds to Washington DC on January 6th. And we know he has a hand in seeing the violence that happened at the Capitol, and he needs to be held accountable for it. So what happens in the senate, I think, is important to set up some guard rails for future presidents about what kind of behavior is appropriate, what kind of language is appropriate, and we'll see how the Senate handles it. There is an opportunity, even if there isn't a conviction in the Senate, to have a censure and ensure that the U.S. Senate is on record condemning the actions and the words of president Trump in the period leading up to January 6. So, I hope that there is a reckoning one way or the other, but I feel confident in the action that the House took. It was the only tool available to us to respond to what we saw on January 6th, and I’m glad that we were able to see 10 republicans put the country first over the best interests of their party and make the right call to vote to impeach the president.
Of course, this was an attack based, as you said, on fraudulent information about the election. Talking about elections, and indicative of the climate that we're discussing, are the changes being planned in your state. Mr. Meyer (Rep. Pappas’s campaign manager) pointed out that state Republicans are rushing to call the next election due to redistricting. What's your take on that?
Well, we're seeing this play out in all 50 states right now. We have a census that is wrapping up. Soon, the states will have information about how the population has changed and shifted over the last 10 years, and then our state legislatures and governors will get down to the business of drawing districts. I think, and I think the American people believe, that districts should be drawn fairly. Not to advantage one party or the other, not to be drawn to elect a certain individual, but to allow the will of the people to shine through, and to allow the people of this country to select their representatives freely and fairly. Unfortunately, too many times party politics gets in the way of that process, and there's the potential for that to happen right here in New Hampshire. So, we want to provide some transparency for the people of my state and of this country about a broken process that results in a broken Washington and a dysfunctional Congress. And I think gerrymandering is one of the reasons why you see polarization in Washington DC. If your election is a foregone conclusion, and you only have to worry about your primary, then many more representatives today and into the future are just going to hew to the extreme instincts of their party's base. That's not healthy for our democracy, because it leaves the wide swath of Americans who are in the middle, unrepresented. We need fundamental reform, that's why I’m a supporter of Congressman Sarbanes’ bill HR1, The For the People Act, which would look to end partisan gerrymandering and ensure that we have fair districts all across the country. That bill's now been introduced into the Senate, as well. This could be an early opportunity to get the Congress on record that we want some fairness and a level playing field in our political system, and not just what's best for one political party or the next.
You've mentioned redistricting and we talked about healthcare; what are your other legislative priorities in this congress?
Well, first and foremost, we need to see additional action when it comes to COVID relief. That means additional support for our state and local governments that are incurring significant costs right now responding to COVID, and are losing revenue as a result of the economic dislocation, too. We want to make sure we're maintaining vital services and we're well equipped for the tough months ahead. In addition to that, we've got to provide more support for our small businesses and our workers that are struggling; I think we've got to take some time to understand how the last relief bill is working. But there are deadlines. For instance, the unemployment assistance expires on March 14th so more will need to be done to make sure that workers have a soft landing, especially as we move beyond that date. And, in addition to that, the top priority has got to be how we get more doses of the vaccine out to vulnerable populations, and ramp up that effort. The Biden administration has inherited a real tough set of circumstances, and they're working hard with pharmaceutical companies, with the public and private sector to facilitate that, but we'll need more resources from congress to make sure that we can effectively ramp that production up, secure more doses of the vaccines, and have the necessary supplies and number of people that can administer the vaccine in states all around the country. So, I think we'll see that as part of the next round of relief, and then, once we move beyond that, we've got to talk about recovery, how we put people back to work. We need to make big investments, Ι believe, in infrastructure, in our roads and bridges and transit systems, and our water systems, and high-speed broadband so that people are connected to vital services and to the economy moving forward. So, that is a game changer for our economy over the long term, and Ι think we will see legislation on the infrastructure front, moving probably later this year after the relief conversation has been satisfied.
I want to also ask about U.S.-Greek relations: under president Trump, there's been some concern about his relationship with president Erdogan, but again Greek-American relations have been growing closer, and they're at a very good point -probably the best point they've been at in many years. How do you expect them to grow under the Biden administration?
I think this will be a period where the Greek-American relationship will be as strong as it has ever been. President Biden understands the historic, deep-rooted relationship between our cultures and countries, and I think he's going to look to deepen that partnership even more. There has been important legislation passed on that front in the last congress, including the Eastern Mediterranean Partnership Act, which looks to deepen our strategic and economic partnership between the U.S. and Greece, Cyprus, and Israel. I think more needs to be done on that front, and I think president Biden can pick up that baton and continue to run with it. I think he's also someone who will challenge Erdogan and Turkey, where necessary. Too often, we saw president Trump not willing to tough to talk tough with Erdogan when he has continued to violate the sovereignty, the airspace, and the interests of Greece. So Ι do hope we will see that with president Biden, and I think he's got a good national security and foreign relations team around him that's really going to provide an opportunity to deepen this relationship. So I think it's going to be as strong as it's ever been, and I’m really looking forward to sort of a new era of the United States reestablishing itself on the world stage, and deepening its historic partnerships and alliances.
You mentioned the United States taking a leading role in the international scene again. Why is it, do you think, that so many Americans have issues with multilateralism and greater engagement from the United States in the rest of the world?
Well, I think most Americans understand we have a responsibility to engage with the rest of the world, and when you look at the problems we face, from the coronavirus pandemic to climate change, we can't solve this on our own. We need to engage and be a leader in the world community. Unfortunately, over the last few years we've left our seat vacant at so many crucial opportunities for us to engage. We've turned inward. And I think while it is absolutely crucial that we do everything we can to provide economic relief to our country, to invest in America, to get our country moving again, we also have to recognize that U.S. leadership is needed on the world stage. I can't tell you how many different world leaders have chimed in over the last few weeks, and expressed something to the extent of “America is back.” They are happy to see president Biden in office. They know he's someone who is a trusted leader, who understands the role that the United States can play. And I think the American people support that. So, this is about making progress for our own people and for the rest of the world, and we can't do that if we uh leave our seat vacant, or if we turn away from our traditional alliances that have helped maintain security and safety, and promoted things like democracy and human rights. That always has to be what guides us in terms of our foreign policy.
Congressman, how did you, personally, experience the attack on the Capitol?
I was in my office that day, we were expecting protests outside, we were told to stay in our offices, to use the tunnels to get from our offices to the Capitol. Things erupted very quickly, at about one o'clock that day, when the House and Senate came into joint session to deliberate about the electoral college vote, and to certify Joe Biden's victory. I think it was probably about a half an hour, or an hour after that, that my building was evacuated because they discovered explosive devices outside. We were hurried out of the building, and, in talking with Capitol police outside, they were getting calls on their radio about barriers being overcome, security being overwhelmed at the Capitol. I was about a block away at the time; they told me “get as far away from here as you possibly can.” So, I ended up getting to a safe place. Many more of my colleagues, however, faced a real harrowing experience in the chamber. It took them a while to get out, there were gunshots just outside, as folks were trying to get into the House chamber, and they went through a lot that day. It was hours later, after people had sheltered in place, or in a secure location, before things could be swept and we could get back to business. But I think the important thing through that all of that was that we did get back to the job at hand, which was to certify the election, to make sure that those who showed up with violent intentions -who, really, were seeking out leaders of our government, including the vice president and speaker of the House to assassinate them- that our business went forward, that we showed that our democracy, while fragile, is resilient and is stronger than those who seek to cause chaos and violence. That was a good statement that we made that night, and I’m hopeful that we'll continue to find ways to hold those accountable who showed up and cause violence that day. That process is still underway, but I think it is going to take a great deal of time for people to fully digest what happened. And the more that you see from that event, the more pictures and videos that come out, the more you realize just how close we were to these folks actually succeeding in either causing harm, or killing elected officials in our government, or totally taking over the Capitol in a way that would have delayed the process that day and put it off to a different day. That's really scary, and I think that that was a scary scene for the rest of the world to watch as well.
U.S. Representative John Sarbanes (D-Maryland). Photo: Public domain
Congressman, a new chapter in American politics with a new administration and a new congress has now fully begun officially what are you most optimistic for in the first couple of months of this new era and what are you most concerned about?
Well, certainly I’m optimistic about the change in tone that we see from the new president and the vice president, leading with this call for unity and bridging the divisions in the country. It's such a dramatic change from the tone that was set by president Trump, where, unfortunately, I think he often would look for the sort of fault lines in American politics, and try to drive a wedge even deeper into those. So, just the change in tone, the sense of stability coming from the Oval Office the fact that we now have someone with probably more experience and public service than any other person to enter that office in our history, when you look at it. I think that that bodes very, very well as we move forward. Obviously, the new president's priority, as is the priority of members of Congress, is to try to address this pandemic and overcome it, and to do that with much more of a coordinated and strategic plan and direction from the White House and from the federal government, much more than what we saw, unfortunately, over the last year. That will be very important. And addressing the economic crisis that we're in. At the same time, I think, in view of the fact that we've seen how shaky our democracy is right now, that it's important we take steps to shore up the foundations of our democracy, and instill confidence and trust in the heart of the American people and their democratic institutions and how they work. I'm leading an effort to try to bring a whole set of reforms that would make voting easier for people in this country, that would require ethical accountability on the part of our public servants, and would also push back on the undue influence that money has had in our politics and in the way we govern. I think those are ways we can restore some confidence out there in the public.
With congress and the White House both in the hands of the Democrats, is that a blank check for an aggressive progressive agenda, or for centrism? Because president Biden talks about the unity and the soul of the nation, but there is also the question of the unity of the soul of the democratic party, and where that is.
I think there's real opportunity here to make some positive, significant change and I think that the Democratic House and the Senate, and this president are going to invite Republicans to be part of what we view as meaningful efforts to advance the country, but at the same time we're not going to be held hostage if the Republicans decide they don't want to participate in that effort. I think president Biden is someone who, again, based on his experience in politics and public service, keeps all options on the table, in terms of how you move forward. And I think he's beginning in these early days exactly where he should: call for unity, an outstretched arm, reaching for whatever progress we can make broadly, together, here in Washington. But, at the same time, if he thinks there's priorities we need to pursue that are critical to the future of our country and our participation on a global scale in terms of American leadership, I think he'll push very hard for that, even if he's not getting the full cooperation of people on the other side of the aisle. He's got the wisdom and experience to kind of assess the situation as we move along, and at every moment, at every twist and turn along the path, I think his priority will be responding to the needs of the broad public. He's going to put that number one, and then whatever it takes to meet that need legislatively, and in terms of his executive actions, that's what he'll push for.
About that outstretched arm -between the ideological wings and shifts in both parties and the balance of powers in congress and the call for political reconciliation, which would be the fastest route toward decisive action, as is needed on many fronts? A Democrats-go-about-it-on-their-own approach, or an across-the-aisle effort, at the risk, as you've pointed out, of time consuming and potentially fruitless negotiations?
I think it depends on which legislation we're talking about. I mean, I think there's certain efforts where maybe the opportunity for forging a bipartisan coalition will be better than others, and so I think the president and leaders in Congress and the Democratic congress are going to have to make judgments about that. But I want to come back to the idea that we're not going to sacrifice good policy simply for the sake of bipartisan embrace, because that that doesn't serve the people's needs and the public's needs. You have to figure out what policy will deliver the most assistance and support to families across this country and then you push as hard as you can for that, and you choose the path that you think will get it passed, but make sure, when you're getting it passed, that the thing you're passing is meaningful. I think the strategy and the posture will be determined on a case-by-case basis in terms of the particular legislation that we're talking about. I think it certainly makes sense for the president to begin every conversation inviting all members, all parties, all political stripes to be supportive and to argue to them that what he's putting forward is based on his assessment of what the public's asking for, and then go from there. If he gets cooperation, that's great. If he finds resistance that would have the effect of undermining the policy in ways that disserve the American people, then I think he'll choose a different strategy. I don't want to prejudge what that's going to look like with respect to any particular piece of legislation. I think we have a president now who starts with an instinct and a reflex to try to bring as many people together as possible, but I don't think he's going to sacrifice good policy to that notion that, you know, you have to have broad bipartisan support on every particular initiative.
President Biden's first day in office included 17 executive actions and guides, the majority of which undoes Trump administration policies. Are there trump policies that you think should continue?
Well, that's a that's a fair question. I'm sort of hard-pressed to come up with a quick list of things that the president did that I would endorse, or want to carry forward. Let me put it this way: there may be those things, but there are so many things that fall into the other category, things that we need to reverse, things we need to build up, instead of tearing down, that I think my attention and energy is better spent focusing on those things, than trying to sort of imagine the areas in which I might want to continue his policy. Because whatever those are, it's probably a small category compared to all the things where we need to make a clean break from the policy of the last four years.
Speaking of reversing and repairing, how did you experience the attack on the Capitol, and how do you think the country can move on from it, politically and morally?
It was a very jarring experience to see this citadel of democracy and freedom, which is viewed that way the world over, I mean, it's not just a symbol, powerful symbol for Americans, but I think many overseas look at the US Capitol dome, and to them it represents all we stand for in this country. So to see it under siege from within, from our own citizens, was very disorienting. I was on the Capitol complex at the time, I was in my office, in a lockdown situation, and I wasn't, thankfully, inside the Capitol itself when this attack occurred, but I can tell you that the imagery that came out of that four or five hours where the building was being ransacked was quite overwhelming, and put everyone who serves here on edge. Now, what was gratifying was that we finished the task that was before us that day. There was an interruption, obviously, to deal with these rioters, but we went right back into the chamber; we counted the votes from the 50 states; and we finished the task at hand, which was to certify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as next president and vice president. I think that was a really powerful declaration by members of Congress that we're not going to let anything interfere with the functioning of our democracy. And it took us until the wee hours of the morning -I think we finished at 4 am the following morning- but that was a very powerful and, on the part of members of Congress, Ι think a kind of restorative action to take in the face of that attack.
While there were concerns about president Trump's relationship with president Erdogan Greek-American relations have been steadily growing closer during the previous administration and are at the closest they've been in many years. How do you expect them to evolve under president Biden?
I think it's going to continue to strengthen, because president Biden is somebody who knows our community well and we know him. He's also very familiar with the issues -again, 50 years of experience, where he's been right at the center of many of these issues that we care about deeply in our community. He was vice president during that period when Greece was going through the real economic devastation, and I think was very helpful in making it clear that the United States was going to stick by our ally, Greece, during those difficult moments. He has a deep understanding of the conflict in Cyprus and the need to reunify the divided island, but do so in a way that makes sense and brings justice to the people of Cyprus. He's familiar with the issues of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and more broadly with the threat that Turkey increasingly poses in the Eastern Mediterranean with its with its provocative behavior there. So he comes in as a friend of the community as someone well-versed in the issues and, I think, someone who will bring a more strategic perspective to how the strong alliance between Greece and Cyprus and the United States as well as with others in that region has to be deployed in a way that can contain and push back on the behavior of Turkey and Erdogan. I think having a strategic lens, as opposed to acting somewhat impulsively, which is the style of our last president, is going to be very important, not just in the eastern Mediterranean, by the way, but more broadly, in all of our dealings, internationally. He has the relationships, personal relationships, professional relationships, experience, accumulated wisdom, and the kind of diplomatic instinct that I think will make a huge difference in terms of how we relate to people around the globe, and he's brought in a first-rate team to lead that effort. So I’m very optimistic; we've been getting many messages from people around the world, in a sense saying “welcome back.” President Biden is a big reason for that reaction.
What would you say makes Greece important to the United States at this point in time, and just how important or steadily important does it make it?
I don't think there's a better ally in that region of the world, or a more strategically placed ally in that part of the world, than Greece and Cyprus. Obviously, we have deep and abiding bonds to Israel, as well, which is a very, very important ally there. And you're seeing now increased cooperation between the united states Israel, Greece, and Cyprus on many, many fronts; strategically, economically, in terms of the energy exploration production in that part of the Mediterranean and so forth. But if you look for countries who have been allies of the United States based on values, and have been there through thick and thin when we needed them at critical moments in our history to protect our interests, Greece has always been there for us. And, you know, actually, in wake of the attack that we saw last week I was rereading but I was reading back over the history of the Hellenic influence on the architecture of the Capitol right here. And I think that you know our Founding Fathers, and many of those who served in public life here in Washington since then, had a deep respect for the democratic traditions that were created and established and shared by the ancient Greeks, and they hearkened back to that. So, I think our shared values can be seen in recent history, but they extend back through centuries, really. You connect American democracy to the traditions of our Greek ancestors. I think that that makes Greece the kind of reliable dependable ally that that we should value very highly, and I think Joe Biden does value that. And you just then look at the strategic location of Greece and Cyprus in a part of the world that presents great challenges to us, and is going to need a lot of sort of stabilizing influence from all quarters. and there's just no question how important Greece and Cyprus are to the United States.
You've touched on the Democracy Reform Task Force; you're also on committees that are handling very sensitive and pressing issues in this point in time. What are your own immediate priorities in the new Congress?
In addition to democracy reform, which I put very, very high on the list, I serve on the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, so our jurisdiction obviously extends to addressing this pandemic, making sure we strengthen the public health infrastructure of the country, which I think has been exposed as not as strong as it needs to be, for sure. So, focusing on those health issues, including things like lowering the cost of prescription drugs, making sure that the Affordable Care Act is strong and that we can increase coverage and access through that policy; in addition, I care very deeply about the environment. I’m actually aware of some experiments going on in Greece now in the islands and other places where there's some real innovation around sort of renewable energy solutions that are quite intriguing. But I put a lot of priority on environmental policy, combating climate change. Maryland is home to the Chesapeake Bay, which is this beautiful natural and national treasure that we claim special stewardship of, and making sure that we're doing everything we can with the new Biden administration to strengthen the protections for the Chesapeake Bay is a clear priority for me as well. I would lastly touch on the importance of civic engagement and promoting volunteerism through efforts such as AmeriCorps and others. I think that's really important; I think it's something frankly we can partner with places like Greece and Cyprus, to explore more civic engagement in those places, as well, promoting public diplomacy exchange programs, like the Fulbright program and other international education initiatives -the idea of building up the fabric of a society, strengthening its connective tissue by promoting civic engagement. And one of the initiatives that I launched a few years back was something I called “Hellenism in the public service,” which was to encourage Greek-Americans to volunteer and give back to the broader community, not just to our own community, but to the broader society, because we have a lot to offer, and I think we're at our best, it's an expression of filotimo, I think, when you reach out and lift up the broader community. And that civic engagement is something that I think is a natural instinct for Greeks, and it's something that I want to try to promote as much as I can.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., speaks at a voter mobilization event on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Congresswoman, a new chapter in American politics with a new administration and a new congress has now fully and officially begun; what are you most optimistic for in the first couple of months of this new era and what are you most concerned about?
Well, I’m optimistic that we're going to get through this, and we'll get through it together. It's kind of a new day with the new administration. Healing time. I’m concerned that we are facing so many crises at once. You've got the pandemic; economic problems at home; racial injustice; climate change and restoring the us position internationally, which has been greatly eroded over the last four years.
Talking about the past four years -they've obviously culminated in one specific event. How did you experience the attack on the Capitol, and how do you think that the country can move on from it, both morally, and politically?
Well, I was in my office writing a speech to defend Nevada’s electoral vote, because we were one of the states that was being challenged by the people who thought it was an illegitimate election. As we headed towards the Capitol for me to give that speech, though, they said “go back and hunker down in place; lock the door turn, out the lights.” And so we spent about six hours just waiting to see what was going on, and watching it on C-SPAN. But people should not call them demonstrators or even rioters; they were domestic terrorists. Their goal was to stop government's transition of power in a peaceful way, to stop the electoral college vote. They attacked the capital, they attacked the people in the capital, they attacked the vice president. It was no question that was domestic terrorism. We had an inauguration then with barbed wire around the Capitol; with 20,000 national guard armed here trying to protect us; a much-beefed up police presence, and a hardened Capitol hill. That is something that just tears at your heart. You just don't expect to see that. It's going to be hard to recover, because a lot of those people are not going away. They didn't come on inauguration day, because they were facing such a show of force, but they're still out there on the dark web, they're still dissatisfied, they still say this is not a legitimate election. So, it's going to take a lot of healing. And your conservatives are going to have to be part of that. They're going to have to bring those people back into the fold, because they're not going to listen to the media. They don't trust the media. They're not going to listen to liberals like me, so, if the conservatives don't help us repair that damage, then those people will go off to more extreme interests.
Talking about bringing people back into the fold: with Congress and the White House now both in the hands of the Democrats, is that a blank check for an aggressive progressive agenda, or for centrism? President Biden talks about the unity and the soul of the nation, but there is also the question of the unity and the soul of the democratic party and where that is.
Well, the democratic party's always been a big tent. We've always had factions. And republicans have usually been alike in many demographic ways as well as ideological ways. Now, they're the ones who are split. You will see Biden with an aggressive agenda when it comes to climate change, when it comes to racial justice. Those are things that may fit on the left side of that political spectrum. But he knows how to bring people along. He's not going to do things that he doesn't think he can get accomplished. And he spent 30-something years in the senate; you've got a vice president who comes from the senate. He knows the legislature, he knows the players, and he knows how to get things done. He did that as vice president when he did the stimulus bill. So, while he's going to pursue a truly democratic agenda, he said “I was elected as a Democrat, but I’m going to govern as an American.”
Between the ideological wings and shifts in both parties, the balance of powers in congress, and the call for political reconciliation, which would be the fastest route toward the decisive action which is needed on many fronts? A Democrats-go-about-it-on-their-own approach, or an across-the-aisle effort, at the risk of time consuming and potentially fruitless negotiations? I'm asking because there's chatter that the administration is undecided on this question and there's not a clear picture on what bills are going to get to the floor first and what they will include.
Well, the president has said his number one priority is getting through this virus, getting vaccines in people's arms. And that should not be partisan. The virus doesn't care what party you belong to. Vaccines don't care. And we shouldn't care. So that should be the number one priority. I think you also pick a bill that's not so ideological, that you can get both sides on, like infrastructure. Everybody's district wants roads and bridges -that's not ideological. We can bring people together on that. Immigration is going to be a little harder, but, without Donald Trump there building a wall and doing a Muslim ban, and just talking so hatefully about immigrants, I think that will be easier, because, originally, the immigration bill that came out of the Senate, back when (Senator John) McCain was part of it, was a bipartisan bill.
Talking about president Trump not being there, how do you think the impeachment is going to move forward and when?
Well, the senate is debating that McConnell wants to put it off. There's some merit to putting it off, so we can get the president's cabinet approved and up and running in this first week or so. But the Senate is kind of slow in operating, compared to the House, and they don't do many things at once. But I believe they recognize the urgency of this, and they can do the impeachment trial, as well as move forward, and that's not going to be a long-drawn-out thing with lots of witnesses, as the first impeachment was. It's just one article, it's very specific. Everybody was here and witnessed it, so it can move forward, I think, more quickly.
President Biden’s first day in office included 17 executive actions, the majority of which undid Trump administration policies. Are there Trump policies that you think should continue?
Well, that's a tough one. I guess the one thing the president's going to do is leave in place the head of the FBI, who was put there by trump. But there's so many things that he did through executive order and regulation that need to be fixed. I think we've got to focus on that. So many of the environmental policies, they've undone. Some of the stripping of the administrative state; just look at the State Department, how many people have left, or been fired, or not funded -different programs that are so important. It's going to take a while to just assess what the damage is, much less try to fix it. I guess another thing in international affairs that the president has said is that he supported the be-tough-on-China approach, just not the way that Donald trump did it.
While there were concerns about president Trump's relationship with president Erdogan, Greek-American relations have been steadily growing closer during the previous administration and are at the closest they've been in many years. How do you expect them to evolve under President Biden?
I’m encouraged about that. President Biden has long had a relationship with Greece, with Cyprus, with the Patriarch. He has been there, he has seen it. You know, they joke that he is really called “Bidenopoulos.” And so I think he will be a friend of ours. He also has in place -who I think will be approved- a Secretary of State who is an expert, who is very wise on these issues. It's not a political appointment. Tony Blinken is recognized as somebody who will be moving us forward, restoring the State Department, and (who) I think realizes that Greece is so important in a geopolitical way, whether it's relations with Turkey, relations with other parts of the Middle East, or building relations, both economic and political, with Israel.
There's always this effort after elections to gauge the two countries’ political proximity, and it is usually based on the new faces in power. What would you say makes Greece important to the United States at this point in time, and just how important or steadily important does it make it?
Well, one thing is the diaspora of Greece: you find Greeks all around the world. That's something that we remember, that there is a strong Greek-American community here in this country –and we have one more Greek member of congress to build our caucus. It's not that large, but we are growing, and we are very strong, and we intend to put those issues forward here. As far as Greece itself, Greece has been very much engaged in energy development -that's some of the economic ties with Israel in that part of the world. Just from my own standpoint, in Nevada, there's an effort there to build up tourism after the virus ends, and one of those things is a gambling resort casino, that will hire a lot of people in Greece. Just geographically, Greece’s location has got some pretty bad neighbors, as we know that Erdogan has become not only a bad neighbor to Greece, but a player in broader Middle East that is not doing something that we approve of; we put sanctions on we've stopped the sale of the of the airplanes; they're moving more towards Russia which causes us concern and having that good relationship with Greece helps in putting a check on those efforts by Turkey. And don't forget we inherited all our democratic principles and the things that we've learned and that we hold dear in this country, like rule of law, and democratic process, and justice from the Greeks, and we need to keep that tie very close.
What are your own priorities in the new congress for your district and for the country?
Well, I’m on committees that are very greatly related to my district. Las Vegas has been devastated by the virus and by the economic drop, because people have to have money in their pocket to want to go on holiday and feel like they can be safe. We still have the highest unemployment of metropolitan areas in the country, so that's a real priority: getting the virus over and getting those jobs back. And to be sure that gaming and tourism are always at the table as we develop these stimulus and recovery packages. I’m also on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and in Las Vegas we say we don't make anything, except, maybe, dreams come true, so we have to import everything. So, you need all kind of transportation to make that possible, whether it's bringing in people, or lobsters, or flowers, or whatever it might be, to make that economy work. We also have a big immigrant population; this is the most diverse district in the state. We have a large Hispanic population, a growing Asian population, and people from all over the world come there to live, and to work, and play, and do business, and visit. I’m on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I enjoy that, intellectually, but also so much is happening around the world that that's kind of a key place to be. And, finally, I’m on Homeland Security; and after what happened at the Capitol, we are certainly seeing that as an increasingly important committee as we look to go after domestic terrorism as a new priority.
Greece and Turkey are starting talks again; there's always this concern that president Erdogan is moving just enough so that he can claim some progress, and then blame the lack of progress on the EU and on Greece and try to leverage that into some new agreement.
Well, Greece’s economy has been hurt hard by the lack of tourism, too. Greece has also been a victim of the whole refugee problem that it's had to deal with. You mentioned the EU and NATO: this is one of the things that president Biden and his new State Department I think feel strongly about -strengthening our old allies, the people who have been with us for the longest amount of time, and also renewing our role in international organizations. Not this “America going alone” kind of cowboy approach we've already seen. He has re-entered the Paris climate accords, and also uh the World Health Organization. So, I think you'll see an increased role for the U.S. in those kinds of organizations as well.