Congressman Gregory Meeks talks with the PRESS of Southeast Queens’ staff. Photo by Jon Cronin.
BY TRONE DOWD
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) stopped by the PRESS of Southeast Queens on Friday to discuss the current political climate in Washington, D.C. Meeks, who recently became the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Political Action Committee, is the senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.
He said that the political landscape in the nation’s capital has recently changed significantly.
The congressman, who had forged a close relationship with President Barack Obama, discussed life in Congress under President Donald Trump. Meeks has been an outspoken critic of the president.
After having served under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama, Meeks said that he has never had so little faith in the president’s word.
“In the 100-plus days that this president has been in office, people don’t know what he means when he speaks,”
Meeks said. “Even recently, he said that you can’t trust what his spokespeople say. As I travel to different countries—including Germany, the Baltics, the U.K.—folks don’t know what to think or believe. He says one thing one day and another thing 30 minutes later.”
This week, Trump disregarded his own administration’s account that he did not share classified information with Russian diplomat Sergey Lavrov regarding the location of radical Islamic State groups in the Middle East. Trump tweeted that “as president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting), which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism,” despite his own National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster saying that the report was false just hours before.
The statements came just a week after Trump contradicted White House statements pinning FBI Director James Comey’s firing on a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions in relation to Comey’s handling of the investigation on Hillary Clinton. In an interview two days later, Trump said that he had been mulling over a decision to do so since January and finally pulled the trigger after he deemed the investigation into his potential ties to Russia a fabrication “by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.”
Meeks said he was “deeply disturbed” by the article and the administration’s subsequent denial and affirmation of the events reported.
“On the campaign trail, President Trump, Speaker Ryan and many Republicans suggested that not everyone cleared should have access to classified information,” Meeks said. “President Trump’s disclosure shows that they should have directed that sentiment at him. President Trump has demonstrated himself to be unwilling, unfit or incapable of protecting our nation’s secrets. This grave mistake is yet more evidence that President Trump is willing to put Russian interests above American interests and our partnership with our allies.”
The congressman said that as the ranking Democrat of the Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats subcommittee, he hopes to obtain additional information on the meeting between Trump and Lavrov.
Meeks said that Trump’s history as a businessman has not translated well to the presidency thus far as many voters had hoped during the 2016 election.
“He’s never had to be accountable to anybody previously,” Meeks said. “It’s not like he ran a corporation as CEO. He ran a family-owned business where whatever he said, went. That is not how you run a country.”
The congressman said that he is placing his faith in constituents to put pressure on elected officials to challenge the president.
“I would hope that, at some point, with the speaker [U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan] and some of my other Republican colleagues, things will change,” Meeks said. “They should be able to do that because they are independent from the executive branch. We are supposed to have checks and balances.”
Meeks said that as a college student during the early 1970s, he saw Democrats and Republicans unite when they witnessed President Richard Nixon’s abuse of power. Meeks said that he hopes his colleagues would choose country over loyalty to the president.
Back in his home district, Meeks said that he was optimistic regarding the future of Jamaica.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” Meeks said of developing Downtown Jamaica. “Once we have a thriving Downtown Jamaica, it will compliment the homes that surround it.”
Meeks said that development would draw new places to shop, jobs and opportunities to Jamaica, from which many commercial investors fled decades ago.
“People who currently own homes will see that their property values will go up,” Meeks said. “We will see housing stock that is completely mixed use. The redevelopment of JFK Airport will boost things as well.”
Meeks said that mixing in new businesses—for example, Starbucks and Dallas BBQ’s—and sustained businesses currently on corridors such as Jamaica Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard is the key to maintaining a sustainable balance that doesn’t displace residents who live there now.
In regards to Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), who is facing charges for allegedly using taxpayer funds for personal use, Meeks stood by his city colleague. He said that he would support Wills in his upcoming bid for re-election.
“Ruben and I have worked very closely together,” Meeks said. “In this country, I believe that you are innocent until proven guilty. It is my role as a member of congress to ensure that if I see anything that affected anyone from delivering services and working with the community that they represent, then that would be a problem.”
Meeks said that, so far, he has not seen such evidence.
When asked about the upcoming mayoral race, Meeks said that he “has no problems with the current mayor,” but was not ready to make an official endorsement in the race yet.
As for Queens getting its fair share, Meeks said that he and his borough colleagues are limited in their ability to push federal funds towards the borough.
“We try to fight for money to come into the state of New York, and then the city,” the congressman said. “The city divides that money up as [it] sees fit. That’s why it is important for us to work together and make sure that our city council people get their fair share because, most of the time, it’s federal dollars that others get to decide how it’s distributed.”