Health care, immigration reform and infrastructure: Jeffries spotlights Congress priorities

April 23, 2019 Paula Katinas
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=The high cost of prescription drugs and “kitchen table-pocketbook concerns” will be at the forefront of the national conversation among House Democrats in the coming months, according to U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

Jeffries, who serves as chairperson of the House Democratic Caucus, hosted a roundtable with reporters Tuesday where he spoke about the first 100 days of the 116th Congress.

He described the caucus as a diverse group that “captures the gorgeous mosaic” of the country.

When asked about his reaction to the controversy surrounding U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who recently was accused of downplaying the events of 9/11, Jeffries said she could “do a better job of choosing her words carefully.” He noted that she received death threats following her remarks.

He accused President Donald Trump, who posted a video on Twitter of the World Trade Center burning interspersed with Omar’s speech, of being a hypocrite. “He’s the last person in the world who should be lecturing anyone on the sanctity of 9/11,” Jeffries said.

House Democrats are cognizant of the constitutional role of Congress to serve as a check on the executive branch, he said, adding that in the era of Trump, the executive branch is “out of control.”

The president, Jeffries said, “is going to try to distract us and he does have the bully pulpit.”

But “he is more bully than pulpit,” Jeffries added.

Jeffries pointed to health care and prescription drugs as priorities. The price senior citizens pay for medications is so high, they often have to make the painful choice of paying rent, buying food or getting prescriptions filled, he said. “That should not happen in the United States of America.”

Another priority for Democrats is to pass a bill that would fund infrastructure projects to rebuild bridges and tunnels across the country, upgrade mass transit and repair public housing, said Jeffries, estimating that it will cost at least $1 trillion.

New York City would stand to benefit, he said, because it has the largest public housing system in the country, as well as the largest public transportation system.

Jeffries, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, added that he hears from constituents all the time about lousy transit service.

Jeffries charged that Trump “continues to push a xenophobic, anti-immigrant agenda” and blasted the president’s idea of removing undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers away from the U.S.-Mexico border and transporting them to Sanctuary Cities. “It’s not clear that the president actually has the authority,” he said.

Jeffries also called for more attention to international affairs — a sense of order at the southern border and more support for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the countries immigrants are fleeing. “We have a broken immigration system,” he said, adding that the U.S. needs comprehensive immigration reform that is “consistent with our values as a nation of immigrants.”

Jeffries weighed in briefly on the field of Democrats running for president in 2020 and said he planned to remain neutral for now, even if Mayor Bill de Blasio throws his hat into the ring.

He speculated that Gov. Andrew Cuomo might still jump in — and that was all the more reason to stick to his neutrality. “Who would want to be on the wrong side of my friend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo?” he joked.

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