Kathleen Rice touts work across aisle

Kathleen Rice touts work across aisle

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice took a long pause when asked about the biggest lesson she’s learned in her first term in Congress.

“It’s a frustrating place, to be sure,” said Rice, a Garden City Democrat and former Nassau County district attorney.

Despite the frustration, Rice said, she’s fulfilled her promise to form good relationships with Republicans, a key to her efforts to get two bills signed into law, something no other first-term Democrat did.

Rice wants to build on those relationships in her second term representing southwest Nassau County’s 4th Congressional District, she said, and she hopes the nation will prioritize immigration reform and public infrastructure in that time.

“You can’t underestimate how important it is to do that, to build relationships, because at some point we’re all going to have to come to the table and start to get the work of this country done,” Rice said in a sit-down interview with Blank Slate Media.

Rice sits on the House Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security committees and worked to pass the Boosting Rates of American Veteran Employment Act, which allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to give preference for contracts to companies that employ high numbers of veterans. She also sponsored a law requiring regular maintenance of airport security machines.

On a trip to southern border states early in her term, Rice saw how varied border security is and how it needs to be bolstered in many places, she said. She has also learned the northern border with Canada is “just as vulnerable” as the border with Mexico, she said.

But she does not think border security should be a prerequisite to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — both are equally important and can be done simultaneously, Rice said.

“How can we abandon those strong American traditions that have made this country so great and so diverse and where everyone wants to go?” she said.

Rice said she thinks the U.S. should take in more refugees from Syria, but wants the screening processes for those refugees certified by the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. She was one of 47 House Democrats who voted for a bill last year that would have required such tougher screening.

Rice said President Barack Obama acted slowly in addressing the conflict in Syria and the migrant crisis it has spawned, but she is hesitant to support  U.S. creation of safe zones there with a military presence.

She said the U.S. must work with other nations in the region on a military effort, and should also do more to staunch the Islamic State terrorist group’s online recruitment efforts.

Rice said her other priority in a second term would be rebuilding infrastructure, which she said would be “an immediate job creator” that could help shape Long Island’s economic future.

Rice said she does not “have all the answers” as to how to fund the country’s $2 trillion of infrastructure needs, but said the next president will have to work closely with congressional leaders, including Republicans, to find a compromise that may include broad tax reforms.

Rice drew fire from labor groups and some other Democrats last year when she reversed course and supported the trade promotion authority, or “fast-track” legislation, for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free-trade deal between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries.

The bill for which Rice voted contained the “most progressive” standards for what the final deal should look like, she said.

While she is still reviewing the deal itself and has not taken a position on it, she said, “I could see getting to a point where I could support it.”

Rice said she supports a higher minimum wage and allowing for the renegotiation of interest rates for student loans.

Rice was also among the Democrats who staged a sit-in on the House floor to advocate stricter gun control laws. She said she supports universal background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons.

“I don’t think that there is any place in civil society for assault weapons,” Rice said.

Rice differs with David Gurfein, her Republican opponent, on nearly all these issues. 

She criticized Gurfein, a retired U.S. Marine and former military liaison to Congress, as leaning too heavily on the military in his approach to national issues.

While she commended Gurfein’s military record, Rice said it is “offensive” that he is running to represent a district in which he does not live.

“I just don’t know if he has the ability or the desire to not be a demagogue about issues that we need consensus on, and I think that’s dangerous, to put your ideology before anything else,” Rice said.

Gurfein said he wants the U.S. to use “all aspects of national power,” including diplomacy, intelligence and economics — not just the military — to address the threat Islamic terrorism poses.

“She has a very limited understanding of the use of national power, but what I’ve been saying is we need a strategy,” he said. “We need a will and the intent to end this.”

He called “embarrassing” Rice’s claim that his residence would prevent him from representing the 4th District well, and said it indicates Rice is getting nervous about winning the race.

Democratic candidates tend to perform better in presidential election years, and the 4th District has about 38,000 more active registered Democrats than Republicans, giving Rice an advantage.

She also has a much more money to spend with $807,577 in her war chest to Gurfein’s $136,247 as of Sept. 30.

Rice and Gurfein face off in the Nov. 8 election.

By Noah Manskar

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