Persistence paid off for Ferri Middle School student Daniel Wulf.
While his civics class was studying the founding fathers, the Constitution and the differences between a congressman and a senator, they wanted to hear directly from the source. He asked U.S. Sen. Jack Reed to come to the school to speak, and after months of coordinating busy schedules, Reed stopped by Ferri on Monday morning.
The state’s senior senator spoke to a packed cafeteria for about 30 minutes, offering a brief introduction and a question-and-answer period as he fielded queries from especially eager students.
He started off by explaining his role as a senator, and he outlined the differences between influence in the House and Senate.
“Once you have the speakership, you can pretty much control what goes on in the House,” Reed said. “There’s much more sway for individual senators to influence what comes to the floor and how we deal with it.”
He noted that prior to his current role, he served Johnston, among other communities, in the House of Representatives from 1990 to 1996. He told the children that the upcoming Census could put one of Rhode Island’s two House seats in jeopardy.
“One plea I have for you is, make sure that everyone you know, your parents particularly, go out and fill out the Census form. The Census count determines the number of congressmen and women that we have. We would like to keep two. We have two great congressmen – Congressman [James] Langevin and Congressman [David] Cicilline – so we’d like to keep them. The Census is important.”
As the Senate prepares for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, he touched on the two other presidential impeachment trials in U.S. history – those for Andrew Johnston and Bill Clinton — before closing out his opening remarks by telling students that the country faces significant issues including the cost of college education, affordable housing and improving healthcare.
He did add, though, that Rhode Island has been the beneficiary of extra funding for its deficient architecture.
“We have put a lot of money into road construction,” Reed said. “You probably see the trucks at the bridges being repaired. Special money was delegated to Rhode Island for bridge repair, so you're going to see a lot of trucks on highways for the next several years and that’s good because our roads were deficient and it puts people to work.”
Reed then opened up the floor to students, who came prepared with incisive questions about the state, the impeachment process and how the senator plans to approach the upcoming Senate trial.
One student asked, to some laughs in the audience, why it takes so long to repair potholes in Rhode Island. Reed said that, until recently, not enough funding was going towards restoring and maintaining the state’s roads.
He referred back to the special funding allotted for Rhode Island – which amounts to $50 million extra – that goes towards roads and bridges. Reed, as the senior Democrat on the committee tasked with appropriating money for highways, helped secure the money.
“The most dangerous bridges in the nation,” Reed said of Rhode Island’s architecture. “One of the problems about potholes is, when it snows in the winter time and roads freeze and the trucks are moving, they’ll plow snow but occasionally they’ll plow concrete and they’ll rip that up and then they’ll patch it quickly in the spring but that patch is there for five, six, seven years and before you know it the road is bumpy. Bucking broncos all the way down the road.”
Another student asked when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, to which Reed replied that he expected them to come over this week. He noted that the House still had to name impeachment managers, which happened Wednesday morning – Reps. Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, Hakeem Jeffries, Val Demings, Jason Crow and Sylvia Garcia.
Reed implored the Senate, especially Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, to engage in a fair and impartial trial.
“In every other impeachment, not just presidential, but we also have the authority and the obligation to impeach federal judges because they have lifetime tenure,” Reed said. “All of them have had witnesses, documents provided, this is the first time where Sen. McConnell is suggesting that we might not call witnesses. We might not require additional documents. We won’t have a real process. We’ll just sit there and take what they developed, and it’s not complete yet, and try to make a decision.”
Reed backed up his request when he was asked later how he would vote on impeachment.
“I will impartially listen to all the evidence,” the senator said. “To pre-judge the evidence would be wrong.”
Reed took a couple questions directly about Trump, including whether he had ever met him. He said he’s had two interactions with Trump, but never a full conversation.
He was also asked if he ever expected Trump to win the 2016 election, and if he saw impeachment coming down the line. Reed said he didn’t foresee impeachment, but said he – and even some of his Republican colleagues – did not think Trump would be able to win the election.
“I know that many people, even my Republican colleagues, when he got the nomination in 2016, they thought he would not be able to win. He was able to run a very clever campaign,” Reed said. “There were questions about how much influence did Russia play, I think they had some influence but was it decisive? No one would be able to know. I think it was surprising … He was playing already to exploit his loss by television, the network he wanted to create.”