'Focused on my campaign'

Langevin talks election, pandemic, police reform as primary looms

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Second Congressional District Rep. James Langevin discussed his primary candidate Dylan Conley, the upcoming election, pandemic response and police reform during a wide-ranging interview with the Sun Rise last week.

Langevin had little to say regarding Conley directly, but said that he takes every primary opponent seriously. He did note that Conley has chosen to “gone negative early” with “nothing constructive to say.” The two recently held their first debate, moderated by EatDrinkRI’s David Dadekian.

“There’s only two ways to run, I say – scared or unopposed,” Langevin said. “I don’t have anything to say about my opponent. I’m focused on my campaign, reelection … primarily, though, I’m focused on doing the job representing the people in the Second Congressional District in Washington, and making sure, especially on getting the COVID aid bill, that we’re doing everything we can to get the right resources in place and that we are helping people to make it through this very difficult time.”

Langevin responded to a statement Conley made attacking his legislative record during a media roundtable last month. Conley said Langevin has only passed a few bills during his time in Washington, a claim the congressman refuted as “naive.”

He cited a recent example of a bill he introduced to “better coordinate” the country’s policy in cyberspace. He said that, while it was initially a standalone piece of legislation, it was eventually added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act and passed by the full House.

“Now we’re in negotiations with the Senate to try and keep that in the final bill,” Langevin said. “I have many examples like that with an important piece of legislation, whether it’s in health care or national security, they get added on as amendments and will be attached to a bill that is moving.”

 

Troubled with potential interference

Langevin touched on the upcoming primary and general election, saying that he is “troubled with the issue of foreign powers trying to interfere or influence” the process.

He referenced reports of China and Russia potentially meddling in election affairs, so he urged a need to “double down” on security.

“This is something that I’ve spent a lot of time on, so that translates over to making sure that our elections are secure, our election systems, the voting equipment,” Langevin said. “I know the Department of Homeland Security is working closely with state and local governments to ensure that we have secure elections.”

The Sun Rise’s interview with Langevin came shortly before news broke that Postmaster Louis DeJoy would come before Congress following severe backlash to a number of changes made at the U.S. Postal Service.

Langevin said he hopes that Postal Service aid will be attached to the next COVID bill, but he couldn’t provide a timeline for when that would be passed. He said last week that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and White House negotiators may be going back to the table soon.

“I want to make sure the post office has the resources it needs to handle mail ballots,” Langevin said. “I’m a supporter of mail ballots for those people who feel more comfortable voting from home, don’t want to be around a large number of people or to be in public places right now and so that should definitely be an option. I know our Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has been working to streamline the process, making it as secure and workable as possible, and I hope that we will get something done on that front as well.”

Pandemic response

Langevin said that Congress should be focused on “helping people keep their heads above water” as talks continue on the new COVID aid bill.

He said the stimulus checks and boost to unemployment, as well as the Paycheck Protection Program, were critical the first time around as the country attacks the pandemic from two sides.

“We’re trying to battle this problem on two fronts – the health care challenges that we’re dealing with to keep people safe and healthy from coronavirus, but also trying to protect people from the economic consequences of coronavirus,” Langevin said. “That goes with helping our small businesses, and that’s why the PPP program is so important, helping them to pay their bills but also keep their workforce in tact so that they didn’t have to go out and look for new employees.”

He said it’s vital to continue stimulating the “consumer-driven economy” throughout the duration of the pandemic.

“We depend on people buying products and keeping demand going so we keep people working employed who are manufacturing these products, and if that slows down then we’re going to have economic problems as well as healthcare problems,” Langevin said.

Outside of economic recovery, Langevin referenced his “long, strong record” on education and helping to provide resources from the early pre-K stage. He specifically noted a push for career and technical education to teach “skills that are necessary in this 21st-century economy,” such as information technology, cybersecurity, plumbing and carpentry.

“We need to continue to focus on that to help families educate their kids and also get ahead and realize the American dream,” Langevin said. “Education is the great equalizer, so everything we can do to make sure we are providing the right resources that families need is absolutely essential … We need to make sure our young people have those skills and I’ve been a leader in helping to revamp those programs, as well as put more resources into things like career and technical education.”

As far as reopening schools in the Ocean State, Langevin put his trust in Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green to create the right plan for students.

He said he expects them to take advice from public health officials to produce a “data dependent” solution.

“From what I understand, they’re taking a very flexible approach and they’re going to try to do both some in-person learning as well as online learning for those who don’t want to send their kids to school, don’t feel it’s safe, but again this is going to be a decision that is going to be closer to the time, according to what Gov. Raimondo said and right now the plan is to try to reopen schools, kids [will be] wearing masks and also social distanced, but there will be a plan for hybrid learning at home,” Langevin said, adding that the governor has done a “great job” responding to the coronavirus.

Some changes that need to be made

Langevin said that the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police in May “was gut-wrenching to watch” and that “some changes need to be made” in its wake.

He was one of the many cosponsors of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which laid out numerous changes including a mandate for federal police officers to wear body cameras and eliminate no-knock warrants. The bill passed the House, but it remains held up in the Senate.

“It shocked the consciousness of the country and it really galvanized everybody to get behind having the dialogue about how we achieve some type of reform that it’s going to ensure that all communities, especially communities of color, believe that there’s equal justice under the law, protection under the law, and making sure we’re looking at how to balance resources the right way to make sure that we’re not only putting money into funding our police, but also that there’s resources there for community programs for things like counselors and intervention specialists that can help defuse situations is also important,” Langevin said.

Langevin was quick to say, though, that while the officers involved in Floyd’s death deserve their charges and to stand trial, the “overwhelming majority” of law enforcement officials “do the job the right way.”

“This police officer was wrong in how he handled it, and there’s been numerous other examples unfortunately of police officers not handling things the right way, but I do want to state that the overwhelming majority of police officers go to work every day and do the job the right way,” Langevin said. “They put on that uniform and wear that badge and understand that code of protecting and serving the community.”

He added: “We need to remember that and certainly respect and support our police officers, but clearly the communities of color are hurting right now and don’t believe or feel that the criminal justice system or justice system right now or policing is working for them and that needs to change.”

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