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Congressman Joseph Crowley

Congressman Joe Crowley seems to be fighting two battles as he heads into his first Democratic primary in more than a decade.

One fight focuses on his immediate political future, as he’s getting a challenge from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a civic activist running to his left on myriad issues from immigration to healthcare. Crowley’s other fight is one that he’s been waging since Jan. 20, 2017 — a battle against President Donald Trump and his administration’s efforts to undo policies put forth by his predecessors.

“I felt as though [Trump] has been personally attacking my constituency,” Crowley said in an interview on June 14 with QNS. “His attacks on the immigrant population have been incredibly troubling to me, especially with what’s taking place on the border, separating families. That has been an abomination.”

Crowley’s 14th Congressional District spans northwest Queens and the Bronx, and nearly half of its population includes immigrants from almost every corner of the globe. Since Trump took office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have visited the area, among other parts of the country, and arrested individuals who immigrated illegally to the country, regardless of their other circumstances, or had prior criminal records that made them eligible for deportation.

The crackdown naturally alarmed immigrant groups across Queens and Crowley. While his primary opponent, Ocasio-Cortez, suggested that ICE be abolished, Crowley countered that getting rid of the agency doesn’t get rid of the problem. (The topic was included in a debate between the two candidates hosted by NY1 News on June 15.)

“Even if ICE is gone, you still have [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions,” Crowley said, referencing one of the Trump administration’s biggest proponents of the immigration crackdown. Crowley added that he and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand have co-sponsored legislation that would make ICE directly accountable to Congress; every arrest ICE makes would be reported to the House and Senate, a move that the incumbent said would dissuade ICE from acting “like freelance cowboys.”

“That would at least report their activities to Congress to help us understand what they’re doing,” Crowley said. “If they are violating people’s rights, they have to justify to Congress why they are taking the steps they’re taking.” Congress could then take its own actions to punish ICE for constitutional violations.

The Congressman said he’s also working to prevent the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans from gutting the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Crowley along with other members of the then-Democratic majority on Capitol Hill helped pass the law back in 2010.

While he acknowledged that the law isn’t perfect, Crowley said that the ACA helped to make health insurance more affordable for thousands of people in his district and millions more across the country. Nonetheless, he not only wants to stop the Trump administration and Republicans from repealing and replacing the existing law, but also supports “Medicare for All,” a proposal that would give Americans under 65 years of age the option of participating in the taxpayer-funded healthcare program for seniors.

“When Democrats are in control of the House, I think you’ll see even more of an effort to actually pass that legislation,” said Crowley, who noted that he has been actively whipping (lobbying) fellow House Democrats to support Medicare for All. “Healthcare and the cost of it are things that people are struggling with on a daily basis. I look at this as an almost singular priority for our caucus. … More than 131,000 people in my district gained coverage (through Obamacare), but my goal is to make sure that all people have some form of health care coverage.”

Meanwhile, Crowley said that he and fellow Democrats would work to “repeal and replace” the $1.5 trillion tax cut bill that the Republican-led Congress passed late in 2017. Many economists have argued that the cuts would sap the American treasury over the next decade, adding to the already sky-high national deficit.

Crowley said that “80 percent of that bill’s” benefits went to the wealthiest Americans, and the middle and working classes were given virtually no tax relief. “The backbone of our country is the middle class and they got treated shabbily in this bill,” he said.

One of the issues that has emerged in the primary race has been Crowley’s place of residence. He refuted claims from Ocasio-Cortez that he spends most of his time out of his district, in residence at a Washington, D.C., suburb.

“I live in Woodside; that is where my residence is. Quite frankly, I’m a proud Woodside resident,” Crowley said. “This job requires that I be in Washington. The taxpayers send me there to fight for them whether on votes or in meetings. When I’m not doing that, I’m back here in my district, serving my constituents.”

The 20-year incumbent not only hopes to win another term in Congress, but also that the Democratic Party retakes control of the House and Senate. As chair of the House Democratic Caucus, there are rumors that Crowley could (if re-elected) eventually replace Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Nancy Pelosi as the caucus leader.

“I do think we need to have a change in leadership in the House, by taking it from Republican to Democratic control,” he said. “That’s my focus. I’m running as the Congressman for the 14th District. That’s my goal and that’s where I’m keeping it.”

The 14th Congressional District includes all or parts of Astoria, Corona, College Point, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Flushing, Jackson Heights, Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside. The Congressional primary is June 26; the general election is Nov. 6.

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