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Jul 7, 2023, 3:45pm EDT
politicsNorth America

Mondaire Jones wants back in

Jemal Countess/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million
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The Subject

“I am running to finish the work that I started,” says Mondaire Jones, “and to save democracy itself from an increasingly fascist Republican Party.”

The work he’d started was a seemingly promising run in the House, which he joined in 2021 after winning a safe Democratic seat in New York’s Hudson Valley. Jones, the first openly gay Black man elected to Congress, carried the party’s new voting rights bill and became a favorite of the-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Then came redistricting. The short version: New York Democrats drew a favorable gerrymander, Republicans sued and got it thrown out, a judge imposed a new map on the state, and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney — without a “heads up” to his colleague — switched to run in Jones’ district. Jones ran for Congress in Brooklyn, lost, and this week, announced a comeback bid for his re-drawn seat, which Republican Rep. Mike Lawler won in November.

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The Interview

Americana: What district do you expect to be running in? Are you assuming it’ll change or be changed before next November?

Mondaire Jones: I’m assuming that I will be running in the district as it’s presently drawn, and I fully intend to defeat Mike Lawler on his record. This is a district that woke up horrified to learn that its member of Congress is against the freedom to have an abortion; that he voted to gut the IRS, so that billionaires and corporations could more easily cheat on their taxes. He opposes an assault weapons ban; we here in suburbia are deeply concerned that our kids are getting gunned down in schools. He said that the FBI and the DOJ are politicized, without any evidence, following the indictment of Donald Trump by Jack Smith. There is nothing moderate about those positions.

Americana: You used the term “fascism” to describe Republicans — can you unpack that a little? What are they doing that’s fascist?

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Mondaire Jones: This is a Republican Party seeking not only to assail the right to vote, but not to certify free and fair elections. Donald Trump is now saying he’s going to appoint people who are partial to him as the head of the FBI and the DOJ if he gets another term in the White House. And he’s called for jailing his political opponents. That is authoritarian behavior. That is fascism. I’m old enough to remember when people clutch their pearls when Joe Biden used that word last year. But he’s been vindicated.

Can I just say this? The word “moderate” has to mean something. What does it matter if you don’t self identify as an extreme MAGA Republican, so long as your voting behavior is indistinguishable from those individuals? The only “moderate” vote of his, that I’m aware of, is that he voted for only one of two anti-trans bills after intense pressure from LGBTQ+ activists in Rockland County. This is a district that is highly educated, and wants to see government work. This is not a socially conservative district.

Americana: How did he win in the first place?

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Mondaire Jones: Mike is a career political operative who will tell you anything you want to hear. And he was running against a uniquely unpopular Democratic nominee who my constituents blamed for having pushed me out of my seat and for having created the redistricting nightmare in the state that we all experienced. There was a tremendous enthusiasm gap — to say nothing of what I think people in both parties here will tell you, which is that he didn’t show up to actually campaign the district.

Americana: You started your House career with the second Trump impeachment. What’s your reaction to the effort — led by Rep. Elise Stefanik, from the NY delegation — to expunge that?

Mondaire Jones: These are not serious people. You cannot take back an impeachment. You certainly can’t take back two impeachments. When I was in Congress, I voted to lower the cost of prescription drugs; I voted to enact voting rights legislation; I negotiated the bipartisan infrastructure bill and brought hundreds of millions of dollars to my district for schools, housing and health care. Look at what Republicans have done with the place in my absence!

I want to continue my work to lower prescription drug costs, including for people who are not on Medicare. I want to codify Roe v. Wade, and pass universal background checks and an assault weapons ban to keep our community safe. I want to save the idea of multiracial democracy in this country once and for all, passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which is a bill I co-authored.

Americana: Would you continue the House investigation into Hunter Biden?

Mondaire Jones: If Hunter Biden is guilty of crimes that anyone else would go to prison for, then lock his ass up. But that has nothing to do with President Joe Biden.

Americana: Do you still want to expand the Supreme Court?

Mondaire Jones: It has been five days since I became a second class citizen, due to the Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative. It has been approximately one year since the far right supermajority on the Supreme Court ended the 50 year old constitutional right to have an abortion. It has been 10 years since the conservative majority on the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act unleashing the present wave of racist voter suppression that we are now experiencing throughout the country.

So, yes, restoring balance and integrity to the Supreme Court to protect our basic freedom and save democracy itself remains a priority of mine. And I am so glad to be vindicated in the polling on this question from Democrats, independents, and even a good number of Republicans. As sad as I am over the events that had to happen in order for people to come to that realization.

Americana: In 2022, the “electability” line against you in the primary was that you were too left-wing to win the redrawn seat. Do you still support Medicare for All?

Mondaire Jones: Yes, and so does [Pennsylvania Rep.] Matt Cartwright, who won in a district that Trump won by three points. Call me crazy, but I believe that in the richest nation in the history of the world, everyone should have health care.

Look, we’re going to see Republicans throw potentially tens of millions of dollars at me, distorting my record. I am proud to have a legislative record of consistently voting for historic levels of police funding. I stood up to members of my party when I negotiated a passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law that had been held up. And I’m very proud of my pro-Israel record. It’s going to be hard to paint me as some radical, because my constituents know me to be pragmatic, and focused on results.

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