Rep. Kathleen Rice on Saturday faced several hundred constituents in a town-hall meeting and offered a blunt assessment of why Democrats lost the presidential election to Republican Donald Trump.
“At its core, Democrats were not listening to people,” Rice said, eliciting applause at Mineola Middle School.
Rice (D-Garden City) noted that she was one of four Democrats in Congress to vote against California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s re-election as House minority leader in January — a move Rice said cost her a seat she had sought on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“You tell me what the leader can do to me that she hasn’t done already” by failing to recapture the House majority, Rice said.
“This is how entrenched politics is in Washington,” she said. “And it happens on both sides of the aisle. [House Speaker] Paul Ryan plays the same games with his people that Nancy Pelosi plays with hers.”
Participants in the Town Hall shared concerns about national immigration and health care policy under Trump. Several asked about investigations into reported communications between Russian officials and Trump administration and campaign officials.
Rice said that with a Republican president and Democrats in the minority in the House and Senate, Democrats can only do so much to investigate issues such as Russia’s alleged hacking of the Democrats during the presidential campaign.
Ellen Smiley, of Levittown, thanked Rice for having the public town hall, noting that her congressman, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), hasn’t held a similar event. “I’m here because I wanted to know what’s going on in Washington, but my representative didn’t show up,” Smiley said.
King, who is holding a telephone conference call with constituents Wednesday, said he opted against a traditional town hall after seeing aggressive behavior at events held by other House Republicans across the country.
“The way the town halls are going, almost nothing intellectual is served by them,” King said in an interview. “It’s almost impossible to have intelligent debates. You have people coming up and screaming, shouting down speakers. It demeans democracy and I won’t be a part of it.”
Another of Rice’s constituents questioned the Democrats’ national leadership, which overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton for president over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“In 2010, when Democrats lost the House, the leadership should have changed then, but it didn’t,” Rice said.
“Between 2012 and 2015, nothing was done in the Democratic Party because it was just the belief that Hillary was going to be president and everyone would fall [in] behind ... ,” she said. “There’s no question that the apparatus that was meant to be objective was not. And now the party is suffering.”
However, Rice praised new DNC chairman Tom Perez’s decision to make his opponent, Keith Ellison (D- Minn.), deputy DNC chairman, and Sen. Chuck Schumer’s inclusion of Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in Senate leadership.