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'Institutional memory is essential': Neal has no plans to follow Pelosi, step aside for new leaders

The change of control of the U.S. House next year will also mean a change for Springfield Democrat Richard Neal. He currently heads the powerful Ways and Means Committee, but will lose the chairmanship and looks to become the ranking Democrat.

In the meantime, Neal said he will keep pushing to extend the child credit credit during the lame duck session to cap off what he calls a series of "seismic accomplishments."

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal: I think that we produced not only meaningful but masterful legislation: the CARES Act, the rescue package, the infrastructure bill, saving the post office — and including the tax credit in part of our paycheck protection program. And when you look back at it, it was pretty heady, heady days for legislative life.

Kari Njiiri, NEPM: In stepping away from her role as leader of the House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wanted to give way to a new generation of leaders. You're in your 70s now, still younger than Pelosi but older than your fellow Bay Stater, Katherine Clark, or Hakeem Jeffries, who you are supporting to be the next Democratic leader. Do you see yourself as part of that new generation of leaders, or do you plan to join Pelosi in stepping aside for younger members?

Well, I don't intend to step aside at the moment, that's for sure. Institutional memory is essential. I understand the rhythms of legislating. And I think that what we were able to accomplish during those years, given the pandemic, it is extraordinary.

I've been a long time friend of the proposed Democratic leadership. I think Hakeem is going to do a terrific job. And I will just say this to you — personally and professionally — he looks to my knowledge and has repeatedly sought me out as recently as just a few days ago, to talk about what I thought the legislative agenda ought to look like.

It appears that Kevin McCarthy is poised to become the next speaker. What's your relationship with him like and how do you plan to deal with the Republican agenda in the next session?

Well, unlike [former House GOP leaders] Paul Ryan and John Boehner, whom I knew personally, I think that the relationship that I've had with Leader McCarthy has been more distant. We've crossed paths and crossed swords a number of times on different issues. So I am not going to predict what that relationship will look like.

But I can tell you that with great confidence that he's going to have a great deal of difficulty trying to govern a majority that seems carefully allied with the former president. And, at the same time, trying to shake the memory of the former president will be those moderates who are now few and far between that are left in the Republican Party.

But when you only have a small majority like the one that he has, there's going to be great consternation and I think great conflict within that governing majority.

What areas can you find cooperation with the GOP or do you suspect that gridlock will continue?

Well, I think that there are a number of issues that we might find accommodation. I think that letting some of those tax cuts that went to high-income earners go by the wayside, I think that that would make a good deal of sense.

I think that the other issue that I would be more than willing to try to give some sustenance to would be the issue of immigration reform. The country needs a steady flow of immigrants and we can discuss whether they ought to be high skilled or they ought to be day laborers.

But it also points out, I think, that there is a remedy here, if people of goodwill would simply make the effort to get a big immigration bill across the line.

After this interview, Neal got some big news. The Supreme Court cleared the way for his committee to receive copies of former President Trump's tax returns. Neal will continue to lead the committee for about six weeks.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
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