Transcript: Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)

Monday March 5, 2018

Claire Shipman: Hello. Our next guest plays an influential role on one of the House committees essential to the U.S.-Israel relationship, the appropriations committee. She has established herself as an outspoken leader on issues important to the pro-Israel community and was actually one of the first Democratic members of Congress to announce her opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Congresswoman Grace Meng. Congresswoman Meng, thank you for being here.

Grace Meng: Thanks for having me, everyone.

Claire Shipman: You have been a leading supporter of Israel and as I just mentioned, someone who isn't afraid of taking a hard vote to support the U.S.-Israel relationship. Why is this relationship so important to you? Where does your passion for Israel come from?

Grace Meng: Israel is one of America's strongest allies. A safe, a secure and a strong Israel benefits all of us around the globe. I am proud to represent a district in Queens, New York…

Claire Shipman: I'm sure we have some New Yorkers here; yes?

Grace Meng: …whose Main Street literally runs from the north to the south of the district. On one end is a predominantly Asian-American community, and on the other end in Kew Garden Hills is a predominantly Jewish community. And every day we live side by side, work side by side and I'm proud to represent this beautiful and diverse district. You can clap for Queens.

As a granddaughter who grew up in the Christian faith, my grandmother gives me tips constantly on how to better raise my children in our faith community. As an Asian mom who almost likes to feed others almost as much as a Jewish mom, we have a great district and so much more in common than we have different from each other.

And it is amazing: the best parts about the U.S.-Israel relationship are the connections and the people. From the people that I've met during my trips to Israel to the people right here in Queens and throughout this country, Israel is an issue that is not partisan. There is so much… You can clap for that.

It is our duty and responsibility and it benefits all of us around the globe, both democracies and democracy in general, to have a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Claire Shipman: Thank you. As I mentioned in your introduction, you were one of the first Democrats in Congress to oppose the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. There's a little bit of support for that in this crowd. Can you tell us about that decision and whether you think there's a way to build bipartisan support in Congress to address what many see as shortcomings of that deal? And it sounds as though, from what we heard from the two congressmen just a minute ago, that there may, in fact, be some agreement on that.

Grace Meng: Definitely. Voting against the Iran deal was a very tough decision for me politically. However, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was the right decision to make. I knew that it was the decision that I had to make in order for me to sleep well at night. And I knew that it was the right decision for our next generation. Of the many shortcomings of the deal, there were two that bothered me most. One was the lack of oversight and the second was the increased access that the Iranian regime would have to money and resources that would help further finance terrorism around the globe.

And we have seen this day by day increasingly play out in the region. I've worked on legislation in a bipartisan way that passed in the House to insure better monitoring of Iranian ports so that we could better see who and what was going through these ports. We've worked in Congress in a bipartisan way to put sanctions on the ballistic missile program and the IRGC and I believe that there is even more room to be able to work together to target the Iranian regime and its bad behavior.

Claire Shipman: Well, and in fact, I wanted to ask you about that, because beyond the nuclear deal, of course, we see Iran projecting its power throughout the region in Iraq and Syrian, Yemen, Lebanon. Of course, just a few weeks ago Iranian forces in Syrian sent a drone into Israel and set off an entire series of destabilizing events.

Earlier today Admiral Stavridis said to me he thinks that Iran and the way we deal with it really has to be the premier foreign policy challenge that we have right now in the Middle East. How do you think the U.S. and Israel can work together to confront the Iranian threat… and to be sure Israel has the support it needs to deal with the threats?

Grace Meng: Well, it's a good question. It's why I voted against the deal in the first place and I think many people in this room agree that we knew that this threat would become more and more serious. You can clap. The answer is very generally two-fold.

One is to work here in Congress in a bipartisan way to insure that Israel has the resources it needs to defend herself and that doesn't just keep and make Israel safer, it makes all of us safer around the world.

And the second is to do whatever we can to minimize and to prevent further financing of terrorism. Since I've gotten to Congress, I, for example, have worked in a bipartisan way to encourage the EU to designate Hezbollah, not just its military wing, but as a whole, to be designated as a terrorist organization.

We've also worked in a bipartisan way to do what we can to dismantle the logistical and the financial networks of Hezbollah and make it harder for them to carry out their nefarious activities.

Claire Shipman: Congresswoman, I could speak to you all evening, but I'm not allowed. We're going to have to leave it at that.

Congresswoman Grace Meng, thank you so much. Let's give her another round of applause, please, for all of her work and her time.

Grace Meng: Thank you.

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