On Monday, U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman hosted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at The College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale. The two politicos discussed education, Black maternal health, gun violence and the Russia-Ukraine war at length, and how Congress plans to respond.
Also in attendance were state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and several Westchester mayors — with the audience predominantly women-identifying.
Pelosi told listeners that her college roommate was from Riverdale and recalled her connections to the Riverdale faith community. With a focus on health care, the House Speaker had previously visited the Hebrew Home at Riverdale back in 2018 alongside then Rep. Eliot Engel.
Bowman, whose constituents mostly reside in Westchester County and the north Bronx, is facing a challenge from moderate Democrats in a June 28 primary, and a Pelosi endorsement wouldn’t hurt the progressive’s campaign.
Pelosi and Bowman blew through the planned discussion points on education and children before landing on a more tense topic. Bowman asked Pelosi how Congress will navigate the crisis in Ukraine.
Right now, our focus is on Ukraine, Pelosi said.
Congress passed a bill last Thursday — which President Biden signed on Tuesday — allotting $13.6 billion toward Ukraine for humanitarian and military assistance, defense and economic assistance.
“This is really important that we get that out right away,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi said that the U.S. has a responsibility to provide resources to meet the needs of the 2.7 million refugees, and “to welcome some of those refugees to the United States.”
A joint session of Congress heard from Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, when the Ukranian president pleaded with Congress for more military support in a fiery speech.
“There’s some things we can do. There’s some things we can’t,” Pelosi said on Monday.
Pelosi was referring to a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, banning Russian aircrafts from entering Ukrainian skies. But doing so would trigger far greater cataclysm, she said.
“If we were to shoot down Russian planes, it would be the beginning of World War III,” Pelosi said.” There’s just no question about that.”
She added that there were other ways to support the Ukrainian people without direct military intervention, such as tackling the issue of refugees coming to the U.S. This could include loan guarantees for Ukrainian refugees, Pelosi said, of which the U.S. is considering offering $1 billion to support Ukraine’s economy.
On the home front, Pelosi both encouraged passage of the Freedom to Vote Act, which aims to address voter suppression and improve election integrity, as well as the Gun Violence Prevention Act, which she said is “a shame we have not passed.”
“It only says if you shouldn’t have a gun, you shouldn’t have a gun,” Pelosi said. “It doesn’t curb rights.”
Bowman, underscoring the need to address gun violence in his congressional district, wrote a letter to President Biden in early March, requesting more oversight of the gun industry, strengthening the background check system, and directing funds to address student violence in schools.
“When people ask me what I think are the three most important issues that are facing the Congress, I always say the same thing,” Pelosi said. “Our children, our children, our children.”
With the pandemic well into its third year, the threat of a third world war — and ongoing conflicts in places such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and Myanmar — the question about what our world leaders can accomplish came into focus.
It’s about knowing why you lead, and Pelosi emphasized being able to pick the right fights, which elicited applause from the audience.
“You have to be willing to take a punch,” she said. “You also have to be willing to throw a punch, for the children.”
Reach Sarah Belle Lin at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.