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Ways & Means: Congressman Richie Neal

By Niall O’Dowd
Might / June 2019

Richie Neal’s extraordinary journey from a working-class neighborhood in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Washington, D.C., and one of the powerful jobs in American politics as the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee.


On November 7, 1960, Mary Garvey Neal, who had roots in Ventry, County Kerry, took her son to the Springfield, Massachusetts, city corridor. It was very late and Richie Neal, then 10 years previous, would always remember that evening.

He was there to witness one of the final marketing campaign stops of Senator Jack Kennedy through the ultimate frenetic days of the race towards Richard Nixon for the presidency.

Impressed by the eagerness and hearth he witnessed, Richie Neal decided there after which that he needed to be a politician. It’s unimaginable to assume, as he now sits atop the House Ways and Means Committee in probably the most powerful jobs in American politics, that the influence of Jack Kennedy nonetheless lives on.

Neal himself has an exquisite American story. He misplaced his mother to a coronary heart assault in 1962 when he was just a younger boy, and his father, a faculty custodian, died not lengthy after. He and his sister have been orphaned, raised by an aunt and grandmother. He remembers how they gave all of the love that they had, put him on the right track in life, and practiced good Catholic values.

Ulster College’s Magee Campus in Derry. Congressman Neal was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws for his outstanding contribution to peace and conflict resolution across the island of Ireland and for profiling Irish considerations all through his congressional career. (Photograph: Nigel McDowell/Ulster College)

He was following his dream, too. He turned councilman in Springfield, then mayor, after which at age 38, took the House seat of Ed Boland, his political mentor, in 1988.

He has held it simply since, typically with no opposition, a mirrored image of his reputation back house.

His path to the leadership of Ways and Means was elongated, but because of a mixture of retirement and defeat of those ahead of him, he arrived in January 2019 at the head of an important committee in Congress.

Three future presidents – James Polk, Millard Fillmore, and William McKinley – served as Ways and Means chairmen, while the very first occupant was Thomas Fitzsimons, a native of Eire who additionally represented Pennsylvania on the Constitutional Convention in 1787. His portrait, overlooking the committee room, was proudly identified by Neal.

Our interview happened in that same august setting of the Ways and Means Committee assembly room, passing via extremely tight security on the best way.

As all the time, Neal was modest and relaxed. He’s a employee bee letting others take the limelight – except one situation: his beloved Ireland and his justifiable delight within the American dimension to the Irish peace process. As head of the Buddies of Ireland committee, he is an indispensable pal of Ireland and Irish America.

In fact, there’s the little matter of the president’s tax returns, which it falls to Neal to hunt. There isn’t any grandstanding or cable news appearances or screaming demands for them, only a heads-down, get-the-facts method. That’s Neal’s approach, and it has landed him on the prime in American politics, wielding monumental power.

We began by discussing his superb journey.


When did politics first beckon?

Once I saw Jack Kennedy the day earlier than the election in 1960. He completed in three communities, Waterbury, Connecticut; Springfield, Massachusetts; and Boston, and in the event you’ve ever seen the movie footage of him ending in Springfield and Boston, as you may anticipate, he received a hero’s welcome. However seeing him that day – my mother was sensible enough to keep us residence from faculty – on the steps of Springfield City Hall, I keep in mind that sense of inspiration and aspiration that I felt, the hope and ambition to do something.

Additionally, my household would have recognized Congressman Eddie Boland. My mom particularly all the time knew somebody who was operating for the register of deeds or the town council as a result of that was the best way up. And it was a good time of ascendancy in politics. There was a succession of mayors, six or seven in a row, whose mother and father or grandparents have been Irish-born. The Democratic social gathering particularly was the beneficiary [of the Irish]; they introduced the proper infusion of power. And there was an incredible alliance between unions and the Democratic social gathering.

From metropolis councilman to some of the highly effective males in America: the place did it all go proper?

Part of it was ambition. I was thirty-eight once I first obtained elected to congress. I feel I worked a minimum of as arduous, if not more durable than everyone else. I had a superb constituency that I inherited from Eddie Boland. He retired in 1988 and I took his seat.

I feel I definitely was affected person sufficient. I type of made my approach up, seat after seat, every two years. And I used to be fortunate that I acquired a committee early on because the infrastructure in Massachusetts was fairly good. I came by means of a system the place private loyalty was an important consideration. You had Joe Moakley [South Boston politician who was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Rules], Tip O’Neill was simply leaving, Eddie Boland had just left and I took his seat and obtained on a committee very early in my profession.

Congressman Neal on a visit to Stormont with Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and former congressman Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) in 2008.

You got here from a really humble background, a very robust one, because your mother and father both died whenever you have been young. So how did you deal with that?

I used to be fortunate to have an aunt and a grandmother. They have been both nice. And I additionally assume it’s fascinating that they have been very Catholic. So we have been never adopted. No social employee ever got here to examine on us. And the grandmother, she was certainly one of fourteen, so I assume her angle was, “What’s another mouth at the table?” My aunt was religious. Keep in mind those days they used to cover their heads once they went to Mass? We stated the rosary at night time.

There’s a lot controversy right now as it pertains to some of what occurred within the Church, however for my aunt, grandmother, and my mother, the Church to them in these days was all the things. It was an anchor.

Did you know you have been poor?

Not likely. It wasn’t exactly as though the neighborhood had so much. My aunt had a pension, Mass Mutual. We had a bit bit of life insurance that my father left, about $10,000. That was it. And we had the genius of Roosevelt’s social security survivor’s profit. It was about $119 a month for each one among us. It wasn’t quite a bit, but we lived as a family.

How far back do your Irish roots go?

My paternal grandmother was born in County Down. On my mother’s aspect, her grandparents have been born in West Kerry – Ventry. Irish was the first language for the West Kerry individuals. Springfield was the subsequent parish over. You went where the others went before you, they usually came here. In Holyoke, which is shut by, all of them came from Mayo. We have been all from Kerry. And I feel that they have been very, very, pleased with it. And it wasn’t as though they have been going to Irish rallies or something like that. But they knew of their traditions, they knew who they have been and that they got here from a reasonably historic culture that was comprised of great achievers. In the event you requested these individuals whereabouts they have been from, they never stated Ireland; they stated they have been from Kerry.

You first received involved in the North once you have been a councilman.

The primary time I obtained involved was in 1981 when Bobby Sands died [on hunger strike]. That’s once I took up a place because individuals in my group have been fairly outraged. You understand, these guys have been dying on starvation strike, and Margaret Thatcher’s response was that they have been criminals.

My first or second speech on the House flooring after I received elected was on using rubber bullets [in Northern Ireland].

The primary time I went to Eire was around 1983; I went to go to kinfolk in County Down. In these days it was a militarized state. There have been 30,000 British soldiers in an space the dimensions of the state of Connecticut. You couldn’t go from road to road without being monitored. Helicopters circled regardless of the place you went. I was on a bus with Speaker of the House Tom Foley, they usually boarded the bus. That they had the large armaments they usually had night time imaginative and prescient – it was dark once we obtained on the bus – they usually searched it.

Once you look again at how the North and the Republic have been colonized, and you take a look at the history, [you’ll see] that till the Rising, it was really an argument about subjugation.

Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams on a current visit to Congressman Neal’s workplace.

You’ve been very concerned within the Associates of Eire Committee through the years.

Yes. I’m pleased with the American position within the Good Friday Agreement. That is our settlement, too. We’re the backstop.

The British Embassy used to return up to the hill to satisfy with those of us within the [Congressional] Associates of Ireland. These weren’t pleasant conferences. However when the Good Friday Agreement happened, Tony Blair applauded us right right here on the British Embassy. I remembered his quote all these years later. He stated, “We’ve been great friends, America and the United Kingdom. We generally agreed on just about everything, but there was one issue we disagreed on: Ireland.” He stated, “There was a time when I thought that the Friends of Ireland were a hindrance, but you helped us get through this.”

Individuals overlook that the Buddies of Eire was born of the aim to attempt to compete with the cash that was getting used for gun-running. Home Speaker Tip O’Neill, who founded it in 1981, stated that the thought was just to type of supply a competing imaginative and prescient. So now you’ll be able to go and say that the Associates of Ireland place is “No Border.” You possibly can have the Speaker of the Home say, “I agree!” I feel individuals have forgotten that.

The Good Friday Settlement was every thing, as a result of it was Belfast / Dublin, and establishments can be created that might be All-Eire institutions.

I saw [the importance of] that after we just left Derry, the place that young lady [Lyra McKee] was murdered just lately. The concept an Irish prime minister would go to the funerals…

1916 Garden of Remembrance at Forest Park within the metropolis of Springfield, M.A.

And leaders of the D.U.P.

And sit next to each other. You realize, there was a time when the Irish prime ministers didn’t go. The British prime minister didn’t go. And I feel that the Good Friday Agreement and the elimination of the border was so necessary.

Did you go to the border on your current trip?

Sure. On the trip over, I discussed to Nancy Pelosi my concern that they might try to speak us into avoiding the border. And she or he stated, “We are going to the border.” And she or he went, and stood there. She walked across it. And no one was confused when she was accomplished talking about American overseas coverage in relation to Brexit, saying that Congress would block any new commerce cope with the U.Okay. if Britain’s exit from the E.U. threatened the peace in Northern Eire.

We have been suggested that if the North goes [leaves the U.K.], then Scotland will go. And our response was, “It’s self-determination.” The Good Friday Settlement says that there could possibly be a referendum query [on a united Ireland], and the larger quantity will prevail.

On the proper second. Within the local elections last week, Unionist parties went from 246 to 202.

You see what’s occurring. But this has not been happening for 2 years. This has been happening for thirty-five to forty years. It’s demographic. Of the six counties, there [are] 4 now which have a nationalist majority.

The people who have been towards Brexit [have] successful agrarian interests in the North. And the rationale they’re towards it is as a result of they like promoting their merchandise within the Republic of Ireland. Within the heyday of Ulster, or the North, part of the argument that the unionists used was that that they had a better lifestyle within the North than the individuals within the Republic – not true any extra. And you take a look at the resiliency of the Irish financial system, from where they have been [to] where they’re now. The way it bounced back. I feel that with out that border, individuals in the North take a look at it they usually say, “You know what, if there is a true departure now from the European Union, it’s not bad for us to be Irish citizens.”

Do you assume you’ll see a united Ireland?

Sure. Vigorously so. Oh, sure. And I feel part of it’s that you simply’re going to be reminded who has been towards Brexit.

Are you optimistic about peace talks?

Yes. I feel it will be born of necessity. In case you are on the unionist aspect, it’s time to make the perfect deal you’ll be able to. In case you are on the nationalist aspect, you must not do to the unionists what was executed to you.

Do you still assume they want an American envoy?

An trustworthy broker is required. I feel that one of the issues we’ve got had is that we thought there was going to be a successor to George Mitchell. It’s not going to occur. There’s only one Mitchell. Not solely that: you take a look at how robust Blair was on the time. He actually put one thing into it. And Bill Clinton really put something into it. Typically you want the robust men and the robust ladies to make the deal. The Irish government, throughout those years, was in favor of propping up SDLP. And the British government was in favor of propping up the D.U.P. And when the deal turned inevitable, the toughest individuals made the deal [the nationalists and the loyalists].

Congressman Neal and former president Bill Clinton.

How did you get on with Brexiteer Rees-Mogg?

I’m stunned to hear that kind of speak nowadays.  The world has moved on, by many years. He clings to the notion of “empire.” There are those that make this argument for a return to a unique time, I imply, in case you keep in mind when Roosevelt and Churchill have been an ideal collaboration, World Struggle II, and the way America was destined to make the distinction. Roosevelt identified that this was about advancing democracy, supporting our allies, but not a return to empire. He identified that we’re not going back to that.

There’s a gaggle in London, England, who ran in an area election on a no-Brexit platform and gained 704 seats. It’s the same in Britain, if the Labor celebration chief would only understand it, however he gained’t take the prospect.

Once we met Jeremy Corbyn, he seemed to agree with every part we stated about Eire and the border. However whether or not or not he’s robust sufficient to do one thing about it, we’ll need to see.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar assembly with Congressman Neal in Washington, D.C., in March 2019.

Let me ask you concerning the current day. What stunned you concerning the job, now that you’ve it?

Making an attempt to handle numerous the personalities just isn’t straightforward. I all the time felt very snug on the policy stuff; I used to be sensible enough to pay attention through the years. And I like studying long pieces about it, and hearing what everyone has to say, but boy, managing the robust personalities. I feel that our job is to teach the public, not to entertain them. I feel leisure has seeped into politics; there’s this type of, “I got to get out there,” before considering by way of what you need to say, and I simply resist that.

You’re within the ring with Trump, how are you doing?

The truth is, he gained. And I feel that we will have plenty of sharp disagreements, however I’m hopeful that even in this incendiary environment, we will discover some widespread ground on a handful of issues. We need to discover an agreement on infrastructure, and we’ve acquired an enormous difficulty arising with the multipayer pension plans in the Midwest.

There’s not too many different Democrats talking like that. It appears to be strains in the sand.

Sure. But I also have a unique duty as chairman of this committee. We have now to cope with taxes, commerce, tariffs, Social Safety, Medicare, administration of the general public debt, pensions, and welfare. I don’t have the posh of not making an attempt to repair these pension plans. They’ve received to get fastened.

You might have great expertise in financial matters.

I paid loads of attention to it through the years. I perceive why the Fed must be unbiased, and not have the president’s acolytes being appointed.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Ambassador Dan Mulhall, and other Irish authorities representatives meet with Congressman Neal in his Washington, D.C., workplace in March. (Photograph: Marty Katz.)

So what do you think of Trump as an individual?

I don’t know him properly sufficient, however I feel that within the age of theater, he’s an actor. I feel that he in all probability enjoys this. I additionally assume that this didn’t just occur – that we’ve been coursing by means of this for years. I feel extra entertainment has seeped into the political area. It’s all prompt opinion. There’s no deep breath, there’s no stepping again. There’s a variety of talking, and lots less listening. And I feel that the nation has a whole lot of critical challenges in entrance of it. And I want to assume that some of this might calm for a time period to get some of these massive issues finished. Before you already know it, by the time you get to the fall, we’re a yr out from another presidential election. We’re exhausted from the last one, because it’s gone on.

Who do you want on the Democratic aspect?

I’m going to wait and see. I’ve acquired pals throughout, with the job I’ve received. I feel that we need to nominate probably the most electable Democrat. So that’s the underside line.

The issue we now have at the moment is that we’ve now seen two elections where we’ve gained the favored vote and lost the presidency. It’s scary, and I feel that a part of this is that we’d like a mainstream Democrat.

So when it comes to the tax returns, will you get them?

I don’t assume that they’re going to be voluntarily turned over.

How far will all this go? Will it will definitely go to the Supreme Courtroom?

It might.

But even the Supreme Courtroom certainly can’t rule in his favor.

Nicely, I feel that the regulation could be very clear on this. It says, “Shall furnish, upon request,” and there’s no sense, on my part, of malevolence right here. There are eight successive presidents over forty years which have voluntarily launched their varieties. All the best way again to Richard Nixon, they asked that their types be reviewed. I don’t perceive why, after the president stated in the course of the course of the campaign that he was going to voluntarily surrender the varieties, and then he stated he was beneath audit. Now the IRS commissioner says, “It doesn’t make a difference; you can release the forms anyway.” However we’ve been very cautious in getting ready a courtroom case. That’s why you don’t see me doing the bombast, and you don’t see me operating to the cable exhibits. The House counsel has stated to me, “You’ve got to be careful how you do this. You can’t do the shows, because you’re the petitioner in the court case, so you’re likely to be a witness.”

I was watching FOX News last night time. The guy stated you have to be allowed to view them, but not take them away.

Properly, that’s what truly happened with Richard Nixon and Joint Tax. You’d have professionals assessment these. It’s not such as you would have, you recognize, simply the Ways and Means members, so I feel that the answer, should we be successful, is the Joint Tax Committee, which is made up of attorneys, tax attorneys, accountants, and economists­. I feel that that might be a superb sounding board.

What do you assume he’s hiding?

I don’t know what he’s hiding. I feel that the concept he wouldn’t undergo the same kind of check that the others have had is the problem. The problem is that I don’t even begin with a malicious intent. My angle is: let’s just check out the types; we’re fascinated by seeing how the IRS conducts an audit. That’s the authorized basis of the request. I feel that that’s truthful.

Congressman Neal at the border in Northern Eire in April 2019. (Photograph: William Tranghese)

Do you assume Trump will make it by means of his presidency without impeachment?

I feel Speaker Pelosi would relatively have an election than an impeachment. I feel she’s proper. You also have a presidential election now that’s, what, sixteen to seventeen months away? I was here through the Clinton impeachment and opinions shifted pretty vigorously on that. Individuals overlook, when Clinton left, two-thirds of the American individuals authorised of the job that he had finished. I was fairly impressed, because I was an enormous supporter. Be careful what you would like for. The other factor: be careful, only since you had within the Clinton case – you had the prosecutor, you had the press, you had the Republicans, and also you had Clinton, and the individuals stated,

“Of the four, we’ll take Clinton.” I mean, you’re recognized by your opponents typically. And the people who have been concerned in that at the time, they completely miscalculated, and I feel [that’s why] Speaker Pelosi would quite have an election than an impeachment.

Hypothetical: President Warren calls on the telephone and says, “I want you as ambassador to Ireland.”

Versus the Ways and Means chairmanship? I’ll keep on with the Ways and Means chairmanship. Speaker Pelosi stated to me once we have been over there, “Did you ever think of running for one of those national offices?” Then she caught herself and she or he stated, “Being chair of the Ways and Means Committee is better, isn’t it?” And I stated, “Yes, it is.”  ♦ Niall O’Dowd

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