In Part Two of his interview with Managing Editor Mike Schneider, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez spoke in depth about commuter rail into New York City, health care, the recent sex scandal involving Secret Service agents in Colombia, and his candidacy for a second term in the U.S. Senate.
A recent federal report by the Government Accountability Office found that Gov. Chris Christie had overestimated the cost of the ARC Tunnel project when he announced his reasons for canceling it.
Two years after the project was killed, Menendez still feels the loss of what he calls the “greatest federal assistance in U.S. history” – $3 billion that was committed to the tunnel.
“It was a generational opportunity to open up a new passenger rail tunnel which we desperately need into New York. [It] would have created 25,000 new jobs in addition to the construction jobs for the tunnel. And I think the governor simply canceled it so he could use the monies for the transportation trust fund instead of for the tunnel.”
He said he and Sen. Frank Lautenberg are now directing their focus on an alternative commuter rail plan — the Gateway Tunnel. It’s a project that uses Amtrak to access federal high speed rail funds rather than a state entity or Port Authority. He says engineering monies have already been secured for preliminary designs.
But some lawmakers have voiced their opposition to giving Amtrak any more money than they already receive from the federal government. But Menendez thinks they may make an exception for the New Jersey-New York region.
“One place that even my Republican colleagues who don’t care for Amtrak recognize there’s a need is in the Northeast corridor, and a passenger rail tunnel into New York is critical to the growth of the region.”
Allegations of misconduct have recently surfaced that claim that the Secret Service solicited prostitutes during President Obama’s trip to Colombia.
Said Menendez, “If the facts are true, they should all be fired. The reality is that the Secret Service not only protects the President of the United States they represent the United States of America.”
The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments debating the constitutionality of the Health Care Reform Act, referred to by some as “Obamacare.” He said that if the law is struck down in part or in its entirety by the High Court, his Republican colleagues will have a lot of explaining to do to the people who are currently covered by the new law.
“I would say to my Republican colleagues who have been arguing against .. what they call Obamacare — ‘What do you want to do about the person who had a heart attack and can no longer get insurance because of pre-existing conditions? … What are you going to do about the young person who can stay on their parent’s insurance until age 26? What are you going to tell the senior who now has coverage of prescription drugs in terms of costs that they didn’t have before? … What are you gonna tell the woman who was discriminated against before the law in terms of how they recovered and the cost of healthcare?'”
When asked about his change of heart regarding the nomination of Magistrate Patty Shwartz to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the senator explained that he reversed his decision to block the nomination as a result of a second round of interview questions.
“There were questions about the scope of judicial review, there were questions about Citizens United …, there were questions about executive power, there were questions about how do you view a law that is claimed to be discriminatory in terms of the rights of an individual. … And in the second round of interviews, she satisfied my concerns about what those answers would be appropriate for an appellate court judge.”
The senator is facing re-election this year and offered his reasons for why New Jersey voters should put him back into the U.S. Senate.
“I have been working to improve this economy and create jobs. I have been fighting for tax fairness for them. That’s why I led the charge in eliminating the alternative minimum tax for a period of two years which would have bit 1.5 million New Jerseyans. And I have worked hard to create healthcare coverage for every New Jerseyan including the 1.5 million New Jerseyans who have no coverage whatsoever.”