Staten Island Democrat Max Rose won his conservative-leaning New York congressional district in 2018 thanks in part to his brash persona and willingness to defend President Trump even if it rankled liberals in nearby Manhattan. The 33-year-old Afghanistan war veteran is now in a tough reelection fight against Republican Nicole Malliotakis, and he’s made headlines by attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Knicks owner James Dolan, two of the city’s not-so-popular public figures.
This week the congressman sat down with Vanity Fair contributor Peter Hamby for an interview on Hamby‘s Snapchat show, Good Luck America. Rose talked about why the presidential polls are bullshit, why police need more funding—not less—and why it’s cool to be a “swagger-filled” moderate. The transcript of that interview, lightly edited for clarity, is here.
Vanity Fair: Max Rose, thanks for joining us.
Max Rose: Thanks for having me, man.
You were our second choice from Staten Island after Pete Davidson.
Story of my fucking life.
I want to ask you about some national politics. Talks fell apart between the president and the House over a second coronavirus stimulus deal. Who do you blame for that?
Well, first of all, everyone is to blame. I’m so sick and tired of this notion of finger-pointing in our politics. But with that being said, the president did walk away, and the president is the one that gave up. Now, I was a part of a bipartisan coalition that announced a significant, bold framework for COVID relief: $1.6 trillion. It’s clear that we don’t need something skinny that doesn’t match the scale of this public health and economic crisis, and it’s clear that we don’t need something that is blindly partisan, that is going to be dead on arrival. But we need everybody to rise to the challenge here, and that is clear. State and local aid, extended unemployment, direct stimulus checks. This ain’t rocket science at this point. It’s just not.
So when will something happen? Do we have to wait until after the election before people can get checks again?
I’m not giving up hope. I refuse to give up hope, because you know what? When I think about the soldiers who I deployed with, when I think about when I got activated in the National Guard during the COVID fight, and I saw nurses, and doctors, and P.A.s, and medical professionals putting their lives on the line each and every day, they never gave up. They couldn’t give up. It wasn’t in their DNA. It still isn’t. It shouldn’t be in ours either.
So you’re from the most conservative House district in New York City. It includes Staten Island, parts of Brooklyn. Trump won your district. So what’s it like when you say you support Trump on some things? Because you have. If you go into Manhattan, if you go to the halls of Congress and run into a lot of Democrats, are they like, “Hey, man, don’t say that stuff”?
No. And it’s just so weird about the Democratic Party, and it’s weird about the state of partisanship today that people’s opinions become defined by their partisan affiliation. Just look at the war in Afghanistan. It’s like the perfect example, right? It’s a conflict that’s deeply personal to me, and I am of the belief that it’s got to end. It’s America’s longest war. We have soldiers enlisting today—today—who were not born on 9/11. Who were not born when we sent our first soldier to Afghanistan. Donald Trump stands up and says, “It’s clear that we need some type of peace, reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and we’ve got to get out of that war.” And suddenly the freaking Democratic Party becomes the pro-war party? Saying, “No, no, we should stay there longer.” It’s the oddest thing. It was the same with the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian terrorist, who was someone that deserved to be killed. The blood of over 600 soldiers, American soldiers, on his hands. So yeah, I’m not dictated by blind party commitment and dedication. It’s always got to be country first.
One thing I was thinking about before this interview was the Democratic presidential primary. In a lot of ways, [Joe] Biden emerged from that as kind of like the perfect nominee for Democrats, because he has a little bit of a traditional view of politics, not just policy but also dealmaking, reaching across the aisle. He’s pretty inoffensive, quite frankly, to a lot of people. What’s your biggest takeaway from the Democratic primary, which seemed like it was sometimes fought over certain issues that were either unpopular or uninteresting to a lot of Americans?
Well, yeah, the Democratic Party is allergic to show business at times. So you can always rely on the Democratic Party to be fundamentally uninteresting at times. I think that what certain segments of the party learned, and have to relearn this lesson over and over and over again, is that politics is not about bullet points. Politics is about trust-building, and politics is about presenting a bold vision for the future. But it’s also, when you boil it down, right, it’s about trying to instill the message that if it matters to you, it matters to me, no matter how small, no matter how big. In that sense it’s like a job interview, right? Very rarely on job interviews do people say, “Oh, give me your 10-point bullet plan for this very specific problem 18 months from now.” So I am of the belief that when it came to that primary, when it comes to any election, it’s fundamentally a question of: Who do you believe down in your soul and down in your gut? And then I guess that’s what we saw here. But going forward, though, it is critical that the Democratic Party—there will come a day when Donald Trump’s not the president. That day will come, and it’s critical that the Democratic Party not be just defined by anti-Trumpism. It can’t just be what we’re against. It has to be: “What are we for?” And this idea that if you’re a moderate or you’re a centrist, it means that you’re some shy, milquetoast incrementalist, I think is total bullshit. Rather, what you need is you need to figure out what are the bold and nonetheless unifying policies that we can put into place that will allow for us to address climate change, allow for us to address gun violence, allow for us to position America as the preeminent global power of the 21st century, all the while having an inclusively just capitalist economy. Being moderate or centrist cannot be shy. It can’t just be focused on what you’re not. Has to be what you’re for too.