Talking Politics

Sen. Reed on world conflicts, national politics and the growth of Gina

By Ian Donnis
Posted 10/17/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: In 1997, when Jack Reed first joined the U.S. Senate, the Cold War had ended and 9/11 had not yet happened. A quarter-century later, the world is a very different place, with a …

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Talking Politics

Sen. Reed on world conflicts, national politics and the growth of Gina


STORY OF THE WEEK: In 1997, when Jack Reed first joined the U.S. Senate, the Cold War had ended and 9/11 had not yet happened. A quarter-century later, the world is a very different place, with a land war in Europe, concerns about China’s rising power, and now, Israel’s response to a stunning attack by Hamas. Are things more dangerous now than when the U.S. and the Soviet Union kept one another in check with nuclear weapons?

During an interview last week, Reed said such comparisons are not useful, although a NYT newsletter cited “a new period of disarray,” in which nations and even groups like Hamas “are willing to take big risks, rather than fearing that the consequences would be too dire.” For Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the best-case scenario in Israel would be “identifying the [Hamas] leadership and taking that leadership out totally,” while minimizing civilian casualties. As the senator sees it, the worst-case outcome would be the opening of a second front and a broader regional conflict. As Reed noted, “Part of this is Iran’s position in terms of trying to either increase this violence, stay away from it, or hopefully actually really tried to decelerate it.

Regardless of what happens in the months ahead, the conflict in the Middle East is already resounding locally, with establishment politicians solidly lining up behind Israel, some progressives emphasizing concerns about Palestinians, and the arrest of a Pawtucket man in connection with a bomb threat at Temple Beth-El in Providence.  

ON THE ISSUES: Here are some excerpts from Sen. Reed’s appearance on Political Roundtable.

ON UKRAINE, the Armed Services chairman sees next spring as a key time in the war with Russia: “And I think basically, if they can get to the sea of Azov, if they can separate the force of the Russian forces in the west from those in the east, get close to the Crimea border. I think at that point, Putin would have to start thinking about, ‘how do I stop this?’ ”

AMID ONGOING DISARRAY in the U.S. House, Rep. Steve Scalise’s bid for the speakership collapsed Thursday in the hours after my interview with Reed. Here’s Reed on why, according to the Pew Research Center, confidence in the federal government is at a historic low: “You look at the House, and it seems more like vaudeville than legislation. You’ve got individuals there that are, you know, all they want to do is get on the news. We have a senator in our side that’s holding up hundreds and hundreds of military promotions. So people look at that. “

REED LOVES telling the story, as he did during a recent Statehouse portrait event, of how he babysat Gina Raimondo many years ago. Does he see Raimondo as a future presidential candidate? “Absolutely. Gina is one of the few people in Washington that commands the respect of both sides of the aisle, because of her skill, because of her talent. She was instrumental, one of the key factors, in getting the Chips Act passed on a bipartisan basis. So she has the intellectual and temperament and character to lead. I don’t know if it’s president, but it’s going to be something significant in the national political life, and she’s come a long way since that little baby.”

JOHNSTON: In a state where politics is the gift that keeps giving, Johnston is one of the persistent springs of journalistic fodder. Now, as Rory Schuler reports in the Johnston Sunrise: “When the mayor fights the governor, who wins? Probably not Johnston’s taxpayers. Hostilities have been building between Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr., who has been in office for fewer than 10 months, and Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee. When Polisena’s father was mayor, McKee made frequent trips to Johnston for ribbon cuttings and major announcements. Joseph M. Polisena Sr. sat next to McKee in the Johnston High auditorium as the plans for the giant Amazon on the hill were first revealed to the public.They were buddies for years, since McKee himself was a small-town mayor. But suddenly, the relationship crumbled in public, around the same time Polisena Jr., an attorney, left his job at the State House …”

GOT LIFE SCIENCES? Neil Steinberg, the longtime former head of the Rhode Island Foundation, is known for talking about the need to bring more urgency to top state issues. So as Rhode Island tries to turn talk into action in developing a life-sciences sector, Steinberg, nominated by Gov. McKee to chair a new life-science hub, is now a key person to watch.

HOUSING: Gov. Dan McKee and House Secretary Stefan Pryor outlined the state’s plans Friday for addressing emergency housing in the coming winter. According to the governor’s office, the approach includes a more than 30% increase in shelter bed capacity compared with last January, “new opportunities for local communities to create winter emergency hubs that are available on days of extreme weather, and an expanded homelessness prevention and problem-solving program designed to reduce homelessness in Rhode Island. As designed, the multi-pronged program features collaboration with cities and towns, faith leaders, community foundations, and landlords that have brought forth suggestions and innovative ideas for new shelter locations and services.”

PUBLIC SERVICE: The latest RIPEC Public Service Award honorees are Dorothy Pascale, state controller at the Department of Administration, and Joseph Nicholson, recently retired as city manager in Newport. “RIPEC extends its congratulations and sincere gratitude to Dotty and Joe for their service to Rhode Island,” RIPEC President and CEO Michael DiBiase said in a statement. “For decades they have dedicated their careers to solving complex issues and implementing new programs to improve state and local government. Dotty has over 20 years of experience in public service and has moved up the ranks of state government to her current post as State Controller. For close to 40 years, Joe has served Newport, including as City Manager for the last nine years, making him the longest tenured in the city’s history.”

AROUND CAMPUS: Speaking at URI, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse focused on some familiar themes, involving climate change and the Supreme Court, during a recent talk at the university. Excerpt: “The good news from all this mess is that we can get rid of dark money and make a new morning in American politics. We have the policy tools to steer the world toward climate safety, once politics permits that. And as people increasingly understand what went wrong at the Court, the aperture for reforms will open, and we can put the Court back on proper track as a real court again. I always used to wonder why it was considered a Chinese curse ‘to live in interesting times.’ Now, it’s getting so interesting that I’m starting to understand. Before it gets too interesting, please make sure you get involved as citizens and demand the necessary repairs.”

INCARCERATION: A new collaboration between groups including the RI ACLU, Common Cause of RI and the Prison Policy Initiative has produced a detailed look at which communities have the most people in prison. Excerpt: “With an incarceration rate of 354 people incarcerated per 100,000 city residents, Providence has the highest incarceration rate in the state. Providence is home to 17% of the state’s population, but 38% of the state’s incarcerated population. Given that the criminal legal system unfairly targets communities of color — particularly Black and Latino communities — Providence’s high incarceration rate may be of no surprise, as the city’s population is 16% Black and 43% Hispanic or Latino, while the statewide population is only 9% Black and 18% Hispanic or Latino. People in the custody of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections are disproportionately Black and Hispanic or Latino as well: in June 2019, 29% of the sentenced population was Black and 24% of the sentenced population was Hispanic or Latino.”

TAKES OF THE WEEK – a mix of views from a range of Rhode Islanders.

Sen. DAWN EUER (D-Newport), chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “Just in time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Rhode Island courts created and uploaded the necessary forms to implement the abusive litigation prevention law. These forms can be found at their website,, under the section for forms for the Superior, Family, and District Courts. Currently, those forms have to be filed in person. The court is updating the e-filing system to accept them and I’m hoping for another update soon. This law was sponsored by myself and House Whip Katie Kazarian to prevent abusers from filing frivolous lawsuits just to get in the same room as, or further harass, their victim. I greatly appreciate the advocacy of the many domestic violence prevention groups in Rhode Island, especially the RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence and SOAR, who helped craft this important legislation and help empower victims to turn their tragedy into advocacy and assistance for others. Everyone deserves to live a life free of harassment, fear, and violence and we need to work together to make that dream a reality.”

 State Rep. BRIAN NEWBERRY (R-North Smithfield): “The atrocities perpetrated by Hamas last week have helped rip the mask off two national organizations with local affiliates, the Democratic Socialists of America and Black Lives Matter. It really shouldn’t be too hard to come out and condemn people who kill babies, burn people alive, murder grandmothers in their homes while uploading the video to social media so their relatives learn about it by scrolling through Facebook, kidnap hostages and just generally slaughter hundreds of innocent people. But somehow both DSA and BLM at the national level managed to not even clear that low bar. Instead both groups actively celebrated these mass terror attacks justifying brutal murders of babies because …. reasons.

“More disturbing locally, however, as I write this on Thursday, days after these abhorrent messages were disseminated worldwide and after multiple calls for local elected officials and candidates either formally members of either group, or at least publicly associated and backed by one or both to condemn both Hamas and the public support given to Hamas by DSA and BLM, not one, to my knowledge, has said a word. Cowards all. When people show you who they are, believe them. DSA and BLM, both nationally and now locally, have shown everyone who they really are. Decent people of all political views should now treat them with the complete contempt they have earned.”

MIKE RAIA, president of the Half Street Group and former comms head for Gina Raimondo: “Gina Raimondo will always be remembered as the leader who helped guide Rhode Island through COVID and the executive who shook the state’s once flailing economy awake. Her most lasting and most impactful accomplishment as governor, though, will likely be the effort she led to establish tuition-free college and make it available to every Rhode Island high school graduate. It’s even more of a lasting legacy because Gov. McKee rightly and courageously fought to prioritize an expansion of the Rhode Island Promise Scholarship and bring it to Rhode Island College in the form of the Hope Scholarship, which he ceremoniously signed into law earlier this week.

“Throughout his push to establish the Hope Scholarship, McKee was on the receiving end of some of the same bad-faith criticism that Raimondo heard. The tired and predictable voices wrongly argued on talk radio that we couldn’t afford to make an investment in our students. The fact is, providing two years of tuition-free college at CCRI and RIC is a drop in the bucket within the state budget. When Gov. Raimondo first proposed the Promise Scholarship ahead of the State of the State in 2017, it included two years of tuition-free college at CCRI, RIC and URI, for only $30 million a year, an investment for which the state would see a return almost immediately after the first graduating class entered the workforce. The doors that the Promise and Hope Scholarships will open and the barriers they’ll tear down will continue to strengthen our economy. And the return is well worth the investment.”

KICKER: Rhode Island’s small size sometimes makes it more difficult to get things done. When it comes to flying, though, we’ll take T.F. Green over Logan any day and three times on Sunday. With that in mind, it’s nice to see an advertising campaign taking the Hub to task for its traffic congestion and related headaches. To add icing to the cake, RI’s airport has been named by a travel mag as one of the world’s best. You like us, you really like us!

Ian Donnis can be reached at

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