Bob Menendez grew up the son of immigrants in a tenement building in Union City. A product of New Jersey's public schools and a graduate of the state's universities, he has served as a school board member, a mayor and a state legislator. Since 1992, he has been fighting for New Jersey families in Washington, where he rose to become the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives before taking office in the Senate in 2006.
In Congress, he has fought to make health care more affordable for New Jersey's families and to improve schools so they prepare our children for a successful future. Now he is fighting to make college more affordable for the next generation of leaders. After September 11, 2001, Bob earned national recognition for his leadership in reforming the country's intelligence and public health systems and for fighting to establish an independent commission to investigate the terrorist attacks on our country. Today, he is working to improve the security of our bus, rail and public transit systems.
Elected by his colleagues in 2002 as the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Bob Menendez became the highest-ranking Hispanic in Congressional history. He previously served as the Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus and has led key Task Forces on Education and Homeland Security. After being appointed by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Bob was sworn in to the Senate on January 18, 2006. In November of that year, New Jerseyans elected Bob to serve a full six-year term as United States Senator. He currently serves on the Senate Committees on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Energy and Natural Resources; Budget; and Foreign Relations. Bob is also the Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs, and International Environmental Protection.
Question: What should be the big issues of the 2008 presidential election?
Robert Menendez: I think the single biggest issue in 2008 should be where do we want to go as a country? That might not be viewed as an issue per se, but in my mind it’s an issue. It’s the overriding question. Where do we want to go as a country? Do we want to, as a country, be willing to say that we will take a significant part of our fellow citizens and say, “You know what? For some of us to do well, some of you cannot.” Are we willing to accept 40% of our human capital in communities of color not to fulfill their full potential and contribute to a greater America? Are we willing to go to sleep at night saying, “Well I have health care coverage, so I’m not worried about the 47 million who don’t, or the millions more who are underinsured”? Are we concerned about ensuring that we find the cures to some of the diseases that affect our fellow citizens so that my mother’s Alzheimer’s, or the young man I met with a spinal cord injury, or the husband with Parkinson’s, and so many other diseases . . . Are we willing as a country to say we accept that that is a human condition that we cannot change? And are we as a country willing at the end of the day to say we prefer to be known by the power of our bombs than the power of our collective intellect for good, and what that means in the world? So the big question is what type . . . The big issue is what type of America do we want to be? Because if we determine what type of America we want to be, then all the other things will come into play.
Recorded on: 9/12/07