Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Charlie Rangel sang the praises of President Obama's new immigration policy Monday, a week before the incumbent congressman from New York's 13th District faces four opponents in the Democratic primary.
"This is the moral thing to do, and it's within his executive powers," Rangel said on The Brian Lehrer Show, speaking about Obama's decision to allow some young illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
Rangel is seeking re-election in a newly-drawn 13th district that's 55 percent Hispanic. His old district was only 46 percent Hispanic.
While Latino voters will be especially important not just to Rangel's re-election, but to the presidential contest as well, the Congressman insists that Obama's change to deportation policy wasn't just politically motivated.
"Some people say it's for the Latino vote. It should be for every vote when people have some compassion and remember what America really, initially stands for," Rangel said. "That lady's not out there in the harbor with the torch for nothing."
Rangel spoke with a practiced political air that he's had time to perfect: he's been in Congress since Richard Nixon was president, and considers it an advantage in this election.
"We've got a lot of new applicants, and I can understand that," Rangel said. "But at this time, I really believe I'm the only one out of this gang that's qualified to get there, get the job done, and try and get back some jobs."
One of those new applicants is State Senator Adriano Espaillat, the first Dominican-American to be elected to the State Assembly. Making his case to represent the Hispanic-majority district, Espaillat said there was a sense of urgency in the community, where unemployment is twice the national average. Rangel, Espaillat said, was past the point of delivering the kind of results the district needs.
"Congressman Rangel may have been effective and influential in the past," Espaillat said, "but his influence has been diminished tremendously to the degree that people now are asking for a new voice."