Paul Tonko, Democratic Party, NY-20


  1. What should be the role of science and scientists in government policy- and decision-making?

Scientists – particularly those whose research is funded by taxpayer dollars – should be allowed to do their work unimpeded by political influence from any ideology, from very liberal to very conservative and everywhere in between. That’s why I have worked with Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz to introduce the Scientific Integrity Act, which protects scientific policy decisions from political influence. The public and those who represent them in office deserve sound information and facts when they’re making life-and-death decisions like how to combat climate change or protect clean air, water, and soil.

  1. Optional: Taxpayer-funded basic research is a key economic driver. What is your position on the Endless Frontiers Act? With the added technology arm and focus on commercialization to the National Science Foundation’s mission, what policies would you support to ensure equity for taxpayers?

The Endless Frontiers Act aids our nation in again becoming the leader in research and development. Taxpayer funded research is a vital tool to ensure that we can once again be the frontrunner in the global race on innovation, boost our economy and overall quality of life for our citizens. Any research funded by taxpayer dollars must be conducted with the highest oversight possible to ensure every penny spent is done in good faith.

  1. Optional: If you could introduce and/or support any major scientific endeavor, what would it be? (i.e. what would be your “moonshot” project?)

Climate change is the largest national and global threat we face. That’s why I am working as the chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment and Climate Change to score short-term bipartisan victories that strengthen our environment while working toward long-term wins that make our planet a more sustainable place for generations to come. My climate principles can be found HERE.


  1. What have you learned from the coronavirus pandemic? What policy changes should be made to both prevent and respond to future pandemics in a more effective way?
  • COVID-19 has exposed how unprepared we are for large-scale pandemics, and partisan politics is a large part of that. I was very saddened to see strong relief packages passed in the House languish in the GOP-led Senate. The virus doesn’t ask your party affiliation before affecting you or your family, and our response must be equally non-partisan. 
  • The virus has also exposed that tying health coverage to your employment is not the best way to provide the basic right of accessible, affordable and dependable health care.  In a historic period of job loss, millions lost their coverage with it.
  • We were caught flat-footed by the pandemic because of the Trump administration woefully understaffing in critical positions and underfunding of offices and programs that protect the American people from this kind of virus. This administration was provided a playbook by the previous President’s team and it was ignored. We must restore all of these offices and programs and increase resources available to ensure no more lives are lost because of COVID-19 or future pandemics.
  1. Optional: In your opinion, what is the ideal healthcare system? How will you incorporate advances in basic science, clinical, and public health research to inform your positions on healthcare policy?
  • I have long cosponsored a single-payer health care system because in 2020, no one who works for a living should be catastrophic health care event away from losing their life, their life savings or their livelihood because they can’t afford insurance or healthcare. 
  • Science should inform and lead policy decisions and be unimpeded by political influence. Again, that’s why I introduced the Scientific Integrity Act.


  1. What are your policy priorities to address the ongoing climate crisis? How would these policies impact other systems, if any (e.g. economy, agriculture, education)?
  • My climate change principles can be found HERE.
  • The argument that we have to choose between a robust economy and a clean, healthy environment is a false one. We must invest in a new “green-collar” job market that provides opportunities to those currently working in dying industries and ensure that our economy can continue to grow while the efforts to that end don’t damage our environment. 
  • Climate change often affects communities of color and “lower” socio-economic status disproportionately. That fact must inform the way we approach the fight against climate change.


  1. Do you support the Green New Deal? Why or why not? If you support transitioning our economy away from fossil fuel dependence, how will you support workers who will need to transition to different industries?

I came to Congress because our nation had no clear energy policy. I have long worked to change this and set us up to combat climate change. I believe the Green New Deal, written as a resolution, set the aspirational goals for our nation. Now, we must enact legislation that will become law, outlining the particular steps necessary to achieve those goals. We need both the big-picture, coalition building vision and the specifics, in law, to achieve said goals. The two approaches complement one another. 

  1. Optional: What does a thriving economy look like for you and your constituents? What role should the government play in addressing income and wealth inequality, particularly in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery? How will science help inform the policies you would introduce or support to achieve this vision?

A thriving economy is one where anyone who wants a job – regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or socio-economy status – can find one.  

Relief packages must continue to be provided because the economic effects of the pandemic will continue to be felt by our most vulnerable communities, and we cannot leave them behind when we see the unemployment rate go down a few percentage points or the stock market climb to new heights, which only benefits the already wealth and well-connected. 


  1. What should our education system, from K-12 to higher ed, be doing to prepare students to be adaptable critical thinkers, especially considering the challenges of climate change, misinformation, and work at the human-technology frontier?
  • We must elect leaders of good character who put politics aside and embrace facts instead of spreading misinformation when it suits them. 
  • I have worked for years to support the millions of STEM-educated Americans we will need in the coming years, particularly to close the gender gap we see in these careers and encourage more STEM-educated girls and women. 


  1. To what extent are you concerned about the threat of climate change in disrupting agriculture in New York State in the coming decades? What, if any, policy changes should be made to ensure our farms are resilient?

Climate change is our largest national and global security threat because it touches everything from foreign policy to agriculture here at home in New York. I am concerned of all effects that surface because of climate change, which is why I have been working on this issue since I was first elected to Congress. 

  1. Optional: How do you see federal food and agriculture policies impacting public health? What interventions should the federal government employ to help people living in food deserts or with food insecurity?

Our food and ag policies of course impact public health. The federal government should continue to use facts and sound science to identify deficiencies in our food security, where food deserts need the most assistance and work to provide relief to those people. If someone can’t put food on their table, it doesn’t only affect them, it affects the entire community. 


  1. Restrictions and suspensions of new work visas, especially for high-skilled workers in science and technology fields, could affect scientific progress and innovation. Do you agree with these restrictions? Why or why not?

No, I have long fought against these xenophobic policies of this White House that only serve to decrease our standing across the globe, hamstring institutions like RPI, and appease political ideologies that contradict what we work toward every day – a society of equality, inclusion and fairness.

  1. Optional: As climate change worsens, the number of climate refugees will increase within the US as well as globally. What role should the US play in mitigating this problem? How, if at all, should US immigration policies adapt to this issue?

We must let our morals be our North Star on this issue and accept refugees who are fleeing climate emergencies. 


  1. What is your position on the 1996 Dickey Amendment? What role should the federal government take in addressing issues relating to gun violence?
  • The Dickey Amendment is a piece of legislation that has literally cost millions of lives. When the CDC cannot research the public health consequences of widespread access to firearms, it outsizes the influence of partisan politics over sound science in making the public aware how truly deadly this epidemic has been. The Dickey Amendment should be repealed. 
  • The federal government should work to pass universal background checks, close gun show loopholes, reduce magazines, ban bump stocks, stop people on the Terrorism Watch List or domestic abusers from owning weapons of mass destruction, and other policies.
  • Further, the vast majority of firearm deaths occur with handguns. A large part of those tragedies are suicides. We must continue our fight to reduce the stigma of mental illness, help those who need it to seek help, and decrease the number of suicides. 
  1. Optional: Considering the majority (over 60%) of gun deaths are due to suicide, what are some policies that could be enacted to promote safer gun ownership practices and address people’s mental health needs?

Please see final bullet above.