It is hard to pinpoint Alex Mooney’s politics without knowledge of old-style conservatism. His calls to repeal Obamacare, for example, hark back to the fierce battles of a decade ago and the short-lived Tea Party movement of 2010.
The congressman from West Virginia, one of only two in the state, is now seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate seat opened by Democrat Jim Manchin’s retirement. He faces Governor Jim Justice, who defected from the Democratic party some five years ago and is now considered a moderate Republican.
Mooney, 52, has the fundraising edge in the primary, which will take place on May 14, as well as the majority of local backing and the endorsements of conservative groups. He is missing some key supporters, though. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has practically anointed Justice, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican incumbent in the state who endorsed Mooney in his previous races, is now supporting Justice.
Key in the GOP primary is Donald Trump’s endorsement, and it has gone to Justice.
But Mooney is an enthusiastic cheerleader for the conservative movement, enough to impress people who met him during a recent meeting in Lakewood.
“He is an oheiv Yisroel, a member of the Freedom Caucus, a real conservative,” one of them said. “Exactly the type of politician we like.”
I asked this of Mooney during our interview.
The Orthodox people who met you were quite impressed.
Well, we’re all pretty strong on our convictions — conservative, traditional values, strong national defense, and we’re not ashamed of it. We’re proud of it, from what I was told.
I’m in the Freedom Caucus, so I’m like Jim Jordan and those type of people.
I was looking through some of your previous votes, and I was trying to construct a sensible position about where you stand, but I wasn’t able to. Could you describe it to me in a nutshell?
I call myself a traditional conservative Republican in the mold of Ronald Reagan, and nowadays Donald Trump. I believe in traditional Biblical values, a strong national defense, and I’m fiscally conservative as well. Those would be the three stools of conservatism in my view. I’m a traditional conservative in all those categories.
Frankly, I think the problem with the Republican Party is that they don’t do what they said they would do. That’s the biggest complaint I hear when I travel West Virginia, and frankly, the whole country. My good friend, Jim Jordan — who, by the way, has endorsed me for my Senate race —wrote a book and titled it, Do What You Said You Would Do.
If you look at the platform of the Republican Party of America, all I want to do as a Freedom Caucus member is that, exactly what we all campaigned on, what every Republican claims to believe, at least in our platform. I know some Republicans have different views on certain specific issues, but by and large, if you look at the platform of the Republican National Committee, which is voted upon by every state, and all Republican organizations, all I want to do as a Freedom Caucus conservative is that.
I mean, there’s nothing controversial here. Nothing extreme one way or another. It’s just, actually implementing what we said we would do. And that’s the frustration, some Republicans just vote with Democrats.
This is why I am in the race for the U.S. Senate right now. I remember the feeling I had back in 2017, when we had the House, we had the Senate, and we had the Presidency. So, finally, the voters had given us Republicans everything we asked for — both chambers of Congress and the presidency of the United States. This is your chance to do the things you said you would do. And the first thing we tried to do was repeal Obamacare.
I was in Congress at the time. It was kind of hard, there were machinations back and forth, but we finally passed the repeal from the House of Representatives. It went to the Senate, they had their back and forth, but in the end, three Republican U.S. senators joined the 48 Democrats and killed the whole thing. You remember when John McCain did the famous thumbs down on the floor?
The next day, there was a conference meeting of all the 230 Republican members of Congress. It was like a wake. We were so distraught and upset that after all we did, three Republicans sold us out and voted with the Democrats. And that’s my opponent. This is what I’m trying to prevent going forward. I’m trying to prevent that feeling as Republicans of extreme disappointment in failure to implement our agenda. Jim Justice, my opponent, does not even want to repeal Obamacare. He thinks it should stay. He’s for higher taxes, and spending.
So, this is probably what I was talking about when I met with your rabbi. Like, how I actually just want to fight for and do conservative policies.
Regarding Obamacare, do you still think it’s repealable?
Generally, it’s a given in American politics that once one party establishes a federal program and the other party takes power and doesn’t repeal it, it’s permanent.
There will be a struggle. I mean, when government takes something away or grants themselves new power, it is very hard to undo it. Which is why you have to fight as hard as you can at the beginning to stop it.
But we had a chance in this particular case. We did pass it in the House. It was hard; I was a House member then and there were 10 different ideas of how to repeal and replace Obamacare; what the replacement should look like. It was difficult, but we did pass it, and we had a way of getting it through the Senate through something called reconciliation so it can’t be filibustered. Without getting too much into the weeds there, all we needed was 50 votes in the Senate to do that.
We wouldn’t have repealed it all, we were going to repeal the worst parts of it, some of the mandates and things. But when Trump became president, he was able to use regulations to mitigate some of the worst parts of it, some of the mandates that were the most expensive things.
So it still exists. It’s been a little bit tamed down through regulation, but that brings up a whole other issue of who makes laws. I mean, President Biden is trying to use the regulatory state to do all sorts of things. And he can bring it back even worse.
But to answer your question, I do think it’s possible to repeal it. And I’ll give you another example. I’m on the financial services committee, which handles banking, insurance, investing, and things like that. A bill called Dodd-Frank passed a little before I got there. Remember Congressman Barney Frank? He did all that. It’s horrible. It’s overregulating the entire financial industry. Everybody hates it.
We had a bill in the House to repeal it. We originally wanted to repeal the entire thing — I’d be for repealing the entire thing — but we ended up getting through the House most of a repeal — you know, the worst parts. The Senate put together an interesting coalition — which could be a role model for the future — but every Republican, plus about 15 Democrats out of 45, voted for it. These 15 were the ones who weren’t totally socialist, communist, left-wing Democrats, 15 who were somewhat reasonable on this investment issue.
Those 15 Democrats were led by Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota — who then lost her reelection — were somewhat fiscally responsible whom you could work with. They agreed to repeal what ended up being about a third of Dodd-Frank. Again, the worst parts of it. They passed it in the Senate and Trump signed it.
So in that particular case, to answer your question about if once something starts can you ever undo it — we didn’t undo all of Dodd-Frank, but we repealed the worst one-third. And it actually helped a lot the economy and the investing community.
So, while I would be for repealing more, we did actually achieve that. And that was soon after we failed to repeal Obamacare, when there was a lot of skepticism from my Republican friends and supporters around the country that we would do anything effective. We were glad we at least got that bill through the House and the Senate.
I’m not that familiar with banking regulations, but they were blaming the repeal of Dodd-Frank for the banks that collapsed earlier this year. You think that repealing it would have helped the banking system more?
Well, repealing it would have been helpful to the economy in general and to free market competition. That kind of begs the question of what the role of government is. It is possible for businesses to fail. And some banks, if they’re not well run, if they don’t invest properly, may fail. The opportunity to not be successful exists in a free market economy. If you think the government is going to be there to bail you out every time you make mistakes, then banks are going to take much more risky behaviors, believing that there’s no chance of failing. So it actually causes them to do worse things if you bail them out.
We bailed out the banks once before, we bailed out the car industry once — that is not a capitalist thing to do. Voters resent that. You’re taking taxpayer dollars to subsidize people’s investment choices. And it’s not right.
I want to talk about religious freedom. You’re religious, I’m religious, we’re both a minority in the country. I wouldn’t say a persecuted minority, but we’re not a priority when laws are proposed and voted on. Religion is looked down on by the establishment. What are you doing in Congress and what would you do in the Senate to better protect religion from the forces of secularization? For example, here in New York, tuition relief is a big issue since we don’t send our children to public school because of religion. There are also myriad regulations and laws that inadvertently impact us.
Here’s an interesting thing — you know, we just recently elected a new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, who wasn’t well known before. He’s a religious man also, and I saw the left, the liberals, attacking him because he believes in the Bible. They called him all these extreme names.
These people don’t seem to get it, but the Republican members of Congress who voted him in as Speaker, we also believe in the Bible and the values of the Bible. It was a little bit surprising to me to see how viciously they were attacking him for believing in his faith as strongly as he does.
I did have a piece of legislation that I can share with you, which I proposed a few years ago when individuals were being forced to participate in things they didn’t agree with religiously. I think it was the police chief of Atlanta who didn’t want to march in a parade, and they fired him because it was against his values.
I was the lead sponsor of a bill that said that no one can ever have their sincerely held religious belief violated by their own government. And that was a case going through the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has always held that if you have a sincerely held religious belief — as an Orthodox Jewish person, Christian, whatever religion, any sincerely held religious belief in America — you could never be forced to violate that.
But nowadays, with the left being so extreme, they actually think they can force people to violate their faith. And that is pretty scary. And some of the spending bills that were being passed under Nancy Pelosi when she was speaker the year before last — this didn’t get reported on very well, but the religious freedom protections that had always been in there were removed. It was always standard language in the spending bills that no one can be forced to violate their sincerely held religious belief — this was actually passed in the 1990s with Bill Clinton signing it into law and Chuck Schumer supporting it. Almost everybody voted for it in the 1990s.
But only 30 years later, Pelosi and the new Democrat regime of the far left were literally taking out of our bills the religious freedom protections that had been there for 30 years that were extremely bipartisan. Schumer in New York at the time was specifically protecting Orthodox Jews from being forced to violate their religion. He was actually, I think, the lead sponsor of the bill in 1992 or 1994.
So as far as protecting people of faith, the first thing they have to understand is that they’re under attack. Their right to practice the religion the way that G-d tells them is frankly under attack. There are those who want to subjugate it to government dictates. That would be a radical change from the founding of America and as it’s always been. So as a senator, one, I would vote to protect that as I have before.
I would also make sure we confirm judges to the courts. The Senate has a unique position in that they confirm judges — district, circuit, and Supreme Court. And if you have judges in there who believe that that they’re greater than G-d, frankly, and they can make you violate your faith, we’re in trouble. People of faith are in trouble.
I see from your Wikipedia page that you have many roots. Your mother is Cuban, your father is Irish, you were born in Washington DC, raised in Maryland, ran for office in New Hampshire and Maryland, and you now live in West Virginia. Your cousin is the mayor of Miami.
Yes. My mom came from Cuba when she was 20 when she had to flee the Communist regime there, and my father was raised in Floral Park, Long Island, just outside New York City. He was a feisty Irishman from New York, I like to say, and he was ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) in college. When the Vietnam War broke out, he did his duty and served in Vietnam as an army captain fighting Communists in Vietnam who were trying to take over that region.
So both my parents had histories of fighting for freedom over Communism. And that’s who raised me, particularly our mother who had a very nice life in Cuba. They had a sugarcane farm there, she was one of 14 kids and it was a different world. But they had that world completely destroyed by the Communists.
As you mentioned earlier when the government starts things it’s hard to undo it, I like to say that what the Communists take, the Communists don’t give back. Just look at Cuba. Still to this day, it is completely oppressed over 60 years later, with no rights whatsoever.
It’s heartbreaking, but my mother saw this happen, so she understands the threat of what your own government, potentially, can do to you. And she raised me to believe in political participation. I don’t apologize for that. Not one bit. My mother raised me to respect elected officials, to vote, and to participate. My father also was very active.
I went to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, but I returned to Western Maryland and then I said, “I’m a West Virginian by choice.” We still have a choice of where we want to live in this country; that hasn’t been taken away from us yet. So I chose to live in West Virginia and then chose to run for Congress there.
Your opponent, Jim Justice, was a Democrat until a couple of years ago. Do you think he’s still a Democrat at heart?
I do. There’s a term RINO, Republican in name only. He was elected as a Democrat, attempted the largest tax increases in the history of West Virginia — fortunately, the Republican legislature stopped it, and he attacked them as horrible and he attacked the Republican party as extreme. I mean, some of the things he said about Republicans were terrible.
Even last year, we had a referendum on the ballot to repeal the car tax and a business inventory tax. And he opposed both of those. He wanted those taxes. He’s a tax-and-spend liberal.
Last year I had a very tough election against another Republican who was also liberal. And Jim Justice attacked me because I wouldn’t vote for Joe Biden’s $1.3 trillion non-infrastructure bill, the one that 13 liberal Republicans gave the majority to the Democrats. And Jim Justice attacked me, he said we needed the money.
Jim Justice also endorsed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion first Covid bailout that not one Republican U.S. senator voted for. He would literally be more liberal on spending than every sitting Republican U.S. senator. He’s still basically a Democrat. It’s just that West Virginia is so Republican these days, he couldn’t win as a Democrat, so what the liberals are doing is running as Republicans.
West Virginia is Trump country. What do you make of Joe Manchin winning reelection so many times?
At his last election five years ago, though, he only won by three percentage points. He didn’t even break 50 percent; he won by 49 to 46 percent. And over the last five years, our state grew like 15 or 18 percent more Republican by registration. So, in my view, he couldn’t have won reelection. I think he probably knew that, which is why he chose not to seek reelection.
I like to give this statistic: The state Senate in West Virginia has 31 Republican state senators, and three Democrats. And our statehouse is 90 to 10. Trump and Romney, both times, won all 55 counties in my state. So, there’s no way the guy could win. He got lucky and he won last time, and he barely did.
So, he’s done. The only issue is whether or not West Virginians want a conservative Republican U.S. senator who votes for traditional values and actually fights for what we believe in or a liberal Republican who votes with the Democrats most of the time. Pretty much no different than Joe Manchin, to be honest with you.
Jim Justice is ahead of you in all polls. You still feel you’ll be able to go around and make a conservative case that voters will respond to?
Yes. There are only two congressmen in my state. I’m the congressman for half the state now. That gives me an advantage over congressmen in other states. In New York there are 26 districts, so a New York congressman would represent about 4 percent of the population. To jump from 4 percent of the population to 100 percent is tougher in New York. In my state, I’m already half — and they changed my district around, so I have a chance to continue to get to be known as a congressman for half the state and then campaign in the other half.
Are you running for reelection to Congress also?
No, just the U.S. Senate.
Let’s talk about foreign policy, something that the House is not that much into, but the Senate is. For some reason, congressmen go on Codels (congressional delegations) to other countries, but senators actually go to other regions and make policy. The biggest issue in our community these past two months has been the massacre in Israel. Concurrently, you have an explosion of antisemitism over here, and you don’t really have anybody talking about it outside the Jewish community. Why is that?
I think there’s been a hidden antisemitism, anti-Israel, sentiment, especially on college campuses but also in society at large, for a while. Sadly, there are even Americans who don’t think Israel has a right to exist. They don’t understand history. They don’t understand foreign policy.
To your question about foreign policy, we talked about my mother coming from a Communist country. When it comes to foreign policy, every country has a different, unique set of circumstances. Senators do get more involved — I think the tradition there is since senators confirm treaties, like the Iran deal — nowadays they do treaties much less, but traditionally, it’s the U.S. Senate that votes on treaties, not the House of Representatives.
Likewise, senators confirm ambassadors to every country. So you have an opportunity to make sure the ambassador reflects the values of the U.S. Senate, in addition to the president, on confirmation. So that is why senators are more involved in foreign policy.
This is particular when it comes to Israel. I think that left-wing activists on college campuses have let our country down by blaming Israel and Jews for conflicts around the world. But it’s not their fault. In fact, they’re the victims. I mean, they’re the ones being attacked. Israel was attacked viciously by a terrorist group, and folks — in my view, liberals — often try to equate the actions of Israel and the actions of Palestine. It’s just absurd.
People do not understand foreign policy. And too many people in the media — and I say, particularly on the campuses, college campuses are just anti-Israel — and students need to hear the truth about what’s happening.
When it comes to Israel, where would you take your cues from? Is there any particular senator or other leader who understands the issues that you would look to for guidance?
I’ve been endorsed by Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are of Cuban descent. Ted Cruz’s father is Cuban — his mother is not Cuban, just like my father’s not Cuban, so Ted’s half Cuban. Marco Rubio is 100 percent Cuban.
Both those two gentlemen, I would say, very much understand threats from foreign countries, terrorism, obviously, and other threats. So, yeah, I’d say those two gentlemen are ones I have a lot of respect for.
They’re both very good on Israel.
Have you ever been there?
I’ve been to Israel three times. When I was in the state senate, the Baltimore Jewish Council funded trips and invited upcoming leaders in the community to Israel. This was not specific to elected officials, but they included business leaders and educational leaders. That was in 2005. I went back a second time two years later, and then I went with AIPAC during my third term in Congress, I think it was 2019. On that particular trip, I brought along my mother, which was nice to experience it with her.
I remember on one of the trips we went to the Golan Heights, and we looked down from the Heights at villages that were in Israel. I remember them saying that a lot of the international community has been pressuring Israel to give the Golan Heights away and not have it be part of Israel anymore. And they said, we don’t want to do that, because can you imagine people standing here on these heights and shooting rockets down on these villages? Like, why in the world would we do that?
I was like, that totally makes sense, I wouldn’t do that either. We shouldn’t pressure Israel to basically put themselves in harm’s way and give up strategic land to folks who may well want to use it against them.
That’s one of those things where any time you do foreign travel as a congressman, seeing that with your own eyes is very telling.
There’s a tendency now for the international community, and even Joe Biden, to press Israel to behave a certain way in their defensive war. And it’s not the role of President Biden or the United Nations or any other foreign group to try to dictate to Israel how they defend themselves and how they maintain relationships with the countries around them.
That’s something I know I learned by physically being there. It helped me understand the reality of the situation.
The past couple of years we’ve had the feeling that the world is sort of spinning out of control and there’s no leadership in the world. What would you do as a senator to give people the feeling that things are under control? Inflation is spinning out of control. There are a bunch of coups going on in Africa. There is terrorism around the world. Russia is emboldened with Ukraine. China is set to be ready to attack Taiwan within the next couple of years. What is your cure for this disease?
That’s a big question. But I’d say, my philosophy on it is peace through strength. So first and foremost, we make sure we maintain the strong military that we have so that people respect us. Doing stupid things like President Biden withdrawing precipitously from Afghanistan and just handing it over to the Taliban in two weeks shows weakness. We cannot show that kind of weakness. That was a huge mistake. And as soon as that happened, Russia invaded Ukraine, and now terrorists are acting up everywhere.
We have to be strong. We can’t make mistakes like Biden made with Afghanistan.
Secondly, coalitions matter, like NATO. NATO has been a force for peace. Nobody attacks NATO countries. I think it’s important for NATO to be strong, to keep peace there. There are other international agreements, whether they’re bilateral or intelligence sharing or whether they’re military support. We need to make sure we have good relationships with peaceful countries. I did a trip to Japan — Japan very much wants to stand up to the threats from China. So we need to have good relations with Japan.
And when it comes to our own economy, the spiraling debt that we have — almost $34 trillion now —shows weakness. And we have to take care of things on our home front, too. We cannot continue this debt in America. At some point, we won’t be able to pay our bills if we keep this, because the interest on the debt is growing and growing and growing. And it’s making us weak internationally.
Not all Republicans are the same here. You know, some Republicans do not see the threat of our national debt and how that makes us vulnerable in the long term because we won’t have money to pay our bills. But also in the short term, because it shows countries like China, which has a surplus, that our economy is not strong. I do think that that matters.
So you offer an all-hands-on-deck solution.
Yes. All hands on deck.
I want to ask you a pretty narrowly tailored question, but you’re from coal country so you can relate to this. The past couple of years, the Biden administration has been phasing out incandescent light bulbs and encouraging people to purchase LED lights. I have LED lights in my house; they’re supposed to last for 50 years but they start dimming after a year or two and they gradually become unusable. Is this ban on selling incandescent bulbs final?
What can be done is you remove the regulation that makes it illegal to buy a certain type of light bulb.
Companies don’t make manufacturing decisions based on this government policy or that government policy — if they feel that the trend is moving away from certain things, they’ll just stop making it, even if the government removes the regulation. Is the trend moving away from incandescent light bulbs?
It’s a great question. So, as you said, coming from coal country, my state, West Virginia, has been attacked by President Obama and Vice President Biden. During the eight years they were in power, they waged an open war on coal. And President Obama at the time said they were going to bankrupt the coal companies through overregulating the industry.
And unfortunately, he was very aggressive about that, and we lost about half of our coal jobs in West Virginia during the Obama-Biden presidency. And Biden has these same policies again now.
Those regulations were ultimately tossed out by the Supreme Court, but it was too late for those jobs and coal plants.
Some were stopped by the Supreme Court, but when Obama was there, he put so many in, they could stop some, but the others just made it so expensive. He didn’t ban it outright, but he made it so expensive that it became cheaper to buy oil and gas than to buy coal. So the power plants, instead of being coal-fired, a whole lot of them turned over to oil and gas, and therefore the demand for coal was less.
What I would like to say is that the government should not pick the winners and losers in the energy business. You reference the light bulbs — the government should not pick the winners and losers in light bulbs. I believe the free market should determine that. And if you have the free market determining these things, you’ll get a better light bulb because they’ll have free market competition, and they’ll make them longer lasting and brighter and working better.
But if you have the government come in, as they did in the case you brought of the government banning a certain type of light bulb, then the other light bulb producer doesn’t have to make a good light bulb. They could promise one thing and not deliver because they don’t have the competition anymore.
I believe in free market competition. So if you want oil and gas for the folks out there who want to try to use the renewable stuff, go for it. Just don’t ask the taxpayers to cover it for you. Just try to make it work. Make it competitive. I don’t think the government should dictate that. Just let the free market dictate.
Has the weather patterns these past few years changed your opinion about this?
I think the weather gets hotter and colder depending on long periods of time. And no, it has not changed my opinion on that. I just think we have a lot of natural resources in this country and around the world, and those resources will replenish over time, and we should use them. G-d gave us these beautiful natural resources. They’re there for us and so we should use them.
We burn coal in an environmentally friendly way. It’s very clean today, much cleaner than ever before so there’s no conflict here. The environment can be protected while having oil and gas, coal, and renewables as well.
In the war of endorsements between you and your opponent, I’m an outsider to West Virginia, but it looks to me as pretty even — except for one name: President Trump endorsed your opponent. I think that his endorsement still carries some weight in Republican primaries. Are you disappointed that he endorsed your opponent?
The statement I made is I support President Trump. I’ve endorsed him for president. I respect him. I do obviously disagree with his endorsement in my race, but I know Jim Justice is going to have to answer to the voters on the issues that matter in West Virginia, the tax increases he tried to raise, and his Covid lockdowns. I’m really conservative in the race, and West Virginians deserve a conservative U.S. senator. I’m going to give them that choice.
And then the other endorsements, as you mentioned — I’ve got two national gun organizations — Gunners of America and National Association for Gun Rights — and a whole lot of members of the state legislature, because these conservative Republicans, the actual conservative Republicans in the West Virginia state legislature, endorsed me over Jim Justice because they’ve had to deal with his liberal policies, which did not reflect the Republican Party.
If you were to win the nomination, you’d have the resources to be able to take on the Democrat and win in the general election?
There was a CNN article reporting that Joe Manchin obviously made a decision not to run, likely because he knew he couldn’t win. There is no Plan B here for a Democrat. This is a safe Republican seat. For example, the West Virginia state legislature has 31 Republican state senators and only three Democrats. President Trump won all 55 counties both times. Even Mitt Romney won all 55 counties. This is a heavily Republican state. It was Trump’s second-best state in the country.
So, this is going to be a Republican seat. Once the Republican nomination is over on May 14, whoever the Republican nominee is going to walk into the seat. I’ll have the resources, but frankly, no one’s going to need many resources to win the general election in West Virginia. It’s the primary.
It’s sort of the opposite a lot. Sometimes you take a seat in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, where somebody can win the primary more easily, but it becomes harder to win a general election in some of these 50-50 states or states that have more Democrat voters than Republicans. But my state is heavily Republican now.
The mainstream media is trying to pretend that there’s not a significant primary here. But many conservatives who are watching this more objectively understand that Jim Justice is very vulnerable in the Republican primary to me. The more people see that, the better, because it’s true.
I wish there were more Orthodox Jews in West Virginia.
You know something interesting for your community? There is a potato chip factory in Parkersburg, West Virginia, that makes Bloom’s potato chips.
Whoa, I never knew that. That’s a mainstay of kids’ snacks here.
Yeah, look on the bag, it should say “Parkersburg, West Virginia.”
I went on a tour of the place earlier this year, because that’s in my congressional district, and there was a rabbi there who comes in from somewhere, maybe New York, and he’s there most of the day, to be there when the machines are turned on and off and certify that they’re kosher.
So, there’s a little bit of a connection to my district. We obviously don’t have a large Orthodox Jewish community, but we do make the chips, and we share the values.
Yeah, it’s hard to disagree with potato chips.