Rodney’s Senior Policy Advisor: A recent visit by Adam McGovern
A July 19 meeting with Rodney’s Senior Policy Advisor, Steve Wilson, at the DC office afforded the kind of dialogue we’ve been seeking with the Congressman himself.
Steve seemed sure that the Senate’s proposed ACA repeal-only bill would lack enough votes to pass, but confirmed that, if it did, there was no counterpart House bill it could be linked with to move on to the president’s desk.
Planned Parenthood (and comment about Trump Cabinet)
I asked why Planned Parenthood is targeted as an add-on to every ACA-repeal bill so far; this seems to me like a maneuver to push through a political goal as an attachment to a broader bill people are paying more attention to. Steve said that, as far as he could tell, the targeting of PP was “political,” and part of a common practice of attaching controversial measures to bills which have a better chance of passing than the measure would alone.
I noted that Rodney’s second-round vote for the AHCA would damage PP by attacking Medicaid funding, and that there seemed to be no reason for Rodney to have departed from his former votes in favor of PP funding other than loyalty to GOP party hierarchy. Steve said, “That’s an issue that has passionate people on both sides.” I replied that *abortion* is an issue that has passionate people on both sides, but that is not relevant to PP funding since no federal funds have gone to abortion in many years now. I said that some surveys suggest that a majority even of Republican women are pro-choice, and that there has certainly been no surge in “pro-life” sentiment in the 11th District to coincide with Rodney’s withdrawal of PP support in the last two years; nationally the district was split almost 50/50 for Trump and Hilary (a factor Steve acknowledged), and with redistricting we’ve had an influx of liberal-leaning citizens in Essex County.
I voiced concern about the extension of the anti-choice movement to attacks on all birth-control (which has more support across the political spectrum). Steve said he knew of no Congressional efforts against birth control — later we would all learn that on that very day Rodney’s committee cut Title X funding, the federal program funding Family Planning clinics, as well as a teen pregnancy prevention program. But at the time, I said that it didn’t have to come from Congress, because the Executive Branch was acting on it own, as in HHS Secretary Tom Price’s ruling, rushed through without public comment, expanding the circumstances under which any employer can opt out of providing healthcare for employees which includes birth-control. Steve said “we’re not fans” of Trump’s cabinet.
Discussing other budget priorities, Steve noted how Rodney had made sure that funds were put back in for endeavors Trump wanted to eliminate, like the NEA and NEH. I expressed thanks for this, but asked why we should accept *smaller* levels of cuts which weren’t called for to begin with. Steve said that money taken from one area has to be given to another, i.e., some money would have to come out of NEA in order to increase funding for NIH (which Rodney’s budget also does). I said that the Trump priority to direct much more money to the military (in an era of very unconventional challenges like cyber-warfare and terrorist strikes on civilians) is what forces such choices to begin with.
Party and District
Rodney has said the Trump budget is “reflective of Republican values,” and spoken about “having to vote with the majority” (referring to GOP legislators, not voters). So I asked if Rodney’s main loyalties lie with his constituents or his party hierarchy. Steve said he could tell me with no doubt, it’s with the people: “He has 700,000 voters and when he’s not here he spends as much time with them as he can.” I replied that he has been very scarce of late, holding no town halls, declining invitations to ones set up by citizens, and becoming a no-show at parades and other public events he used to always attend. To this Steve said, “His responsibilities as Committee Chair have expanded the time he needs to spend in DC.” I calmly reminded Steve that he had just told me that Rodney spends a lot of time in the district. He didn’t have a substantive answer, and I did note that there was a time when Rodney was the most visible and available of all my national representatives. Steve replied that that just shows how uncommonly accessible Rodney is. I reminded him that I was saying that in the past tense, and it’s a shame that it can no longer be said.
I mentioned Rodney’s rare appearance at White Meadow Lake in the last few days, where he told a constituent, “I know there are some preconceived ideas about me, but I’m a reasonable guy”; I said to Steve that misconceptions mount in the absence of opportunities for face-to-face dialogue. One misconception Rodney has spread about NJ 11th for Change is that any town hall he held would become a shouting match. I said that any of the Morristown staff can tell you that our interactions are always civil, substantive and respectful. Steve said, “You should see some of our mail,” adding that “a lot” of that is not civil. I said that, while I can’t speak to that, not having seen it, I wouldn’t condone it, and in any case the less people can hide behind a letter or a Twitter screen, and the more they are face-to-face with each other, the more balanced the tone becomes. Steve conceded this point, and said he’d convey the message to Rodney that we feel he needs to hold, and won’t regret, town halls.
He also said he’d pass along my request that Rodney urge Trump never to withhold the Cost Sharing Reductions (CSRs) that help keep the ACA markets stable. I had asked if Steve thought Trump meant to withhold CSRs when he talks about “letting Obamacare fail”; he said with rueful humor that “I can’t guess about the meaning of things like that that the president says.”
Wall or not really a wall?
Concerning another Trump priority, Steve asserted that the billion-plus dollars that Rodney approved for the proposed Border Wall was not for the wall but for border “enhancements” in line with the “fence” legislation that was passed in the mid-2000s. Shortly before this, he had said he wasn’t sure what was in the budget wording. This left me unconvinced that the funding was not a down-payment on Trump’s wall, as is commonly understood.
I closed by noting that I am a former Rodney voter, one of many, and we are not just people who would never support him in any circumstance. And while this is not irreversible, more and more of us feel that he is not representing us now.