The Rodney Report: Rodney Praises 'Decisive' Airstrike of Syria

The Rodney Report is NJ 11th for Change's response to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's weekly newsletter.

  • Syrian Airstrikes
  • Turning Away RefugeesFrelinghuysenMonopoly--PamWye-2.jpg
  • A Plan for North Korea?
  • Rodney and the War Machine

'While I am horrified by the deaths of so many innocent men, women, and children, I want to know how the president's strategic plans will change the course of this civil war. I cannot support any authorization unless and until my questions are answered fully. .... I don't think there is a great partisan divide. I think people just want to know what the president's plan is."

This was Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s 2013 response to President Obama’s request for congressional approval to use force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after sarin gas was dropped on a Damascus suburb. Frelinghuysen voted against approval, yet in his April 7th e-newsletter, he trumpeted his endorsement of Trump’s unsanctioned Syrian airstrike and condemned Obama-era policies toward North Korea.

Syrian Airstrikes

Congressman Frelinghuysen commends the president for acting “decisively” on Syria. We agree that Assad’s brutal use of chemical weapons is a criminal act and that the ongoing civil war is a “humanitarian crisis,” but unlike Frelinghuysen, we are alarmed that the president acted without seeking Congressional approval. We urge Frelinghuysen to demand the same answers from Trump he sought from Obama four years ago: “What is this president’s Syria policy? What’s the end game here? Are we going to war here? Or is this attack a one-off? We deserve to have answers. What are the real goals here?’’ They were reasonable questions in 2013 and are more urgent now. Whether or not good people agree that the recent air strikes were justified, there is much concern that this president should ever be given unilateral power to make war.


Turning Away Refugees

We also call upon Frelinghuysen to recognize the hypocrisy of Trump’s claim that child victims of Assad’s chemical attack drove him to launch a $100 million airstrike against Syria. America’s door is still largely closed to Syrian refugees, and Trump is seeking to reduce foreign aid to all refugees by nearly 30 percent. The president’s expression of anguish is unconvincing, and his anti-refugee policies do not reflect the traditional position of the United States as a global protector of human rights.

The discrepancy between Frelinghuysen’s word and deed on the suffering of Syrian refugees will be familiar to his close observers. In 2015, he voted in favor of a bill suspending Syrian and Iraqi refugees until national security agencies could “certify” that they would not pose a security risk, creating a de facto bar to admission. At the same time, he also expressed empathy for their plight. “These desperate people are casualties from intolerant religious violence, unrelenting civil wars and an explosion of terrorism. Many are subject to horrific abuse, including sexual and other forms of human trafficking.” In January, after Trump imposed the Muslim travel ban, Frelinghuysen voiced tepid reservations about the “details” of the order, now deemed illegal by two courts, and allowed that the ban might not have been “properly scrutinized.’’ But he offered no comment on the millions of children and their families left nationless and helpless in its wake, nor the thousands of families, students, lecturers, scientists, artists and others whose lives were chaotically disrupted. The US already applies the strict vetting to applicants for amnesty, often delaying for many years approval even for those who assisted the US military at peril to their own lives. Frelinghuysen’s past expressions of concern do nothing to alleviate their pain. And his Friday’s newsletter made no mention of refugees.

After the Muslim travel ban was struck down in court, it was replaced by a new executive order calling for a 120-day “pause” in the admission of Syrian refugees and a reduction of all refugees admitted into the United States from 110,000 to 50,000. A court has issued an injunction against this order, but the United States has admitted relatively few refugees since. Here are the facts:

  • Since 2015, more than 4.5 million Syrians have fled the country. Women and children comprised 75 percent.


  • Currently, only 900 refugees a week, from all nations, are being admitted to the U.S. This rate means roughly 60,000 refugees will be admitted in the fiscal year, far shy of the 110,000 quota set by the Obama Administration.


  • Of nations who have accepted Syrian refugees, the U.S. has absorbed only 18,000, with Turkey accepting nearly half at 2.5 million. In contrast, the small nation of Sweden has accepted 53,000 and Canada has taken 40,000.


A Plan for North Korea?

President Trump is now faced with an increasingly hostile Kim Jong-Un and various resistance from China and South Korea. Yet, as aircraft carriers head to the Korean Peninsula, the American people are left without details of an overall plan, or confirmation that a well-defined strategy exists. Frelinghuysen's inaccurate portrayal of the Obama administration’s policy and his lack of insight into President’s Trump goals for the region do little to ease the fears of many District 11 constituents.

The Obama administration’s first-term North Korea policy, described as “strategic patience” by then-Secretary Clinton, was a mix of offensive and defensive measures developed in close coordination with our Asian allies. As it became clear that North Korea was getting closer to developing the technology needed to strike parts of the US, the Pentagon launched a cyber attack against their weapons program, causing missile tests to fail at a rate of 88 percent.

In his E-News, Frelinghuysen touted his approval of two bills with broad bipartisan support that clear a path for future sanctions and other actions against North Korea. The North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act of 2017 is an attempt to reverse its removal of from the short list of state terrorism sponsors. Congress also passed a resolution condemning North Korea’s development of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Terrorism Designation legislation, if heeded by the State Department, could lead to further economic sanctions, while the latter reaffirms our commitment to neutralizing the increasingly severe threat of Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea.

We are glad to see Frelinghuysen approve what seem to be sensible measures against North Korea, but he must also demand accountability, and evidence of a strategic plan, from President Trump.

Rodney and the War Machine

Rep. Frelinghuysen has been a long-time booster of the armed forces and a vocal advocate of increased military spending, veterans benefits and the Picatinny Arsenal, which spans several District 11 towns. As a member of Congress and head of the House Appropriations Committee, he has proclaimed a “strong national defense” to be a central part of his mission.

Frelinghuysen, a US Army Vietnam veteran, seems to seek out military concerns and photo-ops on a weekly basis, evidence, perhaps, that this familiar terrain provides comfort. The Monday after his last minute stance against the AHCA, stinging from a rebuke from fellow GOP appropriators, Rodney posted photos on social media of himself at Picatinny Arsenal with Secretary of the Army Robert Speer and millions of dollars worth of weapons. In contrast to his usually measured newsletter style, when he writes about defense issues, he is filled with conviction. His views are illustrated by copious detail and he uses exclamation points, as he did in the April 7 e-newsletter.

Recent events overseas are set against the looming backdrop of the 2017 budget, currently operating under a continuing resolution set to expire April 28th. Trump’s proposal includes a $54 billion increase military spending, in addition to nearly $600 billion already on the books. As a reference, the U.S. doles out more than seven nations with the next-largest military budgets combined. China, which has the world’s second biggest defense budget, spent $147 billion.

As noted before in The Rodney Report, Frelinghuysen’s top two campaign contributors are defense contractors Lockhead Martin and Northrup Grumman. Six of his seven biggest funding source have been employees of defense contractors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.

Frelinghuysen has promised to oppose Trump’s steep budget cuts to the NIH, NEA and protect federal plans like Medicaid, and Superfund clean-ups. But can he accomplish that while supporting the president’s massive increase in military funding?

When the April 28 deadline for budget approval rolls around, we hope to see that Frelinghuysen has kept his word.

NJ 11th For Change in D.C.

Absent from the e-newsletter but deserving mention here, was NJ 11th for Change’s Wednesday’s trip to DC in partnership with Bluewave NJ. Approximately 30 members of the more than 150 travellers were able to meet with Rodney in groups of 10 for about 10 minutes each. After standing us up at all four February Town Halls we organized, Frelinghuysen's decision to speak with a sliver of the thousands of constituents who want to meet with him in person — after they travelled all day to do it — is a tiny, but unsatisfying step forward.

Video’s from some of our visit to Washington can be seen here and here.


— By Lynn Halsey, Jane J. Hunsecker, Elizabeth Juviler and Naomi Rand