The Rodney Report: The Unity Edition

  • Forward, Together
  • Resisting A Health Care Steamroller
  • Gun Control Now!
  • Trillion Dollar Trains
  • In Pruitt Pushback, Climate Change Chatter Curtailed
  • Who we are


 Forward, Together

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen began his newsletter this week with a brief item headlined simply: “Unity.” It referred to the shooting of Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise, one of four wounded in an attack by a gunman identified as James Hodgkinson of Illinois, who opened fire Wednesday on members of the GOP’s House baseball team as they practiced for a charity game.

Hodgkinson, who died after being shot by Capitol police, was described in media reports as a former volunteer on the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, and also, as a man with a history of domestic abuse and run-ins with the law.

“Tragedy touched Congress once again,” wrote Frelinghuysen, in an apparent reference to the 2011 Tucson shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in which six bystanders were killed and 13 wounded. He added: “I endorse Speaker Paul Ryan’s call for unity.”

If that means that as reasonable, thoughtful citizens we are unified in our abhorrence of gunfire as a way of settling an argument: Yes, of course we are unified – we remain unified.


We would be wary, though, of a “unity” composed of easy phrases and dutiful silences on issues that matter greatly to us as citizens. True unity, true consensus, require continuing dialogue, continued questioning, transparency, trust, and often, extremely hard work. 

Division and mistrust flourish in the shadows. A good example of how to discourage a unified front and unified public buy-in for a policy, is the haste and secrecy with which the American Health Care Act (aka Trumpcare) is being rushed through the Senate. Unity should not mean “our way or the highway” on legislation with the potential to radically change the life and health of millions. Arrogance and imperviousness to debate do nothing to encourage a sense of shared purpose.

Frelinghuysen’s newsletter directed readers to an emotional statement by Ryan, made hours after the shooting.  “For all the noise and fury, we are one family,” Ryan said, and also: "Every day, we come here to test and challenge each other. We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in. At times, our emotions can get the best of us. We are all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber."

Nor do any of us as citizens diminish our humanity in peaceful, persistent dialogue with our elected representatives. As Ryan noted, we continue to press for things that matter deeply to us. That, and never violence, is the way forward.


Resisting A Health Care Steamroller

The newsletter did not contain updates on how Republican Senators are progressing on their version of the American Health Care Act, whose flaws Frelinghuysen was confident would be fixed in the upper chamber. We can’t assess the reality of that. The only thing that is clear is that Republican Senate leadership is determined to put AHCA up for a vote as quickly, and with as little discussion, as possible.

Both New Jersey’s senators oppose AHCA, but pledging a “no” vote is the bare minimum. On Monday, opposition senators announced their intention to compel a more open accounting of the Senate AHCA with other procedural moves, such as withholding consent and “filibustering” the bill by introducing amendments.

We who are interested in a full and informed hearing on this critical legislation need to press our senators to continue going above and beyond. Indivisible offers more information on AHCA opposition tactics and messages for constituents to deliver to senators opposing the bill.


Gun Control Now!

The shooting at the congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va. was one of 154 mass shootings this year. Later the same day, a distraught employee killed three of his-coworkers at a San Francisco UPS facility before turning the gun on himself.

A majority of Americans support a commonsense response to assaults like this. We need strict gun control laws, beginning with an immediate renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons ban. By contrast, hours after the assault, Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie introduced a bill (H.R. 2909) to loosen D.C.’s restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. This, though it’s estimated that between 270 million to 310 million guns are in private hands, more than enough to arm every man, woman and child in America.

Studies show that 56 percent of mass shooters have a prior history of violence against women. The Alexandria shooter was no exception. Yet over the years, Congress has voted to make guns easier to acquire, fearful of provoking the ire of the powerful National Rifle Association. The day of the shooting, the absurdly named Hearing Protection Act was on the floor of the House. The bill’s premise is that gun owners’ hearing will be protected by making silencers easier to buy. Had the assailant in Alexandria used a silencer, the toll might have been far worse. The players on the ball-field would not have heard the shots or known to take cover, and law enforcement officers would have had a much harder time pinpointing the location of the assailant.

Earlier in his career, Rep. Frelinghuysen voted against lowering the three-day waiting period for those seeking to purchase a firearm. This could be why, at that time, he earned a D grade from the NRA. The picture was far different earlier this year. Frelinghuysen voted yes on HR Resolution 40, making it easier for mentally ill people to purchase firearms by rolling back Obama-era rules that required the Social Security administration to disclose information about mental illness to the national gun background check system. That’s an odd stance for a representative from New Jersey, whose residents overwhelmingly support stricter gun laws.


Trillion Dollar Trains

“I attended the Department of Transportation’s Transportation-Housing Subcommittee,” Frelinghuysen reported, “and took the opportunity to bring up a critical project for our regional and national economy with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao: the Gateway Program and Hudson Tunnel Project.” Frelinghuysen reported that the number of commuters in our district has grown by over 35% since 2002 but neglected to mention that the Trump budget cuts all funding for this project. Nor did he or any other lawmaker present, discuss any specifics or ask any questions about how this crucial project might be funded.

The American Society of Civil Engineers reported that the U.S. would need at least $4.5 Trillion to bring infrastructure from ‘poor’ to ‘good’. N.J.s infrastructure rating? D+.  Meanwhile, the Trump proposal cut $2.4 Billion from the DOT budget compared to 2017, and included no funding for the Gateway Project or Hudson Tunnel project. The budget also calls for reduced subsidies to Amtrak, including the reduction of all federal support for its long-distance train services, and a 28% reduction in funding for Northeast Corridor services.

All infrastructure funding was pulled out of department budgets and is being repackaged as part of the $1 Trillion Trump infrastructure plan. Only $200 billion will come from federal funding.  The remaining would come from “leveraging” the federal money as “seed capital”, from selling off federal assets, and from public-private partnerships. And there is no plan yet about what projects will actually be green-lit.

Democratic lawmakers are very concerned. They want all federal funding of $1 Trillion and do not believe private industry will be able to fill the gap. Democrats were also worried that public assets would be sold to foreign interests.

Can we rely on Frelinghuysen to defend our interests here? We need to keep his feet to the fire. If $4.5 Trillion is needed, and only $200 Billion is budgeted, Congress will be fighting over the scraps. Frelinghuysen and MacArthur are the only two members of the N.J. Congressional delegation that refused to sign a letter in support of the Gateway project.

Can we count on Frelinghuysen? Who knows…

In Pruitt Pushback, Climate Change Chatter Curtailed

On Thursday, June 15, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faced questions from lawmakers, including Rodney Frelinghuysen, during a House hearing on the White House’s proposed EPA budget, which would slash the agency’s funding by more than 30%. During the hearing, Pruitt attempted to address concerns from both Democrats and Republicans, such as if the EPA could adequately fulfill its duties with a smaller staff and much less funding. Credit where it is due, Rep. Frelinghuysen spoke against cuts to the Superfund program, and warned Pruitt to exercise “caution before you take too many dramatic steps”, though he also noted he shares some of the “frustration” directed toward the EPA by groups that seek to lessen many of the agency’s protections. Comparatively absent from Republican representatives’ discussion was talk of climate change, other than GOP Rep. Michael Simpson (ID-2) who expressed concern about the threat of global warming to agriculture. By contrast, Appropriations Committee ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (NY-17) advocated for a Congressional budget “that would invest in combating climate change, keeping our air and water clean, and creating jobs for the 21st century economy.”

Prior to the hearing, a bipartisan delegation of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation drafted and signed a letter to Rep. Frelinghuysen asking him to support and defend the $11.6 million budget for the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, which would be completely eliminated under the proposed Trump budget. The letter was drafted by Donald Norcross (D-1) and Frank LoBiondo (R-2) and signed by all except Tom MacArthur (R-3) and Frelinghuysen himself. The delegation also wrote to Appropriations ranking member Rep. Lowey on the same issues. Rep. Frelinghuysen has not made any recent public statements on the Chemical Board.

Environmental issues are one of the most threatened policy areas under the Trump Administration. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 13 times on behalf of fossil fuel industry interests, and on June 16 it was reported that Scott Pruitt met with a series of oil, coal, and chemical executives during his first six weeks on the job, not with any officials from environmental or health groups. Congressional Republicans did not give him a free pass at the June 15 hearing, but their proposed changes to the Trump budget are small consolations in the face of the President’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and the growing and unavoidable global crisis of climate change. Our nation needs full, comprehensive policies to combat global warming and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the renewables industries. Rep. Frelinghuysen put in his lip service, but it is just a band aid on growing wound.


Who we are

Yesterday it was announced that Frelinghuysen has hired Chris Christie’s former strategist, Mike DuHaime to help with his reelection campaign.  Never in his 30 plus years of politics has Frelinghuysen, whose father and grandfather both served in congress, deemed it to be necessary to pay for such an operative.  In a public statement, DuHaime who also worked for Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain on losing bids, left out remuneration as a motive to take the role saying of his new boss, “He is under attack now from the extreme left of the Democrat party, so it is time for people like me to stand up and fight for Rodney.” We are quite sure NJ 11th for Change is not extreme in anything except our laser focus to advocate for fair and transparent representation.  Take a moment and pat yourselves on the back, then fasten your seat belts and stay the course, good people. We’re on the right path.

-- By Lynn Halsey, Karen Rose, Naomi Rand, Elizabeth Juviler, Liz Jarit , Mara Novak, Adam Tucker and Liz Lynch