The Rodney Report: Votes vs. Rhetoric

The Rodney Report is NJ 11th for Change's response to Representative Frelinghuysen’s Weekly E-newsletter 

  • The Push to War
  • Honored for 'Advocacy' of Latinos
  • STEM Education and the 2018 Budget
  • AHCA Silence and Conference CallsUnknown.jpeg


Controversy raged last week over the impending House vote on Trumpcare redux, but Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s newsletter avoided the subject entirely. Instead, he patted himself on the back for the successful passage of House Joint Resolution 99 to extend funding for federal agencies and programs until May 5. He also blamed Obama for Iranian nuclear proliferation and voiced his passionate support for STEM education — despite ominous signs he might approve budget cuts that would hobble scientific research and eliminate some of the very same STEM programs he applauds. In other news, Frelinghuysen proudly received an award from the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, which seemed untroubled by his paltry advocacy record and votes against immigrants over the years.

The Push to War

In his Friday E-News item titled "Obama Administration Concessions = Iranian Belligerence,''  Frelinghuysen castigates Obama for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He pointed to a recent Politico story, which cited federal investigators and prosecutors who angry at the administration for underplaying the threat posed by prisoners released to Iran. They believe the White House undermined both years spent pursuing Iranian arms dealers and their National Counter-proliferation Initiative. However, two years on, the non-partisan Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation believes that “this good deal is significantly better than the bad alternatives.”

In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has noted that Iran has been in compliance with the negotiated rules of the deal, thereby limiting its nuclear capabilities. Yet, Frelinghuysen argues that, for eight years, Iran has “suffered no consequences” and exhibits aggressive behavior “undermining America’s national security.” This kind of sabre-rattling talk is often the lead-in to a call for military intervention. The Trump administration and its supporters seem to be looking for a fight, whether it’s with Syria, North Korea or Iran. To what end? Additional military engagement in the Middle East will only work to further destabilize what is an already volatile situation.

Honored for ‘Advocacy’ of Latinos

Frelinghuysen’s newsletter touted his somewhat mystifying Leadership in Public Service Award from the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI), a conservative group of past and present congressional reps. He portrayed himself as an advocate for New Jersey Latinos: creating jobs, bolstering access to higher education and fighting for “freedom for oppressed people around the globe.’’

But his voting record on immigration contradicts his rhetoric. In 2015, Frelinghuysen approved legislation to undo President Obama’s deferred action program that provides legal protection to undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.Twenty-six Republicans, including two from New Jersey, broke with their party to vote against the bill, which had been criticized for its potential to tear families apart. Frelinghuysen toed the party line, characterizing the program as “executive amnesty.” The same year, Frelinghuysen voted against an amendment that would have encouraged the Pentagon to study options to enlist undocumented immigrants as a pathway to legal status. Again, 20 Republicans, including two from New Jersey, broke ranks to support the amendment. Frelinghuysen was not one of them. And in 2016, he voted against allowing the military to enlist DACA recipients.

The  CHLI explained its decision to honor Frelinghuysen by stressing his powerful position in Congress as chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations and his “work for the rights of all, for fiscal responsibility and for economic growth.” The Institute did not cite any specific action or statements Frelinghuysen has made in support of the Latino community. Frelinghuysen did not list any of his own accomplishments, either. One of his few recent actions in support of state Latinos and Hispanics was a 2014 speech before Congress, commending the Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce. Searching his website for the keywords “Hispanic” and “Latino” yields few results. Why an organization whose congressional board consists of eight Republicans and two Democrats (one from NJ and another on the Appropriations Committee) would bestow this award without acknowledgement of Frelinghuysen’s achievements, the reader will have to surmise.

STEM Education and the 2018 Budget

In Friday’s e-newsletter, Frelinghuysen proudly described his school tour with Commander Justin Kibbey, a National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pilot. Kibbey shared his personal experience researching hurricanes by flying planes directly into these monstrous storms. Frelinghuysen and Kibbey together touted the benefits of obtaining a STEM education in the hopes that students will one day pursue a job in the STEM field, which command double the median salary of non-STEM workers, according to Frelinghuysen.

Frelinghuysen didn’t discuss his appointment of John Culberson, a climate-change denier who believes scientists have falsified data, as head of the House Appropriations subcommittee that's in charge of funding NOAA. Frelinghuysen has been fielding expectations from leadership to approve Trump’s 2018 budget, which includes elimination of up to 200,000 federal jobs, many of which are EPA STEM jobs, drastic reductions to the EPA’s efforts to research and slow global warming, elimination of the Sea Grant program at NOAA, and the closing of NASA’s Department of Education, a program that has long been credited with providing students with STEM education –– the exact type of program Frelinghuysen presented to students.

Will Rodney defend climate science,STEM education and jobs by rejecting Trump’s misguided priorities or will he cave to pressure by leadership in order to maintain his seat as Head of the Appropriations Committee? We will be watching.

AHCA Silence and Conference Calls

While Frelinghuysen met with over 100 students last week in public forums, their parents and other constituents of voting age were left to fend for themselves in their search for clarity on his positions. Joined by NJ Citizens Action, Oxfam, Center for Biological Diversity and Move On, citizens in the 11th visited his district offices once again on Wednesday and Friday, and flooded the phones in his D. C. and Morristown offices all week, voicing their concerns about the budget and asking for a statement on the amended AHCA bill.

The new bill, like the original, does not guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions or the essential “health benefits” assured by Obamacare. It also does not continue federal Medicaid reimbursement for tens of millions of Americans, including 500,000 in New Jersey. These were all reasons Rodney cited for opposing the bill last month, but something has changed since he promised members of NJ 11th for Change to “absolutely” defend pre-existing conditions in any future bill. Several sources, including the Center for American Progress, reported that Speaker Paul Ryan put Frelinghuysen’s plum position as Chair of Appropriations on the line if he votes against Trumpcare . Last week, Frelinghuysen was the only member of the NJ congressional delegation to remain quiet about the bill. Unfortunately, the e-newsletter did not break his resounding silence.

Perhaps voters will glean some answers on the telephone later this month, as Frelinghuysen, still refusing to hold a town hall, has instead invited constituents to join an as-of-yet unscheduled conference call. NJ 11th For Change will once again record the call and provide a transcript for those who miss it, as well as the press, since the congressman’s office has provided no record of previous calls. “All constituents are welcome,” he promises, “...register using the convenient button on the right-hand side of the opening page to sign up. Or call one of my offices (973-984-0711, 202-225-5034) to be put on the call list.”

Oh, we will.


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