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METUCHEN – Energized Democratic voters “flipped” the House last fall, propelling veteran lawmakers like Frank Pallone from New Jersey’s 6th District into seats of power. Now these voters want action on a number of key liberal issues, at times putting Pallone and other Democrats on the defensive.
At a Thursday night town hall before about 300 in the local high school, Pallone, the chair of a key House committee on energy, was challenged to do more on climate change, health care and impeaching
One speaker informed the congressman that because he’s in a safe district (a legitimate point) he can afford to be “bold.”
Some went further. One man said it was “cowardly” not to push harder for Medicare for All and a woman was so vehement in calling for action against the president, Pallone could only say, “I don’t advocate
Pallone, of course, has a liberal voting record and can take pride in championing the Affordable Care Act. And more than once, he stressed the need to find common ground to get things passed.
But Pallone’s lesson on practical politics didn’t always work.
Take health care.
More than once, Pallone said he wants to improve and protect the ACA, or Obamacare. He said he is not philosophically opposed to some form of a single-payer system, but that he worries about doing away with private health insurance.He said many American families get coverage through their employers and that most are “somewhat happy” with that.
He also used the same argument to explain why he does not support the so-called Green New Deal. Some Republicans, he said, still don’t believe climate change is real, so talking about the “end of the world” and setting unreasonable targets is not going to win them over.
There was periodic debate about whether the United States should set a target of 2030 or 2050 for “carbon neutrality.”
Pallone, who does a good job keeping his cool, said targets at this time mean nothing. That’s because there is no consensus in Congress to do much of anything.
“We’ve got nothing,” he said, referring to legislation.
More than once, Pallone was urged to support impeaching the president.
Through the nearly three-hour session, Pallone agreed that the president has done “a lot of bad things.”
But he again urged the crowd to be practical.
Sure, the House could impeach Donald Trump, but it won’t go anywhere in the Senate.
So, he was effectively asking, what would be the point?
There were boos from the audience that Pallone seemed to take it in stride.
It will be interesting to see how this philosophical battle on the left plays out. Up in District 5, Josh Gottheimer already has an announced primary opponent who says he’s drifted too far to the middle.
One man provocatively told Pallone that if he won’t lead on climate change, maybe advocates should get a representative who will. Radical talk indeed.