Some lawmakers choose to lie low during their political careers. Here’s an example. When was the last time you saw New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith commenting on a network news or political show? Come on. Dig deep into your political memory bank. You’re right. It’s been a while.
Smith, who is considered a moderate Republican and a maverick in foreign policy, stays quiet on most occasions. The last time he found himself in the national spotlight was back in 2008 when he helped bring home two Monmouth County sisters trapped behind Russian lines in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.
The “get the job done while saying little” approach appears to have helped Smith. Constituents in his 4th Congressional District keep voting him back into office. The 68-year-old is currently serving his 21st term in Congress. But as Bob Dylan once sang, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
The United States is a far different place than it was back in 1980 when Smith first won his seat.
Today, many lawmakers, especially those in swing New Jersey districts, don’t have the same luxury as Smith. They have to speak out loud and it doesn’t necessarily have to be on a news program. Politicians are using their own websites and social media platforms to voice their strong positions. Being ambiguous could mean the difference between winning or losing.
Former President Donald Trump helped create this new political world order. Every politician is aware of the new, unwritten rules. You have to draw a line in the sand, pick a side and hope an unpredictable storm doesn’t sweep you away.
New Jersey Congressmen Tom Malinowski and Josh Gottheimer, both Democrats, are finding themselves swimming in rough political waters with the midterm election just around the corner. In November of 2022, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 U.S. Senate spots are all up for grabs.
Malinowski and Gottheimer happen to be in swing districts, meaning voters could go either way. For that reason alone, both men are politically vulnerable. It’s as if they’re being forced to place their bets now at an Atlantic City casino roulette table only to be told they’ll have to wait a year to see where the marbles will land on the wheels.
Both lawmakers are betting the way they handle their messaging around two spending packages now before Congress — the Build Back Better Act and Infrastructure bill — will either hurt or save them during the next election cycle. Their messages, though, are very different.
Last week, Progressive Democrats led by Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal threatened to block the Infrastructure bill, which would dish out hundreds of billions of dollars to upgrade roads, airports, the rails, trains, and expand broadband.
The Progressives were hoping that by playing hardball moderate fellow Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin would move to their corner. Sinema and Manchin have refused to support Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, saying the spending plan needs to be scaled down.
The stalemate forced President Biden to head to Capitol Hill and negotiate with members of his own party. Imagine that. The social spending plan provides trillions of dollars for pre-school childcare, free community college, the continuation of child credits, climate change initiatives and much more. The talks resulted in Speaker Nancy Pelosi postponing voting on both bills. Progressive Democrats also agreed to start making some cuts.
The Infrastructure bill postponement didn’t sit too well with Congressman Gottheimer, who represents New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District. He blasted fellow Democrat, Pelosi.
“It’s deeply regrettable that Speaker Pelosi breached her firm, public commitment to Members of Congress and the American people to hold a vote and to pass the once-in-a-century bipartisan infrastructure bill on or before September 27,” Gottheimer wrote in his statement. “Specifically, the Speaker said, ‘I am committing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27. I do so with a commitment to rally House Democratic support for its passage.’”
Gottheimer didn’t stop there. He went after the Progressive wing of his own party.
“We cannot let this small faction on the far left — who employ Freedom Caucus tactics, as described by the New York Times today — destroy the President’s agenda and stop the creation of two million jobs a year — including for the millions of hard-working men and women of labor,” Gottheimer wrote in his October 1st statement. “We were elected to achieve reasonable, commonsense solutions for the American people — not to obstruct from the far wings. This far left faction is willing to put the President’s entire agenda, including this historic bipartisan infrastructure package, at risk. They’ve put civility and bipartisan governing at risk.”
We reached out to Gottheimer’s office for comment, but so far, no one has gotten back to us. The Congressman, though, explained his position to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“People back home — I am hearing from so many folks who are saying, ‘I am sick and tired of the potholes,” Gottheimer told Blitzer, “‘I am sick and tired of waiting for the trains for hours because they’re broken down.’ People want this fixed. This is broadband in rural areas. It’s water infrastructure. We’ve got lead in the drinking water in New Jersey and so many parts of our country.”
Gottheimer then posted the explosive statement on his Twitter page. That was enough to have fellow Democrats chiming in to reprimand him.
New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg commented, “Disappointed in your statement Josh, Nancy Pelosi deserves your negotiating skills and your help, not your criticism.”
Another follower commented, “Well, as one of these people that you represent, I say, move on from this and get behind the BBB bill. That’s the one that will help us the most.”
“Vote for the BUILD BACK BETTER ACT NOW!” Wrote one more follower. “Which donor that gave to your campaign are you protecting? STOP OBSTRUCTING, get on board. I’m unemployed, my benefits stopped, and I am applying for work.”
While Twitter is hardly an indicator of district discontent, the backlash against Gottheimer was swift on his social media page. His district covers parts of Passaic County that tend to be more Progressive. His constituents, though, also live in Bergen, Warren, and Sussex counties, where voters are more moderate and even conservative.
On the flip side, Congressman Tom Malinowski, who beat his Republican challenger Tom Kean, Jr., by a very slim margin back in 2020, has taken out ads proudly defending his support of the Build Back Better Act. He’s not really focusing on the politics surrounding the Infrastructure bill. He’s leaning into the $3.5 trillion spending plan despite a new GOP ad campaign attacking him for being a “tax and spend Democrat just like Nancy Pelosi.”
Malinowski and five other U.S. Representatives have also penned a Newsweek op-ed piece, warning infighting could threaten progress.
“We are all majority makers from the Class of 2018,” the six Congress people jointly wrote in the Newsweek op-ed page. “We were elected to Congress in swing districts all across the country, not only to serve as a check on an unpopular Republican president, but to follow through on our promise to fight for the millions of middle class families who cast their ballots in our favor.
“And we’re committed to getting both the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act across the finish line.”
Malinowski is also hearing it on Twitter. But those who disagree with him are mostly conservative.
One follower commented, “Build Back Better is a Socialist Spending Spree!” Another follower wrote, “Not those bills as they are now. Trim down, please.”
Malinowski’s 7th Congressional District is mostly affluent and encompasses parts of Essex, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren Counties. During his last run for office, many New Jersey voters appeared to be angry over former President Trump’s rhetoric around the Coronavirus. Despite that, it was a tight victory.
As for the midterm election, anything can happen during the next year. However, one thing is for certain. Kean, Jr., has announced he will run against Malinowski in 2022.
Malinowski and Gottheimer are both facing tough battles ahead. Republicans are determined to take back the House. The lying low approach is not an option this time around. It’s why both men are showing their constituents they’re willing to fight like hell to hold on to their seats.