InsiderNJ Exclusive: An Interview with U.S. Rep. Andy Kim

Congressman Andy Kim announced his candidacy for the US Senate immediately after Senator Bob Menendez’s most recent allegations of corruption and misconduct hit national headlines.  While First Lady Tammy Murphy may be lining up the machine support of the Democratic Party in New Jersey to succeed Menendez, the congressman from CD-3 is confident and optimistic heading into the primary season, with about $2 million in his campaign war chest.

Navigating A Post-Menendez New Jersey

Among the things Kim wants to achieve, should he win the primary and subsequent general election, is to restore the damaged integrity of New Jersey’s US Senate seat.  Menendez’s legal woes have darkened the image of New Jersey, which is already often the butt of mean-spirited jokes, as being a corrupt state, regardless of what the eventual court outcome of his trial may be.  Kim hopes that he can try to help change that at a time when New Jerseyans are ultra-cynical about government.  “That’s why I jumped in 24 hours after that indictment came out,” Kim told Insider NJ, “because I wanted to send a strong and immediate response and I needed to make a statement that I don’t stand for this, and I know a lot of people in New Jersey don’t stand for this. I think it was important to not dither and wait and see which way the wind blows. I think when we see that there’s something wrong, we have got to stand up and try to fix it.”

Kim said he realized that his actions were “bold” in jumping into the race so suddenly, but he feels that New Jerseyans have responded positively to that decision.  “We raised a million dollars in that first week, I’m 23 points up in the polls over my nearest competitor, the First Lady, and I’m hearing from people all over the state that they are hungry for a new generation of leadership, and not just a younger leader.”

Should Kim win, he would be the fourth youngest senator in the country.  As of this writing, Congressman Kim is 41, the elder side of the Millennial generation.

“I’d add to the diversity but it’s beyond that,” Kim said. “I hope people see me as someone who’s not a politician—I’m a public servant. I’ve served this country every minute of my career, and I hope to for the rest of my life. I have tried to conduct myself in my time in Congress, and in my time in diplomacy, as someone who is recognizing that I’m part of something bigger than all that. There’s a humility to the work that I do. People want that. They’re tired of the same old politics, a musical chair of powerful families and these challenges that we continue to face right now.”

The term “politician” is not often applied in a complimentary sense by your typical New Jersey resident.  In addition to being cynical, there is also a general sense of mistrust between the led and the leaders.  The more pronounced and the longer that discontent remains, the more difficult it is to achieve consensus and, worse, legitimacy begins to erode.  With Menendez being branded “Gold Bar Bob” in the media, New Jerseyans continue to grumble and scoff about their leaders while focusing on their day-to-day lives, trying to get by, often paycheck-to-paycheck.  Should Kim succeed Menendez, he will have his work cut out for him trying to rebuild public confidence in the institution. “Here in New Jersey,” Kim said, “84% of people believe that their politicians are corrupt. How can we function in a democracy when there’s so much distrust? I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m certainly not, I have my flaws, I’m a human being. But I am someone that will always try to think about this from a perspective of public service. I’m a workhorse, not a show horse. I just want to get the job done.”

The Democratic Party needs to do some soul-searching and realistically understand where it should go with respect to the people as the Menendez story continues to unfold.  According to Kim, the answer should come from the vox popoli of the Garden State when the November election rolls around.  “What will the Democratic Party in New Jersey look like going forward after this scandal with Menendez? How do we try to repair our reputation? How do we try to put forward to the voters who we are? I hope they see the Senate race as that—that is what is on the ballot. It’s about trying to express what we believe and who we are. That’s why I’m particularly proud of the endorsement from the College Democrats, the younger generation recognizing that it is time for a change, one that moves past the corruption, the cronyism, and, hopefully, to an era of public service.”

Is America Still A Reliable Partner?  

Kim said that he just wrapped up his 71st town hall event since becoming a member of congress.  A figure with legitimate foreign policy credentials, he said that he received a lot of questions concerning matters abroad.  The world, as it is, seems to be increasingly unstable, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine soon entering its second year of slaughter and devastation, ending a general, if tense, European peace that lasted three generations. War between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has precipitated a humanitarian crisis. Iranian-supported Houthi rebels are attacking global shipping in the Red Sea. North Korea announced it is withdrawing from the instruments of reunification and reconciliation with Seoul. China continues to demonstrate naked aggression toward Taiwan, Bhutan, and in the South China Sea. Venezuela appears to be preparing for an invasion of Guyana. As a result, many Americans feel anxieties about the world order and what the future will hold not only for American leadership on the world stage, but for democracy and peaceful coexistence.

“Nearly 50% of the questions were about foreign policy,” Kim said of his town hall meetings. “It just shows how much it’s on people’s minds. But one question, I think, really speaks to this issue right now, which was this question of what do all these crises mean when it comes to American leadership? I think Americans should be thinking about this as a singular question like, what is America’s role globally? Another frame is, what does American global leadership mean in the 21st century? When you look at what’s happening more broadly, regardless of the crisis, whether it’s in the Middle East or in Ukraine—I focus a lot on US-China challenges—it gets back to this broader question. I, for one, still believe that the United States plays a critical role globally and I think we are often not thinking through this in terms of what kind of strategy is needed to bring about our global competitiveness: our capacity to be able to stand up for the values that we believe in. People want America to be strong, they want America to continue to be the strongest nation in the world. But that can’t solely be based off military might. We need to be thinking about a comprehensive approach and that’s something that I hope to be able to bring to bear, especially in the United States Senate.”

Kim touted his credentials as one who could apply his personal, practical experiences to some of these foreign policy challenges.  “I’m the only career diplomat in Congress right now, somebody that comes with not just my experience in Congress, but as someone who’s worked on this plane, and on the ground working in combat zones. So, I hope people see in me someone that can be a leader on day one in the Senate at a time when we have such concern about these global crises abroad.”

In Iowa, former president Donald Trump swept the caucus, setting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at second place and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in third.  Asa Hutchinson, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie have all suspended their presidential ambitions just before or immediately after Iowa.  The specter of a return of Trump to the White House, Kim says, disturbs and worries a number of international partners abroad, given Trump’s rhetoric on withdrawing from global institutions, agreements, and alliances. The credibility of America as a reliable partner is in doubt among traditional allies, something that Kim says he feels deeply concerned about in his own conversations with counterparts in other countries. “A Trump presidency will be devastating to American security and interests abroad. Internationally, it would just immediately lead to a weakening of so many of our alliances and partnerships around the world. I mean, I can’t tell you how many senior officials and leaders that I have talked to in other countries that are terrified about the prospects of Trump coming back into office. They really see this lack of reliability in American politics to be one of the most significant concerns that they have about partnering with us. It is this concern that if Trump can come back in, and all of a sudden, all the progress they’d be making in certain areas—or least engagement—that could just vanish overnight. So yes, I’m very worried about that prospect. I stood up to the Trump administration for two years, my first two years in Congress, because I was just so worried about what was happening and could see with my own eyes just how damaging it was.”

Kim said that his concerns applied not only to the military side of things, but also the back-and-forth from administrations on subjects like climate policy.  The congressman revealed that his international contacts even have a term for this: “American whiplash.”  The Paris Climate Accords, for example, was a landmark piece of international climate cooperation which the United States entered into during the Obama years.  President Trump withdrew the US in 2020, but President Biden re-entered the Paris Agreement in 2021.

“Leaders in other nations are telling me how they question American reliability right now,” Kim said. “I’ve been working and engaging with these officials and leaders for the last 15 years, well before my time in Congress, but for me to have these contacts telling me this, it’s really hard. What is the value of the American handshake now?”

Confusion and skepticism from international players and allies weakens the American position globally. Kim said that makes foreign powers less interested in engaging with a potentially unreliable partner.

“That is something that I just find so sad,” Kim said. “A country as powerful and strong as we are—we’re leading innovators in business and in so many other ways. It’s the politics that are just holding us back from our potential. Our economy could be so much stronger, our global partnerships could be so much richer. But we are just embarrassing ourselves right now with our broken politics, and it is humiliating us on the global stage.”

Kitchen Table Issues 

On the macro-scale, the Biden administration can take credit for a rebounding economy.  Inflation is falling, unemployment is low, and major indicators point to American economic strength. Indeed, among G7 countries, the United States has seen the strongest economic rebound coming out of the COVID shutdowns. Normally, a president should benefit from these figures, but President Biden continues to see his polling numbers slump. Costs are still high, and even if Wall Street is doing well, that doesn’t necessarily trickle down to Main Street.  This, it seems, is one of the major sources of discontent with Americans’ attitudes towards the Biden Administration. Closer to home, Governor Phil Murphy said that affordability issues were his top priority in a state where many people leave when they hit retirement age or have to work until they just physically cannot anymore.

Kim said that even if things are better, in the big picture, Americans are still feeling “sticker shock” and continue to tighten their belts to get by.  Politically, this is a huge problem for President Biden as he looks to his re-election campaign.

“The vast majority of Americans see these metrics, but it doesn’t move them,” Kim said. “You can’t force feed people this stuff, because what they’re thinking about is that they don’t necessarily feel like things are better in life. When you’re telling them that inflation is not as high as it was in previous years, yes, but you’re insensitive to the fact that it’s been particularly high over the last couple of years.”

Among the congressman’s co-generationalists, Millennials are far behind their Baby Boomer parents on achieving life milestones, such as homeownership.  For more and more Millennials, and inevitably Gen Z residents, the dream of becoming homeowners and settling down is a delayed goal. For some, it may never happen. They are either compelled to live with their families to help support them, or they expect to be forever-renters. Without owning their piece of society, as homeownership is, this can, broadly, erode civic strength and engagement while also widening income gaps.

“I hear about this so much, especially about affordability, housing, concerns about student debt, and so many other things holding folks back,” Kim said.  “I’m one of the few young parents in Congress, so I’ve been working a lot on the issues facing young parents. I’ve tried to push forward legislation that would create universal Pre-K, for instance. It’s good for our kids to start up into these programs early. We know how important that is for early childhood development. But it also helps parents get back into the workforce, especially when we’re trying to be able to lower childcare costs, which have skyrocketed. I’ve experienced that myself in recent years.”

Kim said that being able to control and reduce some of the costs associated with childcare would take a little pressure off young parents who are trying to deal with broader affordability challenges.

“A lot of housing-related issues often happen at the local and state level in terms of property taxes,” Kim said. “What we’ve tried to do is address that kind of wide range of costs that are out there. I tried to lower prescription drug and health care costs through the ACA efforts, to be able to allow people to be able to pay less on health care, trying to put more money back into your pocket. We’ve been trying to alleviate some of the challenges that local municipalities are facing, which are often increasing some of those property taxes and other costs. With regards to infrastructure, we’re trying to bring federal dollars back to New Jersey to be able to help address some of the problems that these municipalities have been struggling with.”

The congressman described affordability concerns as an “ecosystem” of interrelated issues. People do not think about one particular matter, for example, but rather all of the expenditures and financial obligations they have taken as a whole in relation to their income.  “When someone’s sitting down at the table in their kitchen and thinking about their budget, they’re not just only thinking about housing, or only thinking about food, or health care, they’re looking at the costs of how each of these is affecting how much they can spend on the other aspects. I want to just look at it comprehensively, and try to understand where I can, at the federal level, best be able to help and support them.”

Kim cited efforts to significantly increase Pell Grants, bring student loan rates down to zero “as humanly possible,” and allowing students to be able to refinance them. “These are all things that I think can try to help address some of these issues, but there is never going to be some perfect silver bullet. It’s across the board right now, and that’s why people feel so much pressure and anxiety.”

Kim said a phrase he has heard come up often is that people feel they’re experiencing “death from a thousand cuts.”

Rebuilding American Confidence in Leadership? 

With President Trump facing dozens upon dozens of charges in court, telling the press that he would be a dictator “only” on “day one” if elected, and with Senator Menendez making his political last stand, alone, to the last cartridge, as he fends off accusations of working for the benefit of Egyptian interests, New Jerseyans in particular and Americans in general have little faith in their leaders to do the right thing.  Are they all, really, out for themselves?  No.  But the public perception is undeniable.

“I think about this a lot,” Kim said, “I’ll be honest with you, this is right at the heart of why I stepped up for the Senate. I look at this moment, right now. We live in the moment of the greatest amount of distrust in government in modern American history. I see that in my day-to-day work. Look, I’m a Democrat who represents a district Trump won twice. How is it that I was able to pull this off and why is it that Trump was able to win? I’m a very different person than Trump but it really shows you people don’t want the same old politics. I think they look towards people who are representing some change in that way.”

As Kim will, of course, leave the House of Representatives, either to go on to the Senate if he wins, or back to private life if he does not, he hopes that his CD-3 successor will be an accessible person for the constituents.  “As I mentioned, I’ve done 71 town halls, that’s actually kind of rare. There are very few members of Congress that do regular town halls, so I want someone who continues to do that, because that’s how you remain anchored to the people, not to the special interests, not to party bosses or whatnot. It’s about connecting yourself to the people, and I’d certainly want them to continue with that kind of approach.” He hopes that his House successor will, in addition to being connected with the constituents, be able to “withstand the onslaught of special interests and corruption that I’ve certainly seen with my own eyes.”

In the past, Kim has said that he does not think that members of Congress should own individual stocks.  This motion to make this into law was, expectedly, dead on arrival.  “I’ve got colleagues of mine in the Armed Services Committee that have stock and Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, and these are companies that have a lot of business before us. There’s a concern of conflicts of interest, but also about insider trading.”

As the campaigns move towards the Primary Election, where First Lady Tammy Murphy can expect significant support from the Democratic Party apparatus while Senator Menendez decides his next course of action, Congressman Kim will be working to cultivate and expand his brand among New Jersey voters.  In the past, he has proven himself a successful and effective leader, defeating self-financing millionaire Republican opponents without the benefit of a solidly-blue district.  The bid to topple Menendez and knock New Jersey’s potential first-female US Senator could prove the most daunting, and possibly most profound, contest the young lawmaker has yet faced.  From there, should he succeed, Kim will joust with his Republican opponent in the general, where, regardless of the outcome, history will be made.

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8 responses to “InsiderNJ Exclusive: An Interview with U.S. Rep. Andy Kim”

  1. No one talks about Gen X, but we have had minimal opportunities to lead. I can give you an accurate analogy: Murphy is to Kim as Glassner is to Mele. In each case, the former is the Establishment pick with money to buy the nomination, but out-of-touch elitists who are not resonating with voters at all, and the latter is the candidate with grassroots support across the state and have the anti-corruption history to clean up NJ and the US based on policy decisions.

  2. We don’t need any more Democrat Senators who vote in lock-step (or goose-step) with the Democrats in D.C. Time to change the dynamic and vote a New Jersey Republican Senator into office this time. The Democrats have done nothing but damage and destroy this country and the state of New Jersey since they’ve been in charge. Three major issues that we need to remove Democrat U.S. Senators for: Economy and Budget, Border/National Security, and destroying the Oil and LNG industries.

  3. The central quality of Andy Kim is his integrity. He is centered and I am sad to lose him as my congressman, but look forward to he becoming my Senator. He brings a new light to the Senate: light cleanses NJ corruption.

  4. The central quality of Andy Kim is his integrity. He is centered and I am sad to lose him as my congressman, but look forward to he becoming my Senator. He brings a new light to the Senate: light cleanses NJ corruption

  5. I’m in his district and met him several times. It’s rare to meet a politician who actually listens to the people they are meeting with. He comes across as genuine. And he’s got a real backbone to complement his smarts–taking on an incumbent Republican (in a district Trump won), defeating a self-funding millionaire the next time. And he honors and stands up for military service members and veterans big time. His concern for how people can manage healthcare and childcare expenses comes directly from his own experience. He’d make a great Senator.

  6. Biden should pick Andy Kim to run as his VP to energize the ticket and ensure a competent, thoughtful, accomplished person will be able to take over if needed. Harris has been a virtually invisible VP and a drag on the ticket. She was charged with addressing the border issue but this has only gotten worse during her tenure.

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