Tom Malinowski called it one of “the elephants” in the room.
With the president and some of his close associates, Chris Christie among them, battling COVID-19, Rep. Malinowski used his opening statement during a CD-7 debate today with Republican Thomas H. Kean Jr. to highlight what he called a “culture of carelessness” in how some are responding to the virus.
He specifically mentioned what he called “glad-handing” at a recent White House reception. And closer to home, he cited a Monmouth County Republican event attended by Kean in which most were not wearing masks.
“I think that’s wrong,” Malinowski said.
The congressman was touching on something that is readily apparent to whomever travels the state’s
pandemic-impacted political circuit.
Republicans are holding public campaign events and most attendees are not wearing masks.
Democrats seldom hold such events. And if they do, most attendees wear masks.
Will this change now that the president has gotten the virus? That remains to be seen.
Kean didn’t specifically address Malinowski’s pandemic-related comments during what turned out to be a polite and informative debate sponsored by the Elizabeth-based Gateway Regional Chamber of Commerce.
But there was substantive discussion on some key issues.
Let’s start with health care.
Malinowski said in his opening that he backs the Affordable Care Act while Kean does not.
This is true, but it’s not that simple.
Kean, in line with many Republicans, says he supports some important aspects of the ACA such as protection for those with pre-existing conditions to kids staying on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 26.
This prompted Malinowski to say you really can’t support those features if you want to do away with the law that created them.
Prescription drugs are also an issue.
Malinowski trumpeted legislation that passed the Democratic-controlled House a few months ago to allow the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Medicare. He says that would save billions of dollars over time.
The bill went nowhere in the GOP-Senate, an occurrence Kean supports. He says that the legislation would hurt drug company research and put 58,000 New Jersey jobs at risk. Malinowski scoffs at this, adding that Kean is merely repeating the talking points of the industry.
Then, there was the infamous SALT issue. The 2017 federal tax bill capped the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000.
This cap is opposed by many New Jersey Republicans, Kean included.
But here’s the difference.
Malinowski blasted the Senate for ignoring the bill the House passed.
In response, Kean says he could do a better job finding a solution with Senate Republicans than House Democrats can do. He said complaining is not good enough.
More than once, Kean said he works across the aisle in Trenton and that he will bring those same skills to Congress.
As envisioned by the organizers, this was a civil encounter. That was in contrast to a recent anti-Malinowski ad on Kean’s behalf put together by the National Republican Congressional Committee. That ad accused the congressman of essentially lobbying in favor of sex offenders while employed by Human Rights Watch. The ad, which has been deemed false by some national fact-checkers, is roughly in line with the views of QAnon, a conspiracy group that. among other things, believes the world is run by a Satanic cabal that promotes child abuse.
Malinowski made a fleeting reference to the ad in his opening statement when he said the Kean campaign and its supporters have been sending “dog whistles” to far right, fringe groups.
Kean let the accusation pass without commenting.