GLEN ROCK – The Democrats’ “civil war” came today to this “idyllic” Bergen County town.
As Josh Gottheimer spent the morning touring downtown businesses with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, about 100 protesters demonstrated outside his nearby district office, condemning the Democratic congressman for not supporting Joe Biden’s economic agenda strongly enough.
“We’re so sorry we have to ask our Democratic congressman to back our Democratic president,” said Arati Kreibich, who unsuccessfully challenged Gottheimer from the left in the 2020 primary. She called the need for that ” surreal.”
When it was pointed out that Kreibich ran last year, some yelled out, “run again.”
Just a few blocks away, Gottheimer and Raimondo were visiting businesses and eating pizza, all of which was aimed at drumming up support and demonstrating the need for a $1 trillion-plus infrastructure bill.
That’s not all.
Both also expressed support for a much larger bill, a $3.5 trillion measure that encompasses many liberal goals such as expanded health and child care initiatives, free community college and strong steps to combat climate change.
Raimondo said she was confident both bills would end up on the president’s desk. Gottheimer said the same. Both spoke at a town hall event attended by the usual cadre of local office holders.
Gottheimer said the infrastructure bill, which would fund a long-delayed, new rail tunnel under the Hudson, would boost train service to and from Glen Rock and its “idyllic downtown.”
He described the bill, which would also improve Internet service in rural areas, as a “once in a century” type of thing.
The infrastructure bill already has passed the Senate with some Republican support.
The larger, $3.5 trillion bill has no Republican support. Democrats hope to pass it through a filibuster-proof process in the Senate known as reconciliation.
The problem is that the Senate is split 50-50 and that the Dem majority in the House is in the single digits. So, the party needs just about 100 percent support from Democrats to make things work. And that is the continuing challenge.
Those protesting today contended that the CD-5 Democrat has not been vocal enough in support of both measures. And they charged that Gottheimer is too willing to support cutting the $3.5 trillion bill. If that’s the case, Gottheimer may not be alone. Other Democrats, most prominently Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have proposed reducing the bill.
Of course, Gottheimer has long been a target of the party’s left wing, as was evident last year by Kreibich’s challenge.
The congressman stresses his membership in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. His opponents, meanwhile, say that shows Gottheimer is not totally committed to basic Democratic principles.
A similar protest popped up outside Gottheimer’s office in December, 2019, urging the congressman to back the impeachment of Donald Trump. He ended up doing so.
Today’s protest drew a number of left wing groups, including the Sierra Club, Our Revolution, a spin off from Bernie Sanders’ campaign and New Jersey 11th For Change, which helped Democrats win what was the solidly-Republican 11th District in 2018.
This was a combative crowd, but not all the time.
The day included the singing of homemade and folksy songs about the Biden agenda.
Think Woody Guthrie? Not really, but one supposes it’s the idea that counts.
Sue Altman of New Jersey Working Families Alliance, who journeyed to the rally from south Jersey, led the crowd in a chant of “Build Back Better,” which is the White House name for Biden’s economic plan.
Altman sized up the mood of the day this way.
“We fought endlessly to end Trumpism,” she said, talking about hours she and others spent last fall knocking on doors in battleground Pennsylvania. The point was clear – Democrats have to unite around Biden’s agenda.
Passion aside, it’s a pretty heavy lift for the party’s left wing to make a real difference in a district that is quite centrist. It seems instructive that Kreibich last year lost to Gottheimer by about 2-1.
Afterwards, some protesters sought out Gottheimer during his business tour. Things here were reportedly a bit impolite.
Sources tell us that verbal insults were hurled at the congressman and that one protester intentionally bumped into a Gottheimer staffer.
A civil war indeed.