Freshman Congressman Rep. Tom Malinowski Talks About Immigration, Impeachment at Informal Town Hall in Bernardsville

Freshman Congressman Rep. Tom Malinowski holds an informal town hall with constituents in Bernardsville, answering questions about immigration reform, impeachment, climate change and how the 2018 elections have changed the House of Representatives.

BERNARDSVILLE – So what are Democrats in the House doing about immigration?

That was probably the most pointed question Wednesday evening for Rep. Tom Malinowski as he answered queries from constituents at the Bernards Cafe. The gathering was billed as a chance to share coffee and to chat with the new congressman from the 7th District. Many in a crowd of about 60 or so seemed to be Malinowski supporters, but not the woman who asked about immigration. Earlier, she had wondered if a man who expressed worries about climate change was a “plant.”

Malinowski’s answer touched on both substance and practical politics, which is really how he has acted during the 100-plus days he’s been in Washington.

He said he’d love to support an immigration reform bill that passed the Senate during the Obama presidency with close to 70 votes. That bill would have bolstered border security and put those here illegally on the path to citizenship with some significant restrictions. The path would have taken at least 10 years and the individuals would have had to be in the country for a minimum amount of time to be eligible. It’s not easy to get almost 70 votes for anything of substance in the Senate, so it was a real pity that the then-Republican House refused to take it up.

But now, as the questioner said, Democrats run the House. So, isn’t the ball now in their court?

Yes it is, Malinowski said. But he said President Trump has so poisoned the immigration debate that Republicans these days would never compromise on immigration. He said many Republicans fear a presidential tweet could rouse up the right and prompt a primary challenge from a hard-line conservative.

Of course, the Dems still could pass an immigration bill, throw it in the Senate Republicans’ lap, and make political points if nothing happened.

Malinowski, the pragmatist, said he didn’t like that approach, suggesting that passing legislation just to make a political argument is not the best way to govern.

The Democrats’ takeover of the House has brought such new reps as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a boatload of attention.

Nonetheless, Malinowski insisted that the House actually has moved to the center, not the left. He said that’s because the last election installed many Democrats from what still are GOP-leaning districts, at least marginally. So one must walk in the middle of the road to represent constituents and also, of course, to be viable for reelection. The locale for Wednesday’s event bore that out. Malinowski lost Bernardsville last fall by 118 votes.

It’s impossible for any House Democrat to appear anywhere these days and not be asked about impeachment.

After saying he’d rather talk about another “I” word,  infrastructure, Malinowski said impeaching the president comes down to two questions

One is, has Trump violated the law?  Someone in the crowd yelled out, “yes.”

More importantly, Malinowski said impeachment wouldn’t be successful unless it was a bipartisan endeavor. And the congressman didn’t have to point out the obvious – no matter what the House does, there never will be enough Republican senators to support impeachment.

No one asked about the 2020 congressional election, but already state Sen. Thomas Kean has announced plans to run. Another likely GOP candidate is Rosemary Becchi, the founder of a grassroots economic group. The activity here is in contrast to the neighboring 11th District, which also turned “blue” last fall. So far, no viable GOP candidate has surfaced to challenge Mikie Sherrill.

As he left the cafe, Malinowski put off any discussion of his would-be challengers, saying it’s way too early for that.

Could be, but time has a way of moving quickly.

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