A Tough Political Weekend for Congressman Gottheimer

Gottheimer and Sweeney

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) just sustained a politically unenviable weekend. Two events occurred that left this member of the U.S. House of Representatives with his credibility and effectiveness in question.

The event that impacted Gottheimer’s credibility occurred on Friday. The national Jewish newspaper, the Forward, reported Gottheimer’s assertion that protestors from the New Jersey Working Families Party had hurled antisemitic abuse at him at a speaking event in which he participated, together with US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Bergen County. Working Families vehemently denied this claim, totally unsupported in the column by any corroborating evidence presented by Josh, such as video recordings or independent witnesses.

The Working Families Party has been sharply critical of Gottheimer’s opposition to their domestic progressive priorities, which he has maintained on fiscal grounds.  Gottheimer has been viewed by Working Families as one of their two principal New Jersey Democratic adversaries, the other being South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross, brother of Josh’s Congressional ally, Donald Norcross.

Ironically, ideologically speaking, I am far closer to Gottheimer than I am to Progressive Left Democrats such as Working Families State Director Sue Altman and spokesman Anthony Campisi. And there are elements of the Progressive Left to in the House of Representatives that are VERY antisemitic and anti-Israel, such as “the Squad” consisting of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) (AOC), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).

I have vehemently denounced these three members of the US House of Representatives.  Gottheimer, however, has made an uncorroborated smear of Working Families, a group very much supported and guided by the distinguished Jewish labor leader Hetty Rosenstein.

New Jersey Working Families does not have any reputation or record whatsoever for antisemitism or anti-Israel activity.  In fact, Campisi had emphasized to me on previous occasions that Working Families has avoided any involvement with controversies involving the Middle East, as such issues have nothing whatsoever to do with their progressive economic agenda.

In contrast to Gottheimer’s lack of corroboration for his allegations, Working Families shared two dozen video clips of the event with the Forward and made attendees available for interviews. Gottheimer’s attempt to portray Working Families as antisemitic appears to have misfired badly. His offensive against the progressive organization now appears to be a cheap and ugly attempt to discredit by defamation the major New Jersey Democratic political adversary of himself and George Norcross.

So while Gottheimer has now put his credibility into question, his self-proclaimed reputation for effectiveness also suffered a blow this weekend with the apparent final failure of the Senate to enact the Biden-administration sponsored Build Back Better (BBB) package.  This failure was confirmed Sunday by the announcement of Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) that he would not vote for the legislation.

Gottheimer had consistently anointed himself as the champion of major restoration of the federal income tax deduction for state and local tax (SALT) payments. The vehicle for passage of SALT deduction restoration was to be as an element of the Build Back Better legislation.  That is how SALT deduction restoration passed the US House of Representatives.

While some elements of the Build Back Better legislation can be enacted as stand-alone bills, the same is not true of SALT restoration.  Now that the Build Back Better legislation as a package is dead in the US Senate, Gottheimer’s SALT deduction restoration efforts are doomed to failure.  Given the emphasis that Gottheimer had placed on the SALT issue, his reputation for effectiveness has also suffered severe damage.

Because of his huge financial advantage over any prospective Republican opponent, Gottheimer remains the favorite in his reelection bid.  As a result of the damage sustained by him this weekend to his credibility and reputation for effectiveness, however, the possibility of the Republicans defeating Josh Gottheimer this November appears to have increased.  Indeed, I expect the National Republican Congressional Committee to target upgrade Josh Gottheimer for defeat.

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission

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