The Record: Gottheimer anticipates his first term in a GOP Congress
Freshman Rep. Josh Gottheimer pledged to remain optimistic and pragmatic during his first term in Congress in a speech at Ramapo College on the eve of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s inauguration.
The former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, who defeated longtime Republican incumbent Scott Garrett in the 5th District in November, said he would attend the inauguration Friday out of respect for the office and to remain a participant in the process.
“I believe you sent me to Washington to advocate for our community. I can only do that if I’m in the mix,” Gottheimer told constituents on Thursday in Mahwah.
He said he understands the decision of his fellow House Democrats who will not travel to Washington for the event – including New Jersey Reps. Donald Payne Jr. and Bonnie Watson Coleman – respecting their right to peacefully protest. Making the trip to the Capitol was “nearly an impossible decision to make,” he said, given the sexist and racist comments by Trump during the campaign, his attacks on Rep. John Lewis and Sen. John McCain, and Russian “meddling in the election,” Gottheimer said.
He quoted a line from Clinton’s inaugural speech: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
“I’m optimistic, and I want you to be too,” Gottheimer said.
A top priority in his first term is bridging the divide with Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress as well as the presidency. The “all-or-nothing” approach taken by Congress on policy issues is halting progress, he said.
“It would be very easy for Republicans to shoot the moon and ignore my side of the aisle completely, and just as easy for Democrats to hide behind a wall,” Gottheimer said. “We can’t go on like this, down the destructive path we’ve been headed. America deserves better, you deserve better.”
There’s potential for finding common ground with the Republican Party, based on Trump’s pledge to invest in infrastructure, Gottheimer said. He also supports simplifying the tax code by cutting unnecessary and out-of-date regulations.
But some lines are non-negotiable, he said, pledging to stand firm on civil rights, abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
“Pragmatism doesn’t mean capitulation,” Gottheimer said.
Repealing the Affordable Care Act is shortsighted, he said. The law has some problems, including the medical device tax on manufacturers, he said. But repealing it, he predicted, would be far worse. Nearly 20 million people nationwide – including 700,000 in New Jersey – are insured under Obamacare.
“Repealing a law without any plan in place isn’t a solution, it’s self-inflicted chaos,” Gottheimer said.
On a more local level, he urged his constituents to contact his office on anything from veterans’ issues to student loans, and even potholes.
“I see that as my job,” Gottheimer said. “Our job is to be there for you.”