By John Burton |
KEYPORT – In topics ranging from the performance of President Donald J. Trump, to ongoing debates on the federal budget, to the opioid epidemic and events in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. offered his views to local journalists.
“The idea was we would hear from you,” said Pallone (D-NJ), speaking to a group of reporters as we sat for coffee and breakfast at the International House of Pancakes (IHOP), 106 Route 36.
During a free-wheeling, approximately two hour gathering, Pallone fielded questions from reporters representing such community media outlets as The Two River Times; the Amboy Guardian newspaper; TAPinto, a network of independently owned and operated hyperlocal news websites; and the Newspaper Media Group, which operates a string of community newspapers throughout much of the state.
Pallone opened the floor, responding to questions from the group, covering diverse topics concerning issues pertaining to his work in Washington, D.C. and in his district.
Pallone, 65, a Democrat, is a Long Branch native and a lawyer by training and was back in his district for the August congressional recess. He has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1989. The 6th Congressional District includes portions of Monmouth and Middlesex counties.
Pallone is the ranking Democrat for the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee. And despite what the national media continues to play up, Pallone said there is much more bipartisanship in Washington than what the public may perceive, resulting in about 80 percent of the proposed bills being agreed upon by members of both parties.
Some of the current climate of gridlock, Pallone went on to say, is attributed to President Trump.
“The only way anything is going to get done,” he said, “is if the president stops trying to divide everyone.”
He maintained there have been plenty of discussions with Republicans, especially concerning modifying – not repealing – the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare (which Pallone helped author), after the Republican-majority attempts to repeal it failed. And it was certainly true regarding the Russian economic sanctions approved by a veto-proof majority in Congress. Democrats are certainly willing to discuss an infrastructure bill – should one ever materialize, Pallone stressed. “I totally agree, we should have a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” to repair failing roadways and bridges, he offered. “I think the infrastructure bill should be very bold.”
Democrats would be willing to talk about tax reforms, too. However, Pallone warned, “If it doesn’t have middle class tax relief, it’s not going to happen.”
On the pending showdown over the federal budget, Pallone is convinced it won’t result in a government shutdown but Congress will continue to approve temporary stopgap measures until a deal can be finalized. “No one in the Republican leadership is going to let that happen,” he said about a government shutdown.
On Republican Trump’s dealing with the Congress, “He doesn’t work with us and he constantly criticizes the leadership of his own party,” Pallone observed, adding with an edge of sarcasm, “That’s a great way to try and get things done.”
Pallone also took exception to the president’s plan to send more troops into Afghanistan, after saying on the campaign trail he was inclined to withdraw ground troops. Pallone was an early opponent of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq during the George W. Bush administration.
“He (Trump) talked about how as a nation we need to be united,” on this Afghanistan plan, Pallone said. “But we shouldn’t be united around his plan because I think his plan is wrong.”
The congressman differed with the president on immigration, seeing Trump’s policy as shortsighted and discriminatory; and on the ongoing debate on net neutrality and the Federal Communications Commission position on it, regarding equal access to internet speed. Pallone also suspected there were many conservatives who privately aligned with his position, fearing the dangers to free speech this posed.
And in the aftermath of the deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier in August, Pallone believed Trump missed an opportunity to unify the nation by failing to offer a full-throated condemnation of the white supremacist groups.
Pallone acknowledged a fear of denying freedom of speech even to those who voice the most repugnant of messages. “I do worry a lot about our democracy and I worry about the freedoms that go along with that democracy,” he said.
“Hate groups – which I despise – have the right to demonstrate as long as we can prevent the violence.”
Pallone, in response to a direct question, offered a view on U.S. Senator Robert Menendez’s legal woes. He called Menendez “a great senator” and offering a guarded comment, “I’m hoping he’ll be vindicated…I’m not going to go beyond that.”
He was equally reticent to speculate on the plans for his brother, John Pallone. John is a member of the Long Branch non-partisan City Council who is suspected of considering a run for mayor, opposing long-serving Adam Schneider.
“He’s still thinking about it,” the congressman said of his brother. “I don’t want to speak for him.”
This article was first published in the Aug. 31-Sept. 7, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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