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Getting to know the ‘new kid’
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Getting to know the ‘new kid’

Freshman Rep. Gottheimer on settlements, embassy move, and Trump

For a Democrat, newly elected Rep. Josh Gottheimer (Dist. 5) had some surprising points of agreement with President Donald Trump.

In a Feb. 6 telephone interview with NJJN, New Jersey’s only Jewish member of Congress said that America’s embassy in Israel should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although he equivocated somewhat, saying that the timing of the move “should be left up to conversations between [Israeli and Palestinian] governments,” rather than the United States making a unilateral decision. If the parties don’t come together to decide on an amicable solution, the controversial relocation could “lead to more bloodshed.”

The congressman, who was sworn in last month after unseating six-term Republican Scott Garrett in November, also said he agreed with Trump’s statement that the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank “wouldn’t be helpful” in achieving peace with the Palestinians. He said the settlements should be brought up as part of a discussion toward a two-state solution.

“Peace is the key and I believe settlements are going to be part of that conversation,” he said.

Gottheimer and President Trump are not in constant agreement. He criticized the president’s omission of any reference to the genocide of six million Jews in a Jan. 27 statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” part of the statement read. “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.” White House spokesperson Hope Hicks said the wording “took into account all of those who suffered.” Gottheimer was not moved by the explanation.

“Like most Jewish-Americans and many Americans I was deeply offended,” he said. “My wife’s grandparents lost most of their siblings in the Holocaust. To not acknowledge that and to not immediately fix it — a lot of Jews I spoke to and a lot of Americans I spoke to were alarmed at that because historically, Holocaust deniers have left out Jews when they discussed what happened in Germany in World War II. I would hope this is something that is corrected.”

Gottheimer said that he found some of Trump’s nominees for his cabinet to be “deeply concerning,” though, as a member of the House, he will not have a role in the Senate confirmation hearings. In particular, he said he was uncomfortable with some of the responses of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, to questions fielded by several democratic senators during her hearings. Ultimately DeVos was confirmed when Vice President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote for the deadlocked Senate, the first time the vice president has ever had to do so for a cabinet nominee.

Still others met Gottheimer’s approval. “Some of what I heard from Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave me confidence in his abilities,” Gottheimer said.

Having just been elected to cochair the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus along with Rep. Tom Reed, a three-term Republican from upstate New York, he said the evenly divided group of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans is a “significant bloc to bring on certain issues. There are areas where we need to move forward together and we need to work together.”

Bipartisanship is important, he said, as Democrats aren’t the only ones anxious about some of the actions being taken by the new president.

“It is also a lot of Republicans.”

Since Trump was inaugurated, Gottheimer said he has “fought back and spoken out” on key issues such as “women’s rights and health care and the Muslim ban and other areas concerning our values.”

Within an hour after completing the interview, Gottheimer’s office announced he had joined the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, which focuses on protecting equal rights and ending homophobic laws and acts of hate. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to promote equality and to make sure that all Americans are treated with dignity and respect,” he wrote in an e-mail to NJJN.

He called on the public to “speak out and stand up when we don’t agree with an action taken…But it is also important to me that when we find areas where there is common ground, like around tax reform or infrastructure or regulatory reform, we work together.”

As a “new kid” in an old and tradition-bound institution, Gottheimer said he feels a deep sense of responsibility walking onto the House floor every day.

“There is an incredible amount of activity given the election and it is critical that every hour you pay attention to every move,” said Gottheimer. “I want to make sure that from where I sit every step that is being taken is best for my district and for the country.”

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