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Congressman Pallone says he is optimistic about future of N.J. politics

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Targum, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J) talked about the upcoming gubernatorial elections in the context of today’s national political climate. Pallone is currently serving his 15th term in the House of Representatives. – Photo by Photo by Camilo Montoya-Galvez | The Daily Targum

Veteran Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who has represented New Jersey’s sixth congressional district since 1993, said he is optimistic about the Democratic Party’s fortunes in future elections.

The Long Branch, New Jersey native, who is now serving his 15th full term in the U.S. House of Representatives, noted that he’s seen a significant surge in the number of volunteers that have come to his office ready to lend a hand in the efforts to usher in electoral success for the Democratic Party. Many of these volunteers were galvanized by their opposition to the administration of President Donald J. Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress. 

"There’s a lot of energy on the progressive side. It comes from the Women’s March, from groups like Indivisible – it is very energizing for the Democratic Party,” Pallone said.

He said the midterm elections in November 2018 will test the aforementioned enthusiasm as Democrats face an uphill battle to regain control of the House.

Democrats have underperformed in every House of Representatives election since 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, with their last majority in the chamber coming to an end after the 2010 midterm elections — when the party suffered a loss of 64 seats to the Republican Party.

In the elections last November, Democrats failed to take back control of the Senate and maintained their minority in the House with only a six-seat gain.

“Part of the problem from last November was that we had a Democratic president for eight years. I really loved Hillary Clinton, but people saw her as maybe another four years of (Bill) Clinton and Obama – and they wanted a change,” Pallone said.

Pallone said a lot has changed since then and that his party is in a better position today to retake the House, especially taking into account the spirited movements of resistance that have coalesced to oppose Trump. The commander-in-chief’s approval rating stands at 36 percent, while his disapproval continues to hover around 60 percent, according to a Gallup poll.

To translate this mixture of anger and enthusiasm among Democrats into results at the ballot box, the congressman said his party must deliver a compelling message to the American public.

Pallone said his party needs to better convey its “positive” messages on immigration, health care, education, climate change, infrastructure and the economy. He indicated that on most of these issues, his party and himself are starkly at odds with Trump and Republicans in Congress.

He cited a “huge gap” between both major parties when it comes to education, particularly college affordability. Pallone said that Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were the only presidential candidates who had genuine proposals in their platforms to curb rising college tuitions costs.

With the current political makeup of Washington, D.C., Pallone said he does not expect much to get done that will ease the financial burden faced by many college students and their families around the country.

“I don’t see any interest on the part of the Republican majority or the president to talk about affordability issues,” he said. “Their whole philosophy is, you know, you’re on your own.”

Another issue in which the longtime congressman would like Democrats to outline a clear distinction with the White House and their allies is immigration. He said that Trump came to office with an “anti-immigrant” agenda and has not wavered from it since.

Pallone denounced Trump’s willingness to shut down the federal government to compel Congress to fund his proposed wall in the border and what has been reported to be his administration’s consideration to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program, which was instituted by former President Barack Obama, has shielded nearly a million young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The congressman said he would urge the president to preserve the program, but said he would also support congressional legislation that would ratify the protections for DREAMers, as they are often called, and offer them a pathway to citizenship. Pallone referenced his advocacy in trying to make sure Carimer Andujar, an undocumented Rutgers student, was allowed to stay in the country after she was summoned by federal immigration authorities back in May.

White House press secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders announced on Friday that an announcement regarding DACA would come on Tuesday, the deadline date given to the administration by several conservative state attorney generals who have threatened to take legal action if the program is not dismantled.

In addition to helping Democrats mount a genuine challenge to retake the House, Pallone said he is certain that the energy among members of his party can also have political ramifications back in New Jersey, particularly in the state’s upcoming gubernatorial election.

The congressman said Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) neglected the state’s economy for years to concentrate on his failed presidential aspirations and that Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate in the race, is the right person to reinvigorate it. Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany under President Obama, will face Christie’s second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R-N.J.), in November’s election.

In both of these national and state elections, Pallone said he is betting on his party.

“I think we have a tremendous opportunity because of the opposition to Trump, because of the opposition to Chris Christie,” he said.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloreports.

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