Democratic voters see many losers in party schism and one winner: Trump

RIDGEWOOD, NJ – On Election Day in 2018, Cathy Brienza opened her light blue colonial in a New Jersey suburb to dozens of Democratic activists for a rally to get the vote. Freshman Congressman Josh Gottheimer addressed a crowd filled with voters angry at Donald J. Trump’s presidency and hoping to regain Democratic control of the House.

It worked. Fueled by a so-called blue wave, Democrats toppled four seats in New Jersey, re-elected Mr. Gottheimer and won the House.

Now, as another midterm election looms, Ms Brienza is thinking of Mr Gottheimer again. But this time, she’s disappointed – and scared.

“It undermines President Biden’s agenda,” said Ms. Brienza, 62, founder of Ridgewood JOLT, which after the 2017 Women’s March became a 1,400-member political organization group based in Ridgewood, New Jersey. .

“President Biden is under siege,” she said. “If he doesn’t succeed, we’ll end up with another Trump.”

A moderate in a swing neighborhood that leans at right angles along the western and northern edges of New Jersey, Mr. Gottheimer, 46, has become a key player in the high-stakes negotiations that have split the centrist and liberal factions of the Democratic Party. and consumed Washington.

He is a leader among nine conservative-leaning Democrats in the House who initially said they would refuse to support a $ 3.5 trillion budget plan that includes high-profile initiatives including action to combat change climate change and expand child care to a benchmark of $ 1.2 trillion. bill on infrastructure has been approved.

Progressive lawmakers are now firmly holding on to a similar, but backwards, ultimatum, bogging down the infrastructure bill, which is seen as a mainstay of Mr Biden’s agenda. It includes funding to improve roads, bridges, airports and railways and expand high-speed Internet access. He cleared the Senate with rare bipartisan support, and polls show he enjoys broad public support.

The standoff put both initiatives at risk, and on Friday, after meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Mr Biden said a vote on the popular infrastructure measure would have to wait for Democrats to pass his policy package. much more ambitious social.

“These so-called moderates, who are really acting like Republicans, are hampering the president’s agenda,” said Harry Waisbren, 36, a Democrat who lives in Mr. Gottheimer’s district of Glen Rock. Mr Waisbren said he believed delaying radical action on climate change would be “catastrophic,” noting the flash floods in New Jersey that killed at least 30 people last month as a result of Hurricane Ida .

“I am afraid that they are acting on behalf of their corporate donors rather than our children,” he added.

Mr. Gottheimer represents a large and diverse district that includes some of New Jersey’s few remaining Republican strongholds as well as populated and affluent areas closer to New York City that are teeming with liberal-minded Democrats who helped propel him to the victory in 2016.

“What I’ve always said is that I think both parts of the president’s agenda are critically important to New Jersey and the country,” Gottheimer said in an interview on Saturday. “I just don’t think we should be holding one for months. “

At lunchtime Friday, Jeff Bolson, a self-proclaimed “hard-core Democrat” who, like Mr. Gottheimer, lives in Bergen County, said he feared the brothel policy in Washington could jeopardize the bill on infrastructure and climate change initiatives, which he both supports.

“We neglected the infrastructure,” he said. “If the economy is to go forward, we have to strengthen it. “

Yet Mr Bolson, a chartered accountant, cleared the scale of the $ 3.5 trillion package, which includes paid family and medical leave, health insurance expansion, preschool funding. universal and initiatives to slow down and combat the negative effects of a warmer climate.

“There is a lack of accountability when everything becomes free,” he said. “People need skin in the game.”

In rural Sussex County, where Mr Trump gained nearly 20 percentage points in 2020, many residents have said they support Mr Gotthheimer’s approach.

“Anyone who’s ready to take a break and take a serious look at it, I’m late,” said Rick Wahlers, who has twice voted for Mr. Trump and owns a clock and watch repair shop downstairs. street from Mr. Gottheimer’s district office in Newton. .

“The government gives them the money and has no responsibility for how it is spent,” he added, adjusting the magnifying glass he wears on his glasses and which he uses to repair tiny clocks. “It’s way too much.”

Nearby, in a bar run by Veterans of Foreign Wars, men gathered Thursday afternoon eating the remains of a funeral reception held the day before at the lodge.

Bill Schmitz Jr., who is the VFW quartermaster and who served in the military during the Korean War and voted for Mr. Trump, has said he is okay with ending the addiction the country to fossil fuels and supported anything that would create new jobs.

“Our infrastructure is collapsing – I get it,” said Schmitz, 61, as negotiations over the two plans raged 250 miles away in Washington, where he worked for about 10 years for the State Department. . But he said he feared the broader initiative might be filled with “pig.”

“Just to get out and drop billions and billions of billions,” he said. “Where does this money come from?

Colleen Waselik sees it differently. A mother of five who works for a school district, she recently quit the Republican Party, yearning for a spirit of greater cooperation and bipartisanship.

“I was embarrassed – disgusted – at the way the Republicans were behaving,” said Ms Waselik, 61, who said there was an urgent need to improve internet connectivity in rural Sussex County and fix the problem. faulty infrastructure of the country.

“It hasn’t been discussed for so long,” she said outside Hayek Market in Newton. “They have to go fat.”

Much of the ambitious social policy bill would be paid for by reversing the Trump-era tax cuts. One version of the plan called for raising the corporate tax rate to 26.5% for the wealthiest businesses and imposing an additional surtax on individuals who earn more than $ 5 million.

Mr. Gottheimer, a prodigious fundraiser, has $ 10 million for his re-election campaign, according to a July report filed with the Federal Election Commission – nearly five times more than Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat of the Washington State, which has established itself as the voice of the left in the House.

Ms Brienza, the Ridgewood activist, said she feared Mr Gottheimer was more concerned with meeting the needs of wealthy donors than “creating an economy that works for everyone.”

On Friday night, after the talks reached a new deadlock, Mr Gottheimer released a statement criticizing President Nancy Pelosi for failing to hold a promised vote on the infrastructure bill and blaming an “small far left faction”.

“We can create these jobs and help invest in infrastructure this week if we pass it and send it to the president’s office,” Gottheimer said on Saturday. “The other is not yet written.

Still, the fear that everything would collapse and escalate pressure on Democrats trying to defend a slim majority in Congress in next year’s midterm election was not far from the minds of many voters.

“Showing a loophole makes it very easy for Republicans – which I don’t like to see,” said Harriet Sausa, 71, a retired teacher who lives in Glen Rock and is a registered Republican, though she said she rarely votes. for the candidates of this party.

She hopes for a quick compromise.

“I think a lot of things in the big bill are important,” she said, “but not enough to jeopardize the infrastructure bill”.

Sherouk Aziz and Yusuf Waiel, a newlywed couple who live in Hackensack, a medium-sized town, said they were closely monitoring the negotiations, fearing the process could result in problems for the future of the Democratic Party.

“It’s kind of one more problem that makes them seem more divided and more broken up,” said Ms Aziz, 28, a software engineer and Democrat who said she “votes left.”

“We are going to lose an opportunity to reinvest in our own country,” said her husband, Mr. Waiel, 25, who is also a software engineer.

“And it’s going to cost them halfway through,” he added.

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