RU Democrats host Town Hall with Congressman Frank Pallone
On April 16, more than 70 students attended a town hall with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) hosted by Rutgers Democrats at the College Avenue Student Center. Muffin and coffee in hand, Pallone updated students and answered questions in an informal, accessible setting.
“I really liked the speech today, and as someone who isn’t very involved in politics, it was very accessible to outsiders,” said Taylor Robinson, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year. “Especially compared to other speakers that were hosted by the Rutgers Democrats.”
Pallone has served as a representative for New Jersey’s 6th congressional district since 1988, and is widely known in Congress to have an affable personality and a willingness to work across the aisle, said Jordan Taylor, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and Rutgers Democrats president.
Pallone gave a brief overview on updates from Congress, particularly his committee.
“My committee is called the Energy and Commerce Committee, and it has the broadest jurisdiction of any committee in the House of Representatives. About 60% of the bills in the house come to this committee, and we have six subcommittees: Health, Environment, Energy, Telecommunications, Interstate Commerce and Oversights,” Pallone said.
In the last two weeks, the committee reported out four sets of bills that dealt with restoring net neutrality, improving access to healthcare, lowering prescription drug prices and repealing President Donald J. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, he said.
Regarding healthcare, Pallone said that the bills focus on the Affordable Care Act.
“There were two sets of packages in the bill, and one was meant to take the Affordable Care Act and basically get rid of the sabotage that (Trump) and the Republicans in Congress brought about in the last two years,” he said.
Pallone then addressed a student’s concern that Democrats were unable to impact change while Trump and the Senate are both Republican.
“People elected a Democratic majority to the House in November because they wanted the House and the Democratic majority to be a check on Republican excess and sabotage. We can stop bad things from happening and this results in a stalemate, but a stalemate is better than things getting worse,” he said.
On issues like climate change, Pallone said Democrats try to tackle issues that they can get Republican support for. For instance, when Trump ran against Hillary Clinton, he wanted to enact a major infrastructure bill for new roads and highways. The proposed bill included aspects from Pallone’s committee, such as upgrading the grid, maintaining pipelines and moving toward electric vehicles.
“Through this infrastructure bill, which we think can get bipartisan support, we want to implement these measures to address climate change," he said.
Pallone also took questions from the audience on topics such as the Green New Deal. He said his job as chair of the committee was to get Democrats to reach a consensus, because while he thought it was a good proposal, it would be difficult to get enough votes.
“One of the reasons, for example, is that the deal says we’ll get rid of fossil fuels in 10 years. There’s no way I can get enough votes in my committee for that. Maybe 50 or 40 years, but not 10,” he said.
Pallone also said that his committee includes Democrats from Texas that support oil, from Western Pennsylvania who support fracking and others who support coal.
Students went on to question the division in the Democratic party, and Pallone said that the Democratic divisiveness portrayed by the media is largely false.
“The media plays up the disunity. The media acts as if all we do is attack each other. That is not true. We had a Democratic retreat last week, and if you were there and you watched the interaction between the new people and the senior people, the Left and Right, you would be shocked. It's just not true,” he said.
These differences are not as ideological as the differences between Democrats and Republicans, Pallone said.
“Within the Democrats, the differences between us aren’t ideological so much as practical in terms of what we think we can accomplish. Democrats like (Sen.) Joe Mansion (D-W.Va.) and (Rep.) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) both believe that the government can solve problems. If you go on to (the) Republican side, there’s a huge number of Republicans that don’t believe that,” he said.
Pallone also supported Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and felt that young people were getting more involved in politics. Attributing it in part to Trump, he said younger people were becoming more active because they were tired of the status quo, which was getting less progressive with the current administration.
Participants like Awais Qazi, who graduated from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2017, had mixed reactions to Pallone's responses.
“I thought it was interesting, but we have very different political ideologies and I wasn’t satisfied with his answer to my question,” Qazi said.
Javahn Walker, who was Pallone’s primary challenger in 2018, said that he was different from Pallone because he gave more direct answers.
“Giving vague answers is a way that you hide behind your lack of commitment. In terms of (Pallone), I think he’s very evasive, but in terms of coming back to his constituency and his voters, absolutely A+," Walker said.
Michael Zhadanovsky, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, vice president of the College Democrats of New Jersey and executive director for Rutgers Democrats, said that overall the town hall was successful.
“Our goal was to bring him here so he could talk about what’s going on in Washington, (D.C.) and hear from the Rutgers community and answer some questions. He got some tough questions, but he answered them fairly and explained thoroughly,” he said.
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