Hackensack—Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), whose district encompasses most of Bergen County and portions of Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties, is facing the most well-funded general election challenge since his first win in 2002. As he seeks his eighth term in Congress, he sat down with The Jewish Link at the Bergen County Republican Headquarters, sharing thoughts on the major issues he has faced since we last spoke in person, approximately a year ago.
For many, Garrett has been considered a reassuring, principled and congenial fit for the 5th congressional district. His fiscal and social conservatism, added to his strong stances in favor of financial services viability, national security and a more limited federal government, have solidified his longtime reputation as a no-nonsense advocate for his constituents. His views in support of Israel and its right to defend itself have been long held and greatly appreciated by his district’s vibrant Jewish community.
The congressman noted his particular concern, during this presidential election cycle, about the increasingly anti-Israel perspective being taken by the Democratic party and particularly the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. “On Israel and on the Middle East, you have to ask, where has she been and what has she wrought for security internationally?” he asked. “You know the history, in Libya, in Benghazi, and the rest. It [Clinton’s international policy when she was Secretary of State] had a devastating impact, and this administration as well, has had a devastating impact on our relationship with Israel,” said Garrett.
Where the administration has failed, Congress has picked up the slack, said Garrett, obliquely referring to the Congressional invitation to Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu to address them last year before the Iran Deal. “We do have a united force in Congress, however. This is one issue where Republicans and Democrats generally come together on legislation, most of the time in support, so there is that.”
However, Garrett relayed his experience of sitting in on hearings when he served on the special Iran sanctions committee back in 2010; the Democrats were in the majority, and there were subtle differences in positions based on party lines. The Democrats were inclined to give the Iranians much more flexibility than the Republicans. “Generally speaking there is comity on these issues, but in certain cases, there is not, when some of us want to be stronger in support of Israel. We have seen now, how they [the Iranians] have used that flexibility to engage when they needed to. And now with the Iran Deal, they have used that flexibility all over again to let things slide.”
Garrett wrote an op-ed, published last year in The Jewish Link, that indicated his view that the Iran Deal was deeply flawed and shared his perspective as a steadfast friend of Israel, the country that is widely considered to be the nuclear target of Iran’s regime. “The primary goal of negotiating a deal with Iran should have been ending their nuclear program once and for all...The sanctions that are being lifted with this deal were designed to be a non-violent tool to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and force a peaceful resolution,” he wrote in September of 2015.
“Who is more likely to have a favorable and working relationship with the Middle East, and specifically with Israel? We know what the last eight years has been. We know what the next eight years would be if it was Hillary again. We cannot go down that road; Israel can’t go down that road. We cannot continue to treat our enemies with an open hand and our friends with the back of the hand,” Garrett said.
“Speaking for myself, my record has been supportive of Israel, supportive of their financial assistance needs, supportive of their military and economic needs in Congress. And that’s what we can do again in the House and the Senate,” he added.
While Garrett was asked about whether he was supporting Donald Trump for the US presidency, he referred to past statements he has made about his resolve to support the Republican nominee. He noted he would stand by that prior statement, made before Trump won the primary, but indicated dissention with recent disturbing media reports, especially in relation to Trump’s attacks on Khizr Khan, a Muslim-American father of a soldier son killed in combat in Iraq in 2004, who had recently spoken at the Democratic National Convention.
Notwithstanding the actual rise of extremism, punctuated by un-helpful, divisive, inflammatory statements singling out ethnic groups made by his party’s presidential candidate, Garrett noted that security has become the number one issue for many here at home, as it is in many places around the world. “What has happened in Israel is now happening here. To that end, I have supported legislation, amendments to various appropriation bills, [indicating] that we need financial support from Washington here locally, for security of the synagogues and law-enforcement training, so that people know how to deal with active shooters and the like. But we have still gone downhill in terms of the sense of security people have.”
“In the areas where the federal government has a distinctive, clear role in security, like at the borders, urban-area security initiatives, anti-terror training, those are areas the federal government has a role in and I have written letters in support of them to our leadership and supported them in Congress,” he said.
On the face of it, Garrett’s belief in a strong national security, but against the expansion of government spending programs, is considered by his supporters to be one of his more laudatory qualities. His efforts to rein in runaway federal spending in order to put more money back into the hands of taxpayers have been heralded by many constituents as principled and sensible. He expressed concern over the need for better job options and lower taxes for young people, noting recent numbers indicating that two-thirds of millennials still live at home with their parents, likely because of the dearth of jobs or jobs well paying enough to live elsewhere. In this election cycle, various unions have interpreted Garrett’s refusal to support grant programs for law enforcement and others as an overall lack of support, but Garrett states this is not the case.
“I believe that it makes more sense for Jersey taxpayers to not subsidize the other states in terms of these tax dollars. My opponent takes this view: Raise taxes, send the money to Washington, and let a bureaucrat or politician in Washington decide how to spend the tax dollars, and maybe we will get some of it back.
“I am saying: Keep the money in our own pockets here in New Jersey. People in New Jersey already pay too much of their tax dollars out. If you have a program that supports programs like COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Grants, someone’s taxes are going up to pay for it. My idea is to say, let’s stop having all these federal programs. We know there is so much waste, fraud and abuse in Washington. And that is going to exist with any of these programs as long as we continue to expand them.
“At the end of the day, Washington is not the best decider of how we spend our money. The local mayors, councilmen, teachers and schools—they are in the best positions to make those decisions,” he argued.
Support of a more limited government is one of Garrett’s firmly held beliefs, as is his social conservatism. Most notably his views against gay marriage have prompted attacks from several groups this election season, including early attacks from the House Majority PAC, a powerful Super PAC that has funded billboards, television commercials and even skywriters in an effort to turn voters against Garrett this season.
For all that, Garrett’s words remain softly chosen and his calm stand in the face of constant attacks has been notable. But he appears keenly aware that he is in what is likely the most well-funded fight of his congressional life.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has identified the 5th congressional district as a red-to-blue district, which means they are “on the offense” and pouring large amounts of money into the race, particularly with attack ads against Garrett, in an effort to flip the seat. To that end, instead of touting candidate Josh Gottheimer’s record of public service (assuming this is because he has largely worked as an executive-branch staffer and PR strategist and has never held elected office), they have instead focused on tearing down Congressman Garrett and have launched an array of negative attack ads against him. Also, a recent “push poll,” an ostensible opinion poll in which the true objective is to sway voters using loaded or manipulative questions, was made to 5th district voters. The DCCC asked callers questions about who they are likely to support in the general election, and then, in the guise of a follow-up question, made an inflammatory statement linking Congressman Garrett to “Tea Party Republicans,” telling the caller how Congressman Garrett is working actively against getting more federal dollars sent home, and calling him a bigot for his stand against what they refer to as “gay Republicans.” (Garrett clarified his position as being against supporting for office those in favor of gay marriage.) Then the recorded voice stated: “Sometimes in the course of these telephone polls, voters change their opinion,” and then asked, again, who the caller planned to vote for in November.
Regardless, many who have met and come to know Congressman Garrett know that these low attacks are both unfair and misguided, as they leave out much of the nuance required for members of Congress who feel the need to support constitutional democracy in the face of increasing federal government spending. Teaneck community member Yali Elkin perhaps said it best: “Congressman Garrett represents the Founders’ skeptical view of a central government’s power. Distant decision making means distant accountability,” he said. Elkin added that recent government spending programs such as Obamacare and the automakers bailout are monuments to “government overreach, incompetence and waste. Why would we want to invest the federal government with yet more power?” he asked.
Congressman Garrett, Elkin said, fights to reduce both taxes and spending, leaving more opportunity for the states and the private sector to work toward solving the problems of today. “Anyone who claims Washington can do it is trying to sell you something—and we don’t need any more of it,” said Elkin.
“Congressman Garrett doesn’t profess to be the proverbial man on a horse, riding in to save us from the mess we’ve made of representative government. He doesn’t live in castles built of his own delusion or surround himself with sycophants to shield him from his ignorance. He is a defender of the Constitution who wants to get as much of Washington out of our daily lives as possible. He doesn’t take confiscatory taxes and smothering regulation for granted,” Elkin added.
Learn more at http://www.garrettforcongress.com/.