Thursday, July 09, 2020

By necessity, and with the help of their aides, members of the United States Congress become generalists who are familiar with and vote on a broad range of issues both foreign and domestic. Given the nature of their work, they have to be conversant with all the topics Congress addresses.

Some Congress members also find areas of specialty, where they distinguish themselves and develop a reputation for their depth of knowledge and their concerted efforts.

United States Congressman Josh Gottheimer, who represents New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District (covering parts of Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and Warren Counties), has been in Congress for less than three full years. Yet he has already become well known for his interest in increasing bipartisanship.

Rep. Gottheimer co-chairs, with Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY), the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group described in a recent Consumer Technology Association news story as a “44-member group (that) focuses on developing relationships across the aisle, to find bipartisan solutions to legislative and policy issues … the Caucus has proposed or supported bipartisan proposals on health care, infrastructure, immigration, border security, and gun safety.” The article also noted that the Problem Solvers “led the effort to make important changes to House rules in late 2018, clearing the way for debate and votes on more bipartisan bills.”

As recent events indicate, Rep. Gottheimer is also developing a second impressive specialty—as an innovative fighter against terrorism.

On October 28, Rep. Gottheimer came to New Milford to announce the introduction in Congress that week of a bipartisan bill he is co-sponsoring called the Darren Drake Act. Named in honor of a New Milford resident who died in a terrorist act in New York City in October 2017, the legislation is designed to prevent domestic terrorists from using rental trucks and vans as weapons of mass killing.

“The Darren Drake Act requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to provide rental companies and car dealers with the information they need to flag and stop a potential threat in its tracks. All rental companies will be required to report suspicious behavior at every single point of sale. The bill also requires DHS to certify to Congress that this program protects our country against terrorist attacks, and to identify any additional gaps in cooperation between rental companies and our national security apparatus,” according to a release from Rep. Gottheimer’s office.

And the prior week Rep. Gottheimer announced that as part of a bipartisan group of four congressional members, he had called on Twittter’s CEO Jack Dorsey to cease violating U.S. law by allowing the political arms of Hamas and Hezbollah to maintain accounts on the social media site. The group of congressional members pointed out to the CEO that Hezbollah and Hamas are designated as foreign terror organizations by the U.S. Department of State, which makes it illegal for U.S. citizens or organizations to provide either organization with any form of material support or resources. The group challenged Twitter to close the accounts by November 1.

In an interview, Rep. Gottheimer stated that constituents brought this matter to his office’s attention and he conducted his own research, as well as consulted with experts, before he and the other congressional members drafted their initial September 17 letter to Twitter and a follow-up letter on October 22.

Congressmen Josh Gottheimer, Tom Reed (NY), Max Rose (NY), and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) announced in a joint release on November 4th that Twitter had complied with their request and suspended the Hamas and Hezbollah accounts. “With these first steps, Twitter is now taking measures to address the militant jihadist organizations on their platform,” said Congressman Gottheimer in the release. “This is a big day in the fight against the global war on terror. We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that Twitter, and all other social media networks, deliver on their commitment to standing up to these threats from foreign terrorist organizations.”

Asked why he is so engaged on the issue of fighting terror, Rep. Gottheimer explained that he sees three reasons. “My district is in the shadow of the attacks of 9/11. We lost many citizens on that day. It is a personal issue to me and my constituents.” He pointed out as well that he serves on the National Security Subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee. This subcommittee focuses on the financial wherewithal used by terrorist groups, so his efforts are a natural outgrowth of that work.

He added that his efforts are also part of “my personal drive, because we must do all we can to fight terrorism and assist our country’s allies, such as Israel, in this very important work.”

Rep. Gottheimer’s work in this area is especially notable because some critics accuse the Democratic Party, of which he is a member, with being more concerned with environmental and social services issues than with being aggressive in fighting terror. He addressed this perception, remarking that “while there many be splinter groups in the party who don’t agree, this is a very narrow set of people.” He said he’s seen a “reservoir of support” from his colleagues in the Democratic Party; “many people in the party strongly support these efforts” to fight terrorism.

By Harry Glazer