Over the weekend, a group of outspoken freshmen Democratic Congresswomen of color were blasted by overtly racist commentary from the president, but the leader of their political rivals is not the only one hammering them — Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Rashida Talib (D-Michigan), Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) often face aggression within their own party.
Sometimes this comes in the form of casual dismissal from the head of their caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sometimes, however, it comes from a little-known centrist bulldog — Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey). Gottheimer, who claims he acted at the behest of Democratic leadership, met with Michigan’s Rashida Talib shortly after her swearing in and read off a list of quotes he attributed to her — not all of which were actually things she said — to make a broad claim that the newly-minted Congresswoman was anti-Semitic.
“He was using a very stern tone, like a father to a child. At that moment, I realized he’s a bully,” she told The Intercept. “He had a goal of breaking me down. I left feeling exactly that way.”
Gottheimer: Leading the Corporate Charge Against His Colleagues
This anecdote comes from a bombshell piece the Intercept ran in May about just who Josh Gottheimer is. While Talib, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Pressley collectively get called “The Squad” by supporters, Gottheimer has his own name for the four: he calls them “the herbal tea party,” a play off the early 2010s radical right-wing anti-government Tea Party which had an ideology diametrically opposed to the freshmen Congresswomen. And it could be argued he’s leading the effort to beat down his progressive colleagues.
Gottheimer serves as the Democratic chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which is a corporate-friendly coalition made up of members of both parties in both the House and Senate. The Problem Solvers Caucus was formed by the group No Labels — a self-styled “moderate” group cast as a “corporate shill,” given its preference for extreme, pro-corporate, right-wing policies. Factually, the Problem Solvers Caucus slants decidedly to the right, dismissing pro-worker positions while embracing pro-business policies like the Trump tax plan.
The most bipartisan spirit fostered by Gottheimer’s caucus is the bipartisan sentiment that the Problem Solvers Caucus is essentially useless. A former aide to ex-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) questioned the group’s effectiveness, where a former aide to ex-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) called the group “roadkill in the legislative process.”
And while Rep. Gottheimer raised an earth-shattering $900,000 last quarter, less that 2% of that total came from small donations (under $200). By comparison, that’s more than ten times what the average Democrat running for the House raised in the entire 2020 cycle so far.
Where Does Gottheimer’s Money Come From?
Gottheimer has the fifth-highest total fundraising for 2020 at the moment, and consistently outperforms average House fundraising by leaps and bounds. With over $5.5 million cash on hand that he refuses to share with the Democrats’ broader House campaigning arm, his biggest fundraising source is from the Securities and Investment sector — Wall Street. Lawyers and insurance providers are also major contributors to Gottheimer’s campaign war chest.
This makes Gottheimer’s dismissive positions on progressive Democratic proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All less surprising. He’s also pushed for big bank deregulation that would benefit his personal investments. And his overall agreement with President Trump on issues is steadily on the rise; he’s been voting with the president more often than not recently.
“His definition of too progressive is startlingly broad,” writes the Intercept‘s Ryan Grim. “This spring, he was one of just a handful of Democrats at a private retreat on Sea Island, Georgia, hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, mingling with Vice President Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and other Republican heavyweights.”
In the days and weeks following Grim’s article casting light on who Gottheimer is and what his interaction with Talib was like, Grim was inundated with emails from current and former Gottheimer staffers, who even suggested Tlaib and Grim had been perhaps kind to their current/former boss. Some compared him to the viral stories of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and the senator’s treatment of her staff.
“I spoke with more than half a dozen, and many didn’t know each other, but their stories were remarkably similar and painted a portrait of a man who pits staffers against each other, screams easily, throws pens with regularity, and berates aides if they are asleep when he sends an email, no matter the time of night,” writes Grim. “As far as his aides could tell, Gottheimer barely slept and insisted that however long he was working, his staff should work longer.”
Gottheimer ‘Working at Odds’ with Democratic Policies
Grim’s portrait of Rep. Gottheimer and his attitude connects strongly with his work as a stalwart defender of right-wing business interests. From nearly the moment he flipped a Republican-held district in 2016, Gottheimer has been fighting the Democratic grassroots. Due to pressure from grassroots groups, Gottheimer reluctantly held a town hall to answer questions — so reluctantly, in fact, that he demanded it not be called a town hall, that no press be allowed at the event, and that any questions he would answer needed to be submitted in writing prior to the event. When a man considering starting a community newspaper took longhand notes at the event, Gottheimer became agitated.
He sent aides to attempt to intimidate the reporter while he vented his frustrations by repeatedly slamming his fists into one staffer’s car, Grim reported. He didn’t want to be doing town halls, or having to deal with reporters. His staffers told Grim that raising money was the only thing Gottheimer really cared about. And he’s been amazingly successful doing that, to the point that its speculated he plans to be a primary challenger to one of New Jersey’s two Democratic Senators.
“Many of our members actively supported Josh Gottheimer’s re-election efforts because we believe in the Democratic Party platform. Some of us are concerned that sometimes it seems like Congressman Gottheimer is working at odds with that platform,” said Indivisible steering committee member Madeline Trimble, who lives in Gottheimer’s district. “We understand this is a purple district and we’re not expecting an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in NJ-5; we just want him to meet us halfway and act like a normal Democrat who believes in the party.”
But Gottheimer paints Indivisible and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the same brush, thinking of them as another branch of the Herbal Tea Party. It was Indivisible, after all, that pushed that ill-fated town hall on him.
The ample war chest of the aggressive Congressman from New Jersey suggests he’s ready to fight to preserve his agenda, whether it aligns with members of his own party or not. And that money could wage civil war within the Democratic Party throughout the 2020 cycle and beyond.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.