Appropriations chair Frelinghuysen will not seek re-election

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen announced he will retire from the House of Representatives and not run for re-election this year. Frelinghuysen is just starting his second year as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. That’s a mighty position to give up. But the 23-year congressman has become a focal point of anti-Trump Democrats in his district and has had to fend off a lot of criticism over the past year.

For reaction, we turned to Bill Palatucci, a confidante of former Gov. Chris Christie and a Republican National Committeeman. We asked if he was surprised by Frelinghuysen’s announcement?

Palatucci: Not entirely. I think Rodney had let it be known to people very close to him that he was thinking long and hard about whether or not to run again. Obviously everybody realizes he had not raised a lot of money in the fourth quarter of last year which for incumbents is always a dead giveaway in raising money for the upcoming election. It’s usually a very good indicator of their intention and this instance it was, as well.

Aron: You say it’s a dead giveaway that you don’t raise a whole lot of money, but I think he hired Michael DuHaime, Gov. Christie’s former political advisor to work on a potential campaign for him. That would certainly suggest that he wanted to keep that path open.

Palatucci: Well, of course. I think that is indication that he was torn. He in one sense making preparations to run again by hiring Mike, can’t do better than that. But at the same time, he hasn’t raised money to give people like Mike ammunition should he decide to run. So, I think that just the both of those facts are indications that he was torn.

Aron: Who walks away from being House Committee on Appropriations chairman? I think that’s probably unprecedented.

Palatucci: Probably so. I don’t know, but I think it just indicates how Washington has changed. How difficult the atmosphere has come. Both sides of the aisle, have seen lots of retirements this year. One thing to say about Rodney Frelinghuysen is he’s a gentlemen, both sides of the aisle will say that. Members of either party, and I think that this is no longer an atmosphere, a culture in Washington for gentlemen, for people who are there for public policy, who are there to compromise and get things done. And, so Rodney’s made great contributions to the state, both as a freeholder legislature and a member of Congress. But, I think he just felt, as a lot of members have been this year, that it’s no longer a place for somebody who simply wants to be about the people’s business.

Aron: So, he’s frustrated like Frank LoBiondo another Republican Congressman from New Jersey who has decided to call it quits.

Palatucci: I haven’t spoken to Rodney about it in quite some time, but I assume that’s probably a fair characterization. Let him speak for himself, but you see a lot of members say that including members of the U.S. Senate, again both parties. It’s a real rough and tumble atmosphere down there these days, and I’m not surprised to see somebody, a gentlemen like Rodney Frelinghuysen say, ‘you know, I’m just not up to that any longer.’

Aron: You think he’s afraid of losing to the Democrat Mikie Sherrill in the fall? He’s had a tough press for the past year avoiding his constituents, avoiding the media back here in New Jersey and Mikie Sherrill just gets more and more attention.

Palatucci: I’m sure that’s a factor, but don’t be fooled also by Rodney’s gentlemanly nature. This guy is a fighter. You’ve seen Republican politics from the inside for a long time, Vietnam war veteran, let’s not forget that. This is a guy who knows how to fight. I think it’s just the culture and the times down there I think probably deterred him from taking another run at it.

Aron: Who is being discussed as a possible replacement for Rodney on the Republican side?

Palatucci: Well, I think that’s all coming together very quickly. There will be Assemblyman Jay Webber’s name. I think we have a couple of female members of the Morris County freeholder board. That’s the opportunity for Republicans frankly if Rodney has decided to step aside. We get to pick a fresh face, perhaps a female Republican.