Congressman-Elect Malinowski talks House leadership and policy priorities

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

With 11 of 12 New Jersey congressional districts in Democratic hands, members of the state’s new, predominately blue delegation are flexing their muscles and pushing their priorities. One is Representative-elect Tom Malinowski. He joins Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Aron: Perhaps your first tough decision is whether or not to support Nancy Pelosi as speaker. What’s your position on that?

Malinowski: I did not take a position in the campaign. My position now is that I want to see who’s going to help me deliver for New Jersey. Who, as speaker, is going to help us restore the SALT deduction. Who, as speaker, is going to help us get funding for the Gateway Tunnel. Who can lead the Democratic caucus in an effective, focused and disciplined way at a really fraught moment in our country’s history.

Aron: It’s been reported that you’ve spoken to Nancy Pelosi a few times in the past two weeks. Have those subjects come up in your conversations?

Malinowski: Absolutely, that’s what I promised to do. I put that to her, so right now I’m in listening mode and we’re going to have an initial decision in the Democratic caucus next week followed by a floor vote in January.

Aron: Why have the other three leaders been selected already — Kevin McCarthy, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell — and Pelosi has not come up for a vote yet? Is it a sign that she doesn’t have the votes yet?

Malinowski: No, I think the schedule is the way it generally is, so the speaker can only be selected on Jan. 3 after our new class is sworn in, so the caucus will vote when we all gather next week, and then the final vote will be on Jan. 3.

Aron: A number of your colleagues-to-be, Mikie Sherrill, Jeff Van Drew — have said ‘no’ to Pelosi. Andy Kim campaigned on ‘no’ and now seems to be waffling. I heard Josh Gottheimer today sound like he’s on the fence. The ones who have said ‘no’ to Pelosi say the party needs a fresh face. What do you say?

Malinowski: I campaigned on delivering for New Jersey. I campaigned on the issues, not on personalities, and I’m glad that I resisted the pressure to come to a decision on this. I think Democrats, it doesn’t serve our interest to allow Republicans to define our leadership choices, so I’m going to make the decision based on what I think is best for New Jersey.

Aron: So you have some leverage is what you’re saying.

Malinowski: I have plenty of leverage, yes.

Aron: You were quoted yesterday in The Star-Ledger as saying, “We need a leader with proven capacity to get things done.” That sounds like Nancy Pelosi, and it was assumed that says you’re leaning toward Pelosi.

Malinowski: Well, what you can assume is that I’m very worried about the state of the country right now. We are divided in ways that I don’t even have to go into. We have a president who is governing in a very volatile way, attacking some of our most fundamental institutions and norms as a democracy. We have to be incredibly disciplined, incredibly focused in the Congress in the next two years beginning with a legislative agenda — of bills on taxes, on health care, on gun violence, on the economy, on jobs — that can pass. So again, I haven’t made a decision. I want to make sure we can find somebody who can lead us through this really, really delicate moment that we’re in.

Aron: Your specialty is foreign affairs. You served in the State Department. Do we need to distance ourselves from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia based on the Khashoggi killing more than the president has been willing to so far?

Malinowski: Yes, I think the president is basically the only person in America who is still defending the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. This man, this young man, is a human wrecking ball. Kidnapping the Lebanese prime minister, pursuing this horrible war in Yemen, committing this horrific act of murder against an American resident and journalist. I think we need to ask ourselves even as Saudi Arabia remains a close partner of the United States, do we really want this person to be ruling that country for the next 50 years?

Aron: How’s the experience of being a congressman-elect?

Malinowski: Oh, it’s a lot of mundane details — picking an office, setting up an office — and then thinking about the awesome responsibility that we are going to have.

Aron: Your first priority when you get to Washington?

Malinowski: I want to try to make sure that we get funding for the Gateway Tunnel, which is now suspended, basically, by the Department of Transportation even though Congress provided the money in the appropriations bill last year. And get to work on the SALT deduction issue, too.