NJ election: Chris Smith, Josh Welle of NJ4 spar on Trump, health care, leadership
There is no love lost between Republican incumbent Chris Smith, a fixture of the state’s delegation in D.C. since 1981, and Josh Welle, the Democrat newcomer who has locked Smith into a rough-and-tumble race to represent New Jersey’s 4th District.
The two candidates let loose during a 60-minute back-and-forth moderated by the Asbury Park Press and broadcast live Thursday morning on Facebook — you can watch that video at the top of this page.The beef continued afterward off air with an additional 30 minutes of questions and answers with the Press.
Congressman Chris Smith described himself as a “workaholic” with “unfinished business” and who, after 38 years in office. has the connections and experience to affect real change.
His challenger, Josh Welle, is new to politics and that’s part of his pitch to voters. Smith, he says, has spent the last four decades falling farther and farther out of touch with his constituency.
If their animosity toward each other is all for show, it’s a convincing act.
Smith lashed out at Welle, calling him “condescending” and “presumptuous,” the latter of which seemed to set the U.S. Navy veteran off.
“Do not put me in a box,” Welle said, as the two men faced each other. Watch that exchange below.
Smith is seeking his 20th term in Congress and facing one of his most capable challengers.
There’s been no public polling on the 4th District. Expert election forecasters all believe that the race is varying degrees of “safe” for the Republican incumbent.
Still, after winning reelection in 2016 by 30 points, Smith finds himself tussling now with an opponent who has a distinguished military record, more campaign funds and the benefit of a favorable political landscape for Democrats.
Relationship with Trump
“In some areas, like the Iran deal and the Middle East, yes, but he should stop Tweeting,” said Smith, when asked if he thought Trump had done a good job.
Smith said he would vote against a hypothetical bill that would require Trump to release his tax returns, an early campaign promise of Trump’s that has fallen by the wayside.
He was more circumspect on whether Trump bore responsibility for the divisiveness of America in 2018. That was too mild of a response, according to Welle.
“One hundred percent (Trump is responsible) and that’s what (Smith) should say, but he doesn’t have the courage at a time when we need leadership,” Welle said.
“That’s what the people really want,” he continued, “someone with the courage to hold the president accountable. … We can’t trust the Republican Party to hold this president accountable because they’ve lost their moral compass.”
Build the wall?
Smith supports a border wall with Mexico, a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign. Welle said the wall was “against our American values.”
Both men support a plan that creates a path for so-called “DREAMers” and neither thought that it was practical to deport illegal immigrants wholesale.
There are real problems with Obamacare, but Republicans failed to come up with a suitable replacement, Smith said. That’s why he didn’t vote for the repeal in 2017.
However, Smith repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act beforehand, when any such legislation was sure to be struck down with President Obama’s veto pen.
Republican state attorneys general have since filed an injunction in federal court with the goal of overturning Obamacare, including protections for people with preexisting conditions.
“People are fearful for their children that after they turn 26 they won’t have care. Those voters out there if they want care, they need to vote for Democrats on November 6,” Welle said.
“I support universal health care. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, I don’t know what we’re going to call it,” Welle added.
Welle said he was for the decriminalization of marijuana, a stance that is distinct from legalization. Decriminalization in this context generally means an offender gets a ticket, rather than jail time, for possessing relatively small amounts of weed.
Smith agreed, adding “I’m not for what the governor is trying to do” — referring to Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign promise to legalize recreational marijuana.
When asked who should be the next Speaker of the House if Democrats win, Welle did not name Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the longtime California Congresswoman who has led the House Democrats since 2003. He opted instead for Tim Ryan, a 45-year-old moderate who represents northeast Ohio.
Smith said he hasn’t made up his mind as to who should replace Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is not seeking reelection. He identified Kevin McCarthy, the House’s current No. 2 Republican, as the frontrunner.