Dem challenger Welle calls GOP Rep. Chris Smith ‘perverse’ in TV debate

  • A broadcast debate between Republican Congressman Chris Smith and Democratic challenger Josh Welle turned into a verbal brawl as both men tried to outflank each other ahead of Election Day.There was no shortage of rhetorical haymakers caught on camera, but one of the biggest jabs is when Welle called Smith “perverse” in his ideology.

    “You are perverse and backward in your core convictions,” Welle, 39, said about the congressman in their televised debate, which first aired Friday on News 12 New Jersey.

    “Perverse? What do you mean by that?” Smith, 65, shot back.

    “I’m sorry, sir, you take us backward,” Welle said.

    “That was a terrible slur,” Smith responded.

    “He’s regressive. He takes us backward,” Welle continued in his verbal smack down on the congressman. “He doesn’t believe in equality for everyone. He said gay rights are not human rights. He doesn’t believe in health care for women. He is the strongest person in Congress against women’s health in Planned Parenthood. That’s just backwards in 2018. We have an opportunity for a new generation of leaders, veterans who are running to protect this Constitution first.”

    Welle is a U.S. Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan. He more recently served as CEO of Severn Pacific Inc., a now-dissolved technology company. Smith bashed the Democrat’s entrepreneurial history.

    “He had a business, I have to tell you, that failed,” Smith said of Welle’s former company, which paid off delinquent taxes earlier this month. “I have watched your podcast where you talk about this 21st century brand new business, and then it failed, and then you misreported it, frankly, on your financial disclosure form. You were late on your financial disclosure form.”

    Welle defended his former company, calling it “a very successful business” that he and his corporate partners had dissolved after 2.5 years of delivering products to clients that included the U.S. Department of Defense.

    Smith has represented New Jersey’s Fourth Congressional District since 1981, legislating as a pro-life conservative and human rights champion. The district encompasses a cross-section of Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties, including Robbinsville and Hamilton townships.

    “To call you a leader is oxymoronic,” Welle said of the 19-term congressman in their debate. “You don’t have a chairmanship in any permanent committee. You were removed from the Veterans Affairs Committee in the mid-2000s.”

    Welle hammered Smith on “skyrocketing” health care costs and said the congressman has not held a town hall meeting in 25 years.

    “I have forums all of the time with people in my district,” Smith said. “I learn what’s on their mind. They want affordability for college, they definitely want an economy that is going to grow, and we now have an economy that is growing. The key is that we keep it sustainable.”

    “No one is saying you haven’t done some good work, sir,” Welle said, “but your time has passed. It is 2018.”

    Welle said the longtime congressman “has no vision for the economy” and “is absent on the things that matter.”

    Smith rejected that attack, saying he has helped bring three community health centers and three Veterans Affairs outpatient clinics to his district.

    “The answer to health care is multiple,” the Republican incumbent said. “Medicaid is an extremely important one and one of the reasons I voted against the replacement part, because it would have cut Medicaid by $839 billion over 10 years. Well, I and others have called for Medicaid expansion for years. We’ve got to keep it, because so many people get their health care there.”

    “The AFL-CIO has endorsed me as has the building trades because they know I deliver,” Smith added. “It’s all about delivering.”

    Smith mostly focused on his legislative accomplishments, citing a series of bipartisan bills he authored during his long career in the U.S. House of Representatives, including the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001 and the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.

    “To date,” Smith said, “I am No. 2 in the entire country in writing laws that have made a difference.”

    Welle was not impressed with Smith’s résumé or debating skills.

    “I think we are seeing a lack of civility here with Chris smith,” Welle said. “We are seeing someone who is so animated and so divisive in his dialogue. Your best just isn’t good enough anymore. You should have kept that tax plan from hurting middle class families in New Jersey, and you weren’t able.”

    TV anchor Eric Landskroner moderated the debate between Smith and Welle at the News 12 broadcast studios. After debating for about 20 minutes, the incumbent and challenger continued their debate for another 10 minutes in an online-only segment.

    “You take us backward at a time when we truly need to be united as a nation,” Welle said to Smith in the online segment. “You are a silent, failed leader at a time when we need people to step up.”

    The congressman took Welle to task over those remarks.

    “You are scripted. You say failed all of the time. You’ve been saying it in all of your tweets. You do all the same things,” Smith said of Welle. “I think people are tired of that kind of condescending attitude. I work to find solutions to problems. On DACA, we voted to enfranchise and to make those 1.8 million people who were brought here as kids a pathway to not just legalization but eventually to citizenship, and I am for that. I do believe strongly in leadership by legislation. If you want to know how I feel on things, read my laws.”

    The Democrat dismissed the congressman’s legislative achievements as insufficient.

    “Leadership is not about legislation. Leadership is about listening to people,” Welle said. “The greatest problem Chris Smith has is that he doesn’t care about the things that are relevant to everyday families in New Jersey. He stays in office because of gerrymandering and money in politics.”

    Voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether to re-elect Smith to a 20th term or to elect one of his challengers, which includes Welle and third-party candidates Felicia Stoler, Brian J. Reynolds, Allen Yusufov, Edward C. Stackhouse Jr. and Michael Rufo.