Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen spent the first afternoon of the February congressional recess at Verona High School, taking questions from the juniors and seniors taking AP Government. Frelinghuysen, a Republican, represents the 11th Congressional district, which Verona has been a part of since 2012.
“I have an interesting job and God knows it’s become more interesting since January,” said Frelinghuysen, who told the students that he was a “bipartisan guy” whose job is “to represent everybody”. Frelinghuysen, who spent most of his previous House career focused on defense issues, is now chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “I have become the manager of disappointment,” he said. “Everyone wants something and it all costs money.”
The VHS students in the room didn’t want money, but they did want answers to a broad range of questions, from the policies of President Donald Trump to ongoing issues of women’s rights and constituent relations. Some of the students identified themselves as conservatives when they asked their questions and two wore pro-Trump gear.
While Frelinghuysen has voted with the Trump administration on all the bills that have come to the House since January, he often seemed at odds with the president, saying, “I think in his head he’s a good person but he’s totally out of control in some regard.”
Jake Houthuysen, a senior who introduced himself to the congressman as a conservative, asked for a report card on the Trump administration’s first weeks in office. “We have a remarkable speaker in Paul Ryan,” Frelinghuysen said, and later suggested that the students acquaint themselves with Ryan’s “A Better Way” agenda.
Isabella Williams, a junior who was a leader of the Verona Park protest against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos early this month, asked Frelinghuysen whether he planned to address his constituents at the town halls that have been organized by NJ11th For Change. “This isn’t just spontaneity,” he said of the movement, adding, “don’t think that somebody isn’t orchestrating these things.” (Asked to provide proof of that, Frelinghuysen pointed to the Indivisible Guide, which was compiled by former congressional staffers who had observed the rise of the Tea Party Movement. The guide has been downloaded more than 1 million times since December.)
“The charge is phony that I’m not accessible,” Frelinghuysen said, pointing to the fact that he speaks to 90 high school classes a year and attends functions for many different constituent groups. (Frelinghuysen held a “virtual town hall” teleconference on Tuesday night, something that his spokesman said he has been doing this since 2010. “Frankly, it allows me to listen to thousands of constituents to hear what is on their minds and provide assistance when needed,” Frelinghuysen said. Some Verona residents who were invited to the call said that they submitted questions that were not presented for an answer.)
At VHS, Frelinghuysen also told the class that NJ11th members’ phone calls and visits to his office were tying up phone lines and staff. “People who have honest-to-God issues are being prevented from getting the services they need,” he said. “My staff has been taking a lot of C-R-A-P,” he added, and they’ve been taking it for me.” (Neither NJ11th nor Indivisible have responded to an email for comment.)
Enjoyed speaking w/ #EssexCounty students today @LacordaireAcad in #Montclair & #Verona HS on my work for #NJ in Congress & current events! pic.twitter.com/Q2jLWb2u79
— Rodney Frelinghuysen (@USRepRodney) February 22, 2017
Patrick Fogarty, a senior, asked Frelinghuysen about President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The congressman said he believed the order was similar to one that had been implemented by President Bush after 9/11 and indicated that he thought it was necessary because “these are people who have no ability to vet people.” But said that he objected to the way in which the order was rolled out. “It wasn’t executed well and he’s paid a huge price for it.” In response to a separate question, Frelinghuysen was sharply critical of Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign manager who now sits on the National Security Council. “I don’t think he should be serving on the NSC,” Frelinghuysen said. “I prefer people with more military and security qualifications.”
Frelinghuysen’s response to a question about how he stays on top of new topics might also raise some eyebrows at the White House. The congressman said he reads The New York Times, Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal every day. “The journalism is really good,” he said.
At times, Frelinghuysen seemed to straddle both sides of the same issue. Mia Corbett, a senior who worked as a poll greeter last November, wanted to get clarity on Frelinghuysen’s views on Planned Parenthood. “I have always believed in a woman’s right to choose,” Frelinghuysen said, “but I have always been respectful of other views.” He then became sharply critical of Planned Parenthood, saying, “they have decided to become a very political organization.”
Isabella Williams wasn’t swayed by what she heard. “Going to 90 high schools a year does not mean he’s getting in touch with his adult constituents,” she said after class. “If such a large amount of people think he is unaccessible, he’s unaccessible.”
I used to cross party lines to vote for him, but no more. Did not in the last election. He has gone way too far to the right. I will proudly vote against him in next year, hoping it will be his last election.
Voters in his district have been asking for an in person town hall meeting since December. He has ignored all requests. When voters in the district call his office with a question, his staff never knows the Congressman’s position on any issue. Voters have made themselves available to him, but he has refused to acknowledge them.
I wish someone had asked him the rationale of voting against the order in which the Social Security Administration provided the names of 75000 people, who are on disability for mental illness and have to have a designated person supervise their social security checks, for background checks if they go to make a gun purchase. We absolutely must protect the rights of the mentally ill, but to make it easier for them to purchase a gun makes no sense at all. But Representative Frelinghuysen thought it was a good idea to remove this protection from us. Probably far more deaths as a result of the mentally ill killing others or being killed as a result of their access to guns, than have been killed by all the terrorist acts committed by Islamic militants in America. Think of Newtown, the Colorado movie theater massacre, Virginia Tech and I am sure others, gun massacres carried out by mentally ill people with guns.
He’s a Republican repping a democratic district. Same as mine. Time to shake the sheets!
I simply do not understand what “honest-to-god” issues are and are not? Is trying to figure out how my soon-to-graduate 21 year old asthmatic son health insurance NOT an honest to God issue? Is wanting my daughter to have reproductive health care and birth control covered by insurance NOT an honest to God issue?
I just read this article written about Frelinghuysen, the representative for my District (11) visiting my child’s high school in Verona, NJ to speak with the students. I am incensed at his comments which consisted of outright lies about the NJ11th for Change group, which consists of friends and neighbors who gather together on Fridays to visit his office to try to relay their wholely legitimate concerns regarding the way he has been voting lately, and our new president. I have to say that these are the most respectful people you’d ever want to meet. They bring cookies for the aides. They dutifully step aside every time someone walks by on the sidewalk.
I called his office immediately when I read about this. How dare he come to our schools and lie to our children about their parents and neighbors! I see this as being akin to what the Nazis did when they inundated the children in Germany.
Frelinghuysen claims that the people visiting his offices are preventing “people who have honest-to-God issues” from getting the services they need.
So my issues are not honest-to-God issues? He refuses to meet with the adults or to attend the Town Hall meetings being set up for him by NJ11th for Change. In my opinion he’s a coward, and he’d better stay away from our kids!
As a Verona resident myself, I’m really disappointed that an excellent opportunity for these students to speak with their Congressman was tainted by his clear disdain for citizen participation in the democratic process. This is not the message I want my kids or any other kids to hear from their representative. Why would they bother going out and learning the different methods for making their voices heard if their own Congressman clearly tells them it’s nothing more than a nuisance?
I hope he’s not invited back to Verona High School. These students need to learn that participation is necessary and it should be applauded.