Make no mistake about it, the actions of the last week show that Republicans feel they are setting the agenda.
They are taking their legislative wins in New Jersey—as well as Virginia—last month as a signal to be more forceful in a myriad of ways, from statehouses to the courts across the U.S..
As New Jersey recorded the highest single day of new COVID-19 cases since January and a new variant entered the U.S., Republicans in Trenton went forward with a lawsuit looking to force the rollback of commonsense health protocols at the Statehouse. We can’t say this loud enough: THERE IS NOT A VACCINE MANDATE TO ENTER THE STATEHOUSE. Lawmakers and others doing business, including members of the media, had three options to enter: show your vaccine card, show a test in the last 72 hours or undergo a rapid test.
But that wasn’t enough freedom for Republicans, who are looking to harness the energy from issues such as school mask mandates for the next election under terms such as “medical choice.” Sounding like the more radical elements on the right, Assembly members shouted “tyranny” and disrespected New Jersey State Troopers just doing their jobs by forcing their way onto the floor of that governing body. Let us add that members in the lower chamber additionally had the option of voting remotely—which two of their party members did.
Compare that with the way that State Senators from their own party conducted business on Dec. 2. They followed the rules, begrudgingly, made their statement on the floor and then went about their business.
The issue now goes to the courts, where Republicans believe the payoff of appointing more conservatives judges will come to fruition to further their agenda. And who could blame them, as the court in the highest land seems all but certain to discard 50 years of precedent and roll back Roe v. Wade. The irony is thick that members of the GOP in New Jersey beamon the COVID-19 protocols put in place by an unelected commission that will ultimately be decided by unelected judges.
We look at the action in the Garden State with a broader scope and come to this conclusion: Democrats need to fight fire with fire. No matter how much COVID fatigue there is, they need to be more forceful in their arguments and make it personal. Acknowledge that the rules can be burdensome, but they are needed. And do not back down. We applaud Assembly Speaker Craig Caughlin for making committee meetings remote this upcoming week until Assembly members agree to sensible workplace rules.
The lesson goes for national Dems as well. While the U.S. Senate works towards a final Build Back Better Act bill, moderates and liberals of the party should be more aggressive selling that they are the party working to make American’s lives better and more affordable, especially the middle class. Hammer home the difference the infrastructure bill will have in each district and call out Republicans who aim to take credit for those investments as hypocrites for voting against the package. Make voters understand that Democrats are the party that actually enabled shovels to be in the ground to improve our commute, our water, and our broadband. And that they are investing in childcare, healthcare, combating climate change and ending the cap on the state and local tax deduction to save us money because those are the legislative priorities of Dems.
Additionally, push forward on the Jan. 6 investigation. Those that planned and executed the failed insurrection must be held accountable no matter how high it goes. Set the agenda that attacks on our democracy will never be tolerated. And expose all those who continue to push the Big Lie with the facts that President Donald Trump lost fair and square.
The GOP is still a minority party in New Jersey—and in Washington as well. While they made gains in the Assembly and State Senate, they still lost the Governor’s race and the Senate President and Assembly Speaker are still Democrats.
If Dems want to remain in control in Congress, they need to be unified in one simple message: The facts show that they are the party that delivers on the kitchen table issues so important to us and follows the laws that govern this nation.