Rockland/Westchester Journal News
President Joe Biden came to Westchester on Wednesday to make his position clear on the debt-ceiling negotiations with House Republicans. He’s not interested in giving in to Republicans’ demands that federal spending be slashed to avoid default on U.S. debt.
He also came to rally the Democratic troops in his third visit to the Hudson Valley in the past eight months, a sign that the region the region is playing an unlikely role in the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
He detailed his position on the debt-ceiling debate on the campus of Westchester Community College in Valhalla, at the boundary between the 16th Congressional District, represented by Jamaal Bowman, D-Yonkers, and the 17th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Mike Lawler, R-Pearl River. Both were in the audience, as was former Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-Sleepy Hollow, the CNN commentator who is weighing a 2024 challenge against Lawler.
Biden arrived as Democrats plot their strategy to retake the House in 2024, with the 17th Congressional District clearly in their sights.
Biden provided a roadmap for that strategy with his own re-election bid, as former President Donald Trump, the leading GOP contender, prepared for a Town Hall special on CNN on Wednesday evening to jumpstart his re-election campaign.
In the college’s Hankin Auditorium, there was a glimpse of his message looming as the backdrop behind the podium where the 46th president spoke. It stated simply: “Joe Biden Investing in America.” It alluded to Democrat-supported investments in infrastructure, computer chip technology, health care and education spending.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling that calls for spending cuts of close to $5 trillion over the next decade in exchange for ensuring the full faith and credit of the nation’s debt, which now exceeds $31 trillion. They said we need a reset of federal spending, with 2024 spending set at 2022’s level, with an annual 1% growth limit over the next decade,.
While the Republicans say their proposal is a starting point for serious negotiations, Biden has taken them at their word, detailing how the across-the-board cuts in non-military spending could have devastating impact. That includes chaos in the financial world, which would lead to an economic downturn
“They are holding the economy hostage by threatening to default on our nation’s debt,” Biden said.
The swing state of New York
New York emerged as a swing state in 2022, with state Republicans making a net gain of three seats, pushing their representation to 11 of the delegation’s 25 members. The Hudson Valley became an epicenter for competitive races, with Lawler ousting five-term incumbent Sean Patrick Maloney in the lower Hudson Valley, and Democrat Pat Ryan winning a tight victory in the mid-Hudson’s 18th District.
Republican John Faso, a former Congressman and state Assemblyman, said the competitive races were encouraged by the 2022 redistricting battle. The state’s GOP cried foul with the lines passed by the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate. Its lawsuit to invalidate the the gerrymandered state map ended up at the state’s highest court, which tossed them out.
The court ordered an independent monitor to draw up lines that created more competition and less protection for Democratic incumbents. Among the casualties was Rep. Mondaire Jones, the Westchester Democrat who was redistricted out of the 17th into the 16th, already represented by Bowman.
He ran for an open seat in New York City and finished third.
“We now have eight or nine districts that are solidly competitive,” said Faso, who lives in Columbia County. “We combined the competitive districts with strong candidates. We can argue that because of their gerrymander, we got new lines, and helped flip the House.”
Faso said the Republicans’ unified message about crime and the economy resonated with voters.
He said next year the issue will be a referendum on Biden’s performance.
“It will be the public’s verdict on how the incumbent is doing,” Faso said. “Wouldn’t it have been better if he stayed in Washington and negotiated with the Republicans on the debt limit instead of traveling around the country giving political speeches?”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, D-Rye, said Lawler’s victory in 2022 was a wake-up call for Hudson Valley Democrats, who has a decided advantage in voter enrollments in the 17th, but were vanquished by Lawler’s savvy campaign.
He said Lawler’s campaign, which highlighted a rise in crime in NYC, inflation, tax cuts and the border crisis on our nation’s southern border was a clear message that clicked with suburban voters, and was reinforced by the right-leaning national media at Fox News and NewsMax.
“It was very straightforward and appealed to voters’ elemental fears about crime,” he said. “The Democrats’ challenge is to figure out how to take their philosophy and turn it into a punchy message to put them on an equal platform with the Republicans’ punchy message.”
Westchester Democratic Chair Suzanne Berger said the Democrats need to stress three major issues: abortion rights; gun safety, including a ban on assault-style weapons; and Democratic support for social service programs that could cut under the Republican debt-ceiling proposal.
She noted that presidential elections traditionally bring out the most Democratic voters, but she said they cannot be complacent in the face of Republican gains. Younger voters, like the college students and young adults who cheered for Biden on Wednesday, will be on their radar.
“There will be a renewed focus on college campuses and those who recently graduated from college,” she said.
Republicans, though, continue to hammer Democrats on the immigration issue, which just this week became a hot-button topic in Rockland County. That came after New York Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, told Rockland leaders he planned to send 300 undocumented immigrants, among the thousands sent to NYC from Texas, to a hotel in Orangetown.
Lawler joined with Rockland leaders to fight the plan, which was put on hold Thursday in state Supreme Court.
Pace University political scientist George Picoulas said the border issue has emerged as a wedge issue that the Democrats need to address.
“People’s minds and impressions take time to change,” he said. “Biden and the Democrats must confront the immigration issue, especially when cities are seeing a huge wave coming. It’s spreading to the suburbs, where the Democrats must do well if they have a chance at getting the House back.”