Cagey or cowardly? Kean compiling congressional complaints

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (front right) speaks to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (front left) in the House Chamber as Rep. Tom Kean Jr sits in the row behind them

Pentagon scrambles to pay for Middle East troop buildup as inadequate funds hinder national security efforts In response to the unexpected terrorist attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, the Defense Department has mobilized additional resources, including an aircraft carrier strike group, air defenses, fighter jets, and hundreds of troops to the Middle East. The goal is to prevent the conflict from escalating into a regional war. However, a major roadblock has emerged: Congressional dysfunction has left the Pentagon without the necessary funds to cover the substantial troop buildup. The military, like other federal agencies, is currently operating under a temporary funding measure that freezes spending at the previous year's levels. This has forced the Pentagon to divert funds from existing operations and maintenance accounts to finance the Middle East troop movements, according to DOD spokesperson Chris Sherwood. President Joe Biden signed the stopgap measure to keep the government operational until lawmakers reach an agreement on a full-year spending bill. As a consequence of reallocating funds, the Pentagon faces a reduction in money designated for training, exercises, and deployments that had been planned for the year. Sherwood expressed concerns that some of these essential activities might be canceled or delayed. The unexpected nature of the Middle East buildup, not factored into the initial budget requests, has put additional strain on the Defense Department. Sherwood stated, “Current events have revised some of the operational assumptions used to develop the FY 2024 President’s Budget request. Specifically, neither the base budget request nor the FY 2024 supplemental request included funding for U.S. operations related to Israel. We're taking it out of hide.” The ongoing troop buildup in the Middle East has prompted military departments and U.S. Central Command to reassess the requirements for current and future operations in response to the developing conflict. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the Pentagon is simultaneously supporting two wars—in Ukraine and Israel. Top Pentagon officials, including Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, have repeatedly warned about the detrimental impact of temporary funding measures on military readiness. Operating under a stopgap measure prevents the initiation of new programs or funding anything beyond the previous year's levels. Hicks emphasized the gravity of the situation during a Nov. 21 event in Washington, stating, “We’ve gotten used to getting by, CR to CR, but it’s with significant consequence. That has a cost. You can’t buy back the time. You just can’t.” She estimated that keeping the Pentagon under the stopgap effectively results in a $35 billion cut, highlighting the responsibility to build trust with Congress. However, Hicks emphasized the need for a two-way street, expressing concerns about the ability of Congress to fulfill its responsibilities. The temporary funding measure is set to expire on Feb. 2, putting the onus on lawmakers to pass a full-year spending bill. If disagreements persist through April, the Pentagon and other federal agencies will face a 1 percent across-the-board spending cut, adding another layer of uncertainty to an already challenging situation.

Rep. Thomas H. Kean Jr., unseated Democrat Tom Malinowski in the last election in New Jersey’s CD-7, becoming the only congressional candidate in the state to flip a district.

The district had become more Republican after the boundaries were redrawn post the 2020 Census, making Kean’s victory less of a surprise.

However, Kean has been criticized for avoiding public events and declining several media interviews throughout his campaign and even after he was elected.

This has continued even after he reached Washington, where he has worked in league with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Kevin McCarthy to advance ultra-right wing ideas, like the assault on clean energy and refusal to pay the country’s outstanding bills.

Kean voted for legislation that could subject doctors who perform abortions to criminal penalties, and he has been in concert with such notably unpopular extremists like New York’s Rep. George Santos and conservative con artist Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado.

Gun-toting Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and notorious New York liar Rep. George Santos

In response to this, Democrats and like-minded groups rallied along Route 22, with about 100 people in attendance, demanding that Kean hold a town hall and criticizing conservative policies, particularly those concerning women’s rights and gun control.

Although town halls can be contentious, Sue Altman, the executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, said, “You know what, that’s part of the job.” Another speaker noted that Kean has been in office for 100 days, making it time for him to hold a town hall.

While all members of Congress do not hold town halls, Malinowski held around 140 of them during his four-year tenure, including a farewell event after losing reelection, making the contrast with Kean more apparent.

Kean has not helped himself in this regard, with his office not routinely publicizing his “public” events, most of which are not controversial, making it unusual for a member of Congress.

Kean’s strategy of not engaging with the public or media in dialogue may be strategic, playing well with his base, many of whom dislike the media.

Those who have criticized Kean’s incommunicado ways are the media and voters who were unlikely to support him anyway.

CD-7 leans Republican, with approximately 16,000 more Republicans than Democrats. This was achieved by the Democrats who wanted it, with the state redistricting commission accepting their map in late 2021. Kean’s success in a district created by the Dems is an irony not lost on political observers.

While Kean may not have lost any Republican votes by not holding public events in the last election, the 2024 election, being a presidential year, may be different. It is harder to predict what people who only vote once in four years will do.

There may be a steep price for his involvement with the Republican House majority’s focus on hot-button issues that percolate in right-wing media as much as they are frustrating to voters outside the MAGA base.

Democrats are not polling much better, reflecting the public’s longstanding frustration with a gridlocked Congress and the Biden administration, but 59 percent of voters say they disapprove of the GOP majority’s job performance while 35 percent approve, according to a new survey of 1,000 registered voters by Navigator Research, a polling firm.

Anxiety over abortion rights is haunting the GOP as red state lawmakers and right-wing judges crack down on access to reproductive health care, with 63 percent of respondents reporting that they worry House Republicans will pass a nationwide abortion ban.

Majorities of all voters and significant numbers of Democrats and independents disapprove of the House GOP’s handling of the issues that respondents ranked as top priorities, including climate change, health care and gun violence. Many voters no longer identify as Democrat or Republican, with 49 percent telling Gallup last month that they consider themselves independent.

Republicans have passed anti-abortion measures and legislation that would roll back climate protections and fast-track fossil fuel infrastructure expansion.

The first bill passed by the House GOP this year would repeal federal funding earmarked for cracking down on loopholes enjoyed by the wealthiest taxpayers.

Inflation continues to rank as the top issue concerning voters, and 52 percent say they disapprove of the House GOP performance on the issue while 37 percent approve, even after Republicans spent months blaming rising prices on President Joe Biden and Democrats. While 53 percent of respondents identified “oversight of the Biden administration” as the main focus of Republicans in Congress, only 15 percent identified such oversight as one of their top four priorities.

Among independent voters, who now make up nearly half of the electorate, 70 percent are “very” or “somewhat” concerned about Republicans ending guaranteed Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors. This could reflect attack lines deployed by Biden and Democrats as Republicans attempt to force through painful spending cuts by refusing to raise the debt ceiling, which is the amount of money the government is allowed to borrow to pay its bills.

Regardless of the issues people care about, they are not getting answers from Congressman Tom Kean Jr. and his absence is not making any hearts grow fonder.

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