February 2008

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2008 JF


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Steven Rothman, U.S. Representative from the 9th Congressional District of New Jersey and Northeast Regional Co-chair for Senator Obama.

Special Dossier: Presidential Primaries

An Interview with Steven Rothman

Barack Obama is the junior Senator from Illinois, elected in 2004. Prior to that, he was in the Illinois State Senate, after being a community organizer and civil rights lawyer.

Steven Rothman is the U.S. Representative from the 9th Congressional District of New Jersey. He is a Northeast Regional Co-chair for Senator Obama.

-- Alan Tuttle

This interview was conducted by phone. The answers by Representative Rothman to some questions were supplemented by links sent from the Obama campaign as a follow-up.

Israel / Middle East

PJV: As we all know, it is easy to make statements and promises when running for office, but then not to follow-through on those promises. It is perhaps most telling to know what specific people and circles a candidate has been relating with to know how they will act once in office. With what people and what organizations has Senator Obama been involved with that would indicate where he will actually go as regards Israel? Specifically, what does it mean as regards his hiring Mr. Brzezinski as his main foreign policy advisor?

First of all, the assumption that Mr. Brzynski is one of Senator Obama’s main advisors is inaccurate. There are many people who offer their opinion and advice, solicited and unsolicited, to Senator Obama. Senator Obama as a man of letters and great intellect prefers to consider a wide variety of opinions and perspectives whenever he confronts a problem.

The situation with regards to the Senator’s views about Israel; those views were formed decades ago when he first started to interact with members of the Jewish community in Chicago, and ever since then. As one can imagine, a person who ran for the U.S. Congress and also ran for the Illinois State Legislature as well as the U.S. Senate, long before the present run for President, he was called upon to express his views about Israel. That is why the Jewish community and pro-Israel community in Illinois is so strongly supportive of Senator Obama, as they view him as a longtime and reliable supporter of Israel.

I’m 55 years old. I made my first trip to Israel when I was 15, and I have been working for the last 40 years to help secure the state of Israel from its enemies, to strengthen its economy and improve the life of its people, and in doing so serve America’s interests as well in having such a strong and reliable military and economic partner in Israel. I would never endorse anyone for any office if I didn’t believe in my heart and in my mind that that person was a sincere and reliable friend of the state of Israel. My Congressional colleagues: Robert Wexler, Adam Shiff, Jan Shakowski, and Paul Hodes, feel the same way, and they have also endorsed Senator Obama. I could name literally thousands of life-long pro-Israel supporters, in elected office and outside of elected office, who feel very strongly that Senator Obama will be a great President on a whole host of issues, including making sure that Israel is safe and secure and retains it’s qualitative military advantage over all adversaries, and that the US-Israel relationship, which is now so powerful, continues to grow even more so.

PJV: What are Senator Obama’s views of the role a U.S. President should play in the Israel-Palestinian and Israel-Arab neighbor negotiations? Would it change from the way President Bush has been approaching it?

The most important thing to know about Senator Obama and his long-held views regarding the State of Israel is his unwavering and oft-stated commitment that Israel is a Jewish State and must always remain a Jewish State.

PJV: Meaning the Right of Return…."

Right. Start there. Those words are important. From this seminal belief, flows so many other relevant opinions concerning how peace can and should be achieved between the Israelis and Palestinians, including the issue of the Palestinian claim of this right of return. Because Senator Obama believes that Israel must always be a Jewish state, he has said in many forums around the country and in the Middle East, that there can be no right of return for the Palestinians into pre-67 Israel as a matter of right. So he has thus said to the Palestinians and to many American audiences, a number of which were not happy to hear this, that the Palestinians can only expect to return as a right to the Palestinian territories that are established to receive Palestinians under any future Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

You asked about will he be more vigorous in terms of personal diplomacy: one of so many appealing visions of an Obama presidency is the image of a U.S. President Barack Obama speaking either from the White House, at the UN, or in the Middle East, saying to the people of the world that Israel is a Jewish state, and always will be one. That will have a powerful ripple effect across the world, and will significantly change for the better Israel’s position in the world. In addition he has said that he will be taking a much more personal role in supporting the State of Israel through diplomacy than President Bush has, although he has stated many times that he will never force the Israelis to take any steps that Israel was not ready to take.


PJV: Most people give at least lip-service to the idea that global warming and support for hostile regimes meets at the point of buying and using fossil fuel. What specifically will Senator Obama do to free us of this dual liability?

He’s proposed a carbon cap and trading system, support for alternative fuels, preventing deforestation and capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Obama's plan will reduce oil consumption by at least 35 percent, by 2030. In the debate last night, he spoke about that, and mentioned global climate change as something he has addressed and wants to address, and he spoke about it in summary fashion. [More specifics can be found at Obama Website.

PJV: President Bush has had a very close relationship with the Saudi government, which is a promoter of Wahhabism, and is considered by many to be a major promoter of the Islamic militant movement. How will Senator Obama change that relationship with the Saudi government, given all the forces at work there?

I can give you a general answer: that I’m confident that the Senator will not be going to the Middle East, as President Bush did this past week, begging the Saudi’s to increase oil production. I believe Senator Obama is smarter and tougher than that, and will instead use American resources and pull America away from its dependence on foreign oil. Senator Obama has addressed Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the lack of wisdom in selling advanced weapon technology to them. See The Rothman Website.

PJV: Regarding Iraq: Senator Obama has said that we will need a small residual force even after we withdraw from Iraq. How does he respond to the point that ‘a small US force’ in Beirut proved to be a tempting target for Hezbollah in 1983?

The Senator has said that his goal would be to have all combat troops withdrawn from Iraq by the end of his first year in office, with the exception unless combat troops would be necessary to protect the US Embassy or go after any resurgent Al Qaeda should that prove necessary or to address foreign intervention. His goal would be to keep combat troops stationed in Kuwait or other friendly countries to serve as a quick reaction force for those combat purposes in Iraq, otherwise he would have turned over those combat troops to Iraq army, who we have spent the last 5 year training.

Election/ Voting Rights

PJV: On the election: Howard Dean has promoted the use a 50-state offensive strategy. Does your campaign back that approach, or rather the ‘swing-state top-of-the-ticket’ financial concentration?

I’m sure there are campaign people who are better versed in that. My sense is that he’s not conceding any states. Also, Senator Obama has been praised by independent sources as having the strongest grassroots organization of any of the campaigns.

PJV: Should the federal government allow electronic voting machines which do not produce a voter verifiable receipt?

Senator Obama has co-sponsored the Ballot Integrity Act to require states to use voting systems with voter-verified paper records subject to public manual audits in the 2010 federal elections. He has also co-sponsored the Count Every Vote Act, legislation that would also require a voter verified paper ballot for every vote cast in electronic voting machines.

Health Care

PJV: How does Senator Obama’s health care position differ from his Democratic rivals’?

I am going to leave it to the campaign to go through the nuts and bolts of that, I think they can do that justice. Overall, he has a proposal that will provide for guaranteed eligibility, comprehensive benefits, affordable premiums, simplified paperwork, and subsidies for families and individuals not qualifying for Medicaid or SCHIP. [Details can be found at on the Obama website.] The big picture so to speak, is that we have here a brilliant, tough Democrat who has the ability and proven track record of being able to bring together people from all backgrounds; racial, religious, ethnic, economic, Democrat, Independent, and Republican to address complicated and difficult problems that we all face. That’s the kind of President we need if we are to solve the very difficult problems that face our country and change the direction of our country away from the disastrous Bush policies here at home and abroad.

PJV: That certainly has been a major issue with the Bush administration, that there has been a lot of divisiveness, but many politicians have said that they will be the ‘uniting force’ but specific programs end up recreating those divisions. People are interested in the specific plans for things like health care, or shift in the energy program.

I suppose. But Senator Obama will be the most successful Democratic candidate for President not only in attracting overwhelming Democratic support, but also in support from Independents and Republicans. He will also be able to deliver a larger Democratic majority in the House and the Senate because of his coattails, because his candidacy will not light a fire under Republicans who might come out to vote against another Democratic candidate. So he will not only be able to bring together people of all parties, but he will be able to enlist the large number of Democrats in Congress that he will have brought with him in the election.

Previous Interviews

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