Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) stopped short of committing to support President Joe Biden or anyone else in the next presidential election during a tele town hall meeting last Thursday.
“I don’t even know if he’s running in 2024, or who’s running, so I’m not going to opine on who should be president,” Malinowski said.
The two-term Democrat faces a tough race for re-election. Midterm elections historically favor the party that doesn’t occupy the White House and New Jersey’s 7th district became more Republican in congressional redistricting. Malinowski faces a rematch with former Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr., who came within one percentage point of winning two years ago.
Malinowski deflected some of the blame from Biden to his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“I think I think he inherited a an incredibly difficult situation in our country. We just went through probably the biggest economic dislocation in the last several decades,” Malinowski said. “We have tens of millions of people unemployed. We had a disease that claimed the lives of more Americans than we lost in World War I, World War II, and all the wars of the century combined.”
His comments came one day after a Reuters/Ipsos poll put Biden’s job approval at an upside-down 39%-56%.
“There’s no question approval ratings are also part of the calculus of everyone on a ballot in a presidential mid-term year,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
Malinowski pointed to “global turmoil,” calling the war in Ukraine the biggest threat to global stability that we’ve seen, not to mention the global economy that we’ve seen since the end of the Cold War.”
“I haven’t agreed with everything that Biden did. I was a strong critic of what he did in Afghanistan,” Malinowski stated. “I think he’s handled the war in Ukraine, in contrast, magnificently, and I think he’s doing the best he can with a very, very weak hand in dealing with the inflation that we’re now facing.”
The White House has indicated that Biden plans to seek re-election, but it’s less certain if Democrats want him to be the nominee.
“He was said to not want to rule it out too early, lest he make himself a lame duck before his time,” Rasmussen said. “There’s no one in politics who knows for sure whether Biden will run or has changed his mind, but it’s certainly on the mind of everyone making an endorsement.”
Kean has already made Biden – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – a central theme in his bid to unseat the Democratic incumbent. But Malinowski has sought to tie Kean to Trump and to House Republicans who opposed a congressional inquiry into the event at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
It’s almost certain that the Malinowski campaign will press Kean on his own intentions regarding the 2024 presidential election.
In his first House campaign four years ago, Malinowski had refused to commit to supporting Pelosi for Speaker if Democrats won a majority of seats. A few weeks later, Malinowski said he would vote for Pelosi after extracting a commitment to support funding for the Gateway tunnel project and the restoration of the State and Local Property Tax (SALT) deduction.
Pelosi has followed through with backing the new cross-Hudson tunnel, but the SALT deduction has not yet been reinstated despite a Democratic control of the White House and Congress.
As for the next election, Malinowski said he has an open mind.
“I’m open to anybody out there who has better policies that are suggestions, but I have very little patience for people who criticize this or any president without saying exactly what they would do differently, backed by facts,” Malinowski said. “I’ll tell you what I’m what I would do. I’ll tell you where I agree with him. I’ll tell you where I disagree with him. I’ll tell you what I’m urging him to do. What I’m trying to do in the Congress and I hope that you hold every everyone else in our political debate to the same standard.”
In 2019, Malinowski joined the rest of the New Jersey congressional delegation in endorsing favorite son Cory Booker for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The day after Booker dropped out of the race, Malinowski became the first major New Jersey Democrat to endorse Biden, even as others went in a different direction. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) backed Pete Buttigieg, while Mikie Sherril and Josh Gottheimer supported Michael Bloomberg.
That could give Malinowski some wiggle room with the White House as he distances himself from Biden in the midterm election.
“No one wants to guess wrong and have to endorse twice,” Rasmussen said. “You want to get it right the first time, because late endorsements aren’t worth as much as early ones.”