In familiar role, Rothman goes after McCain-big oil connection on eve of Republican’s visit

TEANECK – Barack Obama may compromise on some issues, but John McCain is a straight-up foot soldier for the oil barons, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Fair Lawn) and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck).

In anticipation of McCain’s landing Tuesday in Bergen County, Rothman and Weinberg criticized the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for accepting 33 oil and gas industry lobbyists as campaign advisors, laying out an energy plan that gives Exxon Mobil $1.2 billion in tax breaks, and accepting $2 million in contributions from Big Oil.

"‘Exxon John’s’ energy policy includes nearly $4 billion in tax cuts to the top five oil corporations, complained Rothman, who stood in the Teaneck Marriott beside a super-sized $2 million check made out to "Exxon John" and signed by Big Oil.

The amount is seven times what Obama received from people connected to the industry, said Rothman, the only member of the New Jersey congressional delegation who supported the Illinois senator for president during the Democratic primary.

Referring to what she sees as McCain’s improbable visit tomorrow to Teaneck, "he can use my living room if there’s another Republican he can find," Weinberg dead-panned. "Look, I know people here. I’ve represented them in one way or another for 20 years. Bergen County is going to produce a large plurality for Barack Obama."

Dismissing McCain as the tired third leg of an ideological relay team that started with Bush and Cheney, Rothman said, "It’s those ideals that have kept the U.S. beholden to foreign oil, and those are the policies that Sen. McCain has been associated with."

Behind Rothman and Weinberg stood nine young Obama supporters who displayed red "McCain" signs with drawings of gas pumps on them.

In response to the Rothman-Weinberg press conference, the McCain campaign unleashed a statement by state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex), who targeted Obama’s "aye" vote on the 2005 Energy Bill.

He also took a dig at Obama’s campaign tactics, which have limited his presence in New Jersey compared to McCain.

"Even though Barack Obama will not campaign in New Jersey, his surrogates cannot hide the fact that he voted for the 2005 Bush-Cheney Energy Bill, which contained billions in tax breaks for big oil," O’Toole said. "Even Governor Corzine and Congressman Rothman followed John McCain’s leadership when they voted against this bill. Barack Obama’s vote for this bill may not have been influenced by the large amount of money he continues to raise from the petroleum industry, but it certainly shows a lack of judgment and principle as well as an unwillingness to fight the parochial special interests of his state."

Rothman headed off the attack at his press conference, arguing that McCain voted against the 2005 Energy Bill not out of some green epiphany, but because the legislation didn’t sufficiently protect the interests of large energy companies.

He admitted he personally voted against the bill because he did not feel its alternative energy measures were progressive enough.

Meanwhile, "Sen. Obama was willing to take half a loaf," said Rothman, who also defended his presidential candidate’s position on drilling, and contrasted it with McCain’s.

As part of a comprehensive policy, Obama said he is open to the idea of allowing drilling on 68 million acres of federal land where drilling is already technically allowed. It is difficult to picture how McCain, however, will not be able to make drilling the prime feature of his energy policy, according to Rothman.

Earlier this summer, Republicans pounced on Obama’s oil drilling position as a flip flop from a candidate who packaged himself in the primary as an alternative energy apostle who dared speak truth to power when he shook his finger at Detroit automobile producers.

But Obama’s argument for a comprehensive approach to solving the country’s energy crisis is more convincing than McCain’s, argued Rothman, who presented what he sees as dual pieces of damning evidence concerning the presumptive Republican nominee on energy : the big oil contributions, and McCain’s initial and repeated support for the war in Iraq.

"Barack Obama has said he is willing to consider limited offshore drilling if (the Republicans) are willing to join him in this fundamental shift away from foreign sources of energy," said the congressman. "He’s saying, ‘I’m willing to listen to your requests for drilling in those states that want it, but as part of a comprehensive plan, including alternatives, nuclear, and clean coal. To me, that sounds very presidential, very nonpartisan.

"Each side is willing to compromise, while Sen. McCain is not willing to compromise," Rothman added.

As for Obama not making regular campaign stops in New Jersey, the congressman said that while the presidential nominee does not take the Garden State for granted, Obama needs to campaign mostly in those critical swing states.

"Sen. Obama has tremendous appeal to everyone in New Jersey," said Rothman. "The people of New Jersey are smart enough to know that we cannot afford another four years of Bush-Cheney. McCain represents the thinking of the past. We hope Barack Obama comes here often. We love to see him. But if comes here only once or twice or not at all, so be it."

Simultaneously, Rothman’s longshot Republican opponent, Vince Micco, issued a statement objecting to the congressman’s focus on presidential politics.

"The families of the ninth district who are struggling to pay for gasoline and heating oil don’t want to hear Steve Rothman make irrelevant remarks about John McCain," Micco said. "They are paying him to develop an energy solution. But he’s too busy taking a vacation."

"This meeting is entirely off the record. Until somebody leaks it."
—Michael Kempner, addressing a roomful of Democratic powerbrokers organizng for Hillary Clinton