Freshman Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, 41, talks about working as a White House speechwriter, connecting with his children long-distance, and being a Bruce Springsteen fan.
Q: What was it like being a speechwriter for Bill Clinton?
A: It was an enormous honor. It was a great front seat on the political and legislative process at a young age. I was really lucky. It’s an intense job. Everyone’s got lots of opinions, the policy people have their point of view. But at the end of the day, someone’s actually got to put it down on paper.
I was 22 when I started doing this. If I had been aware of the enormity of it, now that I think about, I probably would have been much more intimidated. President Clinton, in terms of people to work for, is smart and someone who shaped my politics and policy thinking a lot. He was a moderate centrist, someone who was fiscally more responsible and socially progressive and he really believes that you’re supposed to work with both sides and you can find the best ideas by actually looking to both sides and putting together a good centrist approach.
Q: What’s your favorite speech you worked on?
A: I worked on two State of the Union addresses. I worked on the last White House Correspondents’ Dinner he gave. Now they have all these videos, they didn’t use to do that. That was an innovation we brought to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. We made this video of Bill Clinton at the end of the administration — Hillary was running for the Senate — so we had this video of President Clinton wandering around the White House by himself like no one was left. He’s going, “Hello, is anybody home?”
Working on a State of the Union is a huge task because it is a months-long process because you have to look at the budget and understand what your proposals are and every Cabinet agency is fighting over their couple of lines in the speech and their policy priorities. Cabinet secretaries are calling you. Inevitably, we would go too long in the speech. Clinton liked to talk. I remember, I’m sitting on the computer an hour before we had to leave for the Capitol. … We realize we’re about a thousand words too long. The president looks at me and goes, “I got to go put my suit on.” For months people are pushing for their policy, their couple of lines about their issue, and I’m just thinking, “OK, here we go,” and having to tighten it in an hour. Several of the Cabinet secretaries come up to you after and go, “What happened? Where’s my line?”
Q: You communicate with your kids daily, what’s your preferred means?
A: It’s on the schedule, daily Facetime. I spoke to them this morning. Ellie is my seven year old and Ben is my four year old. I taught my daughter how to dial the home phone. This week, she memorized my phone number and now she is calling me like 15 times a day. At 6 a.m., my phone was ringing. I see my wife calling. What’s going on, what’s wrong? It’s Ellie, “Hi, Daddy!” “Ellie, it’s 5:50, why are you calling me?” “Well, Daddy, I wanted to say ‘Hi, I miss you, I love you.’” I was like, “OK, call me anytime you want.” What are you supposed to say to that?
Q: How has being in Congress affected your workout routine?
A: Just made it earlier. People told me the gym was the best place to actually spend time with people and actually get to know them. You all see each other and no one’s wearing their partisan shirt. I’ve been doing this cross-training, which is brutal. It’s tough, but it’s a really good group of folks. I run and swim, it keeps me in shape and focused.
Q: How many times have you been to a Bruce Springsteen concert?
A: Huge Bruce fan. … Maybe 40, somewhere like that.
Q: Your favorite Springsteen album?
A. “Born to Run,” I guess. Truthfully, I love a lot of the early stuff. Overall, just in terms of a great album, it’s a great album.
Quick HitsLast book read: I’m rereading “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela
Last movie seen: “Trolls”
Favorite song of all time: “The River” by Bruce Springsteen.