Dan Goldman's Gamble
What it means to censure Rashida Tlaib
I was not surprised that Dan Goldman was one of the 22 House Democrats who voted with most Republicans to censure Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian American congresswoman from Michigan. Goldman, a first-term lawmaker from Manhattan, is a Jew and an ardent Zionist. He does not belong to his party’s progressive wing. In the open primary last year for the newly-created 10th Congressional District, Goldman was not endorsed by prominent left-leaning organizations like the Working Families Party. It would be wrong to call Goldman a conservative—he is a conventional Biden Democrat on every policy issue of note—but he is, at best, an MSNBC liberal. He first found fame there, building up a large social media following as the attorney on the first Donald Trump impeachment case.
Congressional censures used to be exceedingly rare. In this polarized era, they’ve been introduced with increasing frequency. The censure of Tlaib—for her fierce criticism of Israel during their war with Hamas, including her defense of the anti-Zionist slogan “from the river to the sea”—had a certain logic for the swing district Democrats desperate to distance themselves from the Squad. Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington have constituencies that probably care little about Israel and the Palestinians, one way or the other, but both Democrats are trying to signal their centrist credentials. Others, like Ritchie Torres, don’t face primary threats and are free to alienate leftists as much as they’d like.
Goldman is a different case. He barely won his primary last year, finishing ahead of a crowded field by just 1,679 votes. The runner-up, an assemblywoman named Yuh-Line Niou, campaigned as a Squad-aligned progressive. Mondaire Jones, who left his Westchester and Hudson Valley seat after redistricting, ran to Goldman’s left as well, finishing third. A left-leaning city councilwoman who attracted some support from moderates, Carlina Rivera, came in fourth. Other candidates included Jo Anne Simon, another assemblywoman, and Elizabeth Holtzman, the octogenarian former congresswoman, district attorney, and city comptroller. Niou supporters remain bitter that split votes might have cost her a victory. It’s not obvious most Rivera, Simon, or Holtzman voters would have gravitated to Niou if they hadn’t entered the race—there’s a good case to make some of those upscale white liberals would’ve voted for Goldman—but Jones probably attracted enough support in Niou-friendly precincts like Park Slope and Prospect Heights to damage her. An heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, Goldman drew furious criticism from Niou, Jones, and many progressive organizations for pumping millions of his own cash into the campaign and initially supporting some restrictions on abortion.
The 10th District is an amalgamation of several wildly divergent interests groups, which is why Goldman may feel safe but also why he censures Tlaib at his own peril. The Brooklyn portion includes Borough Park, the Orthodox Jewish enclave where support for Israel is a top concern. Affluent, secular Jews live in Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, and Tribeca. Many of them have little fondness for the Netanyahu government, but they also identify as Zionist, dislike BDS, and find the radicalism of the DSA left alienating. Downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, and Dumbo were Goldman’s best neighborhoods, along with Borough Park; these are the voters he is speaking for when he censures Tlaib.
But the risk, for Goldman, are those who never voted for him in the first place and would be eager to choose a different Democrat if one showed up next year.