Editor: Please describe your background, including your work in defense and your role in the firm.
Rothman: I started out practicing law in 1978 in Jersey City, where I litigated for a few years. I then opened my own law firm in Englewood in the general practice of law. While practicing law, I was elected and served as the mayor of Englewood for two terms, from 1983 to 1989.
I continued practicing law until 1992, when I was elected Bergen County surrogate court judge. I served in that capacity from 1993 until 1995, at which point I stepped down in order to run for Congress in light of Bob Torricelli’s decision to leave the House and run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Bill Bradley. While campaigning for the House seat, I worked at a law firm headquartered in Saddle Brook.
My campaign was successful. In January 1997, I was sworn in and served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District for eight terms until January 3, 2013. My first committee assignments were the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee.
On the Foreign Affairs Committee, I dealt with a wide array of global issues, including the role of the U.S. military not only in protecting the United States and its citizens, but also in making possible safe lanes of commerce and travel for U.S. companies, our citizens and our allies. My work on the Judiciary Committee involved intellectual property, government regulations, constitutional law, criminal law and civil rights law, to name a few. I was also on the committee – and participated in the historic hearings involving Ken Starr and others – when the Republican majority on the committee voted to impeach President Bill Clinton.
After four years, I secured a seat on the House Appropriations Committee, which is the only committee in the House that has the power and responsibility to allocate all of the spending for the United States government.
My first subcommittee assignment on the House Appropriations Committee was to serve on the Foreign Operations and State Subcommittee, which consisted of approximately 11 House members in total from both parties. That subcommittee recommended all U.S. foreign aid, including funding for the USAID, the Export Import Bank, the World Bank, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Armenia, Azerbaijan and other countries. It also recommended the funding for the State Department, including its embassies and consulates around the globe. I served on that subcommittee for my 12 years on the House Appropriations Committee.
For my last eight years in the House, I had the privilege of serving on the 15-member Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. We recommended all of the military spending for the United States. It was an extraordinary experience to have a say in deciding with my colleagues what weapons systems, platforms, military personnel levels, etc. should be in effect for those eight years and, to some extent, for future use by our nation’s military.
Decisions such as those not only affected the short-term national security requirements of the United States, but also the mid- and longer-term future of our military and its capabilities. In the course of my work on the defense subcommittee, I was involved in virtually every single aspect of the military’s operations, including ships, planes, submarines, military satellites, personnel levels for each branch of the military, special forces, military intelligence, weapons systems (both offensive and defensive), vehicles, food, healthcare for active duty and retired service members, ammunition, research and development, and services to our military for immediate deployment and longer-term development.
When I was growing up, I was always fascinated by books about international intrigue – the clandestine services in securing our country – and the role of our military. As a member of Congress, I felt both honored and privileged to be in a position to provide our servicemen and women the finest weaponry, support and training so that they could complete their missions successfully and have the best chance to return home safely. Shaping the budget and establishing the priorities of our defense budget in order to maximize the strength of our armed forces while making the most effective and efficient use of our extremely large, but nonetheless finite, defense budget was clearly one of the high points of my 16 years as a U.S. Congressman.
While all members of the subcommittee were involved, as I mentioned, with every area of our defense budget, each of us found ourselves inevitably focusing on areas of special interest. For me that became missile defense – protecting the U.S. homeland and U.S. military assets on the land, on the sea and in the air around the world. It was in that context that I developed a very close working relationship with our U.S. missile defense agency and personnel as well as the missile defense agencies of several of our most important allies, such as the State of Israel.
Fate had it that I was on the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee when the U.S. and Israel were in the early stages of their development of a joint U.S.-Israel missile defense partnership. We worked on funding, information-sharing agreements and jointly developing a variety of very important anti-missile weapons systems including David’s Sling and Arrows 1, 2 and 3. I was also deeply involved in the U.S. funding of the Israeli-designed and -produced Iron Dome missile defense system. It was the Iron Dome system that just a few months ago protected tens of thousands of Israeli citizens from the thousands of rockets fired by terrorists in Gaza into Israeli population centers, which in turn headed off the necessity for an Israeli invasion of Gaza to stop those attacks – and prevented many thousands of casualties and all-out war today. With the expansion of the Iron Dome program, funded in part by Israeli and U.S. taxpayers, it is our expectation that some of the Iron Dome platforms and interceptors will be built in whole or in part here in the United States.
Editor: You started work here at Sills Cummis & Gross on January 14. How does it feel to be back in the private sector after so many years in government?
Rothman: I had the privilege of holding elected public office for a total of 25 years – six as the mayor of Englewood, three as the Bergen County surrogate court judge, and 16 in the U.S. House of Representatives. I find a certain symmetry in what I’m doing now with what I did for all those years – namely, solving problems.
In addition to chairing the firm’s new interdisciplinary Defense Industry Group, as a member of the firm’s Government Relations, Litigation and Corporate practice areas, I derive great satisfaction from helping my clients – whether they be individuals, established businesses and corporations or start-up companies – navigating the labyrinths of the judicial system and government bureaucracy, at all levels, to achieve successful outcomes.
I am particularly pleased to be here at Sills Cummis & Gross, where the people are top-notch in every sense. Sills provides superior legal work, excelling in its level of service and accessibility, and working with clients to deliver the highest levels of lawyering at a cost that reflects the realities of our clients’ financial constraints. I am also delighted and amazed at the good cheer that exists among the serious, hardworking bunch of amazing lawyers who have made this firm their home.
As for my work with the defense industry, I am very proud of the work our firm provides, as well as very happy to have continued my relationship with all the people on the Hill with whom I had the privilege of serving. I stay in constant touch with the daily (and hourly) changing issues and challenges facing the defense industry.
Editor: You mentioned you have started up the firm’s Defense Industry Group. Please describe that group’s role.
Rothman: The role of the Defense Industry Group is to advise the world’s largest defense contractors, as well as smaller companies and start-ups interested in contributing to our national defense effort, on how to prevail in their legal challenges, as well as how to get a fair hearing by the Pentagon and the Congress for their products, services and consultation. It is my goal to use my years of experience in Congress – and most specifically on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense – to aid my clients.
Our country is blessed to have so many smart people, including very energetic entrepreneurs and older established major corporations, as well as smaller and start-up companies, who want to continue to keep America’s national security operations the best in the world. So I derive great pleasure in helping to protect my country by assisting these people in getting their products and services before the right people in government – and, where there is a legal matter, to utilize the extraordinary range and depth of legal talent here at Sills to give them legal representation and advocacy second to none.
Editor: To what do you attribute the stalemate between the President and the Congress that led to the sequester?
Rothman: That the sequester occurred because Republicans and Democrats failed to come to an agreement was very disheartening to just about every American. For those who simply wanted more cuts in government spending, to those looking to reduce our annual deficits and accumulated national debt (in real terms and as a percentage of our gross domestic product), as well as for those who were looking for a balance of cuts and revenue to address important short- and long-term social needs, the sequester was a crude meat axe swung willy-nilly at the federal budget. Just about everyone felt that an artfully employed scalpel could have left funding for healthy, essential services untouched while achieving the same dollar bottom line.
The good news is that an important step was taken on March 20 and 21, when the Senate and House, respectively, passed a bipartisan continuing resolution that funded the government through the end of this fiscal year, thereby heading off a government shutdown. The continuing resolution also gave flexibility to the Department of Defense and a few other domestic programs so they could avoid some of the very worst impacts of the sequester. In my opinion, though, some of the remaining sequester spending cuts – unless addressed in a "grand bargain" of spending cuts, loophole closings and revenue increases – will have long-term, negative consequences to our R&D, medical research and physical infrastructure, to name a few areas of concern.
A source of great encouragement, however, are the meetings that President Obama has been having with various Republican leaders and rank-and-file members of both parties in the House and the Senate. Together, they are striving to find common ground with regard to federal spending, entitlement reform, immigration reform, tax reform and investments in America’s future. I am hopeful that progress in some or all of these areas can be realized in the coming months.
Editor: To what extent is the relative imminence of the 2014 elections putting pressure on the sides to get together, given the very low poll percentage numbers that Congress is getting these days?
Rothman: As many know, the House of Representatives is controlled by a Republican majority that was duly elected, but whose congressional districts were drawn by a majority of state legislatures, who happened at the time of redistricting to be in place in a majority of the states’ legislatures. It was that majority of state legislatures, controlled by the Republican majorities there, that, frankly, created safe Republican seats in those states well beyond the level of support that Republicans there received statewide in the same year’s federal election. For example, in many states the number of votes cast in 2012 for Democratic House candidates collectively was far greater than votes cast for their Republican counterparts, but due to the gerrymandering by those states’ Republican legislatures, the congressional delegations sent to the U.S. House of Representatives from that state were majority Republicans.
That gerrymandered congressional map is going to be in effect until 2022, so it’s very likely, although not guaranteed, that Republicans will continue to win those gerrymandered House seats in disproportion to the electoral will of the majority. That’s the way the rules were drawn, and those are the rules within which we all must play until House seats are redrawn in 2020 for implementation in 2022.
This goes a long way to explaining why many of the members of both parties in the House feel safe taking extreme positions. This situation looks likely to continue, notwithstanding the national polls that describe the low repute in which Congress is held. Having said that, I am optimistic that there are enough Republican U.S. Senators running for re-election in 2014, and Republicans seeking to fill vacant U.S. Senate seats, who will be more mindful of their entire state’s leanings on a whole host of issues – issues on which most Americans agree.
That’s why I believe the U.S. Senate is the best hope for the kind of common-sense compromise that the American people are looking for. And, I think that once the Senate bills are drawn on a somewhat bipartisan, compromise basis, there will be just enough pressure on the House Republican leadership to begin a dialogue with the Senate to achieve a further compromise that the House Republican leadership will allow to be sent to the House floor for an ultimately successful outcome.
Editor: I imagine that the Defense Industry Group in your firm will also take a practical approach.
Rothman: Let me make two points. First, it is clear that competition for defense dollars is keener than ever, and so knowledge of the legislative process by which defense spending is set will be extremely important to those who are competing for those finite, precious defense dollars. Second, in that context, it is of great value to have knowledge of what our military leaders and their advisors are hoping to achieve in our ever-evolving defense strategy around the world.