Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., the representative for New Jersey’s sixth district which houses Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus, met with 50 up-and-coming African leaders participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Institutes at Rutgers for an intimate discussion on international affairs, healthcare, and climate change—and how they’re affected by Donald Trump.
The 50 fellows, all of whom are from sub-Saharan countries, are at Rutgers thanks to a flagship summer training program coordinated by the U.S. Department of State. Rutgers is one of only two host universities nationwide selected by the State Department to offer two institutes instead of just one—one in civic leadership developed by the School of Social Work, the Center for African Studies, and the Centers for Global Advancement and International Affairs (GAIA Centers), and one in sustainable business developed by the Rutgers Business School, the Department of Chemistry, and the GAIA Centers.
The congressman opened the event with a background on his voting record; his role in Indian, Syrian, and Armenian congressional caucuses; and his stance on environment, energy and healthcare. Then, Pallone commented on the current political climate and its impact on global policy and progress on these issues.
“I’m very critical of the president,” he said. “Trump is isolationist—we haven’t seen an administration that was this isolationist since the 1920s. I’m an advocate of the international system—for justice, for peace, for democracy. This is being taken away under him.”
Pallone recounted a recent climate change meeting he attended with leaders from Europe—and people, he said, are worried about addressing the global issue of environment.
“We’re all in this together. If we’re not part of an agreement seeking to reduce greenhouse gases, this doesn’t just affect the United States. It affects everyone,” said Pallone.
Fellows echoed many opinions and peppered the congressman with questions regarding his perspectives on key events in politics and the media.
One fellow asked a lingering question: with spending cuts for international agencies like the United States Agency for International Development and the State Department, would programs like the Mandela Washington Fellowship still exist? Staff in attendance explained that the program was funded for another year at least, with more interest from private funding sources growing.
Fellows asked him to speculate on the future of healthcare in the United States—Pallone reflected the question back to the fellows to learn more about healthcare systems in Africa, which was met with a murmur of contention. Some fellows came from countries with employee-supported national healthcare plans, while others felt their countries did little to provide access to quality medical care.
“We just need to work on ways to improve the system created under Obama,” Pallone told them.
One fellow asked if he opposed or supported military intervention in conflict areas like Syria, to which he replied that with the exception of the first Iraq War, he “routinely votes against military intervention—it doesn’t help.”
“I want to be clear: America has a tradition of reaching out, multiculturism, equality, and justice.”