Rep. Mike Lawler was just named the fifth-most vulnerable member in Congress in the country by Roll Call. And the top guy, Rep. George Santos was just arrested on federal charges. But if Santos falsely inserted himself into situations – Goldman Sachs, Spider-Man on Broadway, Congress – Lawler legitimately seems to be in the middle of just about every political story this week. And the Republican is making sure to seize the spotlight. The man who was once a political consultant and Assembly member at the same time seems to have adopted a strategy of getting on TV and talking, talking, talking.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” Lawler told City & State Wednesday. “The president is coming here. We have a migrant crisis in the city that’s impacting my district. There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, and if given the opportunity I’m going to make sure my voice is heard in my district.”
Sure enough, President Joe Biden is coming to SUNY Westchester Community College Wednesday right by Lawler’s 17th Congressional District, to pressure Republicans to raise the debt limit without major spending cuts. (The college is technically in Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s district, but it’s right on the border.) Biden chose the swingy suburbs for a reason, as he hopes the party can win back Lawler’s seat, and more, in 2024. But instead of ceding ground, Lawler told the White House he’s going to the speech, “maybe to their surprise.” Signal to Dems he’s a team player? “I talk to anybody and everybody, I always have,” he said, touting some votes across the aisle in Albany and Washington, D.C.
And that anybody and everybody means the press too. He’s on Fox Business telling Biden to meet Republicans in the middle. He’s on CNN, after a mass shooting in Texas, talking up his support for red flag laws, despite most of his party’s opposition to them. And he’s on NY1 scolding New York icon Pat Kiernan for his questions about migrants.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced Friday that the city would be paying to shelter some asylum-seekers in a Rockland County hotel, which is in Lawler’s district. So the member of Congress seized the opportunity to call Adams a hypocrite for moving migrants to another area.
Lawler is even, as a fellow first-year New York Republican, in the middle of the Santos saga. Lawler got a $2,900 donation from Santos’ PAC in September and hasn’t reported returning the money, but otherwise was a relatively early Republican calling on Santos to resign. Lawler said Wednesday he’d read part of the indictment and “if he had any decency or dignity or humility he would step down,” Lawler said.
Democrats see Lawler as vulnerable in 2024. A nonprofit political arm of the House Democratic caucus is already trying to tie Lawler to unpopular policies like cutting Social Security and Medicare by running ads and pushing polls in the district. But with Lawler in the middle of everything, it’s also fitting that he’s in the middle of the political spectrum in the House, as sharply partisan as that body is. In his district, which Biden won by about 10 points, Lawler is willing to – softly – criticize the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump. “I think the party needs to move in a different direction,” he said, reiterating comments he first made in November. “I think there needs to be a robust primary … and the former president will have to answer to the voters for his conduct and the things he’s been accused of or found civilly liable for.” But Lawler said he wasn’t supporting any other presidential candidate “at this time.”
After all, he’s got his own race to worry about. With Lawler in the middle of everything, Democrat Liz Gereghty decided that Tuesday was the perfect day to launch her campaign against him. “Today, extreme Republican leaders in Congress – enabled by the current 17th Congressional District Congressman – are threatening our core rights, our safety, and our economic future,” she said in a press release.
Gereghty, who used to own a novelty shop in the district, doesn’t have much of a political record herself, but she’s already gotten national attention, since her sister is Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democratic Party star.
Lawler said he hadn’t even heard of her, until there was speculation about her running. But with former Rep. Mondaire Jones teasing a campaign too, that’s one big news story that Lawler is planning to stay away from, for now. “I’ll leave that to Democrat primary voters to find out who their nominee will be,” he said.