GOP lawmaker with key role in ObamaCare repeal faces angry town hall

WILLINGBORO, N.J. — Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) effectively saved the House GOP’s effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare by crafting a compromise amendment.

But his constituents didn’t gather here to give him a hero’s welcome.

Instead, MacArthur coolly listened to nearly five hours of constituents in this suburban New Jersey town telling him he was an “idiot,” a “liar,” and had “blood on your hands.”

MacArthur seemed prepared for a hostile crowd. In his opening remarks, he noted that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE received just nine percent of the vote in November in this part of the district. “And I crushed it with 12 percent,” he joked.

ADVERTISEMENT

Constituents were mostly angry over his role in reviving the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal effort. 

And a day after President Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI, they demanded to know why MacArthur didn’t back an independent probe of Russian interference in the presidential election, which the FBI was investigating under Comey.

MacArthur took some precautions in anticipation of a rowdy crowd. Attendees were screened to ensure they were in fact his constituents, and they couldn’t bring signs or bags inside.

The room at the John F. Kennedy Center, which had police officers in every corner, held about 200 constituents. Hundreds more stood outside in a parking lot that was crowded to the point that people parked their cars on the grass. Traffic was snarled on the street due to scores of people trying to get in. 

Protesters organized by various local progressive groups outside held signs wish messages like “Impeach Trump" as a plane flew overheard with the words "MacArthur Tax Cuts for 1% No Care." One person held up a fake human skeleton.

Inside, people were just as angry.

MacArthur, a former insurance executive, opened his remarks by sharing his experience of losing his special-needs daughter at the age of 11.

But the crowd had little patience even for that.

“Shame!” they yelled, indicating they felt he was using his daughter’s death to manipulate the audience.

MacArthur held his ground.

“I will say shame on you right now, actually. Don’t tell me what I’m using. I’m going to tell you this because it affects my perspective on this issue of healthcare,” he admonished the crowd.

The amendment MacArthur wrote with conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) would let states apply for waivers from key ObamaCare provisions that prevent insurers from charging sick people higher premiums and mandate which health services must be covered.

One male constituent, who was diagnosed with a heart condition at the age of 23, worried how the legislation would affect his coverage in the event he lost insurance.

“You brought it back from the dead,” the constituent said of MacArthur’s amendment. But he added, “without healthcare coverage, I’m dead.”

Another constituent asked why MacArthur didn’t back legislation that would require Trump to release his tax returns.

MacArthur explained that while he believes Trump should release his tax returns, Congress shouldn’t make him do it.

“You’re an idiot!” another person yelled.

“Friends, this is part of what’s wrong in America. There’s no civil discourse,” MacArthur lamented as the crowd kept jeering over him.

Another constituent passionately implored MacArthur to push back on the president, citing concerns about his disdain for the judicial system after it blocked his travel ban and for critics in the media.

“Donald Trump is not a Republican, congressman. Donald Trump is an authoritarian!” the constituent screamed at MacArthur.

“How long are you and your fellow Republicans going to defend this American nightmare?” the constituent continued. “When are you going to decide to be an American and not a politician?”

MacArthur responded by noting people on the other side of the swing district — which went for former President Obama twice but went for Trump last year — disagreed.

"I hear you, but there are loads of other people who don't feel that way," he said.

MacArthur maintained over the course of repeated questions from constituents about the Russia investigation that he wants to wait for the House and Senate committees to complete their probes first before calling for anything else.

“I’m not rushing to judgment. I’m not blind, either,” MacArthur said.

Cheryl Friedman, a retired educator, told The Hill it was her first time attending a town hall meeting. She voted for MacArthur in the past, but was handing out fliers at Wednesday night’s town hall for potential Democratic challenger Andrew Kim.

“I thought he was a decent guy. Not that I don’t think he’s a decent person. But I’m not happy with anything the Republicans are doing. They’re not standing up to Trump. They’re not doing what they would do if it was Obama or Hillary,” Friedman said.

“I’m never been concerned like this about our government before.”