Asbury Park Press

Lance Braves GOP Critics In 'Vigorous' Town Hall Meeting

Lance's town hall drew more than 1,000 audience members.

Asbury Park Press — February 22, 2017

By Nick Muscavage

BRANCHBURG — Whatever U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance said at his 41st town hall, the answer was not enough.

The Republican congressman who represents District 7, which covers parts of Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Morris, Warren and Essex counties, held a town hall Wednesday night at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) that drew more than 1,000 audience members.

In order to gain entry to the event, people had to provide their ZIP codes to prove they were members of Lance's constituency. Still, that did not stop the scores of protesters who set up in front of the college to call on the congressman to protect the Affordable Care Act under the Trump administration.

The town hall, however, focused on many issues in addition to health care, including immigration, refugees, climate change, Russia and financial industry oversight.

"We are in a situation where I think we should repair," Lance said, responding to a question about the Affordable Care Act. "I do not think that we should repeal without a replacement in place."

"What I think that we have to make clear as we move forward repairing it is that there is no denial of coverage based upon pre-existing conditions," he said, adding that people should be able to stay on their parents' policies until age 26.

Directly after the Affordable Care Act question, an RVCC student directed a question to Lance about women's rights regarding abortions.

Lance said he has continuously voted for laws that prevent federal funding from going toward abortions — an answer that drew jeers from multiple people in the audience.

Lance, who voted against the Affordable Care Act and sided with other House Republicans as they voted more than 60 times to repeal or alter the law during the Obama administration, said that he has suggested that Planned Parenthood divide its operations so that he could support funding toward the portions he believes are necessary and feels fit for federal funding.

"If Planned Parenthood were to separate itself into two distinct entities," he said. "One entity that deals with health services for women and another entity that deals with abortion."

Before Lance went to speak, protesters outside spoke about why they came out to voice their concerns toward Lance, mainly focused on health care and the Affordable Care Act.

"I am out here today because I am very concerned about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act," said Joey Novick, of the Progressive Hunterdon Democrats. "This has been a very positive thing in America and I'm concerned about losing their health care. We have somebody who has voted no to the ACA 30 to 50 times, and we need to reverse that."

Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said that Lance was the only Republican congressman to hold a town hall in New Jersey.

"Of all the New Jersey Republican Congress-people, Congressman Lance is the only Republican who has agreed to hold a town hall meeting, so we're pleased that he's doing that," she said. "We feel that he needs to answer some questions that he and his staff have refused to answer for the last eight weeks. And that is, what is he going to do with our health care? What is his plan? We know that we can't have health care be repealed."

As the questions continued during the town hall, President Donald Trump eventually became the topic.

Lance touched upon his thoughts on Russia's involvement with the recent election.

He said he thinks that "there was involvement and that it's a matter of public record," adding that Russia involves itself in other elections around the world.

He also said he has confidence that the intelligence committees will handle any claims that the Trump campaign had any involvement with Russia.

"First, I want I to give the intelligence committees the authority to do what I think they are doing, and at the moment I have confidence in them," he said.

He also said that Russia, in his view, is not a friend of the U.S. and that Vladimir Putin "has been a bad actor on the world stage," adding that the incursions into Crimea, Ukraine, are not to be tolerated.

"We should be wary of Vladimir Putin," he said. An audience member was heard shouting back, "What are you doing about it?"

Lance then received a question about his stance on pipelines and his commitment to protecting water sources.

He said that natural gas pipelines are safer ways to transport fossil fuels as opposed to other methods, but added that he supports tax credits for clean energy alternatives. He also that a large majority of Trump supporters in the coal regions in Pennsylvania and other areas turned to Trump because they felt forgotten.

As for Trump's executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, which has since been put on hold by federal courts, Lance said he criticized it within 24 hours.

"I certainly do not believe it should have applied to green card holders," he said. "We don't know what the new executive order will be because it hasn't been permeated yet. I hope that it is much more narrowly favored, and if I don't like one of the provisions I will certainly say so at the time."

After the meeting, the congressman attributed the audience's "vigor" to disappointment over Hillary Clinton's loss in the election, which he said was the biggest upset since Truman's victory over Dewey in 1948.

Lance called Trump's win the biggest upset since President Truman's victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948. In political expectation perhaps, but Truman defeated Dewey by more than 2 million popular votes and won the Electoral College with 303 votes; Clinton had almost 2.9 million more popular votes than Trump, yet Trump won in the Electoral College 304-227.

Lance said he enjoyed the meeting.

"I hope it was useful to the constituents," he said. "It was useful to me."

Lance said he has been targeted by the national Democratic party because the Democrats are pointing toward all of the GOP congressmen where Clinton outpolled Trump in the election.

The most surprising part of the evening, Lance said, was the number of "well-informed" questions about Russia.

He also said that 2017 "should be a year of governance, not politics."

The dialogue will continue on Saturday. Initially, only one town hall was planned this week but because of the amount of people requesting to attend, a second town hall was scheduled at RVCC. It is to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday.

10 key votes from Rep. Leonard Lance

1. Affordable Care Act. Repeal, yes

2. Abortion. Ban most abortions at 20 weeks and longer, yes

3. Planned Parenthood. Withhold federal money for one year, yes

4. Climate change. Prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, yes

5. Keystone XL pipeline. Approve, yes

6. Education. Replace No Child Left Behind law, yes

7. Refugees. Require tighter screening of Iraq, Syrian refugees before entering U.S., yes

8. Immigration. Prohibit executive branch from exempting or deferring illegal immigrants' deportation, yes

9. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Provide a path to legal status for some children of illegal immigrants, no

10. Domestic surveillance. Tighten ground rules, yes

Source: Congressional Quarterly, U.S. House Clerk's Office

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