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Protests Greet MacArthur At Willingboro Town Hall

Courier-Post — May 10, 2017

By Jim Walsh

WILLINGBORO — Well before Rep. Tom MacArthur spoke at a town hall meeting here Wednesday, 11-year-old Jamie Christensen found a comfortable spot.

The High Bridge girl sprawled in a parking lot "graveyard" outside a Willingboro community center, holding a cardboard tombstone that identified her as the 16-year-old victim of a "Back Alley Abortion."

"We're standing up for what we believe in," said the Hunterdon County girl, who was among more than 100 demonstrators who greeted the Republican with chants and protest signs.

The unfriendly reception was likely no surprise to MacArthur, who played a key role in reviving GOP efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

In announcing plans for the event, the two-term congressman described Willingboro as "the most Democratic town" in the 3rd District, a place where he "barely got 10 percent" of the vote in last November's election.

The Toms River resident also noted the minority presence in the township, where 82 percent of residents are black or Hispanic.

But Willingboro Mayor Chris Walker, who said he rebuffed an invitation to introduce MacArthur, asserted MacArthur's visit was not an act of political bravery.

"It isn't courage when you come after the vote," he said, referring to the House of Representatives' approval earlier this month of the GOP-backed American Health Care Act..

"You can't tell me you're representing the people when you take a vote that only helps the 1 percent," the mayor said.

Nancy Calabretta of Collingswood carried a red, white and blue sign that said, "Shame."

"What this guy has done is a very bad thing," she said.

In a rally shortly before MacArthur spoke, demonstrators had their say.

"Tom MacArthur, rich and rude, we don't like your attitude," they shouted. "It still must die," they chanted about the Republican bill, which is now before the Senate.

"We've got to vote him out in 2018," declared Stephen Steglik of Maple Shade, the president of Burlington County Young Democrats.

MacArthur helped revive the GOP measure with an amendment that appealed to strong conservative members of the House of Representatives' Freedom Caucus.

Among other changes, the change would weaken existing protections for people with pre-existing conditions, allowing insurers to charge more for their policies.

"Congressman MacArthur is the one who tipped it over the top," said Jack Zaraya, a retiree from Freehold who helped hold a large sign reading "Ditch the Buffoon."

Zaraya described the Republican measure, called Trumpcare by Willingboro's mayor, as "this horrendous bill."

The revised bill passed the House earlier this month by a 217-213 vote.

One sponsor of Wednesday's protests, New Jersey Citizen Action, contends the Republican plan would roll back protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It also asserts the measure would weaken "standards that require plans to cover services like mental health, substance abuse treatment, maternity care and prohibitions against lifetime and annual limits."

In remarks in the White House after the House vote, MacArthur asserted the bill was "about people, not about politics."

"I'm very thankful to have had a small part in moving a bill forward that will help every American be able to afford insurance," he said, drawing applause from President Donald Trump and other Republican House members in the Rose Garden.

A national poll released Wednesday showed 38 percent of respondents support the Republican measure. That was down from 42 percent last week, according to the POLITICO/Morning Consult survey.

It said 44 percent disapproved of the bill, while 18 percent had no opinion.

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