By Brenda Flanagan
Constituents confronted Republican Congressman Leonard Lance at his town hall in rural Warren County Thursday night at roughly the same time President Trump rallied supporters last night in West Virginia. It happened just hours after reports that special counsel Robert Mueller had impaneled a grand jury to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. A defensive Trump called Mueller’s Russia probe a ‘total fabrication’.
“We didn’t win because of Russia,” said Trump. “We won because of you. That I can tell you!”
The vibe back in New Jersey couldn’t have been more different. Calling Trump a ‘disaster’, one constituent demanded to know whether Lance still stood with the president.
“Does this disaster still have your enthusiastic support? And, if not, when are you going to say that he doesn’t?” asked the constituent.
“I supported the entire Republican ticket last year, and I think President Trump has been right in some areas and wrong,” responded the congressman.
Lance ticked off items where he supported Trump, like the Homeland Security Spending Bill. He listed others where he’d voted against the president’s will, including the House effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, recent sanctions against Russia and the Mueller investigation.
“I supported the decision of Deputy Attorney General [Rod] Rosenstein in his capacity as acting AG in appointing Mr. Mueller as the special counsel,” affirmed Lance.
The congressman’s district isn’t reliably Republican. It gave Hillary Clinton a narrow 1.5 percent margin over Trump in the 2016 election. As the president’s approval rating continues to plummet — it currently averages 38.5 percent according to RealClearPolitics — Lance and the other GOP congressmen find themselves increasingly on the defensive. The website fivethirtyeight calculated that Lance votes in line with Trump’s position almost 93 percent of the time on issues like the environment, including fossil fuels.
“I’m sort of wondering what it is you stand for when it comes to the environment,” questioned one constituent, “and I am deeply offended that you gaslight us on your actual record.”
“I always vote my conscience,” the congressman responded. “And, I believe it’s important that we strike a balance.”
Lance said he’d met Trump only once, in the Oval Office, when he told the President he would vote ‘no’ on repealing Obamacare.
“That’s a very difficult position to be in, as you can understand,” he said to applause from the crowd.
Constituents may disagree with Lance, but many admire his willingness to conduct these town halls, even though some may not always agree with his answers.
“Where I disagree with the president, I will indicate that publicly. Where I agree with the president, I will indicate that publicly,” the congressman explained to his constituents.
A member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Lance has floated a compromise measure to repair Obamacare. But he also recently voted for a so-called ‘minibus’ spending bill that earmarks $1.6 billion to build 70 miles of Trump’s promised wall along Mexico’s border.
“He still protects, or tries to protect, the president,” one constituent told NJTV News at the town hall, “so he’s playing this double position.”
“He’s a decent man,” said another, “he answers all of these questions and he listens. Other people are just hiding. And I just love that he comes out here and talks to us.”