President Trump’s proposed budget and tax reforms, Republicans health insurance plan, all of it is on the table as GOP Congressman Leonard Lance holds another town hall — his 44th. Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron is in Cranford for that event. He spoke with with the congressman just before the town hall began
Aron: Leonard Lance was the first New Jersey Republican to hold a town hall this spring. He got good reviews for the two town halls he held that week. There was some hostile questioning. It’s a congressional recess week this week so he’s back to do it again. Would you say that the crowds last time were angry?
Lance: I think they were concerned about various federal issues, but I wouldn’t say the word would be anger. I would say there was concern and I want to listen to my constituents and I’ve held 43, this is my 44th, town hall meeting. We’ve held three this year and this is my fourth this year.
Aron: You think this crowd will be angry? It seems kind of mild so far.
Lance: I’m interested in the views of my constituents and this town hall meeting is being held in the eastern portion of the district for constituents of suburban Union County and in Millburn, Short Hills and Essex County.
Aron: According to the website FiveThirtyEight, on about three dozen votes so far this spring you’ve voted with President Trump 93 percent of the time. Are you a Trump supporter?
Lance: I support the president in certain matters, for instance his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his action regarding air power over Syria. But on the most important legislative issues so far, and this is the health care bill, I was one of 20 Republicans in the United States not to vote with the president.
Aron: You did vote, apparently, to let it get out of committee, did you not?
Lance: I voted for several of the amendments, but not the bill itself. Amendments come out of the Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, but the bill itself came out of the Budget Committee, and no I did not vote for that.
Aron: Do you think the Senate can refashion the health care bill to the point where you like it and can support it?
Lance: I don’t know and Sen. Mitch McConnell had said that it will be difficult to get a majority in the Senate. I certainly hope that there can be dramatic improvement and I do think that Obamacare needs revision. The individual market isn’t doing well. New Jersey used to have five insurers, it’s now down to two, and in some parts of the country it’s only one. So I certainly think Democrats should come to the table and work with moderate Republicans, like myself, to improve the situation.
Aron: Do you think it was appropriate for Jared Kushner to try and create a back channel to the Russian government?
Lance: I think that Jared Kushner has said he wants to come before Congress and he’s certainly welcome to do so and I would hope he would do so. I’m not opposed to back channels, and all of our presidents have had back channels. I think that that can be very useful. I certainly want to hear from Jared Kushner. I think my views on this are virtually identical with the views of Sen. Cory Booker who says that he wants to hear from Jared Kushner but let’s not preclude the possibility of a back channel.
Aron: There are three moderate Republicans from New Jersey who are suddenly being talked about as being possibly vulnerable in a re-election: you, Rep. Tom MacArthur and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen. There’s a man named Zenon Christodoulou who’s the vice chair of the Democratic party in Somerset County, who is a substantial member of the Democratic party in this area who’s thinking about running. Do you know him?
Lance: I do know him. I think there are four Democrats who have already announced that they’re running for their nomination, of course that would involve a primary bid before reaching a general election. Hillary Clinton carried this district very narrowly by about 3,800 votes. Barack Obama had carried the district in 2008 and I think my views are the views of the overwhelming majority of the residents of this district. I was honored to carry it last autumn by 38,000 votes and I want to work as hard and listen to constituents to make sure that I understand their concerns and they understand my position on the issues.
Aron: Briefly, the Trump budget looks like an attack on the poor, according to critics on the left. What’s your take on it?
Lance: I do not think that the Trump budget will be enacted. The president proposes, but the Congress disposes. Certainly there would be major revisions, for example I want funding for the NIH, the National Institutes of Health, for the Gateway tunnel, for that very needed improvement particularly in the district I serve.
Aron: Congressman Leonard Lance, thanks very much. This town hall is scheduled for one hour. Tom MacArthur went five hours a few weeks ago. We trust that won’t happen here but who knows. We’ll have a full report tomorrow night.