U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ7) faced a record crowd at Wednesday night’s 90-minute town hall in Branchburg, and Millburn residents were there to participate.
Millburn is the easternmost town in NJ District 7 and the only town in the 7th located in Essex County.
More than 900 people filled the Raritan Valley Community College auditorium, with an additional 250 placed in an overflow room, and another 350 protesting outside. Lance said afterward that he felt those in the audience were constituents and not paid. He characterized the town hall as “vigorous.”
During the town hall, Lance, an eight-year incumbent, was urged by constituents to investigate Russia’s interference with the elections and to pressure Trump to release his tax returns. Indeed, one of the first questions posed was from a Millburn psychologist, asking Lance if he would support a Congressional investigation into alleged Russian interference in the Presidential election; Lance confirmed that he would.
Lance gained support from the crowd when he told the first questioner, a constituent from Frenchtown, that he agreed with her that the healthcare should not be a partisan issue. Lance said that he now believes the Affordable Care Act should be “repaired,” not repealed.
He claimed that the state healthcare exchanges are failing, with insurance companies leaving the markets, and that the government has a responsibility to reform the system. “I do not favor repeal without there being a replacement in place,” he said.
The crowd erupted in loud boos and jeers when Lance suggested splitting Planned Parenthood in two organizations with two separate boards of directors and when he said he would support the federal concealed carry law, which supersedes states’ rights.
Lance also raised the ire of the crowd when he said he did not support the House Ways and Means Committee investigating “the tax returns of a private individual.” To which there were angry shouts from the crowd of “He’s a public individual!” and “He’s the President!”
He received applause for stating he felt Vladimir Putin is a “bad actor on the world stage,” and Russia is not a friend to the United States.
Lance told the crowd he supports the views of the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and of Let. General H.R. McMaster, the new national security advisor, adding he felt McMaster was a better choice than the last national security advisor, and he supports UN ambassador Nikki Haley and was happy she spoke out against Russia. He added he hopes the president listens to his appointees.
Several Millburn-Short Hills residents were in attendance and some were alarmed at the tone of the audience took early on. ” l cringed when people were shouting and jeering, it was so rude,” said a township resident who wished to remain anonymous.
The only chant of the evening came from the audience after Lance’s final answer for the evening when he was asked why the GOP hasn’t pushed back against Trump’s attacks on the news media. Lance responded, “I favor a free and unfettered press.” To which to crowd chanted, “Push back!”
While the crowd at times was loud and angry there were attempts at self-policing, with calls of “Let him answer the question” and Llet him speak!” reverberating occasionally throughout. Although not entirely satisfied with his responses at times, the crowd applauded at the end of the evening, something Lance noted appreciatively.
The Congressman has another town hall scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 25, also at Raritan Valley Community College, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 am.
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