BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With Bridgewater Township Police prepared outside the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School for potential protestors, Rep. Leonard Lance, R-7, held his 46th town hall meeting Saturday, fielding questions from constituents about his thoughts on the relevance of the electoral college, sanctions on Russia and immigration reform.
Only two protestors made an appearance as people left the meeting, with drivers honking at a man with a sign stating “Honk to Dump Trump and Lance,” and another pacing in front of the school with a sign that read “No Alt Facts.”
But inside the school, constituents peppered Lance with questions regarding his beliefs on the current state of foreign affairs and domestic leadership.
One resident of Cranford questioned Lance’s stance on the electoral college, and whether he believes it should be changed or eliminated entirely.
Lance drew on a story of his father, who was president of the New Jersey Electoral College in 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected president. Lance said his father was opposed to the possibility of a George Wallace presidency in the three-way race of that year.
“In 1969, my father testified and moved to do away with the electoral college, and I tend to agree with that,” he said to his first round of applause from the audience.
Lance said that in the current system that put Donald Trump in office in 2016, and George W. Bush in office in 2000, candidates campaigned in a particular way to focus on potential swing states.
“New Jersey is ignored in the current process,” he said. “I favor our not being ignored, and having a healthy competition between the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate. I think we would get more attention if it were a direct election.”
“Both candidates come to New Jersey for one reason, and that is to raise money, and I don’t like that,” he added. “The swing states are the ones that are currently at the top of the attention.”
Lance said that eliminating or changing the electoral college, however, would require a Constitutional amendment that requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, and then a ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures.
“I don’t want to leave this with the impression that this is easy to achieve,” he said, “but I believe that in our modern democracy, the need for the electoral college that may have existed when the Constitution was written in 1787 no longer exists, or largely doesn't exist.”
Questions from constituents immediately turned to the Russia investigation, what actions the House of Representatives is taking to protect the integrity of the elections from Russian interference and why harsher sanctions have not been applied.
“I favor the Russian sanctions, I voted for them, and if we need to make them stronger, I would vote for that,” Lance said. “I think the president should put into place the sanctions that the Congress of the United States has suggested.”
Lance said he wrote a letter to the secretary of state indicating this point of view, and added that Congress overwhelmingly believes sanctions should be put into place against Russia.
“I believe Russia is a bad actor, it continues to be a bad actor, and, as the CIA director has said, he believes Russians may continue to meddle in the elections,” he said.
“Regarding what we should do beyond the sanctions as to meddling in the elections, in my judgment, the best way to proceed is to make sure various federal agencies are appropriately funded, and I am aware in general terms of the extremely fine work of the Department of Homeland Security in trying to fix the threat to American democracy,” he added.
That is why, Lance said, he voted early Saturday morning to fund the United States government in a bill that will fund the government until March 23, and then is a two-year blueprint. It includes an outline for two years, with an increase in defense spending by $80 billion and domestic spending by $63 billion in year one, followed by an increase of $85 billion in defense spending and $58 billion in domestic spending for the second year.
“I believe it is in the best interests of the United States that it become law,” Lance said. “I do not favor a shutdown of government.”
Another constituent said it is very likely that the president is compromised with regard to Russia and thinks Congress needs to be doing more to step up and enforce the sanctions. She said it is important that Lance and his fellow members of Congress take action, and questioned what residents can do to make it happen.
“You’re helping this morning by being here and asking the question,” he said, despite shouts from the audience that that isn’t enough. “I agree with you on this issue and do not diminish the help that you provide by asking a fine question at a town hall meeting.”
In line with the concerns about Russia, Lance fielded another question from a Westfield resident regarding the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian tampering in the presidential election. The resident questioned whether Lance would work to protect Mueller from being removed from his position.
“I was the first Republican in the House to suggest that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself on the Russia investigation,” he said. “Through the actions of many, including me, he did the right thing and recused himself. The deputy general became the acting attorney general, and he appointed Robert Mueller. I have supported him in his work and will continue to do so.”
“I hope and expect that he will continue in his responsibilities,” he added, to which a member of the audience shouted that hope is not a strategy.
Lance added that it would be a constitutional matter to remove Mueller from his position. The president himself could not remove him, and it would have to be done by the attorney general, who is already recused from the matter.
The deputy attorney general, who is acting attorney general Lance said, would probably not remove Mueller.
Another main topic of conversation regarded immigration and the concerns about DACA, and one Bridgewater resident questioned Lance on his thoughts about immigration reform.
Lance said he is in favor of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) reform and a path to make legal those who are currently in the United States in an undocumented status.
“The young people came to this country with parents, as infants or young children, and I do not want them to remain in the situation they are in at the moment,” he said.
Lance said he has already signed on to a piece of legislation that is a clean dreamer bill, as well as another one that includes better border security.
“I can understand why there are many who favor a clean bill, but I think what is most likely to pass Congress would be a bill that includes greater border security,” he said.
“What I mean by that is I don’t think we will be building a wall across the entire southern border,” he added to applause. “But I do believe we need greater border security, we need greater fencing, more drones, more personnel and the promise that was made in the mid 1980s that was we legalize those who are not here legally.”
Lance said Trump, in the State of the Union address, suggested a path for DACA regarding legalization, as well as citizenship for 1.8 million people in that population.
“I am open to that,” he said.
Lance also addressed a question regarding his vote with Trump to undo some consumer protections and Wall Street reform enacted during the Obama Administration.
Lance said he believes there is a strong need in the country to have community banks, and the legislation in place previously created over-regulation on the community banks.
“We provided some regulatory relief to community banks across the country,” he said. “I believe in community banks, and community institutions in many regards, based on my experience of having lived my entire life in the district in Hunterdon County, and I have experience representing small municipalities. I believe in the appropriate regulation of big banks, but I do not favor the overregulation of community banks.”
Additional questions centered on Lance’s opinions of Trump’s conduct in office, or, as one Clinton resident described, the president’s “shenanigans.”
“I believe it would be fair to say that our personalities are not only not the same, they are quite different,” Lance said. “I believe the president would be better served if he tweeted far less than he does. I understand why he tweets to address the American people directly, but I think he does it too much and inappropriately.”
A Short Hills resident questioned whether Lance is appalled by the conduct of the president, who “lies on average of five times a day and has been accused of sexual misconduct, and has invited people into our White House who are corrupt, white supremacists and wife beaters.”
“I will continue to speak out where I think the president is wrong not only on policy, but also regarding matters that you have raised, and I want you to know that I certainly will take back to Washington your comments and points of view you have expressed,” Lance said. “I hope that in the future there can be greater civility, and that includes greater civility on the part of Mr. Trump.”