BRANCHBURG, NJ – Rep. Leonard Lance of the state’s 7th Congressional District held his 41st Town Hall at Raritan Valley Community College Wednesday evening, fielding questions ranging from the Affordable Care Act to Russia, from investigating Donald Trump’s taxes to the environment.
As Lance promised, the event began promptly at the official start time of 7 p.m.
But hours before, a crowd of a few hundred began protesting outside RVCC’s Nash Theater in an area cordoned off for the purpose.
Stacey Gunderman of New Providence has experience as a protestor - she helped organized buses from Union County to bring about 200 women to the Women's March on Washington. At Lance's event, she brought her two sons with her – ages four years and 20 months – and said she wants to see the progress the nation has made in civil liberties preserved. She wants a society “that recognizes that everyone is equal,” and wants her boys to be part of that world.
Gordon Sell of Readington said he’s concerned about Trump’s “bizarre relationship” with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and wants Trump’s taxes “investigated by the Congressional Budget Office to get some answers” about Trump’s relationship with Russia.
Paul DeGhetto of Bound Brook joked that it was a Honda that brought him to event, and called Trump “a pathological liar. He looks people right in the eyes and lies to them, and they believe it. He called defunding Planned Parenthood “ridiculous.”
“The Affordable Care Act, we have people without insurance, and the environment, it just goes on and on,” he added.
DeGhetto was joined by Bonnie Girvan of Brattleboro, Vt. She said she didn’t travel to New Jersey to be part of the protest, but was here anyway and wanted to participate. Girvan is concerned that the Trump admiration lacks transparency and asked, “Is Congress going to do its job and finally put pressure on this president to release his tax returns?”
George Eckleman of Delaware Township said he “generally speaking would like to see people resisting the Trump administration. I believe in facts, logic, government – not things the Trump administration believes in.
“Leonard Lance has been a huge disappointment ... I would love to see some younger people here. I’m disappointed to see all this gray hair.” Unlike many of the protestors, Eckleman didn’t have a sign. “I’m not much one for shouting or signs,” he said.
But inside the Town Hall, there most certainly was some raucous shouting, although Lance said after the event that he preferred to call it a “vigorous” exchange. Attendees answered Lance’s remarks with a mix of cheers, jeers, and “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” signs.
Lance dispensed with opening remarks and went straight to responding to questioners who were selected by lottery.
The first questioner was Caroline Scutt of Frenchtown. “Why repeal, why not reform the ACA?” she asked to applause.
“I hope this can be an issue that will be bipartisan in nature,” Lance responded. “I agree with you ... I have consistently said that I do not favor repeal alone.
“What I have said is repeal and replace and more recently, I have defined that as repair the ACA moving forward.” He cited a Humana announcement that it would pull out of the ACA marketplace and that Aetna was reducing its marketplace share. This year, New Jersey is down to two insurers offering private funding on the exchange, down from five last year, he said. Federal matching funds for expanded Medicaid coverage – something not all states have adopted – complicates reaching a compromise with his fellow members of Congress, Lance said.
Michael Scardina is an RVCC student who also works as a tech in an Apple store. He chided Lance for voting against a woman’s right to choose by voting to defund Planned Parenthood, and his approval the PennEast pipeline.
He asked to boisterous applause, “Why should people trust you when you prioritze financial gain over women’s rights and the future of our environment?”
Lance said he opposes the pipeline, especially because it will traverse some preserved land in New Jersey. While the federal government isn’t obligated to respect that preservation, it is obligated to “take that into consideration,” he said.
Lance called funding for Planned Parenthood an “important issue” and that he opposes federal funding for abortion. He said he favors the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which bars use of federal funds for abortions, and would like to see Planned Parenthood “separate itself into two distinct entities,” with only one of them providing abortions. Were that to happen, he said he could support Planned Parenthood; because that’s unlikely, he favors “re-directing the funds, dollar for dollar, to healthcare facilities that exist across the country.” There are more of them than Planned Parenthood sites, he said.
“In this Congressional District, I believe there is one Planned Parenthood facility, and I believe there are six federally qualified healthcare facilities. I do not want to reduce funding in any way for the programs” other than abortion.
His response drew a round of boos.
TAPinto.net will have more coverage of today’s Town Hall tomorrow. Lance will hold another Town Hall at RVCC at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to state that Stacey Gunderman organized fellow protestors to the Women's March on Washington, not Lance's event, as previously reported.