CRANFORD, NJ – Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07) discussed Planned Parenthood, budget cuts, President Donald Trump and more at his 44th town hall on Tuesday night.
The crowd alternatively applauded and heckled Lance as he answered demanding questions by lottery from his constituents that strongly focused on Trump, including the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.
“I criticize the President where I disagree with him,” Lance said. “I indicate where I support him. Certainly I think a fair and impartial investigation into the Russian situation should occur, and I think that Bob Muller [the former FBI director who was appointed as special counsel to investigate Russia’s interference in the election] will do a superb job and let the chips fall where they may.”
Lance stated his disapproval of Trump’s proposed budget, saying the cuts are too significant, and addressed his recent trip abroad by praising NATO.
“I am a strong supporter of NATO,” Lance said. “I believe in Article 5. As I read history, NATO has been indispensable. Now, I also think that some of our NATO allies should do a better job regarding defense spending in their countries. There are some countries that have met their 2 percent goal, of course we meet it. But some countries have not and I hope that those countries can move in the direction of 2 percent. Would I have stated that publicly in a principal speech I gave at NATO? I probably would have done it more privately in multilateral discussions with NATO allies. But I do think that we should encourage NATO allies to meet their responsibilities over time and continue to believe that the NATO alliance is indispensable.”
Later, Michael Collins of Cranford asked Lance to explain his views towards budget cuts for programs like Medicaid, SNAP or food stamps. Lance said he supports a 1 or 2 percent cut to programs like Medicaid, but is not likely to support significant cuts. After Collins said he was unsatisfied with Lance’s answer, the audience urged him to ask a follow up question.
“I don’t wish to deprive other people of their time, but as I recall, you first came to the House in 2009,” Collins said. “You say you wish to balance the budget, but in 2009, when you entered the House, you also signed a pledge to not raise taxes, in which case you are essentially kneecapping Congress’ ability to balance the budget. It’s only possible to balance the budget through cuts if you are not willing to raise taxes.”
“You favor raising taxes?” Lance asked in response.
“It seems to me not irrational to raise taxes upon those who have incomes of several million dollars, those who have the most to spend” Collins said. “I don’t necessarily need anymore. I’ve taken a student loan in order to finish my graduate funding, but if I never see another cent from the government, it doesn't bother me at all. What concerns me is the condition of people in the country at large and they need help.”
Collins was met with a standing ovation from the audience. In answer, Lance said he voted several years ago to continue Bush tax cuts for certain, but not all, Americans, but that the tax rate went back up and affected them economically. He also said he will review any tax proposal that comes his way.
When speaking about the budget, Lance was met with applause when he made a point to include the Gateway Tunnel, a project to build two new tunnels under the Hudson River. Earlier on Tuesday, Lance posted on his website and social media that he urges Trump to support the project.
“I think it’s very important that there be funds in the budget, at least to begin the discussion, for the Gateway Tunnel,” Lance said. “I think the tunnel will require funding from the federal government, the state of New York, the state of New Jersey, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”
In regards to the environment, Lance told his constituents that he believes in climate change and agrees with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he does not think the United States should leave the Paris accord.
Following a question about immigration, Lance was met with a mixture of boos and applause as he said he supports “the dreamers.”
“I think we should concentrate on removing those who came here illegally who have committed a crime,” Lance said. “I do not favor amnesty. I do not favor the removal of dreamers, who came here as small children, for example. I think I cosigned a bill, and if not I support it, a bill that would allow dreamers who volunteered or served in the military to become citizens of the United States.”
“Not everyone’s a dreamer,” said Jenny Hughes of North Plainfield. “What about everyone else?”
“I certainly don’t favor deportation in that situation,” Lance said. “A compromise might be legalization but not citizenship.”
The audience’s most explosive reaction followed the last question of the night, when Cathy Sheridan of Cranford questioned Lance’s attitude towards Planned Parenthood.
“I voted several weeks ago for funding for the government for the rest of the year, which includes Planned Parenthood,” Lance said. “It does not include abortions.”
Lance continued by voicing his support for the Hyde Amendment of 1976, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion. He was met with raucous boos and arguments from the crowd.
“You’re supposed to represent the constituents,” Sheridan yelled. “We don’t represent you, you represent us. You said you vote with your conscience, but we’re telling you what our conscience is and you’re saying ‘well I disagree.’ So then I guess, as the CEO, you should go. Because if you like Apple but you work for Microsoft, you shouldn’t be there.”
Still, one woman in the audience said that she was pro-life and that Lance represents her as well. Lance responded by saying he supports the Hyde Amendment and he does not see that changing, but he does hope others will share his point of view.
“I always vote my conscience,” Lance said. “I try to lead by example.”