GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur tells town hall audience he is not a Trump clone

U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur answers questions from constituents during a town meeting in Waretown, Ocean County Monday, March 6, 2017.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Rep. Tom MacArthur is the first Republican lawmaker in the Philadelphia area to hold a town-hall meeting since the presidential election.

WARETOWN, N.J. — U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur sought to mollify unrest from the left as he took questions for two hours at a town-hall meeting Monday night, reminding constituents who filled an Ocean County firehouse that he was “not Donald Trump.”

The Republican congressman, who represents New Jersey’s Third District, won applause as he told the crowd that he was among a handful of GOP members of Congress who had most often worked with Democrats, and as he empathized with some of their concerns, like condemning a recent rise in hate crimes.

But he drew objections as he maintained it was too soon to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate claims of Russian interference in the recent presidential election, or to force Trump to release his tax returns.

“I’m not Donald Trump’s spokesman,” MacArthur said. “Donald Trump actually doesn’t answer to Congress, Donald Trump answers to you.”

While “I think he should release his taxes,” that “doesn’t mean I think it’s Congress’ role” to step in, MacArthur said.

“If not you, then who?” someone called out.

MacArthur assured the crowd he was “always watching” the moves by the new administration, including “to make sure we don’t start breaking up families” with immigration changes.

“But he is,” came another response from the crowd.

To the dissenters, MacArthur said, “My guess is you weren’t thrilled [Trump] got elected in the first place.” But “I am going to give this administration a chance.”

MacArthur is the first GOP lawmaker from the Philadelphia region to host a town-hall meeting since Trump’s election, which has motivated activism and spurred demands for Republicans to address constituents in person.

Like a number of other Republicans, MacArthur had rebuffed what he described as meetings co-opted by outside organizers seeking to embarrass lawmakers. He skipped a meeting held two weeks ago in Marlton that drew hundreds of constituents.

On Monday in Waretown, Geoff Ginter of Pine Beach told MacArthur that he took “deep, serious offense” to characterizations that meetings were being “taken over by protesters.”

“I am your constituent, whether I agree with you or not,” Ginter said. “I assure you, sir, that I cannot be marginalized.”

MacArthur, in response, told the crowd that “I know you are my constituents. I know that.”

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t paid organizers,” he said to some boos, before adding that he respected protesters and freedom of speech.

People lined the perimeter of the firehouse, which has a capacity of 250. Some people waiting outside were let in as others left, though a MacArthur spokeswoman estimated 60 couldn’t get inside.

While the crowd appeared mostly left-leaning, there were conservatives in the room, too.
On guns, one man thanked MacArthur for sponsoring a concealed-carry reciprocity law, garnering some applause.

At times, MacArthur told people his mind wasn’t made up — including on the future of the Affordable Care Act.

House Republicans released a replacement bill Monday night, just as MacArthur’s town hall was to begin.

MacArthur said he had recently spoken to Gov. Christie about the potential impact to New Jersey — which expanded Medicaid under the health-care law — “if this gets frozen or cut off.”

“He gave me pretty dire predictions about what happens,” MacArthur said.

While “I don’t know how I’m going to vote,” he said, “if we pull the rug out from under the most vulnerable, I can’t support that.”