WILLINGBORO, N.J. — Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), the co-author of an amendment that rescued the House Republicans’ health-care #bill from the doldrums, told his audience that he’d come to Willingboro — a majority African-American town between Philadelphia and Trenton — for a reason.
He didn’t have a lot of fans.
“The president got 9 percent of the vote here,” said MacArthur, at the start of a Wednesday night town hall meeting. “I crushed it with 12 percent.”
But despite his attempts at jollity, and some repeated appeals to the audience of 200-odd constituents not to talk over each other, MacArthur slugged through five hours of hostile questions on everything from the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey to whether the remodeled American #Health Care Act would punish women who had been the victims of rape.
The mood was toxic from the start. Protesters lined up outside the town’s Kennedy Center event hall for hours before the 6:30 p.m. start time: an assemblage of local activist groups, including chapters of Indivisible, New Jersey Citizen Action and Our Revolution. Tax March, a group that grew out of protests demanding the president’s tax returns, inflated a balloon that approximated a chicken with golden, Trump-like hair; nearby, dozens of protesters lied down in a “die-in,” as a man wearing a Trump puppet head pretended to tee off on them. In the sky, a plane flew by, trailing letters that spelled out “MacArthur Tax Cut for 1% No Care.”
MacArthur’s town hall was designed to weed out interlopers. District residents stood in line — at start time, it stretched as long as a football field — for one of the scarce seats inside. MacArthur entered the room through a curtain, with a sound system playing Coldplay’s anthem “A Sky Full of Stars.” Despite some of the trappings of a rally, there was little applause.
For more than five hours, MacArthur presented himself as an empathetic, pragmatic legislator who had to represent “one of the few real swing seats.” But he rarely got a break. He opened with a story that, in other settings, would have been a gut punch — the decision to raise a daughter with special needs and to take her off life support when, at 11 years old, she passed away.