Saturday, April 08, 2017

The Moderate Tag Is A Farce-- Meet New Jersey Congressman Tom MacArthur


-by Joshua Henne

The last time New Jersey voters sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate, Nixon was in the White House and The Godfather was in movie theaters. For a short while, at least on paper, Congressman Tom MacArthur seemed an attractive candidate to try and break this 45-year streak.

In 2014, the former insurance executive and mayor of Randolph, moved from Morris County down to South Jersey, plopped down $5 million of his own cash and garnered an open House seat. With an amiable personality and political ties throughout the state, MacArthur proved unafraid to dig deep into his piggy bank. With a seeming-centrist streak, he was sitting pretty and setting a nice table for a statewide run.

However, over the span of the past two months, MacArthur effectively torpedoed any shot for higher office with three sweeping, out-of-the-mainstream moves. First, he backed Trump’s racist travel ban. Then, he co-sponsored legislation bestowing other states’ residents the right to conceal and carry weapons here in New Jersey. And now he’s the lone Jersey representative supporting TrumpCare, which is mind-boggling on several levels.

In January, MacArthur was one of only nine Republicans nationwide to vote against a budget resolution aimed at greasing the Affordable Care Act’s repeal. New Jersey congressmen Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo and Chris Smith all voted for it. But, sensing grave harm to constituents, these representatives simply couldn’t bring themselves to support TrumpCare, which started badly and just got worse. Passage would gut Medicaid and strip insurance from 24 million Americans-- including 500,000 New Jerseyans. LoBiondo said, “It’s not as good as or better than what we currently have.” Frelinghuysen called TrumpCare “unacceptable, as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care.”

Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone said it best: “The degree of hypocrisy throughout this process has been matched only by the recklessness shown by President Trump and Republican leaders in nearly destroying the American healthcare system overnight.” At least, with the exception of MacArthur, New Jersey’s congressional delegation didn’t support such a catastrophic policy push.

According to NJ Policy Perspective’s analysis of Census data and Medicaid statistics, TrumpCare would cause a 74 percent increase of uninsured in our five Republican congressional districts alone by 2020. Democratic Districts would see a 58% increase in the number of uninsured. The percentage is lower because Dem areas tend to be populated more by those living below the poverty line and who already had Medicaid coverage. But, still that’s over 340,000 people in those seven Democratic congressional districts who would lose insurance.

It’s worth noting that, as a percentage, MacArthur’s constituents suffer the most-- with 32,809 projected to lose insurance. That’s an eye-popping 94 percent uninsured spike. And this calculation came before amendments hardened the bill by cutting required benefits. Nonetheless, with such damning information causing congressional colleagues to come to their senses, MacArthur head-scratchingly switched support to TrumpCare.

And MacArthur’s still incredulously defending his actions. Even a few days after it failed, he was still rationalizing and claiming they “made dramatic improvements to the bill.” This is beyond laughable. Even worse is MacArthur saying he disagreed with CBO saying it would take away healthcare. This is gross incompetence and a stubbornness adherence to pushing alternate facts. Asking those who are scared and who benefit from the Affordable Care Act to “get past all the noise”… well, its not noise. It's the fact that folks are scared they’ll be stripped of healthcare.

With TrumpCare talk again bubbling up, MacArthur this week said, “There’s a lot of confusion, there’s a lot of misinformation, and I’m trying to be the person who makes the bill better. If that makes me more vulnerable then so be it. I didn’t come here just to decorate a chair.” Trust me, no one is mistaking MacArthur’s dangerous actions as decorative.

This comes on the heels of his embracing bigotry by backing Trump’s racist travel ban. MacArthur didn’t merely give vague lip-service about dangerous times demanding vigilance, but rather “applauded him for acting.” This isn’t just ignorant-- as the measure makes America markedly less secure. It’s also immoral. Trump’s Muslim prohibition splits families and stops children from life-saving surgeries. History will view it as dark a stain on America’s story as Jim Crow and Japanese internment camps. MacArthur claims it wouldn’t ban Muslims. But everyone knows full-well its intention, including the courts striking it down.

Turning away immigrants based on faith is decidedly un-American. It undermines our values. Even Dick Cheney said, "This whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in." Last summer, addressing New Jersey's delegation at the Republican National Convention, MacArthur declared, "Everybody for the most part is looking for the same things. People are just trying to better their lives. They're just trying to lift their families up. They're trying to get further than they started."

Apparently, this was hollow lip service, as Trump’s Muslim Ban smacks the very opposite of that lofty rhetoric.

A Farleigh Dickinson poll shows 53 perent of New Jerseyans believing Trump's foreign policy inexperience leaves America more vulnerable to those who wish to do us harm. Our representatives would be wise to listen to their constituents. In December, MacArthur heartwarmingly cut red tape so a soldier could formally adopt his gravely ill step-son, making the boy's Christmas wish come true. I only wish MacArthur showed the same compassion for immigrant families split apart and refugee children needing life-saving treatment. If only he'd look out for all military families by opposing measures making soldiers less safe.

As if carrying Trump’s water wasn’t enough, MacArthur is also doing the NRA’s bidding. He sponsored gun lobby legislation forcing New Jersey into recognizing concealed carry permits from states with significantly shoddier safety standards. Garden State gun-related deaths are half the national average, largely due to strict laws governing concealed weapons. But if MacArthur’s measure passes, even people mentally ill or on no-fly-lists would be allowed.

Perhaps it isn’t shocking that the moderate tag was a farce and MacArthur has thrown in with extremist ilk. Last summer, nearly all mainstream Republicans-- and the entire congressional delegation-- avoided Trump’s Cleveland Coronation like the plague. So, MacArthur being the only Garden State congressman to attend the RNC Convention should have been a hint. Today, it must be lonely out on that ledge-- not just outside New Jersey’s mainstream, but the state GOP’s as well.

The kindest thing to say about MacArthur’s constituent relations is they aren’t up to snuff. In person and online, his staff mocks, dismisses and even spews curses and vulgarities at those who dissent or disagree on policy. Like their boss, MacArthur personnel push “paid protester” fake news about “preventing local constituents from interacting with their congressman.” It’s all pretty gross.

After claiming “events are being hijacked by groups outside-the-district” MacArthur eventually relented and held a (lame) town hall. New Jersey’s 3rd District has some 732,000 people spread out among 53 communities across Ocean and Burlington Counties. After several weeks of constituents clamoring, MacArthur announced a town hall the following Monday via a Friday dump. It was held in Waretown-- a rural Pinelands town of less than 1,500-- far from public transportation and smack-dab in the district’s Southeastern-most portion, actually closer to many Smith and LoBiondo voters. Moreover, MacArthur’s 5:30 pm first-come, first-serve policy allowed him to stack the room with supporters. The hour-plus drive during the heart of rush-hour made it virtually impossible for Philadelphia suburb residents to attend. MacArthur knew full-well the wave of town-hall requests... that’s why he buckled after a month of ignoring. So, why cap 250 attendees at an out-of-the way, difficult-to-get-to location, while highlighting tight security, no signs and all bags checked? MacArthur’s public forum was a hair better than the tele-town halls he’d been hiding behind. But not by much.

Moreover, the way he’s brushed off folks’ legitimate fears and concerns doesn’t bode well for any ability to interact with real people outside his bubble.

MacArthur’s trifecta of malfeasance and malice-- health care, guns and racism-- takes a special level of incompetence. Marry these bad decisions with dreadful constituent outreach, poor communication and even worse ability to navigate political tea leaves, and MacArthur proved he isn’t ready for prime-time. In short order, his series of unforced errors didn’t solely provide a disservice to the state. It quickly proved any higher office attempt would be a moribund endeavor.

Joshua Henne, a Jersey-based Democratic strategist can be found on Twitter at @JoshuaHenne.

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At 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For your consideration.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MacArthur is also completely captured by the fossil fuel industry. He is pro BOTH piplines that are proposed to run through the Pinelands!


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