For more than five hours on Wednesday, the House Republican who helped saved his party’s health care bill faced jeers from hundreds of protesters, cries for socialized medicine, personal attacks, and even an attack ad flown by a plane.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who co-authored the American Health Care Act amendment allowing states opt out of preexisting conditions to get the bill over the finish line last week, stomached the ferocious criticism from a crowd of more than 200 people at a community center in Willingboro, New Jersey.
.@RepTomMacArthur "You're done Tommy boy," this guy says, middle finger extended, as he brings up 2018— Simone Pathe (@sfpathe) May 11, 2017
Video from the event shows a procession of voters rising to challenge MacArthur on his amendment, asking why the AHCA slashes taxes for the rich and about its impact on coverage. Most of the audience members rose to their feet at one point after someone asked who had a preexisting condition.
MacArthur asked about pre-existing protection changes. Audience: "If you have a pre-existing condition, stand up." Most audience on feet. pic.twitter.com/V4lhgGVX7q— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) May 10, 2017
Inside the hall, the Washington Post’s David Weigel captured how the fury of the crowd prevented MacArthur from trying to deflate the anger from the get-go:
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.
He could hardly get the story out, as angry constituents accused him of diverting the discussion from his health-care bill.
“We know about your daughter,” yelled one constituent.
Outside the event, hundreds came to rally, chant, sing, and stage a “die-in” over the AHCA. A plane commissioned by MoveOn.org flew overhead, with a banner accusing MacArthur of “tax cuts for no care.”
hundreds of people who couldn't get in MacArthur's town hall still rallying outside hours later pic.twitter.com/ZkUUktHfJn— young harrington (@LarryWebsite) May 10, 2017
someone rented a plane to fly a "MacArthur: Tax Cuts for the 1% - No Care" banner above his town hall pic.twitter.com/htqVkhMDiI— young harrington (@LarryWebsite) May 10, 2017
At least MacArthur showed up to the town hall. More than 200 House Republicans who voted for the bill have canceled these traditional constituent interactions — perhaps because they didn’t want to face the kinds of crowds MacArthur did.
MacArthur is likely one of the many Republicans worried about his seat in 2018. He easily won reelection in 2016, but Democrats didn’t appear to have put up a serious challenger. Frederick Lavergne, who rarely talked to the press, only raised about $600 for his campaign. Lavergne’s campaign website was also filled with quotes in Latin, and quotes 19th-century novelist Gustave Flaubert as saying, "You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies."
Left-wing activists are optimistic that the outrage over the health care bill can be channeled into defeating House Republicans like MacArthur.
"Trumpcare touches every single person in this country, and it's been an issue everyone can get and mobilize behind. It's been the unifying issue for the resistance,” said Sarah Dohl, a spokesperson for the political activism group Indivisible.