The message from constituents and protesters to Republican Rep. Leonard Lance on Wednesday during a town hall meeting frequently interrupted by boos and jeers came through loud: "Push back."
Lance's 90-minute town hall at Raritan Valley Community College, where organizers said the mostly filled auditorium had a capacity of 950, erupted in shouts of "push back, push back" when a questioner implored the five-term congressman to oppose President Donald Trump. New Jersey is a Democratic-leaning state that Hillary Clinton carried in November's presidential race and where Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 800,000 registered voters.
"I totally reject Trump's agenda," said Barbara Colucci, 79, of Watchung who carried a sign outside the meeting saying "Fake Prez. He's ruining this country." Colucci pointed to Trump's policies aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants and refugees in particular.
Lance is one of five Republicans representing New Jersey in Congress and is the only one to hold an in-person town hall session. Rep. Tom MacArthur recently held a telephone town hall and this week met with Democrats in his district. Lance's meeting came as Republican lawmakers across the country hear from Democrats and their allies over the short congressional recess.
Lance didn't deliver the anti-Trump red meat that some in the audience were looking for, but he did point out where he's gone against the Republican president, including protesting the immigration executive order and saying that he supports the press.
Lance took questions from about a dozen people and kept his cool despite frequent jeers and boos. Several times some in the audience called for calm to let Lance respond. After the meeting, he said he plans to hold another on Saturday because the demand was so great.
Some of the loudest jeers came when Jim Girvan, 64, of Branchburg, called on Lance to support legislation requiring Trump to release his taxes. Lance said he didn't think private individuals should be required to do so.
"Do your job," the audience shouted. Girvan, who said he is a registered independent, said he wasn't satisfied with the answer and that Lance was "hedging around."
Lance said he favored "repairing" the Affordable Care Act rather than repealing it outright.
He was also booed when he said he supported prohibiting federal funding for abortions. One questioner who called for Lance to put country over party got a loud standing ovation.
Pickets carrying signs reading "Resist Trump" and other slogans staged a rally outside the town hall.
Lance was first elected in 2008. He represents the 7th District, which includes parts of Essex, Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren counties.
Protesters calling for Lance and other New Jersey Republicans to preserve the Affordable Care Act have been organized by left-leaning nonprofit New Jersey Citizen Action. The group has been organizing what it bills as "vigils to save our health care."
Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen has not held a town hall meeting during the recess but said in a statement he's aware of the groups calling on him to hold town halls and plans to visit the 54 towns in his district.
Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith told the Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2l0MAm3 ) he does not hold town halls as a result of previous threats his office received.
As the tea party vented against Democrats and President Barack Obama, the new left and left-leaning protesters are taking out their anger on Republicans and their links to Trump.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday said some people clearly are upset. But some, he added, are "manufactured" protesters, echoing Trump, who tweeted recently that the "so-called angry crowds" have been planned by liberal activists.
"It is a loud group — small group — of people disrupting something in many cases for media attention," Spicer said.