WILLINGBORO, New Jersey—Tom MacArthur had already taken more than three hours of questions, interruptions, and jeers when Geoff Ginter, a constituent from Pine Beach, stood up.
“Health insurance as a for-profit is immoral!” Ginter screamed at the Republican congressman from just a few feet away, as police slowly inched toward him. Referring to MacArthur as “Tommy Boy,” Ginter called the American Health Care Act a “huge pile of excrement.” He was concerned because his wife had recently recovered from breast cancer and he was worried it could return. He has two children with pre-existing conditions, he said, and he and his wife were worried about the possibility of him losing his job.
MacArthur stood quietly and listened as Ginter spoke. And the congressman who helped seal the deal for the health care bill’s narrow passage in the House would continue to stand and listen for an additional two hours, taking question after question from 6:30 p.m. to about 11:30 p.m. inside the confines of the John F. Kennedy Center.
It was an extremely hostile environment, and MacArthur knew it from the start. He began the lengthy town hall by acknowledging that President Trump had won a mere 9 percent of the vote in Willingboro in November and MacArthur “crushed it with 12 percent,” as he put it.
But since the passage of the deeply unpopular health care bill and the House went on recess, few congressmen have been holding town halls this week—let alone in areas where they’re already disliked.
“Whatever you think of me, I ask you respect your neighbors,” MacArthur said as the town hall was beginning. He was frequently interrupted and hit with a barrage of questions about the bill, the amendment he wrote that essentially brought it back from the dead, and the news of the day: the firing of FBI director James Comey.
MacArthur said he wasn’t ready, as everyone in the crowd seemed to be, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the ongoing investigation into alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia. And the congressman emphasized that the appointment of such a prosecutor would not be “some silver bullet.”
But that statement, like many of the night, was not nearly good enough for those in attendance.
“When are you going to decide to be an American and not a politician?”
“Have you been invited to Mar-a-Lago?”
“Does your bill pass the Jimmy Kimmel test?”
And on and on it went.
At stake was the issue that MacArthur created with his amendment to the AHCA that would allow states to obtain a waiver that would make insurance affordable for people with pre-existing conditions. The waiver, if obtained, would create high-risk pools for people in those states with pre-existing conditions, which could make the coverage unaffordable or at the very least a lot more expensive.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under a previous version of the bill, which failed to make it to the floor for a vote, some 24 million more Americans would be uninsured in 10 years.
MacArthur tried to make the case that the high-risk pools he proposed would make sure that people with pre-existing conditions are covered while also reducing costs for healthy people.
And at times, he even tried to emphasize that the Affordable Care Act hadn’t been entirely gutted.
“There’s a lot of things in the Affordable Care Act we did not touch,” MacArthur said at one point.
Before the event even started, hundreds of people gathered outside, divided into two primary camps: one trying to get in to the event and the other simply there to voice opposition.
At one point, a group lay down on the asphalt holding cardboard tombstones over their bodies to signify how they would die from this bill. One person nearby loomed over in a Grim Reaper costume with a placard reading “Trump Care” on it.
There were chants of “Health care is a human right” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the GOP has got to go,” as constituents lined up for hours waiting to enter. One group, the Solidarity Singers of New Jersey State, chose to protest in song, devising an original piece to the tune of “This Land is Your Land.”
Others were content to quietly sit and express their outrage, like 62-year-old Kevin Kapuscinski.
Kapuscinski previously voted for MacArthur and came to the event with a sign reading: “Better to cater to the Freedom Caucus then care about your constituency! Right Tom!,” referring to the conservative House group that initially opposed the AHCA.
“I voted for him,” Kapuscinski told The Daily Beast. “He’s a great disappointment. He went down to D.C. He went lockstep on my ass.”
“You made up something real quick and tried to push it through,” he said, referring to Republican lawmakers. “You can’t even get your own house in order.”
Adjacent to Kapuscinski, who was sitting outside the venue, a mini press conference took place in front of an inflatable chicken with Donald Trump’s hair. There, 26-year-old Jamison Smith shared his story of contending with mitochondrial disease.
“The GOP plan is bullshit,” Smith said. “And I feel like it is nothing more than genocide. It’s nothing short of committing genocide.”
Inside, the climate was no better, as MacArthur stood in the center of a hostile crowd, at turns trying to defuse moments and at others seeming genuinely upset that people were treating him this way.
“I have a great appreciation for your tolerance of masochism,” a woman told MacArthur.
“I don’t enjoy getting yelled at,” MacArthur responded. But he acknowledged he does answer to his constituents.
And no one in Willingboro seemed to be satisfied with the night’s answers.