U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance told hundreds of constituents Tuesday evening that he does not back President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, but the five-term Republican congressman remained guarded in his criticism of the growing scandals involving the administration’s communication with Russian officials.
“Regarding the budget document, I do not support it,” Lance told a packed auditorium of around 400 people during a town hall at Union County College in Cranford. “The president proposes and Congress disposes.”
Trump’s recently released budget proposal contains significant cuts to social safety net programs, including Medicaid, food stamps and Social Security disability benefits.
The proposal, Lance said, was “merely a blueprint as to how to move forward.” But, he said, cuts it calls for “are too significant.”
Lance also voiced confidence in his fellow Republican state delegation colleague, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, though Frelinghuysen’s name was greeted with a loud chorus of boos from the audience. The congressman from North Jersey has come under intense criticism for refusing to hold a town hall and for supporting the House Republican Obamacare repeal plan.
For his part, Lance broke with the GOP line earlier this month when he voted against the Obamacare repeal plan, but many of the audience members on Tuesday were pushing for him to further distance himself from Trump.
Lance represents the 7th Congressional District, which includes parts of Essex, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren counties and all of Hunterdon County. Historically, it has been a solid Republican district. However, it swung for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and was recently changed from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican” by The Cook Political Report in the wake of the Obamacare repeal vote.
During the 90-minute town hall, Alan from Somerville, who identified himself as a registered Republican, told Lance he had lost faith in GOP, given the “clear criminality of the current administration and the lack of outcry or action from the party in control.”
Alan asked Lance when he would call on the administration to release the president’s tax returns, financial disclosure forms regarding Trump family investments and more information about Russia’s involvement in the November election.
“When will you call them out? What will it take to make a clear statement?” Alan asked.
The mild-mannered Lance carefully selected his responses, gliding over some of the more charged components.
The congressman said he supported the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller by the Justice Department as special counsel to investigate the issue.
“I think that is an excellent step and I believe that Mr. Mueller will investigate the matters that you have raised and he will do so in a completely impartial and above board manner,” Lance said.
He also said he believed Trump’s tax returns “are likely to be subpoenaed by the special counsel.”
Lance kicked the issue of whether the Trump family’s financial interests violated the U.S. Constitution to the Supreme Court.
The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars federal officials from accepting payments from foreign governments. Lance gave a theoretical example of whether a foreign government paying to rent the ballroom at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., would constitute a violation.
“That is an open question, ladies and gentlemen. I believe that should be decided by the Supreme Court of the United States," he said.
Pressed further by cries from the audience to denounce the president, Lance responded, “I criticize the president where I disagree with him. I indicate where I support him.”
“A fair and impartial investigation regarding the whole Russian situation should occur,” he said. “I think that Bob Mueller will do a superb job and let the chips fall where they may.”