Norcross: ‘We will work with Trump when we agree, fight like hell when we disagree’
There were no signs, shouting or protests at the township high school Monday night where U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross became the latest congressional representative to hold a town hall meeting to hear from constituents.
Unlike the angry town hall crowds many of his Republican colleagues have faced recently, Norcross, a Democrat, was roundly cheered and praised by most of the hundred-plus residents who turned out.
Such is life for members of the minority party as Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time since George W. Bush was president in 2001.
For Democrats like Norcross, that means walking a tight rope between cooperation and obstruction.
Norcross, now in his second term representing the Democratic-friendly 1st District, has found success in both areas during the first 100 days of the 115th Congress, although he said he remains weary of many of the moves made by Republican President Donald Trump.
“It’s no surprise that I didn’t support this president,” Norcross said Monday night. “We will work with him when we agree and we will fight like hell when we disagree.”
One area where Norcross has found common ground with Republicans is expanding veterans’ health care choices and in protecting and enhancing Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the region’s largest employer.
The House recently passed legislation to extend the Veterans Choice Program, which permits veterans to receive medical care from a community health provider rather than a Veterans Administration hospital or clinic due to long wait times or because they live far from a VA facility.
During the town hall, Norcross said he continues to work with colleagues to pass legislation he penned to expand the program so all veterans have the choice of medical care.
Norcross has also teamed with Republican colleague Rep. Tom MacArthur and other members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to lobby Air Force leaders to choose the joint base to host the new fleet of KC-46 midair refueling tankers being built by Boeing. The base was named in January as one of two preferred destinations to receive the planes.
“Now that base will not only be strategic but it will stay open for the foreseeable future and preserve jobs,” he said during the 2½-hour town hall.
Norcross has found far less common ground with Republicans and their recent efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and to defund Planned Parenthood.
He called the GOP’s proposed American Health Care Act “the largest redistribution of wealth through the tax breaks in the history of this country” because of its proposed elimination of most of the Affordable Care Act’s taxes and fees and because it would cause millions of Americans to lose coverage.
Norcross told one questioner he supports creating a single-payer health care system once Democrats regain majorities in the House and Senate, but that his focus remains on defending the Affordable Care Act.
“We’re trying the best we can to try to hold onto the health care we have,” he said. “We won Round One but Round Two is coming very quickly and we have to be ready.”
Norcross also told residents at the town hall he is against proposed cuts in foreign aid, arguing that it offers humanitarian assistance and helps maintain national security.
“We’d much rather keep (aid) here. But we live on a planet with tremendously good players and tremendously bad players. Keeping up foreign aid is a smart investment for the safety and security of people at home,” he said, adding that the United States should continue to pressure its allies to provide similar support to impoverished nations.
He also vowed to continue pressing for legislation to boost federal investment in highway, bridges and other infrastructure projects and for a $15 minimum wage.
“There’s plenty of wealth in this country, it just hasn’t been shared with the people earning it,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Norcross also had strong words about the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration, arguing that reforming the broken immigration system was preferable to spending $24 billion on a southern border wall.
He cited his own experience of watching his daughter-in-law, who was nearly deported after living almost her entire life in the United States and serving in the military.
“Our immigration system is broken and it needs to be fixed,” he said.
Joining Norcross was New Jersey Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, D-6th of Cherry Hill. She told residents they need to stay engaged and continue to press lawmakers to oppose repeal of the Affordable Care Act and support Planned Parenthood and other providers of family planning services. “The message needs to come from you,” Lampitt said. Assemblymen Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Lou Greenwald, D-6th of Voorhees, also attended.
Norcross said the event was the 36th town hall he’s held during the three years since he was elected. At each, he tries to honor a local veteran for their service, and at Monday’s he paid tribute to Harry Parish, a marine veteran from Maple Shade who served two tours in Vietnam.
Norcross declined to criticize other members of Congress, but said he considered the interaction with constituents crucial to his job as their representative.
“This is how we stay in touch … This is how we hear from our constituents. I think they’re the bedrock of what we do.”