New Jersey Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur and Democratic challenger Andy Kim sparred Tuesday over who could bring greater bipartisanship to Washington and clashed over taxes and health care in their first head-to-head forum in one of New Jersey’s most watched congressional races.
MacArthur and Kim met in a roughly hour-long and at times pointed forum in Mount Laurel sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.
The 3rd Congressional District election on Nov. 6 is being closely watched as a potential Democratic pickup opportunity as the party aims to net 24 seats and win control from Republicans.
The event gave Kim, who is seeking his first elected office, a chance to introduce himself to voters in the district where he grew up and is now raising his two young sons.
He cast his experience from 2013 to 2015 as Democratic President Barack Obama’s Iraq director on the National Security Council as a proving ground for finding nonpartisan solutions to problems.
“What my campaign has been about from day one is working for a government that’s going have solutions,” Kim said.
The event also gave the two-term GOP incumbent MacArthur an opportunity to brandish the bipartisan reputation he’s cultivated since he first won election in 2014. MacArthur cast Kim as part of a resistance-oriented group of Democrats bent on opposing Republican President Donald Trump.
“We don’t need a House that’s obsessed with impeachment. We need pragmatism,” MacArthur said.
On the 2017 GOP tax overhaul, MacArthur said he would work to make middle class tax cuts that are set to expire permanent. Kim called the bill — which cut rates for corporations and the wealthy along with middle-income citizens — a “disaster.” Kim attacked the legislative process for leaving out business leaders and workers.
On health care, MacArthur defended a 2017 amendment he authored to coalesce GOP support for repealing Obama’s signature health care law. The amendment would have allowed states to get federal waivers from the requirement that insurers charge healthy and sick customers the same premiums. The change would be for people who let their coverage lapse, but MacArthur has said those people would be covered by high-risk pools.
MacArthur attacked Kim over support for what he called a “government takeover” of health care through a Medicare-for-all system.
Kim didn’t rebut the charge in the forum, but a spokesman said afterward that Kim doesn’t support such a system.
MacArthur, a former insurance company executive, highlighted where he’s disagreed with Trump and when he’s opposed him.
On immigration, MacArthur called the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy that led to the separation of children from parents who crossed illegally into the country a “terrible, terrible mistake.” He also said he blamed the president, along with both parties, for a high level of incivility in Washington.
He praised Trump for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and credited the president with the economy’s quickening pace.
MacArthur has been an ally of the president’s in Congress. He was the only New Jersey representative to support the tax overhaul and he also benefited from a fundraiser held at Trump’s Bedminster golf club.
The debate got pointed at times. Kim attacked MacArthur for leaving his seat on the Armed Services Committee since the district is home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. MacArthur attacked Kim over his founding of Rise Stronger, a group aimed at resisting Trump’s administration.
The GOP has won four out of the last five contests in the Burlington and Ocean County-based district.
The district stretches from the Delaware River in the west across the pine barrens to the Atlantic Ocean in the east.
Federal Election Commission records show Kim has about $1.7 million cash on hand compared with $1 million for MacArthur.