MARLTON – In the bars here when arms tense around the pool tables you invariably see Army-Air Force-Navy tattoos amid the usual mishmash of otherworldly and underworld emblems, those military depictions paying homage to the rites of passage prized by Joint Base McGuire-Dix.
The base forms the sustaining economic and cultural nucleus of the 3rd District, and unsurprisingly, U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3) occupies a seat on the House Armed Services Committee.
A Republican who a year ago defeated movement conservative Steve Lonegan in the primary then beat Democratic Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard in the general election, MacArthur has two main district offices in the 3rd: one in Toms River, which serves the Ocean half of the district; and one in Marlton, which serves the Burlington half.
In his first six months as a congressman, the office of the former CEO of York Risk Insurance Group handled 45,000 constituent service emails and letters. Preparing to run for reelection in 2016 against as-yet-unknown challengers, MacArthur had a fundraiser the other night attended by numerous pols from the district, state Senator Dawn Addiego (R-8) among them, and anchored by Speaker John Boehner. The event raised a little less than $100,000.
“With me it’s not a brand,” said MacArthur. “It’s not ‘the MacArthur brand.’ It’s who I am. I spent 30 years growing a business where you either get things done or you go out of business – or you get fired.”
Despite polling that shows public resistance to Washington lawmakers, the Republican lawmaker makes no apologies for this Republican Congress, and calls it the second most productive GOP Congress in 30 years. “This Congress passed 190 acts in six months,” he said. He personally put his own stamp on seven bills so far.
A primary preoccupation of his concerns secondary residences impacted by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Barred from federal assistance because of their recreational nature, those homes unrepaired deeply impacted the shore economy and MacArthur said he continues to try to find a way to change the rules so that people in the future get more assistance. The congressman also prioritizes lessening college costs for students, and backs a measure to endure protections for the joint base’s KC-10 refueling tankers protections
As multiple GOP candidates for president prepare for a FOX News debate on Thursday, PolitickerNJ asked MacArthur about his support for Governor Chris Christie, who records single digit support among Republican voters and lags far behind frontrunners Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker.
“He’s my governor,” MacArthur said. “I take pride in the fact that we have a New Jersey governor in this position. He’s a serious candidate. I think he’s a real leader who can offer real leadership. As long as he is in this he will have my support.”
Does he worry about the clown car optics of many Republican candidates in the GOP presidential contest?
“I like every one of them better than Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I haven’t settled on another candidate [besides Christie]. We’ve got 17 real live candidates and the Democrats have Hillary Clinton in scripted, carefully orchestrated speeches. All 17 candidates can placed in a few ideological brackets within the Republican Party.”
As a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, MacArthur has already traveled to Eastern Europe and to Cuba.
In advance of his scheduled eight-day trip to Israel on Saturday, MacArthur told PolitickerNJ that he opposes the President Barack Obama-backed nuclear deal with Iran.
“If it’s so good, why do our allies in Israel hate it?” MacArthur wondered about the deal. “It was poorly negotiated. Thus is not political. It’s my judgment based on all I’ve heard.”
The congressman said he’s specifically worried about strengthened ties among Iran, Russia and China.
PolitickerNJ sat with MacArthur in his office here following Obama’s unveiling of a new environmental agenda, which includes federal limits on carbon plants. The Republican congressman said he fears Obama’s plan would cause too much disruption to the economy. “To me, it’s a matter less about he ends and more about the means,” MacArthur said. “This President never looks at the costs. It’s pursuing one side of the argument at any cost. We have to deal with global warming, but we also have to live.
“This President I don’t think is effective,” he added. “He’s not doing things to help our economy. People are dropping out of the workforce. He hasn’t rally been advancing America the way he should.
Running in his first congressional race in 2014, MacArthur beat Belgard by nine points. Now Belgard is running for reelection to the freeholder board in a significant election. If Belgard and her running mate win this year, Democrats need but add one seat next year in a presidential election year in order to gain a majority in Burlington. MacArthur told PolitickerNJ that he fully supports the Republican challengers.
“I fully support Ryan Peters and Katie Gibbs,’ MacArthur said. “I believe they’re going to win the race. I’m going to do everything I can to help them.”
Insiders in both parties say it will be a tough contest for Belgard. Peters is a lieutenant commander in the Navy SEALs with a combat record, and Gibbs works for the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, a labor organization that cuts into Democratic Party support. As he assesses the politics of his own district this season, MacArthur also sees a chance for Republicans to compete in Brick.
“We need to help rebuild the party now,” the congressman said.
MacArthur was one of the only Republican members of the Congressional delegation in the immediate aftermath of the story to comment on U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett’s (R-5) allegedly anti-gay slurs.
“I didn’t hear what he said,” the congressman told PolitickerNJ, referring to POLITICO’s report about Garrett refusing to pay dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) because they back gay candidates. “I’m not that close to politics in Bergen County, but the Republican Party should always be looking to find the best qualified candidates.”