President Trump released his 2018 budget on Tuesday, and activists in Morristown spent the afternoon pressing the man who will help decide how much of that $4.1 trillion spending plan gets adopted.
“It is now time for you to decide: Will it be party or country first?” said Montclair resident John Hartinger, reading an open letter to the Congressman’s staff.
“President Trump’s actions may be destabilizing our national standing and credibility. Your silence, however, threatens the core of our democracy which depends on the balance of power expertly crafted by our Founding Fathers,” the letter asserted.
Activists included members of Wind of the Spirit and NJ 11th for Change, the organization that has been staging “Fridays with Frelinghuysen” rallies to prod him to hold his first town hall meeting since 2013. So far, he has stuck to constituent conference calls.
Tuesday’s gathering expressed concerns about Trump’s proposed cuts to education, healthcare and transportation, while demanding Frelinghuysen “put country first” by supporting a special commission appointed by Congress to investigate Russian interference during last year’s presidential election.
The letter cited Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and his subsequent threat of secret tapes, and his divulging of classified information on ISIS to the Russian foreign minister.
Activists called on Frelinghuysen to support investigative committees, and to carry out his duties as stated by the U.S. Constitution.
“Falling short of these actions constitutes a failure to meet your constitutional duty as the check and balance to the Executive Branch of our government. History will be your judge, and we the people will be the presiding jury,” the letter concluded.
Frelinghuysen was not present at his Morristown office when the activists entered. Their only meeting with him came last month when they traveled by bus to Washington.
In a telephone town hall earlier this month, Frelinghuysen was asked about the Comey firing. “I was surprised that he’s gone, but in this business, I guess nothing is too surprising,” he said with a laugh.
Back in March, Frelinghuysen told another phone conference that he opposed Trump’s proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Institutes of Health and public broadcasting.
“Some of the large cuts, I don’t think will be sustained by the majorities in the House,” he said at the time.
Morristown resident Saran Cunningham said the investigation of Russian interference should top Frelinghuysen’s priorities.
“This presidency is something quite different. There are concerns in terms of the attacks on the judiciary and the press and people who are resisting Trump, and this is somewhat frightening,” she said.
“I don’t think we are going to lose our democracy, but I think it’s possible because of the bulk of Americans that have been inert and ill-informed, and if we don’t change that then we can’t continue this democracy,” Cunningham said.
If Frelinghuysen were to meet with the activists, “we would ask him, ‘Why won’t you put country before party? Why won’t you speak up and support by fully funding these investigative committees?'” said Hartinger.
Such a meeting “seems like such a simple ask,” he said. “And it’s one that almost every other congressman seems to be able to do easily.”
Protests were held at offices of all five Republican members of the New Jersey Congressional delegation.
Some activists are getting creative.
Rockaway Township resident Stacey Gregg, a member of NJ 11th for Change, started a photo series featuring Morristown historic statues juxtaposed with Russian hats and American flags. Some of these photos can be found below.
Ally Tobler, a graduate of Morristown High School, is studying journalism at the University if Maryland. Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.