Heard Around Town

Lawler, fresh off his bipartisan victories, visits a redder part of his district

The popular freshman lawmaker leaned into border policy and criticizing the MTA at a recent sparsely attended town hall.

Rep. Mike Lawler speaks after a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club last month.

Rep. Mike Lawler speaks after a meeting of the House Republican Conference at the Capitol Hill Club last month. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Republican Rep. Mike Lawler ventured to the edges of his district Saturday, telling constituents his vision of a border solution and touting recent wins like the antisemitism legislation he passed in Congress and his recent bipartisan designation. It was hardly the showing he had in Rockland in the fall, but roughly 50 of Lawler’s Putnam County constituents gathered in Carmel at George Fischer Middle School to hear their Congress member speak. 

He’s also gearing up for a race against former Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones in the 17th Congressional District, which he narrowly won in 2020. With over a year in office, he has a legislative record to refer to in addition to soundbites and will be shoring up support with campaign season just around the corner. That wasn’t his explicit focus Saturday though. 

“Sometimes we focus a little too much on politics and less on community, and that really should be the focus,” said Lawler. 

Republican Assembly Member Matt Slater, who also introduced the Congress member, asked Lawler off the bat about the progress of his Antisemitism Awareness Act, which passed the House earlier this month. The bill would have the federal Education Department adopt the definition of antisemitism put forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance when it investigates allegations of discrimination in colleges.

“I don't care whether it's antisemitism, racism, homophobia (or) xenophobia, the moment you start engaging in hate speech or threats of violence or physical violence itself, which is what we've seen on these college campuses, you lose the ability to engage in your protest, of whatever the issue is,” Lawler said. 

He added that he’s pushing for the bill to be taken up in the Senate. However, some Republicans have expressed concern that it would penalize practitioners of Christianity for espousing views related to the death of Jesus. 

A constituent asked what Lawler felt about the charges levied at the migrants accused of assaulting police officers in Times Square in February. Lawler told the auditorium that the country had seen lawlessness at the southern border and in major cities. 

“On both of these issues, I think the policies are the problem,” he said.

Additionally, he called for top-down immigration reform, focused on filling jobs and contributing to the economy, and for policy changes that implore Mexico to crack down on organized crime and impose economic sanctions if they aren’t willing to do so. 

“The reality of immigration is that both parties, for almost 40 years, have used this as a bludgeon against each other,” he said. “I'm 37 years old. Immigration has not been reformed since 1986, the year I was born, so we need to deal with it.”

He also addressed the affordability concerns of Putnam County residents, some of whom have had issues with the New York State Electric and Gas. 

“I think the utility companies rate about a point lower than Congress's approval rate,” said Lawler. “So I understand they're not well-liked, but it's bigger than that.” 

He encouraged residents to contact his office to get involved in disputes but said the real issue was energy policy, specifically a move away from natural gas without having alternatives in place to keep the cost of energy stable. 

“We have a horrifically bad energy policy in this state and I don't think people fully appreciate it, but they're going to very shortly,” Lawler said. 

He also called out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, calling congestion pricing a “money grab.” 

“The MTA is the worst foreign authority in the country, it needs an absolute enema,” said Lawler, adding that west of the Hudson River, residents in his district need to use New Jersey Transit to get downstate despite funding the MTA via taxes and tolls. 

Lawler is going on 18 months in office, and the mostly positive reception he received in Carmel may serve to make that longer.