In Con­gress, Fitz­patrick bucks party

Bucks law­maker’s stands some­times op­pose the GOP’s; so have his votes.

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura Ol­son

– As his party read­justs to life in the mi­nor­ity amid a par­ti­san stand­off be­tween the Repub­li­can­held White House and the new Demo­cratic-con­trolled U.S. House, GOP Con­gress­man Brian Fitz­patrick is break­ing ranks.

The mod­er­ate Bucks County law­maker has been one of the few Repub­li­can law­mak­ers cross­ing the aisle on bills to re­open the gov­ern­ment. He’s been out­spo­ken on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio ad­vo­cat­ing for an end to the cur­rent im­passe, and last week ral­lied in Philadel­phia with Democrats and fed­eral work­ers who are go­ing un­paid.

Fitz­patrick, a for­mer FBI agent, re­peat­edly has talked about see­ing a 2013 shut­down af­fect the bureau’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions. He’s also ex­pressed ex­as­per­a­tion that as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump says he’s try­ing to beef up bor­der se­cu­rity, emWASHINGTON

ploy­ees at the very agen­cies tasked with de­fend­ing the coun­try’s bor­ders are re­quired to work with­out pay and log ex­tra hours to cover for oth­ers on fur­lough.

“TSA screen­ers are be­ing fur­loughed. Air traf­fic con­trollers are be­ing fur­loughed. Is there any­body who feels safe fly­ing un­der that sce­nario?” Fitz­patrick asked dur­ing an in­ter­view with The Morn­ing Call in his Capi­tol Hill of­fice. “There just seems to be a void of com­mon sense.”

So while the vast ma­jor­ity of his con­fer­ence voted against a bill Wed­nes­day to fund the Trea­sury Depart­ment, the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and sev­eral other agen­cies, Fitz­patrick and seven other Repub­li­cans joined Democrats in sup­port.

Those com­ments and votes have drawn praise from top Democrats. House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer’s of­fice blasted out one of Fitz­patrick’s shut­down-re­lated quotes to re­porters, adding: “We couldn’t agree more.”

Any flicker of dis­so­nance is trum­peted in to­day’s hy­per­par­ti­san at­mos­phere.

The shut­down is far from the first is­sue where Fitz­patrick has ar­tic­u­lated a po­si­tion that doesn’t fall in line with the rest of his party. Last ses­sion, he op­posed the Repub­li­can-drafted health care bill; signed on to a se­ries of gun-con­trol mea­sures; de­clined to sign a GOP le­gal brief op­pos­ing the re­draw­ing of the state’s con­gres­sional map; and co-spon­sored a bill to cre­ate a tax on car­bon emis­sions.

But with the U.S. House agenda now con­trolled by Democrats, Fitz­patrick will face in­creased pres­sure to back up those sig­nals of sup­port with his floor votes. Watch­ing him will be the core Repub­li­can vot­ers whose sup­port he needs in a swing dis­trict — and lib­eral ac­tivists who are skep­ti­cal he’ll re­main with them on poli­cies where he’s voiced sup­port.

“It is good that he does talk about cer­tain things and projects that im­age, and it’s nice to hear that,” said Steve Cickay, one such ac­tivist. “We are go­ing to be con­tin­u­ing to watch not only his words but his votes, and to try to call him out on the things he’s not vot­ing for.”

Fitz­patrick in Novem­ber nar­rowly de­feated Demo­crat Scott Wal­lace 5149, earn­ing a sec­ond term in a na­tion­ally watched race cost­ing mil­lions.

His was a rare vic­tory that night among mod­er­ate, sub­ur­ban Repub­li­can House mem­bers, many of who ei­ther de­clined to seek re-elec­tion or were top­pled by chal­lengers. Fitz­patrick is one of three re­main­ing House Repub­li­cans na­tion­ally rep­re­sent­ing a dis­trict that Hillary Clin­ton won in 2016. (Penn­syl­va­nia’s con­gres­sional dis­tricts were re­drawn last year as a re­sult of a ger­ry­man­der­ing law­suit; Fitz­patrick’s dis­trict as it was in 2016 backed Trump by 0.2 per­cent.)

Those num­bers mean Fitz­patrick is ex­pected to be a top-tier tar­get for Democrats in 2020, said Nathan Gon­za­les, who an­a­lyzes fed­eral cam­paigns for In­side Elec­tions, a non­par­ti­san re­port.

“In a dis­trict like his, he needs to put to­gether a coali­tion of peo­ple who sup­port the pres­i­dent and those who prob­a­bly hate the pres­i­dent,” Gon­za­les said. “You have to give him credit for his re-elec­tion in 2018, but it’s only go­ing to get tougher for him.”

Fitz­patrick says he’s not fo­cused on thread­ing the nee­dle of swing-seat pol­i­tics. He be­lieves he can win over those who may dis­agree with him by be­ing forth­com­ing about his views and the rea­son­ing be­hind them.

“The most im­por­tant thing peo­ple want is authen­tic­ity and bi­par­ti­san­ship,” said Fitz­patrick, who is vice chair­man of the Prob­lem Solvers Cau­cus, a group evenly split be­tween Democrats and Repub­li­cans that seeks to find across-the-aisle agree­ment on key is­sues. “That comes at a cost, be­cause you get peo­ple upset with you. Some­times the peo­ple who work hard to get you elected are of­ten the more par­ti­san peo­ple.”

Among those not thrilled with Fitz­patrick’s votes? Those tasked with keep­ing the con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans in line on the party’s pri­or­i­ties. He says he hasn’t heard from the pres­i­dent re­gard­ing votes where he’s stepped out of sync — “I think they’ve fig­ured me out by now,” Fitz­patrick says — but ac­knowl­edges some fric­tion with House GOP lead­ers.

To those who doubt whether he’ll re­main sup­port­ive of poli­cies like tight­en­ing gun-back­ground checks or fight­ing cli­mate change, Fitz­patrick is dou­bling down, say­ing those pri­or­i­ties now have a clearer path out of the House.

“It is very in­ter­est­ing, be­cause a lot of the things that I care about, as far as sup­port of or­ga­nized la­bor, en­vi­ron­men­tal preser­va­tion, LGBTQ equal­ity, a lot of the things that I tried to ad­vance last cy­cle that I couldn’t be­cause of my own party’s lead­er­ship are go­ing to be much eas­ier to ac­com­plish now,” Fitz­patrick said. “That works in both di­rec­tions, ob­vi­ously, de­pend­ing on the is­sue.”

He’s a co-spon­sor of a bill in­tro­duced this week to re­quire back­ground checks on all gun sales and most gun trans­fers, call­ing that idea “a no­brainer.” Fitz­patrick also rein­tro­duced a res­o­lu­tion crafted with Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat Alan Lowen­thal call­ing for the re­moval of po­lit­i­cal ger­ry­man­der­ing from the con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing process.

Fitz­patrick said he also ex­pects bills from the Cli­mate So­lu­tions Cau­cus to ad­vance to the House floor this year, and says he hopes to work with the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign on an an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion bill.

He also cites some pro­ce­dural vic­to­ries, say­ing ef­forts by the Prob­lem Solvers Cau­cus led to pro­vi­sions in the new House rules pack­age that will make it eas­ier to ad­vance com­pro­mise mea­sures pre­vi­ously blocked from re­ceiv­ing floor votes.

For now, ac­tivists like Cickay re­main un­con­vinced. The New­town res­i­dent says Fitz­patrick should have bucked his party sooner on the shut­down by vot­ing against last month’s GOP spend­ing bill that was doomed to die in the Se­nate.

The con­gress­man will have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to show he’s vot­ing his rhetoric as the Democrats’ leg­isla­tive agenda gets un­der­way.

lol­[email protected] Twit­ter @Lau­raOl­son 202-780-9540

Fitz­patrick

MARK MAKELA/GETTY IMAGES

Rep. Brian Fitz­patrick, R-1st, speaks dur­ing a rally protest­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down Tues­day in Philadel­phia. A for­mer FBI agent, Fitz­patrick has said he saw how a 2013 shut­down af­fected the bureau’s in­ves­ti­ga­tions. He was one of just eight House Repub­li­cans to sup­port Demo­cratic bills that would re­open the gov­ern­ment with­out fund­ing a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der.

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