In Congress, Fitzpatrick bucks party
Bucks lawmaker’s stands sometimes oppose the GOP’s; so have his votes.
– 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.
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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.