WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania’s three new Republican congressmen have been keeping relatively low profiles on Capitol Hill, where they’re still learning how to navigate the extensive underground network of tunnels.
Unlike their Democratic counterparts — who rode in on a wave of anti-Trump sentiment and joined a U.S. House majority with an aggressive political and policy agenda — the Republican newcomers are largely keeping their heads down, defending the president while pushing legislation that plays well back home.
Of the seven Pennsylvania freshmen who entered Congress last November, three are Republicans, representing one district in the eastern part of the state and two along the southwestern border.
They are: U.S. Reps. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, a former member of Gov. Tom Corbett’s cabinet; John Joyce, R-13th District, a dermatologist and political novice; and Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, a former state senator and district judge.
They’ve been reliable House allies of the Trump administration, all siding with the president more than 92 percent of the time on key votes, according to an analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight.
That’s included votes against House Democrats’ top priorities, like sweeping voting rights legislation, a bill to block Trump from withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, legislation to require background checks for all firearm sales, and an effort to halt emergency funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Another Trump ally, former state Rep. Fred Keller, recently won the special election to represent the 12th District. He is expected to be sworn in on Monday.
Joyce, 62, has aligned with Trump 100 percent of the time on key votes, according to FiveThirtyEight. He sits on the House Homeland Security and Small Business committees, and is the lead author of one piece of legislation so far this session.
That bill, which has bipartisan support and a companion version in the Senate, aims to reduce the costs of prescription drugs by making generic medicine more quickly accessible to consumers.
Joyce said he’s still learning how to navigate Washington. “The tunnels that connect the Capitol and our office buildings are incredibly complex,” he told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star when asked what’s surprised him most about life in Congress.
There are some frustrations that come with being in the House minority.
Joyce said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has an “extreme liberal agenda” and “no interest in compromising on common sense reforms.”
And while some of his Democratic colleagues from Pennsylvania want to launch an inquiry into whether to impeach Trump, Joyce called that a “baseless” effort he can’t support.
“Democrats are wasting taxpayer dollars with this effort and we should instead be focusing on the issues that matter to the American people, like creating jobs and securing the border,” he said.
Meuser and Reschenthaler agree, along with the vast majority of House Republicans. So far, only one congressional Republican — Michigan Rep. Justin Amash — has publicly called for Trump’s impeachment.
“I like the idea of moving on,” Meuser told the Capital-Star after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released. “Not a lot there. Maybe a little bit of smoke, but that was about it.”
Meuser, who was revenue secretary in Corbett’s cabinet, warned that Democrats risk a political backlash if they pursue impeachment.
“That’s their prerogative,” he said. “If they think that’s what’s in the best interest of their base and our country, let them go at it. I certainly disagree.”
The freshman lawmaker sits on the House Budget, Veterans’ Affairs, and Education and Labor committees. He said in a recent interview that he’d prefer that the House focus on policy issues like finalizing trade deals, lowering health care premiums and deductibles, and “comprehensive illegal immigration” reform.
“There’s a very positive agenda, I think, that will be in the interest of a vast majority of Americans if we could get down to business,” he said.
Reschenthaler, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has been thrust into the center of the impeachment fight.
“I feel like congressional Democrats are ignoring the real needs of the American people because they are still fighting over the 2016 presidential election,” he told the Capital-Star in a statement. “The Mueller investigation is over and the report has been released. It is time to end the investigations and impeachment talk, and get things done for the hardworking Americans across our country.”
Reschenthaler said he would prefer to spend time on policies like a bipartisan bill he cosponsored with fellow Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, which would expand support for police officer family services, stress reduction, and suicide prevention.
House Democrats, however, dispute the notion that they can’t pursue a policy agenda while also performing aggressive oversight of the president.
Dean, another House newcomer who’s also on the Judiciary Committee, told the Washington Post recently that she often thinks about how the investigations may define her career more than her legislative work.
“Every day. This is historic work,” she told the news outlet. “We have to do both, but our system of government hangs in the balance, that basic sense of decency.”
Democrats are advancing their policy agenda too, she said. “We walk, chew gum and floss at the same time.”