WASHINGTON — A few things became abundantly clear about U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle last week. He’s fiercely proud of his dad, an immigrant and a janitor. He thinks Trump administration hardliner Stephen Miller is a “scumbag.” And Twitter totally loves him for it.
The northeast Philadelphia Democrat set social media alight when he berated Miller after a resurfaced video made the rounds on Twitter in which Miller appeared to be disparaging janitors during a speech at his California high school.
Boyle fired back: “I’m proud to be the son of a janitor. For decades my father worked hard to keep our subways in Philadelphia clean. He took pride in his work. I only wish I had half his work ethic. So for this scumbag Stephen Miller to say this just disgusts me. I oppose all he stands for.”
I’m proud to be the son of a janitor. For decades my father worked hard to keep our subways in Philadelphia clean. He took pride in his work. I only wish I had half his work ethic. So for this scumbag Stephen Miller to say this just disgusts me. I oppose all he stands for. https://t.co/mgWQJoi7FJ
— US Rep Brendan Boyle (@RepBrendanBoyle) April 10, 2019
Boyle’s tweet went viral, nabbing more than 40,000 “likes” and 14,000 retweets.
“We need more men like your dad! He and your mom raised 2 wonderful kids,” one user replied. “So proud you are from Philly. Thanks for all you do.”
Another person wrote to Boyle, “Your father’s work was more important to daily life than Stephen Miller’s work. You should be proud of him. I thank him and all those who do the same job every day.”
Boyle, who’s 42 and serving his third term in the U.S. House, isn’t known as a partisan flamethrower. But his scathing rebuke of Miller isn’t entirely out of character for the congressman who regularly touts his family’s blue-collar roots and isn’t afraid to tangle with the Trump White House.
“He’s a regular guy who normally doesn’t seek the limelight,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. “I always thought he was rather cautious.”
People who work hard to make public spaces clean, often at anti-social hours, are the quiet heroes of our time.
— Calum Davey (@CalumDavey) April 10, 2019
Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia public affairs executive, agreed that Boyle is typically “pretty careful.” But there are times when he can “get pricked,” Ceisler added. “When it does happen, that’s when you know that it’s real. … I think that the issue definitely touches him.”
Boyle frequently talks about his father’s work as a janitor. It’s mentioned in the first paragraph of his official congressional biography: “Congressman Brendan F. Boyle was born and raised in the city of Philadelphia. The son of an immigrant, Congressman Boyle’s father was a janitor for SEPTA and mother a school crossing guard.”
Boyle’s House campaign ran an ad in 2013 featuring his father, Irish immigrant Frank Boyle, sweeping a SEPTA station. A few months into his U.S. House career in 2015, Boyle threw on a bright yellow vest and grabbed a mop to assist a custodian at the Norristown Transportation Center, Billy Penn reported.
Boyle has credited his dad with helping him to win his 2014 primary against Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law, Marjorie Margolies.
“At the election convention, my opponent brought in Bill Clinton, but I just told my dad’s story. I said in my speech ‘this [campaign] should be more about the Francis Boyles of this country and not the Bill Clintons,'” Boyle told the Irish newspaper Donegal News.
Boyle, who’s in a safely Democratic seat, won a whopping 79 percent of the vote in the 2nd District’s general election in 2018 after redistricting reconfigured state lines. Boyle had previously represented the 13th District.
‘They just call it like they see it’
Political observers see the jab at Miller as a low-risk, high-reward opportunity for Boyle.
“In Philadelphia, to take pot shots at Stephen Miller is not an exercise in political danger,” said Ceisler. “I don’t think he did this for political reasons per se, but there’s also no downside for him politically.”
Dan Fee, a Democratic consultant based in Philadelphia, was similarly unsurprised by Boyle’s Twitter attack on Miller.
“I do think of Brendan as someone who’s pretty plain spoken,” Fee said. “The great thing about northeast Philadelphia is that they just call it like they see it.”
Boyle’s brother, Kevin, is also in politics — he serves in the state House of Representatives. He retweeted his brother’s “scumbag” comments last week.
“Neither of them are shrinking violets,” Fee said. “Those guys step into it; they’re not afraid.”
Kevin Boyle was in a spat that made headlines in 2015, when he said that the wife of then-Lt. Gov. Mike Stack “flipped” him off and threw a glass of soda across a table at him in a Philadelphia parish hall.
Brendan Boyle told Billy Penn of the incident, “It was a unique situation that we’d never faced. … Whatever personal differences there may be … people have to behave themselves in an appropriate manner. And I think that certainly for my brother and myself we’d rather focus on public policy and issues and not some of the other stuff that will occasionally happen and in some ways distract from the good work we do.”
As a U.S. congressman, Boyle hasn’t shied away from sparring with the White House since Trump came into power. In January 2018, Boyle introduced the “Stable Genius Act,” a bill that would require that all presidential candidates undergo a standardized medical examination and publicly disclose its results before the election.
“The President believes he is a ‘stable genius.’ I do not,” Boyle said in a statement at the time. “Before voting for the highest office in the land, Americans have a right to know whether an individual has the physical and mental fitness to serve as President of the United States.”
Now, Boyle has a larger political platform than he has since he entered Congress in 2015. Democrats hold the House majority for the first time since he’s joined the ranks, and he won a coveted seat this year on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he’s backing the effort to force Trump to release his tax returns.
Boyle is seen as someone who might eventually seek higher office, but he’s in a state that’s crowded with ambitious Democrats.
“People are already looking at [Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s] seat, but you have a lot of people looking at that,” Ceisler said. “I find it hard to believe he would take the chance of giving up his seat to seek a Senate seat in what’s going to be a very contentious primary.”
Ceisler added, “He’s ambitious, but measured. And that ambition might be limited to the House of Representatives.”