Pa. Rep. Scanlon, unfazed by an unusually eventful first term, seeks another 

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, kicks off her 2020 re-election campaign (Capital-Star photo by Nick Field)

A presidential impeachment, a government shutdown, and the threat of a foreign war. All three used to be considered once-in-a-generation events. For U.S. Rep.  Mary Gay Scanlon, they’re just the highlights of her first term.   

Scanlon launched her re-election campaign on Saturday with a tour that included stops in all three counties that make up Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District (which consists of the entirety of Delaware County as well as slices of Montco and Philadelphia). 

Part of the itinerary was the formal opening of an office in Swarthmore alongside such special guests as Attorney General Josh Shapiro, state Sen. Tim Kearney and State Reps. Leanne Krueger, Jennifer O’Mara and Margo Davidson, all Democrats, who represent all or part of Delaware County.

The hot topic of the day was President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Scanlon found herself with a front-row seat and was distressed by Friday’s events.

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“It’s been pretty depressing,” she said of the news that witnesses would not be called in the Senate trial. “It’s become clear that there’s no amount of evidence that would cause the Republican senators to decide to hear more witnesses, or presumably decide that this President needs to be held accountable.”

Scanlon was actually unanimously elected the vice chair of the committee, an honor exclusively given to a member with less than 10 years of experience. 

As a result, Scanlon has questioned a diverse array of witnesses, running the gamut from Special Counsel Robert Mueller to former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski. These high-profile events were distinct from the usual detailed and policy-focused process.

“It was fascinating,” she said of attempting to distill an argument down to its core tenets. “Trying to tell a story when you’re trying to do that in five minutes segments is really, really difficult.”

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While the oft-repeated conventional wisdom is that voters don’t really care about impeachment, the Congresswoman has found from speaking to constituents that this assumption is incorrect. 

“I think people are very concerned about the implications for our constitutional, democratic republic. There’s a big sense in this area at least, in my district, that this is a President who has not played fair and how far is he gonna be allowed to go?”

She believes her constituents are paying such close attention because of recent galvanizing events including the gerrymandering case, restrictive voter ID laws and election of Donald Trump. 

A conversation earlier in the day with fellow U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, reminded Scanlon of  just how many seismic episodes the country’s been through in such a short period of time. 

“She was talking about the fact that for a first termer in Congress to have dealt with the longest government shutdown in history, to have dealt with the third [presidential] impeachment in history and to just last month dealt with the threat that we might be going to war; it’s been busy.”

Right now, Scanlon faces a Democratic primary challenge from Louis Lanni, according to Ballotpedia, which tracks elections across the country. Two Republicans, Joe Billie, who sought the GOP nomination in 2018, and Dasha Pruett, who immigrated to the United States as a child with her family, are contending for the Republican nomination, according to Ballotpedia. The primary is April 28.

The Census looms

Another monumental task in the months ahead is the Census, a particular area of focus for the congresswoman as “Delaware County has some of the hardest-to-count areas in the state.”

“The traditional hard-to-count populations are children, folks [in the] immigration population. Not just people who are here without documentation, but anyone who is related to an immigrant,” she explained. “That’s especially an issue right now because of the fear that has been injected into that community by this administration. And then folks who don’t have ready access to the internet.”

Beyond just the redistricting process, the Census determines the amount of federal appropriations for each district and so has become one of Scanlon’s major priorities with “Census Day” looming on April 1st. 

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“It’s estimated to be $2,000 per person who is not counted every year, so that’s $20,000 per uncounted person over the course of ten years. That’s money that doesn’t go to roads and schools and healthcare and a lot of basic infrastructure here.”

Although Scanlon declined to make a prediction about Sunday’s Super Bowl or Monday’s Iowa Caucus, she did go into detail about her preparations for Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. 

Her guest will be Kevin Harden, a survivor of gun violence and a Philadelphia lawyer. She’ll also be wearing wearing white to honor the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which finally granted women the right to vote.

Immediately after her interview with the Capital-Star, Scanlon welcomed the guests who were streaming into the new office. A reminder that for members of the House, the campaign never really stops.

Nick Field, of Bucks County, is a Capital-Star Correspondent. His work appears frequently.