WASHINGTON — The 2020 elections are more than a year and a half away, but U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is already coming under attack as a “Republican enabler” of President Donald Trump.
The second-term lawmaker from Bucks County’s 1st Congressional District insists he’s no rubber stamp for the president — and regularly boasts of his political independence. Indeed, his political slogan is “our independent voice,” a nod to his 2018 ranking as the “most bipartisan freshman” in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“My job is … not to follow herds but to stand up and make tough decisions,” he told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star in his office on Capitol Hill. Those decisions “are going to get criticized immensely from a political standpoint. … I think the important thing is that when you look back at your time here, you either showed courage or you didn’t.”
In the months leading up to the November elections, Fitzpatrick said he was “not afraid to take on Washington” — then entirely under his own party’s control. Now, after narrowly winning a second term, he’s proving again he’s not shy about siding with the opposition.
In January, he was one of eight House Republicans to support a Democratic effort to end the partial government shutdown without setting aside funds for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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In February, he was one of 13 Republicans who voted to overturn Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the Mexican border, which would have allowed the president to fund construction of a border wall without gaining approval from Congress.
Last week, Fitzpatrick joined U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other congressional Democrats at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol Building to unveil legislation that would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. He is the only member of his caucus to sign on to the bill thus far, allowing Democrats to claim the controversial legislation has bipartisan support.
An hour later, he spoke alongside other Democratic lawmakers in support of a bill to change a decision by the Trump Administration to classify 911 call dispatchers as clerical workers. The legislation, co-sponsored by Fitzpatrick, is an example of “Congress actually being functional,” said Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California.
“Brian Fitzpatrick shows you can actually work across the aisle. We don’t have to be polarized.”
Democratic operatives, however, say Fitzpatrick’s bipartisanship is the exception, not the rule, to his behavior in Congress — a charge they are already using against him in an early offensive to flip the seat in 2020. Contrary to his reputation as an independent, they point out that Fitzpatrick voted with the president 85 percent of the time in the last Congress, supporting what they called a “reckless agenda” that “hurts Pennsylvania families.”
Fitzpatrick’s support for Trump’s massive tax overhaul is an early line of attack. That legislation, said Mike Gwin, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), “is now hitting his constituents with higher taxes and increased healthcare costs.”
Democrats are wasting no time in hammering this message home. Last week, the DCCC launched a multimillion dollar initiative targeting some 30 districts — including Fitzpatrick’s.
“The DCCC is investing early in Pennsylvania to defeat Fitzpatrick in 2020 and ensure that his constituents finally get a representative who will look out for them, not just Washington partisans and special interest donors,” Gwin said.
‘Arrows from the left and right’
Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, is used to life in the political crosshairs.
“I get arrows from left and right not on a daily basis but an hourly basis,” he said, noting that he is protested every week by both conservatives and liberals.
That is nature of life in Pennsylvania’s recently redrawn (and slightly more competitive) 1st District, notes Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
Located in the state’s southeastern corner, the district — previously held by Fitzpatrick’s brother, Michael — is one part Democratic, one part Republican, and one part middle-of-the-road, Madonna said.
“He has to walk down both paths,” Madonna said. “He’s got a district that’s divided politically, so he doesn’t have any choice but to be a centrist and sometimes to go with the Dems and sometimes to go with Republicans.”
What’s more, the district is one of a small handful that backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential elections and that still remain in Republican hands. “It’s just a fact of life that he’s in one of the districts that would be targeted,” Madonna said.
But Republican operatives say they aren’t concerned.
“Fitzpatrick showed last time that he can win with the cards stacked against him,” said Michael McAdams, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Fitzpatrick, he noted, was heavily outspent by his Democratic opponent, philanthropist Scott Wallace, in a “tough year” for Republicans.
“He’s a bipartisan dealmaker,” McAdams said. “That’s his brand. … It works for him.”
Allison Stevens is a Washington correspondent for The Newsroom.