Four takeaways from a freshman, moderate Republican in Congress under Trump

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania's 8th District is co-sponsoring a bill calling for a carbon tax in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (Emily Cohen for WHYY, file)

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania's 8th District is co-sponsoring a bill calling for a carbon tax in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (Emily Cohen for WHYY, file)

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County may be an endangered species — a moderate Republican who makes a point of working with Democrats.

In 2017, the Republican majority in both houses means controversial bills, most notably one to repeal the Affordable Care Act, can pass without a without a single Democratic vote.

The first-time congressman, who ran and won a competitive seat his brother vacated last year, sat down with NewsWorks/WHYY to share his impressions of seeking compromise in this divisive environment. Here are four of Fitzpatrick’s takeaways from his first eight months in Washington:

1. Partisanship is even more shocking in person.

“I came out of the FBI which was a collaborative environment” where everyone worked towards a common goal, Fitzpatrick said. “When I got to Congress, there was a lot of party line voting going on. A little bit of a Hatfield vs. McCoy environment,” referencing a famous 19th century feud between two families that regularly erupted into murderous rampages.

2. He’s not surprised party-line voting isn’t working on health care.

“It’s between ⅕ and ⅙ of our economy and touches 100 percent of our people,” Fitzpatrick said. “Why would we ever want a party-line vote on that?”

A house bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act passed the House in May, with a handful of Republicans, including Fitzpatrick, voting against it. Still, repeated efforts to pass similar bills in the Senate keep falling short of the basic majority needed to get through that body.

However, that doesn’t mean policies with support from both Democrats and Republicans have traction, either. As a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Fitzpatrick lobbied for a bill that would stabilize parts of the insurance marketplace. However, that bill stalled without enough support from Republican leadership.

3. Congress’ job is no different with Trump in office.

“It’s the same as it would have been under a Clinton presidency,” Fitzpatrick said. “Members of Congress are independently elected. Constitutionally, we’re supposed to be serving as an independent, Constitutional check on the executive no matter who they are or what party they’re from.”

That has meant disagreeing with the leader of his party from time to time, either on the tone or content of President Trump’s policies. On the President’s recent comments calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un a “rocket man…on a suicide mission,” Fitzpatrick said: “I certainly would use different language. What I will say is, I think it’s important on the same token to call out [hostile] regimes.”

Fitzpatrick, along with President Trump, has repeatedly criticized the nuclear disarmament deal with Iran signed by President Obama, and singled out that country as especially hostile to U.S. interests.

4. If you can’t bring people together nationally, start by doing it locally.

Fitzpatrick said he uses the same tactics for trying to reach policy compromises at the district level as he does in Congress.

“A few weeks back, I got some environmental groups together with some township officials who were dealing with some, in their view, really burdensome stormwater management issues.” Getting these two sides together to talk about environmental standards may not end their disagreement, said Fitzpatrick, but it starts by bringing everybody to the table.

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