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The men and women who represent Southeastern Pennsylvania in Washington, like the rest of Congress, were focused squarely on election season when the coronavirus pandemic first hit the U.S. That focus shifted quickly to a strikingly bipartisan slew of stimulus measures, and then to navigating the quickly solidifying politics of the pandemic.
The southeast delegation includes some of Pennsylvania’s most liberal and most moderate members — and those moderates have had to walk a particularly tricky line balancing their priorities in the pandemic response: urging constituents to follow medical advice and stave off outbreaks, supporting businesses that are hemorrhaging funds as stay-at-home orders drag on, and positioning themselves in relation to their party leaders, who are only growing more opposed.
For Republicans, the party line is largely dictated by President Donald Trump, who has criticized Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home orders and urged parts of Pennsylvania to reopen. Trump also has pinned blame for the coronavirus outbreak on China, accusing the country of covering up its own pandemic.
For Democrats, the leading voice has been House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The $3 trillion aid bill the House passed in mid-May includes more direct cash payments for Americans, extended unemployment benefits, and new testing and contact tracing efforts. But Republicans have derided it — and declared it dead on arrival in the Senate — for giving states too much flexibility in spending stimulus money and suspending a cap on state and local tax deductions that passed with the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts.
Some moderate members have bucked the party line. Susan Wild, a Democrat who represents the Lehigh Valley, voted against the House stimulus bill, saying that it is “the time to bring our nation together around solutions that will improve the lives of Americans who are hurting, not engage in partisan gamesmanship.”
Others, meanwhile, have hewn closer. Brian Fitzpatrick from Bucks County, easily the state’s most moderate Republican, has taken a page out of the president’s playbook in his primary race against a Trump-branded opponent. One of his latest campaign ads blames China for the pandemic, declaring that country is “trying to steal our future” but that Fitzpatrick is “fighting to make China pay.”
Here’s more on how Pennsylvania’s southeast delegation is handling the pandemic.
1st Congressional District
Republican Brian Fitzpatrick often touts the bipartisan nature of much of his work in Washington, and that hasn’t changed as Congress has responded to the coronavirus. Fitzpatrick is one of the co-chairs — along with two Democrats — of the House Coronavirus Task Force, which formed in early March. He and Democratic colleague Susan Wild pushed a bill to extend federal contributions to children’s health insurance, and, among other things, he also put his name on a measure that would allow the National Labor Relations Board to hold electronic elections, so workers can remotely unionize during the pandemic.
But even as he branched off from President Trump and other Republicans, Fitzpatrick — lately, anyway — has telegraphed closeness with the administration. He met with Trump to discuss legislation during the president’s most recent Pennsylvania visit, and echoed his rhetoric blaming China for the spread of coronavirus in his campaign messaging. He did stop short, however, of truly tying himself to Trump — telling the Philadelphia Inquirer he doesn’t yet know who he’ll vote for in November.
2nd Congressional District
Democrat Brendan Boyle, who is running unopposed in the primary election and sits in a safe Democratic district, has consistently supported his caucus’s recent efforts to boost stimulus funding. Of the $3 trillion plan the House passed recently, Boyle said that while it “is not perfect,” the measure would provide direct relief, including more than $4 billion to Philadelphia in “urgently needed funds to cover coronavirus-related outlays and revenue loss.” Senate GOP leaders have declared the bill dead on arrival because, among other things, it doesn’t include liability protections for small businesses.
Boyle has been an outspoken critic of people gathering in crowds and going outside without masks during the pandemic, including those who rallied at the state Capitol in Harrisburg and President Trump himself. Boyle called the president’s May visit to Pennsylvania a “chaotic chapter to his complete failure of leadership” and urged him to go “back to the White House and start doing your job” instead.
3rd Congressional District
Democrat Dwight Evans, another Philadelphia congressman in a safe blue district without a primary challenger, has been focusing a lot of his efforts on COVID-19’s impact on the Black Philadelphians in his district. He’s pushing for universal, mandatory testing to be conducted before the economy starts broadly reopening — arguing that it could make a big difference for Black people, who have seen higher rates of illness and death from the virus. He also requested that federal funds be allocated to a group of Black doctors who have been performing tests on Philly residents who can’t get tests on their own.
Evans voted in favor of the House relief package. Among other legislative endeavors, he also co-sponsored a bill with Pennsylvania Republican Glenn Thompson that would establish a federal tax holiday from mid-February to mid-June for grocery and convenience store workers who make less than $75,000 annually.
Which way will Pa. vote?
4th Congressional District
Democrat Madeleine Dean’s family suffered a personal loss related to the COVID-19 pandemic — the congresswoman’s mother-in-law, Joan Cunnane, died from the virus in early May. She has spoken publicly about the human toll of the virus, and has also urged her constituents to abide by stay-at-home orders — telling residents of the hard-hit southeast she hopes they will be “patient and demand the universal testing and isolation treatment until we can reopen more safely.”
Dean voted for the House’s $3 trillion relief bill, and, among other things, co-sponsored a bill that would provide cash payments to struggling small businesses with 50 or fewer employees — a category that had some difficulty accessing Paycheck Protection Program money.
5th Congressional District
Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon took up the fight for personal protective equipment and other medical supplies in the early days of the pandemic — urging the president, in late March, to begin using the Defense Production Act to produce more.
She has since repeated that call to the Trump administration, pushed for greater access to PPE for U.S. Postal Service workers and letter carriers, and requested that first responders be added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s high-priority list for COVID-19 testing. She voted in favor of the House’s coronavirus relief package.
6th Congressional District
Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, who is among the more moderate members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, voted in favor of the House’s sweeping stimulus plan — but with reservations. She said she felt it was a good “starting point” for negotiations with the Senate, which she said has “shown no sense of urgency.” But, she added, she’s concerned another round of stimulus payments will be as “rocky and frustrating” as the first, that the bill includes too many unnecessary components, and that it’s expensive.
7th Congressional District
Democrat Susan Wild was one of only two Pennsylvania House Democrats who voted against the chamber’s May stimulus plan. In a statement, she said she thought the bill should provide more “direct and immediate assistance” to people, and that it was an unrealistic bill to try to pass through the GOP-controlled Senate.
Along with the bill she sponsored with BrianFitzpatrick to extend federal funding for children’s health insurance, Wild has supported efforts to cap prices on certain prescription drugs, and guarantee paid sick leave to health care workers.