Fitzpatrick Is an Outlier in PA Politics

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Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick represents one of the most competitive districts in the United States. Situated in the Philadelphia suburbs of Bucks and Montgomery counties, the state’s 1st Congressional District was carried by Joe Biden by 3.7 points in 2020 and voted for Hillary Clinton by an even narrower margin in 2016. Fitzpatrick has won three elections here – in 2016, 2018, and 2020 – and seems to be on pace to win a fourth. In a recent interview, the congressman discussed why he thinks he’s a strong fit for this competitive seat and what the GOP can learn from his success so far.

“PA-1 is a swing district in a swing state, so this [is] emblematic of America right here,” Fitzpatrick told me. “There are 7 districts in America out of 435 that have a PVI [Partisan Voting Index] of even. This is one of them.” While many politicians would find this predicament challenging, it’s the perfect situation for Fitzpatrick. He focuses on lowering the political temperature and reaching across the aisle. He relishes the opportunity to represent the 1st district, explaining that “it plays right into [his] approach to government which is bipartisanship and bridgebuilding; not believing one party has a monopoly on good ideas and not believing one party has a monopoly on good human beings.”

Fitzpatrick spent most of his career as an FBI special agent before entering public life. When asked about making this transition, he noted: “In the FBI, you’re completely off the grid, you don’t have a social media presence . . . going from that covert world to the most overt profession you could possibly be in where everything you say and do is scrutinized . . . [was] a 180-degree paradigm shift.”

Fitzpatrick describes Washington as a “broken town,” touting his background outside of politics in the FBI as a foundation for his independent streak. His campaign signs read: “Ranked #1 Most Independent in the Nation,” referencing his placement at the top of Georgetown University’s Lugar Center’s bipartisan index for the 116th Congress. Fitzpatrick has downplayed his party affiliation as he views hyper-partisanship as a “national security threat.” He told me: “People check different boxes on their voter registration when they’re 18 for a whole host of different reasons. That just means they take a different approach to a problem.”

Dispositionally and tonally, Fitzpatrick aims to strike a nimble balance that allows him to navigate a challenging political climate. He is willing to cross the aisle on major legislation – for example, his votes for the Equality Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the American Dream and Promise Act – the latter underscoring his desire for a “system of legal immigration at the southern border.” He also will stand with his party on key votes, for example voting against the second impeachment of President Donald Trump (he introduced a concurrent resolution to censure the former president instead), and opposing President Joe Biden’s signature Build Back Better legislation and the American Rescue Plan. In many ways, Fitzpatrick can be viewed as the Joe Manchin of the House, with a more foreign policy-heavy focus as opposed to Manchin’s preoccupation with energy policy. Notably, the two members’ policy focuses came together earlier this year, when they introduced legislation to ban Russian energy imports.

As co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus – a group of 58 members of the House, equally split between parties – Fitzpatrick has built credibility across the aisle. He has made sure to have a Democratic co-sponsor on every piece of legislation he has introduced. He told me: “The struggle in America is not Democrat or Republican, its centrism vs. extremism. I think the fringes on the far left and the far right are equally dangerous, and I believe the center growing is necessary to preserve our democracy.” He described his approach to politics: “mutual respect and understanding of each other’s beliefs, try to see the world through other people’s eyes, walk the world in their shoes. When you can do that, you can understand the other person, and the other person will appreciate it and it reciprocates.”

The clearest opportunity for bipartisan action in the next Congress, Fitzpatrick said, is a stock trading ban for members. He noted that “members of the Freedom Caucus and the Progressive Caucus that are all pushing for” such a ban. “You rarely see that.”

Fitzpatrick spoke to the local issues facing his district in the Philadelphia suburbs. He told me: “Our first responder community is struggling economically. We have an almost all-volunteer fire service; those models are vanishing across America. Small businesses are struggling [from the] growth of companies like Amazon. We have labor shortages, we have supply chain disruption, we have high energy prices – all of which were avoidable, by the way. The majority of this was caused by bad policy making.”

When asked about his approach to policy making, Fitzpatrick stressed: “I don’t think policies should ever be driven by politics. If it’s smart policy, then the politics will follow.” Fitzpatrick illustrated this evenhanded approach regarding energy policy: “You can preserve the environment and be energy independent at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. If we want to sustain our climate leadership in the world, we have to sustain our country. And the only way you sustain your country from a national security standpoint and an economic standpoint is being [energy] independent.”

With a recent double homicide in the parking lot of a well-known Bucks County establishment, crime has emerged as a major factor in the race. “It’s completely out of control right now,” Fitzpatrick told me. “You’ll hear me criticize political extremists on wings of the spectrum. On this issue it has been the far left that has not respected law enforcement and has made it harder for police officers to do their jobs. [Those on the left] seem to be more interested in the rights of criminals and less interested in the rights of crime victims.”

His opponent, Ashley Ehasz, a former Apache helicopter pilot, seems to be drawing little traction in the race. A constituent told me: “Brian is a good guy. That’s why nobody’s really fighting him.”

Many district voters seem to view Fitzpatrick as a good fit for this moderate seat. They appreciate that he tacks to the center, downplaying his party affiliation and touting his independence. He aims to stay out of the fray of national politics, focusing on the issues he knows best – foreign affairs and intelligence – while keeping a close eye on issues in his district. As Fitzpatrick told me: “I love representing this district. Some people say, ‘oh your district is so tough.’ It’s the only district I’d want to represent. First of all, it’s my home. And second, the people here think a lot like me. Some people would call it tough; I would call it perfect."


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