U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick won election to another term in the House of Representatives last November, a victory he says was made possible due to his commitment to bipartisanship and two-party solutions.
Fitzpatrick recently talked with City & State about bipartisanship in a divided Congress, how to reform government, recent unidentified objects shot out of U.S. skies and pushing back against China.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What is it about your message that you think has resonated, and continues to resonate, with voters of the 1st Congressional District?
I think a lot of my opponents are misreading the mood of the electorate and also don’t understand what leadership is. Leadership is not driving single-party solutions. It’s not saying that one party has a monopoly on good ideas or good people. It’s understanding that the overwhelming majority of people in our district and across America want government to function the same way their personal relationships do: You build bridges, you don’t drive wedges, and you find consensus in the center.
It’s not just my message. It’s what I believe, too. It’s baked into my DNA. That’s what I believe in all aspects of my life, including government. So when opponents either on the right or the left are running against me, they’re basically sending the opposite message – that they believe in single-party solutions, whether it be on the right or the left, and that represents a small percentage of both parties. That’s why they haven’t been successful.
You introduced a government reform package that includes several proposals, including term limits, a balanced budget, things like that – what does Congress need to address most?
Well, I think reform is the most important because you need a healthy Congress to have a healthy America. Things like banning members of Congress from trading stocks; I’m going to be introducing legislation that’s bipartisan on that. I’ve been pushing term limits from the day I got here. We’ve already re-introduced that. Campaign finance reform and getting the dark money out of politics – we’ve introduced legislation on that. Redistricting reform – getting rid of the process of gerrymandering, which occurs by both parties every 10 years. We have legislation to fix that and make it an independent commission and not having the politicians draw the lines that they themselves run in. There’s a lot of institutional changes, a lot of structural changes that need to be made to the way this place works, because if you have a bad system, bad products emerge from that bad system.
I’ve said repeatedly that we’re going to stay and fight for as long as it takes to get term limits passed. Term limits, by the way, they have to apply to everybody, or they apply to nobody. You can’t only have the believers in term limits term limit themselves because then all the advocates disappear and the opponents of certain limits win the day.
You’ve got myself and Ro Khanna, both leaders of the term limits movement. He’s a Democrat, I’m a Republican. We both are from Bucks County, by the way, his parents are my constituents. But he’s in the Progressive Caucus. I lead the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and you have Jodey Arrington, a very conservative member from Texas – all three of us came into Congress together. You have a conservative Republican in Jodey, you have a moderate Republican in myself and you have a progressive Democratic in Ro – and we’re all leading the charge on term limits.
You’re going to see something similar when we introduce our stock trading bill. So that’s always what I try to do. I don’t like getting on single-party bills because they’re destined for failure. If you don’t have a strategy to navigate the 60-vote filibuster in the Senate and a four-vote margin in the House, then it’s not a serious attempt at legislating.
Tell me about your co-sponsored bill that would close the so-called “Boyfriend Loophole” by prohibiting domestic abusers from owning and purchasing guns.
I am a believer in the Second Amendment. I carried a gun every day as an FBI agent to keep people safe. Law-abiding gun owners have the right to protect themselves and their families and their homes. I believe the biggest threat to the Second Amendment is when you have these senseless acts of violence of guns getting into the hands of the wrong people at the wrong time. We have no higher responsibility, not just as elected officials, but as human beings, than to protect our kids. We have an epidemic of gun violence in America that’s not experienced to this magnitude in any other nation in the world. That’s just the fact. If we’re being honest about the situation, we have to analyze why and do what we need to do and have the courage to do what we need to do to fix it.
That requires not taking an ideologically pure position on any of these issues, including the issue of guns. We have to be reasonable and pragmatic about our approach. You can protect the Second Amendment and also protect school and community safety at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive concepts, and people should stop treating them as such.
What do you make of the recent spate of unidentified objects that have been shot down in U.S. and Canadian airspace, and the Biden administration’s response?
Well, I think it was mishandled, certainly the beginning at the very least, with regard to the first balloon. I think when it was off the coast of the Aleutian Islands is when they should have shot it down. I think it was a political decision at that point not to, and that ultimately morphed into a public safety position once it was over the mainland where it would have been unsafe to down it over populous areas.
I think what it tells us is how aggressive Xi Jinping and this new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party are. They are more aggressive, more determined than any other Chinese dictatorship in our lifetime. They are stealing intellectual property at a rate that we've never seen before. They're manipulating their currency. They are concealing the true origins of a pandemic that killed millions of people across the globe, and cost trillions of dollars in global economic damage. They are infiltrating our southern border by the way: There have been thousands of Chinese nationals that have been interdicted over the past several years, and those are just the ones we know about. They’re very aggressive with their spying program. They’re infiltrating our universities with our Confucius Institutes. They are hitting on all cylinders on their intelligence gathering to try to undermine America, to become the world leader when it comes to economics, when it comes to the military and they want to replace the dollar as the world’s currency standard.
One of the reasons why I’m such a big believer in bipartisanship is that not only do I believe it results in the best legislative products, but I also think it’s necessary to sustain our democracy, because while we’re busy fighting each other over here, XI Jinping is moving light years in speed on accomplishing all of his missions to overtake us in all these areas. In artificial intelligence, in cloud computing, machine learning, 5G, mining of rare earth minerals – you name it, they’re beating us on all fronts. Every time I see colleagues fighting with each other, I remind them that what they’re doing is making Xi Jinping, Putin, the ayatollah, Kim Jong-Un – they’re making those dictators very happy because they want to see us combust from within.
Getting back to your question on China, it just shows a level of aggression and boldness that they’ve demonstrated, and they’re testing American resolve. That’s what they’re doing. They’re testing Biden, they want to see how he’s reacting to a balloon over his own airspace to determine or telegraph how he might react if they move on Taiwan, which produces the overwhelming majority of high-end semiconductors in the world.
Is bipartisanship an endangered species in Congress?
Hyper partisanship has always ebbed and flowed. We are currently experiencing a spike and we just need to do what we need to do to have that recede again and recalibrate as a country. The Problem Solvers Caucus that I lead, we just had our reorganizational meeting and our numbers are larger than they’ve ever been. We have 66 members – 33 Democrats, 33 Republicans. We’ve had more interest than we’ve ever had before. At least there’s the interest of people that recognize our caucus and its importance, because we are the only group in D.C., the only group on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans sit down together and try to work things out.
I wish we didn’t need a Problem Solvers Caucus. I wish it was just called Congress, but that’s not where we’re at right now. The hyper-partisanship and the level of it require the existence of our group. We’ve got a four-vote Republican margin in the House. There’s a 50 to 49 – with Kyrsten Sinema becoming independent – Democratic Senate. So nothing is going to get done unless we have two-party solutions. That’s just a mathematical fact.
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