He's A Republican Who Distances Himself From Trump. Can He Win? NPR's Michel Martin speaks to Republican Congressman and former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick about his re-election campaign in Pennsylvania's 1st district.
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He's A Republican Who Distances Himself From Trump. Can He Win?

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He's A Republican Who Distances Himself From Trump. Can He Win?

He's A Republican Who Distances Himself From Trump. Can He Win?

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So, as we said, Democrat Scott Wallace is challenging the incumbent Republican, Brian Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a former FBI agent - the only former FBI agent currently serving in the House. But he's also been a vocal critic of President Trump on certain issues, such as the way the president has handled the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Now, Congressman Fitzpatrick invited us to meet him at his parents' house in the suburb of Levittown, where he grew up as the youngest of eight siblings. And, despite being the beneficiary of a lot of the so-called independent expenditures that Dave Davies just talked about flowing into the race on his behalf, Fitzpatrick said that he agrees with his Democratic opponent that there's too much money in politics.

BRIAN FITZPATRICK: I could not agree more that money in politics is the problem. I was supervising the FBI's political corruption unit in April of 2010 when the Citizens United decision came down. Bob Mueller was my boss. I got called up. I had to speak to him about this issue. His question was, what is this going to do to our corruption cases? I said, sir, it's going increase the corruption because money is the root of all evil, and money in politics is the root of all corruption cases.

MARTIN: That was one of many times Fitzpatrick mentioned his past career in the FBI. It's one of the themes of his campaign, along with a reminder that he is part of the so-called problem solvers caucus. That's a group of lawmakers evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans that's trying to move off the heated rhetoric to craft bipartisan solutions to big issues.

The question that I just keep coming back to, though, for Republicans like yourself who decry the tone of our current politics is how you square that with supporting a president who seems to have none of your concerns about the tone of our politics. How do you defend it?

FITZPATRICK: I don't defend it. I speak out against it. That's what I do. When you say support - I mean, I didn't - it's no secret I didn't vote for the president. And I've spoken out directly against him, particularly on this issue. And I've tweeted directly at the president regarding his tone and tenor regarding the FBI. That's my former organization. It's an organization that I love. The finest women and men I've ever known work for that organization doing the most important work you can imagine, keeping us safe every single day.

MARTIN: Do you feel that Donald Trump is a factor in your race?

FITZPATRICK: I think the national figures, unfortunately, are factors in every race. What my job is is when I talk to voters to let them know that elections are a decision and a choice between two candidates in a certain branch of government. Now, independence, as it pertains to going in both directions, including the direction of the White House, is very important because my belief as a problem solver - a member the problem solvers caucus - is that we are checks. We believe that checks are what this system is designed to have.

But a check has to go in both directions. If you have a situation where you have President Trump in the White House and Nancy Pelosi as speaker, you can't just have a check going in one direction. The check's got to go in both directions.

MARTIN: If you go back to Congress, and you are in the minority, how will that sit with you?

FITZPATRICK: The only thing I care about is that we have a bloc of good people - and that's what our caucus is about - that are going to drive the solutions. That's the primary importance. When we're in a position where we're supporting Democrat members of our caucus, that should tell you our view, right? I mean, it's not so much who holds the majority. It's, are the centrists going to be setting the agenda in Congress?

MARTIN: And is it true that you have committed to only voting for a speaker who will sign on to...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: ...Break the gridlock principle?

FITZPATRICK: Our caucus has agreed to that.

MARTIN: And if there is no Republican who signs onto that, would you vote for a Democrat for speaker?

FITZPATRICK: So here's what we agreed as a group to do - that we are only going to support a candidate that supports these proposals.

MARTIN: Is it difficult for you, though, being a Republican - part of the Republican caucus, given the way the president conducts his job?

FITZPATRICK: I think both parties need to have strong centrists in them. And I think if either party is hijacked by the fringe on one side or the other, that's a bad thing.

MARTIN: Do you see a way out of the current atmosphere?

FITZPATRICK: It's up to each and every one of us. It starts at the kitchen table, and it goes to the White House and everywhere in between - how we talk to each other, the tone we use, whether we view differences of opinion as strengths to be harnessed rather than weaknesses to be criticized. I was very, very blessed to grow up in a very diverse community. And I carried that with me to the FBI.

And one problem-solving model that we had in the FBI was, anytime we had a time-sensitive crime problem, we would surround the table with people from completely different backgrounds - different educational backgrounds, different professional backgrounds, coming from different parts of the country, different regions of the world. Invariably, everybody, based on the family they grew up in, the city they grew up in, where they went to school, what they studied, pain they may have felt that you and I couldn't fathom that all affect how they approach problems. And we pulled all that together, and it always allowed us to get one step ahead of that criminal - by pulling everybody's unique perspectives together.

And that's essentially what the problem solvers caucus is. It's a legislative version of that. And I tell everybody I meet, if you ever had a chance to sit in on a one of those meetings, you would be so proud of your country because you, honest to god, cannot tell who the Democrats or Republicans are in that room.

You know, when I leave Congress, whenever that is or under whatever circumstances that is, I just want to be able to say that I did my part when I was there to advance that belief that we've got to get rid of this judging people based on what box they checked on their voter registration form when they were 18. We've got to get past that.

MARTIN: Congressman Fitzpatrick, thanks so much for talking to us today.

FITZPATRICK: Thank you.

MARTIN: And WHYY's Dave Davies is still with us for a couple more seconds.

So, Dave, Congressman Fitzpatrick almost went to - took pains to identify more as a member of the no-labels group or the problem solvers caucus than he did with the Republican Party. What do you make of that?

DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: He has a case to make that he's an independent. He voted against the repeal of Obamacare. He's gotten support from gun control groups. Democrats say, in the end, he will help the Republicans keep control of committee assignments and the flow of legislation, and nothing Democrats care about will ever get to a vote. And that's what matters.

MARTIN: That's WHYY'S Dave Davies.

Dave, thank you so much for being with us today.

DAVIES: Good to be with you.

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