WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, lives and breathes bipartisanship, down to the color of his clothes.
Earlier this month, the two-term lawmaker from suburban Philadelphia donned a purple tie and joined a group of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House to listen as President Donald Trump delivered the annual State of the Union address.
The color of Fitzpatrick’s tie symbolized his belief in the value of compromise and consensus, and the lawmakers he sat with were fellow members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group working to find common ground in an era of extreme partisan gridlock.
Fitzpatrick, who serves as vice chair of the caucus, leads the way in bipartisanship in Congress, new rankings show.
Last year, he signed on to more bipartisan bills than any other member of the U.S. House, according to a recent report card by GovTrack.us, a nonpartisan organization that tracks government data and statistics.
Of 867 bills he cosponsored last year, about 81 percent were introduced by members of the other party — a higher percentage than all 435 other lawmakers scored (the list also includes nonvoting House members).
Fitzpatrick says the rankings reflect his effort to find areas of agreement, come to the center, build consensus and move forward. “That’s the way governing is supposed to work,” he told the Capital-Star in an interview. “I’m not a fan of the sort of tribalism or the strict ideology that just leads to gridlock and leads to arguing and leads to lack of civility.”
Pennsylvania’s other House Republicans also outperformed the state’s Democrats on GovTrack’s 2019 measure of bipartisanship in the Democratic-led chamber, with each of the state’s nine Republicans earning higher scores than all of its nine Democrats.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District, got the lowest score of the delegation, cosponsoring just 6 percent of bills introduced by members of the other party.
On the other side of the Capitol, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) got middling scores on this metric, with Casey ranking 40th and Toomey 48th out of the Senate’s 100 members.
Fitzpatrick earned high marks for bipartisanship in another area of the GovTrack analysis. Democrats signed on to 18 of the 27 bills and resolutions he introduced last year — earning him 15th place among all lawmakers scored, and fifth among House Republicans.
Overall, though, the state’s Democrats wrote more bipartisan bills than its Republicans did. Fifty-six bills introduced by the state’s Democrats won GOP support, while 39 bills introduced by Pennsylvania Republicans — including Fitzpatrick’s 18 — got Democratic support.
In the Senate, Casey ranked much higher on this score (he tied for 17th) than Toomey did (he tied for 61st).
‘He doesn’t have a choice’
Fitzpatrick has been known for reaching across the aisle since he first won office in 2016, when he succeeded his brother Michael, who had imposed a term limit on himself. Michael Fitzpatrick died of cancer last month.
As a representative of one of the more competitive House seats in the country, he has a political incentive to do so, said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
Located in the state’s southeastern corner, the 1st District is one part conservative, one part liberal and one part middle-of-the-road, Madonna said. It is one of a few districts held by Republicans that backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections, and it became more Democratic when its boundaries were redrawn in 2018, Madonna said.
Fitzpatrick votes with both parties because “he doesn’t have a choice,” Madonna said. “He has to do what he has to do in order to win reelection.”
Fitzpatrick, for his part, says his record is a reflection of his policy views and governing philosophy — not a reaction to political pressure to appeal to certain groups of constituents.
“I’m a big believer in bipartisanship,” he said. “But you gotta put your money where your mouth is. You gotta reach across the aisle on all kinds of issues, not just minor issues but major issues.”
He voted with his party against impeachment and for Trump’s massive tax overhaul. At the same time, he supported Democratic efforts to end last year’s partial government shutdown without setting aside funds for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — and he regularly bucks his party and backs Democratic-led bills in the House.
In recent weeks, he voted for Democratic measures that would boost unions across the country, overturn a Trump administration rule that critics say guts protections for defrauded student loan borrowers and lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Yet Fitzpatrick is not his party’s most liberal member, according to GovTrack’s annual ideological ranking, which is based on the pattern of legislation that lawmakers cosponsored in 2019.
He ranks 156th on this year’s conservative-to-liberal scale, which puts him to the right of dozens of House Republicans, including such conservative luminaries as Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and one of President Trump’s fiercest defenders on Capitol Hill; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee and a vocal critic of Democratic policies, and Liz Cheney of Wyoming, chair of the House Republican Conference.
He’s not even the most liberal Republican in his delegation, a distinction earned by freshman Rep. Fred Keller, who ranked 181st — 25 spots closer than Fitzpatrick to the liberal end.
The analysis does not take into account votes, stated positions or other factors that may affect lawmakers’ ideological stances, such as caucus memberships, media appearances, social media posts, endorsements in campaigns or their penchant for bipartisan friendship.
Toward the other end of the spectrum was GOP Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, who ranked as the 49th most conservative House member. Close behind were Reps. John Joyce (54th); Scott Perry, (59th); Glenn Thompson (65th) and Mike Kelly (66th). To their left were Reps. Lloyd Smucker, (115th) and Dan Meuser (123rd).
U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb — who ranked 233rd — was ranked as the most conservative of the state’s Democrats, while Evans earned the most liberal score (384th).
Between them were U.S. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (237th), Mike Doyle (263rd), Matthew Cartwright (282nd), Brendan Boyle (290th) and three of the state’s four freshman women: Susan Wild (305th), Madeleine Dean (358th) and Mary Scanlon (380th).
Pennsylvania’s senators hewed to the middle of the pack on the ideological scale, with Toomey placing 41st and Casey placing 68th.