Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick calls for more civility during town hall

Posted on August 23, 2017

Originally appearing online with The Intelligencer
By: James Boyle
August 22, 2017

When it comes to disagreeing with President Donald Trump, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick has voiced his opposition on an issue-by-issue basis such as immediately calling for a domestic terrorism investigation into the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and criticizing Trump’s response on Twitter.

“I was speaking my mind, and I got a lot of grief for that,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’ve reached the point in Congress where I’m going to speak my mind and let the chips fall where they may. When you have an incident like that, you can’t equivocate. You have to call it for what it is, which is evil.”

Fitzpatrick made his remarks to about 120 Bucks County residents chosen through a lottery to attend his first in-person town hall, which was at the Bensalem Council chamber Tuesday night.

Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, answered questions for 75 minutes delivered by Bucks County Community College professor Bill Pezza covering familiar topics of health care, foreign policy, tax reform and Trump’s conduct.

Before the meeting began, Pezza said he reviewed the questions in advance by audience members and boiled them down for clarification and for the sake of variety. After each answer, Pezza gave the questioner a chance to ask a follow up, an opportunity accepted most of the night.

The give-and-take between the audience and Fitzpatrick remained mostly civil and subdued, with the congressman earning several rounds of applause at certain points. In his opening statement, Fitzpatrick described one of the biggest threats to the U.S., besides North Korea and a sluggish economy, as the lack of civility in political discourse.

“From the kitchen table to the White House to everywhere in between, how do we talk to each other?” asked Fitzpatrick. “Do we try to see problems through other people’s eyes, or do we only see them through our eyes? It breaks my heart to see some of things going on, where there’s a lot of judging.”

Pezza kept the night on topic, but there were a few moments where the crowd overruled his discretion, especially when the conversation turned to Trump. In his remarks, Fitzpatrick said he agrees with Trump when it comes to trade policy and growing the economy, but parts ways in regards to issues such as the environment.

He also disagreed with the rhetoric Trump recently volleyed at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, when the president said the dictator’s provocations could be met with “fire and fury.”

“We need to be careful with the language we use in foreign affairs,” Fitzpatrick said. “That especially applies to a country like North Korea that is run by a madman. You never know what will set that person off.”

However, Fitzpatrick answered a follow-up question that asked point blank whether Trump is fit for office by saying Trump’s social media behavior has been a distraction.

“I didn’t run for office to respond to questions about tweets every day,” said Fitzpatrick. “There’s a big agenda we’re trying to get through and get bills across the finish line, and it’s been very distracting. There’s a lot of people that talk about impeachment, and that’s an extreme measure. We have to be very cautious as Americans when we talk about reversing the results of an election.”

Trump did not dominate the entire night. Fitzpatrick talked more about health care and the need for short-term solutions proposed by the Problem Solvers Caucus to get through Congress quickly. The caucus’ bipartisan proposal would stabilize the individual markets by putting the cost-sharing reimbursements under the legislative branch’s appropriations process, repealing the medical device tax and adjusting the employer mandate to businesses with 500 employees, up from the current 50-employee threshold.

Fitzpatrick is also confident that a tax reform package will be voted on this year after going through the regular congressional process of reviews and hearings. An infrastructure bill is also in the works, Fitzpatrick said, that will follow the president’s call for a $1 trillion investment.

“We have to define infrastructure and figure out how to pay for it,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’m advocating for overt infrastructure, like roads, schools and bridges, and covert like the electrical grid, IT infrastructure and water systems.”

Leading up to Tuesday’s town hall, a group of about 30 activists and protesters met on a shaded field at Bensalem’s municipal complex. Speakers included representatives from Lower Bucks Indivisible, Planned Parenthood and the PA Immigrant and Citizenship Coalition, who took turns talking about Trump’s agenda and urged Fitzpatrick to oppose the president’s policies.

“We are the only safety net reproductive health care provider in Bucks County,” said Mohan Seshardi, of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania. “Our doors are open to everyone for necessary and vital care. We need Congressman Fitzpatrick to protect this vital resource.”

Fitzpatrick ended the night thanking the audience for its engagement and encouraged visitors to take advantage of his district office’s open hours scheduled this weekend. Residents can meet face-to-face with Fitzpatrick on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1717 Newtown-Langhorne Road in Middletown. At least 20 minutes will be allotted to each visitor, but meetings could go longer depending on turnout.

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James Boyle: 215-345-3066; email: jjboyle@calkins.com; Twitter: @jamesboylejr

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