Pa. Democrats instrumental in party’s takeover of U.S. House

Originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on November 7, 2018

By Julian Routh

Armed with a new slate of progressive pragmatists in their delegation, Democratic congress members in Pennsylvania said Wednesday they’ll use their House majority to chip away at achieving bipartisan efforts like investing in infrastructure and lowering the cost of health care, all the while putting a check on President Donald Trump.

With nine Democrats in total on their way to Washington from the state, incumbents said they’re more than ready to come out of the gate eyeing reachable policy goals — like decreasing the price of prescription drugs and passing government ethics reforms — rather than focusing too intensely on their newly obtained subpoena power that could spearhead probes into the president.

“A lot of this is going to depend on [Republicans] and where the president wants to engage us,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, of Forest Hills, “and where he doesn’t, we’ll have a check on him in the House.”

The Democrats’ takeover of the House had much to do with Pennsylvania, where the party’s candidates flipped four seats — a significant electoral success in the first contests since the state’s congressional maps were redrawn. Before the state Supreme Court-ordered redistricting in January, Republicans had won 13 of 18 House seats in three straight elections.

In addition to welcoming their new caucus colleagues — four of whom are women — Mr. Doyle, along with Reps. Brendan Boyle, of Montgomery, and Dwight Evans, of Philadelphia, said in interviews Wednesday they’re excited to play offense in Washington and help set the party’s agenda.

Mr. Evans said he hopes the president realizes the chance he has to work with Democrats to give Americans a “functional bipartisan effort” on important policy objectives.

“I think [Mr. Trump] has an opportunity,” Mr. Evans said. “We have a lot of new talent that could bring something to the table. But I think it’s up to him to realize that we have to meet with each other half way.”

Two of Congress’ new Democratic entrants from Pennsylvania spoke out against the president in their campaigns. Madeleine Dean, who won the 4th District handily, said in her acceptance speech that “the answer to that intolerant man is you, is us,” referring to Mr. Trump.

Chrissy Houlahan, who turned the 6th District blue, has said Mr. Trump motivated her to run for office. One of the opening lines on her campaign website was, “I cannot stand quietly aside and watch President Trump misrepresent our values, as he enriches himself, his relatives and wealthy friends, all the while diminishing opportunities for everyone else.”

During the campaign, Republicans labeled Democrats across the country as aspiring resisters and obstructionists to the Trump administration, and that continued in Pennsylvania after the results came in.

“Going and taking over Congress merely as a means to be an investigatory arm and to engage in presidential harassment is another step in them being part of obstruction and resistance,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

But Mr. Boyle said the Democratic majority will be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” having the capability to work on bipartisan legislation while implementing a check on Mr. Trump.

“We can pursue an infrastructure bill, pursue a compromise on health care and pursue raising the minimum wage, while at the same time making sure our oversight responsibilities of this administration are carried out,” Mr. Boyle said, adding they will work to protect the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The three incumbents, who easily won re-election on Tuesday, talked excitedly about working across the aisle on accessible issues, echoing House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s messaging. Ms. Pelosi, who is likely to become the next House Speaker, has said she looks forward to working with Republicans, while pledging that Democrats will fight for “a Congress that works for the people.”

Though he’s said he won’t support Ms. Pelosi for speaker, Democrat Conor Lamb appears to be an ideal fit for the Democrats’ strategy. He based much of his campaign for the 17th District on finding bipartisan solutions to opioid epidemic and health care, which helped carry him to a convincing win over Republican Keith Rothfus in the country’s only battle of incumbents.

But four of the Democrats entering Congress for the first time included a number of progressive-leaning ideals in their campaigns, whether it was fighting for universal health care, a $15 minimum wage or banning assault weapons.

Mary Gay Scanlon, who flipped the 5th District, supports a transition to Medicare for All, but also acknowledges the need to repair and protect the Affordable Care Act first. Ms. Dean supports universal health care, too.

Susan Wild, who took the 7th from Republican control, has said she supports working toward a single-payer health care system, while Ms. Houlahan has called for “an insurance system in which everyone participates, sharing coverage, risks, and costs.”

Mr. Doyle said before Democrats push for progressive proposals like Medicare for All in the House, they need to work on building public support.

“We can’t repeat the mistakes of 2006 and 2008 where we got stuff out too quickly that wasn’t ready, that wasn’t properly explained and was easy to demagogue,” Mr. Doyle said. “I think this time, if we’re going to try to make a real shift in the way health care is delivered to the country, that’s going to take some time to educate people and have discussions with stakeholders and the public, far in advance of legislation.”

Mr. Evans said there’s nothing wrong with individuals having policy aspirations, but “you still got to work it out” to get it through the House and Senate and obtain the president’s signature.

On Ms. Pelosi’s comments and the Democrats’ strategy to start work on bipartisan issues, Mr. Gottesman said the new members will vote with the far left of their party after running on a “radical platform” — and anything incumbents say otherwise, he said, is simply “post-election chatter.”

Mr. Doyle said he thinks Republicans will find his party’s majority “accommodating.”

Ashley Murray contributed reporting. Julian Routh:, 412-263-1952, Twitter @julianrouth.