Column: To Save Their Jobs, House Republicans May Need to Save The World

On Tuesday last week, Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick joined in a petty, distracting move to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, while 200 miles north Democrat Tom Suozzi reclaimed his Long Island House seat by a comfortable margin.

Three days later, Fitzpatrick posted a news release on his website announcing introduction of a trimmed-down version of the Senate’s $95 billion military aid legislation, which Speaker of the House Mike Johnson refuses to put up for a vote.

Coincidence? Suozzi’s victory inspired confidence that Democrats can prevail next Nov. 5 in the presidential and congressional elections, and Fitzpatrick’s legislation appears to be a sign that many Republicans feel so vulnerable that they are terrified. Most of Fitzpatrick’s seven co-sponsors, like himself, represent swing districts. Fitzpatrick’s district, mostly Bucks County, borders Northeast Philadelphia, which is one mile north of my residence.

Political ramifications are the least of what is at stake. Israel and Ukraine are fighting for survival and Taiwan fears an invasion by China, and America’s status as a democracy is under assault. Nov. 5 will be an election day with far-reaching consequences.

If Donald J. Trump returns to the Oval Office, and if Republicans win control of the Senate and even the House, Trump can exert his authority as “a dictator,” as he has suggested, and ally himself with the world’s most dangerous czars, notably Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The future sequence for the fate of the world could well begin with Feb. 13, the date of a special election made possible by the Dec. 1 expulsion of indicted Rep. George Santos from the House of Representatives. Tom Suozzi was first elected to the seat in 2016 and resigned after three terms to challenge Gov. Kathy Hochul in the 2022 Democratic primary for governor, which he lost.

Following Santos’ expulsion, Suozzi defeated Republican nominee Mazi Melesa Pilip, a Black Orthodox Jew, in the Feb. 13 special election with more than 53 percent of the vote. The district, which covers northeastern Queens in New York City and northern Nassau County, is home to one of the largest Jewish populations nationwide.

The Feb. 13 election may or may not be a bellwether for Nov 5. Long Island residents quoted in The New York Times made it known that they were paying attention to Republican outrages. Referring to abortion, music teacher Jennifer Trested, 54, said, “We can’t believe our kids will have less rights than we do.”

Victor and Lois Basile said they switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party because, Victor said, “After what was going on with the Republican Party, we just said, ‘You know, I don’t want to be associated with it.’” Lois added, “It’s a little frightening, the country the way it is now.“

Such attitudes could lead to a pattern among Democrats, independents and more reasonable Republicans. Even if Fitzpatrick and some of his colleagues are not vulnerable, they are taking no chances.

Fitzpatrick was first elected in 2016 and, after a Democratic-favoring statewide redistricting, survived a blue wave in 2018 by winning re-election with 51 percent of the vote. Simultaneously, Democrats recaptured control of the House. Since then, he has remained the only Republican congressperson in the Philadelphia area. He was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote in 2022 when Republicans won a narrow majority in the House.

No matter how Fitzpatrick fares on Nov. 5, I fully expect Democrats to recapture the House this year since Democratic turnout rises during presidential elections. Even if Trump returns to office, he cannot rely upon voters in blue states like New York and California, or Democratic-leaning regions, where Democrats have ample opportunity to reverse the current margin; at last check, the matchup was 219 Republicans vs. 213 Democrats.

So why pick on Fitzpatrick? He has survived in a swing county where Democrats are serving their second term to govern the county. He has been very supportive of Israel, still reeling from Hamas’ savage attack on Oct. 7, and once co-hosted a panel discussion on the Middle East with Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Jewish Democrat from northern New Jersey. In a previous election, Fitzpatrick performed well in Newtown and Northampton townships where the Jewish population is substantial.

An influx of Jewish voters usually strengthens Democratic candidates, so this signals that the Jewish community may be more conservative than others, and they appreciate Fitzpatrick’s backing of Israel.

If Fitzpatrick falls, his loss could be part of a political earthquake that will send Democrats charging back into the House with a compelling mandate – to save the world, literally.

So it should surprise nobody that Fitzpatrick last Friday gave us the Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act “which provides, for one year, necessary authorities to secure the U.S. southern border and defense-only appropriations in support of Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.”

Fitzpatrick’s bill would reduce the Senate’s $95 billion legislation by a third, to $66.32 billion, with $47.6 billion for Ukraine; $10.4 billion for Israel and $4.9 billion for the Indo-Pacific, particularly Taiwan. The bill would also require suspending “entry of inadmissible aliens to achieve operational control over U.S. borders, require immigration officers to detain and immediately expel inadmissible aliens,” according to the congressman’s news release.

Most co-sponsors from both parties represent swing districts, though these members of Congress appear less vulnerable than other members. This could mean that they are worried about a political earthquake that will rattle their political careers.

Among the co-sponsors, Rep. Mike Lawler was among four Republicans to flip Democratic seats in suburban New York City districts in 2022. As a member of this quartet, Santos offers Lawler the perception of guilt by association. Don Bacon’s district revolves around Omaha, which is more liberal and Democratic than elsewhere in Nebraska. Democrat Jared Golden’s district covering northern and central Maine is much more conservative than southern Maine.

As House Speaker Johnson persists in dithering and threatening congressional Democrats, 13 members of the United Nations Security Council voted Tuesday for a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, but they were blocked by America’s veto. An “unconditional” cease-fire would hinder negotiations between Israel and Hamas to release the 100 or so hostages still detained by Hamas.

As supplies of artillery shells necessary for Ukraine’s defense keep dwindling, Russian troops demolished the eastern city of Avdiivka in recent days and may have captured a massive amount of Ukrainian soldiers, according to the Times. Back in Russia, leading dissident Aleksei A. Navalny died last Friday on the grounds of an Arctic prison. President Biden lost little time blaming Putin for his death.

Where is Johnson? He occupies a safe House seat from Louisiana, so perhaps he does not care about Fitzpatrick, Lawler and company. But he does need to care about Team Fitzpatrick just to hold onto the Republican majority. Yet if he helps his more sensible colleagues, then Trump will order Johnson to ignore them.

Even so, if Fitzpatrick in his zeal to save his job can convince Johnson to act, if only on his two-thirds compromise legislation, they may save the world. Or save two-thirds of the world.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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