After three weeks of Republican chaos and a United State House of Representatives closed for any business other than GOP infighting, Republicans finally elected a House Speaker Wednesday – the relatively unknown Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson. The new Speaker received the votes of every Republican present, from the most intransigent Freedom Caucus member to the self-described moderates of the Problem Solvers Caucus. That same night, PA-01 Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, the Problem Solvers Caucus Chair, hopped on a No Labels call to hundreds of donors and members to sell that cadre of party-dissatisfied centrists on the benefits of the new Speaker.
Those of us who are close observers of Brian Fitzpatrick know how infrequently his voting record and statement match the “moderate and bipartisan” mantle that he wears while under the national media spotlight. But the No Labels audience is primed for that tone, and Fitzpatrick did his best to lend his well-practiced moderate vibe to the new Speaker. Fitzpatrick is reported to have said that Speaker Mike Johnson “is a Reagan Republican, not a Trump Republican.”
Is he really though?
Where does new House Speaker Mike Johnson stand on the major issues of our time? How much daylight is there between the views that Brian Fitzpatrick purports to hold and the new House Speaker? And is any of this “moderate?” Let’s dig in!
The Big Lie and the 2020 Election
The new House Speaker was not just a participant in Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election, he was a leader of the efforts to challenge our nation’s democratic process. The New York Times described Rep. Johnson as “the most important architect of the Electoral College objections.” Not only did Johnson publicly spread discredited claims about Dominion voting machines, he both drafted an amicus brief in support of Texas’s efforts to invalidate votes from other states (including our own votes here in Pennsylvania) and he solicited his fellow lawmakers in Congress to sign onto that brief.
Fitzpatrick’s actions in the aftermath of the 2020 election were not nearly so blatant. When discussing the new House Speaker, Congressman Fitzpatrick recently stated that, “We disagree on the election. I believe Joe Biden is our legitimately elected president.” That declaration may be where Fitzpatrick stands today, but it is an oversimplification of the actions our Bucks County Congressman took in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election.
On November 7, 2020, Brian Fitzpatrick joined his fellow Republicans members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation in signing onto a letter that cast doubts on the integrity of the presidential election. That letter, wherein the lawmakers describe themselves as “deeply concerned” about the legitimacy of the election, refers to “party operatives” putting “thumbs on the scales” and concludes that the Republicans “remain concerned about the integrity of the election.” Then Brian Fitzpatrick spent the next 5 weeks dodging any press so that he could avoid having to comment on the outcome of the election, until he finally, on December 15, 2020, made the following statement to the Philadelphia Inquirer, acknowledging then President-elect Biden, while still defending Donald Trump’s right to file dozens of lawsuits challenging the election:
“We have a president-elect in Joe Biden. And we have a president and a campaign that are utilizing their legal access and rights to the courts … I think the alternative — if litigation were deep-sixed and short-circuited — there’s going to be lingering questions in the minds of too many people.”
While Johnson and Fitzpatrick may have some space between them in terms of their acceptance of the 2020 election results, it isn’t nearly the wide gap that Fitzpatrick portrays it. And in voting for Mike Johnson as Speaker, Fitzpatrick is pointedly backing the new leader’s election-denier views with his support.
In a recent interview with the Bucks County Herald, Fitzpatrick declared, “I don’t believe in extreme abortion laws. I think it should be legal, particularly in the early stages.” That is certainly splitting hairs, as Fitzpatrick has placed multiple votes in favor of a 15-week national abortion ban, and has participated in several procedural maneuvers to force anti-abortion legislation to the floor for a vote.
But Fitzpatrick’s stance is nowhere near as absolute as that of new Speaker Mike Johnson, whose anti-choice extremism was best described by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, who observed that Johnson is an “anti-abortion crusader who has said that physicians who offer abortion care should be ‘imprisoned at hard labor’ and who has co-sponsored federal legislation that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.” In 2015 Johnson told Irin Carmon of New York magazine, ‘Many women use abortion as a form of birth control.’”
The new Speaker supports abortion ban legislation that makes no exception for rape or incest. Considering that during his tenure as Governor of California, Ronald Reagan himself signed into law new legislation that explicitly allowed new exceptions for rape and incest, Fitzpatrick flat-out lied when he called Speaker Johnson a “Reagan Republican” when viewed through the lens of reproductive freedom.
ACA, Social Security and Medicare
New House Speaker Mike Johnson is a loud and stalwart opponent of social safety net programs. According to Bobby Kogan of the Center for American Progress, “during his tenure as chair of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) between 2019 and 2021, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) helped craft budget resolutions that called for roughly $2 trillion in Medicare cuts, $3 trillion in Medicaid and Affordable Care Act cuts, and $750 billion in Social Security Cuts.”
On Fitzptrick’s campaign website, under the section on Social Security and Medicare, he pledges, “I will fight to protect and strengthen these programs for all of our seniors.” For the most part, he has not participated in Republican attacks on those programs. Instead, Fitzpatrick has concentrated on weakening the Affordable Care Act. While he may have made a splash in 2017 for his vote against “repeal and replace,” in the years since Fitzpatrick voted to weaken existing government healthcare programs, including paying for the Children Health Insurance Program by re-assigning funds from the ACA, repealing the Medical Device tax that was designed to pay for Obamacare, and changing the rules to improve a health care product used mostly by wealthier people. Fitzpatrick also voted to weaken and route funding away from the existing veterans health care system.
But Brian Fitzaptrick also supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Every new term of Congress he ostentatiously introduces that same bill. And the effect of such fiscal policy on Social Security would be disastrous. In their article “Why a Balanced Budget Amendment Would Harm Social Security and Federal Deposit Insurance,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains that the balanced budget’s “requirement that policymakers offset federal spending in any year with revenues collected in that same year would prevent Social Security and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) from using their reserves for their intended purposes of paying benefits and responding to bank failures, respectively…[and] it would essentially be unconstitutional for Social Security to use these savings to pay promised benefits. Instead, it could have to cut benefits, because all federal spending would have to be covered by tax revenues collected during that same year.”
So while Fitzpatrick may make affirmative statements to his voters about social safety net programs, both the legislation he introduces and past votes he has placed have shown he isn’t the defender of these programs that he paints himself. And both Fitzpatrick and the new Speaker support policies that would shred the social safety net if enacted.
In 1985, Ronald Regan declared that “Social Security has proven to be one of the most successful and popular programs ever established by the Federal Government,” before adding that “Social Security system’s financial soundness has been assured, both in this decade and for many decades to come.” Neither Brian Fitzpatrick nor Speaker Mike Johnson are forwarding policies that are aligned with that vision of our social safety net.
It would be hard to be worse on environmental issues than what we have seen from Speaker Mike Johnson.
The Louisiana Republican is an active opponent of the Endangered Species Act, having introduced legislation to make it easier for developers to build on land in protected habitats. Johnson is also a climate denialist, having told E&E News in 2017, “The climate is changing, but the question is, is it being caused by natural cycles over the span of the Earth’s history? Or is it changing because we drive SUVs? I don’t believe in the latter.” The League of Conservation Voters have given Johnson a lifetime score of 2%.
This topic is the one where comparing Brian Fizpatrick and Mike Johnson is the most difficult, because Fitzaptrick himself is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the subject. In his first years in Congress, Fitzpatrick did well in the League of Conservation Voters legislative scorecard, ranging from 71% to 86%. But he has taken a dramatic U-Turn since the start of the Biden presidency, getting failing grades in both 2021 and 2022 (57% and 53% respectively).
And even in years when Fitzpatrick was getting decent environmental grades, he was still prioritizing business deregulation over environmental protection. He voted for the Hydropower Policy Modernization Act (115th Congress), a bill that mandated scientific decisions be made only by political appointees in Washington, D.C., instead of career professionals. And in that same Congress he supported the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, a bill that would effectively exempt cross-border pipelines from environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. And showing that Fitzpatrick is not invested in the reduction of fossil fuel usage, he voted for the Ensuring Small Scale LNG Certainty and Access Act. That bill “incentivizes widespread fossil fuel extraction with virtually no environmental protections, adds more fossil fuels to the electricity mix rather than replacing dirtier sources, and artificially props up the coal industry” according to the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
But this is one area where Brian Fitzpatrick’s sales pitch to the No Labels crew was spot on. Ronald Reagan notoriously said once that “trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” It feels right that Mike Johnson’s climate denialism was lumped in with that sort of Reaganesque ignorance.
This is an area where the views of the new House Speaker are the most disturbing, and Fitzpatrick’s support for his new leader is the greatest betrayal. While we don’t have a lot of evidence of Brian Fitzpatrick working within GOP circles to defend members of the LGBTQ+ community, in past years he did vote for the Equality Act. More recently, though, Fitzpatrick sided with the far-right extremists who look to ban books containing LGBTQ+ themes, when he voted for the GOP’s “Parent’s Bill of Rights” earlier this year.
Speaker Mike Johnson’s position on this topic is simply abhorrent. CNN best summarized the Republican leader’s decades long crusade against the LGBTQ+ community:
“Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has a history of harsh anti-gay language from his time as an attorney for a socially conservative legal group in the mid-2000s. In editorials that ran in his local Shreveport, Louisiana, paper, The Times, Johnson called homosexuality a ‘inherently unnatura’ and ‘dangerous lifestyle’ that would lead to legalized pedophilia and possibly even destroy ‘the entire democratic system.’
“And, in another editorial, Johnson wrote, ‘Your race, creed, and sex are what you are, while homosexuality and cross-dressing are things you do,’ he wrote. ‘This is a free country, but we don’t give special protections for every person’s bizarre choices.’”
This is clearly extremist, discriminatory policy from the new Speaker. And Fitzpatrick is working hard to sell it to the mainstream. That is a betrayal of the community he once supported.
Is there space between the policy preferences of Brian Fitzpatrick and new House Speaker Mike Johnson, who Donald Trump himself called “MAGA MIKE”?
Less than one might think.
It’s the difference between charcoal gray and black. From a distance, it is all dark. And Brian Fitzpatrick’s lies as he attempts to gaslight our own Bucks County community into believing that Mike Johnson is a “Reagan Republican” might be the darkest development yet.