PA-01 Member of Congress Tracking Report – 02.16.20

34 mins read
Graphic by Kelly Pollock.

This is a 100% volunteer effort brought to you by a handful of progressive Democrats and Independents who share a vision of an informed electorate.  We want to offer a big thank you to the Demcast and Pennsylvania Statewide Indivisible organizations who host our report and help us share it out to the residents of our Commonwealth!

Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump

The lower the number, the more the legislator votes in opposition to the Trump agenda.

Member of CongressThis week’s scoreChange from last report
Senator Bob Casey (D)29.1%0.0%
Senator Pat Toomey (R)87.5%0.0%
PA-01 Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R)64.8%-0.8%

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website assesses the voting records of our MoCs to provide this index, by comparing any bills where President Trump has stated a position, and comparing the vote of the legislator to that opinion. There was a scoring anomaly this week, and we are waiting for feedback from FiveThirtyEight to explain it.  No votes were scored this week, but on 02/11/20 the website did an update/modification of scores. We will provide an explanation once information is available.

Want to see exactly what votes went into giving your MoC the numbers above?  Click on the name of any legislator and you will be brought to their 538 webpage, where all of the positions that went into the index are listed in an easy-to-read format.

Votes of Interest  

The Senate Asserts its War Powers and Blocks Iran Hostilities 

Senate Vote on S.J.Res. 68: A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress

A bipartisan group of four senators (Time Kane if Virginia, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah) introduced a joint resolution to limit the president’s ability to direct an offensive strike against Iran.  The resolution is built around the opening statement of “Congress has the sole power to declare war under article I, section 8, clause 11 of the United States Constitution.” The measure goes on to affirm that the United States Congress has NOT declared war on Iran, and notes that “more than 100 members of the United States Armed Forces sustained traumatic brain injuries in the Iranian retaliatory attack on the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq despite initial reports that no casualties were sustained in the attack.”  The closing portions of the resolution read (emphasis added by MoCTrack):

(a) Termination – Pursuant to section 1013 of the Department of State Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1984 and 1985 (50 U.S.C. 1546a), and in accordance with the provisions of section 601(b) of the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act of 1976, Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.

(b) Rule of construction – Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack.

Vote date: Thursday, February 13, 2020 Vote Tally: 55-45

Party Breakdown: All Democrats and Independents were joined by 8 Republicans in voting YES. The Eight Republicans are Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Todd Young of Indiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mike Lee of Utah.

Additional Reading:

Casey voted YES and Toomey voted NO.  A veto is expected.

One Small Step toward the Equal Rights Amendment 

House Vote on H.J.Res. 79: Removing the deadline for the ratification of the equal rights amendment

For an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it must not only pass both houses of Congress, but it must be ratified by ¾ of our states.  Often, the text of such an amendment includes a deadline by which it must receive the approval of the requisite states. In the case of the ERA, passed in 1972, the text of the amendment notes it must be ratified by 1979.  It is, however, well within the rights of Congress to extend that deadline, and has already been done once before for this measure. Earlier this year, Virginia became the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA, prompting this week’s vote to extend the ratification deadline.

Vote date: Thursday, February 13, 2020 Vote Tally: 232-183

Party Breakdown: All Democrats and 5 Republicans (including 🔴 PA-01’s Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick) voted YES on this measure.  Independent Justin Amash and all remaining Republicans voted NO.

Additional Reading:

Fitzpatrick voted YES.

The House Votes to Protect more Western Wilderness 

House Vote on H.R. 2546: Colorado Wilderness Act 

This is an amalgam of six separate bills that will protect over 1.3 million acres of wilderness in not just Colorado but also California and Washington state.  It establishes several new wilderness areas, expands the boundaries of several existing preserves, and expands the National Wild and Scenic Rivers network by about 1,000 miles. The Sierra Club explains that wilderness is “the strongest level of federal lands protection, a product of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which created a framework for designating areas ‘unimpaired for future use.’ Commercial activity, vehicles, and motorized equipment are not permitted. Even bikes are a no-no. It’s wilderness in the purest sense.” 

Vote date: Wednesday, February 12, 2020 Vote Tally: 231-183

Party Breakdown: All but six Republicans voted NO, along with the lone Independent.  All Democrats present voted YES.

Additional Reading:

Fitzpatrick voted YES.

Judicial Confirmation #1

Senate Confirmation Vote on Andrew Lynn Brasher to be United States Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit

It was only nine months ago that the 38-year-old Judge Brasher was confirmed to a district court position.  Now the Trump Administration wants to launch him into the level of the judiciary just below the Supreme Court. Brasher is a close ally of the president having worked on his transition team, coordinating criminal justice policy.  A number of legal groups came out strongly against Brasher both then and now. The Alliance for Justice explains why, in a letter to Senators:

Brasher’s record on eroding rights for persons of color should alone be disqualifying. He filed an amicus brief in Shelby County v. Holder that supported eroding the Voting Rights Act. He defended Alabama’s harsh felon anti-voter law that, according to one study, disenfranchises over 286,000 Alabamians. Brasher was involved in a lawsuit arguing it is unconstitutional for the Census Bureau to count non-citizens. He has a history of defending unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in Alabama and Virginia, and in his personal capacity has criticized the Supreme Court’s efforts to remedy racial gerrymanders. Brasher also supported an unconstitutional Florida law mandating universal drug testing for Florida Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants that the Eleventh Circuit found stripped away “legitimate expectations of privacy” for thousands simply “by virtue of [their] poverty.”

That same letter also cites that the nominee “consistently fought against rights of women,” and “attacked LGBTQ rights” as well as “fought against workers, consumers, and the environment.”  The Vetting Room also has a substantial list of cases where Mr. Brasher fought against the rights of citizens.  Once such example was a Supreme Court case where he defended the imposition of the death penalty upon a mentally ill defendant.

Vote date: Tuesday, February 11, 2020 Vote Tally: 52-43 (confirmed)

Party Breakdown: This was a pure, party line vote with all Democrats and Independents present voting NO, and Republicans voting YES.

Additional Reading:

Casey voted NO and Toomey voted YES

Judicial Confirmation #2

Senate Confirmation Vote on Joshua M. Kindred to be United States District Judge for the District of Alaska

The Vetting Room puts this nomination into context by comparing it to a past, failed Trump nomination to the same seat.  They explain the issues with this nominee so well, let’s just review some of their comments:

Last year, the nomination of Jon Katchen to the federal bench in Alaska failed amidst opposition from Alaskan lawyers regarding Katchen’s relative inexperience.  The Trump Administration has responded by nominating an even younger lawyer with less experience. This time, with a broader Senate majority, Republicans look to push through Joshua Kindred to the Alaska federal bench…

…Kindred participated in regulatory rulemaking processes, including commenting on proposed regulations of the Alaska oil and gas industries.  For example, in 2015, Kindred testified before the Senate Committee in favor of further oil and gas development under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).  He also opposed potential state regulations on fracking, arguing that the regulations are “unnecessary” and “provide delays and increased costs.”

… In 2018, Katchen’s nomination faced sharp criticism on the grounds that he was rated 13th out of 20 applicants before the Alaska Bar Association.  Today, Kindred has been nominated for the position despite having an even worse rating of 16th.[15] Comparatively, while only 31% of respondents rated Katchen as Extremely Qualified or Well Qualified for a federal judgment, only 15% similarly rated Kindred.  As such, the same criticisms of youth and inexperience that dogged Katchen could be applied to Kindred.               

Vote date: Wednesday, February 12, 2020 Vote Tally: 54-41 (confirmed)

Party Breakdown: All Republicans voted YES, and they were joined by two Democrats – Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All other Democrats and Independents present voted NO.

Additional Reading:

Casey voted NO and Toomey voted YES

Judicial Confirmations, widely approved

This trio of judges were confirmed with supermajorities, a rare enough occurence for Trump nominations.

  • Philip M. Halpern to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York; confirmed in a 77-19 vote on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Casey voted NO and Toomey voted YES
  • John Fitzgerald Kness to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois; confirmed in a 81-12 vote on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Casey voted YES and Toomey voted YES
  • Matthew Thomas Schelp to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri; confirmed in a 72-23 vote on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Casey voted NO and Toomey voted YES

Unanimously passed legislation

The following bills were passed through unanimous consent or voice vote (which presumes unanimity, as any member can object to the voice vote and ask for a roll call). This list excludes bills related to post offices, stamps, memorials, awareness weeks and other ceremonial activities.

  • H.R. 1494 – Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Homeland Security Partnerships Act
  • H.R. 4432 – Protecting Critical Infrastructure Against Drones and Emerging Threats Act
  • H.R. 4737 – Department of Homeland Security Climate Change Research Act
  • H.R. 4753 – Drone Origin Security Enhancement Act
  • H.R. 5273 – Securing America’s Ports Act
  • S. 2107 – Protecting America’s Food and Agriculture Act
  • H.J. Res. 80 – Approving the request of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for a waiver under section 1703E(f) of title 38, United States Code
  • H.R. 2744 – USAID Branding Modernization Act
  • S. Res. 504 – A resolution honoring the memories of the victims of the senseless attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018

Our Senators’ statements on the Iran War Powers vote:

🔵 Senator Bob Casey, via Twitter, 02/13/20:

🔴 Senator Pat Toomey, via his official website, 02/13/20:

Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. President Trump was right to take decisive action recently to hold Iran accountable and restore deterrence, the result of which has led to a de-escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. As we are not currently engaged in hostilities with Iran, the War Powers Resolution is both unnecessary and unhelpful. Further, its enactment would limit the president’s ability as commander-in-chief to defend our troops and diplomats abroad as necessary.

MoC Twitter Action

Courtesy of contributor Helen, a.k.a @ElastigirlVotes on Twitter

Twitter Action – the Trump Budget

🔵 Senator Bob Casey, @SenBobCasey, 02/12/20:

Twitter Action – Guns

🔵 Senator Bob Casey, @SenBobCasey, 02/14/20:

🔴 PA-01’s Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, @RepBrianFitz, 02/14/20:

Twitter Action – MoCs on Legislation

🔵 Senator Bob Casey, @SenBobCasey, 02/13/20:

🔴 PA-01’s Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, @RepBrianFitz, 02/11/20:

Tweet of the Week

The best and worst content of the week from Pennsylvania’s MoCs

🔵 Senator Bob Casey, @SenBobCasey, 01/20/20:

🔴 Senator Pat Toomey, @SenToomey, 02/14/20:

🔴 PA-01’s Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, @RepBrianFitz, 02/12/20:

Casey in the News 

Courtesy of contributor Linda Houk

President Trump’s budget slashes Medicare and Medicaid. He promised to protect the programs in 2016, but he lied. Instead of strengthening the middle class, the President keeps giving tax cuts to the super-rich and big corporations while hardworking families foot the bill… This budget makes it clear: Whenever President Trump and congressional Republicans get the chance, Medicare and Medicaid are on the chopping block.

from an article in the Bradford Era titled “Toomey, Casey disagree on Trump’s proposed budget

 An investment in home care is an investment in the future of rural America… We’ve got to have more resources.

from an article in the Ellwood City Ledger titled “‘We have to fix this,’ home health-care worker tells Casey, Aging Committee

We must invest in home health care… That is why I am introducing the Home and Community-Based Services Infrastructure Improvement Act. This bill will provide Medicaid grants to all states to support existing service providers and encourage the creation of new delivery systems to meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities.

from an article in Home Health Care News titled “Senate Bill Seeks to Create New Home-Based Care Delivery Systems, Boost Caregiver Wages” 

Attorney General Barr is disgracing our rule of law by diverting law enforcement resources away from legitimate law enforcement to investigate debunked conspiracy theories… After the Senate impeachment trial, some of my Republican colleagues said the president had learned his lesson and would change his behavior. Clearly, he has done neither.

from an article in Mother Jones titled “Why Did William Barr Pick Pittsburgh to be Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine Conduit?

I thought it was an especially important year to propose this, when you have a huge presidential election … and a big Congressional election. I just think these big debates should be on the table, and we’ll do everything we can to make the case for our kids.

We just have to give every kid a shot.  And, if they have health care, they have enough to eat, they have early learning opportunities and you can do everything possible to keep them safe, they’re going to have a chance.”

from an article in The Citizens’ Voice titled “Casey’s proposal offers protections for children

Fitzpatrick in the News 

We must ensure that no child, and no family, will ever endure such a tragedy again. I commend these families for their commitment to bipartisan solutions, and for having the courage to turn their tragedy into positive action.

from a Pennsylvania Capital-Star episode titled “U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick meets with Parkland families, Trump on school safety measures

When it comes to a 3.5% pay increase, I have your back and I’m with you. When it comes to protecting your pensions, I’m with you. This is not about left and right, this is right and wrong. For the sustainability of any movement, and this is why I love the labor movement, you focus like a laser on the issues. We have to focus on that. We need as many friends from as many corners as we can get to get that accomplished. Count me in; I’m with you guys.

the representative’s comments on the low pay increase for federal employees in the Trump BUdget, from an article in the Federal News Network titled “Despite last year’s victories, familiar challenges resurface for AFGE in 2020

Aside from a shared devotion to the Philadelphia Eagles, we both believe that Congress can and must do more to combat climate change and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. These two issues go hand in hand and have the potential to shape our communities and our country for decades.

from a Philadelphia Inquirer  opinion piece co-authored by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, titled “It’s time for bipartisan support in combating climate change and rebuilding infrastructure”  

Representative Fitzpatrick did a radio interview this week on 1440 AM WNPV’s Comment Please program.  MoCTrack contributor CC was kind enough to transcribe portions of that 15 minute long interview.

From 2:15, his comments on his brother:

“He was a big, big believer in… as soon as votes are done, the second they’re done, getting on that Amtrak train, getting home and being with our bosses, our constituents, spending as much time in the district, out and about on the streets, going to every corner of the community to just interact with people and listen to them. That’s probably the greatest lesson that Mike taught me — that to be an effective representative, you’ve gotta spend time listening to people, seeing the world through their eyes, walking in their shoes and understanding their perspective on an issue or any problem that they’re dealing with, and put yourself in their position that you’re able to personalize it a lot more and your response is generally much better.”

From 10:45, his comments on the impeachment process:

“There was no law enforcement investigation, even though I asked them to make that referral, they did not. It was originally taken out of the committee of jurisdiction, the Judiciary, and given to the Intelligence Committee and for over a month there were hearings in a [unintelligible], essentially a classified bunker even though no classified information was being discussed; all these witnesses being deposed — not all those witnesses deposed made their way to the Judiciary Committee or even the Intel Committee for the open hearings. The majority/minority parties were not given equal rights to call witnesses and subpoena documents. What I surmised as the only FBI agent in Congress whose last assignment … was in Ukraine fighting corruption, even I, Darryl, was totally blocked out of the process.”

From 12:33, his comments on the Problem Solvers Caucus:

“I will tell you, I mean, this morning we had our Problem Solvers Caucus meeting , and I can tell you, Darryl, it has not impacted our relationships with each other… We need to move forward on a lot of important work.  Thankfully USMCA got across the finish line, which is gonna be a tremendous boon to our economy. And we got a lot of work to do on infrastructure, we have a lot of work to do on opioids, on mental health parity, student loan debt, there’s a lot of things we’re trying to tackle here, that we gotta get across the finish line, and we can’t dwell on anything in the past, especially divisive things like impeachment.

Toomey in the News 

Courtesy of contributor Elayne Baker

Tax reform’s most pro-growth feature was allowing businesses to immediately write off purchases of new equipment. It led to workers becoming more productive, which resulted in higher wages and more jobs. My bill to make full expensing permanent would give manufacturers and businesses of all sizes certainty around investment planning and it would keep our economy humming. I thank my cosponsors for recognizing the economic benefits of full expensing and look forward to getting this measure passed and signed into law. 

from an article in the Daily Local News titled “Sen. Pat Toomey introduces bill to boost U.S. economy

For the past five years, I have fought to end sanctuary city policies that endanger the public. The fact is that these policies, like the ones in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and other areas across the country, make it harder to keep dangerous criminals off the streets.

President Trump was right to shine a light on the threat sanctuary city policies pose as part of his State of the Union address and I wholeheartedly applaud Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice for taking further legal actions to combat them.

It’s past time for Congress to do its part and pass my Stop Dangerous Sanctuary Cities legislation, which would help put an end to sanctuary city policies.

from a MyChesCo article titled “Toomey Statement on DOJ Action Against Sanctuary City Policies

As a result of paying the punitive tariffs, ATI has been forced to operate certain facilities at unsustainable levels. I am concerned that if ATI’s exclusion requests are denied or decisions are not made until early this spring, ATI may be forced to announce the closure of the Midland mill, which would directly eliminate 100 jobs and impact another 200 outside jobs that support the mill.

an excerpt from a letter penned by the senator, as cited in a Pennsylvania Business Report article titled “Sen. Toomey requests tariff relief for Allegheny Technologies” 

Pennsylvania has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic and while significant steps have been taken to address it, more work remains. [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] CMS is proposing to implement three provisions I authored as part of the 2018 SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act that would help ensure Medicare is a better steward of opioid prescriptions and takes commonsense steps to prevent abuse and misuse. I look forward to working with CMS to enact these provisions and improve Medicare for seniors and people with disabilities.

from an article in The Bradford Era titled “Toomey provisions included in CMS proposal

Our government is on an unsustainable spending path. Since 2014, overall spending has increased by nearly a trillion dollars and our big entitlement programs remain on a crash course with insolvency.  For that reason, I appreciate that President Trump’s proposal includes $4.6 trillion in savings over the next decade. With unemployment at near historic lows, the president is right to slow the growth rates of, and tighten eligibility requirements for, the various welfare programs.

Furthermore, the entire 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act should be made permanent in order to continue fueling a booming economy. The president’s budget takes a constructive step in that direction.

The most important responsibility for a president is to keep the American people safe. Continuing efforts to rebuild the military and increase security at the southern border are necessary parts of accomplishing this.

Finally, this budget proposal serves only to outline the priorities of the administration and does not carry the weight of law. The ultimate responsibility for passing a budget and funding the government rests with Congress.

from an article in MyChesCo titled “Toomey Statement on Trump’s 2021 Budget Proposal” 

That’s a very, very dangerous path to go down. This beggar-thy-neighbor mutual currency devaluation is not in our interest, and it is not in the mandate of the Fed to pursue it.

the senator’s comments to Fed Chair nominee Judy Shelton during her committee hearing, as quoted by Deal Breaker in the article “You’ll Never Guess What Happened To Trump’s Latest Fed Nominee

Learning about Legislation – Five Freedoms for America’s Children

Please see our deep dive into Senator Casey’s Five Freedoms for America’s Children.

This report was brought to you by the Pennsylvania MoCTrack team: 

  • Elayne Baker 
  • Gary Garb
  • Helen aka @ElastigirlVotes
  • Linda Houk
  • Kierstyn Piotrowski Zolfo

We are seeking additional assistance. Our Congresspeople are always busy and there is always more for us to cover — tasks big and small to fit any level of time commitment or experience. Can you help us out?  Please email and put “MoCTrack Help” in the subject. Thanks!

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