Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb on Pennsylvania politics and the future of the Democratic Party

Lamb just won reelection, but his race against a Republican challenger was a lot closer than many observers expected. We spoke with Lamb about the future of the Democratic Party.

Rep. Conor Lamb speaking during a rally for Joe Biden at Community College of Beaver County on Nov. 2 in Monaca, Pa.
Rep. Conor Lamb speaking during a rally for Joe Biden at Community College of Beaver County on Nov. 2 in Monaca, Pa.Read moreAndrew Harnik / AP

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb just won reelection, but his race in the 17th Congressional District in Southwestern Pennsylvania, against a Republican challenger backed by President Donald Trump, was closer than many political observers expected. Other Democrats weren’t so lucky. The party suffered unexpected losses in Congress and down the ballot in Pennsylvania. We spoke with Lamb about the path forward. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Why was your race so much closer than expected?

I think it’s the result of how heavily Donald Trump campaigned here. And [my opponent] Sean Parnell was with him every step of the way. I always knew it would be a close race.

What do you think of the president’s refusal to concede?

The only word I can think of is un-American. I want to be really clear about this: Anyone who runs for office has every right to have every vote counted. There’s a reason at the presidential level that a graceful concession speech and smooth transfer of power are part of our tradition. It’s not about the feelings of the candidate. It’s about the well-being of our community.

» READ MORE: What a group of Pennsylvania voters thinks of Biden’s 2020 election win over Trump

What are the long-term consequences of voters' growing distrust of our electoral system?

I’m concerned about the fact that the president is selling false hope to his followers. He’s seeding the ground for more hatred, division, and distrust in our country for years to come.

Tell me about the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic caucus in Congress. How can they work together?

The division isn’t between two defined groups in the caucus. The division is between a small set of members who want to say whatever they want about others' campaigns and about policy ideas that make no sense to the people in our districts, and the rest of us.

» READ MORE: Philly was supposed to turn out huge for Biden. It didn’t. What happened?

Still, there is division. How do you overcome it?

It’s very simple. I am not trying to have a discussion about personalities. I want to talk about policies. None of these people are my enemies. I respect them and want to work with them to advocate for and develop policies that will improve the lives of the people we represent.

I’m asking questions like, ‘Is this workable? Will it help someone in my district?’ We may not get every person in every caucus to agree every time. But most members of Congress are work-a-day legislators. President-elect Biden will be the one to steer us in the right direction.

What are your priorities for the next Congress?

A: We absolutely have to get something done to help people who need help amid the pandemic. [Senate Majority Leader and Republican] Mitch McConnell is talking about a bill we can pass. Yes, it’s a much smaller package, but still. We should negotiate that to the finish. People are going to run out of unemployment very, very soon. And we can’t have that. That would be a disaster for them and their families, and a disaster for the economy as a whole.

» READ MORE: Biden’s blue-collar appeal brought in just enough white working-class voters to help him win Pennsylvania

What else are you focused on besides pandemic relief?

A: Infrastructure. This is something Pennsylvania desperately needs. Our roads and bridges are aging and out of date. They’re not ready for the 21st century economy. I want to put people to work and give them an opportunity to build something in their hometown that they can be proud of and can look back on the same way people in Pittsburgh take pride in our bridges.

Moving forward, how do you appeal to voters who support the president and believe the misinformation he’s been sharing?

I don’t think the task is as grim or as difficult as you’re making it sound. I have appealed to many of those voters. There are many places where I got more votes than president-elect Biden. I won the support of a building trade union that supports Trump.

People who support me but also support the president usually tell me it’s because of a bipartisan bill I got done, or the constituent casework my office took care of, or the way I conducted myself at a town hall.

Looking forward, the way we appeal to these voters is we get some things done.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania Republicans are parroting Trump’s false election claims as the post-Trump GOP takes shape

What should Pennsylvania Democrats take away from these election results?

We got beat on the economy, and that’s frustrating. We were very focused on the pandemic, but people felt frustrated by the lockdowns.

We need to do a better job telling voters how we’re going to get the stock market back up, how we’re going to get the job market going, how we’re going to help reduce the costs in their lives.

In short, we need pragmatism. We need to demonstrate a willingness to work with the other side to get things done.

Unfortunately, some in my party don’t think that’s a powerful enough message. But I think we carry something like a burden of proof to explain how our ideas will work well and attract Republican support.

Pennsylvania’s senate race and governor’s race are expected to be competitive. When will you decide if you’re running?

I just got through my own election and one of the most important presidential elections of our lives, all during a pandemic. My first child is due in three weeks. When I come up for air, we’ll talk about it. Very little if any thought has gone into that question so far.

» READ MORE: Pennsylvania is here to stay as a swing state

Will Democrats be at a disadvantage in those contests given Republicans' success this cycle?

We could be. But it depends who runs. Look, we just won. We just took back Pennsylvania from Trump. We have many members who held onto their seats in Congress. We should feel confident in that result even though we didn’t get everything we wanted.

Moving forward, we can’t be talking about socialism and defunding the police. We need to talk about things people like the sound of, things we can get done.

Anything else to add?

I have already started to hear from colleagues who question whether voter turnout will stay this high if Trump isn’t on the ballot. Let me tell you: He has firm control of his supporters, and if he wants them to turn out, they will. It’s going to be a fact of life.