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Pa.’s Brian Fitzpatrick explains why he supported Biden’s infrastructure bill. Now he’s facing backlash from some fellow Republicans.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is facing a GOP backlash for being one of 13 Republicans to support President Joe Biden's bipartisan infrastructure bill, but those kind of votes have helped him keep winning.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican, speaks during a House hearing earlier this year. Fitzpatrick was one of 13 House Republicans who supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill proposed by Democratic President Joe Biden.
U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Bucks County Republican, speaks during a House hearing earlier this year. Fitzpatrick was one of 13 House Republicans who supported the bipartisan infrastructure bill proposed by Democratic President Joe Biden.Read moreTing Shen/Pool / MCT

WASHINGTON — To Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, his key vote to help pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill this month was a rare example of Washington working.

“You should vote up or down on a bill based on the text. It shouldn’t matter who benefits politically,” Fitzpatrick said in a telephone interview Monday after a week fielding many complaints over a crucial move that helped President Joe Biden deliver a major campaign promise.

The Bucks County congressman, and the last GOP House member standing in the Philadelphia suburbs, was among the 13 House Republicans who supported a $1.2 trillion plan that Biden signed Monday.

But while the vote for a bipartisan bill may play well in Fitzpatrick’s competitive district, it has also drawn sharp attacks from some fellow Republicans, conservative commentators, and, he said, some of his own constituents. That’s because the bill’s Republican supporters, including two from New Jersey, didn’t just support a Biden initiative, they saved it from potential failure during the most politically devastating stretch of his Democratic presidency. Their votes didn’t just add to the tally of a bill that was passing anyway — they pushed it over the finish line, helping overcome objections from six progressive Democrats.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) has called the Republicans who supported the bill “traitors” and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R., Colo.) tweeted that it was time to “hold these fake republicans accountable.”

Some Republicans have even suggested stripping committee assignments from those who supported the bill, effectively taking away their power to shape legislation. At least one Republican who voted for it said he got a death threat.

“What were they thinking?” former President Donald Trump said in a statement Monday about the crossover votes. He linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial blasting all 13.

Fitzpatrick, along with New Jersey Reps. Chris Smith and Jeff Van Drew, are among those facing the backlash, and aiming to explain why they voted “yea.”

» READ MORE: Here’s what Pa.’s and N.J.’s chunk of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill might buy

Fitzpatrick, who expects to oppose Biden’s wider social spending bill, argued that the infrastructure plan has significant benefits for his district and others throughout the Northeast, where old roads and rail lines, along with large population centers and heavy traffic, have made the need for infrastructure most acute. He also pointed to the bill’s $10 billion for PFAS chemical cleanup, a major concern in a district that includes all of Bucks and a sliver of Montgomery County.

“We have the most, we have the largest, and it’s the most structurally deficient” infrastructure, Fitzpatrick said. “Hard infrastructure typically is — and should be — something that everybody gets behind because it’s an investment in the nuts and bolts of our country.”

Of the House Republicans who supported it, seven are from the Northeast: Fitzpatrick, the two New Jerseyans, and four from New York.

Fitzpatrick has a personal connection with Biden, who personally invited the congressman to Monday’s bill-signing at the White House. (Fitzpatrick did not appear to attend, though a number of Pennsylvania Democrats, including Gov. Tom Wolf, did join the event.) He once interned under Biden’s son Beau in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia. And they share grief: Fitzpatrick’s brother Mike died in 2020 of brain cancer, as Beau had, in 2015.

Fitzpatrick said those ties didn’t factor into his vote. His calculus, he said, was simple: “Is it good or bad for Bucks and Montgomery County?”

Still, the vote illustrates how Fitzpatrick — to the frustration of his liberal critics — has managed to hold on to his seat, even as Democrats have generally had sweeping success in the Philadelphia suburbs. He and his late brother, who preceded him in the seat, have held the district for 13 of the last 17 years, both brandishing bipartisanship as key selling points, while fending off critics on the right and left.

Democrats cast Fitzpatrick’s infrastructure vote as a matter of political expediency, not bravery.

“These infrastructure jobs will be huge for Bucks County and the region, and with our 50/50 district, he can’t keep this seat without this vote,” said Patrick Murphy, the Bucks County Democrat who previously held the seat. “This vote was a no-brainer and hardly a profile in courage.”

Bucks County, which makes up the vast majority of the district, had 209,000 Democratic voters as of January, compared with 198,00 Republicans and 82,000 voters unaffiliated with either party. Biden won about 52% of the vote in the district last year and Democrats have once again made Fitzpatrick a top target in the 2022 midterm elections. Already, two veterans, Ashley Ehasz and Paul Fermo, are running in the Democratic primary.

“Brian Fitzpatrick doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for doing his job,” said James Singer, a spokesperson for House Democrats’ campaign arm.

» READ MORE: A Bucks County election sparks a familiar question: Is Fitzpatrick a moderate?

Charlie Dent, a former GOP House member from Allentown and a leading moderate voice, argued that the votes show the 13 Republicans putting partisanship aside to reflect their districts.

He said it was “beyond the pale” to consider stripping committee assignments from anyone because of their vote. That punishment, Dent noted, is usually reserved for serious misconduct, not policy disagreements.

“What’s even more troubling is I haven’t heard House Republican leaders come out and just slam the door on this half-baked idea,” Dent said. “We’re talking about people who have distinguished records, who have brought credit upon the House who are not in any way part of a scandal or anything. That’s why this is such an outrageous ploy by some of these malcontents.”

Dent was one of 18 former GOP House members, including four from Pennsylvania and two from New Jersey, who signed a letter Monday criticizing House Republican leaders for failing to defend the 13 who supported the bill, CNN reported. Chester County’s Jim Gerlach and Bucks’ Jim Greenwood were among the signatories.

Fitzpatrick brushed off the idea that he could lose committee posts.

“That’s not a real thing, I don’t think,” he said. “Not even close to anything being a reality.”

While critics often accuse Fitzpatrick of showing bipartisan support for bills likely to pass anyway, he was involved in this measure early on. He recounted an April meeting at the Annapolis residence of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican, where several governors, House members, and senators from both parties gathered to lay out the outlines of what they would consider in an infrastructure bill.

Gov. Wolf was there, as was Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Pa.), a Western Pennsylvanian now running for Senate, Fitzpatrick said. Fitzpatrick endorsed the bill as early as July, when its fate was still in doubt.

In the interview Monday, he argued that infrastructure has long been, and should be, a bipartisan priority, saying it’s also critical to national security to keep up with China’s massive investments. Presidents of both parties, including Trump, have long sought new investments. Fitzpatrick envisioned local residents seeing upgrades to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and State Route 611, and improvements on Amtrak and at Philadelphia International Airport.

Much of the criticism, Fitzpatrick said, has come from people conflating the bipartisan infrastructure bill with a sweeping Democrats-only measure that’s also in the works to pay for social programs such as child care, prekindergarten, and child tax credits and to fight climate change.

» READ MORE: Why Pa. moderates and progressives are clashing over how to advance Biden’s agenda

That’s what he said has been at the center of the many calls now pouring into his office, though none have risen to a level requiring him to alert law enforcement.

“Its being driven by a lot of people — people in elected office, people in media,” said Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent. He later added, “There’s just a lot of misinformation out there.”

Yet some Democrats themselves have linked the bills together, and the party is now pressing to move the social spending measure through the House this week, though it still faces a difficult road in the Senate.

Republican critics say that by passing the infrastructure bill, Democrats are that much closer to breaking the logjam on their wider spending program. That linkage was enough to prompt one Pennsylvania Republican, Rep. Dan Meuser, to renounce his initial support for the infrastructure plan.

Fitzpatrick said that the degree of connection is “in the eye of the beholder” and that he would oppose the social spending bill as it currently stands. He argued that constituents will come around to the benefits of the infrastructure bill as they learn more about it.

“Everybody that calls and writes in will get a response from us,” he said. “We’ll walk them through it.”