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House Republicans Back Legislation To End Shutdown, Breaking With Trump


We're going to start our program here in Washington, D.C., where a new Congress was sworn in even as the partial government shutdown dragged on into its third week. Earlier this week, the House of Representatives, which is now controlled by the Democrats, passed legislation to reopen the government. That legislation did not include the $5 billion the president has demanded for a border wall, so the president has insisted that he will keep the affected agencies closed until it does.

Now, while the votes were mostly along party lines, which has been a typical scenario over the last few years, several Republicans broke with Trump and voted with the Democrats to reopen the government. One of them was Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania. You might remember that we visited Congressman Fitzpatrick in his district in advance of the election. His was one of the most hard-fought races in the country, but he prevailed to win his second term.

Congressman Fitzpatrick, as we said, is a Republican, but he's highlighted his membership in the Problem Solvers Caucus. It's a bipartisan group that aims to work across the aisle. He's also the only former FBI special agent currently serving in Congress, and he's with us once again from Langhorne, Pa.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us, and congratulations on your re-election.

BRIAN FITZPATRICK: Thank you, Michel. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm very well. You know, it was a big week for you along with the other members who were sworn in, and it was a hard-fought race, as we said. And I just wanted to ask, like, what are your thoughts on returning to Washington now at a time like this, when things are tense, as they have been?

FITZPATRICK: Yeah. No, it's an honor to serve at any point that I think, especially now, Michel. Given the status of everything going on in our country, I'm very - looking very much forward to serving with our new colleagues. We have probably the most diverse Congress ever, which is a great thing. And it's an interesting scene.

You know, when you get sworn into a new Congress, particularly with as many new members as we have - we have close to 100 new members - trying to put the names to the faces and the districts and getting to know all of them. And I really look forward to getting to know all of them and working with each and every one of them on different issues.

MARTIN: Do you broadly have any advice for your colleagues about how to move forward together, since this is a theme that you stressed during your campaign?

FITZPATRICK: Absolutely. Look at everybody who may think differently than you and try to learn from them. Don't judge them. Understand that everybody thinks differently based on our life's experiences, where we grew up, what we studied, pain that we may have felt that other people haven't. Everything factors into why people approach problems and try to solve problems in a certain manner. And I think the most important thing we can do is view differences of opinion as strengths to be harnessed and not weaknesses to be criticized.

And I look forward very much to working with all my colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike. And that's, I think, the most important thing, is tone and civility and demeanor and treating everybody with respect and watching the words you use and wanting to learn from people, wanting to work with people from all parts of the country and all walks of life.

MARTIN: You were one of a handful of Republicans, as we said, that went against the party on Thursday and voted for legislation to end the government shutdown. What were some of the factors in your decision there?

FITZPATRICK: Well, I think it's the most basic job of any elected official, including a member of Congress, is to fund our government. You know, I can tell you firsthand, Michel. I lived through the government shutdown of 2013 as an FBI agent. I was a supervisor. We had to make incredibly tough decisions on designating essential versus non-essential police. Support employees that are incredibly important to the ongoing investigative process were furloughed, and it was incredibly disruptive. I thought it jeopardized our national security. And I will always vote to fund the government.

And I - you know, as important as these debates are on a lot of critical issues - and they're certainly important - government shutdowns are not the venue where we should be debating and discussing these things. I think we need to fund our agencies. We need to make sure that these people, many of whom are living paycheck to paycheck - the air traffic controllers, Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol, Coast Guard, my colleagues at the FBI - these people have very important jobs to do, and we have to fund them, and we have to support them.

MARTIN: Just to clarify, do you take issue with the border wall itself? Because a number of your colleagues have gone so far as to call it stupid or just ineffective. Or is it you just disagree fundamentally with using this tactic to - as a negotiating tool?

FITZPATRICK: Well, No. 1, I don't like the term border wall because I think it conjures up images of a brick and mortar structure across all 800 or so miles of the southern border. I think that when we talk about securing our border, we need to defer to the experts - CBP, the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol - who will tell you that, depending on the sector of the border, depending on the terrain, different things are needed.

Many stretches require technology like infrared and heat sensors and motion detectors and infrared. Some stretches require physical barriers which slow down the - you know, the drug runners, the drug cartels, the MS-13 gang members, whoever it may be - and give the Border Patrol additional time to interdict. But it's really specific to the terrain and the sector.

But, more importantly, Michel, I don't think that any one issue like this should be the cause of a government shutdown because government shutdowns are incredibly costly. They're incredibly inefficient. It's not the way to govern. There's no reason why, and it makes zero sense that in the name of border security we should be defunding CBP, Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, who are the three entities responsible for securing our border.

MARTIN: Are you hearing from any of your former colleagues in the FBI about this?

FITZPATRICK: I have. I have. And they know that I lived through the '13 shutdown, and they are struggling right now. You know, we're coming up on periods of time where their paychecks are going to become due, and there's not going to be paychecks coming to them. And many of these public servants and law enforcement and in these federal agencies - they live paycheck to paycheck, and this is a major concern for them. You know, I saw some stories today about TSA screeners calling in sick. These are national security concerns, and they're very serious concerns.

And government shutdowns are no way to function. We need to reopen the government, and then we can have these discussions. And, again, they really ought to occur in a manner where everybody wants to come to the table and compromise and build consensus because we have a divided government right now. That's what the public voted for. And they want us to work together.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick. He's a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us once again. And we do hope we'll be talking throughout the year.

FITZPATRICK: Anytime, Michel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.