BENSALEM TOWNSHIP — Bucks County Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick took his first town hall questions Tuesday evening, and like other Republicans holding public forums nationally, the conversation immediately focused on the president.
What did he think of President Donald Trump’s reaction to the unrest in Charlottesville, Va.? Fitzpatrick, a freshman representing the state’s 8th District after leaving a post at the FBI, replied that the events in Charlottesville should be described as a “domestic terror incident,” drawing applause from many in the room.
“You can’t equivocate. You can’t even hint at moral equivalency,” Fitzpatrick said. “You have to call it what it is — which is evil — and it shouldn’t be hard.”
It wasn’t the only question he would field about the president. Others asked whether Trump represents the Republican Party’s values, his view of Democratic legislation seeking to censure the president, and later pressed him repeatedly on whether he views Trump as fit to serve.
Fitzpatrick sidestepped the query about Trump’s fitness, later telling reporters he’s “not a psychologist” and telling the crowd that discussion of removing a president from office “is a very serious thing.”
“We have a big agenda that we’re trying to get through,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s been very challenging. I didn’t run for Congress to be responding to tweets every day. I ran to try to get things done.”
The town hall at the Bensalem Township Municipal Building was Fitzpatrick’s first since taking office in January. Outside, he was greeted by several dozen constituents frustrated that they weren’t able to get tickets to attend the forum, which was limited to 120 people randomly selected by the Bucks County Courier Times.
“He’s taken some good stances, but you have to face the music,” said Theresa Pussi of Chalfont, who said she had sought a ticket because she wanted to hear from Fitzpatrick but also to hear from the other people asking questions.
Fitzpatrick’s staff said the size was limited to allow for as many as possible in the room to ask a question. Bill Pezza, a Bucks County Community College political science professor, asked the questions submitted by attendees. After Fitzpatrick responded, Pezza then called on the person submitting that question to follow up.
Most did, with some making a comment and others, including a 29-year-old woman identified as Louise, pressing Fitzpatrick for more specifics, as she did on health care reform. Describing herself as having survived ovarian cancer but facing obstacles with her insurance coverage, she pushed him for details on what exactly he supports when it comes to changing health care policy.
Fitzpatrick had opposed the House Republican health care bill due to his concerns about how he believed it would hinder opioid addiction treatment. He’s among a bipartisan group that has cobbled together a five-point plan for changes, including making permanent the federal payments intended to hold down out-of-pocket costs for customers buying insurance on the Obamacare exchanges and revising the employer insurance mandate.
He added that he would like to work on more fundamental changes to the health care system that would link costs to outcomes instead of specific services, something he described as helping drive the opioid crisis. Fitzpatrick also said he’d like to see more transparency for consumers on health care costs.
But asked in a follow-up about his view of a single payer health care system, Fitzpatrick responded that while he wants to work toward ensuring that everyone has health coverage, he’s “not a fan of one-size-fits-all solutions.”
His opposition to the House Republican health care bill was cheered by Danielle Pollack, a 45-year-old Doylestown resident who said afterward that she appreciated his “middle-of-the-road” approach.
“For a Republican, I think he’s doing OK,” said Pollack, adding that she knew “he caught some heat for that” vote.
Fitzpatrick drew a positive response from the town hall crowd talking about gerrymandering reform. He introduced a bill on the issue during one of his first days in office.
The congressman later got a mixed response on immigration: There was applause as he said those who are in the U.S., especially children, should be welcomed. But when he shifted to talking about the need he sees for border security, including some physical barriers, a man shouted back, “No, no walls!”
Several others joined in, but the crowd became subdued after someone said, “We’ll never get anywhere unless we let him talk.”
Another woman, who identified herself as Nancy from New Hope, asked about tax reform plans underway in Congress. But when she got a chance to follow up, her focus was less on the policy specifics than on the broader procedural decisions that had frustrated her and others during the health care debate, pushing Fitzpatrick to pledge that the process for drafting a tax bill would be more open and clear for those following far away from Washington.
“Amen,” Fitzpatrick said. “I agree.”
Before he left the microphone, a final questioner nudged him to hold more town hall events. He responded that he’ll be “doing a lot of events.”
Those who didn’t get to attend have another chance to ask him questions Saturday, when constituents can stop by Fitzpatrick’s Langhorne office between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to talk with him and his staffers.