Committee assignments to come
MILTON — Over a recent period of less than two weeks, Congressman Fred Keller (R-Pa. 12) won a special election, resigned from the State House and was sworn in as a member of 116th Congress of the United States.
Keller’s introduction to Washington was thus different, having won the seat held by Tom Marino, who resigned after a 2018 election to a fifth term. New members of the House, when elected in a routine political cycle, go through an orientation process and get committee assignments as they begin the work of representing their districts.
Keller reflected on his first month in Congress in an interview at The Standard-Journal.
“Coming in through a special election, you have a different experience on swearing-in day,” Keller said. “We were really honored. We had 80 to 100 people come down to celebrate. I got to make a few remarks on the House floor.”
Keller’s remarks included crediting Marino for his years in Congress and as a prosecutor. He said Marino’s colleagues stood up and applauded.
However, Keller pointed out that there are normally seven or eight weeks between being elected and begin sworn in. He said a team of district directors and a chief of staff have helped him in the transition.
Committee assignments, for example, were not known yet but would come.
“They look at where there are openings,” Keller said. “We haven’t gotten our committee assignments as of (Friday). However, we were looking toward an eventual goal of Energy and Commerce, which is full right now. Even a good fit for us would be Education and Labor, being that we have the colleges in the district. Transportation and Labor would be another good one for our district.”
Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La. 1), House minority whip, offered Keller a spot on the HEAT (House Energy Action Team).
“What that does is that we get to know the issues, and become the people that advocate and maybe go and have meetings and press conferences on energy policy and things that are happening around the nation on energy and upcoming legislation,” Keller said.
Keller said keeping in touch with the district, a habit grooved while in the State House for more than four terms, would not change.
“As Ben (Ranck) did for me at the state level when I couldn’t be at a place, Ann (Kaufman, district director) or someone from our team will be there,” he said. “We’ll make sure people’s voices or messages are getting carried to D.C.”
The Congressional district, Keller noted, covers all or part of 15 counties.
Voting days in the House can be busy, such as June 18, when 30 amendments and other matters came up for votes. Keller said his State House experience and expertise of his staff were invaluable when it come to the complexities of policy.
“You might end up voting for an amendment, but at the end of the day not vote for the bill because in the estimation what amendment does, it makes the bill more palatable or the policy behind it more in line with our district,” Keller said. “Even though I might vote yes for an amendment, and say if the bill is going to pass I at least want this amendment in it to make sure it represents our district, should it pass.”
Among the examples from June 18 was an amendment which would have struck a paragraph from a measure which would have prevented withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement but also stuck a paragraph which allowed for payments into the agreement. Keller said it was part of the appropriations bills moving through for different agencies. Keller voted in the affirmative, but the amendment failed.
“There was an amendment I voted on, and I can give you hundreds of examples,” Keller said of another instance. “This amendment said we would not take people that were coming into our country and compare those names against known gang members.”
Keller said the amendment was added, though he did not favor it.
Still, Keller said it was unfair for an interest group to score a voting record. He found the practice baffling, even at the state level.
An easier decision was an amendment which took $10 million from an operations and management budget and directed toward funding for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Keller voted in favor of the amendment, which passed 404 to 22.
“Any interest group will select eight, 10 or 20 votes, and they’ll grade those votes,” Keller said. “The ones the NRA grades might be different from the ones from the (Pa. State Education Association), which might be different than the Commonwealth Foundation, which might be different from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.”
Keller compared it to a teacher who has assigned 40 tests to students, but only graded three.
“There is a lot of work and decisions which go into what you do,” Keller said. “I think it is a little disingenuous for somebody just to grade a few votes and develop a profile.”
One bill, called a “mini-bus” rather than an “omnibus,” might have 80 amendments attached.
Keller said the voting in the House is also different, with vote times scheduled in series. On a “fly in” day, the first day of the week, voting is in the evening. Other days have votes scheduled with debate in between. A “fly out” day has votes scheduled earlier in the afternoon.
Keller said they were dealing with the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations and Humanitarian Assistance and Security of the Southern Border Act of 2019 (HR 3401) immigration bill on Thursday, which ended up passing 305 to 102. Keller voted in the affirmative on a measure which was likely to be signed by President Trump.
Additional comments from Keller will be featured in an upcoming edition of The Standard-Journal.
Staff Writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.