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Rep. Katko: Sit on the Sidelines or Do Something About It

July 19, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Representative John Katko, R-N.Y., makes no bones about how he feels about things.

Still as straight and direct as he was during his years as a prosecutor of organized crime in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Syracuse, Katko, who has represented New York’s 24th congressional district since 2015, quickly admits he never thought he would serve in Congress, “never thought I’d be in politics.”

“I spent most of my adult life as a federal organized crime prosecutor, literally traveling the world going after drug cartels, porn traffickers, organized crime, political corruption, you name it,” he told attendees at this week’s “Legislating from the Middle,” a forum sponsored by Center Forward and hosted by The Well News at the Newseum’s Knight Center.

Every time Katko opened a significant case, he’d form a task force comprised of local, state and federal law enforcement personnel, and in each instance, he’d find himself frustrated by his new colleagues’ “different priorities and different goals.”

“Then one day, two colleagues of mine said, ‘you can either sit on the sidelines and continue to gripe about it, or you can do something about it,” he said.

Katko launched his first congressional campaign wanting to make a difference specifically by showing that people of different philosophical persuasions could rack up real achievements together and that bipartisanship can work.

“I made a commitment to do that,” the representative said, as his co-panelists, Representatives Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Rodney Davis, R-Ill., looked on.

“As a result, I’ve never filed a bill without a Democratic cosponsor, and it has really helped. I’m told I had more bills passed in my first term than any freshman congressman in the history of our country,” Katko said.

“And it’s not because I’m some great legislator, it’s just that bipartisanship can work,” he said.

Katko said his personal philosophy in this regard was informed by the relationship of House Speaker Tip O’Neil and President Ronald Reagan.

“They were diametrically opposed in terms of political ideology, and yet they managed to get things done [in their day] that if we could get them done [today] we would be heroes — Social Security reform, immigration reform, tax reform and tax cuts,” he said. “And they did that together, a conservative Republican and a liberal speaker of the House. We need to get back to that.”

Not that anyone should expect being a centrist and willing to reach across the aisle is easy. Katko said the days he knows he’s doing well are those when both the far left and far right in the House is angry with him.

“I constantly have to walk a tightrope, but it’s worth it,” the representative said. “People are so sick and tired of turning on the TV and see the nonsense — and you only need to look at the polls for confirmation.

“The economy is good, unemployment is low, wages are getting higher … and yet people … don’t feel good about the country. They don’t feel good about themselves because they don’t feel good about the country. And that is really sad and this has got to change.”

Katko told forum attendees that he believes it’s up to centrist Republicans and Democrats to work together to address the situation. “If we don’t, it’s not going to happen because the far left and far right do not bend. And that’s a zero sum game.”

“I want to get to the point where compromise is cool,” he continued. “Today, everything is about messaging bills [that have no chance of enactment] and this doesn’t get us anywhere. We have a lot of big things we need to deal with, starting with infrastructure and healthcare and other issues that we’re just sweeping under the rug.”

“We take bullets every day and get the crap kicked out of us every day,” Katko said of himself and his fellow moderates. “And yet for some strange reason I find it’s worth it. I take pride in it. The bottom line is bipartisanship is just the right thing to do.” 

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