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Rep.-elect Scott Fitzgerald, a veteran state legislator from Wisconsin who spent eight years as the Republican leader in the state Senate, is "excited" about what the House Republican minority can do in the next Congress.
Fitzgerald, who is replacing the retiring Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, is a member of the Republican freshman class in the House that's flipped at least 12 blue seats to red, vastly exceeding expectations in what was supposed to be a grim election for down-ballot Republicans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., predicted in August that Democrats would expand their majority by at least "double-digits." Now it appears that Democrats will actually see their majority shrink by double-digits, bringing Republicans to potentially less than 10 seats short of a majority.
Rep.-elect Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis., was previously the state senate majority leader in Wisconsin. Fitzgerald said that the narrower Democrat majority in Congress can be a "game-changer" for House Republicans' ability to sway legislation during the Biden presidency. (Scott Fitzgerald)
"I'm excited," Fitzgerald said of the newfound parity in the House in an interview with Fox News. "I think the other members of the freshman class are as well … when we talk to Leader McCarthy or to Steve Scalise … they're very excited about the margins, you know, with the amount of seats that Republicans picked up."
Fitzgerald added: "A month before the election a lot of the comments coming out of D.C. were tempered with the ideat that, hey, we could lose another 20, 30 seats in the House."
The new congressman added that privately, House GOP leadership was telling candidates not to pay attention to those forecasts and that they were "seeing something else happening out on the campaign trail than what was being forecasted and predicted."
Fitzgerald, who was both the minority leader and the majority leader at various times during his tenure in the Wisconsin Senate, said such a close margin could give Republicans more of a voice in the chamber than they've had since Democrats took over in 2018.
Rep.-elect Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis., at a campaign event. Fitzgerald told Fox News that he believes the larger GOP minority in the next Congress can be a "game-changer." (AP)
"Maybe the dynamic of a thin majority will actually force Pelosi to work with McCarthy to get things done," Fitzgerald said.
And that majority, since Fitzgerald's interview with Fox News, has gotten even thinner. Biden named Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, poaching another member of the House Democratic Caucus for his administration. Her seat will be vacant between her confirmation and when she is replaced by a special election.
This drew an anxious reaction from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
"I'm certainly concerned by the slimming of the majority. I've indicated to the administration very early on that I wanted to be very careful in terms of the members that they appointed from the Congress given the closeness of the, of our majority," Hoyer said last week.
The House Democrats' second-in-command said that he believes his party will be able to stick together on legislation to keep Republicans from blocking key bills, but added that their losses in 2020 should be a wake-up call for Democrats.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., speaks during the House Democrats press conference on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, on legislation to remove the bust of bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney and Confederate Statues from the U.S. Capitol. Hoyer warned that President-elect Biden's selections of members of the House Democratic Caucus for positions in his administration could make things hard on the party that lost several seats in the recent congressional elections. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
"We're going to be a very unified caucus as we were this past Congress," Hoyer said. "In many of our bills, as you probably know, we passed unanimously without any losing any Democratic votes. And, in others, we [lost] just a few. But I think members will be focused on how close the majority is now or in the future."
President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to address the coronavirus pandemic with legislation quickly after entering office. Fitzgerald, in comments made before the legislators on Wednesday appeared to be closing in on a pre-Christmas coronavirus deal, said he thinks "something should be done" on that as well.
But, Fitzgerald said, the combination of a close margin and simmering dissatisfaction among House Democrats with Pelosi could be a big boost for Republicans' negotiating position on that and other issues — and even potentially endanger her bid for another term as House speaker.
"That puts her in a tenuous position," Fitzgerald said, "because it looks like even with some of the late calls in some of these races, it could be, you know, a margin of 10 seats. That's got to be a game-changer."
Pelosi is widely expected to win the vote for speaker of the House early in the next Congress. But with all Republicans expected to back House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the margin for error for Democrats is thin. According to Roll Call, 15 Democrats either voted against Pelosi or "present" for her most recent term in a vote held in January 2019, something that can't happen this time around with Republicans' recent gains.
Fitzgerald comes from a family that has a history in politics. He told Fox News that his father was previously a sheriff and that his brother, Jeff, was previously the speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks during a news conference at the Capitol, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020, in Washington. Pelosi is expected to again be the Speaker of the House in 2021, but faces little margin for error with a shrunken Democratic majority. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The longtime state legislator said one of his priorities in Congress will be getting the federal deficit under control, especially after record deficit spending in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I'm hearing more from people in the fifth [district] than I did early on about the federal deficit. And I think it's in a different light than the way it was being debated prior to COVID," Fitzgerald said. "There is … a little more pushback on the idea that we can just keep not just printing money but kind of throwing money at an issue like that and not expect it's going to have to be paid back at some point."
He added: "Maybe if there's a silver lining on that whole debate it might be that other members of Congress will maybe take the discussion more seriously once this is all behind us."
Fitzgerald has experience dealing with budget issues, dating back to his time working in Wisconsin politics during Gov. Scott Walker's tenure in office. During that, Fitzgerald noted, Walker and the GOP legislature enacted significant cuts to public sector union benefits largely aimed at helping the state's finances.
"One thing that I think many Wisconsinites felt was kind of out of whack was the benefits and the protections afforded to public unions in Wisconsin," he said. "And the governor came up with a plan and the legislature executed changes … and kind of sparked a national debate."
Fitzgerald is also a former member of the U.S. Army Reserve and previously was the publisher of small local weekly newspapers in Wisconsin. He said that he is concerned that the media may not push for transparency from the Biden administration the way it has with President Trump.
"And it seems like right out of the gate, you know, even though it's a very small incident, you know, because they weren't forthright and waited a couple days before going and telling the truth about what happened," Fitzgerald said about a recent injury President-elect Biden sustained while playing with his dog. "Just raises suspicion, but the media's been giving those guys kind of a pass on that. They're not going to give Trump that kind of pass."
Fox News' Jason Donner contributed to this report.