North Carolina Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger voted twice to keep the federal government open — but both his Republican and Democratic opponents are blaming him for the three-day shutdown.
Pittenger, one of 2018’s most vulnerable House Republicans, is getting blasted on both his right and left flanks as the politics of Government Shutdown 2018 shifts from Capitol Hill to the campaign trail.
He says he’s not worried about the outcome, calling his vote on Monday for a short-term House measure to fund the government through Feb. 8 and another vote last Thursday to avert a shutdown “the right thing to do.”
“If I was concerned, I wouldn’t run for Congress,” Pittenger said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office. “There’s some folks out there that Ronald Reagan wouldn’t be good enough for them today. The way these people nit-pick and try to isolate something or pull something out, there is no perfect bill at all.”
Former Charlotte pastor Mark Harris’ Republican congressional campaign has seized on Pittenger’s support for stopgap government funding measures to show that Pittenger is a creature of the Washington Beltway swamp that President Donald Trump vowed to drain.
Pittenger faces a May 8 GOP primary rematch against Harris, who he defeated in 2016 by 134 votes.
“While the Democrats, and specifically (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer, have to own the current shutdown…it’s an overall sign of the dysfunction of Congress, which is a huge issue in our race,” said Andy Yates, Harris’ campaign consultant. “The entire time Pittenger’s been in Congress there have been no budgets passed. He deserves load of the blame, being part of the process.”
Pittenger has been a House member since 2013.
Democratic Party campaign officials are piling on, too. They say Pittenger is part of an inflexible GOP that’s unwilling to negotiate across party lines on some of the nation’s pressing political issues.
Dan McCready, an Iraq War veteran and Charlotte entrepreneur, and Christian Cano, a Charlotte resident and former hotel consultant, are vying for the Democratic nomination in the 9th Congressional District. Cano lost to Pittenger in the 2016 general election.
“Voters in North Carolina are already holding Congressman Pittenger responsible for the unnecessary Republican shutdown,” said Cole Leiter, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman.
Some political analysts believe that trying to tie Pittenger to the shutdown won’t work, largely because the episode will likely be a distant memory by the time primary and general elections are held.
“The fact that it was over a weekend and ended on Monday, it probably will not be a major deal,” said Carter Wrenn, a veteran North Carolina Republican political strategist. “The fact that it didn’t last long, it’s one of those issues that just pops up and goes away.”
There just wasn’t enough pain caused by this shutdown that it lasts as an issue
Carter Wrenn, North Carolina Republican political analyst
Pittenger said he worked to be part of the solution during the shutdown crisis. He co-sponsored a bill that to ensure military and Department of Homeland Security employees received pay during a shutdown while members of Congress did not.
He also sent a letter to House Chief Administrative Officer Philip Kiko Jan. 22 asking him to “withhold my pay during the period of lapse in appropriations beginning January 20, 2018 until an appropriations agreement has taken effect.”
Yates and some Democrats called the pay withholding request by Pittenger and other lawmakers in both parties a stunt, noting that the U.S. Constitution prohibits members of Congress from changing their own pay.
“It’s just grandstanding and trying to give yourself cover against a shutdown,” Yates said.
Paul Shumaker, Pittenger’s campaign consultant, accused Harris of trying to have it both ways on the pay issue. He pointed to a Jan. 21 post on the Harris campaign Facebook page where the former pastor suggested that “Legislation needs to be introduced that suspends the salary of Members of Congress in the event of a government shutdown.”
“I don’t know how you make hay when you’re agreeing with your opponent,” Shumaker said.