After years of campaigning on a promise to work across the aisle on common sense legislation, Rep. Lloyd Smucker quietly left a bipartisan caucus formed to help bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The move follows Smucker’s appointment this year to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and to a leadership post on the National Republican Congressional Committee -- two positions typically reserved for party loyalists and not necessarily lawmakers committed to working with members of the other party on legislation. It also comes after Smucker joined 137 other House Republicans early on Jan. 7 to object to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes being awarded to President-elect Joe Biden, a vote cast less than 12 hours after a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Smucker was last listed as a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus on Feb. 8, according to the Internet Archive. The archive, which crawls the internet and saves snapshots of websites on a routine basis, no longer shows Smucker as a member on March 6, though the exact date he left the group is unknown.
He is the only longstanding caucus member to leave this year, according to an LNP | LancasterOnline comparison of the current list of members with archived versions. (Rep. Ben Cline, a Republican from Virginia, has not been added to the Problem Solvers Caucus website since he joined the group in January, but has discussed his membership in the group as recently as March 26, according to an interview with an ABC affiliate in his district. Another member, Democrat Anthony Brindisi of New York, joined the caucus for only one month this year.)
Smucker’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment about his membership status in the caucus. The chairs of the group, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and New Jersey Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer, also did not respond to requests for comment.
Smucker was a member of the 56-member Problem Solvers Caucus since its inception in 2017. He has previously said he believed himself to be the most conservative member of the group and repeatedly stressed he would not sacrifice his values just to reach a compromise with Democrats. The caucus has few policy accomplishments, though political committees connected to it were crucial to a cash-strapped Smucker in fending off a 2018 primary challenge from the right, as well as for other caucus members who were more moderate than their primary opponents.
In a biographical entry formerly posted to the caucus’ website, Smucker is quoted as saying that he joined the group as one way “to ensure the American Dream stays alive – and thrives – so that everybody has the opportunity to improve their lives.” The quote continued: “We have so many important issues our country must confront and I remain committed to rolling up my sleeves and working with this bipartisan group of lawmakers to focus on navigating our path forward.”
Four other Pennsylvanians remain in the caucus, including Fitzpatrick, Republican Rep. Dan Meuser and Democratic Reps. Conor Lamb and Chrissy Houlahan.
In his first two terms, Smucker made his membership in the Problem Solvers Caucus a repeated campaign theme, likely to try to capture support from moderates out of concern about Democratic trends in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District, which includes all of Lancaster County and the southern part of York County, said Fletcher McClellan, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College.
Smucker’s decision to leave the bipartisan group almost certainly reflects his expanded role in the House GOP, as well as his comfortable margin of victory in the 2020 general election.
With a seat on Ways and Means, the House’s tax-writing committee, it made little sense for Smucker to continue on with the Problem Solvers Caucus, especially when Republicans have made clear they are completely opposed to President Biden’s agenda.
“At that point, you decide to leave and show your solidarity with fellow Republicans,” McClellan said. “Certainly, if you’re throwing in with leadership and getting a coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee, there’s something you have to do in return for that: Toe the party line.”
Smucker is also serving as a vice chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee for the 2022 election cycle. The committee is the principal campaign arm for House Republicans and is charged with raising millions of dollars to help the GOP achieve its goal of retaking the majority.
In a March 10 interview on FOX 43’s Capitol Beat program, Smucker said his constituents want him to defend them from Democrats’ attempts to expand the federal government and increase spending. He also blamed Democrats for refusing to compromise or work with Republicans on the COVID-19 stimulus bill enacted in March, though Smucker’s proposed amendment to the bill would have created an election integrity panel designed, effectively, to keep alive Republicans’ false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from them.
Fitzpatrick, Smucker’s Pennsylvania colleague, meanwhile looks to be on the opposite political path. He represents Bucks County, a politically competitive suburban Philadelphia county that Biden won. Now a co-chair of the caucus, Fitzpatrick is making his membership to telegraph his moderate credentials to his constituents, said David O’Connell, an associate professor of American politics at Dickinson College.
“In a competitive district where [Fitzpatrick’s] seat is going to be at risk, he can not be Lloyd Smucker,” O’Connell said. “He has to behave with a more moderate reputation, and that affects everything he does, down to the voluntary groups he chooses to join.”
There still is broad interest among Americans for bipartisan solutions, with 71% of Americans -- including 41% of Republicans -- saying they prefer that Republicans work with Biden over trying to serve as a check on his power, according to a January 2020 Monmouth University Polling Institute survey.
Smucker leaving the Problem Solvers Caucus is ironic, McClellan said, because this group could “be of some use” especially in infrastructure negotiations because of the number of common problems across districts.
“To me, [the caucus] has always been kind of a façade,” he added. “But there’s certainly a need for it, and it could be useful.”