It was interesting to hear U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican Senate candidate running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, speak at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg on Monday.
Not that Barletta made news. He seemed intent on not doing so.
But he is, you may know, joined at the hip to Donald Trump. Yet he managed — despite their, well, adhesion — to plow through a 20-minute speech without mentioning the president.
A little odd, no?
Barletta, remember, is the former Hazleton mayor who drew national attention as a hardliner on illegal immigration a decade before Trump rode the issue into the Oval Office.
He was an early Trump supporter who co-chaired Trump’s Pennsylvania campaign. And Trump, in turn, touted Barletta as a “Great Republican…(who) will make a FANTASTIC Senator.”
Note the caps.
It’s likely Barletta wouldn’t be a candidate for Senate in 2018 were it not for Trump’s winning Pennsylvania in 2016.
So, you’d think a Barletta speech would tout Trump. On the economy, the tax cuts, peace efforts with North Korea, something. But no.
Barletta’s speech was about Barletta.
About his unsuccessful Major League Baseball tryout (couldn’t hit the curve), starting his own successful business (line-painting parking lots), getting elected mayor as a Republican in 2-1 Democratic Hazleton, and later to Congress in a 60 percent Democratic district.
OK, maybe he figures he needs to get his story out, given he’s running against a two-term incumbent with lots more money and a famous surname who’s appearing on a contested statewide ballot for the 10th time since 1996.
Fair enough. But then he took shots at GOP-run Washington, where he’s been a member of Congress for seven years, saying, “Washington is broken.”
He noted that after members of Congress were shot during practice for a congressional baseball game last June, Congress “instantly” upped funding for its own security, while offering little but talk in response to school shootings.
He criticized congressional inability to repeal and replace Obamacare, noting the failure to offer an actual replacement.
He ended with, “It’s an honor to serve in Congress.” It didn’t sound like sarcasm.
Now, because press club luncheons include a Q&A session, he couldn’t avoid Trump or the current uproar over immigration policy.
On both he demonstrated enough dexterity to suggest that even if he can’t hit the curve, he’d be pretty good at dodgeball.
Asked if there are any areas of Trump policy or practice with which he disagrees, he said, “Sure.”
He then spoke of promoting after-school programs, and how when an administration budget proposal sought to eliminate federal funding for same he got the funding restored, and how that won him “legislator of the year” honors from the National Parent Teacher Association.
But that was in 2016, before Trump was president. And while Barletta’s campaign says he also helped get after-school funding this year, the issue has more to do with annual administration/congressional budget spats than Trump. The last three administrations sought to reduce or eliminate the funding.
Barletta, however, did point to a “second area” of disagreement with Trump: “I believe the president should have a dog.”
Trump doesn’t. And apparently doesn’t want one.
Then Barletta, who initially supported, but then praised the recall of, the southern border child-separation policy, juked around a question of whether it was morally wrong and shouldn’t have happened.
He went with “nobody wants to see separations,” other administrations did it, Congress needs to change the law, and “there’s nothing good that comes from illegal immigration.” But he didn’t answer the question.
Not unusual. Lots of pols don’t answer questions.
But after hearing Barletta speak, and speak so little of his leader, my question is: Does he know something we don’t know?
John Baer is a columnist Philadelphia Daily News