Steve Mellon, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
January 23, 2024
Part way through U.S. Rep Chris Deluzio’s re-election launch at a Collier Township union hall Tuesday night, phones throughout the room buzzed with news alerts that polls would soon be closing in the New Hampshire primary. The notifications seemed to underscore Deluzio’s description of his campaign as part of a larger war against Republicans wedded to chaos, culture wars and conspiracies.
“They are trying to tear down this country so they could elect a guy who lost the last election, an insurrectionist, to be president again,” said Deluzio, who represents the state’s 17th Congressional District. “I won’t mince words. Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to our freedom and our constitution, period. We have to hold the line.”
His words met with applause from a room full of supporters who’d soon learn that Trump had defeated former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley in New Hampshire, a sign that the former president continues to dominate the GOP.
Deluzio spoke of his experience with the House Republican majority in his first term, which began with the GOP’s tumultuous four-day process of electing House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. In addition to what he described as “insane partisan games from the right-wing majority,” Republicans have threatened veterans services, attacked women’s reproductive rights, and brought the country to the brink of a government shutdown.
“I am now less certain that our greatest and most dangerous threats lie outside our borders,” Deluzio said. “We have work to do right here at home.”
After a video presentation in which the state’s Democratic Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman, as well as Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, announced their endorsements, Deluzio began a speech that first delved into what he described as traditional Western Pennsylvania values – hard work, patriotism, sacrifice –and discussed a bit of his own biography.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 motivated him to enter the U.S. Naval Academy and then to service as a Navy officer in Iraq, he said. He described his duty aboard a Navy destroyer and the middle-of-the-night discussions on deck with a diverse collection of sailors, discussions that centered on families, mortgages, sports, future plans.
“Nobody on that ship ever thought their patriotism was superior or more American than the other guy or gal they were surviving with,” he said. “No one thought their religion or faith should be imposed on us by our government.” Those sailors then came home to an America, he said, where “those accusations happen every single day
“Most folks know our country is under tremendous stress,” Deluzio continued. “Faith in our institutions is waning, and divisions feel like they are insurmountable. Americans seem further apart than we have ever been, certainly in my lifetime. It has to stop. My message is pretty simple: We’ve been through much worse, and we’ve managed to come together as Americans. And we have to do it again.”
The 17th District includes the western half of Allegheny County, from Penn Hills to Richland Township to Oakdale, as well as Beaver County. It includes both college-educated and working class communities, wealthy neighborhoods and former mill towns, and is considered a competitive district. In its most recent assessment, the Cook Political Report ranks the race as “lean Democrat.”
State Rep. Rob Mercuri (R-Allegheny) is running for the Republican nomination to challenge Deluzio in November. A second Republican candidate, pastor and retired law enforcement officer Jim Nelson, dropped out in November.
In his speech, Deluzio listed what he considered some of his accomplishments in his first term: “I stood up to big railroads, fought back against junk fees and ripoff price gouging, and brought home more than $480 million for our region.” That money, he noted, has gone into law enforcement, roads, bridges and mental health services, among other things.
Before his announcement at the headquarters of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Deluzio met with local reporters and answered questions about his priorities for a second term, should he win in November, and about the issues facing the country.
Deluzio said he’d continue to push the Railroad Safety Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation he introduced with New York Republican Nick LaLota after the Feb. 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, within several hundred feet of the Pennsylvania state line at Beaver County.
People who live near railroad tracks throughout the district, he said, have told him rail safety needs to be improved. “They hear those whistles the same way I do at home. They’re worried that the next derailment is going to hit their neighborhood.”
Republican leadership in the House haven’t advanced the bill, which he calls “must-pass legislation,” and the Senate version can’t move forward because Democrats lack enough GOP support to override a filibuster. Republican efforts to block the bill have so far been a victory for big railroad companies “who, frankly, have treated us like collateral damage for too long,” Deluzio said.
He voiced his opposition to the recently announced sale of U.S. Steel to Japan’s largest steelmaking company, Nippon Steel.
“This is about American industrial leadership,” Deluzio said. “It’s about domestic jobs, it’s also about national security.”
Should the United States have to ramp up production in an armed conflict, Deluzio said, he doesn’t want to “roll the dice on whether a foreign company, even one from an allied nation like Japan, is going to make the same strategic choices that an American company should be making to keep our industrial base strong.”
Regarding the Israel-Hammas war, Deluzio said he believes “deeply in the possibility and the urgency of a two-state solution to the crisis.”
Last week, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied President Joe Biden and rejected the idea of creating a Palestinian state as a long-term solution to the conflict.
“The Biden administration has correctly been pushing Israelis in their fight against Hamas to be more protective of civilian life and to turn the corner to different phase of this war, which they need to do, not just for their own security and the safety of the Palestinians but also to get the hostages home, which is such a central issue to the way this war started.”
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