This is the second installment of IJR’s “Freshman Yearbook” interview series, where we sit down with members of Congress serving their first term in office and ask questions about their lives, goals, and background so their constituents can get to know those representing them better.
Freshman Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) always wanted to serve his community and country. In his younger years, the Pennsylvania Republican wanted to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces as a JAG officer — an attorney serving in the military. He met this goal, even providing a cross-examination during the successful defense of a Navy SEAL accused of mistreating a prisoner and notorious terrorist in Afghanistan — the Butcher of Fallujah, Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi.
After returning from his deployment overseas, Reschenthaler began his political career and was elected to be a magisterial district judge in his home state before being elected to serve in the Pennsylvania state senate.
Reschenthaler says he has made “job and economic growth” his top issue for his time in the House and that he will work with his colleagues to do “whatever we can do to keep the economy growing.” He does not shy away from other issue areas, either, expressing his investment in criminal justice reform and his desire to see “America be strong abroad.”
The freshman Republican sits on the influential House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.
Below is the transcript between Reschanthaler and IJR:
IJR: Why did you want to become a Member of Congress? What drove you to run?
Reschenthaler: I’ve always been committed to public service. I was in the Navy JAG Corps. It was my first job right out of law school. I always wanted to be a military officer; I was always drawn to law.
I had a great career in the Navy — got out after about five years, five and a half years. Did private practice for a year, but I missed serving. So, I ran for magisterial district judge in Pennsylvania — that’s an elected position where I’m from — and got back into public service.
And as I got back in, I said, “If I’m going back into public service, I’m going to get in and do whatever I can to help the most amount of people.” And I feel that Congress offers me the best chance to help the most amount of people and with issues that are really just tailored to my background and my interests.
IJR: Did you always want to be a politician or did you have another dream job growing up?
Reschenthaler: When I was growing up, I really wanted to be a Navy JAG. Going into 7th or 8th grade I knew that’s what I wanted to do and I just assumed I would do politics later in life, almost like an encore career. It wasn’t really perceivable to me that younger people could be in politics.
But I got out of the Navy and the opportunity arose and I decided that we need younger people in office; we need veterans in office. So I took a shot and I was fortunate to get elected.
IJR: What do you hope to accomplish with your time in Congress? What is the overall, long-term goal of your time in Washington?
Reschenthaler: I want to pass legislation, good legislation, and my number one priority is always economic growth, job creation. I don’t think there’s a fantasy silver bullet, if you will, in public policy, but a growing economy, a healthy economy, is the best thing we have. So, whatever we can do to keep the economy growing, expanding the job base, I’m going to do that.
I’ve got a lot of other interests, though. I’m very invested in criminal justice reform. I also want to see America be strong abroad. There’s just not one issue, but overall it’s jobs and economic growth.
IJR: What would you say your biggest accomplishment was in your time before Congress, either as a JAG officer or in Pennsylvania state politics?
Reschenthaler: Well, my JAG career — I was very fortunate in the JAG Corps.
I’d say my biggest win was having a client who was a Navy SEAL and he was accused of covering up abuse on an Iraqi terrorist — Ahmad Hashim Abd al-Isawi, who was the Butcher of Fallujah. I got to cross-examine the Butcher of Fallujah in court. It was in Iraq and my client, the Navy SEAL, was fully acquitted. I think that is probably my biggest legal achievement.
The summer before that case — in 2009 — I prosecuted roughly 100 terrorists, just under 100 terrorists, and had 92 convictions on terrorists and 13 death penalty convictions. So I’m very proud of that as well.
IJR: Do you want to elaborate more on your cross-examination of the Butcher of Fallujah?
Reschenthaler: I had a fifteen co-defendant death penalty case when I was in Baghdad. There were terrorists that were in our POW facilities — we call them TIFs: Theater Internment Facilities — and they had executed another inmate through Sharia Law. [It was] just a brutal, horrific torture-murder. It was just really bad. So I prosecuted the terrorist that killed the other terrorist in our facility. And that was incredible.
But in Iraq, what I was doing is I was going into the Red Zone, into the Iraqi court system itself, and prosecuting terrorists and insurgents using Iraqi law in front of Iraqi judges. Of course, I had an interpreter. That was an amazing experience because it was practicing law in a foreign country with a whole new set of laws. It was just amazing.
IJR: Pineapple on pizza: yes or no?
Reschenthaler: Yes, of course. I love vegetables and fruit on pizza.
IJR: Congressman Mark Green (R-Tenn.) may disagree with you!
Reschenthaler: Well, you know, I’m going to have to have a talk with him! I love pineapple on pizza.
IJR: What do you think the most pressing matter facing America is?
Reschenthaler: There’s so many. I think the biggest one is just making sure this economy [does well] — we got to remember that [if] the economy stops growing, then it’s very hard to meet our obligations. Also, our biggest weapon abroad is our ability to produce and manufacture and having a growing, strong economy which really leads the world. So there’s that.
I still am very hawkish against terrorists; it’s a part of my background. I think that we, as the United States, need to be forward-engaged, we need to be forward-leaning when dealing with terrorists and other threats.
The rise of China concerns me greatly. They’re taking hostile actions. Iran challenging our hegemony in the Middle East, them trying to be the regional superpower is concerning. And I’m still very concerned about Russia and North Korea.
I’m on the [House] Judiciary Committee and [House] Foreign Affairs Committee. I’m very fortunate with my selections, but my background is tailored to both those committees. Having been a prosecutor, defense attorney, district judge, having been on the Judiciary Committee in the [Pennsylvania] state senate, I’m well-suited for the Judiciary Committee here.
And then with my background [of] having been in the military, having deployed to the Middle East, puts me in a good position to be on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well.
IJR: What’s the best solution to China’s encroaching on U.S. intellectual property?
Reschenthaler: First of all, we have to realize that China is a rogue actor on the international stage. We’ve let them into the [World Trade Organization], they’ve not abided by the WTO rules and regulations and norms. So, just calling them out on that for starters is a huge improvement from other administrations.
Two, we’ve got to do something to make sure they don’t continue to dump natural resources into the United States. They dump steel, they dump aluminum, it’s crippled those segments of the economy of the United States. Thankfully, President [Donald] Trump is combatting against that.
But we also have to combat them on the theft of intellectual property. In the United States, we might not be manufacturing as much as we used to by some standards, but we’re still the brain of the world. And if we can’t protect our intellectual property and the intellectual property of our friends and allies across the globe, our economy is going to be damaged by that. We can’t continue to do the research and development into these projects just to have them stolen by the Chinese to make the huge profits. So we got to do that.
We’ve also got to realize that they are really rapidly building up their navy. They have a plan to go to a three or four carrier navy, which would take them into what is called a blue fleet. So they could go beyond their territorial waters and project power and influence. That should be alarming to us.
We also have to watch and see what they do with Hong Kong. I think if Hong Kong falls, Taiwan will be the next target. We’ve got to stand up for pro-western democracies around the world, even if they’re in China’s backyard.
IJR: I want to get your take on the situation in Hong Kong. What do you think the Trump administration or Congress could do to help with that situation?
Reschenthaler: We should be a lot more vocal about what is going on in Hong Kong. I was just in Hong Kong and China in March of this year. I spent 10 days in the area, and I can tell you that the Hong Kongers are very concerned.
We have to remember that Hong Kong has a totally different system of government than China. They have the common law, they have individual rights and liberties, freedom of the press. They’re incredibly free-market-oriented. They’re actually more free-market than the United States.
Reschenthaler: Yes, Singapore and Hong Kong are some of the freest, truest economies in the world.
And the Hong Kongers view themselves as Hong Kongers. They have, on their judicial bench, they actually bring in judges from Canada, New Zealand, Australia — basically the commonwealth states — to make sure they continue to be tied in with the larger former British Commonwealth. They, for all intents and purposes, are western, and if we allow Hong Kong to fall, that bodes really poorly for other western democracies — like Taiwan — in Asia.
We have got to stand with people who stand for freedom. I would like for us to be more vocal about it and I would like Hong Kong to be at the table when dealing with China.
IJR: Are you supporting any legislation or resolutions regarding Hong Kong?
Reschenthaler: I believe we have — I don’t know off the top of my head which ones in particular — but I’ve been fairly vocal on Hong Kong.
IJR: What’s the first song on your morning playlist?
Reschenthaler: I don’t have a particular song but I listen to a lot of Josh Ritter. I’m a huge Josh Ritter fan. I’ve been to, I’d say, four or five of his concerts spanning the last decade.
IJR: What would you say your favorite song of his is?
Reschenthaler: There’s so many! I really like “Lillian, Egypt.” I like that. I like “To The Dogs or Whoever,” that’s a really good song. I like some of his older stuff, his new stuff. “I Still Love You Now and Then” is a really good song. “Galahad” is fun, kind of tongue-in-cheek song. There are so many Josh Ritter songs to listen to, I couldn’t name just one as my all-time favorite.
IJR: What’s a hobby of yours that people don’t quite know about?
Reschenthaler: Well, I don’t look like it, but I work out a lot! I run, I’ve done one triathlon, I’d like to do another. I’m training to tentatively do a trail run later this fall. I run a lot, I bike a lot, I swim a lot, I lift quite a bit, and yeah, I just started getting into trail running.
IJR: On the subject of Iran, do you think that the president’s recently-announced additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic will help curb their antagonistic behavior towards the U.S. or should we try a different approach?
Reschenthaler: Iran is not a rational actor, but I can tell you that Iran is acting out because of maximum-applied pressure from the Trump administration. It’s wreaking internal chaos and havoc in Iran, which I am in support of. Iran is a bad actor on the world stage.
But what they are trying to do is they’re trying to destabilize global markets. They’re trying to artificially inflate the cost of petroleum to get more revenue into Iran, and I don’t think that that is going to work. I think that as Iran acts up more, we’ll apply more and more sanctions.
But if the president calls for it, I would not be opposed to a retaliatory strike. We have to remember that Iran hijacked a British oil tanker on the Strait of Hormuz. That’s a problem. They shot down one of our drones that was in excess of $180 million.
The attack on Saudi Arabia might have been on Saudi soil, but let’s be clear: that was an attack on predominantly Europe and the global economy. These bad actions should not be tolerated, so we have to take out their military units and their ability to carry out these attacks in the future. We should explore that option.
IJR: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three items would you take with you?
Reschenthaler: First off, I would want to take my Jeep Wrangler, I think that would come in handy! I would take my handy Gerber that I’ve had since my first deployment to Iraq. I would take that. And I would have to have a really big, long book to read.
I would take any James Michener novel that I’ve yet to read.
IJR: Big James Michener fan?
Reschenthaler: I try to read one Michener book a year. I just finished “The Source,” and I put “The Source” down — which is on Israel — I put that down to prep for a trip to Israel. But I was reading “Texas” before. I’m just past the Alamo and I’m around the Battle of Gonzales right now. That’s a really good book.
“Poland” was incredible. I read “The Covenant,” which is about South Africa. So huge James Michener fan and a Ken Follett fan. But Michener books I just feel would last longer in that situation.
IJR: What advice would you give to future members of Congress?
Reschenthaler: Don’t be a show pony, be a workhorse.
I’ll tell you one bad piece of advice that I got. I was told when I got into the state Senate to focus on one issue, own that issue, and just work on that issue. I didn’t follow that advice and I’m so glad I didn’t because I got into an array of issues. Everything from gaming issues to criminal justice reform to deregulation and pro-business issues, and I had, frankly, a lot of success in all of those areas.
So I would say, don’t limit yourself. Go where your interests take you, but remember that you’re here to pass legislation, get work done, have good relationships. You’re not here to win wars on Twitter or see who can get the most media hits.