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U.S. Rep. Fred Keller On COVID-19, The Economy And His Priorities

Head and shoulders shot of U.S. Rep. Fred Keller standing outside
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U.S. Rep. Fred Keller of Pennsylvania

The election is Nov. 3. WPSU is speaking with candidates in the race for U.S. House in central and northcentral Pennsylvania. WPSU’s Anne Danahy spoke with Fred Keller, the Republican incumbent in the race for U.S. House, 12th Congressional district. Tomorrow, we’ll hear from the Democratic candidate, Lee Griffin. The district stretches from Perry County in the south, up to Potter and Susquehanna counties, including Clinton County and part of southern and eastern Centre County. Keller has represented the district since winning the seat in a special election in May 2019.


Anne Danahy: The election is November 3rd. As part of our coverage, WPSU is speaking with candidates in the race for the U.S. House in Central and North Central Pennsylvania.  Today, we'll hear from Republican, Fred Keller, the incumbent in the race for U.S. House 12th Congressional District. Tomorrow, we'll hear from the Democratic candidate, Lee Griffin. The district stretches from Perry County in the south up to Potter and Susquehanna Counties, including Clinton County and part of Southern and Eastern Center County. Fred Keller has represented the district since winning the seat in a special election in May 2019. Congressman Fred Keller, thank you for talking with us.

Congressman Fred Keller: Thank you for having me, Anne.

Anne Danahy: What specifically would be your top priority if you're re-elected?

Congressman Fred Keller: Well, looking at what we need to do, the number one thing I think we need to take care of is our veterans. We need to make sure that people that protected our freedoms and our way of life and have handed this great country from one generation to the next-- we need to make sure we take care of our veterans. But, in addition to that, I would say broadband internet access, infrastructure items, I think are very, very important because that'll mean good paying jobs to a lot of people. And the internet access would certainly help education, people working from home, and also healthcare delivery.

Anne Danahy: When you talk about taking care of the veterans, is there a specific proposal that you have in mind? A plan that you'd like to see put in place?

Congressman Fred Keller: Well, I think the President has already started some things with the veterans and health care. I think we just need to continue to build upon that and make sure that our veterans have accessible health care that's close to them. And anything that could add to the quality of life for our veterans, I think we need to take a look at.

Anne Danahy: One of the concerns is that-- from Democrats-- is that if President Trump were re-elected that would bring an end to ensuring that everyone has access to health care. How would you respond to that?

Congressman Fred Keller: Well, I think there's two things that we talk about. The first thing we need to talk about is making sure we protect pre-existing conditions. That's an important thing. And if you look at what the President's done for our veterans, I think we could put together a plan that would take care of making sure people have access. And it's important to make a distinction between coverage and care. Because I know a lot of times-- talked about the Affordable Care Act-- he talked about how many people we covered, but were they actually getting the care they needed? Did it actually make it more affordable? And those are the things that we really need to work on, rather than just putting a statistic up that says, "This is how many people are covered." If that coverage doesn't equate to care, then there's a huge issue there.

Anne Danahy: Would you back legislation if it did not guarantee coverage of pre-existing conditions?

Congressman Fred Keller: As I've said before, we need to make sure that pre-existing conditions are covered.

Anne Danahy: So, we're seeing significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases in parts of Pennsylvania, including in your congressional district here in Centre County, the State College, Penn State area also Lycoming County. What else do you think needs to happen at the federal level to get better control of the Coronavirus?

Congressman Fred Keller: Well, I think that we've done a lot of things. The President, early on, has taken some preventative and decisive action with travel bans and so on. We've also put together a huge cooperative working relationship between private industry and government to make sure people have PPE. The thing is, we need to make sure people understand the CDC guidelines, and I think that might be a lot of what's been happening. You know, making sure people follow those guidelines when they're having gatherings indoors, outdoors. So, when you look at where it's happening and what's going on, we are doing more testing, which will equate to more cases. And it's important to know where those cases are so that people can follow the guidance that we need to, to beat the virus.

Anne Danahy: As we're recording this, President Trump is being treated for COVID-19, but he still is downplaying risks from the virus, even made fun of his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, during the debate for wearing a "big mask." Do you think that that's the message the President should be sending? Because you yourself just mentioned making sure people understand the proper steps to take.

Congressman Fred Keller: Well, I'm not gonna get into, you know, who said what on a debate because, quite frankly, the former Vice President said some things about the President that really weren't nice.

Anne Danahy: But on, specifically, on downplaying the risk of the virus, that part of it you--

Congressman Fred Keller: I don't think the President ever downplayed the risk of the virus. I mean, his travel ban early on should have told us that he was taking it very seriously. You know, I'm going to talk about how I'm going to communicate this to people; and I'm going to encourage people to follow the CDC guidance and make sure that they're taking precautions, particularly when you're around people that are really vulnerable to the virus. So, again, I'm going to talk about what my behavior is, and my behavior is: Let's take a look at the CDC guidance, let's make sure that people understand that, and let's encourage them to follow that.

Anne Danahy: You voted against the economic stimulus COVID-19 relief package recently passed by the House Democrats. Compromise of some kind will be needed to get a stimulus package through Congress. Are there areas where you think that Republicans could compromise with Democrats to kickstart the economy and provide that relief?

Congressman Fred Keller: I think whatever we do needs to be very targeted to relief from COVID-19. And when you look at some of the things that were in the bill that really don't play into that-- and the Speaker mentioned before that the Republicans need to come with $2 trillion. I want to remind the Speaker, and everybody else, that it's not the Republican's $2 trillion, it's not the Democrat's $2 trillion, it's the American people's $2 trillion. And the students at Penn State are the ones that are going to repay this. The Speaker is 80 years old, I'm 55, who's going to repay this debt? We need to make sure it's very narrowly targeted. And one of the things I voted against in that bill was the-- it eliminated the cap on the state and local tax. So, the Democrats are talking about making rich people pay their fair share, yet they're putting a loophole in that, that would really allow them to pay fewer dollars in federal income tax because they'd be able to deduct higher than $10,000 on their state and local taxes off their federal taxes. So, the message from the Democrats has been very inconsistent; that they're going to do all these things and they're gonna make the rich people pay for it, yet they put a thing in there to protect their rich friends.

Anne Danahy: Are you worried that Congress will be at an impasse and that that will ultimately have a really hard effect on the American people, the people in your district?

Congressman Fred Keller: Well, I think that we're going to come to some agreement. And I think we're going to because the last bill we had, had a bipartisan vote against it. Eighteen Democrats didn't support the Speaker's bill either. Every Republican voted against, but so did 18 Democrats. I think the Speaker finally needs to get the message that we're serious about providing relief to the American people related to COVID-19. And we need to make sure that it's very, very narrowly focused to doing that and doesn't have policy positions in it that have nothing to do with COVID-19.

Anne Danahy: Congressman Fred Taylor, thank you for talking with us.

Congressman Fred Keller: Thank you.

Anne Danahy; Fred Keller is the Republican candidate for the 12th U.S. House District representing parts of Pennsylvania. Tomorrow, we'll talk with his Democratic opponent, Lee Griffin. To listen to this and other candidate interviews go to I'm Anne Danahy, WPSU.

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.
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