Those familiar with U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) know he doesn’t make many substantial efforts to enter the limelight; he’s pretty low-key. (In fact, as City Paper has documented over the years, Rothfus is so low-key that he’s never even held a public town hall and often avoids talking to reporters and to constituents who hold different political viewpoints.)
Rothfus also tends to stay relatively quiet on controversial issues and is an expert at avoiding gaffes, unlike other Western Pennsylvania U.S. representatives Mike Kelly (R-Butler) and Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair).
Despite his shy demeanor, Rothfus is active on social media, and this week he used it to praise President Donald Trump's first 100 days in office. This is a sort of shift for Rothfus who doesn't regularly openly sing the commander-in-chief's praises.
On April 24, Rothfus gave Trump credit for increasing America’s confidence in the economy and claimed that Trump’s cuts to environmental regulations were responsible for 70 new coal-mining jobs coming to Somerset County. “The day President Trump signed legislation overturning one of President Obama's anti-coal rules, Corsa Coal in Somerset County announced it would open a new coal mine with at least 70 new middle-class jobs,” wrote Rothfus in a Facebook post.
Oddly, Trump himself has not even taken credit for these jobs yet. (Also, when Corsa Coal cut 130 jobs in 2015, they blamed a “depressed global market” as the reason to cut back, not Obama-era regulations, according to TribLive.)
Two days later, Rothfus tweeted a video of himself speaking on the House floor about how Trump is already improving the coal industry in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
Then several hours after that tweet, on April 26, Rothfus gave Trump credit for restoring the confidence of U.S. Border Patrol agents, who work alongside the U.S. Mexican Border, again using the #first100days hashtag.
Rothfus' recent behavior might be explained as the congressman shifting loyalties. On April 27, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration might be setting up House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) as the fall guy if things go awry. Ryan's recent 22 percent approval rating is also significantly lower than Trump's. And Rothfus might be reacting to this.
Before this week’s series of pro-Trump posts, since Trump's inauguration, Rothfus has offered as much public support to Ryan on social media as he had to President Trump. (And before last month’s the American Health Care Act debacle, Rothfus was an outspoken champion of Ryan’s Better Way health-care plan, an effort to privatize Medicare, even though Trump has promised many times to keep Medicare as is.) Rothfus hasn't offered any support to Ryan on social media since March 24, the day after the effort to pass AHCA failed.
Jake Sternberger, a lawyer who lives in Rothfus’ district and a former staffer of Democrat Mark Critz, who represented the 12th District before it was redrawn, is perplexed by Rothfus’ recent shift. He says it's even stranger that Rothfus is getting supportive TV ads (see above) from America First Polices Inc., a nonprofit started by former Trump campaign advisers, thanking him for standing by Trump in wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Rothfus never came out publicly in support or disapproval for the GOP’s first failed attempt to replace the ACA with AHCA.)
“At the time I thought it was strange,” says Sternberger. “The 12 people who [were supported by the ads], some people voted against the AHCA in committee. It is a mystery to me why Rothfus is on this list.”
Sternberger says Rothfus is very good at staying on message and doesn’t really feel Rothfus is vulnerable at this time. And so Sternberger is further confused about why Rothfus is coming out hard in support of Trump, given the president’s low approval ratings.
Sternberger says the only explanation he can think of is that some Democrats have done well in his district in statewide elections. Though Rothfus has won his seat by about 20 points the last two elections, Gov. Tom Wolf only lost the district by 6 points in 2014, and former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane actually won the 12th District by 3 points in 2012.
“If I am Keith Rothfus, I have seen that Democrats have done well in my district,” says Sternberger.
As of press time, a request for comment wasn't returned by Rothfus' office.