Congressman Michael Burgess’ voting record is strongly pro-Trump.
The North Texas congressman’s votes have lined up with President Trump’s positions on the issues more than 95 percent of the time, according to data from the FiveThirtyEight analysis firm.
But is he Trump enough?
At a time when much of the country disapproves of the job the president is doing, that’s not the case in Burgess’ 26th Congressional district, which includes much of Denton County and the Northeast Tarrant County cities of far north Fort Worth, Haslet, Keller, North Richland Hills and Watauga.
“Trump is the president and he’s pretty popular in the district I represent,” Burgess said in a phone interview. “We have been helpful to the administration. We have been lined up on the votes.”
But Burgess’ opponent in the March 6 Republican primary, businesswoman Veronica Birkenstock, says a vote for her would be even more pro-Trump. Her human resources company, which brings in foreign workers, has even done business with one of Trump’s resorts.
Birkenstock said Burgess voted for sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, which the president opposed. She also said Burgess isn’t enough of a leader on issues except health care — and even on that issue, the House failed in its effort to repeal Obamacare.
“As long as he has been in office, he should be a leading voice,” she said.
Bright red district
Among densely-populated metro areas, the 26th district once represented by Dick Armey is one of the most Republican bastions in the United States.
In the 2016 presidential race, 60.9 percent of voters in Burgess’ district chose Trump compared to 34.4 percent for Obama — a level of landslide more typically found in rural areas. (Clinton actually did better against Trump in District 26 than President Obama fared in 2012, when he received only 30.7 percent of the vote compared to 67.6 percent for Mitt Romney).
And that may explain why Burgess, even though he has rarely faced a serious challenge since he was first elected in 2002, is taking his opponent in the GOP primary seriously this time around.
Birkenstock owns Practical Employee Solutions, a company that brings in temporary foreign workers under the federal H-2B program to work at American companies. The Trump International Beach Resort in Miami has taken advantage of Birkenstock’s services.
Birkenstock, although a newcomer when it comes to seeking elected office, said she has spent years working in Washington on labor issues.
After the 2016 election, Birkenstock also briefly served on Trump’s transition team for the Department of Labor, although she stepped aside after criticism about her business relationship with Trump and her use of the H-2B program began to mount.
In 2016, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (now attorney general) voiced concerns about the H-2B program taking jobs from Americans, according to an online advertisement bought by Burgess for Congress to attack Birkenstock.
Burgess acknowledged voting for the H-2B program when it was included in funding bills, but explained that he was OK with that decision partly because language in the bills limited the number of foreign workers who could be brought into the U.S. to 66,000 per year.
“However, I think she (Birkenstock) is of the school that H-2B ought to be expanded,” Burgess said. “My problem is, for every one of those workers you bring in over the cap, you take work away from an American trying to feed a family. Her perspective is, of course, she sells the H-2B visa holders.”
Birkenstock said H-2B is a “great program that helps American businesses” by filling jobs that often can’t be filled by Americans.
“I bring them in the legal way,” she said. “They are fully vetted, and 99 percent of the time they go home” at the end of their work stay in the U.S. H-2B workers can stay in the U.S. for up to three years.
Doing a good job
Burgess has voted against Trump’s position only a handful of times during the past year. In addition to the issue of sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, he also voted against allowing spying without a warrant as part of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Trump supported.
Burgess also voted in favor of limiting the ability of officials to search and read private messages collected incidentally as part of the surveillance act, which Trump opposed.
Thomas Miles, a lecturer at the University of North Texas Honors College who closely follows Texas politics, said the general feeling among observers of the District 26 race is that Burgess is doing the job.
“He has been a solid supporter (of the Trump administration) and was really on board with the new tax law,” Miles said. “What I’m hearing from people around the district is, they’re really happy about the tax law. We have some real cultural conservatives in areas of the county, but District 26 also goes through parts of Frisco and Flower Mound, and a lot of those folks are fiscal conservatives.”
“They’re going to see their paychecks getting bigger, and they’re going to say, ‘Let’s put Burgess back in office.’ ”
Miles also predicted that Birkenstock might struggle to explain the foreign workers program to a constituency that wants to tighten up federal immigration enforcement.
Barring an unforeseen development, Miles said, about the only thing that could turn voters toward Birkenstock is if Trump endorsed her. And, he said, most observers don’t expect the president to do that.