In the end, Mike Doyle couldn’t replace Mike Doyle in the hearts of Pittsburgh voters. The son and grandson of Mike Doyles (Mikes Doyle?) and father of another Mike Doyle, Rep. Mike Doyle is a Democrat who is retiring after representing Yinzers for the last 28 years. Fellow Democrat Summer Lee won the race to succeed him on Tuesday, defeating a Republican businessman named … you guessed it, Mike Doyle.
Names aside, it’ll be a big shift for the district in terms of legislating style. Doyle is an old-school, Irish Catholic moderate who works behind the scenes to win over colleagues; Lee is a millennial and the first Black woman to represent Pennsylvania in Congress, and she will likely join “the Squad,” a headline-generating group of progressives.
In an interview last month, Doyle shared some of his advice he’s given the representative-elect, plus his thoughts on social media and the next generation “stepping up.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: What did you make of another Mike Doyle running to replace you?
A: Mike Doyle is a pretty common name in Pittsburgh. My grandfather was Mike Doyle. My father was Mike Doyle. I’m Mike Doyle, and my son’s Mike Doyle. My cousin’s Mike Doyle. And that’s just the Mike Doyles I’m related to.
If you pick up a Pittsburgh phonebook and look up Doyle, there’s a whole bunch of us, because the Irish all came over from County Mayo and got jobs in the steel mills.
I think the Republicans knew they really didn’t have a chance to win this district, so they played a little confusion game, and they found a local councilman who just happened to have the same name as me. I guess they thought that was a smart play.
My daughter has the bug and is active in politics, but my three boys have nothing to do with it. Otherwise I could have run my son for the seat, and really screwed up the whole deal. Mike Doyle running against Mike Doyle. That would have been a good story.
Q: You’ve been in Congress for 28 years. How has this place changed?
A: When I got here in ’94, the internet was just coming into being. There wasn’t social media, and cable news was brand new.
The way people get information now is like out of a fire hydrant. We used to send out newsletters, but the younger generation won’t read newsletters. Then we went to email, but they don’t read emails anymore.
I chair the Communications and Technology [Subcommittee], and I’ve watched these internet platforms use their algorithms to amplify car wrecks. And I don’t mean literal car wrecks, but things that draw people’s attention, which is how QAnon went from this little conspiracy theory to a guy showing up at a pizza shop with a gun in his hand. Pandora’s box is open, and we can’t seem to put it back.
Q: You see a direct line between heated political rhetoric and some of the violence we’ve seen, like the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh. Are your warnings going unheeded?
A: These platforms have immunity to what a third party posts on them, so they hide behind that immunity shield. Their whole business model is designed to keep people’s eyeballs on their platforms, and the way they do that is with things that are sensational, things that make people angry.
I mean, the Tree of Life shooting [suspect] was on something called Gab. This is the rabbit hole we’re down in — this takes over the way they think, and we see the results of it.
So, we’ve tried to deal with it on my committee. I think if a platform amplifies something that causes harm, there should at least be an entrance into a courtroom door against that platform. You would still have to prove harm. But part of this liability shield, Section 230, was the agreement that they police themselves, and they’re not doing that, because it goes against their business model.
So, it’s not that the warnings are going unheeded. I think Congress continues to grapple with what to do. And of course, the platforms are very powerful in terms of lobbying Congress and spending a lot of money too.
And we go through the same thing with privacy, right? Americans have no clue how much privacy they don’t have. I mean, the “smart” phones are the old Flintstone flip phones, and the “dumb” phones are the ones we all carry, like the iPhone. They’re not even phones anymore — they’re cameras and data collection devices that companies use to know everything there is to know about us and how to make money off of us.
Q: Are moderates like you a dying breed in Congress? Your successor is coming in well to the left of you.
A: Some of it is generational. We’re starting to see the younger generation getting more involved. Pittsburgh is not a one-horse steel town anymore, and a lot of young people have moved into the city. They work at Google, and they work at the Robotics Institute and Carnegie Mellon is churning them out left and right.
We’re seeing a transition coming [in Washington] too. We have these iconic leaders, when you think about Jim Clyburn and Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi. They’re up there in age, but also so highly respected that it doesn’t seem right to have someone run against them. You’re hoping they reach these conclusions on their own.
The party is going through this process where the next generation is stepping up, and I think that’s a good thing, by the way. Summer Lee lives in my hometown, and she went to the same high school that my kids went to. I think she graduated a year ahead of my daughter.
I encouraged her to meet with groups that nobody thinks she would meet with, not because you’re going to necessarily carry their water for them, but just to reach out. I told her, “I don’t always vote with the Chamber of Commerce, but they know they can come sit with me and talk about their concerns.”
Q: What’s your advice for other new lawmakers who won in the midterms?
A: You don’t come down here as a freshman and set the world on fire. Every freshman thinks they’re going to do that, but it doesn’t happen that way. No matter how famous you are, or how much buzz there is around you, you have to do the hard work of doing your work in your committee, building the relationships across the aisle.
And you don’t run to the media all the time. I helped get the last seven votes [in 2010] to pass the Affordable Care Act, and I did it almost in complete secrecy and privacy, because I respected my colleagues’ need to have that. These guys were going to do something very tough, and we were able to deal with some of the valid concerns they had, without doing it in public in the media. When the cameras come on, politicians seem to act differently.
Last book you read? I don’t read nonfiction. I just read on vacation to relax, and the last one was a Gabriel Allon spy book by Daniel Silva.
In politics, can the ends justify the means? Sometimes. Not all the time.
Your least popular opinion? Probably my vote against invading Iraq. It became popular afterward, but back then, I got a lot of s–––.
One thing you would change about Congress? I never liked how [Newt] Gingrich centralized all the power in the speaker’s office. Every speaker since then thought it was a great idea, but it emasculated all the committee chairs.
What’s next for you? I’m going to work on my half-wedge, because it never goes on the green. And I’m going to play the piano more. My wife and I are empty nesters, so we’re going to travel, and I’m going to try not to do anything that I don’t enjoy doing for the rest of my life.