Rep. Pitts Calls Arafat, Sharon to Come Back to the Table

Update: Pitts’ office chalked the letter up to administrative error and apologized. Full statement below.

Rep. Joe Pitts recently replied to a constituent’s letter with a rather interesting position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon need to come back to the negotiating table. There’s just one problem. Arafat has been dead since 2004 and Sharon in a coma since 2006.

The out-of-date letter was posted on the blog Mondoweiss by journalist Ian Rhodewalt. His father, a resident of the 16th district, wrote a letter to Pitts in 2011. His response came last month, and included this description of Pitts’ stance:

With the global war against terrorism, it is now incumbent on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat to clamp down on Palestinian extremists that have perpetuated violence and to restart a peace process that has collapsed.


The original blog post was published Sunday and the story was picked up Tuesday by the Times of Israel.

His Democratic opponent, veteran and businesswoman Aryanna Strader, jumped on the news as well.

“Being this completely out of touch with such a major foreign policy matter is inexcusable,” she wrote in an email to supporters. “If we are ever going to change Congress, we must change who we send there. And that is why I am asking you to please make a $16 contribution to our campaign today.

Form letters are a part of life in Washington, as any staffer can tell you. To prepare a customized response to every letter or email received by a congressional office would be impossible without ballooning staff numbers (and payroll) – an ironic outcome to those constituent letters advocating reduced government spending.

Pitts is far from the first member of Congress to take lumps over a form letter.

In 2009, the office of Senator Arlen Specter issued a form letter which justified the Defense of Marriage Act and left the door open to a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. Awkward, since the constituent writing him had advocated the exact opposite. And particularly untimely, since Specter had recently switched parties and sought to court the LGBT vote.

Though any form letter runs the risk of being on the tone deaf side, niche issues are particularly risky.

An acquaintance of this writer, for example, recently sent a letter to Rep. Bill Shuster in protest of HR 4089 on the grounds that it permitted U.S. hunters to import sport-hunted polar bears from Canada.

His response? To reiterate his support for humane treatment of pets like his Wheaton Terrier, Chloe.

The moral of the story: staffers should review all form letters at least once a year.

Update: Here’s the full statement from Pitts Communications Director Andrew Wimer:

“Congressman Pitts responds to tens of thousands of constituent inquiries a year.  Because it is impossible to draft a unique reply to each inquiry, language is often reused for similar responses.  In this case, a double mistake was made.  Language that should have been archived was included in a draft response.  The response was then pulled from the queue because of the error, and then mistakenly sent almost a year later.  Responding to tens of thousands of letters a year is a complicated process.  Mistakes are both few and rare, but do sometimes occur.  This one was particularly embarrassing.  We have apologized to the constituent and are reviewing our internal process to make sure this sort of thing can’t happen again.”

14 Responses

  1. This reminds me of the Spy Magazine story back in 1992 where they asked a couple of newly elected Neocon members of Congress what they would do about the situation in Freedonia. They both supported American intervention to ensure its stability, not realizing that Freedonia was the fictional country ruled by Groucho Marx in Duck Soup.

  2. Joe Pitts is so old his first service academy nomination was George Custer.

  3. This just in: Congressman Joe Pitts calls on Prime Minister Thatcher to lead Sharon/Arafat peace talks at Camp David. Asks Anwar Sadat to serve as informal advisor.

  4. Joe, do the honorable thing and retire already. Pitts is the oldest man serving in Congress, this after decades in Harrisburg and now living off a state pension that he’s double dipping. He’s not able to run his office or fulfill his congressional duties at his age. The staff explanation was painful. It’s selfish of him to hang on. Time to take the keys away from Paps and let someone else drive.

  5. Grsmit (translation): Joe Pitts neither reads nor writes constituent letters.

    The only mistake here is that the voters haven’t sent the old timer packing. Pitts is asleep at the switch.

  6. This sort of happens all the time. This is just bad luck that the pro-Palestinian father of a pro-Palestinian activist just happened toe receive this mistaken letter. Murphy’s law indeed!!!

  7. Joe Pitts is so old he thinks gay marriage is a term to describe weddings in the 1890s.

  8. There’s a joke in here somewhere about how many staffers it takes to put out a correct form letter… I seriously doubt it requires hiring more than he’s already got though. That letter was inexcusably out of date.

  9. If by “most of his time in office” you mean about half, you might be correct. Arafat died in November 2004. Rep. Pitts took the oath of office in January 1997. As is often typical of the left, “half” is once again stretched and represented as “most”. That explains so much.

  10. It’s not even like this guy has been a Congressman for very long. Arafat has been dead for most of his time in office.

  11. Pitts’ district is still so blood-red that rank incompetence probably won’t make a difference. But I certainly wish it would.

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