Five Freshmen to Watch
“We have a bunch of those House guys who are really on fire.”
-- Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) discussing the composition of the Republican freshman class with the New York Times.
With 85 freshmen in the House and a dozen in the Senate, there are a lot of Republican newbies to keep track of as the 112th Congress gets underway today.
Power Play offers five freshmen Republicans to watch. Consider them leading indicators for the class of 2010.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
The top Tea Partier in Washington today, Paul is emblematic of the tentative dance between the Republican Party and the insurgent elements that fueled its 2010 revival.
Paul, son of the firebrand libertarian congressman from Texas, won a Republican primary by denouncing the party’s past excesses and compromises. But Paul won his general election by promising to be a reasonable man and a strong advocate for Kentucky.
Paul has surprised many in Washington for his deliberate approach and gentle demeanor. Many here were expecting a bomb thrower, but have instead encountered a studious, thoughtful Senator.
Watch Paul closely because the success of the new-style Republicans will depend on how well he can straddle the divide between lawmaking and pleasing his base.
If Paul is able to keep the faith with his supporters across the country but still work with fellow Kentuckyian and consummate Washington insider Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, it’s a sign Republicans are on the road to political recovery.
Occasional disagreements are to be expected, but if the McConnell-Paul relationship breaks down or if Tea Nation brands Paul a sellout, you’ll know the GOP is headed for trouble.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Johnson’s defeat of Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold was one of the most surprising political developments of 2010. Not only did a first-time, conservative candidate knock off one of the liberal lions of the Senate in a Democratic-leaning state, but he did it by a stout 5-point margin and without running a nasty campaign.
Johnson’s Senate colleagues have already been impressed by Johnson and staffers tell Power Play that many of his 11 fellow GOP freshman are taking cues from him.
While liberal outlets have fumed that outsider Johnson tapped a former lobbyist as his chief of staff, the consensus in the class of 2010 is that the plastics executive is building a strong organization.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD)
No House freshman has been as much in demand as Kristi Noem, a telegenic 39-year-old rancher, state legislator and mother of three from Castlewood, S.D.
Noem got elected as a representative of the freshman class to the House Republican leadership and is very popular among her peers. She is also a symbol of the advances made by Republican women in the Republican Party, and the retreat of the GOP’s reputation as a boy’s club.
Noem knocked off Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for her statewide seat and will no doubt face a tough reelection battle, possibly a rematch with Sandlin, in 2012. But her high profile in Washington, alliance with the popular Sen. John Thune and influence within her caucus might help her make a sophomore term.
Rep. Allen West (R-FL)
When the Congressional Black Caucus gathers today, there will be a Republican in their midst for the first time ever.
Though retired Army colonel and conservative favorite Allen West seems unlikely to participate in the group’s symbolic swearing in by outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, West plans to join the group and challenge its liberal orthodoxies. He even showed up for the CBCs lame duck meeting for freshman orientation.
West’s seemingly long-shot candidacy to unseat Democratic incumbent Ron Klein in a Florida swing district gained traction thanks to the popularity of his rousing speeches posted on YouTube.
After eight years without a black Republican in Congress, West, along with fellow freshman Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), face the task of helping a sometimes-pallid party reach out in an increasingly diverse nation.
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)
McKinley is the everyman for the freshman Republican class.
He won narrowly in a majority-Democrat district in northern West Virginia in a victory owed to deep dissatisfaction with the Obama agenda on global warming and health care.
Still unknown to many of his constituents, McKinley is typical of the new members whom Democrats are already targeting for defeat in 2012.
To be reelected and not just a political footnote to an unusual 2010 election, McKinley and dozens like him need not only for Republicans to be deemed successful, but to quickly establish a bond with the voters who elected him not because of who he is, but in protest of the direction of the Democratic Party.
Boehner’s Moment in the Sun
“The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker.”
-- From an advance copy of Rep. John Boehner’s speech accepting the position as 61st speaker of the House.
Today’s New York Times lead editorial ridicules John Boehner for asking Chief Justice John Roberts to administer an oath of office to the soon-to-be Speaker’s staff. It attacks the ceremony held Tuesday as “meaningless” and “pomp” and wonders why the Republicans aren’t getting down to business.
Power Play doesn’t recall the Times making similar pronouncements as Nancy Pelosi took multiple victory laps across the country in 2006. Instead, the paper gloried in the historical significance of the first woman, the first Italian-American and first Californian to take the speaker’s gavel.
But critics should not be so quick to write off the swearing in, the reading aloud of the Constitution or the other “pomp” associated with today’s Republican takeover.
As you might gather from the waterworks that start up so often from the speaker designee’s eyes, Boehnerland is a place of fierce emotional attachments and deeply held sentiment.
Power Play has long observed he and his staff to be among the least cynical, most earnest of any on the Hill. It may seem contrived or cheesy to critics, but these folks actually believe in what their talking about.
Whatever the barriers Pelosi broke, John Boehner will certainly be the first brother of 11, German-Catholic, tavern keeper’s son from blue-collar Cincinnati to wield the gavel. Those roots are reflected in the people he has gathered around him and in their priorities.
Boehner and his team survived a purge from leadership orchestrated by the more calculating DeLay organization, a long stretch in the wilderness and the ambitions of junior Republicans to get here. They are treating it with respect.
As busloads of Boehners descended on Washington from Cincinnati to toast (probably repeatedly) their local boy made good, you have to think that the speaker designate was glad the TV crews weren’t around to catch him crying again.
Pelosi Departs, Doesn’t Retreat
“When I was first elected Speaker, I called the House to order on behalf of America’s children. As I now prepare to hand over the gavel, I know one thing above all else. We have stood for those children and for their families—for their health, their education, the safety of the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat.”
-- From an advance copy of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s speech on the occasion of the end of her four-year reign as speaker of the House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi secured her place in history not just as the first woman, but as one of the most effective.
While some of her victories may have cost her party dearly, she had the stamina and toughness that Democrats so often found lacking in President Obama and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid.
As she makes her closing remarks as Speaker today and prepares to hand the gavel over to John Boehner, Pelsoi is a study in contrasts with her successor. She is as dry as he is sentimental. She exerted total control over the House in a way that even Sam Rayburn didn’t. He wants to open the process and share power. She is a crisp glass of Chardonnay, he is cold mug of Hudepohl. She is a smoke-free Grateful dead reunion. He is Tom T. Hall on the jukebox in a smoky bar.
Pelosi will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. She commands deep respect and loyalty in her caucus and is a prodigious fundraiser. Her fellow Democrats will be counting on her to lead them swiftly back to the majority and she makes no bones about believing that she is the woman for the job.
Debt Fight Flares
“Let me be clear: If extremist Republicans force a default and government shutdown, it will be a disaster for the middle class and threaten our economic recovery.”
-- Senate Majority Harry Reid in a Politico Op-Ed.
Democrats are gearing up for some testy negotiations on raising the debt ceiling from its current $14.2 trillion.
The growing sentiment among Republicans is that with so little time left in the current fiscal year and a continuing resolution on spending set to run out in March, the Obama administration’s request for a credit-limit increase might best be dealt with as a two stage process.
Republicans would agree to a small increase in the debt limit, maybe just enough to carry the country until the end of the fiscal year in September, in exchange for a return to 2008 spending for the remainder of the year, a cut of more than 20 percent.
Then, as congress debates Obama’s budget, due out this month, a concurrent new round of negotiations about deeper, long-term cuts going forward would take place.
Liberal outlets today are bashing Republicans for the idea because it would not deliver the $100 million in cuts for the first fiscal year that the GOP had promised. But Republicans counter that the 2008-spending level pledge is what counts and that they will do what they can in the remaining eight months of the fiscal year.
Harry Reid’s Politico op-ed today is the latest effort to try to take away the debt ceiling vote as a Republican bargaining position, suggesting that voting against the increase is an irresponsible act of partisanship that is beyond the patriotic pale.
Republicans, though, are quick to remind Democrats of then-Sen. Barack Obama’s 2006 “no” vote on a debt ceiling hike and his choice words at the time, such as: “Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.”
Turks Find New Frontier in Iraq
“Basra is virgin. Who comes first, who establishes first, who makes contacts first will make the most profit in the future. I don’t feel any competition right now. Not at all.”
-- Ali Riza Ozcoskun, who leads one of four Turkish consulates in Iraq, describing to the New York Times the business opportunities there.
Iraq is in a very rough neighborhood. Wedged between Iran and Syria, the fledgling republic is flanked by vultures.
But there are friends around too. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan have all worked to help the American-born government in Baghdad stay aloft, but the key to Iraq’s success or failure lies to the northwest in its old foe and long-ago occupier, Turkey.
Turkish influence is exploding in Iraq, and not just in the Kurdish region to the north. As the Turks have come to terms with the Kurds and fears of a Kurdish rebellion have eased since the days of Saddam and post-invasion tumult, Turkey has increasingly embraced Iraq as an untapped marketplace.
And it’s a natural fit. Baghdad was once a central marketplace of the Ottoman Empire, a crossroads between the Levant to the west, Arabia to the south and Persia to the east. The Ottomans forged Iraq’s role as a mercantile culture.
Now it is oil that draws enterprising Turks to the nation, but the trend seems to be the same.
Today’s New York Times reports that Turkish exports to Iraq have doubled from 2008 to $6 billion and that 1,500 trucks a day roll from Turkey into Iraq hauling workers, building materials and, perhaps most importantly, pop culture products for a emerging market starved for regionally relevant icons.
If the Iraqi experiment works, it may be because the Iraqis choose to emulate the modern, market-oriented ways of their former Ottoman rulers and not the medieval ambitions of Iran.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Hypocrisy in politics is such a wonderful thing because it means you have grown up and you stop just taking the cheap shots from the outside.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” discussing reports that President Obama would use a signing statement on a defense bill to exert executive authority, a practice he decried as a senator.