Hillary Clinton Breaks Up a Tea Party in the House

Many GOP lawmakers elected in 2010 would drop out rather than face the prospect of another Democratic president.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney
AP Photo/Harry Hamburg
June 22, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

Serve under President Hillary Clinton? I’d rather quit.

That’s what a few House Republicans are starting to murmur as the campaign of their presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, sinks into a shambles. The feeling is particularly prevalent among members of the historic class of 2010, many of whom left private life to run for Congress and have spent the last six years blocking President Obama’s agenda.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney said that he, his South Carolina colleague Trey Gowdy, and other members of the class have openly talked about retiring after their next term ends if Clinton wins—not so much because they don’t like her specifically, but because serving as a House Republican under what they see as a third term of the Obama administration would be a thankless job.

“If it’s going to be a frustrating, sometimes meaningless task, there are better things to do,” Mulvaney said. “Trey and I and a lot of other folks who are sort of from our class … we’re sort of waiting to see how the election goes next November.”

The growing frustration of working at cross-purposes with a Democratic president comes as Speaker Paul Ryan prepares this week to unveil the final portions of a five-part House GOP agenda meant to show the public what Congress would do with a Republican in the White House. Ryan has said the agenda is aimed at quelling the criticism from some quarters that congressional Republicans have defined themselves only by what they are against, not by what they would do with the power they have sought.

But that Republican vision would be for naught if Clinton is elected. What’s more, Republican constituents would be frustrated once again by empty promises from their leaders, said one House Republican who took office in 2010 and who requested anonymity so he could discuss his colleagues’ futures frankly. The member said those who first took office in the 112th Congress have spent the last six years showing the American public that they want to stop Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, and other signature Obama-era policies. Now the public wants to see action, the member said, and action would be nearly impossible if Clinton is elected.

“If that happens, I think there will be a mass exodus,” the member said. “Our class was an unusual class of outsiders. They understand that there’s so much more to life than serving in Congress. And if they have to spend eight years of that life keeping their fingers in the dyke instead of being able to actually create new policies, they’re not going to do it. They’re going to let someone else do it.”

Though it was not monolithic, the class of 2010 came to be known as a group of citizen legislators. Many were prompted to run for Congress to serve as a counterweight to the Democratic majorities that supported Obama’s liberal agenda. The class included a roofer, an auctioneer, a pizzeria owner, an NFL player, a Bible-camp director, and a gospel-singing farmer.

The 87 Republicans rode the tea-party wave and knocked then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi from power. Now, there are only 57 left from the 112th Congress. Some have been defeated in primaries or general elections, some retired, some were elected to higher office, and one has died. Twelve more will leave this year, the bulk of them retiring without seeking another office.

Republicans took the Senate, but the presidency has remained an elusive prize. As Trump founders in nationwide polls, members are looking ahead to more of the same. Even so, some members of the class have come to embrace their role as impediments to the Obama agenda, even if they concede that it would be nice to be in the majority for once.

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, a dental surgeon who has become known as one of the most staunch House conservatives, said a Clinton presidency would only strengthen his resolve to stay in Congress.

“It shouldn’t be about pulling teeth, but I don’t mind pulling teeth,” Gosar said. “There’s some people that are frustrated, there’s no doubt. But I think we sit at a pivotal time in our history.”

Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, a former used-car salesman, said he understands and shares the frustration of some of his colleagues. But he said there is a lot to be proud of in the House GOP’s blocking of Obama, and he intends to stay around to continue that work if Clinton is elected.

“A lot of them come from the private sector. You start to think, ‘Jeez, I thought it would be easier to work this way,’” Kelly said. “People look and they say we didn’t get much done. Well, we got a lot stopped. … The president’s first two years in office were the most successful two years of a president. Everything he needed or wanted got done. Thank God they stopped where they stopped.”

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