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
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
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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