By Emily Goodin - 09/16/13 10:43 PM EDT
Lawmakers in the historic freshman Republican class of 2011 are working to keep their influence on the party as sophomores and shift the group’s Tea Party-dominated image. [WATCH VIDEO]
Their method: monthly messaging meetings consisting of freshman and sophomore lawmakers, held outside of leadership and focused on ways to present a more compassionate and diverse GOP.
Elected in the 2010 GOP wave election, those 87 lawmakers gave John Boehner (R-Ohio) the Speakership. And they flexed their muscle at that time, demanding a bigger seat at the leadership table for their class and using their numbers to drive Republican policy.
But the class proved troublesome for the Speaker: Lawmakers fought him on the federal budget, the debt ceiling, tax rates, ObamaCare and the farm bill.
A select group of them — those with knowledge of leadership — are now involved in the messaging meetings to change their image. Another goal is to drown out some of the more fiery members who have proved problematic for Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Lawmakers were reluctant to provide details about the meetings: exact locations, who’s invited and who’s organizing them.
But Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), and Martha Roby (R-Ala.) appear to be leaders in the movement.
Call them the younger guns. All in their 30s and 40s, they are favorites of leadership and were leaders in their freshman class.
Each lawmaker has formed a leadership political action committee, a necessary step for any ambitious member, and has been a public voice for the party, either by giving a GOP weekly radio address or appearing on television to tout the Republican message.
Most of them have taken roles with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to ensure the GOP keeps the House in 2014. Others are on the whip team, which helps leadership corral conference members during votes on top legislation.
“Republicans had a great opportunity with a new generation of leaders, people who are excited about opportunities presented and excited to get involved,” Gardner, who’s on the whip team and works with the NRCC’s Patriot Program, told The Hill.
These lawmakers are also indicating they see their political future in the lower chamber, at least for now.
Gardner and Noem declined to make Senate bids in 2014, and Kinzinger risked a brutal intra-party primary in 2012 that kept him in the House. All are in relatively safe GOP districts.
But one element appears to be missing from these messaging meetings: members with strong ties to the Tea Party, who have proved most troublesome to leadership.
Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) told The Hill they don’t attend the gatherings.
Both lawmakers represent the more conservative elements of the party. They are also the two members of the sophomore class who voted for someone other than Boehner for Speaker at the beginning of the 113th Congress.
Only 12 Republican members of the class of 2011 lost reelection last year, but the GOP lost the White House and Senate, which some lawmakers say shows a need to change the message.
Roby, who’s on the whip team and serves as Southern Regional chairwoman for the NRCC, said those defeats show the message is being lost.
“I think what we have to realize from losing the election is not to change what we believe in or who we are based on our values or principles. But I think what we can change — and this is a conversation we have a lot — is the way we talk about things. We have to preach beyond the choir so speak,” she said.
“We can talk about our principles in a way we can draw people to us instead of pushing them away.”
But the lawmakers also indicate they’re aware it was the Tea Party wave that brought them into office, and it’s the element that can take it away.
It’s not the conservative message they want to change, they say, but the method: exchange the shouting and infighting for compassion.
Kinzinger, a military veteran and Midwest chairman for the NRCC, was one of the few GOP lawmakers who agreed with President Obama on intervention in Syria. And he now faces charges of being a “RINO,” Republican in Name Only.
He argues lawmakers need to stop shouting on TV “and show compassion.”
“I think the Republican Party has, unfortunately, ceded the ground of the message of compassion,” he told The Hill.
“We’re burdened, and I can’t speak for everybody about this, but we’re burdened by the message we hear out there. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of screaming. At least, in my case, I want to translate that into our vision of the future.”