OPIOID SERIES:

Tea Party class reassesses record

Tea Party class reassesses record
© Greg Nash

The historic House GOP freshman class of 2010 stormed Washington with a mandate to roll back President Obama’s agenda.

Fueled by Tea Party anger over Obama’s economic stimulus and healthcare law, Republicans picked up 63 House seats and captured the majority in 2010 — a wave election Obama described as a “shellacking.”

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The GOP victory thrust then-Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE (R-Ohio) into the Speaker’s office, and the 2010 freshmen arrived in D.C. hellbent on cutting spending.

At his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama — in a nod to newly empowered Republicans — proposed freezing domestic spending for the next five years.

That summer, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed to more than $1 trillion in mandatory spending cuts to defense and domestic programs known as the sequester.

Yet five years after those successes, fire-breathing Tea Party conservatives recognize they have done little to dismantle the two-term president’s legacy, and they are expressing some misgivings about their record.

A 2013 bipartisan deal struck by the House and Senate budget chiefs, Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFreedomWorks backs Jim Jordan for House Speaker House, Senate GOP compete for cash Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDuckworth brings her baby to Senate vote, drawing a crowd Maternal deaths keep rising in US, raising scrutiny Senators press administration on mental health parity MORE (D-Wash.), lifted the sequester budget caps. And shortly before he resigned from office last fall, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) cut a deal with the White House to raise the debt ceiling and hike spending by about $80 billion over the next two years.

Some now say the 2010 class’s goals were unrealistic and that they didn’t fully appreciate how hard it would be to repeal ObamaCare and other White House priorities with Senate Democrats repeatedly blocking GOP bills and the president armed with a veto pen.

“It didn’t quite move as fast as we thought it would. People came to do something and, quite frankly, very little has been accomplished,” said Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), an unsuccessful candidate for Speaker last fall who was drawn out of his congressional district in a redistricting plan that’s being litigated in the courts.

Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdFarenthold resigned ahead of ethics ruling against him House Ethics calls on Farenthold to pay back K taxpayer-funded harassment settlement Loss of Ryan hits hard for House Republicans MORE (R-Texas), who joined the Tea Party Caucus after defeating an incumbent Democrat during the 2010 wave, is seeking reelection but conceded that the job has fallen far short of his expectations.

“You come in and you suddenly realize you’re 1/435th of one-third of the government, you’ve got people calling you all sorts of names on Twitter that they wouldn’t say in church, and your kids take it hard,” Farenthold, a former conservative talk radio host, told The Hill.

“The bulk of what we’re doing is playing defense from a Republican standpoint, and that’s tough,” he said. “We tried and tried to change things, and the president won’t sign squat.”

“When we got elected, I do not think we had a full appreciation for the difficulty of getting everything done that we wanted to when we ran,” explained Rep. Bill FloresWilliam (Bill) Hose FloresRepublicans express doubts that Ryan can stay on as Speaker McCarthy says early leadership election to replace Ryan unlikely Five takeaways from Zuckerberg’s testimony MORE, another Texas Republican elected in 2010. “We had a Senate that was obviously going to block us on everything, and it turned out to be harder to get things to the president’s desk.”

Now the new Speaker, Ryan said Tuesday it will take a GOP president to help “get our fiscal house in order.”

Nearly one-third of the 87 GOP freshmen from that year are gone or on their way out, according to an analysis by The Hill.

A number of lawmakers from the 2010 class have successfully run for the Senate or other higher office, but a dozen lost their reelection bids, and others are facing tough races this fall. One member, Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.), died last year of a brain tumor, and Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) resigned his seat after pleading guilty to felony tax fraud.

Five GOP freshmen from the 112th Congress have recently announced that this term will be their last, and other retirements are expected in the coming weeks.

Still, Flores pointed out that the roughly 60 Republicans seeking reelection this fall represent one of the largest, most influential groups on Capitol Hill. And several are moving into positions of power.

Flores, for one, is now the chairman of the 170-member conservative Republican Study Committee, often a launching pad to leadership. Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyJustice to provide access to Comey memos to GOP lawmakers House Judiciary Dem mocks GOP Comey subpoena GOP chairman poised to subpoena DOJ for Comey memos MORE (R-S.C.), a conservative favorite, leads the special committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks. And others, such as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), chairman of the Tea Party Caucus, hold subcommittee gavels.

“We may be somewhat smaller in numbers, but we’re a stronger class in terms of influence,” Flores said.

Republicans failed to defeat Obama in 2012. But after organizing as the House Freedom Caucus a year ago, conservatives finally managed last September to force their own leader, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSome doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP Lobbying World McCarthy courts conservatives in Speaker's bid MORE, into early retirement. Ryan was elected to succeed him, and the House’s first act of 2016 was to send to Obama’s desk an ObamaCare repeal bill that was promptly vetoed.

“The former leadership did a masterful job of cutting the class apart and attempting to make us ineffective,” Huelskamp told The Hill. “We were the majority-makers, and few us of had any say under Speaker Boehner. ... They co-opted the class pretty early.”

 Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), who is running to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination The Memo: Teens rankle the right with gun activism Dems to party: Go on offense with Trump’s alleged affairs MORE (D-Nev.), acknowledged that he’d have much greater influence if he wins one of 100 seats in the upper chamber.

But Heck, a physician and Iraq War veteran, said he’s proud of his short time in the House, where he has chaired two subcommittees and authored two bills that became law.

“The class of 2010 still plays an outsize role when you look at the initial size and how many remain. I think we’ve made our mark,” Heck said in an interview just off the House floor.

 “I don’t think anybody ever accomplishes everything they set out to do.”

Here’s a glance at where some members of the class of 2010 went and where others are heading: