House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses

House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses
© Greg Nash

Hugs, kisses, pats on the back, offers of condolences — and even a few jokes.

That’s how dejected House Republicans who returned to Washington this week coped with suffering brutal electoral losses in the midterm elections that handed over power to the Democrats for the first time since 2010.

While the shift in power was somewhat expected, it didn’t make it any less painful for the GOP conference — nearly two-thirds of which has never served as the minority.

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“It’s a little somber,” Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerMike Johnson to run for vice chairman of House GOP conference The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Woodward book revelations rock Washington The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Facebook — Trump, Biden duel in final stretch | Vaccine trial on pause after recipient's 'potentially unexplained illness' | Biden visits Michigan | Trump campaign has 18 events in 11 states planned in the next week MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s mixed emotions. There’s a little rawness still.”

“We’re all sad when you lose great members and great friends,” added Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeBottom line House approves .3 trillion spending package for 2021 Multiple lawmakers self-quarantine after exposure to Gohmert MORE (R-Okla.), who chaired the House GOP’s campaign arm after Democrats won the lower chamber in 2006.

A band of Republicans who lost their races received a chorus of sympathetic words on Tuesday night from their colleagues on both the left and right. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — who was greeted with thunderous applause and cheers from Democrats on the floor after edging out Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies MORE (R-Ariz.) in the race for Arizona’s Senate seat — crossed over to the Republican side of the chamber, where she sat and chatted with a number of recently defeated friends across the aisle.

While Democrats appeared to revel in their victory, Rep. Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonHow Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Cook shifts 20 House districts toward Democrats American meat producers must leverage new technology to protect consumers, workers MORE (R-N.C.) was seen commiserating with Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamBottom line Lobbying world House votes to temporarily repeal Trump SALT deduction cap MORE (R-Ill.), a Ways and Means subcommittee chairman who lost his tough reelection battle, as they exited the House floor Tuesday night.

“I’m sorry,” Hudson told Roskam as he patted him on the shoulder. “Not for you, but for us. We need you.”

Democrats, who are on track to gain roughly 35 seats, not only won open districts being vacated by retiring Republicans but also ousted some of the GOP’s leading voices, further throwing salt on their wounds. The Democratic Party managed to flip a number of traditionally red districts and have been touting their ability to bring in younger and more diverse voices.

Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-Lehtinen'Trump show' convention sparks little interest on K Street Shalala to face Salazar in Florida rematch TechNet hires Hispanic communications director MORE (R-Fla.), who is retiring at the end of the 115th Congress, was spotted on the House floor giving House Rules Committee Chairman Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsThe Hill's Campaign Report: New polls show Biden leading by landslide margins The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - In Rose Garden, Trump launches anti-Biden screed Pete Sessions wins GOP runoff in comeback bid MORE (R-Texas) a kiss on the cheek. Sessions was unseated by Rep.-elect Colin Allred (D-Texas), a former NFL player and civil rights lawyer, after serving 11 terms in the House.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversBusiness groups back pandemic insurance bill modeled on post-9/11 law National Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership MORE (R-Ohio), who recently announced he is stepping down from his leadership role, shook hands with gloomy looking members still grieving the results.

“I’ve learned lots of lessons, and I’ll be talking about them to some of my colleagues,” Stivers told The Hill. “I’m not going to talk about them in the press.”

Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoKat Cammack wins Florida GOP primary in bid for Ted Yoho's seat The Hill's Convention Report: Democrats gear up for Day Two of convention Eyes turn to Ocasio-Cortez as she seeks to boost Biden MORE (R-Fla.) said the GOP conference, which elected its leaders for the new Congress on Wednesday, is still going through the stages of grief.

“You go through the same thing when somebody passes. You go through the sadness, the anger. Then you resolve,” he told The Hill.

But despite the disappointment among Republicans, there were few calls for a wholesale change in their leadership.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill Trump's sharp words put CDC director on hot seat MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse GOP slated to unveil agenda ahead of election House panel details 'serious' concerns around Florida, Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin elections Scalise hit with ethics complaint over doctored Barkan video MORE (R-La.) both coasted into the No. 1 and 2 leadership positions in the minority.

Democrats are gearing up for their own leadership elections later this month, which are shaping up to be far messier, as a small but vocal group of critics are angling to block current Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Ginsburg successor must uphold commitment to 'equality, opportunity and justice for all' Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Pelosi orders Capitol flags at half-staff to honor Ginsburg MORE (D-Calif.) from getting the Speaker’s gavel.

But at least on Wednesday morning, Democrats united as they celebrated winning back the House. A caucus meeting that was supposed to focus on the lame-duck agenda quickly turned into a pep rally as members cheered, clapped and gave standing ovations while Pelosi addressed the room.

“Music to our ears,” she said, according to a source inside the room. “How wonderful, how hopeful for the American people.”

Walker, who was elected conference vice chairman on Wednesday, said he wasn’t sure that reality had quite settled in for Republicans, who will have to deal with everything from losing control of the legislative agenda to forking over office space.

“Close to 70 percent of our conference has never been in the minority. So to be able to say what it’s going to be like, from room changes to policy to committee chairs ... all of that’s getting ready to transition over the next few weeks,” said Walker, who came to Congress in 2015. “I think there’s still some sobering that’s to take place.”

Some Republicans handled their electoral drubbing with humor.

When pressed on whether he had any leverage in the farm bill fight now that the GOP had lost the majority, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayLive coverage: Democrats, Republicans seek to win PR battle in final House impeachment hearing Laughter erupts at hearing after Democrat fires back: Trump 'has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis' Live coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump's corruption MORE (R-Texas) was blunt: “No ma’am.”

“You’ll have to share some with me if you do,” the seven-term congressman said with a laugh.

Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksOvernight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals,' official says MORE (R-Ala.), a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, tried to look for a bright spot.
“At least we have Alabama football,” he said.