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 WalkerMembers spar over sexual harassment training deadline Colorado state senators plan to introduce bill to let NCAA athletes get paid Republicans offer 'free market alternative' to paid family leave 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 ColeLawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds 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 tested on Trump support after Mueller Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 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 HudsonDon’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall Assault weapons ban push tests Dem support House Dems make gun control action an early priority MORE (R-N.C.) was seen commiserating with Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamBlue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try Illinois Dems offer bill to raise SALT deduction cap Illinois New Members 2019 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-LehtinenBottom Line The women in white and the trails they blaze Lobbying World 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 SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges 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 StiversMarijuana banking bill picks up momentum The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems plot next steps over Mueller report The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today 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 YohoSecrecy behind Saudi nuclear talks infuriates Congress Congress can finally ensure horses are not tortured for ribbons and prizes Trump's decision on health care law puts spotlight on Mulvaney 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 McCarthyWatchdog: Custodial staff alleged sexual harassment in lawmakers' offices John Legend, Chrissy Teigen lash out at Trump at Dem retreat Republicans call for ex-Trump lawyer Cohen to be referred to DOJ MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph Scalise20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform GOP to launch discharge petition on anti-BDS measure This week: Democrats revive net neutrality fight 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller End of Mueller shifts focus to existing probes Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general 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 ConawayDems ramp up subpoena threats GOP zeroes in on Schiff Pelosi rushes to Schiff's defense 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 BrooksGOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field Alabama Holocaust Commission condemns GOP lawmaker's use of Hitler phrase 'big lie' 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.