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 WalkerOn The Money: House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal | Dem court filing defends powers to get Trump's NY tax returns | Debt collectors to pay M to settle consumer bureau charges House passes sweeping budget, debt limit deal Romney to vote against budget deal: Agreement 'perpetuates fiscal recklessness' 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 ColeTo fix retirement, we need to understand it On The Money: Trump banks on Fed, China to fuel 2020 economy | Judge orders parties to try to reach deal in lawsuit over Trump tax returns | Warren targets corporate power with plan to overhaul trade policy Lawmakers point to entitlements when asked about deficits 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 McSallyGabby Giffords participating in gun violence town hall in El Paso following mass shooting Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Anti-gun violence organization endorses Kelly's Senate bid 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 HudsonGOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Two killed in shooting at University of North Carolina Charlotte MORE (R-N.C.) was seen commiserating with Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Blue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try Illinois Dems offer bill to raise 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-LehtinenRepublican Salazar seeks rematch with Shalala in key Miami House district Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm 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 StiversThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Republicans offer support for Steve King challenger The United States broken patent system is getting worse 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 YohoCNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess The 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran 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 McCarthyOmar says US should reconsider aid to Israel I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Trump finds consistent foil in 'Squad' MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseManchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Sunday shows - Trump's Epstein conspiracy theory retweet grabs spotlight Sanders: Trump doesn't 'want to see somebody get shot' but 'creates the climate for it' 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 PelosiMoulton drops out of presidential race after struggling to gain traction Conservatives push Trump tariff relief over payroll tax cuts Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence 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 ConawayTexas faces turbulent political moment Democratic Party official: Texas is 'biggest battleground state in the country' Another Texas congressman planning to retire 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 lawmaker blasts Omar and Tlaib: Netanyahu right to block 'enemies' of Israel Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker 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.