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 WalkerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage North Carolina congressman says he won't seek reelection after redistricting NC rep explores Tillis primary challenge 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 ColeTrump's border wall hangs over spending talks House, Senate reach deal on fiscal 2020 spending figures New hemp trade group presses lawmakers on immigration reform, regs 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 McSallyGroup of veterans call on lawmakers to support impeachment, 'put country over politics' Here are the Senate Republicans who could vote to convict Trump Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 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 HudsonNorth Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps North Carolina ruling could cost GOP House seats School football game canceled after cheerleaders held pro-Trump banner MORE (R-N.C.) was seen commiserating with Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamFeehery: How Republicans can win back the suburbs Ex-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Blue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try 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-LehtinenEx-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Former GOP Rep. Walters joins energy company Republican Salazar seeks rematch with Shalala in key Miami House district 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 SessionsTexas GOP rep predicts heavy Democratic presence in state ahead of 2020 Bottom Line The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - GOP snags mic with impeachment protest 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 StiversWaters clashes with Trump officials over 'disastrous' housing plans Financial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more GOP ratchets up 2020 attacks as impeachment storm grows 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 YohoGOP's Yoho announces retirement from Congress Haley: Giuliani should've been named 'special envoy' to Ukraine GOP lawmakers express concerns about Giuliani's work in Ukraine 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 McCarthyCollege Republicans launch campaign calling for GOP to take action on climate change Pelosi's whiplash moment brings praise and criticism GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseGOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures Lighthizer starts GOP charm offensive on Trump trade deal Pelosi announces support for new Trump NAFTA deal 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 PelosiTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles California GOP candidate arrested on stalking charges 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 BrooksTrump takes pulse of GOP on Alabama Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP Jeff Sessions calling Alabama lawmakers about 2020 Senate bid 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.