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 WalkerCharities fear hit from Trump tax law during holidays Dems seek to overhaul voting rules in Florida legal fight  Election Countdown: Abrams ends fight in Georgia governor's race | Latest on Florida recount | Booker, Harris head to campaign in Mississippi Senate runoff | Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority 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 leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming GOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s B wall demand Shutdown 'more than possible,' says top Senate appropriator 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 McSallyArizona governor eyes several possible Kyl replacements The Hill's 12:30 Report – Cohen says Trump knew payments were wrong | GOP in turmoil over Trump shutdown threat | Kyl to resign from Senate at year's end Jon Kyl to resign from Senate on Dec. 31 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 HudsonHouse GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Jockeying already stepping up in House leadership fights North Carolina GOP leader shares fake photo mocking Ford MORE (R-N.C.) was seen commiserating with Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamIllinois New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses 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-LehtinenGOP lawmaker tells party to stop focusing on 'white, male conservative' voters ‘Wake up, dudes’ — gender gap confounds GOP women Florida New Members 2019 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 SessionsGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote House GOP blocks lawmakers from forcing Yemen war votes for rest of year Advocates see state legislatures as next frontier for pot legalization 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 StiversGOP lawmakers say party isn't trying to learn from midterm losses New House GOP campaign chairman lays out challenges for 2020 Democrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters 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 YohoMcCaul set to serve as ranking member of House Committee on Foreign Affairs House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Republicans jockey for top GOP spot on House Foreign Affairs Committee 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 McCarthyFive takeaways from the court decision striking down ObamaCare Trump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming McCarthy calls on incoming Democrats to embrace bipartisanship, not 'food fight' or investigations MORE (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force House lawmakers delay decision on Saudi Arabia pending investigation 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 PelosiTrump celebrates judge's decision tossing core tenets of ObamaCare Pelosi gets her swagger on Young girl's death draws new scrutiny over US treatment of migrants 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 ConawayThis week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight This week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote 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 BrooksHouse GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Trump immigration measures struggle in the courts Latino groups intervene in Alabama census lawsuit 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.