House GOP boasts diversity and new conservatives

AP News
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Posted: Nov 08, 2014 9:17 AM
House GOP boasts diversity and new conservatives

WASHINGTON (AP) — Meet the new House Republicans.

There's Mia Love from Utah, the first black Republican woman to serve in the House.

At 30, Elise Stefanik of upstate New York is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Carlos Curbelo is the son of Cuban exiles in Florida.

"We're back with youth, we're back with diversity and we're back with women," Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said after Tuesday's elections, when House Republicans increased their majority to levels not seen in decades.

But Republicans also are welcoming some vocal new members on the right; some are replacing more moderate GOP lawmakers who retired. These new members could increase the ranks of tea party conservatives who have created persistent trouble for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and give him fresh headaches just when he and other GOP leaders are determined to show they can deliver after taking back the Senate.

In North Carolina, Mark Walker is a pastor who suggested using fighter jets to deal with illegal immigration. He says his comments were taken out of context and that he was talking about a way to oppose drug cartels.

In Wisconsin, a longtime and low-key Republican, Tom Petri, is being replaced by firebrand state lawmaker Glenn Grothman, who referred to protesters at the state Capitol in Madison as "a bunch of slobs" and has opposed equal-pay legislation because "you could argue that money is more important for men."

In Georgia, Jody Hice, a Baptist minister and conservative talk show host, has said that being gay is a lifestyle that "enslaves" people and that he doesn't have a problem with a woman being in politics as long as she's "within the authority of her husband."

Ryan Zinke, a former Navy SEAL elected in Montana, has gotten attention for calling Hillary Rodham Clinton "the antichrist."

"Do I really believe that she is the antichrist? That answer would be 'no,'" Zinke said in an interview. "But I do get a little emotional about Benghazi, and I like the rest of America want answers."

In September 2012, when Clinton was secretary of state, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in the eastern city of Benghazi when militants stormed a U.S. diplomatic post and, hours later, fired on a CIA compound nearby. Some Republicans argue the U.S. military held back assets that could have saved lives and that President Barack Obama and Clinton lied to the public about the nature of the attack.

For Boehner, his new Republican colleagues are part of an empowered House majority on track to increase its ranks from 234 to at least 244 lawmakers — the highest total since the Truman administration.

The bigger numbers should give Boehner more room to maneuver as he tries to assemble the 218 votes needed to pass legislation. But it's clear that the most zealous wing of the party — sometimes called the "hell no caucus" — that repeatedly has forced Boehner to pull legislation such as a farm bill from the floor, toughen immigration policy or force a government shutdown over the president's health law will still be a force to reckon with.

"They're the crowd that shut down the government and their antics led to the first downgrade of the U.S. bond rating. None of that's changed," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. "I think that's an inherent instability that's always lurking in the background for Boehner and company."

Boehner laughed off questions about some of the incendiary comments from newly elected lawmakers.

"Yes, we have some new members who've made some statements, I'll give you that," he told reporters on Capitol Hill this past week. "But when you look at the vast majority of the new members that are coming in here, they're really solid members. ... We've done a very good job of recruiting good candidates, and we're going to have a very good crop of good members."

Republican aides note the departure of several of the party's more colorful members, among them tea party favorite Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; Georgia's Paul Broun, who's called evolution a lie; and Florida's Steve Southerland, who lost to Democrat Gwen Graham after holding a male-only fundraiser and then asking whether Graham ever had attended a "lingerie shower."

The class of 2014, with a dozen new GOP seats and counting, pales in comparison to the 2010 midterms when Republicans picked up 63 seats and tea party members who immediately began challenging GOP leaders. Since then, Republican leadership aides believe some of the more strident lawmakers have calmed down, learning the hard way through last year's politically disastrous government shutdown that they can't only say "no."

The hope is that they'll pass the lesson along.

Indeed some of the newly elected members sounded decidedly tame in postelection interviews.

Zinke said he planned to support Boehner as speaker and that there needed to be an alternative to Obama's health care law before repealing it entirely, though he did complain that there had been "a lot of excuses" out of Boehner's Republican conference.

"The U.S. House of Representatives needs a clear message of what we're going to do, and not just what we're not going to do," Zinke said, adding: "I'm not as radical as you thought, huh?"

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Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson in Milwaukee contributed to this report.