On the first day of orientation for the incoming congressmen, newly-elected Republicans vowed to give establishment GOP leaders a rough ride if pushed to compromise on their conservative campaign promises. The soon-to-be members, who are spending the week in a congressional crash course, were optimistic about their opportunity to “change Washington,” but are keeping a sharp eye on their own party’s incumbents.
“I’m a team player,” said Florida Rep.-elect Steve Southerland, who owns a funeral home in Panama City. “But I will say that I’ve never been a ‘yes man’ in my life. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve met several other members in this class that are like-minded. They’re not ‘yes people.'”
Interviews with other fresh-faced future lawmakers reflected Southerland’s assessment. Talk, as they say, is cheap, but they appeared to be a class that is leaving little room for compromise, even within their own party.
“I’m an independent thinker,” said Rep.-elect Allen West, also of Florida. “Sometimes maybe I’ll do some of the things that the Republican Party establishment up here may not want.”
The former Army lieutenant colonel joined the new class of lawmakers for a series of speeches and seminars, using his camouflage U.S. Army helmet bag that once carried military equipment during his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq as a tout bag for pamphlets, letters and freshman orientation packets.
Tea Party groups that backed candidates like West have said they would keep close tabs on the freshman class. Given their treatment of centrist Republicans with strong chances of victory, (see: Delaware’s Mike Castle), the Tea Party groups appear to care deeply about the purity of members.
That puts a lot of pressure on new lawmakers who are likely to find that the legislative process in Washington cumbersome and complicated. About 40 new members have claimed ties to the Tea Party movement and now that the future-members are in Washington, they’re still happy to talk Tea Party.
“We’ve been tea partyin’ in the 7th District of Missouri before the Tea Party was cool,” said Missouri Rep.-elect Billy Long, a fast-talking professional auctioneer who had never been to the U.S. Capitol before his congressional orientation.
Long, who arrived at the orientation without his trademarked wide brimmed cowboy hat, said Republicans lost their way the last time they came into power.
“If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got and if we keep doin’ the way things have been done in Washington, how can we expect anything different?” he said, adding that when Republicans took over in 1994, “principles sold out to politics.” “We’ve got a large freshman class that is not going to let that happen this time.”
But what if it does happen?
“Well I’ll tell you, that’s my nightmare,” said Texas Rep.-elect Blake Farenthold, an attorney and former talk-radio host. “I’m going to try to work within the system, but when the system doesn’t go the way I think the people who elected me want it to go, I’m going to be right here in front of you guys yelling and screaming.”
Some members of the new class are so optimistic, they won’t entertain the thought that a leader in their party would lead them astray.
“I think that’s an unfathomable prospect that this Republican leadership would veer away from less government, less taxes and less regulation,” said Florida Rep.-elect David Rivera.
From the start, it is clear that the stern-talking new kids on the block have allies within the ranks of more senior members: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, put his support behind a ban on earmarks Monday afternoon. Last week, presumed House Speaker John Boehner made it clear that he will refuse to compromise on whether to raise taxes. And speaking to a crowd of supporters in Washington Monday, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence echoed what many of the new members said throughout their campaigns. “For my fellow Republicans, let me say as we gather in this lame duck session in the coming weeks: There must be no compromise.”
Alex Pappas contributed to this report.