Politics

House Freshmen to Watch

115th Congress provides a platform for ambitious new members

Kihuen, left, comes to Congress with a record of success in Nevada, and the blessing of former Sen. Harry Reid. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

By JASON DICK and SIMONE PATHÉ

Not all freshmen are created equal.

While there is always a learning curve for new members of the House, some of the newly elected come to the institution with an enhanced profile. This could be because they are former statewide officeholders, or perhaps scored a big one for the team by knocking off a longtime incumbent. Maybe they are natural leaders or their ambitions are such that they are already looking at other federal offices. 

REPUBLICANS:

Indiana’s Jim Banks, The Officer

The Navy reservist, who launched his campaign almost immediately upon returning home from Afghanistan in the spring of 2015, hasn’t ruled out running for Senate in 2018. After winning a competitive primary, he had half a year to disperse some of his campaign cash to other GOP recruits ahead of a general election cakewalk. Banks brought his combat boots to Washington (they’re a social media motif), and he scored his first-pick committee assignment on Armed Services. The Republican Study Committee made him the freshman representative to its steering committee, and he’s likely to score an invite from the Freedom Caucus, too.

Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, The Wannabe Senator

She’s not just the daughter of a former vice president. Cheney’s also a onetime Senate candidate who likely still harbors ambitions about running for that office again. After dropping out of a 2014 Republican primary against Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Cheney’s decision to run for the House was widely viewed as her paying dues before her next political move. Regardless of what that is, her last name — and the powerful network of Republicans that comes with it — will surely help.

Wisconsin’s Mike Gallagher, The Wonk

A young and energetic face in the GOP conference, this Marine Corps veteran and Georgetown Ph.D. won a spot on the Armed Services Committee. He most recently worked as a marketing strategist in Green Bay, but Gallagher knows his way around Washington — and the other side of the Capitol. He was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before advising Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential campaign on national security issues.

Kansas’ Roger Marshall, The Needle-Threader

Marshall unseated fellow Republican and Freedom Caucus tea partier Tim Huelskamp in the 2016 primary. While Marshall’s positions on repealing the 2010 health care law put him firmly in the conservative GOP mainstream, he’s also a big proponent of agriculture interests, which dominate his sprawling western Kansas district. Huelskamp had been booted from the Agriculture Committee for grating on leadership’s nerves, and Marshall argued he would restore the farm community’s influence for his district. This promise to look out for agriculture and to keep the government largesse flowing to farmers could run afoul of fiscal conservatives in his own caucus. Ditto for the administration, which has made choosing an Agriculture secretary last on its Cabinet to-do list.

Florida’s Francis Rooney, The Ambassador

Rooney has a profile in Republican politics that reaches back to the Bush family — and to the Vatican. A construction company owner and GOP megadonor, he’s a free-trader who is fluent in Spanish, and has diplomatic credentials as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the Holy See. He has the ability to self-finance his campaign, as he did to the tune of more than $3 million last year, and is frequently mentioned as a potential opponent to Florida’s Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is up for re-election in 2018.

DEMOCRATS:

Florida’s Charlie Crist, The Governor

His notorious tan and shocking white hair make the Florida freshman stand out. In the first few weeks of session, he’s been chatty in the halls — so much so that he missed a vote. But all those conversations underscore the unusual pathway he followed to Congress. As a former governor — not to mention a former Republican — Crist has deep relationships with all sorts of Sunshine State leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Florida’s Val B. Demings, The Chief

Since she was elected, two national publications have put Orlando’s first female police chief on their short lists of the women who could run for president in 2020. As an African-American woman and a former law enforcement official, Demings brings a unique perspective to a caucus that was moved deeply by the Orlando nightclub shooting in her backyard last summer. She’ll serve on the Homeland Security Committee. And she can likely hold the seat as long as she wants. Since her first unsuccessful run for Congress in 2012, the 10th District was redrawn to be safe for Democrats.

 

New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer, The Pragmatist

Gottheimer defeated Republican Scott Garrett, a longtime “white whale” target for Democrats who somehow always managed to survive repeated tough challenges and get re-elected. Gottheimer brings a bundle of public and private sector experience to the job, with a résumé that stretches back to interning for the late Speaker Thomas S. Foley, includes a stint as a speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, and spells as a corporate strategist for Ford Motor Co. and Microsoft. He is also amenable to working on some topics that could gain traction in a GOP-controlled Congress, including repealing taxes on high-end “Cadillac” health insurance plans and medical devices, as well as using an overhaul of the tax system to fund infrastructure projects.

Washington’s Pramila Jayapal, The Torchbearer

Jayapal, who succeeded the retiring Jim McDermott, is an unabashed progressive, a next-generation heir of her party’s wing that is led by such national figures as Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Jayapal, one of the few women of color in the House, will likely help promote progressive ideas in a chamber where Democrats have few institutional options to affect the agenda. Her private sector experience working for Paine Webber and nonprofit work as a human rights advocate provides her the ability to draw on both worlds to make her arguments for social justice.

Nevada’s Ruben Kihuen, The Heir

Kihuen is a mover and shaker in a state that provided one of the few bright spots for Democrats on Election Day. With the so-called blue wall crumbling at the presidential level and turnout depressed in key Senate and House races, retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid coordinated a stunning success in Nevada: helping deliver its six electoral votes to Hillary Clinton, holding his Senate seat for Catherine Cortez Masto, flipping two House seats and both legislative chambers. Kihuen, who defeated Republican Cresent Hardy, has strong ties to Reid, as well as a biography that is an implicit rebuke to hard-line GOP priorities: He’s a Mexican immigrant whose family benefited from Ronald Reagan’s immigration policy, he’s opposed to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada and promises to fight to regulate the campaign finance system.

 

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