The red ‘Make America Great Again’ hats poured out of the House Republican conference Tuesday– the signal that the party has fully drunk the the Donald Trump Kool-aid it was resisting little more than a week ago.
It was the first full conference meeting in the wake of Trump’s stunning election win. Members had been back home, in their districts, trying carefully to balance their bombastic nominee with their own re-elections. In the end, it turned out Trump’s vision helped them.
Now, even Republicans who once kept their distance from their party’s nominee, wanted to be on the right side of their new President. But the cognitive dissonance between what House GOP leaders were saying about Trump before the election and what they’re saying now was not lost on some members.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), a Republican who ran ads against Trump on the trail, shuffled out of the meeting hat in hand.
“I am excited about the next two years and look forward to working with the president,” Coffman said, adding that he was excited to do tax reform and to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“I’ll tell you what is so exciting is I no longer have to worry about executive orders or excesses in the rule making process,” Coffman said.
Trump’s win had buoyed Republicans across the country and streaming out of the meeting, many members noted that it might be time for the Republican Party to reevaluate its own vision for policy and start adopting more of Trump’s.
“What we have to realize is we don’t need to be the distraction to this new president and we are where we are with the majorities because of this new president not because of us,” Ross said. “The American public has kind of spoken pretty loud and it wasn’t us that won the election … let’s face it [Trump’s] gonna have the bully pulpit.”
The Republican Party’s first House Conference meeting took place just hours before the the House GOP leadership elections, which was a point of internal tension. Some members of the House Freedom Caucus told TPM that Ryan didn’t speak or take questions during a leadership candidate forum on Monday night. During the meeting Tuesday morning many voiced their frustration that leadership elections had been scheduled for right after the presidential election instead of giving members a chance to learn more about Ryan’s plans to work with President-elect Trump.
One Republican member who spoke on background said that it was a bit of a political whiplash.
“The point that needs to be made is the past couple of conference calls we had as a conference, Paul Ryan was not gonna campaign for Trump anymore, people were saying ‘just distance yourself from Trump,’ and Trump carries us all probably by 10 points in the election and now everyone’s saying ‘tweet Trump, he’s popular, he’s great,” the Republican member said. “We were saying one thing before the election and now we are saying something different, and the agenda from the House Republican leadership was one thing and it’s good, but Trump won on a different agenda so I think everyone is trying to make sense of all that.”
Members of the Freedom Caucus as well as a handful of others, including Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), wanted the elections delayed.
“None of the top leadership even spoke or took questions,” said Rep. Scott DeJarlais (R-TN). “I think they will be today at 1 o’clock and I think a lot of people would elect the ones in place, but they just wanted an opportunity to ask questions and hear their vision.”
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) warned that while Ryan wouldn’t have a challenge Tuesday, he was not sure if he would vote for him.
“I was gonna give him a chance, but I haven’t heard about any of the changes that need to be made so I’m not going to vote for him,” Massie said. “I always complained It’s a bit like North Korea, there’s only one candidate on the ballot when John Boehner ran. The implications of running against the speaker are pretty bad for your political career here so people are hesitant.”