Politics & Government

Texas GOP lawmakers all smiles on Capitol Hill as new members arrive

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, emerges from a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 13, 2014.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, emerges from a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 13, 2014. AP

The Texas Republican congressional delegation, which grew to 27 members after last week’s elections, celebrated its size and clout Thursday with the rise of Texas Sen. John Cornyn, as the Senate’s Republican majority whip.

Cornyn, who had worked hard to secure a Senate takeover by his party, was self-effacing about his new, more powerful role after being the Senate minority whip for the last two years. But he was clearly enjoying the prospect of being in the majority for the first time since 2008.

“It’s an honor, but now the hard work begins to demonstrate to the country we can be a responsible alternative to the president and his policies,” Cornyn told McClatchy as he was about to attend the weekly Texas Republican luncheon, held when Congress is in session. He accompanied Texas House Speaker Joe Straus R-San Antonio, who was in D.C. for meetings.

Cornyn was chosen unanimously by Republican senators of the incoming 114th Congress and received a standing ovation. His job is to be the party’s chief vote-counter in the Senate.

On Wednesday he happily posed for a class photo with 10 new GOP senators, a number that increased by one with the arrival Thursday of newly declared Alaskan victor Dan Sullivan.

In a statement, Cornyn said, “I’m humbled to have been chosen by my colleagues to help lead the new majority in the U.S. Senate, and I pledge that those fundamental Texas values of personal liberty and limited government will continue to be my guide.”

The Texas Republican delegation _ 25 U.S. House members and two U.S. senators – include three new congressmen-elect. Will Hurd, the state’s first African American GOP House member beat a Democrat in southwest Texas to net the Republicans one more seat.

John Ratcliffe of Heath in North Texas beat U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall in a primary run-off and had only token open opposition in the general election. Brian Babin of Woodville easily succeeded retiring U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, a Republican.

Hurd and Ratcliffe walked together much of the day during orientation for new members and spoke with McClatchy about their first day as members-elect as they headed into the Texas GOP luncheon.

“I’m glad I have a partner-in-crime,” joked Hurd, a former CIA officer . “I’m glad to be able to come up here and do my part. People are ready for something new and for us to do our jobs.”

Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney, said, “We’ve literally gotten closer from the campaign trail and we’re lucky to come forward on the heels of an historic election.”

Members-elect are learning basics of how to set up an office as well as how to manage an annual office budget. Asked how they were being received, Ratcliffe said, “Everyone’s been very welcoming.”

Texas Republicans were almost giddy about their new colleagues, with U.S. Rep. Kay Granger saying “It’s great. It’s fantastic,” as she went into the lunch. U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, a veteran of the Texas Legislature, said, “I’ve never been in a majority this big.”

With some House races still undecided, Republicans have gained at least 12 seats, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The Texas Democratic delegation, reduced to eleven members in the next Congress from twelve, was a little downcast, said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, but determined.

“I’m grateful that constituents re-elected me, but losing Pete was a huge, huge loss for our delegation and it hurt,” said Veasey. Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego lost in a close race to Hurd in the 23rd district, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

“The caucus will rebound,” said Veasey. “I want to have a positive attitude going into next year.”

For Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, it’s a time to be reflective.

“Everything’s a cycle,” he said, looking back at years when Republicans were in disfavor. “People are in good spirits. We are tough but we understand the reality.”

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