Lone Star State lawmakers settle into Capitol Hill

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas on the floor of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas on the floor of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 AP

On the first day of the 114th Congress on Tuesday, Texans were players in the House of Representatives and the Senate as Republicans claimed control of both chambers, taking the Senate for the first time since 2007.

In the House, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, was part of a failed bid by hard-right conservatives to replace House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. In the Senate, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was sworn in after winning a third term and became the chamber’s second most powerful leader, the Senate majority whip.

The festive mood that typifies the first day of Congress was somewhat muted in the House during a long roll call vote for speaker as several Republicans challenged Boehner, who won with 216 votes out of 408 cast.

There were 25 Republican votes for alternatives to Boehner, although Gohmert received only three of them, from Reps. Randy Weber of Texas, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma and himself.

“Today, I voted according to my constituents’ wishes. . . . I hope that it sends a signal that we must take this president to task,” Weber said in a statement. “The leadership must recognize, in light of the recent elections, we need to be more forceful in fighting this president and his liberal agenda.”

Freshman Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, voted “present,” the only member to do so.

“While I did not vote for Speaker Boehner because my district thought it was time to consider new leadership, the overwhelming majority of House Republicans felt differently,” he said in an email. “I will work with the speaker and all our leaders to advance the conservative values that are important to the 36th District of Texas.”

The two other Texas freshmen, Republicans Reps. Will Hurd and John Ratcliffe, supported Boehner.

The Republican members who represent portions of Tarrant County – Joe Barton, Michael Burgess, Kay Granger, Kenny Marchant and Roger Williams – all backed Boehner.

Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, the Tarrant County delegation’s sole Democrat, voted for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California for speaker, as did the overwhelming majority of her party’s lawmakers.

On the Senate side, there was something of an awkward moment as Cornyn was escorted to his swearing-in by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who didn’t support him for re-election and who’s roiled leadership with his tactics since being elected in 2012.

By tradition, a state’s senator elected most recently is escorted by the member’s home state colleague. Small groups of the newly elected senators and their escorts walked up to the well of the chamber and were sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden.

Cornyn didn’t show any discomfort and afterward tweeted, “Congratulations to all of my new colleagues being sworn in today. I look forward to working with you in the 114th Congress.”

There were families and children in the House chamber, as well as some former members, including Democrat Martin Frost, who represented northern Texas from 1979 until 2005. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, was seated with his twin brother, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro.

Some new members are off to a fast start.

Ratcliffe, who defeated former longtime member Texas Rep. Ralph Hall in a primary runoff and then handily won the general election, will serve on the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees. He even scored a subcommittee chairmanship, of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.

“These committees allow me to continue to fight illegal immigration, oppose any form of amnesty and work to secure our border,” he said in a statement. “My previous experiences as a U.S. attorney and terrorism prosecutor will give me valuable subject matter expertise in the policy areas these committees oversee.”