Eighty-seven Republican freshmen stormed Capitol Hill on Wednesday, bringing with them an unbridled enthusiasm for conservative reform. Rep. Allen West, a former Army lieutenant colonel from Florida’s southeast coast, tells National Review Online that he and others are more than ready to rattle Washington — and the House GOP leadership. “I’ve been in combat and I’ve been shot at,” he smiles, explaining his dauntless attitude.
West, like many of his first-term colleagues, was a Tea Party favorite on the campaign trail. As he settles into life on the Hill, he tells us that preserving the spirit and promise of the midterm sweep will be a challenge. Still, he notes, House GOP leaders sense that the largest incoming class of GOP legislators since 1938 will not retreat to the backbenches. West points to his own experience as an example: Already, he has publicly tangled with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor over the House schedule, pushing Cantor, on Sunday news shows and elsewhere, to keep Congress in session longer.
Tough votes ahead, on raising the debt ceiling and on the budget, could also be rumbles. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House GOP whip, tells NRO that he is confident that this class will not only speak up, but also help the leadership team craft effective policy. House GOP leaders, he says, want freshmen to be partners, and share the newcomers’ distaste for the big-spending ways of Congresses past. One early gesture, a nod to the principles upon which freshmen campaigned, will be the Thursday reading of the Constitution on the House floor.
“Not only does this class represent generational change, but it is going to change the makeup of government itself,” McCarthy says. “They haven’t yet performed, but they’ve already put their fingerprints on this Congress. They have changed the mindset.” By year’s end, he predicts, “you are going to be so impressed by them; they’ll have become household names.”