Rep. Steve King’s comments — and ejection from committees — could be a serious issue for him during his reelection Iowa, where he will be facing at least two Republican primary challengers. | Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo
Duncan Hunter, Chris Collins and Steve King are on the sidelines after being stripped of their committee assignments.
They’re the outcasts of Capitol Hill, personae non gratae even in their own party.
Duncan Hunter, Chris Collins and Steve King have been excommunicated from the House GOP conference in the most public way possible: stripped of their committee assignments and forced to watch the legislating from the sidelines.Story Continued Below
Now, while the rest of their colleagues work on crafting bills, the trio of committee exiles are searching for ways to spend their time on Capitol Hill so they’re not just waiting around to vote or aimlessly roaming the hallways.
Their options, however, are limited. They could sign up to deliver short, late-night or early morning speeches on the House floor, but those take place outside normal legislating hours and typically fade into the C-SPAN abyss. King this year has spoken twice on the floor, spending his time defending his racist comments to The New York Times. Neither Hunter nor Collins has given a floor speech this year.
The members could also put more energy into congressional caucuses or lobby their colleagues to move their bills, though there is little guarantee for success. It’s much more difficult for a single lawmaker to wield influence in the House, whereas in the Senate, any lone member can hold up floor proceedings.
“They basically have nothing to do,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who served on the Judiciary Committee alongside King. “If you’re cast out of the organized bodies and committees of Congress, and you’re kind of just a hitchhiker on the floor, there’s very little influence you can have in the House of Representatives.”
“I suppose they can form a ‘pariah caucus,’” he addedHunter and King’s offices did not return requests for comment for this story.
For his part, Collins said he plans to devote more time to constituent services, attend more district events and kick-start underutilized congressional caucuses such as the Energy Storage and Toy caucuses. The New York Republican said he’s reached out to Democrats about co-chairing some of the caucuses that have vacancies and is considering swooping in and co-sponsoring previously introduced legislation that lost a GOP sponsor after the midterm elections.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m making the best of it,” Collins told Politico outside the House chamber. “Each day, you get up and you do your best. You can’t control what you can’t control. But in my case, you offset it.”
Yet caucuses are hardly a substitute for congressional committees, where lawmakers hone their policymaking skills and climb the party ranks. While it depends on the panel and the week’s congressional schedule, members typically spend around eight to 10 hours a week on committee work. Assignments are typically doled out based on a members’ area of interest or expertise.That means the castaways would likely need the cooperation of their colleagues to be effective — and there is little appetite, especially among Democrats, to work closely with the trio of lawmakers who are under indictment or condemned for racist remarks.
“Zero” is how Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio.) described the level of interest among his colleagues in working with Collins, Hunter or King.
Stripping members of their committee assignments is a relatively modern practice in the House. In 2006, the chamber booted then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) from the Ways and Means Committee after he was indicted on charges of corruption. And several members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus were stripped of some committee assignments in 2012 by then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for bucking GOP leadership, though they were eventually reassigned.
Both Collins and Hunter, who hails from the San Diego area, have had some time to find an alternative strategy for their congressional careers, having been stripped of their committee assignments late last summer. Collins, one of Trump’s earliest backers on Capitol Hill, was arrested on insider trading charges, while Hunter and his wife were charged with misusing campaign funds for personal expenses. Both have pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
Hunter and Collins infuriated their Republican colleagues by staying on the ballot in the midterms — and both won reelection. But shortly after the elections, the House GOP adopted a new conference rule forcing anyone under indictment for a felony to relinquish his or her committee assignments or leadership posts until the legal matter gets resolved.
Rep. Chris Collins: “Each day, you get up, and you do your best. You can’t control what you can’t control. But in my case, you offset it.” | AP Photo
King, on the other hand, only recently lost his panel seats. The Iowa Republican, who has a long history of controversial commentary, came under fire last month for defending white nationalism and white supremacy in an interview with The New York Times.
Republicans punished King by stripping him of his committee assignments, while the entire House agreed to condemn his remarks on the House floor.
King’s comments — and ejection from committees — could be a serious issue for him during his reelection, where he will be facing at least two primary challengers. Hunter and Collins were both hammered in the general election for the criminal charges they are facing and the lack of committee assignments.
King was recently pressed by concerned constituents about his committee removals during a town hall event, according to The Des Moines Register. He once held a Judiciary subcommittee gavel and also served on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over a range of issues important to his rural Iowa district.King, however, told the attendees that being on a committee means less since the GOP is in the minority now. He also predicted that Republicans would miss his presence on the Judiciary Committee, which will likely be the staging ground for Democratic-led attacks on the Trump administration.
“There’s a 70 percent chance they’ll attempt an impeachment of Donald Trump,” King reportedly said. “And they need seasoned members to give them an opportunity to defend themselves and defend them.”
Collins similarly tried to argue that he isn’t missing out on much, given that Republicans have been relegated to the minority.
“It would be more weird to be on a committee in the minority” than not serving on one at all, he said.
But the lawmakers have made no secret about their disagreement with getting kicked off their panels. A defiant Hunter even put up a fight over the move, initially refusing to step down until then-Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) threatened to forcibly remove him.
In fact, Hunter’s previous committee assignments were still listed on his website as of Monday afternoon. His office did not return a request for comment about whether that is intentional or an oversight.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator and the ranking member on the House Rules Committee, said committee work is important because the majority of work on legislation occurs well before a bill comes to the House floor.
“You would obviously prefer to be on the committees,” Cole said. “You know the old saying: Congress on the floor is Congress in theater. Congress in committee is Congress at work.”
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