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GOP congressmen identify problems with their party in post-election opinion pieces

Democrats debate working with Trump
Democrats debate working with Trump 09:58

Three Republican congressmen published opinion pieces this week identifying issues with the Republican Party and with Congress as a whole, although each offered different assessments on how members of the House should move forward.

On Tuesday, South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford wrote a piece for the New York Times titled "A Wake-Up Call for the GOP." Sanford, a frequent critic of President Trump, was defeated in his primary by hard-right candidate Katie Arrington in June. Arrington, in turn, was defeated on Election Day by Joe Cunningham, the first Democrat to be elected to that seat in over four decades.

Sanford argued that the GOP's embrace of Mr. Trump's style and his policies on certain issues led to Republican defeat in the House. He pointed specifically to modern Republican opinions on environmental conservation, fiscal responsibility and civility. Arrington had knocked Sanford on his opposition to off-shore drilling, which Cunningham used as a wedge issue in the election.

"The Republican Party that so many of us care deeply about continues to be held hostage these days, and what I saw last week in a district I grew up in and know well is that there is a half-life to insults, bullying and an embrace of a post-truth world," Sanford wrote. "In this district, my former opponent adopted Mr. Trump's highly combative style. It worked in the primary, but it fell flat in the general election."

Sanford concluded that the Republican Party would be "wise to take a step back from President Trump's approach to politics," adding that "adhering to the simple approaches of kindness and respect, principles that have long guided society, could these days be groundbreaking."

Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, currently a freshman legislator, is the only one of the three who successfully defended his seat on Election Day. But he's disheartened by the problems in the House that he's now seen up close. He wrote in the Atlantic that Congress is stuck in a partisan quagmire which is "worse than you think." His focus was not on what Republicans did wrong in losing control of the House, elections, but rather, how both parties could improve the House of Representatives.

"The problem is a defective process and a power structure that, whichever party is in charge, funnels all power to leadership and stifles debate and initiative within the ranks," Gallagher wrote. He added that offering suggestions for structural reform wasn't likely to win him friends among his colleagues. "No one wants to have me on Fox News or MSNBC to discuss the finer points of appropriations versus authorization committees (caravans and Kavanaugh make for better theater)," Gallagher said. Many Republicans focused on illegal immigration in the final weeks of the campaign.

Gallagher suggested changing the congressional calendar so that legislators are not constantly traveling back and forth between their districts and Washington, and carving out three weeks per month for representatives to stay in D.C. and legislate. He also thinks committee members should be able to elect their chairs, as opposed to letting party leadership decide. And he recommended limiting the number of committees.

He acknowledged that he did not have suggestions for his counterparts in the Senate, "where the fundamental problem seems to be that every member wants to be president." However, he noted that some members of the House were passionate about reform, notably the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

"The worst thing we can do is to ignore the American people and do nothing to regain their trust. Until we fix the processes and the structures of power within Congress, we should expect more of the same—polarization, vitriol, and demagoguery," he wrote.

On Veterans Day, Rep. Jason Lewis of Minnesota penned an op-ed  in the Wall Street Journal in which he blamed the late Sen. John McCain for the party's loss of House control to Democrats. Lewis, who was defeated by Democrat Angie Craig, argued that when McCain voted against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Democrats took the opportunity to target House Republicans falsely, he says, for taking away coverage of pre-existing conditions.

"The Republican Party lost its House majority on July 28, 2017, when Sen. John McCain ended the party's seven-year quest to repeal ObamaCare," Lewis wrote.

Lewis's piece was a full-throated defense of the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill to repeal and replace the ACA that passed the House but was torpedoed in the Senate. He argued that in the future, anti-Trump Republicans should not vote against the president's policy positions.

"The late Arizona senator's grievance with all things Trump was well known, but this obsession on the part of "Never Trump" Republicans has to end. Disapprove of the president's style if you like, but don't sacrifice sound policy to pettiness," Lewis wrote.

McCain died of brain cancer in August, and his daughter Meghan called the piece by Lewis "abhorrent" on Twitter. Some also considered the Veterans Day op-ed disrespectful because McCain was a veteran and former prisoner of war.

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