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Five House Freshmen Are Standing Out

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Reps. James Lankford, Cory Gardner (above), Kristi Noem, Patrick Meehan and Tom Reed are confounding the stereotype of the House Republican freshman class. Each has made a mark on the 112th Congress, some by becoming leadership favorites.

The House Republican freshman class is a bunch of bomb-throwing conservatives intent on stymying leadership, shunning bipartisanship and shutting down the government, right?

Wrong.

Here are five freshmen who have become favorites of leadership or leaders in their own right, who have reached across the aisle to get practical results, or who break the mold in which the freshman class is often framed.

They represent the new institutionalists, those who might one day be the chamber’s top leaders, committee chairmen and messengers.

Rep. Cory Gardner (Colo.)

A top staffer to former Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) before being elected to the Colorado state House, Gardner said his time on Capitol Hill gave him an understanding of what people demand of their leaders, namely competence.

“There are a lot of the same kinds of issues now that we were dealing with in 2002,” he said, naming Allard’s work on a highway bill and a farm bill that year. “What helped was to see what worked and what didn’t work.”

It also made him a known commodity and a favorite of leaders, especially on energy messaging.

Gardner got an early score when halfway through his first session, leaders held a successful vote on his bill to roll back Clean Air Act regulations. Another measure, to spur oil and gas production, was part of leadership’s recent energy and jobs push.

Gardner also co-leads a National Republican Congressional Committee effort to collect dues from Members.

“Most everyone has pegged him as a rising star in the Conference,” a GOP aide said. “He gets the political side of things but also is very good with policy.”

Gardner also hosts a supper club for fellow freshmen with Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.).

Rep. James Lankford (Okla.)

Formerly the director of the country’s largest Christian youth camp, the Oklahoman had no prior political experience and was on nobody’s radar until he was elected.

“He came out of nowhere, but he got here and totally has impressed folks,” said a GOP aide.

Calm, focused and solidly conservative, Lankford said he tried to set himself apart by staying away from hyperbole.

“This is a place where you’re typically rewarded the more juvenile you act,” Lankford said. “I just try to do my homework and keep a level head.”

His demeanor impressed GOP leadership: Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.) handpicked Lankford to head a subcommittee, and Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) placed him on the transportation conference committee, where he was a go-to GOP messenger.

Rep. Patrick Meehan (Pa.)

The Pennsylvanian has staked out a name as one of the chamber’s top freshman moderates. The former U.S. attorney and one-time district attorney said he spurns contentious bills in favor of legislation he thinks can pass the Senate as well.

“I get frustrated because I think that we sometimes put ourselves into positions where we know what the end result is going to be, that it’s simply going to go to the other side and die,” he said.

He convinced leadership to bring two of his bipartisan bills to the floor, one to prevent counterfeit drug production and another, coming from the Homeland Security subcommittee he is chairman of, to increase intelligence sharing on weapons of mass destruction.

He has also encouraged leadership to make a big, balanced deficit reduction deal and was one of the few votes for the Bowles-Simpson budget on the House floor.

Still, he received an early endorsement from his peers and leaders with a slot on the Republican Steering Committee.

A former statewide political operative, Meehan is also a formidable fundraiser.

Rep. Tom Reed (N.Y.)

Reed started on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but on the advice of his mentor, former Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.), he sought a slot on Ways and Means.

That he was placed on the powerful committee shows the trust leadership has in him, and aides say he has proved himself to be a go-getter with passion for the panel’s work.

It is no surprise, then, that he asked for and received a slot on the payroll tax conference committee and helped lead a push by Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) for miscellaneous tariff benefits.

Reed has had some success in the appropriations process by seeking out bipartisan amendments, not messaging riders. “The bottom line is that’s not what I’m here for,” Reed said. “There are some Members who come here and they want to have their five minutes in the press, their five minutes of glory, so to speak. I came here to do something.”

He said he learned that philosophy as the former mayor of Corning, N.Y.

“Being mayor of a small town, you’ve got to work together. You’re all residents of a small community, and that’s how I look at it down here.”

Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.)

One of two freshmen at the leadership table, the former South Dakota state legislator’s responsibilities have only increased with time.

“She’s just always been a standout,” a GOP aide said. “An obvious leader.”

Noem was named a regional chairwoman for the NRCC and is the only freshman involved in heading the committee’s latest campaign to raise $26 million.

“They asked me to step up and I was willing to do that,” she said. “I knew from experience that leadership defines the agenda. ... If I’m going spend my time doing something, I’m going to be as effective as I can.”

On spending votes, she has stayed close to leadership. And most recently, she stuck with Agriculture Committee leaders during the farm bill debate, helping to beat back conservative Republican Study Committee amendments to cut more from food stamps, though she is an RSC member.

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