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GOP's New Freshman President Ready for Collaboration — or Confrontation

Rep.-elect Ken Buck hasn't been sworn in yet, but he's already a leader in the House, having been named GOP freshmen class president. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Corrected, Jan. 10, 11:48 p.m. : Colorado Republican Ken Buck turned in his district attorney's badge on Friday morning.  

"That's an emotional thing," said the nearly 30-year local law enforcement veteran.  

But Buck added that his tenure as D.A. has prepared him for the new job he starts on Tuesday: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  

"I'm not gonna look at a party label when I sit down and talk to somebody about the need to vote 'yes' or 'no,'" Buck pledged in an interview with CQ Roll Call and the Washington Examiner for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, set to air Sunday. "I just think it's so important that we approach this job as problem solvers, not as partisans." The incoming congressman and GOP freshman class president, who participated in the interview from Colorado, made it clear that he hoped to work across the aisle to get things done, and that taking a "combative role is not effective."  

Buck said he doesn't want to impeach President Barack Obama and Congress should streamline the guest-worker program as part of any legislative effort to overhaul the nation's immigration system.  

That's more generous than the hard-line positions taken by some far-right members of the House Republican Conference who don't want to touch the immigration issue apart from bashing Obama's executive actions.  

But the incoming Coloradan has a more conservative side that's likely to put him at odds with most House Democrats.  

Impeachment isn't a viable GOP strategy for addressing what many on the right consider the president's executive overreach, he said. But Obama "has put the country at risk in a number of areas," Buck said. And while he respects Obama and the office, Buck said he doesn't respect the president's policies.  

Obama's immigration orders, Buck said, have caused both Republicans in Congress and the American public to regard him with "suspicion."  

Buck called a tax code overhaul in the 114th Congress "absolutely necessary," but stressed that "fairness" for all Americans could ultimately mean a "flattening" of taxes. Democrats generally balk at that proposal, which they argue does not put enough of an onus on higher-income earners and places an unfair advantage on lower-income taxpayers.  

And while he was elected president for a class that boasts a kind of diversity — with more women and members of color joining the GOP ranks — that Republicans want to build upon ahead of 2016, Buck downplayed concerns over revelations that Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., addressed a white supremacist group back in 2002.  

"It was years ago and he has demonstrated through his legislative career that that is not who he is," Buck said. " I think the Republican Party will continue to be a party that welcomes all Americans who want a strong America both economically and as a world leader."  

Buck could also prove to be a thorn in the side for some of his fellow "establishment" GOP colleagues. He said he hoped the federal government would not default on its finances when Congress has to raise the debt limit early this year, but was noncommittal on whether he himself would provide a likely much-needed vote to advance a "clean" extension of the Treasury Department's borrowing authority.  

"I don't believe the consequences of failing to raise the debt limit are what the president and some others in the United States Congress have said," Buck explained. "I think we have a lot of room to cut our spending. If we do that, we will in fact avoid the catastrophic consequences that others talk about."  

Buck also said the so-called "Boehner Rule," which mandates dollar-for-dollar spending cuts for every dollar raised in the debt ceiling, was "the minimum threshold that we have to meet."  

"I'm going to Washington, D.C., to reduce the size and scope of the federal government," Buck said. "In that sense, I will not compromise my core values."  

The original version of this post had an incorrect title for Scalise.    

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