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Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas learned last week that he and three other Republicans were stripped of key committees assignments by the House Steering Committee, which is under the control of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
Huelskamp was removed from the Budget and Agriculture committees. Reps. David Schweikert of Arizona and Walter B. Jones of North Carolina were booted from the Financial Services Committee. And Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan also lost his seat on the Budget Committee.
Apart from Jones, all were rebellious right-wingers. Huelskamp and Amash voted against the budget proposed by Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin in committee and on the floor, saying it did not cut spending fast enough. They also voted against the continuing resolution that is funding the government through the end of March.
Huelskamp was interviewed by telephone Wednesday by CQ Roll Call reporters Shira Toeplitz and Janie Lorber on the Sirius-XM radio show ďShowdown 2012,Ē on the POTUS Politics channel. This transcript of their conversation has been edited and condensed.
Q: Your district is western Kansas, a very rural area.
A: Very rural and itís about two-thirds of the state of Kansas. Probably the best-known town is Dodge City. Everythingís small-town, a pretty conservative red state, and Republican. So in our district we test the base of the Republican Party.
Q: This seat became open when Jerry Moran ran for Senate against another member of Congress in 2010, Todd Tiahrt. Moran won, and now heís heading up the Senate Republican campaign arm. So quite the tradition in your district.
A: Well, a long tradition. Sen. Moran, Sen. [Pat] Roberts, both of them currently serving in the Senate. And then Sen. [Bob] Dole. It goes back for quite a few years.
Q: Itís been a crazy week for you on Capitol Hill.
A: It sure has. And actually pretty disappointing to my constituents in the last week and a half. I actually had a pretty rambunctious town hall with folks last night and theyíre not happy with Washington. Up to 20,000 people were on and off the telephone town hall last night, and they had plenty to say.
Q: What made your constituents so angry?
A: About a week and a half ago, I received a phone call from a member of the Republican Steering Committee and they informed me, this individual says, ĎHey, just want to let you know youíve been kicked off of two committees.í I was quite surprised. No one had approached me at all about that in advance, not a member of leadership, not any of the two chairmen in question.
You know, we agree and disagree on a lot of things. But I am a conservative. Itís told to me, youíve been removed. And I said ĎWhy?í and they said, ĎWe canít tell you.í And thatís been the story for the last 10 days. We canít tell you why.
But weíve learned through other sources that apparently there was some type of secret scorecard, and you were conservative if you voted against the debt deal, for example. And if you voted against a number of the budget bills, you were scored down.
But I havenít found a single member of leadership thatís been able to tell me. They wonít even visit with me and numerous other folks. There were four of us that were punished and kicked off of preferred committees. Itís unprecedented in the modern Congress. Itís kind of back to the days in which a speaker ran it with an iron hand.
Q: What was your reaction when you got that phone call?
A: Well, actually, I was sitting in the hospital; my dad had just [moved into] his recovery from a major surgery. So itís probably not a good time to be calling me.
But, again, itís the frustration of trying to explain to constituents exactly why do you kick a fifth-generation farmer off the House Ag Committee. Kansas has had a seat on that committee for over 100 years. Weíve had two chairman, including Sen. Roberts, and everybodyís speechless, including staff of the committee, including other members.
[Agriculture is] by far the biggest industry in the 1st District of Kansas and we are the biggest producing ag district in the whole country. And so we have quite a right to be on that committee.
But near as we can tell, it had to do with certain votes and they said, ĎHey, if you didnít vote the way John Boehner decided you should vote, and Kevin McCarthy and Eric Cantor, youíre removed from that committee.í
We need someone who works for our values in Kansas, and theyíre significantly different than maybe the values of someone in the speakerís [district] in Ohio or the majority leaderís in Virginia or the majority whip in California.
I promised to fight for conservative values. I voted exactly like I said I would and will continue to fight. But to be punished, removed from two committees, is stunning. Itís also frightening because other members in a general meeting of the entire conference were warned as well that leadership is watching all of us.
Q: You would have expected to be warned that this might happen. Would there have been any threats?
A: Thatís probably the biggest surprise and biggest concern from my colleagues, whether theyíre actually conservative or not. Even Democrats ask, ĎYou mean they didnít tell you ahead of time?í
You know, you could try to tell other people how to vote. I mean, thatís called lobbying and thatís fine. But gosh darn, I have a voting card. And I have 700,000 constituents.
Q: Amash said that Speaker Boehner is no longer welcome in his district. Is the speaker welcome in your district?
A: Well, he has driven through the district. I donít believe heís ever stopped in the district. Heís done fundraising in Kansas and thatís fine, I guess. But I did poll my constituents that were on telephone town hall. A non-scientific poll, but it was resounding. Folks were furious at the speaker. I asked, who believes I should vote for John Boehner as speaker again? It was 12 percent.
Q: Do you think this is about the presidential race?
A: The numbers Iím going to remember for 2012 as a Republican are 8, 2 and 1. And we lost eight House seats, lost two Senate seats and lost the presidency. And thatís a pretty poor track record to suggest, hey, trust me; Iím going to go in and negotiate one-on-one with the president.
And, you know, Iím a big believer in transparency. Tell us what happened behind closed doors, why you kick people off the committee. But also tell us what youíre negotiating with the president.
Q: How are you going to keep the channels of communication open, especially now that you donít have these two integral posts?
A: Well, nothing is permanent in politics. But itís 2012. This is not 1995, when nobody knew what was going on in Washington. Since then weíve got Fox News. Weíve got Twitter. Weíve got Facebook. I can post all that and people can respond.
One thing I think led to this: I actually posted a video, an innocent video, I thought, as a Republican member of the U.S. House, where I reaffirmed my pledge not to raise taxes. In less than one business day later I received the call, said Iíd been kicked off [the committees]. Is it related? Is it connected?
Clearly, there are members of leadership ó Tom Cole from Oklahoma has been running around, saying, ĎHey, we should raise taxes now and might as well just get íer done.í But the Republican base, conservatives and myself especially, are saying weíre not going to go there.
And so I reaffirmed the pledge and I think I got punished, perhaps as a result of that.
Q: Scorecard or no scorecard, your power has diminished greatly. This suggests that thereís some implosion among the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
A: Itís reminded conservatives that hitching to the Republican wagon doesnít always work. You Republicans, you claim you want to reduce spending and shrink government. But you donít do that in your budgets. And you know, you claim youíre for family values, but you wonít say a word about marriage and you hide behind the issue of life and donít say anything about that as well. I mean, thatís pretty obvious the last couple of weeks.
So I think conservatives are starting to realize, again. Wait a minute. Republicans, theyíre sometimes just to the left of the Democrats, and thatís not good enough.
Q: Are you going to try to get your spot back on the Ag Committee?
A: We have made that request, sent a letter to all Steering Committee members and you know, theyíre all busy folks and maybe they didnít know the history and the district and that Iím a fifth-generation farmer.
Why do you punish someone because of the way they vote, whether you like their votes or not? This is a representational system, where constituents come first, not second, to the wishes and whims of Washington.