Yvonne Franklin of Loganville volunteered on the front desk, waved signs and made phone calls to help Monroe Republican Jody Hice get elected to the U.S. House last year.
She holds Hice in high esteem and believes he shares her conservative values, but Franklin is frustrated by Congress so far this year.
“What are you doing with regard to getting rid of the speaker or anything else?” she asked Hice last week. “You’re not getting a whole lot done.”
Hice and fellow freshman U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Cassville Republican, won open seats last year in part by getting to the right of large fields of GOP primary candidates, touting their willingness to shake up a broken Washington.
After two months in D.C., they have little to show for it.
President Barack Obama vetoed a measure to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Republicans feuded over funding the Department of Homeland Security, a battle that ended with no concessions from Obama on his plan to remove the threat of deportation for up to 5 million immigrants, as Democrats steadfastly refused to negotiate.
Hice and Loudermilk have joined the House Freedom Caucus, a new group trying to pull the Republican caucus to the right. But they also took major heat at home for their first vote: to elect John Boehner as speaker of the House.
While House leaders pressure them to compromise and form consensus on Capitol Hill — including being pulled into the cloakroom for a talking-to when they refused to comply during a key DHS funding vote — their constituents often exert pressure in the other direction.
When a couple of dozen came to Hice’s district office in Monroe on Wednesday to sip coffee and quiz him about the issues of the day, it was almost like a therapy session. Agitated voters vented and pressed Hice on why Obama had not been impeached — or, in one woman’s view, arrested for treason — why Republicans had not overthrown their leaders, and why nothing can pass the Senate.
Hice, a Baptist minister and former radio host, was the calm voice, validating his people’s concerns, explaining why Washington has ground to a halt.
“Republicans need to quit fighting Republicans and go after the real problem, which is the president, which is (Senate Minority Leader) Harry Reid, which is (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi,” Hice said. “But we are too busy fighting one another and missing the biggest issue, which is what the real problem is.”
No matter which Republicans are in charge, Hice said, they can’t overcome filibusters by Democrats united under Reid. When one person in the crowd said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should change the filibuster rules, Hice said he was not familiar with the procedures in the other chamber, being new to his own.
In an interview, Hice laughed when told he was part of the problem now that he’s in office.
“It’s amazing how that happens in a hurry,” he said.
Hice listed the campaign planks he has already accomplished: co-sponsoring bills to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service, balance the budget and impose term limits on members of Congress.
“Most of the things that I ran on I’ve been able to do, personally, but the struggle is that they don’t go beyond that,” Hice said.
Loudermilk made the rounds last week at the state Capitol, where he served for nine years as a representative and senator. He ducked into a meeting of the Council for Quality Growth and reprised a line he had given the Cobb County GOP.
“They asked me to do five minutes on what’s going on in D.C.,” Loudermilk said. “I said that’s simple: Nothing.”
In an interview later in the day, Loudermilk said during his campaign that he often sought to temper expectations by saying, for example, that a full repeal of Obamacare is impossible as long as Obama is in office.
“But people just had this vision: We’re going to go up there riding on a white horse,” Loudermilk said.
The freshman voted for Boehner on the floor after opposing him in a closed-door GOP meeting, saying he had to support the will of the caucus and that the challengers were doing it for attention.
Loudermilk explained himself to tea party groups who had helped power his campaign and were hopping mad.
“Let me tell you why the conservative movement doesn’t go anywhere,” Loudermilk said he told his disaffected tea partyers.
“Because every time we get the ball, you send the players on the field to throw a Hail Mary pass,” he said. “And when it gets batted down and the players come off the field, you execute all the players, you get another batch of players on the field to go and do the same thing instead of calling a play and moving the ball down the field a little bit at a time.”
That goes for abortion bills as well. At the state Capitol, Mike Griffin, the state field director for Georgia Right to Life, grabbed Loudermilk for a tense conversation. Griffin wants Loudermilk to oppose a 20-week abortion ban up for consideration in the House because it would allow exemptions for rape and incest — which GRTL firmly opposes.
The group has threatened to yank its endorsement of Loudermilk if he votes for the bill. During the campaign last year, Loudermilk signed a pledge saying he would support exceptions to abortion only for the life of the mother.
“The issue becomes one’s integrity,” Griffin said later.
Loudermilk told Griffin that he could back an amendment on the floor to take away the exceptions, but he has to support the bill for providing new restrictions on abortion.
The time for pledges has become the time for governing, or at least attempting to govern.
“Things are slower, they do take longer,” Loudermilk said.
“Maybe some have categorized me going in as the right-wing extremist from a tea party perspective, but that hasn’t been me ever,” he said. “I’m very conservative, but at the same time I know you have to get there.”