‘Everybody Needs to Stand Up’
To House Republicans who don’t like the funding deal President Donald Trump made with Democrats, Rep. Will Hurd has a message: Get yourself together, or quit complaining.
Otherwise, get used to the feeling of watching the Republican president brag about how much he’s getting done with Chuck and Nancy.
“If we’re not in agreement on what the topic is going to be or what we want to achieve, then guess what? You’re probably not going in with a strong hand,” Hurd told me in an interview for the latest episode of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “I think rank-and-file members need to understand that there is a team aspect to politics.”
Hurd is in a weird spot — imagine being a Republican in Congress who likes government to do things and brags about how many of his bills Barack Obama signed, as opposed to the many members of his conference who want to stop government from doing things. Imagine being a Republican from Texas who supported this debt-ceiling deal but thinks Congress needs to get serious about enforcing it in the future — “you give that up, you’re basically giving up your responsibility,” he says. Imagine representing a border district and being against the border wall, but for a rapid legislative fix on Trump’s announced canceling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Then throw in being a black Republican who’s still upset that Trump “created doubt” about where he stands on neo-Nazis — that’s what it’s like to be Will Hurd.
“In situations like this, you’ve got to be very clear and you’ve got to stand up,” Hurd advises Trump when asked how he should have handled Charlottesville. “It’s 2017.”
Hurd boasts of the regulatory reforms that Congress has passed this year as big accomplishments, but he’s not signing on to Trump’s claims of having signed more major legislation than any president ever. “I have not had my interns fact-check that yet,” he says sarcastically.
Nor is Hurd a fan of Trump’s decision to end protections for Dreamers — even as he acknowledges that the move will likely force Congress to move on an issue that’s been languishing for five years, since Obama created the program.
“Having this clock ticking over their head, that creates angst and nervousness that I don’t want anybody to have to go through,” Hurd says. “But the reality is, we’re here, Congress needs to do its work.”
As the son of a white mother and a black father — he remembers being a child in the 1970s when his father, a traveling salesman, still couldn’t stop at every hotel and every restaurant in Texas — Hurd says he feels a special obligation to speak up about issues of race, but he’s confused why more aren’t joining him. “Everybody needs to stand up,” Hurd says.
There are all of three black Republicans in Congress (Utah Rep. Mia Love and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott round out the group). But almost as rare on the Hill is that other category Hurd falls into: He’s a moderate. With Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) retiring and other endangered Republicans joining him, there’s a potential opening for a larger role for Hurd, now 40 and in his second term.
First, he’ll have to be reelected. Hurd is in one of 23 districts that Democrats are salivating over — those represented by a Republican, but won by Hillary Clinton last year. But he doesn’t seem particularly worried. At least not yet.
Democrats are lining up, though former Rep. Pete Gallego, whom Hurd beat twice, has opted not to try again. Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence office, has jumped in against Hurd, pitting her military background against his often-mentioned nine years as a CIA analyst. National Democrats are most excited about Jay Hulings, a former Hill aide and assistant U.S. attorney with a record of public corruption prosecutions. Hulings is a Harvard Law school classmate of Julián and Joaquin Castro, the star twins of Texas Democratic politics, who are backing him. Both of Hulings’ parents served in the CIA. Huling is trying to rip apart Hurd’s moderate image, calling him “a smiling face on an extreme agenda.”
Hurd projects confidence, though he’s mindful that in 2016 he won his heavily Hispanic district — which stretches from outside El Paso to San Antonio — by a whisker. Clinton beat Trump there by 4 percentage points.
So Hurd talks up bipartisanship. He likes to bring up his friendship with Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic House colleague from Texas, with whom he took a 35-hour, 1,600-mile road trip from San Antonio in March, live-streaming it the whole way.
But he’ll take it only so far. O’Rourke is running around the state, making the kind of windmill-chasing Senate run against Ted Cruz that Democrats always say someone should do, but few actually attempt.
Don’t expect Hurd to endorse O’Rourke anytime soon. “Beto is a friend. Ted is a friend. And Beto knows this: He has a long way to go,” Hurd says. “I do not think our junior senator is changing in this next election. But the competition of ideas is a good thing.”
Asked what he made of that comment, O’Rourke in a phone interview on Monday acknowledged his long odds and chalked it up to “Will just being candid.”
The only thing the two men have ever promised each other, O’Rourke says, is to keep an open mind on the possibility of working together on legislation, and that he’ll sit out saying anything about Hurd’s reelection bid .
“To maintain our working relationship,” O’Rourke says, “he can’t see me as an opponent or think I’m trying to politically undermine.”
Asked whether he’d sit out the Senate campaign, Hurd says, “yeah,” but the analyst in him can’t resist a subtle dig at his cross-aisle friend. “Look, I think everybody knows who’s going to win that election,” he says. “So I wish them both a great contest.”