A manual for incoming freshman Republicans, distributed by GOP leadership is meant to help them hit the ground running — but also to stay out of trouble.
“It is important to keep in mind that even if you haven’t violated any rules, the appearance of impropriety can be just as damaging. So always be certain that everything you do as a member is — and appears to be — above board,” it reads.
With scores of new members, many untested in politics, coming to Washington, it’s inevitable that at least a few will keep leadership awake at night, wondering if and how they might embarrass the party. Everyone’s been put on notice, but here are five GOPers who, given their past scrapes, will likely be getting the gimlet eye from the top brass.
Rep.-elect Austin Scott’s problems are a ticking time bomb for Republicans. Political opponents in both parties have tried desperately to unseal his divorce records, which operatives believe will prove highly embarrassing. If Scott’s freakout is any indication, he agrees. The documents were supposed to be released last month, before the midterm, but at the last moment a Superior Court judge in Georgia ruled that they be kept sealed until next month.
Reporters already have a bullseye on Florida Rep.-elect Allen West. He has a well-earned reputation as one of the most hardline conservatives in the new class, and his antics match his ideology. His motorcycle gang-chic security detail got him in trouble when they threatened a Democratic tracker with violence. When a driver for al Jazeera showed up to pick him up for an interview, he called the FBI, convinced that he was about to fall victim to terrorists, and his first choice for Chief of Staff was Florida radio show host Joyce Kaufman who threatened an armed rebellion if voters didn’t return Republicans to power this election.
This incoming North Carolina Congresswoman earned national attention early in the race when she ran an ad that equated all Muslims — or as the ad put it, “them” — with terrorism. The rebuke was swift, but not severe enough to help her opponent, Democrat Bob Etheridge, who’d gotten himself into trouble for manhandling a couple seemingly anonymous conservative trackers, who filmed the entire encounter. The NRCC denied to Ellmers that they had anything to do with ensnaring Etheridge, so she claimed publicly that neither she nor the GOP had anything to do with the incident. When it was revealed that one of the trackers worked for the NRCC, Ellmers was understandably livid, and sold them out. So they stopped supporting her. Temporarily. The whole incident touched off another skirmish between Republicans and Tea Party activists, who rushed to Ellmers’ defense. And now she’s put the GOP on notice that she’ll go off the reservation if they put her in an awkward spot.
Farenthold narrowly knocked off Texas Democrat Solomon Ortiz. He’s not a bombthrower. He doesn’t pal around with motorcycle gangs, or support calls for violence against the government. And he’s not stuck under an ethical cloud. He just likes to party. At bars. With scantily clad women. While wearing duckie pajamas. When pictures of Farenthold at a pajama party came to light, the Ortiz campaign pounced, and painted Farenthold as an unserious party boy. The attack didn’t work — Ortiz lost — but that doesn’t mean they were wrong. And if Republican leaders are worried about the appearance of impropriety, they probably have their eyes on Farenthold — and his evening wear.
This soon-to-be lawmaker’s résumé is already teeming with questionable incidents. He’s faced allegations that a woman named Jean Dorticos tried to get a domestic-violence retraining order against him back in 1994. He denies being the same David M. Rivera who was the subject of the petition, and Dorticos claims not to know the Republican politician. But local media accounts have called those claims into doubt — particularly because Dorticos’ mother once worked for one of Rivera’s campaigns. Ok. Fair enough. There’s lots of grey area there. But there is no grey area surrounding the fact that he slammed his car into a truck that was delivering fliers accusing him of committing domestic violence.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.