The right time for Mr. Right: How Jason Lewis plans to make the most of a very good time to be a Republican

MinnPost photo by Sam Brodey
Rep. Jason Lewis: “There are 435 Type A persons in the House of Representatives. The idea that one of them is going to go there and get their way on everything is ludicrous on its face.”

There are a few things on the to-do list of every brand-new member of Congress: learn your way around, angle for good committee assignments, furnish an empty office with chairs and desks and staffers.

And if you’re Jason Lewis, your to-do list also includes repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Not all freshmen members of Congress get to contribute to their party’s top agenda items from the get-go. But Lewis, the new representative of the 2nd Congressional District, and his fellow freshmen, arrive in a Washington in which the White House and Congress will soon be controlled by the GOP.

The former conservative talk radio host who called himself Minnesota’s “Mr. Right” finds himself in D.C. at the right moment: there might be no better time to be an ambitious freshman Republican. MinnPost caught up with Lewis about what he, and his party, might accomplish.

From AM to D.C.

Before the election, not a whole lot of Minnesota political insiders on either side imagined that Lewis and Trump would be packing their bags for Washington at the same time.

Both candidates, brandishing their outsider credentials and penchants for controversy, rode a wave of anti-establishment dissatisfaction to improbable wins in November.

In that sense, Lewis is just right for this political moment, which rewarded the kind of controversial rhetoric and partisan warfare that he practiced for over two decades on the radio.

But Lewis has also framed his experience on the radio as a process of engaging with ideas. Indeed, he had hundreds of hours to debate and elaborate on his philosophy of government, which he describes as Constitution-centered, “small-l” libertarianism.

Sitting in his office in the Capitol’s Cannon Building — still in the process of being decorated — Lewis talked about the sharp differences between pontificating from a studio and holding a congressional seat, calling it a humbling and solemn responsibility.

He is aware that any lawmaker, much less a freshman, doesn’t get to run their own show. “There are 435 Type A persons in the House of Representatives,” he said. “The idea that one of them is going to go there and get their way on everything is ludicrous on its face.”

On the to-do list: health care, regulations

Lewis is not only just one of 435 members of the House, but one of 50-some freshmen. A vote is just about all that most first-term members have: they must spend years putting in the political grunt work and forging the connections needed to wield any actual clout on Capitol Hill.

It’s early, but Lewis is off to a decent start, and could have more influence than the average freshman in tackling the policy items that he and his party are prioritizing right now — namely, the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, Lewis was named to the House Budget Committee — “prestigious,” per his office’s press release — which will play a key role in crafting the GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare. (No other Minnesotan representative serves on that panel.) Because of the GOP’s wins in November, that prospect is a reality now, not a pipe dream.

The committee assignment is a good fit for Lewis, who made health care issues a central element of his winning campaign, and is clearly at home talking about free-market reforms to the system.

Though he’s a zealous opponent of the law, Lewis is echoing some of his GOP colleagues in urging caution and patience in proceeding with the ACA repeal.

“We’re not going to do this the way Democrats did it Christmas Eve 2009 and March of 2010 when they crammed this thing through,” he said. “We are going to start the process, we’re going to start in the Budget Committee, we’re going to move on that and we’re going to repeal and replace.”

Lewis endorsed the idea, advanced by most GOP leaders, of phasing out what he called the ACA’s most onerous elements through the process of budget reconciliation, and then setting up a transition period to replace the law. “We’re going to do it right so we have a health care reform process that makes health care both more affordable and portable.” (A more portable health care plan means certain benefits may be enjoyed regardless of an individual’s job change or retirement.)

Another key agenda item for Republicans, and a favorite topic for the libertarian-minded Lewis, is easing government regulations across the board. In the first days of Congress, the House GOP approved a bill requiring Congress to sign off on significant federal agency regulations within 70 days, a measure Lewis strongly backed.

Other regulations the Republican hopes to target include the Waters of the U.S. rule, an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that defines which bodies of water are subject to federal regulation.

Republicans and industry interests claim the rule generates unnecessary red tape for land use, and Lewis called it devastating to the agriculture industry in his district.

‘I’m not just going to be a rubber stamp’

Beyond policy, Lewis must also navigate the complex politics of Congress — a task that requires considerable tact.

Lewis was diplomatic on two topics that dogged him during the campaign: his views on Trump, and his relationship with the congressional GOP’s most far-right members.

Trump, shunned in many conservative circles for his disregard of their small-government ideology, is hardly the perfect fit with Lewis’ beliefs.

In an interview with MinnPost’s Brian Lambert from September 2015, before he announced his bid, Lewis called Trump a “richer and smarter Jesse Ventura,” and said he liked how Trump was shaking things up. During the campaign, however, he did not go out of his way to praise Trump.

These days, like many Republicans, Lewis publicly regards Trump as a largely unknown quantity with the potential to do good. If Trump does not, he says “I’m not just going to be a rubber stamp. I’m not here for that.”

Lewis did say he was impressed by some Cabinet picks, particularly Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, and South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a friend of his who was picked to head the Office of Management and Budget.

“It is a team of rivals approach that is intriguing,” he said, “and nobody knows which way it’s going.”

At one point in the campaign, Lewis also said he would join the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 40 or so Republicans who aggressively push a very conservative agenda, and frequently clash with GOP leadership. (Mulvaney is a prominent member of the Freedom Caucus.)

Now, he says he will not join that group, saying it is important for the district that he remain independent.

That perception of independence will be politically important for Lewis, too. The 2nd District is hardly deep red: it has voted for Republicans and Democrats for different offices in the past, and leans Republican by just two points, according to the Cook Partisan Voter Index.

Lewis’ seat won’t be defended easily: in the 2018 midterm, he will be a top target for Democrats. Soon, party organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will begin hammering him on key votes.

Lewis isn’t worried about that, citing his win in November. “We did it once, I’m confident we’ll do it again,” he said.

As for now, Lewis is looking forward to his new job. “You talk about this stuff for 25 years, now I get a chance to vote on it,” he said.

“You can talk until you’re blue in the face. Now I get to cast a vote. That’s nice. I like that.”

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Aaron Albertson on 01/12/2017 - 10:20 am.

    We need to find someone strong to run against him

    if she doesn’t run for governor, Lori Swanson would fit the bill quite well. I like Angie Craig, but every one that ran a second time after losing once lost this year

  2. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/12/2017 - 11:34 am.

    ‘I’m not just going to be a rubber stamp’

    As evidenced by his first official action to join with the majority and gut the ethics office and then just as quickly back track when new marching orders came down the pipe.

    Not exactly a good start if he means: ‘I’m not just going to be a rubber stamp’.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/12/2017 - 01:00 pm.

      What he means

      When he says he is not a “rubber stamp,” he means he is not literally made out of rubber. Nor is he technically a “stamp.”

      What, you thought he meant he wasn’t going to give his reflexive support to everything the Republican leadership tells him?

      • Submitted by just joseph on 01/17/2017 - 05:11 pm.

        Really?

        He signed Norquist’s pledge.
        That means that, by DEFINITION, his vote is a “rubber stamp” vote.
        Jason Lewis will not be involved in those decisions.

  3. Submitted by Beth-Ann Bloom on 01/12/2017 - 12:00 pm.

    A good time to be a Republican

    It may be a good time to be a Republican but my preference would be for Mr Lewis to act as a Minnesotan!

  4. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/12/2017 - 12:31 pm.

    And:

    Why does Jason and the GOP need to go slow on throwing out the ACA? All the rhetoric for the election as well as the AM slot and the last 6-7 years, this should be like cleaning a pile of pig-crap off the living room carpet. Are they now saying well maybe we lied or were overly dramatic, or we really don’t have a solution, but it was a nice propaganda piece to get elected on? So much for ethical values!

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 01/12/2017 - 02:02 pm.

      Because they want to do it right

      The ACA is a horrible piece of legislation. Everything that was put together was a hoax as it’s main designer has admitted (and got filthy rich off of the federal and many state governments).
      The ACA was run down so quick by a full Democratic Congress that included 60 seats in the Senate, and that is was a 1000+ page document where none of the legislators had time to read it, yet had Nancy Pelosi famously endorsing in the manner of telling everyone that there is no need to read it and that everything will be uncovered once it is passed.
      The Repubs don’t want to run it that way because, as we have all seen, the more and more the ACA has been uncovered, it has caused more and more problems and done nothing to control costs, let alone people (not) keeping their doctor as was often promised ad nauseum.

      • Submitted by Nick Foreman on 01/12/2017 - 05:06 pm.

        Republicans have nothing to provide for health insurance

        Except sucking up to worthless health insurers who will bring back pre-existing conditions, outrageous salaries and an even poorer life expectancy. Really bad news for the old white males who really need health insurance coverage

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/12/2017 - 06:03 pm.

        Its been:

        What 7 years? And over that 7 years the cry has been “Repeal Obama care” they tried what 42 times? They didn’t have a clue on what they would fix and or replace it with, just repeal Obama care. And now, “we want to get it right!” Sorry, get it right looks a lot like the stuff laying on the living room carpet.
        Please also quit with the excuses: its been 7 years and nobody read the finished bill in 7 years, etc etc. etc. did not have an idea what to fix and or how? I spent 4 years in the Navy and I got the doctor that they gave me, been in and out of HMO’s etc. for 30 years, usually end up with the doctor that is available, or are we going to delay that heart attack for 2 weeks until “your doctor” is available? 7 years and the republican idea well as expected is bankrupt! What is most likely; their “Death Panels” just start kicking people to the curb? Probably call them Health Insurance efficiency and cost reduction programs.

        • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/13/2017 - 09:11 am.

          REPLACEMENT

          I heard that the Heritage Foundation invested significant time and energy into a model for a conservative solution for more comprehensive health care. Maybe that could be used as the model for ACA replacement?

          Whoops, the conservative plan was the model for the ACA!

          And that is where the right will come a cropper on viable solutions: the closest thing was built by Heritage, touted by Gingrich in the early 90s, tested by Romney in MA, and adopted as the ACA.

          No new ideas since the late 80s….

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/12/2017 - 01:51 pm.

    Considering that the A.C.A. Was Built

    on all the best ideas REPUBLICANS had for national health care,…

    being based on the Massachusetts model passed under Mitt Romney,…

    which was based on ideas from the Conservative “Heritage Foundation,”…

    the Republicans have placed themselves in an impossible position.

    The A.C.A. IS the Republican plan for national health care.

    But they’ve spent a VERY long time promising the impossible,…

    that they can provide BETTER coverage,…

    at CHEAPER rates,…

    which, of course, everyone ALWAYS wants.

    It was safe to promise the impossible all those years because they didn’t think they’d ever have to do it.

    Now, the best thing that they can do is delay,… delay,… delay,…

    then change a few things,…

    and REintroduce the A.C.A. as “Republicare.” or “Trumpcare.”

    The political/societal/economic/business costs of doing anything else are astronomical.

    They just have to figure out how to do this without anybody noticing.

    If, on the other hand, they DO a substantial repeal without a comparable replacement,…

    they’ll create such chaos,…

    that there’s very high likelihood that they get ushered out of office in 2 years and 4 years,…

    lose the White House,…

    and “Medicare for all” will become a VERY easy thing to pass.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Lewis,…

    who’s used to being able to shoot his mouth off and tout LOTS of very useless but attractive ideas,…

    to the unthinking, knee-jerk “conservatives” in his radio audience,..

    is now going to have to gain some education in the school of experience reality provides.

    I think he will discover how flawed his pet theories and ideas are,…

    now that he’s in a position to try to put them into effect,…

    but of course his ego is far too fragile to ever admit he was wrong about anything.

    He’ll just blame “Liberals,” “Democrats,” and the “worthless, lazy, poor,”….

    for why his ideas which look so wonderful up there where the rubber meets the sky,…

    don’t and can’t actually work down here in the real world where real people live, and the rubber meets the road.

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 01/12/2017 - 02:35 pm.

    I can’t find one conservative concept on this

    Republican “idea”. No competition, limited States rights, HUGE Govt subsidies, grows national debt, no choice in Doctors, no choice in coverage, sky rocketing premiums (for those who actually have jobs and no coverage from work), ridiculous deductibles, grows Govt and puts 17% of our economy in the hands DC elites. Just can’t understand how that didn’t work??

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/12/2017 - 04:43 pm.

      I’d Be VERY Curious to Know

      What health plan you’re describing,…

      because what you said has ZERO relation to the A.C.A….

      though it DOES repeat a LOT of provably false talking points from weasel news and “conservative” talk radio.

      It’s really VERY hard to judge things carefully and well,…

      when all your information comes down to you from on high,…

      PREjudged in ways designed to manipulate the perspectives of the unwary and unwise,…

      so that others can better take advantage of them,…

      and they’ll NEVER have the ghost of a clue who it is,…

      that’s actually destroying their lives.

      Here’s a bit of a clue, though,…

      any news source that tells you to ignore everything else,…

      because THEY’RE the only ones who will tell you the truth,…

      is LYING TO YOU.

    • Submitted by Nick Foreman on 01/12/2017 - 05:16 pm.

      Where was the competition prior to this law?

      Coverage for pre-existing conditions? The republicans cheered for letting the poor with no insurance to die in the streets. Present conservative theory is more for corporations and rich and unfortunately most republican voters don’t qualify for either crowd. And they will be duped again. BTW you helped elect a NY/DC elite!!!

  7. Submitted by joe smith on 01/12/2017 - 05:41 pm.

    Greg, so there are not Billions in subsidies?

    Do you have wide open access to any Doctor or do you have to stay in network? Arizona has 1 carrier of insurance, is that choice? Is the healthcare industry 17% of our economy? Are premiums going up? What is the average deductible for the bronze plan?

    Talking points or facts??

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/14/2017 - 12:18 pm.

      What are the facts?

      I’m not in MNSure any more but I was for a few years after the ACA went into effect.Premiums on health insurance did go up quite a bit this year. They were edging up before. I heard one reason was because of some subsidies expiring. So it would seem that some subsidies were necessary to keep premiums as low as they were. But then look att eh salaries of the insurance executives. How much of these premium increases are to pay for the excessive salaries of these insurance company executives and bureaucrats? Which to me says that we’d be better off as a country by eliminating the middleman insurance company which is not really insurance anyway and simply allowing everyone onto Medicare. Taxes would go up, sure. But what are health insurance premiums but private taxes anyway? I

      I don’t know anything about Arizon’a’s plan. I had heard that they have one insurance carrier. But I will say that nothing in the ACA made you change your doctor or clinic. You might have to pay a lot more for it, but the choices of plans were/are there. You can save money by buying a plan with its own network that might not include your favorite health care provider. I’m not sure what the average deductible for the bronze level plans are. I’m guessing they probably are at least $7,000.00. maybe $10,000.00. I think of these plans as “catastrophic coverage” or “anti-bankruptcy from health bills” coverage.

      When you refer to the health care industry, are you referring to the doctor, nurses, and other personnel who give you check-ups, do surgeries, etc? Or do you include the health insurance “industry”, the means by which the health care industry is financed? There is some overlap, I know, which I suspect is part of the problem. i.e. plans that have “networks” are really HMO’s which offer health insurance plans that allow coverage but with (much) higher deductibles if you don’t use their HMO network. Whatever, health care insurance is altogether too high and a bad deal for everyone. it ought to be simply abolished and replaced by a single payer system.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 01/18/2017 - 11:02 am.

      Platinium plated?

      You must have one of those platinum plated plans! Are you sure you know how us common folk live? Haven’t seen an any doctor, any plan, any network for over a 1/4 of a century. If Arizona has a single carrier, and you are bragging about how well it works, you should be all in favor of using that as the test case to go single payer for the entire country! If not mistaken that is what the lefties wanted but the nighties voted down unequivocally as socialism. Are you now suggesting we more or less move towards socializing healthcare?

  8. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 01/12/2017 - 10:32 pm.

    TrumpCare

    What is it, the new improved version of healthcare reform? This “reform” will double the national insured rate to provide huge tax cuts to the very, very, very rich.

    That means 20+ million people Republicans don’t think deserve healthcare coverage will lose it. The party of Scrooge thinks – there is profit in misery And of course those nasty regulations that prevent dirty air and water, dangerous products, security fraud and workplace accidents are a small price for “others” to pay so guys like Trump aren’t burdened paying actual income taxes on their billions.

    Lewis won’t rubber stamp these things? His thinking is just as disordered and hateful as Trump, and personally as ambitious. Clearly a loyal supporter.

  9. Submitted by John Clouse on 01/13/2017 - 05:35 pm.

    Mr. Right

    Where to start?
    “We are going to start the process, we’re going to start in the Budget Committee, we’re going to move on that and we’re going to repeal and replace.”
    Since Republicans have hated the ACA since its inception, I find it hard to believe that they are just now trying to decide on a replacement. What have they been doing all this time?
    Oh, right, voting 60 times to repeal it but never once coming up with a better plan.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/15/2017 - 10:48 pm.

      Eric Kantor

      Just to underscore your point which I totally agree with. The former Republican minority leader, Eric Kantor, (who was ousted by the Tea Party Caucus for not being far enough right) wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times today about his meetings with President Obama in 2009 re: the President’s announced plan to deal with health care reform:

      “For a long time, Republicans had been working on proposals to utilize high-risk pools to help patients with pre-existing conditions, to lower costs, and to expand coverage in the small employer market. . . ,”

      That was in 2009, when the Republicans had been working already ‘for a long time” and that was only in these areas which, by the way only involved expanding coverage “in the small employer market” which means they were not dealing with the individually insured market AT ALL. In 2010, they came out with the completely lame plan to allow “competition” across state lines which would only make the problem worse.

      So it’s now seven years later. How much time does it take to come with the miraculous plan that will replace the ACA, whatever it’s faults? And it’s not the ACA which is driving up costs. Health care costs a lot of money. The health care system itself costs a lot and then there is the unnecessary cost of the “middle-person”- the insurance companies which supposedly “intermediate” the cost of what’s laughably called ‘insurance” but only make health care itself to the poor end user who needs it- which make the care itself more expensive. It’s the “insurance companies” and the health care system which are the problem. But the Republican Congress will treat it like it’s the fault of people- the people who get sick and need health care.

  10. Submitted by Kathleen Doran-Norton on 01/15/2017 - 10:21 pm.

    Waiting for a representative

    No local ofice. No local staff. No local phone number.
    I know several folks who have gone to Cliff Road to where Mr. Lewis’ office is supposed to be with no luck.
    Recent email survey only lists Mr. Lewis’ priorities. Not mine.
    Sure hope it gets better than this.
    I’m waiting for a representative.

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