"And This Was Just His First Day in Congress" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The eager congressman-elect's first day on the job began with breakfast tacos and drama.
On the first day of the 114th Congress, Will Hurd, the newly arrived San Antonio Republican, found himself caught in the middle of a row among the normally tight-knit Texas Republican delegation over the re-election of U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, announced on Sunday that he would challenge the House leader. By Tuesday, another Texan, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, had joined the anti-Boehner faction.
When a small group of Texans met Tuesday morning over breakfast tacos ahead of the vote, Hurd watched as U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, confronted Weber about the attempted coup and, according to the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call, relayed a message that leadership was ready to retaliate.
Back in November, Hurd had narrowly ousted former Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego to win his seat at the congressional table. His actions for the rest of the day would set the tone for his first term in office: Would Will Hurd spend it working with or against House Republican leadership?
“Louie’s an Aggie buddy, and I think he has been a principled leader up here in Washington, D.C.” Hurd said on the walk through Capitol tunnels to his swearing-in. “But he doesn’t have the votes to win this election.”
That walk to the chamber revealed how Hurd, a former CIA agent and Texas A&M student body president, is not your average freshman. A small press entourage, including a national news network camera crew, tagged along because, as one of the few black Republicans in Congress, Hurd is a source of interest and unique power.
His position was highlighted last week as Democrats piled on to reports that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., attended a meeting of a Louisiana white supremacist group in 2002.
Hurd could knife Scalise, or give him cover.
He opted for the latter.
“Steve Scalise made a grave decision to go to that, and he’s admitted it,” Hurd said on the walk. “But the thing is, I haven’t gotten any calls from my constituents on the issue.”
He added that, instead, his priorities and focus would be on border security.
Arriving on the House floor, Hurd picked up his congressional lapel pin and the card he will use to register his votes.
“I think it sunk in, this is for real,” he said of his first moments in the chamber. At noon, his official congressional website went live, but he was still not an official member.
Hurd sat with fellow Texas freshman U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, as the entire House of Representatives engaged in a rare roll call vote for speaker.
When Hurd’s turn came, he called out, “Boehner!”
Boehner easily won a third term as speaker, despite tense moments in the chamber. Gohmert picked up only three votes, including his own. Boehner then swore in Hurd and the rest of his colleagues.
Eventually, the new congressman made his way back to his office. Cameras, family, staffers, Aggies, political consultants and supporters spilled into the hallway and greeted his arrival with applause. His exhausted mother, Mary Alice, entered the room and rested in a chair, still beaming with pride.
Hurd might be an ex-spy, but he's also a hugger with this crowd. The surroundings revealed an emotional side.
"To be able to look up [in the gallery], and see my parents ..." Hurd said, choking up as he described his swearing-in. "That's pretty special."
The walls and desks around him were bare – Hurd’s team did not get the keys until Saturday. But his staffers were satisfied nonetheless – they had prime office real estate.
Back in November, new members took part in a lottery to determine the order in which they chose offices. Hurd did well enough to land digs on the third floor of the Cannon House Office Building – avoiding the dreaded fifth floor.
Similarly, Hurd must contend with his personal surroundings, namely, finding a place to live.
For now, he's staying in a hotel. How does a congressman find a home?
“Just like everybody else – Zillow!” Hurd laughed. “Zillow has been my friend.”
Washington-based friends have made recommendations, he said, and it’s been a humorous process with prospective landlords.
“[They’re] like, 'Why did you come up to D.C.?’ ‘Well, I just got elected to Congress,’” he recounted.
As the afternoon wore on, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott stopped by and huddled with Hurd.
Last term, Scott was the only African-American Republican in Congress. Thanks to Hurd and Utah Rep. Mia Love, the number tripled on Tuesday.
Next on the Hurd agenda was the traditional mock swearing-in photo-op with Boehner and Hurd's parents. Members are assigned a time to take photos with the speaker and their family members, pretending to be sworn in.
But amid the excitement, drama and exhaustion, a very real question already lingered – whether or not Hurd will be here two years from now for the next swearing-in day.
National Democrats are already eyeing his old foe, Gallego, for a rematch. With 49.78 percent of the vote, Hurd did not cross the majority threshold in that first bid.
Before long, the freshman will be under pressure to raise money, and undertake all the tasks an incumbent faces to win another term.
“Re-election has already started,” Hurd said. “I said this from the beginning, I came up here to do my job. And in two years, the residents get to judge me and grade my paper. “