The leader of the Republican congressional campaign arm said Saturday at The Texas Tribune Festival that impeachment and "radical" Democratic policies on health care will backfire and destroy the Democrats' hard-won majority in 2020.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Tom Emmer joined Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos onstage for an hourlong, often tense panel that featured arguments over the future of the U.S. House, the term "socialist Democrat" and whether the "Texodus" means anything for Republicans' chances of taking back the majority in 2020.
The panel was heated from the start, beginning with an argument about impeachment and the whistleblower complaint regarding President Donald Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president in July.
Emmer attacked Bustos and her party for what he called attempts to "undo" the 2016 election through impeachment and avoided, for the most part, actually discussing the content of the complaint. In response, Bustos had one of her staff get a copy of the reconstructed phone call transcript and read aloud the section where the president pivots from discussing defense to asking Ukraine's leader to investigate Joe Biden, his potential 2020 rival and former vice president.
Turning to congressional races, Bustos took a confident view that her party would not only keep its majority but that Republicans had much to fear in Texas next year in light of the five Republican retirements in the state and Democrats' plans to target six competitive districts districts near the state's big cities.
"Texas is ground zero in 2020," Bustos said. "It's a very exciting state to be in from a Democratic perspective."
Emmer, however, maintained that the Democrats' views on health care, climate change and impeachment would backfire in 2020 and alienate voters across the country, especially in Texas. He consistently called them socialists who want to take down Trump at any cost.
"My colleagues on the other side of the aisle are getting absolutely nothing done. This will be the end of the socialist Democrat majority in the house," Emmer said, while specifically calling out Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal. "This is the new Socialist Party of America. If you're not willing to stand up and fight for it and take it back then own it."
Bustos sighed almost every time Emmer said "socialist Democrats." She said the members of her party in moderate districts that Trump won in 2016 were "anything but" socialists. She added that the strength of the Democratic majority will come from candidates in swing districts.
The pair presented sharply differing views of the meaning of "Texodus" — the phrase used to describe the number recent of Texas Republicans announcing retirements from Congress. Bustos said it showed the fear Republicans who narrowly held onto their seats in 2018 have of losing. Emmer, however, said it gives his party, and Congress, the chance to bring in "new blood."
Emmer also brushed aside the significance of the retirement of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a decision Bustos cited as a sign of the worsening environment for Republicans in suburban and minority districts across the country.
One audience member, Gilbert Schorlemmer, told Emmer and Bustos during the Q&A that the tension between them is "part of the problem" with politics in Washington. Rather than trying to work across the aisle, they are just focused on stealing seats from the other party.
"It's almost like I came into this session, and it's just like 'what the heck,'" he said.