Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Pete Sessions R-Texas; and Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., were at the peak of their political power when they lost it all.
“There are a couple of things that have to do with defeat,” Sessions told Fox News Digital. “Probably the biggest one is that, I think, Republicans were at a weak point of our existence in large cities all across America. And we’ve lost them ever since.”
Sessions, who had served in Congress 11 terms and chaired the powerful House Rules Committee, lost his seat by about 18,000 votes in the 2018 “blue wave” midterm cycle that cost Republicans 40 seats in the House.
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Rep. Pete Sessions (Bloomberg)
Tenney served in a ruby red district in upstate New York. She pushed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 forward, which helped lower personal income taxes and expanded the Child Tax Credit. But those deliverables were no match for what the Congresswoman calls “major issues with our election integrity” that cost her 4,500 votes and her re-election.
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (Congresswoman Claudia Tenney)
Issa, the former House Oversight Committee chair, never lost his seat. He told Fox News Digital he was moving on from Congress and nominated for a top trade position in the White House. But Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., did everything in his power to block Issa by illuminating an FBI file that showed Issa used a fake ID when he was 17.
Issa told Fox Digital he learned that “18 years of working with a House member who becomes a senator doesn’t guarantee he won’t screw you.”
“Menendez blocked me for two years. It just didn’t matter that we served together, voted together, worked bills together. It was just politics,” said Issa.
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Flash forward five years. Issa, Tenney and Sessions are all back on top committees after returning as freshman members, losing seniority but forging new allies.
Issa is now a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Tenney is the vice chair of a subcommittee in the House Foreign Affairs committee.
Sessions is the chairman of Government Operations and the Federal Workforce Subcommittee within the House Oversight and Accountability Committee.
“You’re not the same as you were before you left,” said Issa. “I came back with my seniority and with the committees I wanted to be on. But I’ve been treated very, very well by a lot of the people like Jim Jordan. He had worked for me as a subcommittee chairman while I was gone. He became the boss.”
Despite the power dynamics shifting since returning to Congress, many freshman members have sought advice from the veteran members on how to navigate committee assignments and deliver on their campaign promises.
Congressman Darrell Issa (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
“I routinely tell them, a committee is your career. You must treat it as you would a career,” said Sessions. “You have a learning pathway. You have a discipline about you, where you’ve got to get someone that works with you, you’ve got to attend meetings, you’ve got to read, you’ve got to go back home or somewhere in the marketplace and actually learn what actually happens.”
In the 118th Congress, relatively new, upstart House members who have drawn controversy have been elevated to top committees. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., were placed on the House Oversight Committee after just a few years in office.
Sessions indicated their newfound responsibilities should temper their renegade tendencies.
“They’re quickly learning that being a free agent is not in our best interest,” Sessions said. “We have to see it the same way. We have to win that same way.”
Nevertheless, when Greene first arrived on Capitol Hill, Sessions says he saw CNN reporter Jim Acosta filming her and quickly rushed to her aid.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
“She got picked on. She got taken advantage of. They wanted to make something of her,” said Sessions. “She was a brand new freshman. I walked by, grabbed her hand, walked her off … I said, ‘Pick on somebody your own size.’”
“I’ve had some people who clearly stood on principle and clearly made tough stands from time to time and never lost the friendship or respect to their colleagues,” said Issa. “I’ve had others who voted more often with us but managed to alienate their colleagues.”
Sessions also said the aim for purity can hurt a new member’s prestige, especially during the amendment process.
“This actually requires a bit of thought,” said Sessions. “It’s not unusual to see people that still have some of these unvetted ideas show up in the Rules Committee with their 38 copies. … I think some of those ideas are worthy. Many of them are not.”
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As freshman members adjust to the workflow of committees, Sessions says the key to success “comes back to teamwork.”
From redistricting to the current hyper-partisan environment, these members recognize that, ultimately, their fate rest in the hands of voters, regardless of the current climate in Washington.
Lacey Christ is a producer with “Fox News @ Night.”