First-Year Congressman Looks Back, Halfway Through Term
(Editor’s note: These are the final segments in our series “Climbing the Hill,” in which we followed two new members of Congress. Democrat Katie Porter was featured Sunday. )
WASHINGTON, D.C. — First-term Republican House member Pete Stauber of Minnesota wears his religion on his sleeve.
He begins every morning in Washington by attending Mass at a Catholic church near the U.S. Capitol. And, recently, he met a tour of 30 students and a priest from Minnesota on the steps of the Capitol, where they finished their prayer for the nation by making the sign of the cross.
“You just said the Lord’s Prayer on the steps of the greatest country in the world, at our Capitol,” the amiable Stauber explained in a brief lesson in religious freedom. “Isn’t that that awesome?”
Stauber, a former professional hockey player and retired police lieutenant, is not shy about showing his religion in a secular nation riven by partisanship and a historic impeachment inquiry targeting a Republican president.
Stauber is a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump and vigorously opposes the Democrats’ move toward impeachment. But he is also a firm believer in bipartisanship, and in less than a year has succeeded in passing two bills in the House with both Democratic and Republican support.
“I’ve always been really successful being a member of a team and and being inclusive, having that voice for all,” he said.
Stauber arrived in Washington less than a year ago after winning election in the traditionally Democratic 8th congressional district in northern Minnesota. Stauber became only the second Republican in 71 years to represent the district, which includes the Iron Range mining region. The victory gave him an element of political celebrity in the Republican Party.
Playing for the minors
When he ran for the House seat, Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, an exciting time for a fledgling Republican candidate.
But Democrats came storming back in the 2018 midterm election, regaining control of the House and consigning the Republicans to a vastly diminished minority role. But Stauber said he wasn’t fazed by the turn of events, and points to his sponsorship this year of 10 bills, including the two that were passed in the House.
“Being in the minority, two bills is pretty good and we are not done yet,” he said.
A onetime member of the Detroit Red Wings professional hockey team, Stauber said he wishes his fellow legislators would put aside partisan labels.
To explain, he used a quote from the hockey coach of the 1980 gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic team.
“Herb Brooks says the [team’s] name on the front of the jersey means more than the [player’s] name on the back,” Stauber said. “If we all went into the House of Representatives with ‘USA’ on our sweater, we could move mountains.”
Dawn to dark
Part of what he learned in this first year is that the pace at the Capitol is nonstop. Rookie members of Congress get a taste of this during orientation, shortly after their November election. But nothing can prepare them for the real thing.
VOA joined Stauber for a full day in Washington in late October from sunup to sundown, to see what’s involved.
Stauber rises before 6 a.m. and never gets home before dark. “Home” in Washington is a townhouse he shares with three other congressmen. His wife, Jodi Stauber, remains in Minnesota, where she takes care of their four children, including a teenager with special needs.
Every morning, Stauber texts his children so they are greeted with a message from their father when they awaken. Later in the morning, while he is returning calls to his constituents, he steals a few minutes to call his wife.
The rest of the day is a whirlwind, spent in congressional committee hearings, staff meetings, on the House floor trying to line up support for his bills, at Republican Party headquarters making fundraising calls, and in unnamed rooms attending classified briefings.
There is also plenty of time set aside for meeting with visiting constituents to discuss their local concerns. And then he’s back on the House floor for votes and corralling support for legislation he favors.
After his work is completed at the Capitol and in his office in the nearby House Cannon Office Building, Stauber has evening ceremonies and events to attend. Throughout it all, Stauber offers a smile and a handshake to all he meets.
“I absolutely love it,” he explained. “I have a passion to serve. When you really love what you are doing, it’s not work. It’s a passion.”
It hasn’t all been rosy. The first bill Stauber sponsored hasn’t made it to the House floor for a vote.
The proposed legislation would codify a federal land swap for a copper mine in Minnesota’s Iron Range. He’s a firm supporter of expanding the mining of iron ore and precious metals, which would mean more jobs and income for his northern district, rather than have the country rely on foreign entities for the minerals.
“Of course I’m disappointed, but that’s part of the process,” Stauber said, adding he is taking the stalling of the bill in stride. “I think in the end, northern Minnesota, we will be mining copper and nickel very soon.”
When asked what he has learned in this past year that he would like to pass on to the next class of first-year representatives, he quickly replied, “In this country, no matter what we are going through, she’s still worth fighting for.”
Chaos with impeachment
The country has been going through a lot since Stauber first arrived in the capital.
As soon as his new class of U.S. Representatives was sworn in, they had to deal with a monthlong government shutdown. And now, the impeachment inquiry.
Can someone tell Jodi that I caught a ride home today? pic.twitter.com/IlxaeAlsFX
— Pete Stauber (@PeteStauber) October 11, 2019
Stauber said he is grateful to President Trump, who campaigned for Stauber prior to his election. Stauber recently pinned a photo to his campaign twitter account of him riding on Air Force One last month when Trump visited Minnesota.
He says he spent the entire time in disbelief, pinching himself while the President and he “talked about economic drivers for the state of Minnesota.”
Stauber has so far received mixed grades from the few U.S. public interest groups that have issued “report cards” for members of Congress. For Stauber, it mainly runs along party lines. Heritage Action for America rates him 85% on backing their conservative stances on issues.
Freedom Works, which ranks members on 33 key votes dealing with free-market economic issues that most Republicans hold dear, only gives him a 49 on a 100-point scale.
Progressive Punch compares the votes from a control group made up of 33 of the staunchest progressive legislators, typically Democrats. On that basis, the group gave Stauber an “F” — a failing grade.
The two-year terms in the House pass by quickly, unlike in the Senate, where members are elected to six-year terms. Long before the end of the first year of their terms, House members must begin concentrating on reelection. Stauber said a former colleague called to congratulate him a few days after the 2018 election and said, “Welcome to your reelection.”
“It’s almost perpetual, so it is unfortunate,” he said.
He said he will never take any competitor for granted. Two Democrats have filed the necessary papers to run against him, but neither has raised any money for their campaigns. Stauber reported raising $871,188 in third-quarter fundraising to the Federal Election Commission.
Trump won Stauber’s district by 15 points in 2016, while Stauber won in 2018 by only 5%.
But analysts like Matthew Krayton, who owns Publitics, a political consulting firm, said the impeachment inquiry is the wild card in predicting the outcome of 2020 elections. Publitics specializes in Democratic candidates and has no connection to the 8th district race in Minnesota.
If he were consulting Stauber, Krayton said he would suggest Stauber focus on “bread-and-butter” local constituent issues, “without getting too bogged down in the national climate.”