New House GOP members say ties to Trump will help Minnesotans

Peter Stauber takes the microphone next to President Trump.
Peter Stauber takes the microphone next to President Trump during a Make America Great Again rally inside of Amsoil Arena in Duluth in June 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

As the 116th Congress convened Thursday, Minnesota's two new Republican congressmen took their seats in the minority.

In last year's election — when Democrats flipped 41 seats across the country from Republican control — only three seats switched from Democrats to Republicans. And two of those three seats were in Minnesota.

Pete Stauber and Jim Hagedorn got a lot of help from President Trump as they flipped those Minnesota districts. The president's political action committee poured more than $5 million into their races and Trump headlined campaign rallies for each of the Republicans.

And both Republicans think their ties to Trump will help their Minnesota constituents.

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Stauber, who won the open 8th District seat, noted that a couple of months after Trump pledged at a Duluth rally to keep areas of the Superior National Forest open to mining exploration, he did just that. Stauber thinks his conversation with the president played a role.

Hagedorn, who represents southern Minnesota's 1st District, predicts Trump will make deals with House Democrats and Senate Republicans. Hagedorn said he'll push for more investment in rural America and for changes in government assistance programs.

"If you're able-bodied and you're collecting welfare, you should go out and work for it," he said.

Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn speaks at MPR News debate.
Republican Jim Hagedorn speaks at an MPR News debate.
Tony Saunders | MPR News file

Hagedorn also said the government needs to give people a path off public assistance, for example, allowing people to continue medical coverage when they get a job.

But he acknowledges his priorities might not stand much of a chance — at least right now.

"Maybe they won't get through in a Democratic House, but we can start building a case and maybe one day soon there will be more Republicans or people who are like-minded that will help us out," Hagedorn said.

Despite his ties to the president, Stauber said he will oppose Trump if the president takes actions that would hurt people in the 8th District. Stauber said he wants to work in a bipartisan fashion, and he's optimistic the tone in Washington will change to allow for that.

"In my two weeks of orientation I had talks with member-elects on both sides of the aisle, and one of the things we talked about is the divisiveness across the country, you know, you're in one political camp or the other," he said. As Stauber and Hagedorn settle into their new roles, 6th District U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer is the top Minnesota Republican in Washington.

Emmer helped Hagedorn and Stauber win and now, as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, he has the job of winning back the House for Republicans in 2020.

So why did he want that job? "I didn't. I thought we were going to be in the majority," he said.

Even though in the last election Republicans lost ground in suburban areas, Emmer is not ready to cede any territory. He's convinced the country is more conservative than liberal. He plans to push Republicans to campaign on more of what they are for rather than what's they oppose.

"If all you have is to run against the other candidate or to run against something, you don't have anything to run on. So from that standpoint, yes, we'll be pushing that very hard over the next two years."

But 2020 is also a presidential election year, and Trump once again is likely to be a key factor in whether Republicans can take back control of the House.