Houston Chronicle: Freshman Texas Rep. Chip Roy keeps his promise to go against the grain in Washington

by Bill Lambrecht

WASHINGTON – If doubts existed that newly minted Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy would continue the conservative ways of his predecessor, 30-year veteran Lamar Smith of San Antonio, they are being erased by Roy’s votes early in this fractious Congress.

When the House voted 357-22 last week to prevent President Donald Trump from withdrawing from NATO, as the president has threatened to do, Roy was in the distinct minority supporting Trump.

In an even more lopsided tally, Roy was one of just seven House members, all Republicans, voting against legislation to ensure that some 800,000 federal workers affected by the government shutdown get back pay. After Senate passage and a 411-7 House vote, Trump signed the measure into law.

Roy, of Austin, a former top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz with strong ties to the Texas tea party, has taken pains to explain what some see as his callous attitude toward what he called the “fake shutdown,” writing op-eds and responding to detractors on social media.

“I was voting against Congress essentially giving itself a get out of jail free card to just continue to just put shutdowns on auto pilot,” he said, sitting in his stark, new Washington office as yet free of adornments.

“Does it concern me how people perceive what I’m doing on behalf of Texas 21? Yes. I want them to understand why. I just think too many of our colleagues say, ‘Hey, I just want to avoid tough votes’.”

Roy’s constituents are likely to see many “tough” votes from him, votes he sees rooted in principle and in his conviction that things have gone badly wrong in Congress.

In pressuring for change in how Congress operates, Roy referred to himself as a Republican version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected activist congresswoman from New York, who is roiling waters in her Democratic Party.

“I doubt she and I agree on many issues. But functionally, this place is broken,” he said.

Roy, a 46-year-old lawyer, would seem to have latitude to operate. In a Democratic year, voters chose him in November over Joseph Kopser, a moderate, an Iraq war veteran and an entrepreneur – the sort of Democrat who might succeed in a territory where the GOP has had a substantial advantage in the past. The 21st District stretches from the northern reaches of San Antonio to Austin and includes Hill Country to the north.

Lamar Smith, elected in 1986, was an immigration hardliner who became known nationally for his skepticism of climate change. Roy echoes many of Smith’s views on immigration, devoting his initial speech on the House floor this month to immigration and what he called “chaos and lawlessness on the southern border.”

He added: “Yet members on both sides of the aisle have buried their heads in the sand over the last several decades, talking instead of doing.”

The speech drew praise from far-right news outlets. “Perhaps no freshman congressman arrived in Washington this January with more national movement support than did Rep. Chip Roy,” gushed, which posted the speech.

House Democrats, looking ahead to the 2020 elections, already are eyeing Roy’s seat, which he won by less than three percent of the total votes cast. A memo released on Monday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included Roy’s district and five others in Texas on a list of 33 labeled Democrats’ “initial offensive battleground.”

Referring to the Texas districts, the memo asserted that Roy and the others “have suburban areas experiencing population booms and an increasingly diverse electorate” where Republicans struggled last year.

On Saturday, Roy sent out a fundraising solicitation noting that Democrats are attacking him for supporting Trump’s demands for tougher border security measures.

“It’s still January, just months after an election, and the national Democrats are already running desperate campaign ads again because they’re so out of touch on keeping Americans safe…They know our district is the gateway to turning Texas blue,” Roy’s email read.

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