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Dennis Ross lacerates Republican House leadership

in 2017/Top Headlines by

If you want to hear some good trash talking about how ineffective the Republican-led House conference has been since taking power back from the Democrats in 2010, you don’t need to listen to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid or Hillary Clinton.

Just listen to any Republican running to serve in Washington next year.

On Friday afternoon at the Tampa Tiger Bay Club’s monthly meeting, Polk County-based GOP U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross was the latest Republican member of Congress to blast the Republican House leadership.

“Congress right now, as you might have heard, has had some problems,” Ross told the crowd that gathered at the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center in downtown Tampa.

“We’ve  got a very strong group of right-wingers out there that are trying to hold the line and say, ‘we’re going to keep saying no, we don’t know when to say yes’. And then we’ve got moderates who are out there saying we’ve got to move along. We’ve got our leadership who says, ‘This is what you’re going to vote on and it doesn’t matter what you may think, this is what we’re going to do because we’re going to do crisis management,’ and for four and a half years, we’ve had crisis management,” said Ross.

After John Boehner stunned official Washington by announcing his resignation from the House speakership three weeks ago, Ross, who has been serving as senior deputy majority whip in the GOP House leadership, announced that he would run for House majority whip.

He explained on Friday that he did so because he was tired of trying to defend why Boehner and other parts of House leadership “do nothing” for the people who elected them.

“It’s one thing to vote 60 times to repeal the healthcare bill, but to never offer once as an alternative, is absurd,” Ross said with disdain dripping from his voice. “It’s illogical, and it gets old.”

So the congressman from Lakeland said he sat down that afternoon with his staff in Washington and realized that if he was ever going to have the opportunity to advance through leadership, this would be the time, since the current majority whip, Steve Scalise, intended to run for the Majority Leader position held by Californian Kevin McCarthy, who of course was going to run for Speaker of the House. He said he then penned a letter and over the next few days called 244 House Republicans to inform them about his plans.

But that hasn’t exactly worked out as planned, as McCarthy’s plans to become the next Speaker ended last week when he announced he would no longer pursue the position. Therefore, Scalise and Ross will also maintain their current positions.

Ross says, though, that in speaking with so many House Republicans, he’s learned directly of their discontent — for each other as Republicans.

“It made me realize that we have a serious problem,” which Ross says is about how the legislative process on Capitol Hill doesn’t work anymore.

Some of Ross’ complaints echo other Florida GOP congressmen such as David Jolly and Ron DeSantis, both of whom are competing to be the party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio next year.  He evoked nostalgia for the days of old, such as when Bill Clinton signed welfare reform legislation passed by the GOP majority Congress in 1996. “My biggest frustration is that I don’t even have an opportunity to have my conservative values addressed in the process, because the process is broken.”

He went on to say that it doesn’t matter who eventually becomes the next House Speaker unless Republicans put into place a process to allow for legislation to be vetted, what he says is called “regular order.”

Later on, Ross repeated that the party was elected to govern, and was falling short of that manageable request. “We were a Party of No for the first four years,” he said, again alluding to the 2010 Tea Party-fueled election that saw Republicans like himself get elected to change things in D.C.

In the Q&A portion of the meeting, Ross was asked separately about provocative statements made by GOP presidential candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Initially he applauded both of them for “taking leadership,” adding, that while they might not be politically correct, “they’re at least getting the debate moving.”

He was later challenged by Alma Gonzalez, a member of the Democratic National Committee. She asked if Trump’s remarks about Mexicans being “rapists” was what he called leadership.

“I said the Americans are craving leadership, which is why they’re listening to Donald Trump and Ben Carson,” he said. “I did not say that they are exercising leadership, because I would not exercise leadership by dividing.”

In the wake of the most recent mass shooting in Oregon, Carson suggested on CNN that the “likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.” Ross agreed that if Jewish citizens had access to firearms, it would have prevented “part of the Holocaust.”

But he said that he disagreed with Carson’s suggestion that a Muslim couldn’t be president. “I have no problem with a Muslim serving in public office.”

Questions from the more liberally bent Tiger Bay audience posed challenges to the congressman, such as a query from Asher Edelson from the Hillsborough County Disability Caucus. Edelson, 21, told Ross that one reason why people his age are so apathetic about politics is because of “corporatist hacks” like himself.

Ross responded to say that beginning next January he’ll be teaching a course in political science at USF, and said he wasn’t sure if it was because of a dysfunctional congress or the lack of education among young people that explains that apathy.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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