In Texas, a congressman reaches across the aisle
By Albert I. Hunt
Take an African-American congressman who represents a majority-Hispanic district and who thinks President Donald Trump’s border wall is a stupid idea.
Now take a congressman who’s conservative on most national security, economic and social issues and whose alma mater, Texas A&M University, puts “loyalty and respect for tradition” on its core-values web page.
This is the same Congressman: Will Hurd, 39, R-Texas. He’s one of the most interesting — and most endangered — members of Congress.
He’s endangered because Texas is embroiled in a racially charged court battle over redistricting that could affect the demographic makeup of its 36 congressional districts. Hurd’s is delicately balanced — he won narrowly in November while Trump was losing there.
And he’s interesting in part because he will be central in some of the most pitched battles of this Congress. He is a member of the Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election. And his huge district runs 800 miles along the Mexican border from San Antonio to El Paso, giving his views credibility as Trump tries to get money from Congress for the border wall (which Mexico is supposedly going to pay for, but never mind).
Hurd calls the wall “a third-century solution to a 21st-century problem.” He favors more spending on better technology to stem drug trafficking from Mexico, adding that Trump’s approach “is the most expensive and least effective” way to do it.
Tellingly, Trump has never spoken to the lawmakers most affected by his wall scheme. He and Hurd have never talked at all.
During the campaign last year, Hurd kept his distance from Trump, expressing displeasure at Trump’s sexual and racial insults.
In an interview on Tuesday, he didn’t display much respect for the president, but he didn’t criticize him either and has voted consistently with the White House this year. He’s called on Trump to release his tax returns but won’t go along with proposals to make disclosure a condition of considering a tax bill that critics charge would financially benefit the president.
On Mexico, a big economic factor in his district, he bristles at Trump’s threats and demagoguery but notes “there are signs he’s moving in the right direction.” (The president now says he’ll seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement instead of summarily withdrawing, and he accepted a budget with no money for the border wall.)
A former Central Intelligence Agency officer whose nine years of service included tours in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Hurd says he was bothered by Trump’s blasts at intelligence agencies, but he praises the appointment of a former House colleague, Mike Pompeo, to head the CIA.
That appointment is what opened up a seat for Hurd on the Intelligence Committee as it prepares to investigate the possibility of collusion between Trump campaign operatives and Russian hackers.
In today’s polarized environment, Hurd is one of the few representatives who cultivates relationships with members of the other party, both in Congress and in his district. When inclement weather affected air travel recently, he and a Democratic colleague, Beto O’Rourke, drove together from Texas to Washington. Years ago that was routine; today it’s a headline.
Those relationships have reassured some Democrats who fear that Republican leaders are more interested in protecting Trump than in getting to the bottom of the Russia controversy.
National Democrats, who hope to ride Trump’s unpopularity to a House majority in the 2018 congressional elections, know there are few districts more likely to switch sides than Hurd’s. They also know he’s one of the best candidates they’ll have to run against.
Albert Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.