That January day in 2007, as members of Congress adapted to new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, two senators from neighboring states stood next to one another at a press conference announcing legislation to reform ethics and lobbying in the nation’s capital.
One was Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. The other was Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
They could not envision that, three years hence, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC would make their best intentions that day into a historical footnote.
Nor did they probably foresee the coming troop surge in Iraq that year or the economic collapse of 2008 or that the Illinoisan would become the next American president.
In short, political winds shift in Washington, and even the most seasoned prognosticators have trouble guessing the direction.
Two men from neighboring states, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rep. Steve Watkins of Kansas, took their oaths of office for the first time as members of Congress on Thursday. If they spent time guessing what the next 12 years would bring, they didn’t let on.
“This is the ‘People’s House,’ and it is the people of Kansas’ Second Congressional District I am here to serve,” Watkins said. “I am ready to get to work on their behalf.”
Hawley and Watkins have things in common besides their affiliation with the Republican Party. They are roughly the same age, Hawley the youngest U.S. senator at age 39 while Watkins turned 42 in September.
Both got advanced degrees at Ivy League schools, Hawley at Yale Law School and Watkins getting a master’s in public administration at Harvard.
The two men, representing a majority red constituency, also benefited from endorsements by President Trump. They appear willing to return the favor in backing White House policies.
“It’s going to be awfully hard for me to support anything that does not include funding for a border wall,” Hawley said on “Fox & Friends” on Friday. “The people of Missouri have sent a message twice now in the last two years, 2016 and 2018, (that) they want our borders secure, and that’s what we’ve got to fight for.”
In the hours after taking office on Thursday in a House now led by Democrats, Watkins voted against two spending bills, one to reopen the Homeland Security Department through Feb. 8 and the other to reopen other shuttered departments through Sept. 30.
The federal government has been in a partial shutdown since Dec. 21.
“I am deeply disappointed Nancy Pelosi is already putting partisan politics ahead of public safety,” Watkins said of the Democratic speaker of the House. “We need to secure our southern border, we need to reopen the government and we need to start providing solutions for the people instead of scoring political points. It is time to get serious.”
Both spending measures passed in mostly party-line votes. Watkins and most other Republicans voted in favor of a House rules package Friday morning, however, the Kansan saying he disagreed with some aspects of the bill while noting it would lead to the “overall modernization of Congress.”
Like McCaskill, the incumbent he defeated in the November election, Hawley will sit on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees in the Senate.
Unlike the Democrat, the former Missouri attorney general will take a place on the Judiciary Committee, where he hopes to help put “pro-Constitution judges” on the federal bench, according to the Fox News interview.
In addition, he said on the “Fox & Friends” program, “The people of this country elected us to work. It is time the Democrats got to work. ... Everybody around here is focused on 2020, the Democrats running for president. They need to do their jobs right now.”