Walden navigates newfound power, Trump backlash
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is an increasingly powerful figure in Washington, D.C. — and he is sticking more closely than ever to his party in the tumultuous first year of the Trump presidency.
Just as Donald Trump rose to the presidency, Walden was taking over the chairmanship of one of the most powerful committees in Congress. The reach of the House Energy & Commerce committee is huge — ranging from health care to the internet to the electrical grid. Colleagues treat Walden with a certain deference and lobbyists flock to his fundraisers.
But Oregon's only Republican congressman is also under a critical spotlight more than ever before. He was besieged at town halls back home by voters upset with his high-profile attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and for his support of the Trump administration.
Life in the Spotlight
"He's getting his ass kicked out there," said Walden's best friend in the House, Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, of the raucous town halls. "He's got the gavel and he's got a lot of things but we are finding that the perception of Republicans is based on the president's viewpoint.
The difficulty of working with Trump became clear earlier this year when Walden shepherded the GOP health care bill through the House in May. Within hours, he was at a victory party in the White House, where he told Trump that it "has been an honor to work with you hand-in-hand to get this bill to this point." Within weeks, however, Trump said in a private meeting with senators that he found the House bill "mean" as criticism continued to mount that the bill would cause millions to lose health coverage.
"He called it mean and harsh," Walden recalled sardonically in an OPB interview late in the year in his Capitol Hill office. "It was not appreciated . . . I conveyed my displeasure to the White House."
Still, Walden didn't let the direct jab at his handiwork damage his relationship with Trump. Instead, he swallowed any doubts and joined with other House GOP leaders throughout the year in trying to accommodate the new president. Walden shook his head at the idea he should publicly take on the president.
Oregon may lean Democratic, but not for him. "Well, it's simple," he said. "The American voters — including 19 or 20 counties in my district — had just elected President Trump."
He added: "My job is to get things done for the second district of Oregon, first, and for the country. And, I'm more valuable in doing that if I have a good strong, thoughtful relationship with the president of the United States."