WASHINGTON >> The newest member of Congress drew boos from some in his own Republican caucus today as he called for withholding lawmakers’ pay unless they approve a balanced budget.
Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana, who was sworn in today, immediately made waves as he pledged to “drain the swamp” in his initial speech to Congress, an echo of President Donald Trump’s campaign promise. The 56-year-old former software executive earned national notoriety last month after he body-slammed a reporter who had questioned him about the GOP health care bill.
In his speech today to a crowded House chamber, Gianforte also called for term limits and a ban on lobbying by former members of Congress. Boos from the Republican side were heard as Gianforte spoke about members’ salaries, and an audible buzz grew louder as he concluded his brief remarks.
In an interview later, Gianforte said he was excited to serve in Congress and “humbled and honored.”
While his arrest last month on assault charges made national and even international news, Gianforte said he was greeted “very warmly” by colleagues in both parties.
“I am really excited to be sworn in today and I’m ready to go to work,” he said.
He declined to answer a question about his call for increased civility in politics in the wake of his conviction for assaulting the reporter the day before winning a special congressional election.
Gianforte, 56, won a May 25 special election to serve the remaining 18 months in the House term vacated by now-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Gianforte, who already has filed for re-election, was sworn in by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called Gianforte “a do-er” and said, “We’re happy to have him here.”
With Gianforte in the House, Republicans have 239 members to 193 for Democrats. Winners of three elections will be sworn in at later dates.
Gianforte told The Associated Press last week that he is keenly aware he will carry with him the distinction of being the congressman who beat up the reporter.
“I can’t erase it, but I did do everything in my power once the event was over to take responsibility,” he said.
Members of Congress have an obligation to ratchet down the vitriol in politics, especially after last week’s shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise during a Republican congressional baseball practice, Gianforte said. The shooter had volunteered for Bernie Sanders’ Democratic presidential campaign and expressed grievances online about President Donald Trump and Republicans.
“I believe that good things can come out of bad,” Gianforte said. “It’s important to make sure we reach out to all parties and hear their voice. I think the other parties have an obligation, as well, to be respectful and in that dialogue.”
Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs said Gianforte body-slammed him to the ground and broke his glasses after Jacobs asked about the health care bill that had recently passed the Republican-controlled House. Audio taken by Jacobs recorded the sounds of a scuffle followed by Gianforte yelling, “Get the hell out of here!”
Gianforte was ordered to pay a fine, perform community service and take anger management training, but he received no jail time. He also avoided a civil lawsuit by writing a letter of apology to Jacobs and donating $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In a statement today, Jacobs said he welcomed Gianforte to Capitol Hill, “where I’m confident he will live up to his pledge to champion a free press and the First Amendment. In the courtroom last week, he openly offered to do an interview with me when he came to Washington and I look forward to taking him up on that in the coming days.”