U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is gaining favorable attention as she enters her second year in office.

Share story

WASHINGTON — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler says she knows why 10 percent of Americans approve of Congress, a rating that she jokingly says puts lawmakers on par with the popularity of the late Moammar Gadhafi.

“The reason our popularity is as high as it is, is because we all have mothers,” she said in an interview in her Capitol Hill office.

Congress may not be in particular favor, but the Republican from Camas, Clark County, is gaining plenty of favorable attention as she begins her second year in the U.S. House.

A year ago, on the same day she took the oath of office, The Washington Post called her one of 10 in a class of 96 House newcomers likely headed for stardom.

The accolades have kept coming.

In a year-end list examining “the best and worst” of the freshmen class, Politico called Herrera Beutler one of “the most talented, effective messengers” in the GOP.

A conservative blogger ranked her No. 14 on a list of the nation’s 20 most influential Hispanic Republicans, joining the likes of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.

And last Monday, after she endorsed the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor called Herrera Beutler “a rising star in our party.”

Herrera Beutler has won her share of critics, too. Her opponents say she’s sided too often with business interests and that she has not done enough large, open town-hall meetings with her 3rd District constituents in Southwestern Washington.

Stephen Carter, a regional spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Herrera Beutler has resisted ending tax breaks for both millionaires and oil companies.

“Then she tried to hide her bad voting record for the middle class by hiding from her constituents,” he said.

In her first year, Herrera Beutler established a record as a reliable conservative, backing her party 91 percent of the time, according to Congressional Quarterly’s latest rankings. And she has showed up for work, missing only 1 percent — or 10 of 996 — of roll-call votes.

Herrera Beutler backed GOP positions in voting to balance the federal budget, to cut congressional office budgets and to stop federal funding for National Public Radio, among other things.

She joined her colleagues in pushing to repeal the new federal health-care law.

And despite strong opposition from environmental groups, she voted to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to delay new regulations on industrial boilers, fearing it would lead to mass layoffs.

She also scored two legislative victories in December.

The first came when President Obama signed a temporary provision to maintain the EPA’s treatment of forest roads under the Clean Air Act. The second came when Congress approved temporary federal protection for the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in Pacific County.

Herrera Beutler said she is proud of fighting against federal regulations, noting that she constantly hears complaints from small-business owners. And she defended her town-hall meetings, saying she opted for smaller venues after one constituent likened a Vancouver meeting that drew more than 800 people to “a Jerry Springer episode.”

“My goal is to not give interest groups from Seattle and Portland a platform,” she said. “My interest is to hear from residents of my region. … The point is not to allow it to be ambushed.”

Herrera Beutler said Congress could help patch its credibility by passing two of her favorite bills.

The first would cut by 10 percent the pay of members, who now earn a minimum annual salary of $174,000, and the second would ban insider trading to make sure members can’t profit from nonpublic information.

She called the latter “a no-brainer” and applauded Thursday when the House approved the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) Act, sending it to a conference committee.

But Herrera Beutler said nothing of substance will happen in Congress without more compromise. She said the problems have grown too large for one political party.

In late December, Herrera Beutler joined six other House Republicans in voting with Democrats to urge acceptance of a two-month extension of a payroll-tax cut that had already been approved by the Senate.

Many conservative Republicans wanted the House to hold out for a one-year extension.

Herrera Beutler said she wanted a one-year extension as much as anyone, but she said it was no time to “play games” as Americans faced the prospect of paying higher Social Security taxes on Jan. 1.

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, the longest-serving member of the Washington state delegation, gave Herrera Beutler credit for bucking her party on the payroll-tax cut and for backing a plan to protect funding for the Endangered Species Act when it came under attack from other Republicans.

“Obviously, she’s in the other party, but I have enjoyed working with her. … I like people, Democrats or Republicans, who keep an open mind and try to do the right thing,” Dicks said.

Herrera Beutler said she made a plea for more bipartisanship when House Republicans gathered for a retreat in Baltimore last month.

“I don’t know how popular it made me for having said it,” she said, but she added that it’s an important message “whether folks here want to hear that or not.”

Herrera Beutler predicted that Congress will continue to see its popularity plummet if members don’t stop the “extreme partisan bickering” and focus on the basics: helping people get jobs, pay their mortgages, put food on the table and send their kids to school.

While she wants her party to do less feuding, Herrera Beutler said that Obama must move to the center, too.

When the president gave his State of the Union speech last month, television cameras showed Herrera Beutler shaking hands with the commander-in-chief on the House floor.

“I still think he’s a nice guy and he’s well liked as a person, but his policies haven’t brought us any solutions,” Herrera Beutler said.

Herrera Beutler, who at 33 is the youngest member of the Washington state delegation, is planning to run for a second term, aided by a new redistricting plan that puts more Republicans in her district.

She’s happy with her work.

“My overall impression is we’ve done a lot, but there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done,” she said. “It feels like we have moved the dial in terms of spending and focusing on job creation, but we have so far to go.”