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Politics & Government

Congressman Hurd On Why He Decided To Leave Congress

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Google Congressmen Will Hurd and headlines will pop up, more than one, calling him the future of the GOP. Hurd himself has expressed wonder at what he's been able to get done in Congress. Last week, he took to the House floor and talked about the opportunities he has been given, how - his words - a young Black kid could grow up, come to Congress, represent a majority Latino district and get 17 pieces of legislation signed into law. Well, Hurd made that comment in his farewell speech. The so-called future of the GOP decided not to run for reelection this year after three terms, and we wanted to hear why.

Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, welcome back. Great to speak with you again.

WILL HURD: It's always a pleasure to be on.

KELLY: Why leave Congress now?

HURD: Because there's opportunities to work on these issues that I care about in other ways. You know, everybody always asks me - you know, when I decided to go to Texas A&M versus Stanford, they thought that was a crazy decision. And when I left the job at the CIA because I thought I could help the intelligence community a different way by running for Congress, folks questioned that. And for me, the opportunity to continue working on these - what I consider generation-defining challenges in other ways is exciting. And I also believe these jobs weren't created to be in forever. You know, the fact that I've gotten more legislation signed into law in six years than most people do in a couple of decades - I'm pretty proud of my legislative accomplishments.

KELLY: Stay for a moment on the Congress that you're leaving behind. I want to play another moment from your farewell speech on the House floor last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HURD: My final message for my colleagues as I depart this body - don't treat bipartisanship like a four-letter word. The only way big things have ever been done in this country is by doing them together.

KELLY: And, Congressman, I got to note - you delivered that speech right before 126 of your Republican colleagues in the House signed on to support the Texas lawsuit trying to overturn the results of the presidential election. Does it feel like the climate for bipartisanship even exists right now on Capitol Hill?

HURD: The problem is on both sides of the aisle that - we're seeing that in the COVID-19 negotiations right now. And, yes, I think it feels like things right now are terrible. I think the - you know, all you see on television and in newspapers is about the divisiveness. But the reality is, is the number of people that approach me and they want to see people get things done - I think the biggest takeaway from the 2020 election should be - don't be an a-hole and don't be a socialist. And ultimately, I don't think either side is going to realize that. And if both realize that...

KELLY: Hang on. Hang on. Hang on (laughter). That's your biggest takeaway - don't be an a-hole and don't be a socialist?

HURD: Yeah. Yeah, because how did Republicans down ballot from President win and then President Trump lose, right? And...

KELLY: It's a great question that I've been putting to a lot of your fellow Republicans.

HURD: Yeah. And ultimately, it's because the American people want to see sensible things get done. And they didn't believe that defund the police or getting rid of private insurance and things like that was where things should go. And so when you look at this last election, 8% of the congressional seats were split party - right? - where in the previous presidential election, people who voted for one party or president, one party of Congress. That's about 34 seats. Forty years ago, that number was, like, 160-plus. Unfortunately, a lot of our districts are designed where people only talk in primaries, and so people are constantly talking to the fringes of their party, not the middle, you know, which is the largest.

KELLY: Stay with the results of the November election, though, because it is many Republicans who have stood with the president in his efforts to overturn those results. Has there been lasting damage done to the faith that Americans of both parties have historically shared in the outcome of our elections?

HURD: There is an erosion of trust, for sure, and at many levels, right? And I think this erosion of trust has begun many years ago. When it specifically started, I'm not smart enough to figure that out.

KELLY: But - forgive me. Forgive me, but what about the erosion of trust just since November 3?

HURD: Yeah. Look - you'd have to ask them because, you know, I was one of the first people to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. In this case, this was probably one of the most secure elections we've seen. And democracy's not always - it's not always pleasant, but this is going to lead to continued distrust. And at the end of the day, when I look at where the future of the Republican Party needs to go, we need to be growing the party. We need to make sure the party starts looking like America. And when things like this happen, then it's hard to grow with those people that distrust you.

KELLY: Will you stay in the Republican Party?

HURD: Yes, of course. I believe in freedom. I believe freedom leads to opportunity, opportunity leads to growth, and growth leads to progress. This is what I believe. I think, unfortunately, yes, the president is the titular head of the Republican Party, but not everybody believes that way - just like, you know, people that are married don't agree 100% of the time with their spouse. And so for me, I'm going to continue to work on those issues and those principles I believe and help candidates across the country that would be people that I would have loved to serve with when I was in elected office.

KELLY: Let me turn you to your position on the Intelligence Committee. You nodded to your former work as a CIA officer. We have just lived through four years of an American president attacking the integrity of America's intelligence community. And I wonder whether you think that has done real damage and whether it has done lasting damage.

HURD: Here's what I would say - I don't know if I agree with the premise of four years of attacking and criticizing. There have been times - there's no doubt about that.

KELLY: I mean, Helsinki - I'll point to one moment.

HURD: Yeah, look - and I was pretty clear on that, right? (Laughter) Like, I was pretty clear that was an issue. However, I've also been pretty clear that people like Adam Schiff that...

KELLY: The Democratic chair of the Intelligence Committee.

HURD: Yeah, the Democrat chair of the Intelligence Committee saying that there's evidence or implying that based on his position, he sees information that was not there - that adds to these disinformation campaigns that many of our adversaries are coming after us. And so the politicization - the politicalization, excuse me, of intelligence is a bad thing. But here's what I know about the men and women in our intelligence services - I would like to see more policymakers appreciate and understand that blood, sweat and tears is going into that, but our intelligence services are strong. Our partners and allies that we work with, on a granular level, know that we have their backs.

KELLY: What are you going to miss?

HURD: (Laughter) I could - you know what? I'm going to miss fighting for these people whose names you don't know. For example, today, there's a gentleman in South Texas who's a tick rider. He rides a horse along the border, looking for cows coming across the border that may have a tick that threatens our food supply. He got in an accident. It was a workman's comp claim. Department of Labor denied it. He was - ended up out a lot of money, you know, in the middle of trying to fight to make sure he gets the money back that he deserves, right? Those are the things - fighting on behalf of people that need someone to fight for them is the part that I loved. It's the part you don't always see on TV or talk about in the news. But that piece - that's the piece I'm going to miss.

KELLY: Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas - he is exiting Congress after deciding not to run for reelection. Thank you so much for coming on. And best of luck with whatever comes next for you.

HURD: Thank you. Y'all take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.