Last week, U.S. Rep Louie Gohmert, who represents a large chunk of East Texas in the House, popped off again and said something weird. We love when that happens. It happens a lot.
The latest instance occurred during a congressional grilling of FBI agent Peter Strzok. Strzok was removed from special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election after it was discovered Strzok and an FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair exchanged text messages critical of Donald Trump. Gohmert told Strzok many things, but this stole the headlines: “I can’t help but wonder, when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eyes and lie to her about Lisa Page?”
Some of Gohmert's fellow lawmakers at the hearing pretty much lost it at that point. One said that Gohmert needed to take his medicine, suggesting that Gohmert had a condition that could be treated with drugs. (In fact, what Gohmert suffers from is a bad case of being Gohmert.) Afterward, Gohmert's critics pointed out that Gohmert abundantly supported Alabama Republican Roy Moore in his race for Senate even after news broke that Moore was sexually aggressive with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. The victim, Gohmert suggested, looked suspicious for waiting nearly 40 years to talk openly about Moore's love for much, much younger females.
Others noted that Gohmert has not publicly questioned Trump's integrity although the president has been widely accused of being a pussy-grabbing sexual predator.
But this isn’t another story making fun of Southern districts with clownish representatives. Well, it is a little because we just can't quit Louie, but the bigger aim is to explain how Gohmert has avoided confrontation within his own district while championing causes that resonate with Trump’s blue-collar voters.
Gohmert's propensity to bolt for the door when confronted on his home court helps, as does his representing a gerrymandered district filled with Trump loyalists.
East Texas experienced slower job growth during the Obama years compared with the rest of Texas, according to data from the Texas comptroller. An aging workforce threatens the future of the region’s economic success, long reliant on jobs in forestry, manufacturing and warehousing. Trump’s recent tariffs will harm business in steel and lumber, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Still, the congressman is aligned with Trump on almost every issue. According to the political website FiveThirtyEight, Gohmert has voted in favor of Trump-supported measures more than 90 percent of the time.
The Strzok hearing was said to be a GOP attempt to distract people’s attention from the Mueller investigation and call attention instead to the FBI’s alleged efforts to win Hillary Clinton the presidency. Trump has said the FBI did this, and much of Gohmert’s criticism of Strzok had to do with his alleged deliberate bungling of the FBI’s Clinton email investigation.
On the Gohmert scale of outrageousness, though, his crack about Strzok's personal life was pretty mild stuff. He has called LGBTQ people unnatural and come out firmly against gay colonies in space because gay people don't produce offspring. (That's somewhat ironic because you'd think a determined homophobe would support shooting LGBTQ people into space, where they won't produce more possibly gay people, or if they did, they're in, you know, space.)
He’s anti-immigrant, favoring immigration reform efforts only if they include Trump’s border wall. He has told the public to be beware of terrorists trained to act Hispanic. We're not exactly sure what he meant by that, though. Having terrorists come to America to work long hours doing low-paying manual labor seems much better than having them come here to commit acts of terrorism.
Gohmert also once proposed making Latino civil rights pioneer César Chavez's birthday "National Border Control Day." This did not sit well with Latino leaders, none of whom seemed to be Middle Easterners in disguise.
He also has a reputation for avoiding political confrontation in East Texas. Last spring, the Texas Observer clocked Gohmert avoiding hecklers at a restaurant in Tyler, where he lives, by dining quickly and being whisked away by his security detail. In the fall of 2016, the Republican Women’s Club of Gregg County hosted a luncheon at a Longview restaurant. Gohmert attended as the guest speaker, and so did Anthony Culler, one of Gohmert’s challengers in the 2016 election. Culler began asking Gohmert probing questions, and when the exchange became heated, Brenda Carlton, an official with the group, tried to tame it, saying the lunch wasn’t a debate. The episode ended with Gohmert's security detail escorting him to his car.
Seeing Gohmert skedaddle out of events in his own district seems a little odd, considering how carefully his district's lines were drawn to make it a comfortable place for someone like him.
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On the other hand, East Texans do raise a lot of chickens.
“Have you seen how ridiculous his district lines are?” says Blake Harris, an educator in an East Texas school district. “They’ve gerrymandered him into the safest seat in Congress, for the absolute dumbest congressman.”
To win in District 1 in 2005, Gohmert first had to beat Democrat incumbent Max Sandlin, who had the district since 1997. Republican efforts to redraw the districts were successful despite challenges to their legality statewide. When the new lines were complete, Sandlin lost well over half of the people who made up his very rural district. The new district came with a history of majorities voting for Republicans in state elections.
Every county in District 1 overwhelmingly voted for Trump in the 2016 election. The narrowest margin between Trump and Clinton, 35 percent, came from Nacogdoches County, the home Stephen F. Austin State University. All others supported Trump with well over 60 percent of the vote.