Freshman Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) heads into his first re-election campaign with a redrawn congressional district and no declared Democratic opponent. But he's campaigning like his political future is on the line.
Brat has made personal appearances, met with editorial boards, and hit the airwaves across the sprawling 7th district that he won in stunning fashion in 2014 against then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
At the top of his agenda are the same issues that catapulted him to national prominence: illegal immigration and the federal budget.
In an appearance with Scott Lee on "The Score" radio show, Brat reflected on his first term in office, and said that "major changes" have happened that give him "some hope for the future."
Speaking to his leading issue, illegal immigration, Brat said, “I came into office under Obama’s unconstitutional amnesty, and now, in the presidential contest, the only two guys leading the pack are front and center on that issue. So that gives me a little hope.”
He's also pleased to see a new House leadership that has, so far, promised to make the process of crafting legislation work more effectively.
“We had major changes in leadership," Brat said, referring to the retirement of Ohio's John Boehner from the speakership last year, and the election of Wisconsin's Paul Ryan to the post.
"That’s a phenomenally big change," Brat said, adding that with Ryan came a new attitude toward House operations.
"A year ago no one heard about regular order, which means committees are actually supposed to do their work," he said.
"A year ago, you never heard of that," Brat said. "This year, the House Freedom Caucus got together and with Paul Ryan, the new Speaker, has signed on to that and promised that and, so far, is holding true to regular order.
"So it’s easy to get frustrated with [Congress]," Brat added, but, "the fundamentals are turning around, so I have some hope for the future."
But Brat believes there are still huge challenges ahead that Republican leaders refuse to address in advance of the November elections.
He contends that "the number one issue out there" is the "conflux" of illegal immigration with the first wave of refugee arrivals from abroad.
As many as 10,000 refugees from the Middle East and other global hot spots could be resettled in the United States by September 30th. This has conservatives like Brat in an uproar.
"President Obama has promised to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees," Brat said, "but the issue now is, are these people being vetted?
"The House had a bill last year" Brat said, which would have required FBI Director James Comey to "sign off on every single person coming in, that they had been vetted."
"That went through the House, failed in the Senate," Brat said, "so nothing has happened of significance on this issue."
Brat laid the blame for inaction on election-year politics.
"The politics right now is don’t upset the voters — don’t ruffle any feathers, you know — we've got to have stability up here for the financial markets," he said.
"We’re in a very risky time period where if you tell voters the truth," Brat said, "they will be flustered, and they should be.
"The leadership up there doesn’t want to deal with the hardest issues that need to be dealt with," Brat said, adding that "it's the same way with the budget."
"It’s the exact same number [$1.07 trillion] as two years ago," Brat said, "because we wrote a budget two years ago — the Boehner budget that was called 'cleaning the barn,' and that's just the discretionary part.
"We OK'd that through September 30th of this year to get us through the presidential election, because we didn't want to have to deal with it," adding, "we're kicking the can down the road on a terrible budget number."
Brat said that anyone who challenged items included in the budget was accused of "not wanting a budget."
"We want a rational budget," Brat said. But "this year, we're going to be $540 billion out of balance."
Brat, who is a member of the House Budget Committee, said "we had the Boehner budget number, the $1.07 trillion. And then we tried to put together a compromise so we could get to 'yes' on a good, rational budget, and Paul Ryan himself called that number a 'crap sandwich.'
"The leadership," he said, "was asking us to vote on that big number with no compromise."
Brat said a compromise budget was created, but that it "wasn't good enough. It would have only passed the House."