August 5, 2021

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Chip Roy Tests GOP Voters’ Appetite for Trump Dissenters – The Wall Street Journal

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BLANCO, Texas—In May 2018, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) met with Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) at the NBA playoffs in Houston. Mr. McCarthy was curious about Chip Roy, a Republican who had just won a GOP primary in Texas and had previously worked as Mr. Cruz’s chief of staff.

Mr. McCarthy outlined four qualities that he prized in a lawmaker who would work well with GOP leaders, Mr. Cruz recalled.

“I said, ‘Kevin, well I’m sorry to tell you, you’re probably 0 for 4 on those,’” Mr. Cruz said. “I said, ‘Kevin, he’s going to be a pain in your ass, but he’s not crazy. He wants to get things done and he wants to fight for conservative principles that matter.’”

Three years later, Mr. Cruz’s prediction seems prescient. Mr. Roy, 48 years old, has bucked GOP leaders, delayed passage of high-profile bills and broken at times with former President Donald Trump, who called last month for a Republican to challenge him in the next primary election.

Chip Roy, right, chatted with Sen. Ted Cruz during Mr. Roy’s campaign for the 21st congressional district in Texas in 2018.

Photo: Amanda Voisard/Austin American-Statesman/USA TODAY NETWORK

Headed into the 2022 midterms, Mr. Roy will be a case study in whether a conservative Republican usually aligned with Mr. Trump can survive politically after angering the former president—even a modest amount.

“I’ve enormous respect for what the Trump administration did for this country,” Mr. Roy said in an interview. “But you can have differences of opinion on this stuff. And if we can’t, then who are we as Americans? We’re supposed to be able to have those robust disagreements.”

Other Republicans have been punished by GOP voters for perceived transgressions against Mr. Trump. For example, Ohio GOP Senate candidate Jane Timken has taken heat from conservative Republicans for initially not condemning Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump.

Mr. Roy’s most high-profile divergences with the former president began after the 2020 election, when Mr. Trump began pressing his supporters to challenge President Biden’s victory when Congress convened to certify the states’ electoral votes on Jan. 6. Mr. Roy was one of a handful of House Republicans who publicly spoke out in favor of certifying the results, saying it wasn’t the role of the federal government to intervene in states’ decisions.

Later, after pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to stop the certification, Mr. Roy said on the House floor that Mr. Trump had engaged in “clearly impeachable conduct—pressuring the vice president to violate his oath to the Constitution to count the electors.” Then-Vice President Mike Pence, who presided over the vote count, rebuffed Mr. Trump by saying he didn’t have authority to overturn the will of voters.

Since taking office, Chip Roy has accumulated a conservative voting record on issues including federal spending.

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

However, unlike Mr. Gonzales and nine other Republicans, Mr. Roy didn’t ultimately vote to impeach Mr. Trump, citing concerns over how Democrats had drafted the article of impeachment.

“I don’t think that appeased or pleased anybody,” said George Hammerlein, president of Kerr County Patriots, a conservative group in Mr. Roy’s district, which lies between Austin and San Antonio.

But Mr. Hammerlein said he gave Mr. Roy credit for staying more than three hours at one of the group’s recent meetings, where he was lambasted by angry constituents. “There were some really hard-core supporters of Trump that just felt like he had killed their dog,” Mr. Hammerlein said. “He took the arrows in the chest for hours.”

Since taking office in January 2019, Mr. Roy has accumulated a conservative voting record on issues including federal spending and abortion. But he has also been willing to bring the legislative process to a halt, for example when he blocked an effort to pass a bipartisan $19 billion disaster-aid package in May 2019 by unanimous consent, helping to delay its passage by more than a week.

Most recently, Mr. Roy unsuccessfully ran against Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) for the role of House GOP conference chair after House Republicans ousted Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) from that position over her criticism of Mr. Trump and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Ms. Stefanik had entered Congress as a more centrist Republican before pivoting toward Mr. Trump during his first impeachment trial. Mr. Trump, as well as Mr. McCarthy, endorsed her for the leadership role.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, an ally of Mr. Trump, spoke at the U.S. Capitol after she was elected to the GOP leadership role last month.

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The night before the vote, Mr. Roy jumped in the race to challenge her, arguing his voting record was more conservative and that House Republicans should at least hold a debate over their next leader’s stances.

“He has not done a great job, and will probably be successfully primaried in his own district,” Mr. Trump said in a statement about Mr. Roy when he entered the race against Ms. Stefanik.

Mr. Roy’s decisions to split with Mr. Trump haven’t always sat well with his constituents who remain firmly allied with the former president.

“He should’ve stuck with Trump,” said Douglas Behrends, a Republican and heavy-equipment operator who lives in Blanco. “He’s still my president.”

Others gave Mr. Roy more room to express his own opinions.

“I like people that think through their own way of doing things and then voice it,” said Doug Widdell, a Spring Branch resident and Republican who voted for both Messrs. Trump and Roy.

Mr. Roy, a cancer survivor who has worked for both Mr. Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), has ruffled feathers before when voicing his opinions. Although he and Mr. Cruz share many political principles, they also clashed over tactics and had occasional blowups, including one over political strategy at a meeting during the exploratory phase of Mr. Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign that eventually led to Mr. Roy leaving his Senate office. The two also discussed working together in the future, according to people familiar with the discussions.

“We often agreed, but not always, and we would have vigorous debates,” Mr. Cruz said. “Chip never backs down, and we would have extended discussions about which battles should be the highest priority.”

Chip Roy was interviewed in Austin earlier this month. He has been criticized by some GOP voters in his district over his stance on Jan. 6.

Photo: Sergio Flores for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Roy has already drawn at least one primary challenger, GOP physician Robert Lowry, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission and flagged by the Texas Tribune. The deadline is Dec. 13 ahead of next year’s March 1 primary.

“It’s rare you don’t get someone who files. I think the question is, you know, how much will people get behind any particular candidate?” Mr. Roy said. “Time will tell on that.”

His political fate could be influenced by two factors: how much Mr. Trump decides to get involved in the race, and how state legislators redraw congressional district boundaries as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Under the reapportionment process that follows the U.S. Census, Texas will get two more House seats, setting up a reshuffling that could affect many of the state’s lawmakers.

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One silver lining for Mr. Roy: He doesn’t appear to be near the top of Mr. Trump’s long list of targeted Republicans ahead of next year’s midterms, in large part because he ultimately voted not to impeach the former president.

“The president didn’t like that Chip Roy challenged Elise [Stefanik] after the president weighed in on her behalf,” a person close to Mr. Trump said. “But he’s got 10 people that voted to impeach him, and those are going to be the ones he’s most concerned with.”

Democrats applauded Mr. Roy for certifying the election, but expressed disappointment that he hadn’t fully broken with Mr. Trump by voting to impeach him.

“It’s admirable that he has not backed down from asserting the impeachable nature of the [former] president’s offense,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the Democrats’ lead impeachment manager, “but he has not had to directly face the wrath of the Trump mob because he ended up voting on that side.”

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

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