By Jesse Chambers
U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, who was sworn in this week as the representative for the Alabama 6th District in the U.S. House, had a busy first week on the job in Washington, D.C.
--Palmer, along with more than 20 other conservative Republican representatives, cast a politically risky vote against Speaker of the House John Boehner.
--He announced that he would co-sponsor pieces of legislation regarding immigration and abortion.
--He met for the first time with the other members of the House Budget Committee and began to form an opinion of his fellow Republican freshmen in the 114th Congress.
--He began to adjust to the demanding work load expected of a member of the House.
--And Palmer caught an inspirational night-time view of the U.S. Capitol dome that he said reminded him of one of the most important challenges facing the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
Sorry, Mr. Speaker
Palmer -- who fills a Congressional seat vacated by Spencer Bachus, a fellow conservative Republican who retired after 11 terms -- said Thursday that he did not expect the controversy over Boehner's speakership to split the Republican caucus or harm the party's efforts to advance its legislative agenda.
"I think you will see us united around some core issues, and with any group you will have some differences of opinion on the direction we should take, but there is a strong, strong desire on the part of everybody to get some things done," he told AL.com in a telephone interview. "What I have heard from leadership is a desire to work with everybody."
He said that Boehner did not seem angry or vengeful during a meeting he held Wednesday with the members of the Republican caucus, according to Palmer. "He focused on the business at hand, and so did we," he said. "I have not sensed anything negative. We all want to get the work out."
'I kept my word'
Palmer's vote against Boehner was his first after being sworn in on Tuesday and fulfilled a promise he made to the voters in the overwhelmingly conservative 6th District.
He expressed concern prior to the general election in November that this could damage his chances to get the committee assignments he wanted.
However, Palmer now believes that he has faced no negative consequences of his vote against Boehner -- especially since he received the assignment he requested on the House Budget Committee.
"Regardless of what people may think of Speaker Boehner, I think he respects honesty and integrity and character, and while he may be disappointed about the way I voted, he respects that I was honest about it, and he values the fact that even though it could have cost me dearly, I kept my word," Palmer said.
Palmer attended his first meeting of the Budget Committee on Thursday. "That is something I am been looking forward to and feel I will enjoy doing -- working on the budget," he said.
Palmer said Thursday that he expected to see Republican unity on display on a variety of issues, including in the House vote today to authorize the completion of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline over the threat of a veto by President Obama.
Palmer also predicted, correctly, that the measure would find some support from Democrats, citing the 14 Senate Democrats who voted for the pipeline in November.
The measure passed the House today 266-153, with more than two dozen Democrats joining Republicans in the vote, according to CNN.
"The interesting thing about this is that everybody has approved this, and the Obama administration's own economists have estimated that it will create 40,000 new jobs," Palmer said.
Immigration and executive orders
The freshman Congressman announced late Thursday that he would co-sponsor a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, to block what a news release from Palmer's office called the Obama administration's "unconstitutional attempt to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants by executive fiat."
Palmer was referring to executive orders on immigration issued by Obama in November. Aderholt's bill, H.R. 191, would block the funds needed to implement Obama's order.
"This is not about immigration," Palmer said Thursday. "This is about the Constitution. It establishes the way we deal with future executive orders. (Obama) has crossed the line and assumed powers that were vested in the Congress, and this gives us the foundation for dealing with future executive orders. It is very important that we address that. That is the real issue. Immigration is an important issue that we will deal with, but we have to address directly the violation of the Constitution that has occurred here and restore that separation of powers."
'Innocent human life'
Palmer announced today that he will co-sponsor the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36). This bill, which passed the House last Congress, would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks of gestation.
This is the age at which, according to a news release from Palmer's office, "scientific evidence demonstrates as being the age babies are capable of feeling pain."
"It has long been my position that innocent human life in all its forms deserves protection," Palmer said in the release. "The Declaration of Independence states that all people have certain unalienable rights, including the right to life."
An impressive class
The other Republican freshmen Congressmen are impressive, according to Palmer. "There are some very good people in this class, some very bright people."
He said these qualities were on display during the first meeting of the Budget committee. "As you would expect, the freshman were asking most of the questions, and you learn a lot about people and where they are coming from by the questions they ask, not just what they say," Palmer said. "I was impressed."
During this hectic first week, Palmer has not yet had the opportunity "to get to know some of the folks on the other side of the aisle," he said Thursday.
"I've met a few of them," Palmer said. "The one I obviously know best is (Rep.) Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham). There will be other opportunities. I attended my first prayer breakfast this morning. It is a tight-knit group, and there are some Democrats in that group, and that is where I will have the best chance to get to know them."
'It's very aerobic'
Palmer has been introduced this week to the hectic life of a U.S. Congressman. "It's been a whirlwind," he said. "It's my third day, and it seems like I've been here a month. It's long hours."
He also said, only somewhat tongue in cheek, that life as a House member is "very aerobic."
"I think I know why so few members have heart attacks," he said. "You walk 10 to 12 miles a day at a rapid pace between your office and the House."
A glimpse of the dome
Palmer is a rookie congressman but is no stranger to D.C., in part because he went there frequently over the last 25 years to help push conservative causes while heading up the Alabama Policy Institute think tank.
"The shiny wore off a long time ago," he said at an AL.com candidate forum in October.
However, he found this week that he could still be inspired by one of Washington's great landmarks -- the dome of the U.S. Capitol, which is currently being restored.
This moment of inspiration came after Palmer was sworn in when he and some friends and supporters from Birmingham finally had a chance to go out for a nice dinner at the popular Charlie Palmer steakhouse.
"We could look out and see the Capitol dome lit up -- with work going on and scaffolding all over it," Palmer said. "As I looked at the dome, it occurred to me how important it is to maintain that symbol. We have all these skilled craftsmen repairing the dome. It occurred to me how important the work being done under the dome is to restore the country. You have those moments where you feel the weight of the responsibility, and that was one of those moments."
Palmer was once again referring to one of his recurring themes -- the need he sees for the Republican majority in Congress to reassert the power of the legislative branch after what he sees as President Obama's executive overreach.
A weekend retreat
Palmer is scheduled to leave the Capitol on Friday to attend a retreat in Williamsburg, Va., for new members of Congress sponsored by the House and the Congressional Research Service. They will talk about such subjects as legislative process and budgetary decision-making, according to Palmer.