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GOP campaign chair: where ‘Minnesota nice’ meets hockey trash-talker

Rep. Tom Emmer's competitive spirit was on full display as he discussed with reporters the GOP strategy for retaking the House next year.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer talks with reporters about the GOP strategy to retake the House at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast on July 18, 2019 in Washington.

Tom Emmer loves hockey. The Minnesota congressman played in college, and even now, approaching 60, he still plays. On top of his duties as chair of the House Republican campaign committee, which is spearheading the GOP effort to retake the House next year, he’s a key member of the bipartisan Congressional Hockey Caucus.

Off the ice, he’s a big friendly guy. On the ice, he admits to being a trash-talker. At the start of his Monitor Breakfast with reporters July 18, he pulled up a photo on his phone showing himself in an uncomfortable-looking celebratory move from the team's latest charity match.

“After we scored the first goal, I did something which is called ‘ride the horse’ down center ice, and I'm very proud of it,” Congressman Emmer said.

Mr. Emmer is clearly bringing that same competitive spirit to his campaign work. House Republicans got shellacked in the 2018 midterms, losing 40 seats and returning Democrat Nancy Pelosi to the House speakership. Mr. Emmer faces a steep climb trying to pull off a comeback, and his committee – formally known as the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC – is not shy about trash-talking Democrats.

“Deranged” was the operative word in a flood of NRCC press releases last week about various House Democrats. And yet, Mr. Emmer said at the breakfast, “there's a certain level of dignity that I believe a member of Congress should exhibit.”

How does he square that apparent contradiction? The NRCC is “not a member,” he asserts. “That’s an organization whose job is to define who they are.”

Then he brought the conversation back to hockey, and his message to the kids he used to coach: “Leave nothing out on the field” – or the ice. That’s his approach in the battle to retake the House, he said.

I wrote a quick story after the breakfast, highlighting some of Mr. Emmer’s more provocative comments. The C-SPAN video of the breakfast can be viewed here.

One more thing about Mr. Emmer: He has seven children – enough for a hockey team. But it’s his only daughter “who’s the best athlete out of the whole group,” he said proudly, noting that she’s now a sports broadcaster. I do enjoy learning about public figures as people, not just political actors.

We have two more breakfasts on the calendar: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka comes on Aug. 29, right before Labor Day. And on Sept. 12, we’ll have Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

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