He served for 15 terms — three decades — in a reliably Republican district.
California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the most pro-Russia Republican in Congress for decades, just lost his seat to Democrat Harley Rouda. The Associated Press called the race for Rohrabacher on Saturday night.
That’s bad news for the politician who’s been referred to as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “favorite congressman.” Rohrabacher used secret documents from Moscow to remove a Kremlin enemy’s name from a global anti-corruption law and has boasted about drunkenly arm-wrestling Putin in the 1990s. The FBI worried that Russian spies wanted to recruit him.
Even Rohrabacher’s own party knows how close he is to Russia. “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy said in 2016. He later claimed it was a joke.
The loss is quite the fall from grace for the 15-term Congress member who was rumored at one point to be under consideration for the role of Trump’s secretary of state.
Rouda, a former Republican turned Democrat, flipped the long-held California seat mainly by focusing on Rohrabacher’s close Russia ties. He played ads showing Rohrabacher’s fondness for Putin and his rejection of a 2017 US intelligence assessment that said Russia tried to influence the 2016 elections.
“Rep. Rohrabacher has said that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that were staffed by working men and women from diverse backgrounds, including our U.S. military … were all wrong,” and that “the Russians had nothing to do with meddling with our elections,” Rouda said during an October debate.
Clearly, he found a winning message.
What Rohrabacher’s loss means for Trump
President Donald Trump wants the US to have better relations with Russia, in part because he would rather not antagonize another world power.
Rohrabacher strongly supported that agenda in Congress. “Yes, we should cooperate with Russia now that it’s no longer our major threat,” he said during the same debate with Rouda in October. “Right now we have to deal with radical Islam and China, and Russia. We should cooperate where we can with Russia, rather than being unrelentingly hostile.”
Without Rohrabacher’s voice in Congress or on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it will be even harder for Trump to find Republicans who want better relations with Moscow as much as he does.
Instead, Democrats — who now control the House — will try to thwart Trump’s foreign policy. A major component of that will include looking into alleged connections between Trump and Russia and possibly strengthening sanctions on Moscow.
And that explains why Russia is unhappy with the midterm election results, or at least what we know of them so far. “It’s fair to suggest with a high degree of confidence there are no glowing prospects in terms of normalization of US-Russian relations on the horizon,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
It looks like Rohrabacher’s dream — and Trump’s — may have been lost along with his seat.