George Holding promised voters he’d go to Washington to cut spending, and four months into the job, he hears pitches for what sound like good programs.
But his answer is often the same:
“Sorry. But no.”
As a member of Congress, Holding has had chances to make good on his promise to cut spending. He voted against $33 billion in supplemental spending for Superstorm Sandy relief, and against an estimated $46 million proposal to preserve Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields. He said he opposed the Sandy supplemental bill because some of the money was for non-emergency spending unrelated to the storm. But he supported legislation that sent immediate aid for the storm victims.
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He also voted for $1.3 billion over five years for medical residency training programs at children’s hospitals, a decision that created frowns at the Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group. In the other six of the seven votes the group measured, Holding received its approval.
Like every member of Congress, Holding is constantly besieged with requests. He recent heard a plea from the American Heart Association for $35 million to pay for a campaign to warn people about the signs of high blood pressure. It isn’t part of a bill, so he didn’t have to decide right away. The group said the money could help save 1 million lives.“That sounds great, but where’s the money coming from?” Holding said in an interview later. “You’ve got to say ‘no’ somewhere.”
A former U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina and a member of the family that founded First Citizens Bank, Holding’s 13th congressional district, based around Raleigh, leans Republican, thanks to redistricting. But critics think some of those votes could hurt him eventually because swing voters and turnout can still make a difference.
“I wouldn’t want to run on that record,” said Larry Marciniak, chairman of the Democratic Party in Franklin County and a resident of Holding’s district.
The freshman Republican gained attention when he led the campaign fraud investigation of John Edwards, the former North Carolina Democratic senator and one-time presidential candidate. Holding stepped down to run for Congress before the Edwards case went to trial.
Edwards was found not guilty on one count, but the judge declared a mistrial because the jury deadlocked on five others.
Colleagues describe the 45-year old lawmaker as bright, with a good sense humor that can be self-deprecating at times. Palmer Sugg, a Raleigh lawyer who helped set up a political action committee to support his friend’s campaign, said Holding is “a thoughtful and respectful conservative… not throwing a bunch of bombs.”
“He’s quiet, somewhat low-key, and smart as a fox,” said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., who, like Holding, is freshman and a former U.S. attorney.
A new member of Congress has to get used to many things quickly. The overloaded schedule is probably the toughest.
One recent day found Holding at a hearing about a Republican plan to put every proposed new regulation to a vote in Congress, which he supports. Later came a meeting in his office with ophthalmologists, then a hearing about the North Korean missile crisis, followed by a meeting of the United Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group of freshmen who want to cut federal spending.
A typical day.
In between he has to fit in staff meetings, constituent meet-and-greets, lunch sometimes on the run, and endless walks down the Capitol’s corridors.
Also reading. Lots of it: briefing books, position papers, testimony, news summaries, etc.
“You’re dealing with very smart witnesses who know their stuff backward and forward,” Holding said. “So if you’re going to get into the intricacy of copyright law with somebody, you’d better be prepared.”
Holding serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. As a freshman, he has to wait at hearings to ask questions until more senior members have had their say. One of his assignments is on Judiciary’s Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee, led by his North Carolina Republican colleague, Rep. Howard Coble, a 30-year veteran of the chamber and dean of the Tar Heel State delegation.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said Holding brings “impressive legal acumen” to his work on intellectual property issues, which she said was a boon because scientific research is so important to the state. On a recent trip with Brooks to California to meet technology executives, she said Holding knowledgeably jumped into a detailed discussion of intellectual property rights.
Holding learned his way around Washington when he worked for several years as an aide to former North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, a conservative political icon in the state. He started out as an intern during his junior year at Wake Forest University, where he majored in classics. After law school and private practice, he was an attorney on Helms’ staff, focusing on taxes and tobacco.
“That’s what I thought about all day long,” he said.
But as a member of Congress, “You shift gears every 15 minutes,” Holding said.
Still, as far as voting with his party, he pretty much sticks to the party line. He has a 90 percent Republican loyalty score, according to a Washington Post database.
President Barack Obama’s budget proposal, for example, was disappointing, Holding said, because it doesn’t balance the budget and because it includes some tax increases. Still, he added, “I do think it is a positive thing that the president is willing to start talking about reform in entitlement spending…If we don’t reform entitlements, we’re not going to have that strong safety net.”
On immigration, he’s opposed to a “blanket amnesty that rewards people for breaking the law.”
The House never voted on the gun control measures crafted in the wake of the Newtown massacre that were defeated in the Senate. But the former federal prosecutor said he opposes background checks and other Obama administration proposals because he believes there already are tough laws for felons caught with a firearm or ammunition.
Holding posts his voting record on his website because he said lawmakers need to be accountable for their votes. But lawmakers also spend a lot of time helping constituents with special requests, which can pay political dividends down the road, no matter how they vote.
Holding said it’s the main thing he learned from Helms that’s useful today: “Constituent services is job No. 1.”