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GOP freshman class president Russell Fry talks dad jokes, new House Republicans and Trump

There's an opportunity to work with Democrats on issues like opioid addiction, he says

Rep. Russell Fry, R-S.C., participates in a House Judiciary Committee organizing meeting in February.
Rep. Russell Fry, R-S.C., participates in a House Judiciary Committee organizing meeting in February. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

South Carolina freshman Russell Fry came to Congress by beating Rep. Tom Rice, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. 

Shortly after being sworn in, the jocular, 38-year-old conservative accepted a position on Trump’s leadership team in South Carolina. Asked whether Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, Fry demurred, but he raised questions about election integrity. 

While some Republicans may be looking toward new allegiances, Fry has remained loyal while also drawing people together as the Republican freshman class president, which requires him to develop and communicate policy goals and build relationships with colleagues.

Fry, who’s got a penchant for dad jokes, met with Heard on the Hill recently to discuss his first few weeks in the job.

This interview has been condensed.

Q: What reasonable legislative goals have you set for yourself because it’s a divided Congress? What are you willing to work across the aisle on?

A: I did a tremendous amount of work on the opioid epidemic at the state level [as a member of the state House of Representatives]. I chaired our Opioid Task Force — that was a bipartisan committee, a regionally diverse committee. And we were able to pass 18 bills into law. Everything from K-12 education, to prevention, to treatment, to law enforcement. We really touched every facet. So I do think that there’s probably some drive in this Congress to fix that. We’ve got to stop the flow of illegal fentanyl into this country. And I’m hopeful that there is common ground there that the Democrats also see.

Q: What’s something you want people to know about this new crop of Republicans coming in?

A: I think we have a really dynamic and impressive group of freshman Republicans. I think that it’s incredibly diverse. They’re incredibly talented. They’re incredibly, incredibly mission-focused and eager to work together to really help better this country. That’s what I’ve seen so far. It really is an incredible cast of congressmen and women who are going to define what the future of this country looks like.

Q: In the wake of the midterms, the red wave that didn’t materialize, there was some chatter about Republicans needing to shift away from Donald Trump and maybe focus on a new leader. I know you’re still working with Trump. How would you respond to that?

A: Look, I think any Republican, at the end of the day, is better than what we have in the White House. President Trump, I think, delivered for the American people. I think President Trump really pulled in, you know, blue-collar workers, retirees that traditionally either didn’t vote or voted Democrat, and he was able to kind of change the focus of the Republican Party, and then ultimately deliver for the American people. You saw record unemployment, you saw wage growth highest it’s ever been. You saw stability on the world stage and the domestic front. So I think a very issues-based, focused campaign is going to be successful for him.

Q: Are you concerned at all that his influence is waning, that he’s perhaps not as strong a candidate as he was in 2016?

A: He came to my district [recently]. It was 25-degree weather, 25-mile-per-hour winds, and we had tens of thousands of people out there braving the cold to see his remarks. I think he still has very much a Herculean pull within the Republican Party. And, obviously, the polling presently shows him doing quite well.

Q: Do you still believe that he’s the rightful winner of the 2020 election?

A: I think there were a lot of issues, and we’ve seen that play out in court cases where drop boxes were stricken down, I think, in Wisconsin. I think you’ve seen a lot of problems with that. Because there were legal questions at the time about what was going on, and it was important to flesh those out.

Q: So you’re saying Trump might not be the rightful winner but there are concerns you have over the integrity of the vote?

A: I think so. Look, I mean, at the end of the day, whoever wins an election, even if it’s not their person, people want to believe that it was a fair process, and in several states around this country, you never got that surety. Simple solutions like voter ID work. They’re not an impediment to people voting. In fact, that argument was made in South Carolina, that [voter ID] would suppress votes — this was back in the early 2000s — but that has actually grown engagement in the process. And, of course, it instills faith that the system works the way it’s intended to work.

Q: Do you have any concerns about fragmentation within the Republican Party?

A: Republicans encourage debate within the conference. And I don’t know that I can say that that happens to any meaningful degree with the Democrats. But I do think that we’ve had a good couple of weeks legislating focusing on the issues that the American people care about. And so I’m hopeful that that camaraderie, that unity, continues on throughout this Congress.

Quick hits

Last book you read?

“The Good Egg.” It’s a children’s book. I have a 5-year-old son, so I read to him. When I’m home, every night before we go to bed, we always have a routine, and so we pick a book.

One thing you learned in your first month?

I mean, there’s just a ton, but the first thing I learned was, don’t walk into a broom closet, because I did that.

Most unpopular opinion, not necessarily political?

Taco Bell is the best fast-food restaurant.

First concert you ever went to?

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones was my first concert, [at] the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach.

In politics, do the ends justify the means?

I don’t think so. I think how you conduct yourself and what you do define the ends, and you can get there by doing what we’ve always done in this country, and that is go about a proper way of governing.

What’s your favorite dad joke?

When does a joke become a dad joke? When it becomes apparent.

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