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GOP House freshmen vow to fight for conservative principles

By Martina Stewart, CNN Political Producer
updated 9:56 PM EST, Fri February 10, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House GOP freshmen say they're committed to conservative principles
  • Lawmakers tell activists conservatives must retake Senate, White House
  • Congresswoman: Conservatives must do better job with messaging
  • Congressman: "Send us more troops ... and we'll get this done"

(CNN) -- A trio of House Republican freshmen told an annual gathering of conservative activists on Friday that, far from backing down, they believe they should double down on the conservative principles that carried them into office in 2010 on a wave of tea party support.

At the same time, the three lawmakers emphasized that putting the conservative agenda into action will require controlling the upper chamber of Congress and the Oval Office.

"We came down here as freshmen and many of us were not career politicians," Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-New York, said during a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. "We came down here with a mission. So you come down here just because you're all fired up [that] we have got to change things. So you get down here and it's like you hit a wall. And that's the reality of what the feeling is sometimes."

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Buerkle said the House Republican majority has passed a number of bills and a budget "and then they go to the Senate to die."

Buerkle added, "And that's the frustration for me and the surprise that I had was I thought we could do more. But what it does is it illustrates for me and for us the importance of taking back the Senate and taking back the White House in 2012."

Buerkle's sentiments were echoed by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas. "We have got a long, big mountain to move," Pompeo said, "and the conservative movement has got to take the lead in moving that mountain."

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Later, Pompeo told the gathering that one of the biggest obstacles to what the House GOP freshmen want to accomplish "resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." Pompeo said the presidency of Barack Obama has been characterized by an "absolute total absence of leadership."

Pompeo added, "This is a president who has antipathy to what we're trying to do and who has a series of policies that have been destructive across the country and certainly in Kansas as well. He has opposed every single limited government [initiative] that the House has put forward this year. ... So we need enormous change in the White House."

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Although polling suggests the public trusts the White House more than congressional Republicans to handle major issues, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, told the gathering he thought the GOP was at its best when it stuck to conservative principles.

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Speaking about this past summer's debate over increasing the debt ceiling, in which House Republicans succeeded in getting and keeping spending cuts in the national discussion over the federal government's finances, Huselkamp said, "When Republicans were together the most -- when we were together the most -- is when we were conservatives."

Huselkamp added, "When we did cut, cap and balance, that's when we were the most together."

Huselkamp also spotlighted the House GOP's support for the budget proposal crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, which has become both a blueprint and a rallying cry for a conservative approach to reining in entitlement spending.

"When we present that conservative legislation, we get the people supporting us," Huselkamp said of the Ryan budget plan.

Looking ahead, Buerkle said conservatives must do a better job of communicating the principles that animate them and their policies.

"We need to let the American people know that our principles -- it's not a Republican or a Democratic or a conservative -- our principles, the principles upon which this country was founded are the right way to go. It's what will get this country out of this economic quagmire that we're in. It's what will energize this nation, what will instill the American dream for all of us and get that back going."

Buerkle pointed to the recent controversy over insurance coverage for contraceptives under the Democratic health care bill as another example of where conservatives ought to be focused on fundamental principles at the heart of the country's founding.

"It's a First Amendment issue," she said of the controversy, "don't let anyone tell you it's anything but a First Amendment issue and an assault on our First Amendment rights. So we've got to do a better job [communicating with the American people]."

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Pompeo agreed. Asked by moderator Cleta Mitchell what he would do if he could be House speaker for a week, Pompeo said, "I think it's our mission and the conservative movement's mission to speak the truth about commitment to the Constitution and the principles in the Declaration of Independence."

Huelskamp said the GOP House freshmen would do well to fulfill the expectations that won their election to Congress. Specifically, Huelskamp said they should remain committed to making the significant reductions in federal spending that are a major priority of grass-roots conservatives.

As conservatives look to unseat President Obama because of disagreement with many of his policies, the trio acknowledged that some of the basis for conservative anger over the scope and role of the government came into being when Republicans recently controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress.

"The first thing that I think we have to do as conservatives is admit that when we had the levers of power before, we failed," Pompeo said, "and the American people spanked us in 2006 and 2008."

Buerkle agreed. "We lost the American people's trust, thus the tea party," she said, adding, "What we need to do is be faithful to the American people, to do what we said we would do."

As conservatives gear up for the fall general election, Pompeo, a West Point graduate and former member of the military, had a final message for the packed ballroom of conservative activists.

"Send us more troops. Send us senators. Send us a president in the White House. And when I say send, don't just send us Republicans, send conservatives and we'll get this done."

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