"They know who I am."
Randy Weber is a fresh face in the U.S. House of Representatives, but he swears the Republican leadership team is already wary of him. After serving two terms in the Texas statehouse, Weber's reputation precedes him—or so he says.
In Texas, where he proudly ranked as the most conservative state representative, Weber was a right-wing rock star. He is a staunch ally of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, and his work on any given conservative cause célèbre made him a favorite of activist groups, who recognized him with "Taxpayer's Hero" and "Courageous Conservative" awards. Weber was a leader among the Legislature's right flank, pulling the GOP majority rightward with an agenda focused as much on social issues as fiscal ones.
When he entered a nine-way primary last year to succeed Ron Paul, the iconic libertarian whose congressional district overlapped with his own state district, Weber's winning formula was the same as it had always been: No candidate would get to his right—period. It worked, and now that he's here, Weber sees no reason to shift strategy.
As he explores the corridors of the Capitol, meeting his new colleagues and observing their politics, Weber sees plenty of like-minded members. But none of them, he vows, will "out-conservative" him.
Sure, after studying his peers in the U.S. House, Weber knows some are true believers. But he won't compare himself to them. And amid a lengthy interview, the reason becomes obvious: Weber believes they should be comparing themselves to him.
"I don't just say I'm conservative," he says. "I have boot leather to my gospel."
The talkative Texan leans back against the sofa inside his muggy fifth-floor congressional office, showing off his custom-made bullhide cowboy boots. Expertly engraved on the shiny black leather, arranged around a circled star emblem, the words: "Randy Weber - The State of Texas - House of Representatives."
Indeed, Weber leaves no doubt about where he came from or what he came to Washington to do. Unlike his predecessor, Paul, whose independent streak and obsession with niche issues often alienated him from the realities of his district, Weber talks constantly of his constituents, and fancies himself a full-spectrum conservative. He's a fiscal hawk, like Paul, but on everything else—from foreign policy to drug legalization and social issues—Weber can be found at the far, far right of the ideological spectrum.
"I'm so Republican, my first name starts with 'R,' " Weber says, smiling broadly. "I'm so right-wing—well, Randy Weber. You do the math."
Weber, like many conservatives, says he never wanted to come to Washington. Thirty years ago, he was taking junior college classes to learn the trade of air-conditioning, hoping to launch his small business. Eventually he did, creating Weber's Air and Heat. But after staying active in local GOP politics for decades, first serving as precinct chairman during President Reagan's reelection campaign, Weber got restless. He won a close race for the Legislature in 2008, and then won reelection with 85 percent of the vote. When Paul stepped down, it was a no-brainer for Weber to enter the race. And before long, he was endorsed by Perry, campaigning alongside then-Senate candidate Ted Cruz, and touted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as a prized recruit.
The Texan arrived in Congress at a time of deep division within the Republican Party between uncompromising ideologues and party loyalists, and he represents that conflict himself. In one breath, he describes himself as a "conservative Republican" emphasizing the order of those titles, and in the next he's a rabid partisan, referring to Democrats as "the other side" and pledging to "stand toe-to-toe and fight" for the GOP platform.
So far, Weber has navigated a path that’s allowed him to fulfill both roles. In January, Weber was convinced at the GOP retreat in Williamsburg, Va., that Speaker John Boehner was right: A temporary debt-ceiling extension was needed if House Republicans were to start winning some of the small policy battles ahead. Many conservatives disagreed and voted against the extension. But Weber, after some outreach from the leadership team, decided to give Boehner the benefit of the doubt. He backed the speaker’s plan to help "beat the other side."
But Weber's loyalty has limits, as demonstrated during his time in Texas, where he caused a stir by withdrawing his support for the state House speaker. Now, five months after the debt-ceiling vote, Weber says he still has confidence in Boehner's plan. But he also warns that his vote won't be won so easily at the next round of negotiations this fall, and hints that his support for the top Republican in Congress is not rock-solid.
Weber recalls the Texas incident to make a point: He won't hesitate to cut ties with anyone, including party leaders, whose actions do not reflect his values. (It's for this reason, Weber says, that Boehner's team was wary of him early on.) Yes, Weber is a party loyalist who wants to see the GOP succeed. But more important to him, Weber wants to see his party adhere to conservative principles.
More immediately, Weber wants to escape the shadow of Paul, his internationally known predecessor. "I am not Dr. Ron Paul. I am not Dr. Ron Paul Jr. I am not Dr. Ron Paul Lite," he says. (He notes that Paul endorsed him last year, but adds with a grin, "It didn't hurt that my company does his daughter's air conditioning.")
In many ways, Weber is the anti-Ron Paul. Far from focusing narrowly on a few fringe issues and insulating himself from the party base, Weber is carrying the Republican message, whatever the issue.
Ask him about the recent Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, and Weber replies: "Apparently the Supreme Court is in collusion with the president and his injustice department, where they decide not to uphold the laws or defend the Constitution."
Mention immigration, and Weber responds matter-of-factly: "If you say the word amnesty—the 'A-word,' so to speak—it's DOA. If there's even a hint of amnesty in my district, it's dead on arrival."
If there's one area where Weber is eager to hang his hat, it's energy. When President Obama addressed the House Republican conference in March, Weber made a beeline for the commander-in-chief.
"Mr. President, I want to introduce myself. I'm Randy Weber. I took Ron Paul's spot," he remembers telling Obama. When the president shook his hand, Weber cut to the chase: The Keystone Pipeline terminates in Port Arthur, Texas, smack dab in the middle of his district. "We want that pipeline," Weber told Obama, twice, emphasizing the jobs it would create.
According to Weber, Obama smiled and said the oil would be shipped overseas anyway. Weber dismissed the president’s point, arguing that companies like Nike, Apple, and Toyota do the same thing. (“I should have said Ford,” he says with a chuckle.)
This, Randy Weber says, is vintage Randy Weber: Rarely afraid of an argument, and never shy about challenging authority.
The president of the United States knows who Weber is. After Williamsburg, so does the speaker of the House. And in a town captivated by the influence of a few uncompromising House conservatives, Weber is hoping that before long everyone else will, too.