- “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance went to the Capitol to meet with House Republicans this week.
- Only about 10 lawmakers attended the gathering. Some didn’t know who he was.
- Vance is eyeing the Ohio Senate seat that’s up for grabs as Sen. Bob Portman retires.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
J.D. Vance sparked backlash on social media this week after he complained it was “insane” that women rowing on the Potomac in Washington, DC were made to wear masks.
But the likely Ohio GOP Senate candidate didn’t make much of a splash at an earlier event on Capitol Hill. The gathering, with the House’s largest GOP caucus, could have served to introduce Vance to fellow Republicans who could offer critical endorsements as he tries to build his political capital.
Even his friend, Rob Portman — the senator he’s trying to replace — didn’t know Vance was on the Hill.
Most House Republicans invited to hear from Vance during a gathering didn’t make room in their schedules on Monday for the 36-year-old “Hillbilly Elegy” author, according to Insider interviews with lawmakers in the Capitol.
Vance spoke at an informal roundtable organized by the more than 150-member conservative House Republican Study Committee, but only about 10 members went, Mitchell Hailstone, spokesman for the Republican Study Committee, told Insider. He did not respond to a question over whether such events were typically more well attended.
“They met and discussed the conservative agenda and other RSC initiatives among other things,” Hailstone said.
A pictured posted on the committee’s Twitter handle showing a few members at the meeting thanked Vance for visiting.
—RSC (@RepublicanStudy) May 17, 2021
However several other House Republicans said they didn’t know the event was taking place or that they had other commitments.
“Who?” Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican of North Carolina, said when Insider asked whether she’d gone to the meeting with the venture capitalist and bestselling author.
“I had another dinner. There are so many things going on,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican from Georgia, told Insider.
Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican and the ranking member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said he hadn’t heard anything about the roundtable discussion.
And Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican of Washington and one-time House Republican Conference Chair, had no clue what Insider was talking about.
“I was at a dinner with Devin Nunes and Larry Lindsey,” she said, referring to an outing with a Republican colleague from California and a former Geroge W. Bush-era economist, respectively.
Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican of Texas, said he didn’t attend the event either because he had several other commitments at the same time. When asked what he’d heard about it, he replied, “Actually, not much.”
Reps. Michael Burgess of Texas, Ronny Jackson of Texas, and Ted Budd of North Carolina also skipped out. Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Wisconsin, said he was late to the event.
It’s not clear how much notice Republicans had about the gathering. On Monday morning Vance appeared at an event titled “What to do about Woke Capital,” hosted by the conservative Claremont Institute Center for the American Way of Life. Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican of Indiana who chairs the Republican Study Committee, also spoke.
Vance’s notoriety may not have extended to Washington yet, but he’s considering running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Portman, the retiring Republican senator of Ohio.
Yet Portman said Vance didn’t give him a heads-up that he would be in DC. The two of them are friends and know each other’s families, he told Insider on Wednesday.
“I didn’t know he was in town,” Portman said. “He didn’t tell me.”
Portman said he’d already given Vance his thoughts on him going into politics.
“He can join the party if he wants to,” Portman said of the many candidates who’d already announced their intention to run for his seat. “J.D. Is a smart guy. I have known him for quite a while and he has an important message.”
Vance, a Marine veteran and Yale Law School graduate, was critical of Donald Trump before he was elected president. Vance’s book, about addiction in his family and growing up in a poor white family in Appalachia, became a bestseller during the Trump era. The book was later adapted into a movie.
A spokesman for Vance declined to comment on his visit to Capitol Hill.
At least one Republican was enthusiastic about Monday’s event: Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado. She said Vance didn’t talk about campaigning during the roundtable but about “how Trump policies work and Biden policies don’t.”
“Energy was a big talking point,” she told Insider.
Boebert, who’s read Vance’s book and has seen the
film, said Vance also talked about “coming up from White trash and living the American dream to do the impossible, what’s only possible in America.”
“I think that’s the impression that he inspires for a lot of people,” she said.