Rep. Robert Pittenger joked that if he knew people were going to be this nice to him “I should lose every day.”
“People are being too nice. You would have thought that I was there at my funeral,” the North Carolina Republican said in an extended interview with McClatchy in his Washington office, his first since his loss.
“I’ve had more people come up to me and say the nicest things. And I thought, ‘My goodness, I should lose every day.''' he laughed.
Pittenger returned to Capitol Hill this week after his surprising North Carolina primary loss May 8 to former Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris. Pittenger was the first Republican congressional incumbent to lose in 2018.
The three-term lawmaker, who lost the primary by 814 votes, vowed to complete his term, saying he has lots more to do before he leaves office in January 2019.
“I’ve initiated many important efforts, all very significant in their own right, and we’ll do the best we can to move them along,” he said.
Doug Heye, a North Carolina native who served as Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, said it’s easier for Pittenger to finish out his term because he’s a rank and file House member, not a part of leadership.
“In leadership, people are thinking 'Who’s the next speaker or majority leader?' and that’s untenable,” Heye said. “Remaining as a member of Congress leaving is not. Pittenger now has an opportunity where he is unencumbered by any more accountability that he can some things that he wants to do.”
Among other things, Pittenger will push for a House floor vote for his legislation aimed at preventing China from obtaining sophisticated U.S. technology.
The measure would broaden the authority of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multiagency panel that assesses the national security risk of foreign transactions.
Pittenger said the House Financial Services Committee could consider the bill as soon as next week.
He also vowed to continue to press the National Weather Service to build a sophisticated radar system in the Charlotte area to warn residents of approaching tornadoes and other violent weather.
With a population of 2.4 million, the Charlotte area is the nation’s largest metropolitan area without a Doppler radar system.
Pittenger has complained to National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini about the slow pace in installing the radar system in the Queen City area.
He also said he’ll continue to press a bill he introduced last year for full recognition of the North Carolina’s Lumbee tribe. The Robeson County-based tribe received partial recognition from the federal government in 1956.
That status prevented the 35,000-member tribe, many of whom live in Pittenger’s 9th Congressional District, from receiving federal benefits afforded other tribes.
“They’ve been seeking recognition since 1888, I believe,” Pittenger said. “I’ve asked that they be treated financially like any other tribe. My bill is there.”
Pittenger’s final months in office will include foreign travel. He’ll go to Berlin for the Parliamentary Intelligence-Security Forum, a conference he’s hosted nearly a dozen times as chair of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.
The gathering of members of parliament, ambassadors and security experts will focus on terrorism financing, intelligence sharing and cyber security issues, he said.
But lengthy to-do lists hasn’t stopped other lawmakers who’ve either lost primary elections, retired, or resigned recently from heading to the exits months before their term in office expired.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., former co-chairman of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, announced in September that he wouldn’t seek re-election then decided to leave office altogether earlier this month.
Former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, fed up with a fractious House Republican caucus, gave up his gavel and walked away from Capitol Hill in October 2015, more than a year before his term was up.
And Cantor, R-Va., quit the House in August 2014 after losing a June GOP primary to current to Rep. Dave Brat, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Pittenger said he doesn’t know what his life after Congress looks like right now.
“There’s always a next chapter, the Lord always has another chapter in your life,” he said. “Obviously, I wasn’t planning for this so I don’t know what the chapter is. But it will unfold.”