The Atlantic

'Y’all Sent Me to Washington at an Interesting Time'

A freshman Republican lawmaker tries to stay on the right side of his constituents—and his principles—deep in Trump Country.
Source: Paul Morigi / Getty / Katie Martin/ The Atlantic

ANGOLA, Ind.—The congressman and I were sitting in the back of a car somewhere between Auburn and Fort Wayne, Indiana, when I turned and asked him the day’s most pressing political question: What did he think of “covfefe”?

Representative Jim Banks, a Republican serving his first term in Congress, was momentarily at a loss for words.

“I—I haven’t had time to think about it,” said Banks, who had spent the day so far doing normal congressman things: touring local businesses, checking in with local leaders, speaking at the Rotary Club. Notably, none of his constituents had yet brought up the president’s inscrutable midnight keystrokes. But while Banks was motoring earnestly around Northeast Indiana, covfefe had acquired a pronunciation, an etymology, a proliferation of interpretations. It had become a full-fledged scandal, complete with battle lines.

These are weird times to be a Republican lawmaker. On the one hand, your party is in charge of basically everything. On the other, your president and ostensible leader is Donald Trump, and you never know what he is going to do or say or tweet on any given day—but whatever it is, it is eventually going to land in your lap.

These days, you can blink and miss an entire Trump-related controversy. They blow in and out like an autumn wind, leaving little trace. (There are others, of course, more lasting and consequential.) And so poor Jim Banks had been too busy doing his job to fully grasp the significance of covfefe, or to be briefed about where he ought to come down on it. “Should I—should I be thinking more deeply about that?” he asked me, beseechingly.

Banks, a straitlaced 37-year-old former state legislator, wore a blue-and-brown plaid blazer and a Fitbit on one wrist. His short, nut-brown hair was lacquered sharply back from

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