CAPITOL HILL - There was not much in the way of official congressional reaction Tuesday to the first voting of the 2016 presidential race in Iowa. But the hallways on Capitol Hill were buzzing with talk of the winners and losers of the caucuses and what it all means.
Members discussed the cliffhanger on the Democratic side, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defeating Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by the narrowest of margins. And some commented on the new realities taking shape in the Republican race, with Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s surprising defeat of billionaire Donald Trump, and the very strong third-place showing by Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Outside the House chamber in the speaker’s lobby, Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma told VOA he thought the Iowa caucuses had shaken up the Republican presidential race. He said after Trump’s loss to Cruz that the businessman and reality TV star had lost any aura of inevitability, and that it was now a wide-open race.
Three solid efforts
Cole credited Trump, Cruz and Rubio with running very strong campaigns and said both of the young senators were making their mark. He said he was not supporting any one candidate.
On the Senate side, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona told VOA that he was not surprised that Trump did not win. He had gone on record as saying that Trump would not become the Republican nominee.
Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe told VOA he was an enthusiastic supporter of Rubio. Inhofe said the Floridian stood out from the rest of the field because of his positive and disciplined message.
Rubio also won the endorsement last night of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American member of the Senate.
Overall, in the crowded Republican field, Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush have won many more endorsements from members of Congress than their opponents.
'We are all angry'
At a news conference early Tuesday with other House Republican leaders, Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin declined to comment on the results directly, but he did have something to say about the anger many Republican voters said they were feeling.
“We are all angry that the country is headed in the wrong direction," Ryan said. "We’re angry we’re not doing what we need to do to defeat ISIS [the Islamic State terrorist group]. We’re angry that we have a porous border. We’re angry that people aren’t getting raises.”
Ryan said the key was to take that anger and to channel it into constructive and positive policy solutions to problems. Ryan strongly criticized Trump’s call late last year to ban Muslims from entering the country, saying the United States was founded on religious freedom and tolerance.
On the Democratic side, most lawmakers who were taking a side were lining up to back Clinton over Sanders.
'Exciting' Sanders campaign
Democratic Representative Brian Higgins of New York told VOA that he had expected a fight to the finish in Iowa: “Hillary Clinton started with a huge lead a year and a half ago, and that is very, very difficult to sustain. I think the campaign of Bernie Sanders has been very exciting and energetic, and I think caucus voters responded to that.”
Higgins is supporting Clinton in the race, saying he worked very closely with her on a major project to revive the city of Buffalo when she was a New York senator.
Representative Jim Costa of California is also supporting Clinton. He told VOA he didn't necessarily think the close finish in Iowa meant Democrats were in for a long, protracted race. He said it remained to be seen whether Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nod, would have staying power past April.
VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report.