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Controversial Members Of Congress Come And Go

Is civility about to stage a comeback in Washington? Some of the most controversial members of Congress have lost their seats.

Still, there appears to be little danger that vitriol is about to go out of style. A number of outspoken members are coming back, including at least one who had previously lost his seat.

Also, while there may be a net loss in the number of members who have attracted a great deal of media attention by making testy statements or ending up in ethics investigations, some who have been more moderate in temperament won't be coming back, either.

"The partisan tone is likely to remain quite harsh, despite the departure of a few of the more extreme voices," says David Canon, a University of Wisconsin political scientist.

Following last night's elections, here's a quick look at the state of bombast in Congress:


Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo.

The 12-year House veteran lost a bid for Senate against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. He gained national notoriety in August with his statement that "legitimate rape" didn't cause pregnancy so there was no need to exempt rape victims from abortion bans. That comment gave fresh life to previous Akin claims such as his claim that school lunches and the Medicare program violated the Constitution. During the GOP Senate primaries this spring, Akin referred to the federal student loan program as "the equivalent of the Stage 3 cancer of socialism."

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.

The 20-term member had long made intemperate remarks but lost his seat owing to changing circumstances. Redistricting left him with less favorable terrain and, thanks to California's new "top two" primary system, he faced a fellow Democrat in the general election. Stark was forced to apologize in 2007 for saying Americans were being sent to Iraq "to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement." Stark was so strident his own party refused to promote him to Ways and Means chairman even though he had seniority.

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill.

Walsh, a feisty freshman member of the Tea Party Class of 2010, was ousted after just one term. He received national attention last month for saying abortion was never necessary to save the woman's life. "With modern technology and science, you can't find one instance," he said. Walsh had been caught on video yelling at a female constituent, called on President Obama to "stop lying" about the risk of default, and complained that his Democratic opponent Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost both legs, talked too much about her military service and injuries.

Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

Another Tea Party freshman, West raised huge amounts of money for his first re-election campaign but appears to have narrowly lost. He's demanding a recount. The former Army officer has argued that Islam is a "totalitarian theocratic political ideology" rather than a religion; said 80 House Democrats were "members of the Communist Party"; and embraced several anti-Obama conspiracy theories.


Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.

Despite a huge fundraising advantage, Bachmann barely won re-election to her redrawn district. She enjoyed a brief moment in the sun last summer as a leading presidential contender, but she has also taken a slew of controversial positions. She claimed that the HPV vaccine caused mental disabilities, suggested Democrats in Congress are "anti-American," and intimated that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin might have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla.

Grayson, defeated in 2010, is coming back. During one of the most partisan political climates in history, Grayson still manages to make his colleagues seem mild. He has called members of the GOP "right wing lunatics," an ex-lobbyist a "K Street Whore," and the man who unseated him in the 2010 election "Taliban Dan." He gained national fame during the health care debate in his first term for saying the GOP health plan was to advise Americans "don't get sick" but if they do to "die quickly."

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

First elected in 1970, Rangel survived a near miss in the June primary. Rangel was weakened by an ethics investigation surrounding his personal finances that led to his censure by the House in 2010, making him the first member so admonished in nearly 30 years. Rangel had been forced to step down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

Waters had no trouble winning re-election to her 12th term after the House Ethics Committee cleared her in September of financial wrongdoing, following a three-year investigation. She has long been known as one of the more unvarnished members of Congress, sometimes telling colleagues to "shut up." At a rally in 2005, she said, "George W. Bush, go to hell," proceeding to list three Cabinet members she felt he should take along with him.

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Alan Greenblatt has been covering politics and government in Washington and around the country for 20 years. He came to NPR as a digital reporter in 2010, writing about a wide range of topics, including elections, housing economics, natural disasters and same-sex marriage.
Jordan G. Teicher