Even before running for Congress, Grayson was on the radar as the only lawyer to successfully sue an Iraq War military contractor for defrauding the government.
Once he came to Capitol Hill, Grayson rose to prominence on the strength of blistering criticism of his Republican opponents. He declared that the Republican healthcare plan was for sick people to “die quickly,” and that Dick Cheney was difficult to understand due to the blood dripping from his lips. Soon, Grayson was a household name, loved by Democrats and despised by Republicans.
This first period in the limelight would prove brief. While Grayson had pulled off a narrow victory riding the coattails of President Obama’s decisive victory in 2008, his district still tilted Republican, and his statements had made him a prime target for national Republicans.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said it would be worthwhile for Republicans to only win a single race in 2010 so long as Grayson was the one vanquished.
Grayson had a bruising campaign against former Florida state senator Daniel Webster (R), which drew national attention after Grayson was forced to pull a controversial ad that called Webster “Taliban Dan” and quoted him out of context.
Grayson lost in a landslide.
Grayson’s career looked finished but fate intervened in the form of the 2010 Census. Florida gained two additional seats and was compelled to redistrict. Following redistricting, a new heavily Hispanic district was created near where Grayson had run before.
Seizing the opportunity, he ran again in friendlier territory and won easily. The gap between losing by 18 percentage points and winning by 25 percentage points is, according to Grayson, the largest electoral turnaround in the history of the House.
The two years between Grayson’s 2010 defeat and his 2012 election prompted some soul-searching, as he had ample time to consider how he would act differently if given a second chance.
“Having two years of unpaid vacation courtesy of the voters, I had a lot of chances to think about what would make my return to Congress more meaningful, not just to me but to my constituents and to everyone else,” Grayson told The Hill.
After his 2012 victory, Grayson said, his staff immediately set to work finding legislative measures they could get passed through a Republican-controlled House, and once Congress convened they worked to pass whatever they could.
Being of the minority party, these measures are inevitably in the form of amendments; Grayson has passed 13 on the House floor and nearly three dozen more in committees.
Some amendments, including a restriction on funding for aerial drones in a homeland security bill, appeal to the libertarian wing of the GOP, but Grayson says many of them work simply because they make bills better. Grayson says his office is exceptionally skilled at finding weaknesses in bills due to his background as a lawyer specializing in government contracts.
“When I went to work for Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg’s husband’s firm,” he said, “I decided to concentrate on learning about government contracts law and procurement. One of the things that makes me effective here is that I’ve spent 20 years of my life studying how the government spends its money.”
Grayson says his controversial rhetoric has not hindered him from winning Republican support for his various measures.
“[Republicans] like someone who is a straight shooter, and I am universally recognized as a straight shooter ... I have no trouble making up my mind, I have no trouble making commitments, I have no trouble analyzing and acting, and Republicans, like Democrats, appreciate that.”
This reputation as a straight shooter has driven Grayson’s latest appearance on the national stage. This time, instead of eviscerating Republicans, Grayson has been irritating the White House.
He was one of the first Democrats to openly oppose President Obama’s proposed strikes on Syria and worked furiously to defeat the effort, even starting a special website hosting an anti-war petition.
Grayson insists that he still greatly respects Obama despite his intense disagreement on Syria. Speaking before the weekend’s announcement of a deal, he said he had no concerns that Obama might bomb Syria without congressional approval.
“I just don’t consider that to be a serious possibility. The president has conducted himself in a certain manner for the past five years,” he said. For Obama to ask Congress’s opinion and then defy it “would be completely inconsistent and uncharacteristic of him.”
Despite his bipartisan amendment-making and recent alliance with Republicans on Syria, Grayson has not abandoned his penchant for biting remarks. He admits his relations with Webster are “strained,” and refers to Webster’s financial backers as “fundamentally selfish and evil people.”
Grayson’s first stay in Congress was short-lived, but with a safer district to operate in, he says he hopes to stick around much longer. While today he pursues limited goals that he can collaborate with Republicans on, his long-term goals are more ambitious. They include ending homelessness, expanding the rights of labor unions, and, he says in total seriousness, world peace, which is “very much up for grabs right now.”
“In other words,” he concludes, “hope and change.”