HOUSTON – Many lawmakers come to Congress and never make it in the national spotlight. But not Texas Representative Dan Crenshaw. Rep. Crenshaw made headlines before he even got to Washington – and saw an army of Americans rise to his defense – after the former Navy SEAL found himself as the butt of a controversial joke.
"You may be surprised to hear he's a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hitman in a porno movie," joked Saturday Night Live's Pete Davidson last November.
The negative outcry to the comment thrust the incoming freshman Congressman into the top of the news cycle overnight – and even led to a rare apology from the long-running show.
"I mean this from the bottom of my heart, it was a poor choice of words. The man is a war hero and he deserves all the respect in the world," said Davidson the following week.
Crenshaw tells CBN News he accepted what he believes is a heartfelt apology from Davidson, but admits the ordeal radically changed his freshman term.
"It did change my freshman year in Congress for sure," explained Crenshaw. "Usually the case is that you just try to keep your head down your freshman year and I was just never given that opportunity."
But Crenshaw sees it as a blessing, giving him a bigger voice to talk about key issues for Millennials like Social Security running out of money and our rising national debt.
"The left is really good at selling bad ideas and the right is really bad at selling good ideas," claims Crenshaw. "We should get young people to be more concerned about our debt and point out to them that promising them more all the time is a completely unsustainable way of being and that it's a lie to say that the top one percent are going to pay for it."
Life Before Politics
Before running for political office, Crenshaw spent 10 years as a member of the Navy SEALs and served three tours of duty. He says he never really wanted to leave the SEAL teams, but life and plans changed after an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2012.
"I was blinded right away, I was in a lot of pain, not from my eyes – I just kind of assumed I had dirt in my eyes," recalled Crenshaw.
Although he was unable to see, he says he managed to get himself to the helicopter and was eventually transported to Germany for treatment.
"They saw my condition and immediately put me into a medically induced coma, sedated me pretty heavily, and I was sedated for I don't know how many days," he explained.
In Germany, he woke up hallucinating and blind.
"It's a really strange, kind of horrible place to be because I would see Afghanistan all around me and I was just seeing the last place I'd seen and it wouldn't go away," he recalled. "I was truly just living in a nightmare."
Meanwhile back home, Dan's family and now wife Tara were learning about the blast.
"We knew that his right eye was gone, we knew that the other eye had been blinded. It was still present but blinded," Tara recounted to CBN News.
During that time, she says all she could do was wait and pray.
"I'm very fortunate that I have my faith to carry me through when those times are difficult," continued Tara.
Initially, doctors believed Crenshaw would be blind the rest of his life – a prognosis he refused to accept.
"And he never gave up – even when the doctor said you're not going to see again, we're going to need to get you to a facility where you will learn how to live your life without vision – Dan just didn't believe it," remembered Tara.
"We were hoping for a miracle and eventually that miracle did happen in the operating room," added Crenshaw.
Miraculously, surgeons saved his left eye but then they discovered his retina had a hole in it.
"So we were hoping for another miracle because then the conversation there was do you just let yourself go completely blind slowly and at least you'll get to see for a while longer, or do we try this surgery out which, your eye is so fragile right now – it's a really bad idea," explained Crenshaw.
But God performed that second miracle and saved his sight.
"If I had been anxious about it, I couldn't have dealt with that mentally. I think I would have had irreparable PTSD consequences," recalled Crenshaw. "Looking back on that, there's no other way to describe it except God giving me the strength to believe the impossible."
Serving the Country in a Different Capacity
Needing to leave the military but still wanting to serve his country, Crenshaw saw an opportunity with the retirement of Texas Congressman Ted Poe.
"It was all history from there. We decided to go for it," said Crenshaw.
After winning the election, the new Congressman was well aware of what he would face going to DC.
"Americans are in this constant cycle of disappointment and they're mad, and it's everybody's fault, none of us get to escape blame for this," said Crenshaw. "It's the politicians' fault for over-promising, it's Americans' fault for believing that their happiness is tied to a politician."
A key part of Crenshaw's brand: authenticity.
"I understand wanting to hear yes that is going to happen – I'm going to do that as soon as I get there. But in truth, it's a long process and it's difficult," he explained.
Instead of always hosting traditional town halls, Crenshaw takes different approaches – like talking to constituents over games of foosball where anyone who beats him wins Astros tickets.
"I'm pretty good at foosball so I can fend off most people, though there were some experts who really took me to town," joked Crenshaw. "It's a little bit more personal, and it's just fun. This job can wear you down so you might as well have fun and enjoy the time out with the people you meet."
Strategy for 2020
Crenshaw tells CBN News that when it comes to Republicans taking back in the House majority in 2020, they need to look for opportunities to take the center.
"When Democrats are proposing things like a Green New Deal and Medicare for all and proposing that they take away your private insurance …it's very obvious to people that they've gone in a radical direction that will not work," claimed Crenshaw.
The Congressman maintains Republicans need an to answer for these plans instead of just criticizing them.
"There have been dramatic changes in the Democrat party, dramatic – and this is one of them. They're out of step with the American people and we need to do a better job informing people what is actually happening," believes Crenshaw.
He says one example of this is Democrat opposition to the Unborn Child Protection Act.
"It's not about abortion at all, it's about a baby that is alive just like any other baby that's outside the womb and deserves the same medical care that any other human being would get," explains Crenshaw. "The statistics go somewhere between 60-70% of the American people are not in favor of abortions after the first trimester, so if that's the case, why aren't we winning this debate?"
As for potential bipartisanship, Crenshaw is skeptical.
"I don't think we're going to be able to escape this, because their base is so mad. I've never seen people so angry and hating conservatives," says Crenshaw.
He believes politicians need to stop adding "poison pills" to bipartisan issues.
"Let's pass things out of the House that will actually go somewhere. I think that's what people want, that's what people expect and I don't think they realize that's not what's happening," he added.
Congressman Crenshaw tells CBN News he hopes to continue serving his country for many years to come. As one of the most recognizable Millennials in the GOP, he could be a factor in helping Republicans better reach younger generations.