President Trump began his campaign with zero support on Capitol Hill. But as his candidacy gained momentum, a handful of House members gravitated to the real estate mogul’s message. He has rewarded those lawmakers by bringing them into his circle of trust and delegating surrogate powers to them.

Here are eight of Trump’s earliest allies and point-people on Capitol Hill, compiled based on sources with knowledge of the transition team’s thinking. All of the lawmakers who are quoted spoke to the Washington Examiner unless otherwise noted.

1. Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is undoubtedly first among equals.

The first to endorse Trump, Collins shares with Trump a corporate and entrepreneurial background. Collins was a Westinghouse executive when the massive manufacturer closed its Buffalo factory in 1983. He bought the shuttered gear division’s assets and opened shop. He now holds a majority stake in eight companies ranging from equipment rental to biotech firms, but has no hands-on role in their operations.

Collins can be found most days with a swarm of reporters hanging on his every word, trying to glean intel about how the billionaire will govern and where he’s at on everything from healthcare to foreign policy.

Collins, who just began his third term, is the transition team’s Hill liaison, and his office is the resume repository for everyone from constituents to staffers to lawmakers looking to work in the Trump administration.

“It was an honor to be the first sitting member of Congress to endorse,” Collins said in a statement.

2. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., and Trump share notoriety for their stances on illegal immigration.

Barletta, a founding Trump Caucus member, rose to national prominence in 2006 when, as the mayor of Hazleton, population 25,000, his city was the first to pass a local immigration enforcement ordinance.

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“What he campaigned on struck a nerve with me, especially illegal immigration,” Barletta said about joining the Trump Caucus when the magnate had “less than a 1 percent chance of winning.”

The criticism Trump endured for his immigration positions reminded Barletta of when he himself became a national lightning rod. But Barletta said Trump has to make good on his campaign promise to clamp down on illegal immigration.

“It’s one of the reasons he got so much support, and I think it’s important that we follow through,” said Barletta, who just won a fourth term. “The American people are expecting it.

“My experience with … Trump is, he means what he says, and I don’t think he’s one to back down,” he continued. “I believe him; he will follow through … he will secure the border and he will make us safe.”

3. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is the group’s most senior member and a transition committee vice chairwoman. First elected in 2002, she has become a cable news fixture, speaking on Trump’s behalf on everything from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to Russian hacking.


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4. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is the group’s military veteran. Hunter responded to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by quitting his civilian job and joining the Marine Corps.

Hunter, who succeeded his father, Duncan L. Hunter, in Congress in 2009, served three combat tours: two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was the third congressman to endorse Trump.

“Trump has backbone and he’s not concerned with perpetuating politics as usual. And he’s got the right message on defense, trade and immigration,” Hunter said. “Those things are what attracted me to his candidacy and I never doubted his ability to win, even when others said he couldn’t.”

5. First elected in 2010, Rep. Mike Kelly is one of three Pennsylvanians in the group, and he became a staple on the campaign trail with Trump in the Keystone State. As the owner of a successful chain of auto dealerships in western Pennsylvania, he relates to Trump as a businessman and innovative leader.

“I just thought his approach was so unique … he was a change agent,” Kelly said. “He has a businessman’s view of the world and how things should be run.”

Hailing originally from Pittsburgh, Kelly said Trump’s stance on trade was a big draw for him and his constituents.

“We’ve already seen companies responding” to Trump’s tough talk on trade, Kelly said pointing to Hyundai, one of Chevrolet-Cadillac’s marquee brands, which just announced it will build a new factory in the U.S.

“They see the trend … that you gotta make it in America,” he said.

6. A former radio talk show host, Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., considers himself the band’s “soothsayer.”

“I saw what the American public was saying,” Long said. “I was afraid [those in the Republican establishment] were going to try and steal it from Trump. This is the same brain trust that gave us President Dole, President McCain and President Romney.”

After seeing the huge crowds Trump was attracting and sensing the country’s mood, Long, who never officially endorsed anyone, said he decided early on he would not endorse anyone. Yet he boosted Trump in conversations with people, wrote supportive op-eds and encouraged colleagues to do so.

“One of the ones who thought I was craziest was the first to endorse Trump,” he said about early conversations with Collins. “I called [House Speaker Paul] Ryan right before the election and said: ‘You gotta get out there, go campaign with him,'” Long recalled.

7. Rep. Tom Marino was co-chairman, along with Barletta, of Trump’s Pennsylvania campaign. He was the fourth lawmaker to endorse Trump, saying at the time that he did so because Trump is “the man for the unprotected … not the protected, not for the Wall Street people, not for the D.C. insiders, but for the hard-working taxpayers.”

He told Politico that backing Trump was “one of my life-changing moments.”

8. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., is one of three members of the “tea party” class of 2010 to back Trump.

“The Trump administration will put forth and lead with strong conservative policies that rightfully serve and protect our nation, its people and our freedoms,” Ross said in a statement. “Folks are fed up with the direction our country has taken for the past eight years, and I couldn’t agree more.”

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