An exit interview with Rodney Davis

Former congressman reflects on Trump, Jan. 6 and increasing polarization in politics

Rodney Davis, the Taylorville resident who failed on Nov. 8 to win a sixth two-year term in the U.S. House, pointed to many successes during his career in Congress in an interview before he left office Jan. 3.

Davis, 53, represented the old 13th Congressional District and was defeated by incumbent U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, in the June GOP primary for the newly drawn 15th District.

He cited his bipartisan work on two farm bills and support for federal funding to build and improve railroads and other forms of transportation earlier in his tenure. More recently, he voted against the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the $2 trillion Build Back Better Bill, both pushed by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Davis, whose last day in office was Jan. 3, represented congressional districts that included parts of Sangamon County for a decade, prevailing against Democratic challengers. It took a Republican who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump to beat him.

Davis said he was proud of getting his "Employer Participation in Repayment Act" inserted in the bipartisan CARES Act, which was passed early in the COVID-19 pandemic when Trump was president. The repayment program allows employers to make volunteer, tax-free student loan payments on behalf of their employees as a benefit and recruitment tool. The program that Davis saw enacted allows employers to make loan payments on behalf of their employees – up to $5,250 per employee – through 2025.

Davis had harsh words for the student loan forgiveness program launched by Trump's successor, President Joe Biden. That program thus far has been blocked by courts as a potential overreach of presidential authority.

The Biden administration's student debt relief plan, which next will be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, would provide up to $20,000 in debt relief to Pell grant recipients with loans held by the U.S. Department of Education and up to $10,000 in debt relief to non-Pell grant recipients. Eligible borrowers must have income less than $125,000 per year for individuals and less than $250,000 for households.

Davis bemoaned "all the bullshit coming out of Washington about debt being forgiven. Not a single person has had their debt forgiven by the federal government by President Biden's plan.

"And I've said all along that promise is bullshit," Davis said.

Davis, a former co-chairman of Trump's reelection campaign, said his surprising loss in the Republican primary was related in large part to Trump's support of Miller and the former president's ability to boost voter turnout.

Also a factor was the redrawn district, in which both he and Miller were new to certain voters, Davis said. When Democrats who control the General Assembly pushed the 2022 primary from March to June, the additional time allowed Miller to build "a narrative about me in areas that didn't know me" that he was a RINO, or "Republican In Name Only."

"That cost me the election," Davis said.

Davis said Trump has had both a positive and negative impact on the GOP.

"You've got to realize that he flipped a lot of blue-collar workers to the Republican Party who believed that the Democratic Party that they had voted for for so long had left them," Davis said.

But Davis said he would prefer Trump not run again, and the former president has "no one to blame but himself" for losing to Biden.

"He's got to be given credit for a lot of the issues that he faced while he was president and has a good record," Davis said. "But at the same time, he's not supported by a majority of Republicans to run again."

Davis voted against Trump's impeachment both times, and he voted with most Republicans against the creation of the select House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

Asked whether Trump bears responsibility for the Capitol riot, Davis said: "You can't blame one person for what happened Jan. 6, just like I didn't blame Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders for inspiring the nut-job gunman who came to try and kill me on a baseball field a few years ago."

Davis was referring to the June 2017 shooting at an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field in which House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and four others were shot by a Belleville, Illinois, man who was a critic of Trump and Republicans in general. The man, James Hodgkinson, 66, was killed while exchanging gunfire with Capitol Police.

Davis, who wasn't injured while on the field practicing with his Republican colleagues for a friendly baseball game against House Democrats, said the incident was "the most terrifying experience I've ever had in my life." The event, he said, "solidified my viewpoint that every American should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights."

He said he doesn't support an assault-weapons ban that General Assembly members are expected to consider this month. "No one's been able to define what they mean by that and how it's not going to impact law-abiding gun owners," he said.

Davis, who won't say what plans to do next, hasn't ruled out elected office in the future but plans to maintain his home in Taylorville, where he lives with his wife, Shannon. The couple have a daughter, Toryn, and twin sons, Clark and Griffin.

He said he remains frustrated that Washington has become more polarized over the past decade, in part because of social media.

Davis said he often has to explain to constituents what is being incorrectly portrayed on social media.

"And that's frustrating," he said, "because there has been a change in how people view government because of that information. And that didn't start with Donald Trump. It didn't start just with social media. It's been out there for a long time. It's just more pervasive and easier to access."

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer at Illinois Times. He can be reached at, 217-679-7810 and

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:, 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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