After making more than a dozen attempts before selecting a new speaker in Republican Kevin McCarthy, the U.S. House of Representatives is finally back to work — and House Democrats are grappling with what it now means to be the minority party in the House.
That includes Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, representing Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, and also the site of the most expensive U.S. House race in 2022.
Slotkin says her first few days back on Capitol Hill showed her what it means to be the loyal opposition to a Kevin McCarthy-led House Republican majority.
Listen: Rep. Elissa Slotkin describes turbulent scene during U.S. House speaker selection process
The following interview was edited for clarity.
“I was on the (U.S. House) floor through our 14 or 15 votes for speaker, and clearly the Republicans were going through something and fighting amongst themselves,” Slotkin recalled. “I guess the thing that shocked us was how public that fight was. And I just think it was not good for the country to go through that kind of consternation. But we’re through it now. I think the new majority is flexing its muscles and proposing bills that are meant to be red meat for their base but have, frankly, no part in making anyone’s life better.
“For instance, total bans on abortion. Which is obviously something that we just debated in Michigan and metered out. They have gutted things like the Ethics Committee, here in Congress. I don’t think there’s a single American who thinks we should be gutting the Ethics Committee on members of Congress. So they’re doing a bunch of things that I don’t think are reflective of the message Americans just sent in this last election, especially in a place like Michigan. They want Team Normal. Democrat or Republican people want folks who are willing to actually get to work and do real things, pass real legislation. Compromise. And that is just not the agenda that, at least in these first few weeks, they had been putting forward. And I just I hope that changes.”
Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: Things have been so partisan and politically divided for such a long time now, that seems almost like a kind of pipe dream. And there are many people that are a bit concerned about whether much of any legislation can really get through in such a divided climate. And now such a divided Congress. Do you foresee any areas where you think there might be some cooperation between Democrats and Republicans?
Rep. Elissa Slotkin: Look, I think it’s our job to constantly be trying to find places where we can work together, even if those topics are limited. The good news is the topics that I think will move are issues like supply chains and trying to make sure we’re not as vulnerable and having such deep investment on critical items in places like China. I think there’s a lot of recognition after COVID that we just outsourced way too far. And certain critical items need to be made, at least in part, in the United States. Preferably all in Michigan!
So I do think that dealing with competition with the Chinese government is definitely something that we can make some progress on. Not just the military aspects, but our economic security, our agricultural sector. We need to understand the role of the Chinese government. And then things like veterans issues, which should be non-partisan issues, I still think we can make progress there. I don’t like a lot of the culture war, extreme stuff that we see coming out of their (GOP) caucus. And I’m going to hope that, with their slim majority, they learn that they can’t put that stuff out and have any hope of it getting into law. So let’s work on real things where we can still find consensus.
For yourself, what kind of legislative priorities would you ideally like to see pushed forward?
I think we’re in the middle of a historic rebalancing of the scales on our supply chains. I mean, remember those first days of COVID, where we didn’t make any masks or gowns or gloves and we were desperately trying to get them from Chinese factories? Then it was microchips and our auto plants in Michigan being on again, off again for two full years because we can’t get a $0.14 microchip.
I’m really interested in identifying those critical items that should be made, again, at least in part in the United States, where we shouldn’t be completely dependent on groups like the Chinese government. So that is an area of focus for me. And there’s a new committee that’s being stood up on U.S. competition with the Chinese government. I think that’s a good thing. In the agriculture sector the Chinese government has people buying land, they’re buying our meat processing facilities. So are other countries. We just need to be thoughtful about that and work on legislation that makes sense for protecting our own food security. So those things, the intersection of economic security and national security, are the places where I usually live and try to focus my attention.
When you talk about the agricultural sector, in the U.S. Senate that’s been the purview of Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. And now she has announced her retirement. There have been a lot of political pundits that have put you forward as perhaps one of the candidates or maybe even the best candidate for the Democrats (to replace Stabenow) as we go towards 2024. Do you have any interest in the job?
Well, look, it was like an earthquake in Michigan politics when Sen. Stabenow announced that she wouldn’t run again. She’s been representing Michigan at some level for the better part of 50 years. It’s a big deal. And it caused lots of chattering across the state and across the country.
Look, I’m definitely considering it. But it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s a big deal. So I’m talking to people, I’m trying to get my ducks in a row and understand the gravity of making that kind of decision. But I’m certainly interested. Because, for me, so much of my work has been about protecting and expanding the middle class. We built the middle class in Michigan. To be able to do that potentially at a state level, it’s a big deal for me. And I’m certainly interested. So I’m exploring it, that’s for sure.
It’s been really interesting to come back to Washington after the November elections and hear the way people are talking about Michigan, you know, non-Michiganders. The message that was sent in our election, again, people just wanting Team Normal, people wanting folks who will work. That message has really gotten through to Washington, D.C. And I’m hoping that message is received by the new House majority. There’s a lot of talk about Michigan, there’s a lot of talk about our presidential primary moving up. And you can’t deny the message that was sent up and down our ballot this past November, which is we don’t want extremes. Independents, swing voters, we don’t want extremes. We want practical, hardworking people who can show results.
I think that’s very Michigan of us and that’s a good place to be.