Salem’s new Congresswoman uses stalled action to lobby for prime committee slots

Finally, Andrea Salinas can get to work.

Not long after midnight Friday, Salinas was sworn in as a U.S. representative after treading political water for much of the week.

Salinas, a Democrat, represents Salem in the U.S. House, the first to hold the seat in the new 6th Congressional District in Oregon.

With the 211 other Democrats, Salinas had to bide her time as Republicans battled over whether U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, would become speaker.

The matter was settled in the 15th vote for speaker, giving McCarthy the title that he bargained to get.
With a speaker finally in place, the House moved to what would have been one of its first actions when it convened on Tuesday, Jan. 3 – swearing in representatives. Salinas joined two other freshmen from Oregon – Val Hoyle, Democrat representing the 4th Congressional District in the Eugene area, and Lori Chavez-DeRemer, Republican representing the 5th Congressional District that includes much of Marion County.

Before the decision, Salinas and the others were members in waiting, technically holding no authority to act as representatives.

She stepped onto the floor for her first formal act on Tuesday, using her newly-issued voting card to respond to a quorum call.

In an interview with Salem Reporter, Salinas said she expected some delay in McCarthy’s election but still expected to formally take office on Tuesday.

Family had made the trip to Washington for the occasion.

As the House convened Tuesday, Salinas’ husband Chris Ramey and their daughter Amelia were in the gallery to watch the swearing in. So was an aunt and an uncle.

She was joined on the floor by a niece and a nephew, 10 and 11, from Virginia. For the day, House members could have guests – but only children under 12.

“They were pretty patient,” Salinas said. “They asked me a lot of questions. They were pointing to people in the gallery who had fallen asleep.”

She anticipated the speaker issue would settle soon.

“I thought it might take one, two, maybe three hours,” she said.

But it became evident that a cabal of 20 Republican representatives opposed McCarthy, denying him the necessary votes for elevation to speaker.

After four votes and no speaker, the House adjourned about 5:30 p.m. Washington time, returning at noon the next day to try again.

The next day, representatives convened at noon again, three more votes failed to produce a speaker and the House finally adjourned at 8:25 p.m.

Thursday was almost a repeat – convene at noon, four more votes, adjournment at 8:14 p.m.

Salinas said that on the first day, she spent time with about eight other freshmen she had become acquainted with during orientation work ahead of formally taking office.

She then worked the floor.

“I was definitely intentional about floating around a little bit,” she said, introducing herself to more senior representatives.

That wasn’t just politeness. She was letting those veterans know her preference when it came to committee assignments.

Much of the work of Congress is done in committees, processing legislation, conducting hearings, issuing reports.

Salinas said her top choice would be the House Agriculture Committee. A seat there or on some natural resource committee would put her in a position to work on the Farm Bill, a major tool for delivering government help to agriculture.

She also is interested in committees that deal with mental health issues.

She said she didn’t connect on the floor with U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, Republican Congressman representing eastern Oregon. Bentz holds a seat on the House Natural Resources Committee and could be in line to chair a subcommittee as Republicans assume control of the House.

Salinas may be new to the House, but she’s not new to the ways of the Capitol.

She has worked for U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, a San Francisco Democrat, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and former U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, an Oregon Democrat.

Salinas was serving in the Oregon House when she won election to Congress.

Besides lobbying for committee assignments, Salinas continued working on details of setting up her Congressional office.

She never strayed far from the House floor during the work, advised that votes could happen at any moment. She monitored a mobile app – Dome Watch ­– for word from Democratic leaders on where she needed to be.

On Friday, ahead of McCarthy’s election, Salinas noted that “one of the branches of government is completely paralyzed right now.”

The biggest impact of the delay, she said, was getting those committee assignments. With Republican deal making to clinch McCarthy’s win, the number of seats set aside for Democrats may be diminished, Salinas said.

She said the Republican rebels “seemed like they really did have some issues with Kevin McCarthy and that there was a big gap in trust. You word and integrity are so important.”
She said those factions likely will affect what the House can do in the next two years – the term of a U.S. representative.

She judged that those opposing McCarthy don’t want government and “paralysis is the end goal.”

If that faction continues to flex its political muscle, the House could become ineffective.

“You have complete meltdown and dysfunction,” she said.

For the moment, though, the House got itself in order, with McCarthy winning the speakership just after midnight. Salinas and others took the oath of office at 1:40 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7. Hours later, Salinas issued her first press statement as a U.S. representative.

“From the high cost of living to the persistent threat of gun violence, our communities are crying out for change — and it’s past time for Congress to answer that call with action,” she said. “It’s the honor of my lifetime to be your Congresswoman, and your champion.”

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected]

Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.