From left: Suzan DelBene, Pramila Jayapal and Rick Larsen.

From left: Suzan DelBene, Pramila Jayapal and Rick Larsen.

Now in majority, state’s Democrats ready to use new clout

Larsen knows what it means to be in charge. For Del Bene and Jayapal, it’s new political territory.

Congresswomen Suzan DelBene and Pramila Jayapal found themselves in an unfamiliar situation when the U.S. House of Representatives convened its 2019 session: the majority.

A wave of victories in the mid-term elections — including their re-elections — carried the Democratic party into control of the chamber for the first time in eight years.

And to them, it felt good. Really good.

“It’s only been a day but so far it’s absolutely better,” said DelBene, who has represented the 1st Congressional District since 2012. “I am excited about the opportunities ahead and to know that important legislation I’ve been working on can get a hearing and has a chance to move.”

Jayapal, elected in 2016 in the 7th District, on Friday said it is “wonderful already.”

“The importance of this moment is enormous,” she said. “We saw it immediately by being able to move forward bills to end the shutdown. It really feels good to watch the (Republican) amendments be rejected on the floor.”

DelBene, Jayapal and Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen of the 2nd Congressional District, each represent a part of Snohomish County in Congress. They are among the seven Democrats and three Republicans in Washington’s House delegation. Democrats gained a seat and Republicans lost one in November.

This isn’t Larsen’s initial time in the majority. He entered Congress in 2001, and Democrats held control for a four-year stretch following the 2006 election. Fewer than half the members of the current caucus were around for any of that period, he said.

Being in the majority doesn’t change your responsibilities as a legislator, he said. “You have to be able to balance the basics of governing — meeting with constituents and listening to their concerns — with the politics of Washington, D.C., which do not necessarily turn out to be as important to constituents.”

With the change in the majority, the impact of Washington’s delegation in the House will evolve as well.

For example, in the last Congress, with the GOP in charge, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane was part of the leadership team that developed and carried out the caucus strategy. The role routinely involved her in conversations with leaders of the Republican-run Senate, thus elevating her profile, and by extension, the state’s.

With Democrats at the helm, the influence will be more visible in policy debates conducted in committees and on the House floor in the course of voting on bills.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, of Tacoma, is the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee which will be evaluating President Donald Trump’s present and future proposals for the nation’s defense.

Larsen, of Everett, who also serves on that panel, will be chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation, which will address aviation and the aerospace economy. Both are subjects of critical importance in the state.

DelBene, of Medina, is on the Ways and Means committee, where tax policy is one of the biggest areas to be tackled.

Jayapal’s assignments include the Judiciary Committee, where immigration reform and political activities of the president plus his administration are expected to be a focal point.

“We will be taking on the corruption in the White House,” she promised.

Larsen and DelBene each said that their caucus can keep close watch on the Trump administration while advancing legislation to increase families’ access to health care, improve roads and highways, and expand individuals’ voting rights.

“In my view, it’s important to understand the Democratic majority can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Larsen said. “We can exercise our oversight role and work on policy issues that affect the people we represent. We can do both things at the same time.”

On the legislative front, Larsen plans to reintroduce a bill targeting restrictive voter identification laws. It would allow eligible voters who lack identification documents required by their state to be able to sign a sworn statement attesting to their identity, as is done in Washington, and then cast a standard ballot at the polls.

He also wants to make another run at bills to boost apprenticeships and to carve out transportation infrastructure funding for small cities.

“I’m very excited about the prospects in the next two years of maybe getting some things passed,” he said.

DelBene will reintroduce her National Landslide Preparedness Act. Stirred by the deadly Oso mudslide, the bill would establish a national program to identify and reduce landslide hazards around the country. It passed unanimously out of the House Resources Committee but was never brought up for a vote.

Jayapal already got her first win as she’s been assured hearings will be held for her Medicare-for-All legislation to create a national health plan.

“We’re one step closer to all Americans having access to quality affordable health care,” she tweeted Thursday after securing a commitment for hearings from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Jayapal predicted the first 100 days will find Democrats working on bills to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and expand gun safety laws.

On Friday, Democrats filed a sweeping political reform bill dealing with voting access, campaign finance and ethics rules. It reportedly will require presidents and vice presidents to disclose past tax returns. although the bill’s text was not available online Friday. This is seen as a response to President Donald Trump who has thus far refused to release his returns.

While the legislation has no chance of clearing the Republican-led Senate, it demonstrates the new House majority is resolute in wanting to take on the Republican leader.

“We’re not going to shy away,” Jayapal said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

Correction: An earlier version misstated when Rep. Pramila Jayapal was elected. She was elected in 2016.

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