Rep. Suzan DelBene talks Capitol attack and legislative priorities

The congresswoman from Washington state details a harrowing day at the Capitol and how the House will move forward on the pandemic, infrastructure and climate.

Nearly one week after a violent mob stormed the United States Capitol Building, looking to overturn the presidential election results, Rep. Suzan DelBene sat in the same office where she first learned of the ongoing insurrection, recalling the attack.

“It is one of the darkest days in our history,” the congresswoman said Tuesday during a live video interview. “A lot of us didn’t see and understand all that was going on until later, when it was over. ... Just a trying, dark, disheartening time, but also one where we came together and make sure we did our duty, which was to certify the election results.”

The repercussions of the insurrection, which was spurred by outgoing President Donald Trump and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer, continued to unfold in the Capitol yesterday, where DelBene and her colleagues in the Democrat-led House of Representatives considered remedies for a president she views as “unfit to serve.” 

The interview, a part of Crosscut's Northwest Newsmakers series, took place between the debate and a floor vote on a resolution that would call on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, to remove the president from office. The resolution later passed, although Pence declined to act on it. 

The House was also preparing to vote on articles of impeachment at the time of the interview. That vote took place today and passed, delivering the Trump administration a historic second impeachment. DelBene, all Democrats and some Republican lawmakers voted in favor. The articles of impeachment will now head to the Senate, where a two-thirds vote would be needed to convict and remove the president. Such a vote is unlikely, given the partisan split of the upper house, although a handful of Republican members have voiced some support for impeachment.

“We should be united and outraged at what happened last week,” DelBene told host Monica Guzman. “We should be united and outraged about an attack on our democracy, about the lies and about the president’s involvement in inciting that violence.”

DelBene also signaled her support for investigations and further punitive action for other lawmakers. 

“Whoever was a part of aiding and abetting this mob, that is also an area where there will be a deep investigation,” she said. “We need accountability and … clearly we have members of Congress who need to be held accountable, too."

The congresswoman said she also supported penalizing members who refused to wear masks on the House floor in accordance with public health measures enacted in the Capitol. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had earlier imposed a fine of $500 for those who refused, following an apparent COVID-19 outbreak after Republican members refused to wear masks while sheltering in place with their colleagues during the attack. 

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and two other Democrat lawmakers have tested positive for the virus in recent days. DelBene, who was in the same room as Jayapal and the unmasked legislators during the insurrection, said that she has tested negative.  

The congresswoman, who represents Washington’s 1st Congressional District, north of Redmond to the Canadian border, and leads the centrist New Democrat Coalition, also answered questions about legislative priorities for the 117th Congress, which will be tasked with responding to a surging pandemic and continued economic devastation while attempting to push through an agenda that addresses health care, the environment and the nation’s infrastructure. 

“First is ending the pandemic and helping to get people back to work,” she said when asked about her coalition’s top priority. “The pandemic has to be our number one priority; to help get vaccines distributed, to help make sure our public health care workers have the resources they need to help protect our communities, and that families have the resources to get through this incredibly challenging time. … We passed a package in December, but there is much more we need to do.”

DelBene said special attention should be paid to the disparities that the pandemic has exposed, and she championed a bill she co-authored that would expand the child tax credit.

“That’s a good example of something that was good policy before the pandemic, that could help during the pandemic, but also good policy after to address the inequalities that we’ve seen,” she said. 

DelBene also indicated that passing an infrastructure package would be high on the list for the House. She noted that such a package wouldn’t focus on traditional notions of infrastructure, but would, among other items, seek to improve the nation’s electrical grid and build out rural broadband, a pet issue for the lawmaker whose district includes portions of urban King County, as well as the more rural Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties. 

The congresswoman also voiced some optimism for  addressing climate change, indicating that she is seeing support for some carbon cap-and-trade proposals that have historically been nonstarters.

“There is going to be a lot of debate,” she said. “I think we have a chance to move this Congress. 

The path toward legislative success was made easier for Democrats last week when the party took control of the Senate following wins in two run-offs in Georgia, giving the party control of the executive and legislative branches. Still, Democrats hold a slim majority in the House and just a tie-breaker majority in the Senate, where Republicans are likely to employ the filibuster to block any legislation that does not have 60 votes of support. 

Even with a Democrat in the White House, pushing forward priorities while attempting to reverse some Trump-era actions on health care and immigration will be difficult. DelBene said her focus will remain on the House, where success may depend on the ability of the centrist and progressive wings of the party to find compromise.

“We share values, but we may disagree on the best ways” to get there, she said. “We do need to come together.” 

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