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Diana DeGette on Blue Wave and How She Wants to Whip Congress Good

Editor's note: On November 19, Representative Diana Degette's office announced that she had withdrawn her candidacy as majority whip. However, a news release noted that she "expects to be selected chair of the powerful Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The subcommittee’s oversight authority, including subpoena power, extends to critical issues such as drug prices, conduct of officials at the EPA, and the actions of the Trump Administration to separate young immigrant children from their parents." Continue for our previous coverage.

Representative Diana DeGette's re-election last week wasn't exactly a nail-biter, since she earned more than 70 percent of the vote in Colorado District 1. But she says she's grateful for the support and thrilled by the blue wave that swept over Colorado and helped Democrats take back control of the U.S. House, where she's currently running for Majority Whip, a party leadership position second only to Speaker.

Why is she making a bid for this high-profile gig? "The job of the Whip is to put the votes together to pass legislation — and I'm Chief Deputy Whip for the Democrats right now. I've been in that position for seven terms," DeGette notes. "As Chief Deputy, I've worked on legislation like the Affordable Care Act and bills related to climate change. The Democrats are going to have a real job trying to pass bills on the floor, because we'll have a fairly narrow majority, and we have a very broad caucus. I think we need somebody who's an experienced Whip to pass the legislative agenda that the American public expects."

If DeGette is successful in her bid for Majority Whip, she'll take over for Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, who's currently the second-in-command to California Representative Nancy Pelosi, the current Minority Leader and a past Speaker of the House poised to resume that role.

Debate among political insiders is already raging over whether Pelosi should accept this opportunity or step aside — and the latter move would give conservatives who've made her a lightning rod for criticism exactly what they want. DeGette is keeping her options open for now, but she makes a subtle pitch for new blood.

"I think Nancy's done a great job," she emphasizes. "At this point, we haven't seen anybody running against Nancy, so it's hard to say what I'm going to do, because I don't know who might be running. But Nancy, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, the assistant leader, are all 79 years old. We need to have some transition planning."

She emphasizes, "I'm really focused on my race for Whip. But things are developing back there, and we'll just see what happens."

Representative Diana DeGette with two newly elected members of Congress from Colorado, Joe Neguse and Jason Crow.
Representative Diana DeGette with two newly elected members of Congress from Colorado, Joe Neguse and Jason Crow.
Diana DeGette Facebook page

In the meantime, DeGette salutes what she sees as "quite a decisive blue wave throughout the West, interestingly enough — in Colorado, in Nevada, in New Mexico. We even picked up a congressional seat in Utah. So I think it was a good year for Democrats, and a particularly good year with the governorships — and, of course, with a lot of the legislatures."

The latter "are going to be important in 2020, which is a redistricting year," she goes on. "And we've had a steep mountain to climb with the U.S. House; we had to win 23 seats just to break even. Now, it looks like we'll have roughly 230 seats for our working majority. And I think that sends a strong message to the Trump administration that the American public wants to see checks and balances. They want this administration to be held accountable and go along with some common-sense legislation."

DeGette dismisses the notion that split control of Congress (the Republicans extended their small majority in the U.S. Senate) guarantees two years of gridlock. "The role of Congress is to both investigate and to be the check and balance — but it's also to legislate. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. So the Democrats' intention is to do thoughtful, comprehensive investigations, but to legislate, too."

In her view, "there are several things we can work with the Senate and the President on, including infrastructure. The president said he wants it, that it would create jobs and economic development. And the other issue is comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate has passed it in the past, and Paul Ryan [the outgoing speaker of the house] was really the roadblock to it. The president said he would sign something, so I think that's something we can try to work on."

DeGette is currently vice chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, whose jurisdiction includes health care, trade, business, technology and consumer protection. Additionally, she serves on several subcommittees, including ones dealing with the environment and health, as well as oversight and investigations; she's a ranking member on the latter.

Diana DeGette speaking out against family separation at an event in June.
Diana DeGette speaking out against family separation at an event in June.
Diana DeGette Facebook page

When asked about what inquiries she'd like to see get under way when the transition of House power takes place in January 2019, DeGette says, "I think we need to get Donald Trump's tax returns. I think we need to have a thorough investigation of Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. And in my committee, I think what we need to do is investigate the EPA's rollback of key environmental rules. We need to get back to science, we need to address climate change legislation. We need to look at prescription drug prices and the high cost of insurance these days. And my committee has jurisdiction over the kids who were taken from their parents at the border. We need to know how that happened and what we can do to have full unification of kids who haven't found their parents."

After a pause, she says, "There's a lot more, but those are the top things."

A blizzard of investigations is certain to infuriate President Trump — and demonizing Democrats in the House could produce plenty of red meat for his truest believers. But to DeGette, that's not an adequate reason to hold back.

"The president is going to say anything he wants, whether it's true or not," she stresses. "So I don't think we can base what we do on what we think President Trump is going to say or claim. If we act as the responsible adults in the room and do responsible investigations, that's what the American public elected us in the majority to do."

Proving that this choice was the correct one could pay dividends two years from now, she feels — especially in this region. "In Colorado and the West, we're seeing more and more progressive leaders being elected. The West tends to have more young people moving here, and we have a new economy. So I think you're going to see more and more progressive values here."

She'd like to whip up a bunch of them in Washington, D.C., too.

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