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Politics & Government

Freshman Representatives Reflect On First Few Months In Office

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There's usually a bit of a honeymoon period when you begin a new job. You're excited, meeting new people, learning the ropes, the culture of your new workplace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: For the meeting of the 114th Congress of the United States, the House will come to order.

SIEGEL: After a while, you start to see the challenges of your new gig. And today, four months into their first terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, we are checking in with Republican Congresswoman Mimi Walters of California and Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. Welcome back to both of you.

CONGRESSMAN MIMI WALTERS: Well, thanks for having us.

CONGRESSMAN RUBEN GALLEGO: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And in terms of what Congress has accomplished since we last spoke, there was the permanent repeal of the doc fix, finally sorting out the Medicare payment formula doctors. There was a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security that was approved. Representative Mimi Walters, are we missing anything else here that was accomplished?

WALTERS: Well, I just came from a bill signing with Speaker Boehner - a bipartisan piece of legislation on human trafficking that we're very excited to send to the president's desk, making sure that people who are victims of human trafficking aren't seen as criminals.

SIEGEL: This is the item that was hung up in the Senate for so long over abortion language?

WALTERS: Yes, that's it. But we came to an agreement, and I'm very proud to have attended the bill signing.

SIEGEL: Congressman Gallego, what would you say about the process that you've experienced - more going on than meets the eye, or is - are we right in seeing a fairly stagnant Congress in Washington?

GALLEGO: Yeah. I think there's more than meets the eye, but I - what - you know, on a day-to-day basis, there are people that are working in their offices, even quietly advocating for their constituents or working across the aisle. And look, sometimes there are some heated flashpoints and the partisan divide opens up, but I think you only hear when we're fighting, not necessarily when we're not fighting.

WALTERS: I would totally agree. In fact, we passed over 90 pieces of legislation so far since we started in January.

SIEGEL: What would the two of you really like to be spending your time on? First, Ruben Gallego.

GALLEGO: You know, for me, I'd love to be spending more time on veterans' issues and college affordability issues. I think it's really important that, you know, our - we do something about the runaway cost of college. I mean, I hear about it from parents, from students, from employers. It would be really important if - for the country if we could change that.

SIEGEL: And Congresswoman Walters, what would you really like to be spending your time on right now?

WALTERS: Well, I've actually been spending a lot of time on the Trade Promotion Authority piece of legislation that I know is one of the president's primary goals in getting passed, which we hope to have passed by this fall.

SIEGEL: And Representative Gallego, you're the Democrat. Is your Republican opposite number more in tune with the president on this one than you are?

GALLEGO: Absolutely. I'm - it's - you know, sometimes I'm just going to have to disagree with the president or the president has to disagree with us Democrats. We're there 95 percent of the time, 98 percent of the time. But, you know, at the end of the day, I'm here to stand for workers and working families, and I don't believe any kind of trade promotion which bypasses Congress and drops, you know, wages for the working class would be helpful. And I just don't think that's why I was elected to Congress.

SIEGEL: And Mimi Walters, the argument that you make in response to that?

WALTERS: Well, 1 in 5 jobs in America is a result from trade. So we have a disagreement about the job issue, as you can tell. But I'm very supportive of trade with other countries, and one of the biggest concerns we have is we need to set the stage with trade. If America does not set the stage and set the standards, then China will. And I'm just sort of surprised I'm on the same page as President Obama on this one, but I am.

SIEGEL: I'm curious. It is said that being a member of the House of Representatives is to be in constant campaign mode. have you both spent any time fundraising already, and if so, how much time? Mimi Walters, you first.

WALTERS: Well, you always have to fundraise, and that's the unfortunate part about this job because you have to make sure that you have money in order to get your message out. We have very short terms in Congress. And yes, I mean, I've spent some time - not a tremendous amount of time because I've really been trying to learn my way around D.C. So I've really been spending most of my time just learning and listening.

SIEGEL: And Ruben Gallego - learning, listening and also fundraising?

GALLEGO: Oh, absolutely. And if you want to give, you can go to WWW - I'm just kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

GALLEGO: No - you know, I deal with the reality that at any point I can have a race. You know, I'm always, you know, fundraising to make sure that I can mount a relevant to campaign.

SIEGEL: Well, if you had one brief - one tweet that you could make about your first few months in Congress, what would each of you say about the experience so far?

GALLEGO: It's been very quick. It's been very exciting. And, you know, it'd be nice to slow down a little though.

SIEGEL: And Mimi Walters?

WALTERS: I would say, at the age of 53, I have a whole new adventure ahead of me.

SIEGEL: Well, that was California Republican Congresswoman Mimi Walters and also Arizona Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego. Both are freshman in the House of Representatives, and we're checking in with them throughout the year. Thanks to both of you.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

WALTERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.