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Freshmen House Democrats claim coveted committee assignments, keep defying expectations

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Katie Hill, and many more received powerful appointments.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib on Capitol Hill on January 29, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib on Capitol Hill on January 29, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Democrats who joined the House last month continue to defy expectations.

After flipping the most seats for their party in a single election since Watergate in November’s midterms, numerous freshmen Democrats were not shy about their hopes for powerful committee assignments.

The House contains dozens of committees, but a handful are in high demand and typically require members to “pay their dues” before gaining these prime appointments.

In response to their new colleagues’ lofty ambitions, one anonymous Democrat told the Los Angeles Times last month, “That’s not how things work,” while another said “I don’t know if I want to say ‘Sit down and shut up'” in the newspaper.

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But now that high-profile freshmen House Democrats have been appointed to some of the chamber’s most influential committees, it’s clear that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) views many new members of her diverse, young caucus as the futures of the party.

Here’s what some of the most important committees in the House look like now:

Oversight and Reform

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib on Capitol Hill on January 16, 2019. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib on Capitol Hill on January 16, 2019. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) chairs what is arguably the most formidable congressional committee due to its scope of subpoena power and status as the House’s top investigative body.

The 13-term Maryland Democrat is joined on the House Oversight and Reform Committee by several of the most visible freshmen Democrats.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) prioritized the rising costs of prescription drugs during her first hearing.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) hasn’t been shy about her intentions to expose corruption in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was a little more discreet upon the announcement of her appointment.

Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) referred to her committee assignment as “all about restoring faith in government.”

With Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA) also appointed to the Oversight and Reform Committee, five freshmen Democrats on the committee will face off against House Freedom Caucus members like Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

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Based on the early returns, it looks like these young Democrats are up for the challenge. Ocasio-Cortez reclaimed her speaking time during the first meeting, after Meadows told her three days wouldn’t be enough notice for subpoenas because “We’re not just siting around eating bonbons.”

Financial Services

Ayanna Pressley at the Massachusetts Democratic Party headquarters in Dorchester, Massachusetts on September 28, 2018. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images)
Ayanna Pressley at the Massachusetts Democratic Party headquarters in Dorchester, Massachusetts on September 28, 2018. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) assumed control of the committee that is responsible for oversight of the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, and entire U.S. banking system last month.

The 15-term California Democrat welcomes several freshmen colleagues who focused on economic inequalities during their successful campaigns.

Ocasio-Cortez praised “the work of grassroots organizers and activists” and mentioned a wide range of goals upon her appointment.

Pressley said she thought of “anyone that’s ever come home to an eviction notice, felt overwhelmed by student debt or worked the 2nd&3rd shift” when her committee assignment was announced.

Tlaib tweeted about her desire to work with Waters on “holding Wall Street accountable.”

Though Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) hasn’t received as much attention as some of her new colleagues, the longtime consumer protection attorney stands to make a major impact on House Financial Services.

Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), who has served as a substitute judge and assistant commonwealth’s attorney, said she would be focused on “fighting to protect you, your family & your future from abusive financial practices” in a tweet following her appointment.

Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) touted the perspective she would bring to the committee as “a small business owner representing a rural and urban district.”

Rep. Jesús García (D-IL), who was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a child, said he intends to focus on “unfair lending practices and decades-long, racial injustice issues.”

Reps. Ben McAdams (D-UT), Sean Casten (D-IL), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), and Dean Phillips (D-MN) round out the group of freshmen House Democrats that make up a fifth of the voting majority on Financial Services.

Judiciary

Lucy McBath and Emma González in a tweet that was posted on January 16, 2019. (RepLucyMcBath/Twitter)
Lucy McBath and Emma González in a tweet that was posted on January 16, 2019. (RepLucyMcBath/Twitter)

14-term Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) now leads the powerful committee that oversees federal courts, law enforcement, and impeachment proceedings.

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Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) was a Delta flight attendant when her 17-year-old son was shot and killed in 2012 because of the music being played in his car. McBath became a national spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety before flipping Newt Gingrich’s former seat near Atlanta in November.

McBath will be part of the judiciary committee’s hearing on gun violence Wednesday, the first in the House since Republicans gained control of the chamber eight years ago.

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) — the first Eritrean-American in Congress and Colorado’s first Black congressman — is also on the judiciary committee.

Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), a former county judge who succeeded former Rep. Beto O’Rourke in an El Paso-based district along the U.S.-Mexico border, has been one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s long-desired wall.

Garcia, a former legal assistance lawyer and social worker, joined Escobar as Texas’ first-ever Latina congresswomen last month.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), who immigrated to the United States from Ecuador at the age of 14, was a nonprofit advocate before being elected to the House last year.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), one of the most outspoken Democratic opponents of Pelosi’s successful bid to become House Speaker for the second time, was reportedly denied a spot on House judiciary.

Foreign Affairs

Ilhan Omar at a news conference on Capitol Hill on January 10, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Ilhan Omar at a news conference on Capitol Hill on January 10, 2019. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which oversees America’s international relations.

The 16-term New York Democrat welcomes several freshmen Democrats to his ranks.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who lived in a Kenyan refugee camp as a child, tweeted about her assignment to “the committee that is responsible for overseeing our country’s—and this President’s—actions abroad.”

Since being appointed, she has faced criticism from Republicans regarding her support of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Omar has expressed support for BDS, with reservations, though she has also advocated for boycotts against Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority nations accused of human rights violations.

Still, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), the committee’s ranking member, called Omar’s appointment to House Foreign Affairs “crazy” and insinuated that she was responsible for an anti-Semitic message sent to his office.

As has been the case for most conservatives who attempt to engage with the young freshmen Democrats on Twitter, it hasn’t gone too well for Zeldin.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) is a former CIA operations officer.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) is an Air Force veteran whose father was a Holocaust survivor.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), who served in the State Department under former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, fled communist Poland with his mother as a child.

Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) is an attorney and ex-NFL player who served in Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Freshmen Reps. Andy Levin (D-MI) — the son of former Rep. Sandy Levin (D-MI) — David Trone (D-MD), and Phillips also join Engel on House Foreign Affairs.

Armed Services

Elissa Slotkin, Mikie Sherrill, and Chrissy Houlahan on Capitol Hill on November 30, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Elissa Slotkin, Mikie Sherrill, and Chrissy Houlahan on Capitol Hill on November 30, 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) chairs the committee responsible for funding and oversight of the Defense Department and portions of the Energy Department.

The 12-term Washington Democrat welcomes many of his new colleagues with military experience to Armed Services, most of whom had never run for office prior to winning their races in November’s midterms.

Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) is a former Army captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME) is a former Marine Corps infantryman who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) was a CIA analyst in Iraq before joining the State and Defense Departments.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) is a former Navy commander who holds the distinction of being “the first female sailor to spend her entire career on combat ships.”

Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-CA) is a former Navy lieutenant commander who served in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) is a former Navy helicopter pilot and lieutenant commander.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) served on Obama’s National Security Council and as a diplomat in Afghanistan.

Armed Services also includes freshmen Reps. Deb Haaland (D-NM) — a daughter of U.S. military veterans and one of the first Native congresswomen — Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), Lori Trahan (D-MA), Kendra Horn (D-OK), Escobar, Houlahan, and Hill.