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Susie Lee looks back on first 100 days as House freshman

Updated April 11, 2019 - 5:50 pm

WASHINGTON — House Democrats hailed their first 100 days as a success, Republicans drubbed it as a disaster, and freshman Susie Lee of Nevada recounted the whirlwind session that began with a monthlong government shutdown followed by legislative victories — and stumbles.

“We’ve gotten off to a pretty good clip,” said Lee, a member of the historic House freshman class elected in the midterm election.

Friday marks the 100th day since Democrats regained control of the House.

Lee recalls the learning curve of taking office during a government shutdown, the disclosure that the Trump administration secretly shipped a half metric ton of plutonium into Nevada and passing legislation, all while renting a Capitol Hill apartment and moving to Washington.

She used the analogy that the hectic beginning to her congressional career has been much like “building a plane in midair.”

Lee, dressed in a blue blouse and blazer, recounted the first 100 days in office during an interview with the Review-Journal in her office on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building.

Moving ahead or falling back?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called the new Democratic majority’s legislative accomplishments a success.

“We should all take great pride in the incredible progress we have made to advance our For The People agenda,” Pelosi told her Democratic caucus.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called it “100 days of Democratic disappointment.”

“As the majority, the Democrats have focused on three principles above all else — resolutions, radicalism and resistance,” McCarthy told a news conference this week.

Indeed. Many of the so-called messaging bills passed by the Democratic House are unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

But one thing is indisputable. The new House majority is historic in many ways.

It has the most diverse freshman class of any previous Congress.

A blue wave in the midterm elections, seen widely as a referendum on President Donald Trump, resulted in 42 women taking office to make the House the most gender, racially and ethnically diverse in history.

The class includes Native Americans, the first Muslim members and transgender lawmakers.

The election also saw 67 Democrats swept into office to help the party regain control of the House.

In Nevada, Lee was part of that blue wave.

Lee defeated Republican lawyer Danny Tarkanian in the midterm election to retain the 3rd Congressional District seat in Nevada previously held by Democrat Jacky Rosen, who was elected to the Senate.

As the first order of business, members voted for a House speaker, and Lee voted for Pelosi after receiving assurances that legislation that would open Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository would not reach the floor for a vote.

She later signed onto bills that would require consent for locating a nuclear waste repository in any state, and explore alternative military or environmental uses for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear repository site located 90 miles from Las Vegas.

Democrats also passed legislation to take money out of politics, expand voter rights and make health care reform and protections a priority.

Problem solver

As a moderate, Lee joined the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and is working across the aisle on legislation to hold down prescription drug prices, battle the opioid epidemic and craft an infrastructure improvements bill that would be palatable to members of parties and the White House.

But there have been stumbles.

Divisions among moderates and progressives in the House Democratic Caucus forced leaders to shelve a recent budget vote. Lee said there are those in the caucus with bold ideas who “want to push an agenda.” She said she is more pragmatic in seeking ways to move forward for results.

And recent comments by Muslim freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., prompted an intraparty battle over the wording of a resolution that first condemned Omar’s remarks as anti-Semitic but was later broadened to condemn bigotry in general.

Lee backed the first resolution Democrats wrote to condemn Omar and her comments and then voted for the broadened resolution that condemned all forms of hate speech.

She diplomatically refused to criticize leadership for the changes, saying there is no place for anti-Semitism and no place for hate speech of any kind.

Would-be presidents calling

Lee said she has struck up friendships with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and regularly consults on the House floor with members of the Nevada delegation, Democrats Dina Titus and Steven Horsford and Republican Mark Amodei.

She is a member of the Education and Labor Committee and also of Veterans Affairs, where her big focus is trying to revamp operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs and establish child care and veterans centers.

As a Nevada lawmaker, she also is being courted by Democratic presidential hopefuls eyeing early primary and caucus states.

“They are all calling,” said Lee, who has decided not to endorse a candidate before the Nevada caucus early next year.

She acknowledged the current controversy surrounding former Vice President Joe Biden. Several women, including Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman and one-time primary opponent of Lee, who have publicly accused the likely presidential candidate of inappropriate touching.

Lee said the #MeToo movement is about having the support to be vocal about situations that are inappropriate, and “Lucy has as much right as anyone else” to make her concerns known.

“He’s heard loud and clear that he makes people uncomfortable,” Lee said of Biden and the accusations.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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