In November, voters in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District elected Lori Chavez-DeRemer as their new member of Congress, flipping a district that has been controlled by Democrats since 1997. Chavez-DeRemer is the former mayor of Happy Valley and is the first Republican congresswoman to represent the state. She joins us to share some of her priorities for her first year in office.
Note: The following transcript was edited for length and clarity.
David Miller: Your swearing-in, and those of all members of Congress, was delayed by the long process to vote for speaker, which we can talk about in a second. But I’m just curious about that moment when it finally happened. What was it like for you?
Lori Chavez-DeRemer: It was about 1:30 in the morning, maybe about a little bit earlier. I guess we got sworn in about 1:30, but it was exciting for Republicans. We knew we were in the majority. It took a little extra time, 15 rounds, which I know will go down in history as the longest time to elect a speaker. But I think as a conference, we knew that’s where we were headed. Several weeks prior, as a conference, over 90% of the conference had voted for Speaker McCarthy. And as the process this went on, it took some discussions and talking about the rules, which also we had adopted early on in our conference during orientation, and for several weeks, we debated back and forth, and there was a few things that others still wanted to bring up. And I think it was an important conversation, and now we’re here and we knew we would get there. It just took a little extra time.
Miller: What does it mean to you to be the first woman ever elected as a Republican member of congress for Oregon?
Chavez-DeRemer: Well, certainly representing Oregon’s 5th District as a whole, we knew the district is pretty evenly split. So representing Republican women, representing Republicans is important to me. But I was Mayor for eight years of Happy Valley. For the longest time, people probably didn’t even know what my party was because I just wanted to represent the people and the concerns that they had for things that happened in front of their noses, on the ground. I would see people in the parks, and I would see people at the coffee shops, and I would see people at the schools, and, they cared about their streets and safety, they cared about good jobs and what we were going to bring, what was the new business that was going to be opening up and those kind of things, and kept taxes low as we were growing city. So those same values were on the campaign trail with me all the way through, but I would focus locally. So, representing Republicans and Democrats in this district is important. But yes, the first Republican woman ever elected to Congress for Oregon is an exciting time. So, I’m grateful, very grateful to be here.
Miller: As you noted, along with the vast majority of your caucus, you supported Kevin McCarthy in his ultimately successful bid for speaker. But it was an odyssey. Five days, 15 votes. How did you spend that time?
Chavez-DeRemer: Well, I knew that I was going to be supporting Speaker McCarthy. During the time of my campaign, it’s very clear to me that the Republican tent was wider and that more women would be elected, and more diversity would be in the Republican tent because we wanted to reflect who our voters are and what their values were. So I was going to bring that first. And when Speaker McCarthy was talking about this with all candidates throughout the country, that was his focus and he walked the walk. So I knew when I came to Congress that he had done the work that he said he was going to do. He walked the walk, and that I would be supporting him. So again, with 16 months on the trail, and then an additional two months to get sworn in or get excited for this moment, another 96 hours, to me it seemed reasonable, yes, not normal but reasonable, to be able to do in order to elect who most of what the conference wanted.
Miller: Who have you turned to over the last week while you’re there to get the lay of the land to build connections and relationships and to and to hear from members of Congress how it all works?
Chavez-DeRemer: Well, certainly I have relied upon Congressman Greg Walden. And he’s often here even though he’s retired, and passed his seat on to congressman Bentz. So they, for Oregonians, they’re excited that we’ve won double the delegation for Republicans. But to shine light on Oregon and that we can be a force to be reckoned with, and we can be a voice for this country and now we can truly have some say so for Oregonians.
So Congressman Walden has been great and I’ve leaned on him a lot. He just shares a lot of expertise, and when you’re here for 20-plus years you get to know the lay of the land, and there’s certain things, we just don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You want to avoid the landmines and you want to do the good work and they tell us, the independent thinkers, certainly get out here and represent your district first. That has been the best message that I have heard over and over again, and not only from them but from other members, because we don’t get votes out here in D. C., we get them in Oregon. And that means we’re doing the people’s work. And my focus will be getting home. If not every other week, it’ll be every week, that is my plan. I’m going to move into my apartment tomorrow and then I’ll be there for one or two days and then I’ll be back on that plane to get home and talk to Oregonians and let them know how it’s been going. So there’s a lot of everyday people, moms like myself, business owners like myself, there’s mayors that are here. So I’m learning a lot and I’m going to keep my ears open and hit the ground running.
Miller: So Greg Walden is one end in terms of now former but significant congressional experience but the flip side is that half of Oregon’s congressional delegation now are freshman. What kinds of conversations we had with your fellow newcomers? Andrea Salinas and Val Hoyle?
Chavez-DeRemer: I didn’t know Andrea before this. I didn’t really see her on the trail during the campaign being in different districts, but I was able to spend time with her during orientation several weeks ago and we visited. As freshmen, we were all in the same hotel that first week getting to know the lay of the land, so to speak. So I was able to see them. I did know Congresswoman Val Hoyle prior, didn’t know her well, but I did know who she was and we visited, I was with her on the floor. I don’t know if you notice this, or if people see it on TV, we do sit kind of, Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other, but in the middle we all sit together. And then sometimes, while people are voting, people wander the floor. So I went over and visited with her for a bit. And then I didn’t know Congresswoman Bonamici very well, but I met her on the plane a couple weeks ago when all of us were flying back, and she’s been super great introducing me to the other women in Congress. She’s been here now since 2012. So she has some great insight for me. There’s a bipartisan lounge for women to sit in, Democrats and Republicans, that we can take a little bit of a break and visit with each other. And so a lot of times the American people don’t know that, but I think it’s great. And I know that for my district and for Oregon we will reach across the aisle to do the good work. I mean, that’s what I did as mayor. That’s what I’ll continue to do. And I think the district will appreciate focusing on Oregon, not the bipartisan or the partisan nonsense.
Miller: So let’s turn to this question of bipartisanship because with split control of Congress and the next presidential election cycle starting in about a year, most Beltway watchers, D.C. wonky people, are not expecting lawmakers to agree on much or frankly to be able to accomplish much. Where do you see room for meaningful legislation that can pass both chambers and be signed by the president?
Chavez-DeRemer: Well, let me take an example of what we passed this past week, ending the proxy voting. I would imagine that people want to be here in Congress, right? It might seem simple, but people expect us to do our jobs and so being able to be in Washington representing our states, I think is very important for us to be on the job. People want us to be here, listen and then go home and report out. I think, when we’re talking about repealing the 87,000 IRS agents now, that might have seemed somewhat partisan, but I can tell you there were some votes across and that’s because that’s good legislation, right? People in their own homes want us to stay focused on things and that isn’t diving into everyday Americans and having more IRS agents right up their nose and in their homes, and so I think that that was important.
China, we saw that, yes, we passed that vote, the China select committee. Why? There were Democrats who voted with Republicans on this issue because I think it’s important for us to pay attention to our national security and what’s happening with the Chinese Communist Party. So those kinds of things, we can get good legislation. For certain, there’s going to be things that we send over to the Senate that might not pass, but we’re doing the work, and the commitment to America that Republicans promised.
Miller: You ran on a platform of tackling inflation. We got some good news on that front yesterday. Consumer prices led by, among other things, drops in gas and motor vehicle prices. They fell for the first time in more than two and a half years. Has that alleviated some of your concerns?
Chavez-DeRemer: Well, I think we can continue to do more, right? We want to make sure that we’re supporting small businesses. We want to make sure that we can get the cost of goods down for everyday Oregonians. I mean, we saw for the last two years the gas prices were, and as they come down, we can enhance that. The strategic petroleum reserves was an important bill that we just passed. We want to build that up. We don’t want to sell it off to other countries. Those kinds of things will get prices down and continue down that road - cost of groceries, eggs, are still so expensive. That everyday cost of goods and services is still very high, and there are truly Americans who are concerned about what that looks like over time. So I want to do everything I can to support that and I will stay focused on those commitments that I made on the trail.
Miller: One of the rules that you voted for on Monday says that all new spending has to be offset by equal or greater cuts to existing spending. So a big question is where those cuts might come from? And in particular, what that could mean for entitlements like Social Security or Medicaid. How will you approach those programs?
Chavez-DeRemer: Those are important programs that we promised to the American people. And I think the question of cut go as opposed to pay go, the Democrats have done is can we find wasteful spending. It isn’t finding good spending. It isn’t finding things that we’ve promised the American people. Where is the waste happening? And so when we’re talking about either new programs or we’re talking about consistent programs that we’ve often offered, we want to fill those offers because that’s how they’re filled, with economic growth and people working and putting back into those systems that are important to the American people. And then finding the wasteful spending. So that cut goes for new programs. If we want to offer one, if a member of Congress wants to bring something that’s important to Oregonians, I need to go out and find where can I save money for the American people? It’s a matter of how do we save money and not waste money because the American people depend on certain things and I want to fight for them.
Miller: Sticking with Social Security, though it is projected to be insolvent in a dozen years, meaning that without any changes, payouts at that point would be something like 75% of what is owed to retirees. What changes to the program would you support?
Chavez-DeRemer: I would certainly look for saving money in other places. People as a direct correlation, they look at Social Security and say, “Well, listen, if we don’t want it to be insolvent, we have to cut it.” Not necessarily - let’s look at wasteful spending in other parts. Let’s decide at other parts of government, not necessarily just Social Security. So, there’s going to be more conversation on the floor. There’s going to be more conversation amongst my colleagues. A lot of us Republicans, while we are conservative, we certainly want to care for our states and that conversation will happen. I am working a lot with the Main Street Caucus. I’m working a lot with the Republican Governance Caucus. I’m making sure that I am paying attention to what policy and how those levers suspect the people of Oregon. So before I make any big decisions, I want to make sure I have all the information that I need in order to make a decision that’s best for Oregonians.
U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. Click play to listen to the full conversation:
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