If the federal government shuts down this weekend, freshman U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer says she will voluntarily stop receiving her congressional paycheck.
It’s a move that could cost her money now, but she hopes will ultimately help her keep her job.
Chavez-DeRemer, a Republican lawmaker whose district stretches from Portland suburbs across Central Oregon and includes the city of Bend, is one of 18 Republican lawmakers whose districts voted for President Biden over Donald Trump in 2020. Often called the “Biden District Republicans” inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway, these vulnerable Republicans will most likely face the political backlash if the federal government shutters for an extended period.
Oregon’s 5th Congressional District seat was held for seven terms by moderate Democrat Kurt Schrader before Chavez-DeRemer managed to flip it after an expensive battle last year. She became the first Republican Latina congresswoman from Oregon. (U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas, a Democrat representing Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, was elected the same cycle.) Chavez-DeRemer, former mayor of Happy Valley, ran as a political moderate and highlighted her bipartisanship while in local office and her business experience.
Now, she’s in a political nightmare of sorts. Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, a survey research center, called the current political landscape a “minefield” for someone in Chavez-DeRemer’s position.
On one hand, government shutdowns have proven to be extremely unpopular historically, Miringoff said. But if Chavez-DeRemer bucks her party, she risks losing the support of her more far-right colleagues. That could matter when she looks for help in what will most certainly be a tough reelection bid in 2024.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, one of the more hardline Republicans in Congress, has already said he would support challenging some Republican incumbents who don’t support his efforts. (National Republican groups put money into Chavez-DeRemer’s campaign last election cycle.)
And it won’t just be the Republicans going after swing-district GOP House members.
Chavez-DeRemer’s would-be Democratic opponents are also hoping to capitalize on the moment. In a recent newsletter to raise campaign money, Democrat Janelle Bynum, a state representative in the Oregon Legislature, told her supporters that “extremists in D.C. like Lori Chavez-DeRemer would rather shut down the government to score political points than deal with the problems we’re facing.”
Chavez-DeRemer has said she has proven already she’s willing to work with Democrats. She voted for a bipartisan measure that would have funded the government through January and provided military aid to Ukraine.
“I can’t tell you how frustrated I am,” Chavez-DeRemer told OPB. “I do not want a government shutdown. I think that is not going to benefit Oregonians or any American who counts on certain things, in certainty in their everyday lives. So, I’m doing everything in my office to make sure that we’re in conversations in order to avoid just that.”
Oregon’s other Republican in Congress, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, said he is having a hard time understanding the handful of people in his party who are driving the country toward a shutdown. He believes there are opportunities now on the table to dramatically reduce spending without bringing the country to a screeching halt.
“I think it’s a very unfortunate way of addressing the very serious challenges of slowing down spending,” said Bentz, who represents Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District.
“One reason I don’t support [a shutdown], and there are many, I don’t think in the past it’s been effective as a means of prompting change,” Bentz said. “I believe it costs not only the government a significant amount of money, it also costs the economy a lot of money.”
Both Bentz and Chavez-DeRemer are often aligned with their party’s values, and both suggested an impeachment inquiry into the president seems warranted.
“So, an inquiry is different than impeachment,” Chavez-DeRemer told OPB. “I would say as long as we keep finding more answers, we need to keep asking those questions. … I believe that this is one way to continue down this investigation to reveal the answers that the American people want.”
There are a lot of factors that could play into how the possible shutdown impacts Chavez-DeRemer’s political future: how long a shutdown lasts, the economic repercussions and who ends up taking the blame for blocking government funding.
There is another unknown as well. Chavez-DeRemer says she will try to suspend her paycheck, but it might not be so easy. The Constitution requires Congress to get paid even if the government isn’t funded.
Most rank-and-file members of the House make $174,000 a year.
Tiffany Camhi contributed to this report
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated when Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer was elected. She was elected in 2022. It also misspelled Rep. Andrea Salinas’ name. OPB regrets the errors.