Democrat Salud Carbajal raised his hand twice Tuesday as he became the Central Coast’s newest congressman: Once for real and once for show.
On a day that combined raw politics with bipartisan ceremony, Carbajal joined House of Representatives veterans as well as 51 other freshmen, including four other Democrats from California, in the swearing-in that began the 115th Congress. An individual member-by-member re-enactment followed, bringing family members into the picture.
“I’m ready to get to work,” Carbajal said midafternoon, several hours into his first term. “That’s the feeling of ‘Let’s get on with it. Let’s start working.’ ”
Carbajal’s congressional work began, in effect, with his futile vote for Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco for the position of House speaker. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin won re-election to the post on a 239-189 vote, with five members casting votes for other candidates.
The Republicans’ leadership triumph, though, was tainted by a GOP opening-day stumble over ethics, as Republicans first sprung a last-minute proposal to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics and then quickly backed off in the face of criticism from President-elect Donald Trump and others.
“The first day was anticipated to be more ceremonial,” Carbajal said. “Certainly a monkey wrench was thrown in with the closed-door vote to gut some of the ethics rules and to limit speech, so it was disheartening to see that on the first day.”
On the other side of the Capitol, former state Attorney General Kamala Harris likewise swore her oath of office and claimed the seat formerly held by the now-retired Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Harris, 52, who’s also a Democrat, came with a media spotlight already on her as the new senator from the nation’s largest state.
Carbajal, who is also 52, can expect a lower national profile, representing a district that spans San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Both congressional newcomers, though, instantly became targets for assorted vote-counters, job-seekers and lobbyists Tuesday. The corridor outside Carbajal’s second-floor office in the Cannon House Office Building was jammed with well-wishers during a two-hour reception, while representatives from the likes of PG&E, the National Education Association and various labor unions signed in and distributed business cards.
Carbajal’s office itself remains a work in progress, though by the time it opened for business the reception room was prominently adorned with photographs of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The formal start of the 115th Congress leaves other important business unfinished, including the committee assignments that will shape each member’s legislative potential. Carbajal has expressed interest in committees overseeing transportation, agriculture, natural resources and veterans’ affairs, none of which is beyond a freshman’s reach. Decisions are expected with several weeks.
The Senate, which can operate on its own unpredictable schedule, has already seen the appointment of Harris to a batch of committees that oversee intelligence, homeland security, and environment and public works, among others.
Carbajal has hired his top staffers, including his chief of staff, legislative director, communications director and scheduler, and he said Tuesday that he was starting to draft legislative priorities. He anticipates introducing legislation to permanently ban drilling off the California coast, although the bill probably won’t get far in the Republican-controlled House; he also expects to work on securing funding for regional transportation priorities including Highway 101.
Carbajal said his wife would keep living in Santa Barbara County, where she works as regional director for Special Olympics and where the couple’s 16-year-old son attends high school. Carbajal anticipates traveling to California every weekend, he said, with the intention of being “very visible” and “very attentive.”
On Tuesday, though, the extended family gathered around for Carbajal’s swearing-in, with his son Michael joining him on the House floor and others, including his 1-year-old grandson, watching from the visitors’ gallery; at least for as long as they could handle the congressional scene down below.
“He was fidgeting a little bit,” Carbajal said of his grandson. “I don’t think that environment was made for a 1-year-old.”