Kansas Dem. Sharice Davids plays up bipartisanship: ‘I think it starts with me reaching out’
Don’t expect Sharice Davids to join the chorus of Democrats clamoring for an onslaught of investigations into President Donald Trump’s administration and personal finances.
“I feel like that’s a pretty in the weeds question,” the Kansas Democrat said.
Voter anger with Trump was to crucial to Davids’ victory over four-term incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District last week, but she’s hardly ready to go to war with the administration.
“I feel like I’d really have to see what is on the table right now,” Davids said when asked what investigations she’d like to pursue when her party takes control of the U.S. House in January.
Davids’ fellow Democrats have already said they plan to use the House’s investigative power to examine Trump’s tax returns and launch dozens of inquiries on the inner-workings of his administration.
The congressional probes likely will cover a variety of controversies, including Trump’s handling of the 2017 hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico and his role in hush payments to women before the 2016 election.
Davids said she believes she got “elected because I’m willing to work in a bipartisan way to actually get things done and that when Congress needs to be a check on the executive branch that will happen.”
The answer reflects the challenge Davids faces representing a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats and there are enough unaffiliated voters to swing races to either party. Davids, a first time candidate, beat Yoder by 9 percentage points in the suburban district that narrowly went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“It’s a split district,” Yoder said Tuesday. “I wish her good luck.”
Davids’ victory was historic because of her status as the first LGBT person to represent Kansas and as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. It was also Democrats’ first victory in a Kansas congressional race since 2008 and was widely viewed as a repudiation of Trump.
“Sharice is the most opposite of Trump anyone could possibly be: A Native American lesbian woman who is very thoughtful and patient,” said Davis Hammet, a Kansas-based activist who attended Davids’ victory party.
During a 20-minute interview Tuesday, Davids repeatedly stressed her pragmatism and eagerness to work with Republicans.
The last Democrat to hold the seat, former Rep. Dennis Moore, built his 12-year congressional career on finding ways to appeal to voters of both parties.
But Bob Beatty, chairman of the political science department at Washburn University in Topeka, warned that Davids shouldn’t necessarily use Moore’s moderation as her model. He said that voters will want to see Davids hold Trump accountable and that she shouldn’t confuse doing that with being a radical, which is how Republicans sought to portray her during the race against Yoder.
“The next two years there’s going to be an expectation that this woman stands up and takes someone on. I think there will be some real disappointment if they do not see some passion and just see moderation,” Beatty said. “I’m not saying she needs to be out there fighting in the streets. She needs to figure out very quickly what issue she wants to go to the wall on and take a stand.”
Yoder had voted with Trump 92 percent of the time and has been responsible for shepherding the president’s pet proposal for a wall along the southern border in his role as chairman of the budget subcommittee that oversees Homeland Security.
Yoder will spend his final weeks in Congress trying to pass a bill that provides billions in funding for a border wall. Davids said she’s not supportive of a border wall, but she didn’t say exactly how she’d vote if faced with similar legislation in the future.
“I also think it’s kind of irresponsible to say, before I even get through (freshman) orientation, to say yes or no on any piece of legislation that might come up.”
Davids also has not yet decided on whether she’ll support Nancy Pelosi’s bid for speaker. The California Democrat led the House when Democrats held it from 2007 to 2011.
On health care, Davids would not commit to supporting a “Medicare for All” bill if it comes before the House. The Kansas Democrat has previously said that she supports a single payer health care system as a long-term policy goal, but stressed more realistic, incremental goals on the campaign trail.
“We have a Republican-controlled Senate. We have a Republican in the White House,” she said. “We’re going to need to figure out ways as a Democrat-controlled House to work in that system, so that at the end of the day the biggest thing that I want to do is see progress that we can get bipartisan support on.”
Davids said she has reached out to the rest of the state’s delegation— all Republicans— for meetings in an effort to foster cooperation.
“I think it starts with me reaching out and trying to start conversation,” Davids said.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, was disappointed by the ouster of Yoder, who began his career as one of Moran’s interns, but he said he’s ready to work with Davids to find common ground on how to achieve the state’s interests.
“I’ve never met her, but I don’t know any reason why we can’t have a respectful dialogue on what we can do to get a desired outcome,” Moran said.