Sharice Davids shows ‘respect’ for Pelosi’s authority on Congress’ first day

Rep. Sharice Davids was no defiant freshman Thursday, instead proving to be a loyal soldier marching in line with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

National headlines have focused on burgeoning conflicts between Pelosi and freshman lawmakers in her caucus. Some newcomers saw the California Democrat as too liberal or too much a relic from a 20th century generation. Others saw her as not liberal enough.

Fifteen Democrats voted against her for speaker. Others were angry about the rules Pelosi’s leadership team has crafted for the new Congress.

Through it all, Davids stayed faithful to the new speaker.

Davids, D-Kansas, pointed to her background as the daughter of a single mother who served as an Army drill sergeant.

“I feel like I grew up with this kind of respect for authority and leadership, but also a recognition that just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the most effective or best way to do things,” Davids said. “That’s sort of the lens that I use.”

When the new Congress met Thursday, Davids didn’t join the small faction of moderate holdouts who refused to back Pelosi’s speakership.

She didn’t join the small progressive effort against the House rules, led by fellow freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, over the continuation of the “pay-go” rule.

The rule requires lawmakers to offset new spending with budget cuts or increases in revenue and has been seen as an obstacle to progressive policy goals, such as “Medicare for all” legislation.

During an October debate with incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, Davids had refused to say whether she would support Pelosi. Davids announced her support for the California Democrat several weeks after defeating Yoder by double digits and specifically cited Pelosi’s rules package as one of her reasons.

The package includes a policy that requires 72 hours before a vote can occur on major legislation, which Davids said would improve transparency. The Pelosi plan also restores a rule that automatically raises the debt ceiling after the House passes a budget in an effort to avoid the paralyzing standoffs that have occurred in recent years.

“Originally, we thought there might be some other people who stepped up to run against Nancy Pelosi. That never materialized. So at that point it doesn’t make sense to hold out,” Davids said this week. “I’m glad to see that things are just chugging along in terms of how the caucus is running.”

Davids, one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress, has often been linked to Ocasio-Cortez by national outlets highlighting the historic diversity of the freshman class.

The new Congress features record numbers of 126 women, 55 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, 42 Latino lawmakers and several historic firsts, including the first Muslim women to serve. Davids is the first LGBT person to represent Kansas.

Ocasio-Cortez posted Wednesday a photo on Instagram taken by Vanity Fair on Twitter of herself, Davids and other newly elected women of color. “We’re in the building,” the New York Democrat said below the photo, which quickly spread on social media.

Thursday’s votes demonstrated that Davids will take a different approach to legislating than Ocasio-Cortez, who had campaigned on behalf of Davids’ left-leaning primary opponent Brent Welder.

Davids’ district in Kansas City’s suburbs has a plurality of Republican voters and her supporters expect her to be a consensus-building centrist rather than a progressive firebrand.

“I feel really strongly that she’s going to reflect our district,” said Nancy Mays, a campaign volunteer who traveled from Lenexa, Kansas, to observe Davids’ swearing-in ceremony.

Mays’ kitchen table served as an early campaign headquarters for Davids before a campaign office opened in Kansas City, Kansas.

Davids has brought that kitchen table approach to the layout of her congressional office. She’s made a conference table the centerpiece of her office and initially resisted her staff’s insistence that she have a desk for herself before agreeing to a small one in the corner.

“I just feel like often you go into some of the offices and the desk takes up the whole room and there’s not anywhere for people to sit and you wonder, how are people supposed to meaningfully engaged with their congressperson?” she asked

An open house she hosted on her first day in Congress attracted Democratic activists from Kansas and Native Americans from around the country.

“I’m just happy to see a Native American in office. We finally got a voice. That’s why I’m here,” said Rick Smith, a Wisconsin resident who like Davids is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Davids takes office at a time when the Native American community is grappling with the effects of the partial government shutdown.

The Department of Interior, the parent agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is one of the agencies that has gone into a partial shutdown, which affects many public services on reservations.

Davids, who worked on a reservation in South Dakota before launching her political career, said that effects of a shutdown are felt more acutely in Native American communities than elsewhere.

Davids supports the Democratic budget package that is intended to reopen the federal government without provisions to fund President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has already signaled that the Senate will not take up legislation without Trump’s support, meaning the shutdown could continue for weeks.

“That was not part of the history that I thought that our freshman class was going to be making: Being sworn into a government that is not fully operating,” Davids said.

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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