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McAdams On Diving Into Congress During A Partial Government Shutdown

Photo of McAdams.
Nicole Nixon / KUER
Rep. Ben McAdams was sworn into office as Utah's only Democrat in Washington.

Ben McAdams became the only Democrat in Utah’s congressional delegation on Thursday, when he was sworn into office as Representative of the 4th Congressional District.

McAdams was one of dozens of Democrats who helped their party take back the U.S. House when he wrested the seat from GOP incumbent Mia Love in November. In a brief interview with KUER before his swearing in, the former Salt Lake County mayor talked about entering Congress to a partially shutdown government, breaking from other Democrats on leadership votes and his priorities for the next two years representing Utah’s 4th District.

Nicole Nixon: How are you feeling on your first day and what's going through your mind as you start serving the 4th District?

Rep. Ben McAdams: So far there's a lot to soak in. We already have constituents who are coming by to meet with me and we are settling into the office, just working to get the office set up. As you can see, the walls are bare, so we've got to put some Utah art on the walls. But this is going to be a busy day. We're sworn in at noon and jump right into legislation to open the government, hopefully, and get down to business, get working for the people of Utah.

NN: Democrats take control of the House today and their first big task — your first big task — is to reopen the government, like you said. It's been partially closed for almost two weeks. President Trump is not budging from his demand for $5 billion-plus for border security. Would you vote for that in order to reopen the government if it comes to that?

It's important to me that, first of all, we don't make the American people suffer and deny the services that they rely on from their government. So opening the government has to happen. There are plenty of important issues and emotional debates that have to happen here and finding common ground has to be part of that. But we've got to get the government back open and running.

You know, border security is an important issue for me — and, I think, for all of us — we've got to protect our borders. But first things first: we've got to get the government back open and not make the American people suffer while this other debate — that is important — happens on the side.

NN: Is $5.6 billion too much for you on border security? How much would you be ok with putting toward that?

BM: We want to stop dangerous people who are coming to this country and what's the best way to do that, I'd be open to (exploring) that. At this point, I'm not convinced that a wall is really effective use of tax dollars. So I look forward to really having that debate going forward. But for now, the priority has to be opening the government and then let's have that conversation about border security and work to find common ground.

NN: You're voting on new House leadership today and Nancy Pelosi is expected to win back the speaker's gavel. Will she do that with a vote from you?

BM: No, I will not be voting for Nancy Pelosi for speaker. I've said during the campaign that I believe it's time for the Democratic Party to have new leadership. She's been at the helm of the House Democrats for over 14 years and I'd like to see new leadership. I understand that nobody else is running against her so my vote will be only symbolic in nature. But I plan to keep the commitment that I made during the campaign and vote for new leadership.

(Note: McAdams later cast his vote for Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida, who chairs the Blue Dog Democrats caucus.)

NN: What are some of the first pieces of legislation that you want to run?

BM: I want to be part of the conversation about health care, expanding access to health care and reducing the cost of health care. Immigration reform and a fix for DACA is a top priority of mine. And then you know I guess I'm going to look at what committee I'm on and where I can bring some of the expertise that I've developed as mayor. And in my public service and private service before entering politics, where I can bring for the benefit of Utah.

NN:Do you have committee assignments yet?

BM: We won't get committee assignments for a couple of weeks.

NN: Since your election was so close, do you feel more pressure to show results quickly for your constituents?

BM: You know, I think what people voted for when I was elected was they want somebody who will be an independent voice for Utah, who will be accessible to the public. And you know, that's what they saw with my service as mayor and that's what they're going to see for me as a congressman. I will continue to provide that level of leadership and be a good listener, accessible to the people to hear what they want, and then I'm going to vote with them over any political party. I think it's that kind of good service right now that will warrant future service. I'm not really thinking about a campaign at this point, what I'm thinking about is giving good service, and then I think good public service speaks for itself.

Photo of office.
Credit Nicole Nixon / KUER
Rep. McAdams office in Washington D.C.

NN: Your family is here with you for your swearing in today. How are they adjusting to this change?

BM: It's a bit of a whirlwind for all of us as we're figuring out, you know, living in two cities and balancing really living a normal life. My kids are in public schools and on their soccer teams and baseball teams and they're going to continue their lives. We're going to just be juggling and we're going to try and figure that out kind of as we go along. But right now, they're here to be with me as I get sworn in and then they'll fly back home and we'll start this new life and all the balancing that goes with that.

NN: Have you found a place to live yet, or are you going to be sleeping on a cot here in your office?

BM: I don't intend to be sleeping on a cot. Apparently, about 100 members of Congress will sleep on a cot – I'm hoping to avoid the cot. Right now, we're staying with some friends out in Maryland. And I do have an apartment that I'll be moving into in a few weeks.

Correction 1/4/19 8:29 a.m.: a previous version of this story stated Rep. Stephanie Murphy was Republican.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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