Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) scream “Build the Wall” as President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in March 2022. | Evelyn Hockstein/Getty Images
A conversation with Robert Garcia, a first-year Democrat, on the coming fireworks in the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee. Garcia is the first openly LGBTQ immigrant in Congress.
Both congressional Democrats and Republicans have now finalized the lists of members who will sit on committees this Congress, and that includes the high-profile House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.
Rep. James Comer, the top Republican on the committee, has already promised it will be “probably the most exciting committee” in congressional history, and despite recently trying to clear the air about just what the committee has the power to do, he plans to make good on promises during the midterm campaign cycle to lead an onslaught of investigations into the Biden administration, the president’s family, and a variety of red-meat conservative cultural issues, like the cancellation of Newsmax on DirecTV.
Democrats on that committee will be led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, one of the high-profile House managers in the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, and he’ll be joined by an all-star line-up of House Democrats, including eight new members.
Among them: 45-year-old Rep. Robert Garcia of California, the Democrats’ first-year class president, who is the first gay immigrant to serve in Congress. Formerly the mayor of Long Beach, California, a city just south of Los Angeles, Garcia has already taken on the mantle of House Freedom Caucus gadfly — mocking some of the right wing’s most visible figures, like GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, for their conspiratorial thinking about subjects like the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccine. It’s a personal subject for Garcia, whose mother and stepfather died of Covid complications in 2020.
He and his first-term colleagues intend to hold these GOP investigators accountable themselves — fitting the new Democratic strategy to go after their Republican inquisitors.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Newly elected Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) speaks at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus event welcoming new Latino members to Congress, on November 18, 2022, in Washington, DC.
I caught up with Garcia on Friday, when he told me he’s ready to “take on [their] bullshit” and contest every narrative the new committee tries to weave. Our conversation, below, has been edited for length and clarity.
So you got your assignments and you’ll be sitting across from some of the most colorful, conspiratorial, and controversial Republican members of Congress. How are you expecting these committees to behave, and what do you think it will be like to watch from the outside?
Rep. Robert Garcia
Well, clearly, Kevin McCarthy’s put the most extreme members of his caucus on Oversight. We have folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Paul Gosar. These are folks that take their cues from QAnon, that are attacking vaccines, that are obsessed with Hunter Biden’s laptop and the president. So it’s important that we are ready every single day to show up, to fight back with facts, to push back with as much energy as they are. And we are. I’m fired up to take folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene on, take on her bullshit, take on her lies, and ensure that there are strong voices on our side that are actually pushing facts.
Because you’re going to be serving on the Oversight Committee with some of the most well-known Freedom Caucus members. Rep. James Comer, the chair, has said to expect it to be one of the most exciting committees in congressional history. And you will have something like a star-studded cast of Democrats on this committee, too — Maxwell Frost, Dan Goldman, Summer Lee, Jamie Raskin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — have you had conversations with your colleagues about what you’re try to prioritize, and what narratives you’re try to set or change?
Well, I’m really excited about the freshmen that are on the committee. I’ve been talking to Maxwell [Frost, of Florida], and to Dan [Goldman, of New York], and to Summer [Lee, of Pennsylvania] and I think we’re all just fired up to take on the lies and take on the extremists on the other side. Folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene have a huge megaphone that they’re using to hurt people. Take what they’re saying about vaccines, for example. It’s shameful that they’re causing harm to Americans across this country and they’re going to use this committee to weaponize science and facts and truth and so it’s going to be our job to call that out. I think that we’re ready to do that.
With the freshmen that are on this committee, and the whole committee, it’s exciting. To be able to be on a committee with folks like Katie Porter and AOC and Jamie Raskin, and then the freshmen — we’re gonna be really prepared.
Some of these issues — Covid, immigration — are also really personal, right? They’ve had an effect in your life and you have a connection to them. So I’m wondering how you’re thinking about handling those topics and what specifically you’re worried about and expecting from the Republicans.
Chairman Comer has noted that the first hearing is going to be on the pandemic, and it’ll happen [this week]. The fact is that they’re going to use these hearings to try to dismantle support for pandemic prevention and that they’re going to attack how the government responded.
I was mayor of my community the entire time the pandemic was ravaging communities. Schools were closed and people were dying. In my city alone, we lost over 1,300 people. I lost two parents to the pandemic. And so I deeply understand how important vaccines are, how important pandemic prevention is, and what actually happened on the ground. Mayors were on the front lines responding to the pandemic. And if there was a failure in government, it was the Trump administration leaving cities and states to fend for themselves early on.
So I look forward to speaking on that topic from a position of authority and of experience, both of personal experience and personal loss, but also managing a city that President Biden called [out as] having one of the best pandemic responses in the country. He called Long Beach a national model. The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, said we had the best response in the state as it relates to the pandemic. And so I am going to be very engaged coming up.
Have you talked with some of the other freshmen representatives about the specific issues or items that you all plan to confront or respond on?
We’ve all already talked — all the freshmen that are on Oversight — we all know each other, we’re all friends, we all support each other. And the big thing that we’re all united on, is that we’re not going to allow for the extreme voices on the far right to go unchecked. And so when you have folks like Greg [Casar of Texas], and Jared [Moskowitz of Florida] and [Dan Goldman] and [Maxwell Frost], and so many others — we’re all prepared for this moment. And we’re also grateful to the leadership for believing in us to be that voice, because we understand the importance of this committee, and what the Republicans are going to try to do to the country through this committee. We get that we’re on the front lines of this fight.
You’ve definitely started that fight on Twitter at least, taking some shots at Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. What is it about them that makes you particularly target them?
The two of them, almost more than most folks in Congress, have pushed the absolute craziest lies and falsehoods. And so I think it’s time for people to take them on, and not allow them or give them space to continue doing this. The thing about our class is that we’re also very impatient and we’re aggressive, and we want to make sure that we’re pushing back quickly. And that’s something that we’re really focused on.
That’s really interesting, because rapid response and counter-messaging isn’t necessarily something that previous classes of Democratic members of Congress were particularly great at, especially in today’s media environment. What is it about you and your classmates that makes you better suited for this match?
The group of freshmen coming in are very much in touch with our communities back home, we understand the power of communicating to the public, to a younger audience, to folks who are frustrated with politics. Folks like Comer, and Taylor Greene, and Boebert, and Gosar — all these folks don’t represent the mainstream of American politics or mainstream for really anything. They’re on the fringe. The Freedom Caucus are on the fringe of the country. So all of us that are coming in as freshmen — you probably get a sense of this — we’re unapologetic, we’re all pissed off about injustices in this country, and for me, personally, when I hear or when I see folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene lie about vaccines that could have saved my mom’s life, that she would have absolutely been first in line to take, that’s the kind of stuff, to me, that’s not acceptable.
It also seems to me like this new class of Democrats are better versed in social media, cultural references, and taking advantage of a different communications ecosystem, something previous committees in the Obama years, didn’t have or couldn’t do well. You were tweeting about RuPaul’s Drag Race, for example, when teasing Rep. George Santos and Taylor Greene.
I think that’s right. One thing you have from a lot of the freshmen is we come from very different types of backgrounds and you started seeing that happen in Congress a few years ago, when different kinds of folks started getting elected. It’s more of a working-class group of new folks. It’s folks that are maybe a little bit more aggressive, a little more impatient, so that means we bring our full selves. For me, yes, I happen to be a RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, I love drag, I think it’s a great art form. And I’m not going to apologize for that.
When you have folks that are attacking artists, like drag performers, and you have folks that are attacking folks that are trans, they need to be called out. For me, as a gay person and as a queer person, I have a responsibility to call them out. And I’m going to use whatever tools I have available to do that.
You’ll also be on the Homeland Security committee. What’s it going to be like to be in the minority and try to get stuff done?
Well our plan is to win back the House in two years. But yeah, not a lot of stuff is going to get through this Congress. Republicans are focused on national abortion bans, demonizing gay kids, wars against books and women — but we’ve heard from some more moderate Republicans, interested in immigration reform, and they understand there is a labor shortage and immigration reform can help.
Being on Homeland Security is an opportunity also for those progressives that are on the committee … to bring attention to issues around justice for immigrants, for asylum seekers at the border, and making sure that these agencies are actually doing their job and not harming people. And we want to protect the American people from all sorts of attacks, and that includes domestic terrorists, and that includes white supremacists.
And you’ll be on that committee with Marjorie Taylor Greene, too.
Yeah, I don’t know what kind of luck of the draw I have that she also happens to be on Homeland Security, which is, like, totally insane.
But it’s going to be, again, important on that committee to push back against the demonizing of migrants and the attacks on asylum seekers and being in a position where the federal law enforcement agencies can get scrutiny.
And finally, on a more personal level — are you ready to take the heat? To face the onslaught of supporters these right-wing members have online or in real life, here in DC or at home?
I’ve definitely thought about those things. But I’ve been through more than most folks, as a queer immigrant. Gay people [and] immigrants are some of the most resilient people in this country. This moment requires a different type of leadership and Congress member. That’s what our class brings and we’re fired up and ready to go.
Read MoreVox – Politics & Policy