Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
New Mexico’s newest member of Congress, Democratic Rep.-elect Gabe Vasquez, brought his grandmother, mother, sister, cousin and a mariachi band to Washington, D.C., to watch Vasquez, the first American citizen in his family, be sworn into office.
His family left before seeing such a ceremony. A stalemate in the U.S. House of Representatives stretched into its third day, which is preventing the chamber from taking up any new business, including swearing in members.
“It’s been very frustrating to tell you the truth,” Vasquez said in an interview Thursday night during the 11th speaker vote. “I was elected to come here to the nation’s capital to do a job … And it has been very frustrating to see the dysfunction that’s really been driven by just a handful of extreme Republicans in Congress.”
Gridlock between House Republicans over who will be the next speaker of the House dragged on Thursday. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has been unable to secure the 218 votes needed to assume the position. And until a speaker is selected, essentially no other business can be voted on.
New Mexico representatives are all Democrats, and at the moment, the only votes that representatives-elect can take are to elect a speaker or to adjourn. All House Democrats are in lockstep casting their votes for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
Republicans hold the majority in the chamber with 222 votes to 212 for Democrats. About 20 Republicans are not voting for McCarthy.
Rep.-elect Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., described the atmosphere inside the chamber as chaotic.
“We essentially have a shutdown,” Stansbury said in a phone interview after the seventh speaker election in three days failed to elect someone. “We are ready to work, but to do that we need a willing partner on the other side of the aisle who can get their house together.”
She said the impasse can have serious ramifications.
House committees can’t be formed, legislation can’t be introduced or voted on. And, she said, it could lead to a national security crisis because spending bills must originate in the House.
“This is 100% not inside baseball,” she said. “This has real, tangible impacts on New Mexico and the rest of the country.”
Stansbury, an incumbent ready to start her second term, said that her office is fully staffed, and the staffers are working to be prepared once a speaker is selected.
A speaker standoff like the one going on in the House – 11 elections haven’t produced a winner – hasn’t happened since before the Civil War.
“This is not normal,” said Stansbury. “A small number of extremists are holding the government hostage.”
While Republicans remain in chaos and disarray, House Democrats remain united behind @RepJeffries in our work #ForThePeople. We’re here to get the job done. pic.twitter.com/KlBnh1Uycy
— Rep. Melanie Stansbury (@Rep_Stansbury) January 4, 2023
As a first-term member of the chamber, Vasquez said the standoff is especially limiting because he is still in the process of trying to hire staff and establish offices in New Mexico. He said he is eager to learn what committees he will serve on.
“We can’t do the work that we were elected to do,” he said. “So the impact is real right now.”
Vasquez said he’s trying to make the most of the situation by having meetings with New Mexico’s other members of Congress and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He said those meetings were focused on the “immigration and humanitarian crisis” at the border. Vasquez’s district represents all of New Mexico’s border with Mexico.
The state’s congressional delegation has provided updates about the recent days on social media.
“What a day it’s been celebrating our first day in office – our staff is hard working, my abuela and my family are here, and we brought NM to DC!” Vasquez wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, when the 118th Congress convened. “Now if we can just get a speaker elected.”
What a day it’s been celebrating our first day in office – our staff is hard working, my abuela and my family are here, and we brought NM to DC!
Now if we can just get a speaker elected.. pic.twitter.com/sGV61eiMMp
— Gabe Vasquez (@Gabe_NM) January 4, 2023
On Tuesday, Rep.-elect Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., posted a picture on Twitter of her, Stansbury and Vasquez and said “three amigos, ready to kick off the new Congress.”
“Make that ‘kick the can down the road,'” she posted on Wednesday.
On Thursday, she said on Twitter: “third day’s the charm? #demsinarray.”
Leger Fernández said in an interview after the eighth vote that the 117th Congress passed crucial bills that will benefit New Mexicans and the rest of the country. She said she’s eager during the 118th Congress to debate and negotiate topics like support for veterans, capping prescription drug and health care costs and Social Security.
“There’s this sadness and a sense that we are not able to begin the work of debating legislation for the American public,” she said. “I’ll say it is not all Republicans. There is a faction of those who are the most extreme who are leading this. … What they are doing today calls into question whether we will have that same rate of bipartisanship in the future.”