Oregon News

Q&A with U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer

By GARY A. WARNER
Oregon Capital Bureau

Former Happy Valley mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer is into her second month as the new U.S. House member for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District.

The Republican’s victory in November was a key flip of a formerly Democratic seat that gave the GOP a narrow majority in the U.S. House. The upset win flipped a seat held by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, who lost the May primary to Terrebonne attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Chavez-DeRemer defeated McLeod-Skinner in November by just over 7,000 votes out of 316,000 cast.

Since taking office, Chavez-DeRemer has voted with the GOP on several controversial issues, which has led to regular rebukes from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of House Democrats. Both parties are already gearing up for the 2024 election.

Chavez-DeRemer was named vice chair of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee. It’s part of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She’s also a member of the House’s Agriculture Committee and the Education and Workforce Committee. 

Oregon Capital Bureau has covered the political side of Chavez-DeRemer’s campaign, election and votes in Congress. Her votes are also available from Congress. We also were interested in the practical experiences of becoming a new member of Congress and part of a delegation of two Senators and six U.S. House members, all but two of whom are Democrats. 

The questions and answers here are from two interviews and have been edited for clarity and space. 

Q: It’s now mid-February. You have been in office for a little over a month. What is your favorite part of the experience – and least favorite?

 “I’ve really enjoyed the fast pace here, and I’ve also loved meeting all the Capitol Police and getting to know them. I think my least favorite part is that I don’t get enough sleep, because there’s always more to do, so I end up drinking too much coffee.” 

Q: What has surprised you most about the job, about the Capitol, about Washington?  

“One thing that was surprising is that there are members who have been here for more than three terms who still don’t know how to get around in the tunnels of the Capitol complex. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised that most members are good people who are here to work hard for their districts and states.”

Q: Your close win in November flipped a formerly Democratic seat and was a key to the new Republican majority in the U.S. House. Democrats have been vocal about your voting with the GOP on recent controversial issues. What’s your take on the criticism?

A: “The Commitment to America” of House Republicans — it’s what we ran on. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody how I’m voting.

Q: It took 15 votes for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to win the speakership because of opposition within the GOP conference. You supported McCarthy, but it delayed your swearing-in by several days. What was that like?

A: “I came out just before the New Year with my husband, my daughters. My family all came out too, you know, be a part of the experience. Unfortunately, a lot of the family did have to return home. I was sworn in Saturday (Jan. 7) morning around 1:30 a.m. My husband was there in the gallery. I was very proud to represent Oregon, and certainly all the hard work that we put in getting here. So another 96 hours wait didn’t seem like that big of a deal.” 

Q: Because of delays with the election returns, then the delays with the House organizing, there’s been a time crunch, right?

A: “There’s a lot to do. Getting situated in our offices, building our team, building the team in Oregon, getting set up. We took over the space that Congressman Schrader had in Oregon City as our main district office. His team has been helping with transition. It’s a space that’s familiar for the constituents to come visit. (Chavez-DeRemer’s office said Friday that it still plans to open a second office in Deschutes County, but hasn’t settled on a space).

Q: Freshman get the last picks of congressional offices. You ended up in the Longworth, the middle-aged of the three House office buildings. How is it working out?

I’m in 1722 Longworth House Office Building. It’s easy to get up to the Capitol, across the street. We have signs up saying we’re open for business. I want people to come see me. When we had our first constituent come in, it was exciting. We took pictures. I am on the seventh floor – the top floor. We’re calling it the penthouse. I have a view of the rooftop from my office. But there is a slight view of the Capitol, which reminds me, you know, how great this country is. 

Q: How often will you be back in the district?

A: “The goal is to try to return almost every weekend, if not every other weekend. And then really utilize the block time to get around the district that we have. Usually, we have a week to do district stuff every month. We’ve been working on the calendar. My goal for this entire term is to be casework-based, constituent-based and really get home and talk to Oregonians about what exactly it is that we do here.”

Q: The change in the U.S. House majority has led to a flurry of highly partisan and nationally oriented issues such as abortion, China policy, and investigating President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. That pulls the focus from local work and issues. Is that a concern?

“My love is local politics. I was mayor for eight years and that means every day you’re on the ground with all the families that are in your community. At schools or parks or in the grocery store. People want to talk to you. They want access to their leaders. I want to continue down that road even as the new freshmen congresswoman from Oregon, because that’s where my love is. 

“If we can stay focused on our districts, I think we do a much better job than getting, you know, wrapped up in a lot of the national stories in the national politics. When we come together as, as my freshman class comes together, we’ll soon know that our values are probably all aligned with our communities. And then we’ll get the good work done for the nation as a whole. But I would rather work from the bottom up and not the top down.

Q: House caucus membership often signals where a member fits in the political spectrum. You are a member of the Conservative Climate Caucus, but not the Freedom Caucus, which believes GOP leadership is not conservative enough. You’re part of the Western Caucus and the bi-partisan Hispanic Conference. You are on the Republican’s Main Street Caucus, which is sometimes portrayed as a counter-balance to more extreme viewpoints in the party.

Yes, I’m on the Main Street Caucus. Former Congressman Greg Walden was there for a long time. Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) is on it now. That’s a great group of members who really want to get stuff done. Everyday people. Common sense approach. 

Q: There’s a limited number of flight options between Oregon and Washington. I hear the plane often has multiple members of the Oregon D.C. delegation on board.

Yes. I saw Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on the plane a couple of weeks ago and visited with both of them. Wyden was sitting in front of me, he turned around and says “Lori, get used to this trip. It’s a good one.” So we kind of laughed and talked. I met Senator Merkley and his wife on the plane. I was able to just say “hello.” I had not spent any time with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Beaverton) before I’d met her at the airport. Since then, we talked on the floor, we visited a couple times. She’s introduced me to several other members on the Democratic side. Congresswoman Val Hoyle (D-Springfield) visited on the floor (during the speakership votes). She knows Congressman Bentz, as they served in the Legislature together.

Q: You and U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz are the only Republicans representing Oregon. The state has two Democratic senators and four Democratic U.S. House members. How do you all get along so far?

We’re all, you know, cordial and friendly. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) and I had a nice half hour or so phone conversation a couple weeks ago. He sent over a nice welcome packet to say, “Hey, freshman, welcome to Congress.”

So, you know, whether or not our policies align — they probably will be not aligned in a lot of ways — I think that there’s common ground as Oregonians. We will always be cordial and respectful to each other. You’ll never see me not respectful to the office and to my colleagues.

We’ll keep talking. We all have each others’ numbers.  

Q: Who on the Republican side in Oregon has been helpful?

Of course, Congressman Bentz. I see him almost every day. I see former Congressman Walden, who’s still definitely part of the game out here and supportive.

Q: How are your living arrangements going in Washington?

Val Hoyle and I are in kind of the same area over at Navy Yard. I can walk to the Capitol. It took me 15 minutes and 19 seconds the first time to get here. I walked nice and slow, drink some coffee, enjoyed the view and thought, you know, this is a great place to be and serve our country. I feel very grateful to be here.

Q: Has it hit you yet how fast your life changed since November?

Since Congress was created, just 12,000 Americans have done this job. I feel grateful to be the first Republican woman out of Oregon. As a former mayor, a mom, a business owner, I think there’s space for all of us here to get good work done.”

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