Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Democrats’ new Select Committee on Russia Has an Invisible Subcommittee …

The dynamic contrast of Democratic Rep. Linda Sánchez’s Valley wide office in Maryland could not be clearer: In the ornate third-floor drawing room downstairs, old school desks and chairs sit waiting for her staff, all roughly 30 in age. On the first floor are rows of desks, their occupants all bright, young and Hispanic. The one thing missing in the setup, staffers say, is Sánchez herself. They’ve raised the

question of whether she’s ever set foot in her district office in Prince George’s County, an increasingly challenging one for Democrats. And they’ve described their relationship with her as strained, muddied by the different roles and the competing priorities of members of Congress. “Sometimes, there’s a disconnect between what I’m hearing from constituents and what I’m hearing from members of Congress,” said Jens

Klinkner, a California-based political consultant who has worked for other Democratic House members. The office talk is just one part of a culture clash that has taken place in Congress for the past few years — one that is almost always more publicly displayed when there’s a scandal involving misbehaving lawmakers. Staffers in Democratic lawmakers’ districts are often reminded, for example, to say hello to colleagues

when they arrive for their weekly meeting. Staffers at GOP lawmakers’ districts are not. A number of House offices, staff say, are still buzzing with excitement over the prospect of having their members join the House’s new select committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, which will be chaired by Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texan who lives in Austin, and New York Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former

district attorney and counterterrorism expert. Sánchez opposed the idea, arguing instead that the investigation should be chaired by members of the intelligence community, which she said includes “a lot of white men, and I say that as a woman.” Given the political risk, staff in other offices are reluctant to share their concerns, lest the insular nature of Congress give their boss the perceived leeway to ignore

anything they think of as a problem. They all want to keep their bosses in power and confident they can help get things done. If they talk about it, they worry it could jeopardize their ability to get things done. “It becomes toxic,” said Sean Shelton, a former Sánchez spokesman, about criticism that members who don’t spend enough time in their districts could jeopardize their chances to get things done. “It should

be about doing what’s right for constituents, but now it becomes personal. It becomes shaming.” Shelton also said he supports Sánchez’s push for an investigation into Russian interference, but that it’s disappointing to see her push-back in the way she has. And he thinks it’s even more disappointing that she’s not living up to her promise of being accessible to her constituents on a consistent basis. “She never

misses an opportunity to have an impromptu town hall, but she also never lets her staff know what she’s doing,” Shelton said. “You just can’t have one or the other.” Sánchez’s office did not respond to interview requests. She is the leader of Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, with New York Rep. Eliot Engel, currently represents the minority’s most powerful lineup in the chamber. One thing Sánchez

does spend time doing is finding jobs for constituents. She’s created a “Washington Chef Concierge” program at the National Restaurant Association that pays unemployed people to show up to barbecues, volunteer at her office and staff her office, to give potential restaurateurs some experience and give her staff a pool of people to choose from when opening a business. She’s also established a program at a community

college called the El Cid Academy that recruits former gang members and pays them to teach English classes to those who have struggled for years with English.

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