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How a freshman congresswoman spent 4 days in limbo before she was sworn-in

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Freshman lawmakers got an early taste of legislative dysfunction earlier this month in the U.S. House of Representatives. They were sworn in four days later than anticipated as Republicans went through a historic 15 rounds of voting before finally selecting a House speaker.

ANDREA SALINAS: It was confusing, and it does not bode well, I feel like, for the rest of the session and Republicans being in charge.

MARTÍNEZ: That's freshman Representative Andrea Salinas, a Democrat from Oregon. She shared her thoughts on her first few chaotic days in Congress.

SALINAS: We were in limbo. I didn't know what I could actually work on in terms of my committee. It was a rough four days. We kept thinking, oh, we're going to turn a corner here. I think it's foretelling of the chaos that the Republican Party has sown so far. This demonstrates their inability to govern in a reasonable fashion.

MARTÍNEZ: What were your conversations, if you had any, with any Republicans in Congress?

SALINAS: The Republican Party, just like the Democratic Party, is not a monolith. And I know many were frustrated with 15 rounds of votes. I think many of them were happy with the way things turned out. This Republican Party will be beholden to the extreme far-rights who we saw were instrumental in the insurrection and were instrumental in causing chaos during the last legislative session and the transfer of power in the presidency. So I think it's a mixed bag.

MARTÍNEZ: Tell us what it was like sitting in the chamber, though. Were you, at any point, thinking, is this going to have a resolution?

SALINAS: Definitely. It puts, I feel like, the - not just the House of Representatives and us as individuals, but the entire country in a state of uncertainty when you don't really know what could happen next. I'm eager to get started on my committee assignments and start really working for the people of Oregon. But it was uncertain.

MARTÍNEZ: So just to be clear, what exactly could you do and what could you not do?

SALINAS: First off, I didn't know, and I still don't know, what my committee assignments are. I think a lot of the negotiations that were going back and forth with the Republicans, within their own caucus, were around committee assignments and who would be placed on which committees. We are still left out of those conversations right now. And so I still don't really have my committee assignments, and I don't know where I can be most influential. There are some things that are really important to my district, like the Farm Bill reauthorization, where I know they'll want me to make sure I influence that bill so that our specialty farms can get what they need. So there are things like that, which are critically important. It, you know, requires legislation. It requires work in the committees. And so that is something that I was not able to do and still can't. I still feel very hamstrung around that.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering the term of a House member is only two years - it's not like the Senate; Senate has six years. It's only four days, but, I mean, four days seems like a lot if you've only got two years.

SALINAS: That's right. And that's how I was feeling. As a freshman member, you really are low man on the totem pole. And a lot of this work is about relationships and making sure that people understand the importance of your issues and your district's issues to the other 434 members.

MARTÍNEZ: And I understand you had some family with you to watch you get sworn in. What did you tell them day after day after day when the swearing in didn't happen?

SALINAS: I had independent members of my family, Republicans, Democrats, and they watched it unfold, like I was watching it. And I just kept telling them, we will only know by an hour-to-hour basis. We kept thinking perhaps the next vote, oh, this could be it. But a few of them were there till Friday morning, but not until Saturday morning. They had all gone home. So none of them saw me get sworn in. So it was certainly disappointing.

MARTÍNEZ: Did you have any dinner reservations at a place to celebrate? Did you have to keep putting them off? On a basic, basic level, Congresswoman, what are some of the things that maybe we don't know that you maybe had planned that you couldn't do because of the delay?

SALINAS: So my team was amazing, and we were prepared for a state of chaos and confusion. All of my family members, I think, were there the night before swearing in, and we did have a reservation. So I made sure that I could convene with all of them. And, you know, it was a really emotional and, you know, personal time for me. My uncle from Texas, he brought me my grandfather's visa application and my grandmother's naturalization papers. He had those framed from when they came over from Mexico many, many years ago. So it was a very personal time for me and my family. But we did it the night before, knowing that there may not be time to celebrate. And so I gave them a tour that night of the Capitol - a private tour - and it was lovely.

MARTÍNEZ: And now that you are sworn in, what's your experience been like in those days that you're official?

SALINAS: It's been great. I'm back in the district now. I'm getting ready for some district meetings, which I'm really excited about, to make sure that I know exactly what it is that people want - you know, our city councilors, our mayors, county commissioners, those types of meetings, and then starting to meet with some of our growers in the district and a lot of constituents because honestly, like, my goal this entire time has been to put people over politics. It will be about delivering. And so I feel like I'm a bit more equipped now to actually do that.

MARTÍNEZ: Tell us about the race that got you to D.C. in the first place. I mean, it just seemed, from the outside looking at that race, that it was a bruising battle.

SALINAS: Oh, it was. The - you know, we had a really tough primary. I was up against nine Democrats in the primary, and one outspent me tremendously. And then the general election was also really tough. I had an opponent who was a self-funder, multimillionaire, and he spent a lot of money on his race as well. So both my primary and general were bruising. But the voters came forward and, you know, I won. And I think they want to see me, again, deliver for the people of this district.

MARTÍNEZ: You're one of the first Latinas elected to represent Oregon, and you recently got picked to serve as a freshman representative in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. How significant are markers like those for you?

SALINAS: Oh, they're huge. I'm part of the Latino community and have been working with our community for a number of years and making sure that I deliver here, at the state level, in Oregon. And I think there are - there's a lot of work to be done across the nation right now for Latinos. And so I'm eager - yes, and you are correct. This district is 20% Latino. It's the largest Latino district in Oregon. And to have a Latina representing this district is vitally important to making sure that we have a voice at the table. So I'm excited to make sure I help to lead this community at the national level.

MARTÍNEZ: That's freshman Representative Andrea Salinas, a Democrat from Oregon. Thank you very much.

SALINAS: Thank you, A. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MENAHAN STREET BAND'S "HOME AGAIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.