Government

Finkenauer prioritizes reopening U.S. government

New lawmaker vows to 'step up for the folks in the district'

Newly elected members of Congress, from left, Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., and Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, gather for a class photo at the Capitol in November 2018.  CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara
Newly elected members of Congress, from left, Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla., and Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, gather for a class photo at the Capitol in November 2018. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara

Opening the federal government would be a good first act for the new House Democratic majority, according to Abby Finkenauer, who Thursday will become Northeast Iowa’s first female U.S. representative.

“That would be ideal,” she said Wednesday evening after a Democratic caucus meeting that followed congressional leaders’ meeting with President Donald Trump over the partial government shutdown.

Finkenauer, a Dubuque Democrat who has served who terms in the Iowa House, will be sworn in along with 99 other freshmen representatives about noon, “and then right away we’re going in to vote to reopen the government.”

The House plans to take up government funding measures that were approved by the Senate before the shutdown began last month.

But since then, Trump has demanded that more than $5 billion be included toward building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, one of his key campaign themes. Democrats have refused, offering instead money for border security. The White House meeting appeared not to get any closer to a compromise.

“We’ve got to reopen the government. It’s the first thing we have to do,” said Finkenauer, who will represent the 20-county 1st District that includes Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Cedar Falls-Waterloo and Marshalltown.

Then, she argued, lawmakers could continue negotiations with the president about immigration reform and border security.

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Finkenauer is one of two Iowa women who will be sworn in at the U.S. House. Cindy Axne of West Des Moines will represent the 3rd District that stretches from Des Moines to Council Bluffs.

Like Finkenauer, who defeated two-term GOP Rep. Rod Blum, Axne defeated a Republican, Rep. David Young.

They are among more than 40 members of the freshman class who flipped districts from Republican to Democratic representation. Finkenauer thinks they will have an impact.

“A lot of us are coming from districts that were held by the GOP,” she said. “These are a lot of red-to-blue districts where we were sent here with a referendum to get to work and bring some common sense to the process.”

Although the incoming class includes many young, progressive Democrats — Finkenauer is 29 — she said making progress on the issues voters cared about will require bipartisanship.

However, Finkenauer sees her role as the “voice of Iowans who sent me here to Washington — some who voted for me, some who didn’t.”

“That’s my job, to step up for the folks in the district,” she said. “I’m from Iowa and I’m not afraid to make sure that folks understand what makes sense for my district and what makes sense for my state.”

Finkenauer has been impressed and encouraged by the freshmen, both Democrat and Republican, she has met during orientation.

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“I think we feel strongly about that, that we want to be able to bring dignity, respect and common sense back to Washington,” she said.

As she settles into her Cannon House Office Building office, Finkenauer has a reminder of where’s she’s from — a sweatshirt that her father, a union pipe fitter, wore that’s full of burn holes from welding. It also will serve to remind “everybody around me that comes into my office why I’m here and who I’m fighting for.”

She joked Wednesday that if thermostat issues in her office aren’t resolved soon, she might have to wear her dad’s sweatshirt to keep warm.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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