When the 116th Congress gaveled in Thursday, three Massachusetts lawmakers officially assumed high ranking positions in the new Democrat-led House of Representatives -- setting the relatively small state up to play an oversized role in Washington politics.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, who took over as the House Democratic Caucus vice chair when the new Congress convened, told The Republican Friday that she’s excited to join fellow state lawmakers, Congressman Richard Neal and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern -- the respective new chairs for the House Ways and Means and Rules Committees -- in shaping the agenda for the 116th Congress.
“We’re having a moment,” she said in an interview. “It is really one that I think is going to not only benefit Massachusetts to have Jim McGovern and Richie Neal in the positions that they’re in, but it’s going to be good for the country."
Arguing that Massachusetts is leading the country in innovation around health care delivery, education and on climate change, the Melrose Democrat said “those type of policies really give the Massachusetts delegation a good blue print for things that we can do in Congress.”
“It’s going to be really rewarding to be able to work with the Mass. delegation as we move into the majority with such key roles for members of the delegation to hold,” she added.
Clark, who was elected vice chair when House Democrats voted on leadership posts in late November, said she intends to use her new role to not only set a bold agenda, but to ensure all of the voices in the caucus feel empowered.
Pointing to the diversity among the new Democratic members elected to the U.S. House in November, the congresswoman said she wants to utilize their strengths and talents, as well as those of more senior lawmakers.
“We are really looking to tap the voices and the talents of our members, and we have a lot of talent throughout our caucus. ... Really making sure that we are hearing from our most junior members to members, who have been here for five to 10 years, to our senior members on how we all have a role in setting that agenda -- making sure we’re incorporating those voices,” she said.
Clark offered that while House Democrats are not unified in their opinions, experiences or perspectives, they are united in their purpose: to deliver solutions for their constituents. She said she’s “excited to have a role in making that a reality.”
The congresswoman, whose vice chair position makes her the second most powerful female Democrat in the House, further stressed that while she’s “honored” to hold such a title, she hopes that soon more women will fill leadership roles on Capitol Hill.
“With 95 Democratic women, I’d like to have a lot more company in the upper ranks of leadership,” she said. “I see it as a great opportunity, a great honor bestowed on me by my colleagues in the Democratic Caucus and a responsibility to make sure that we are putting those issues that are so important to women and to children that don’t often get a voice in Congress back on the table.”
Clark, for example, said she’s happy that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated the chamber will take up legislation to require comprehensive background checks for firearms purchases.
The Democrat said she’s hopeful that the new Congress can pass such a measure in the coming months, offering that the issue has gained support from the American public and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Other possible areas of bipartisan work, she argued, could include efforts to: lower the costs of prescription drugs, invest in infrastructure and protect health care coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Clark said she also hopes legislation she proposed in the last Congress to address online harassment and abuse will see bipartisan backing and passage in the new session.