100 days in, Minnesota representatives see frustration, hope

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig talks at a town hall at Burnsville High School
U.S. Rep. Angie Craig talks to attendees at a town hall meeting at Burnsville High School in January 2019.
Tim Nelson | MPR News file

As the new members of Congress from Minnesota passed 100 days in office last week, Democrats were already looking forward to next year's election while Republicans expressed frustration with ongoing Washington gridlock.

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, the Democrat who represents Minnesota's 2nd District south of the Twin Cities, said Democrats' efforts on gun control and campaign and election reform have merit even if they aren't going to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.

"We're showing our constituents what we're fighting for and I think that's what we need to continue to do," Craig said, adding that she's trying to work with Republicans.

Democrat Dean Phillips, who represents the western Twin Cities suburbs, agreed it's valuable for House Democrats to pass legislation even if it won't make it in the Senate.

"We have a presidential election forthcoming in 2020, and our hope is that many of the bills we're passing in the House, while they're not making it through the Senate in two years, hence may stand a chance of going to the president's desk and being signed," Phillips said.

The House recently passed a bill Craig co-sponsored with a Florida Republican that will increase water pollution grants for local and state governments.

Pete Stauber speaks to supporters after Joe Radinovich conceded.
Pete Stauber, 8th District Republican candidate, speaks to supporters after his opponent, DFL candidate Joe Radinovich, conceded Tuesday, November 6, 2018 at the Stauber election party at Blackwoods in Proctor, Minn. during the 2018 midterm elections.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2018

Craig said she got to know Republican Rep. Peter Stauber from northeastern Minnesota's 8th District, and found they both have kids with special needs, which lead them to collaborate on legislation to increase special education funding.

"Pete and I have become, what I would say is, good friends and we want to work together," Craig said.

"Both Congresswoman Craig and I are really going to work hard to make this a reality," said Stauber, who counts a new law that provides funding to route a trail that runs through northern Minnesota around wetlands as one of his early achievements.

Stauber has also been promoting legislation that would require American-made steel in any border barrier.

Stauber agreed with Craig that many members want to work across party lines.

"We have more in common on both sides of the aisle than the public or the media will share because I've had private conversations with my Democratic colleagues and we are on the same page on so much but that doesn't see the light of day," Stauber said.

Stauber blames Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for focusing on legislation she knows will never pass in the Senate. Fellow first-term Republican Jim Hagedorn is also unhappy with top House Democrats.

Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn speaks at MPR News debate.
Republican candidate Jim Hagedorn speaks at MPR News debate.
Tony Saunders | MPR News 2018

"So far I'm very, you know, pretty disappointed," Hagedorn said. "Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, they really don't want the president to succeed on anything."

In the Senate where Minnesota Democrat Tina Smith won a special election in 2018, the partisan roles are reversed.

Smith said she thinks Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preventing Democrats and Republicans from coming together to help reduce prescription drugs prices and address other pressing issues.

"I can't tell you how frustrating it is to see the majority leader of the United States Senate basically say what he wants to do this year is to nominate, approve judges and he doesn't see opportunities for us to work on some of these big issues," Smith said.

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