Freshman Lawmakers Explain How Chaotic First Year in the House Changed Their View of Congress

"What we just witnessed over the past three weeks is what happens when extremists come into power: chaos," says Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia.

<p>Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty </p> House Speaker Mike Johnson

Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty

House Speaker Mike Johnson

The recent tumultuous election of a House Speaker — which was sparked when Kevin McCarthy was ousted from the role in a first-of-its-kind recall earlier this month — underscores the divisions within the Republican Party, and the chaos that's consumed Congress for much of 2023.

While the drama often eclipses the hard work that goes into policy-making behind the scenes, some freshman lawmakers say the recent election has affected their view of how Congress operates.

Related: How Mike Johnson, One of Congress' Staunchest Religious Conservatives, Became Second in Line to the President

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty

Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia didn't mince words when asked by PEOPLE about the recent Speaker election. "What we just witnessed over the past three weeks is what happens when extremists come into power: chaos," he said.

From Garcia's point of view, the recent House Speaker drama is "a mess built by the MAGA right" — and one that might not reflect so kindly on the Republican Party in the months ahead.

"Even now with the majority, Republicans have spent the last three weeks broadcasting their clown show on primetime because they couldn’t get on the same page. Democrats are not going to let them forget it as we head into an election year," Garcia says.

Freshman Rep. Becca Balint, also a Democrat, says that her constituents are “frustrated by the lack of seriousness and the extreme agenda that Republicans are attempting to jam through the House."

<p>Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty </p> Becca Balint

Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty

Becca Balint

"Many of my Democratic colleagues and I ran for the same reasons — we are deeply concerned about the health of our democracy in the wake of January 6th and Trumpism," Balint, 55, says. The Vermont congresswoman says that voters are now even more concerned about democracy due to the "chaos that has unfolded over the last few weeks."

“There are very real consequences to not having a fully functioning House, and it’s our job to hold the line against extremism and to fight for the needs of working families," Balint says, adding: "Americans are depending on us to address some of the most pressing needs of our time - climate change, gun violence, student loans, and a growing housing and mental health crises."

Related: Mike Johnson Elected as the New House Speaker, Putting an End to Weeks of Gridlock

Still other freshman lawmakers say Congress' efficacy is as strong as ever — just maybe a little bit "messy" at times.

South Carolina Rep. Russell Fry, a Republican, acknowledges that America's constitutional republic "can be messy at times," but says, "it is still the greatest form of government in the history of the world."

As Fry explains, the Republican Conference is "member-driven" — "we don’t take a top-down approach like House Democrats," he says — meaning that members of every level of seniority and rank have a voice and input. Because of that approach, he says he's felt like an equal among peers even during times of deep division when some more senior lawmakers might normally get the most attention.

<p>Sean Rayford/Getty</p> Russell Fry

Sean Rayford/Getty

Russell Fry

"As a freshman member, because of our member-driven conference, I’ve been able to have a seat at the table," Fry says. "I’ve helped influence and shape legislation and had one of my bills pass the U.S. House in the first few months of being in office."

Balint echoes Fry's remarks, noting that — even amidst what she calls "extremism and lack of purpose from Republicans" — she enjoys the ins and outs of lawmaking.

"I try to find joy in the small wins and in connecting and interacting with constituents and colleagues," she says.

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