WASHINGTON — Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola lamented “partisan bickering” on Capitol Hill during the first weeks of the new Congress.
“One of the things that has not necessarily surprised me but disappointed me is how little actual work we’re doing even now this far into the session,” Peltola told reporters Thursday.
Peltola pointed to two measures she had just voted on. The first was on a Republican-led effort to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, from the Foreign Affairs Committee for her past comments regarding Israel, which drew intense debate.
“Not really sure all the theatrics involved in that. I voted no on that. I don’t believe, you know — she has not done anything that, in my opinion, would warrant her removal,” Peltola said.
The second vote was on a Republican-sponsored resolution condemning the “horrors of socialism.” Republicans backed the resolution alongside 109 Democrats, including Peltola.
She referred to voting on the non-binding resolution as “darned-if-you-do and darned-if-you-don’t.”
“A lot of people who are in what is referred to, in insider baseball, as frontline districts or, you know, contentious — not easy seat districts, we did vote for this,” Peltola said
“Here I am spending my time and Alaskans’ time thinking, and worrying and weighing the decision of voting for or against a non-binding resolution, and I think all Americans would condemn the horrors of socialism or any kind of government structure that is imposing horrors on people,” she added. “... All of this is to say there are so many distractions, almost never-ending distractions.”
Peltola also expressed frustration with the time the House of Representatives spent on a bill last week to limit President Joe Biden’s access to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. She called the measure a “messaging bill.”
The House voted on nearly 60 amendments over the course of two days. The bill passed 221 to 205 — Peltola missed the vote but said she supported the bill. However, the White House said Biden will veto the bill if it were to ever make it to his desk.
“If you think about the time and cost for all of the staff involved in helping to read all of those individual amendments,” Peltola said. “And how poorly written so much of this is — both this non-binding resolution today and some of the amendments — the double negatives, it’s a lot, and it’s a lot of wasted time and energy.”
Over in the Senate, even less has been accomplished. The chamber has voted on largely symbolic and widely supported bills, like categorizing January as National Stalker Awareness Month.
Peltola campaigned on building coalitions and working across the aisle. She said she would prefer to spend her time advocating for the Willow oil project, looking into the shrinking Alaska economy and the state’s growing outmigration.
[As White House advances Willow oil project, advocates are uneasy about ‘mixed messages’ from Biden administration]
Peltola said committee work has not been more productive. She was assigned to the Transportation and Infrastructure and Natural Resources committees — her predecessor Republican Rep. Don Young’s former panels and her “top two picks.”
But in Natural Resources on Wednesday, California Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman — with support from committee members like New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — proposed an amendment to ban carrying firearms into the committee room.
As committee members began throwing political barbs, Peltola left to meet with constituents. She said Thursday she’d seen enough after Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert displayed a poster of Huffman wearing a tinfoil hat.
“I just thought, ‘OK, this has devolved to a place where I have better uses of my time,’ ” Peltola said.
Peltola called the committee discourse “very high-pitched emotionalism and not problem solving.”
“I don’t think we should be walking around necessarily with loaded firearms, or incendiary devices or knives,” Peltola said. “I think that this process is about having civil and respectful discussions, not violence or language that is violent or, you know, talking or acting in ways that don’t solve our problems.”
The amendment failed 25-14 without Peltola’s vote. She said she didn’t think the amendment was a “legitimate effort” and cited Louisiana Republican Rep. Garret Graves’ sentiments. Graves also bemoaned partisanship during his opening remarks to the committee saying, “the way that we’re going, we’re in a race to the bottom. We are, no doubt about it.”
Peltola told reporters, “I truly feel like that, and if we were going to have a real discussion on it, that would be interesting. But right now, it’s just partisan bickering, and as a mother of seven kids, I know what bickering sounds like.”