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Why these 4 congressional freshmen think they’ll find ‘common ground’

The congressional freshman class taking office in January is the largest in decades and the most diverse in history. As the start of the new term approaches, Judy Woodruff sits down with four incoming members of the House of Representatives: Denver Riggleman, R-Va., Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich. and Mark Green, R-Tenn.--three of whom had never before run for public office.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The 2018 midterm elections saw nearly 100 new Republicans and Democrats elected to the House of Representatives.

    Judy Woodruff sat down recently with four members of that incoming class.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The congressional freshman class of 2019 is one of the largest since World War II. It is the most racially diverse class in history, with a record number of firsts.

    Its ranks include doctors, soldiers, teachers, and professional athletes. Starting in January, they will have a chance to weigh in on an array of issues, from immigration, to health care, to possibly investigating the president.

    I'm joined now by four new members of the House of Representatives.

    Democrat Elissa Slotkin is a former CIA analyst who worked in both the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations. She will represent Michigan's 8th District, made up of the Detroit suburbs and the state capital, Lansing.

    Democrat Lauren Underwood is a registered nurse and first-time candidate who will represent the Chicago suburbs in Illinois' 14th District.

    Both women defeated Republican incumbents on Election Day.

    And our two Republicans.

    Mark Green, a doctor and Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he will represent the Tennessee seat vacated by incoming U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn. The district includes the Nashville suburbs and the area around Fort Campbell Army Base.

    And Denver Riggleman, he is an Air Force veteran who now owns a craft distillery. He will represent Central Virginia in the 5th District, which includes the city of Charlottesville.

    And congratulations again to all of you, and welcome to the "NewsHour."

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    Thanks for having us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Great to have you here.

    So three of you had never run for public office before. So, while it's still fresh in your minds, what is it that you're taking away from this election, from this campaign, that is going to stay with you for a long time?

    Elissa Slotkin, what about you? First time for you, first time you have run for office.

  • Rep. Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.:

    Yes, it was. It was the first time.

    I think, for me, the number of people who were first-time volunteers, who had never done anything on a political campaign in their lives, who were just feeling like they deserved better in Washington, and that the vitriol and the tone and tenor coming out of Washington didn't reflect how they wanted to live at home, how they wanted to get along with their neighbors, how they wanted their communities to be for their kids.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Denver Riggleman, what about you?

    I mean, this is the first time you have run for office. You're a businessman.

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    I was talking to some of the folks here earlier.

    Our district looks like a dragon riding a scooter. It's 21 counties. It's bigger than ®MDNM¯®MDNM¯New Jersey and parts of Delaware.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    And I think what you find out is, you think you know your home state, you think you know, like, for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and you find that people have such divergent views on everything, and what they're really looking for is somebody to listen, and to provide some solutions.

    And a lot of those solutions are, sort of get out of our way, because we feel like nobody listens to us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, some of this next question, you have already answered, but, I mean, we have to make the point. In this election, voters took control of the House away from Republicans, gave it to Democrats.

    They gave Democrats something like 40 more seats than you already had.

    Lauren Underwood, what do you think the voters were saying?

  • Rep.-Elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.:

    I think the voters are saying it's time to change, policy change, process change, and to make sure that the Congress is truly responsive to the needs of the American people.

    I come from a community where people had no idea what was happening here in Washington. They couldn't recognize any of the policies coming out, because they weren't responsive to our needs.

    They couldn't recognize some of the words — like what Elissa was saying, the words and the tone of the conversation. And so folks were really, truly trying to vote for change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Green, what do you think?

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    Well, it's very interesting.

    We did lose control of the House, but we gained seats in the Senate. So it's very interesting to see the dichotomy there. So, in my district, I mean, I won my seat by 35 points. So it is pretty clear the conservative values that I have are what the people in my district want me to come up and fight for.

    So, I think what I really think everyone wants, these guys, us, people to just work together better.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is that kind of what you were hearing, Elissa Slotkin?

  • Rep. Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.:

    Absolutely.

    I mean, I won in a district that was a gerrymandered Republican district, so the only way for me to win was to appeal to a broad group of people across the political spectrum. And so they were really responding to a message of, we got to work together and be practical and get something done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Denver Riggleman, how did you hear what the voters were saying?

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    What I saw, especially in the South Side, in the more rural counties, they actually feel like they have been forgotten.

    And every time I would go in there, like, we have never seen a congressman here, we have never had anybody come here.

    And when you start talking to these individuals and you look at what we had in our lives and what we have been able to fight for and serve and to help others, you start to get this — a bit of a sad feeling that maybe the system is failing some people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, you won't be surprised to know that every freshman class has come in that we have had a chance to talk to believes they can make a difference.

    But, Lauren Underwood, what is it about this moment that makes you think you can do things differently from the way they have been done before?

  • Rep.-Elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.:

    Well, health care was the number one issue in this election, without fail, affordability. Premium prices are too high, prescription drug prices are too high.

    And we saw what the congressional Republicans attempted to do in 2017, which was to take away health care coverage from people with preexisting conditions. I feel like the American people spoke, and we said, that was unacceptable.

    And in this election, at least in the 14th District, we were — our voters were looking for real progress on this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Green, were you getting a different message from the voters in Tennessee, where, as you said, you got, what, a 35-point margin?

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    A 35-point victory, yes.

    I'm an E.R. physician, and I run a health care company in about 11 states. We had about 1,000 providers working for us. If you want to fix health care, we have got to reverse the incentives. That's the real problem.

    And I think free market will do that. If you look at LASIK eye surgery, it was like $2,000 an eye when it came out. And while technology has improved incredibly, the price of — I saw an ad the other day for $200 an eye.

    So we have got to get market forces and people choosing, making choices, and then we will — and then we will fix health care.

  • Rep. Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.:

    We may have different opinions about how to get there. What we can't do is just forget about our responsibility to get in a room and work on it.

    Like, you feel that we could have a real conversation to get something done. Democrats and Republicans have never agreed on everything. That's our system. That's healthy. So we have got to actually get in a room and get something done. That's our mandate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I mean, Denver Riggleman, you're entering a Congress where the two parties have not worked together. Do you think the parties should work together? And how do you make that happen, when it hasn't happened before?

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Well, I mean, I had a pretty interesting — two nights ago, I was talking about I crashed the Democratic Party on the 15th floor at their hotel.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    And when I went and talked to them, there wasn't this sort of partisan divide. They actually started talking about issues and solutions to those issues.

    I know we say there might be a different time coming. I almost feel like it is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much do you think you should be working with the other party, and how much do you stick to your principles, the fundamentals that you believe in?

  • Rep-Elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.:

    Well, I think that on many and I will dare say most issues, there is an opportunity for common ground. It's, how far do we want to take it?

    And so, I think of an issue like paid family leave, which we heard President Trump campaign on. He dispatched his daughter Ivanka to go work on it, and she couldn't get it done.

    But we have an opportunity in a Democratic majority where we know that this is a priority. And so can we work together? Yes.

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    Another good example of that is infrastructure.

    I think that we really have some commonality there. And there's an opportunity to get some things done. And it's unique. We have got a Republican Senate and we have got a Democrat House. And so obviously we're going to have to work together.

    And I — it kind of conjures up for me, you know, the Reagan-O'Neill era, when those two fought like cats and dogs.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Reagan and Tip O'Neill, the Democratic speaker of the House.

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    Exactly. And then they would go drink some Scotch together, as Irishmen, in the evening, you know?

    We also need to start relating and having a relationship with the other side.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some members have been essentially punished by their party leadership for working with the other side.

  • Rep. Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.:

    Yes, I would say this is the important thing about us being such a large freshman class, because it's hard for one person to come in and change the system.

    Ninety new people coming in at the same time, with the strength of numbers, with the strength of fortitude to say, no, I was sent here to work to get something done, and that requires me to work across the aisle, that is a lot stronger of a position to be in when your leadership or someone else comes to you and says, hey, toe the party line.

    You have got 90 people standing behind you, hopefully, who have been sent with a different mandate. And that's the difference in cultural change.

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    You know, one of the big problems in, I think politics, is, everybody wants to be the person who fixes it, instead of just helping somebody else fix it sometimes.

    And I think that's important. We — our pride gets in the way sometimes. And I think it's time to throw that to the curb and serve the people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I'm curious still to know, are you prepared to stand up?

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    It depends on the issue. Sure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Because there are powerful forces working in each party to keep the party in line and voting with your fellow Democrats, Republicans.

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    Sure.

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Well, I think we're going to be pretty independent, because I don't think, in our lives, we have gotten to where we are by kowtowing, you know, to leadership.

    Obviously, we're respectful of it, because of chain of command or other things that we have done in our lives. And I think, at some point, all of us are going to be able to say no if we have to.

  • Rep-Elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.:

    The point is, we are here to represent the people who sent us here. My district is a Trump district.

    And so my responsibility is to represent the 720,000 people in Northern Illinois who have put their confidence in me to represent their voices in the Congress. And that doesn't mean that we have to be blindly loyal to any party, any figurehead, any leader.

    It means that we are to represent the voices of those individuals.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So that means you're prepared to vote with President Trump on some issues?

  • Rep-Elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.:

    I'm prepared to vote in the best interests of the people of the 14th District.

  • Rep. Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.:

    Yes.

    I mean, we talked about infrastructure. If — you know, he said the right things on infrastructure. If we put real money behind that, we need once-in-a-generation investment in our infrastructure in Michigan.

    If that's something that he's suggesting and he's pushing, I'm on board, because we need it. So that's — keep the focus on what we need, and you can vote the way you want.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about on the Republican side? Are you prepared to stand up to the president, if it comes to it?

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    I think I — at this point, I can't imagine an issue right now where I would be different.

    But if there was one, I mean, I would support the people in my district. They're the people who sent me here. So, I work for them. They're the boss.

    And in military terms, I report to them. But, right now, I can't think of an issue where we would be different.

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Yes.

    Well, in my district, it's unique, in that there's President Trump supporters, but I think, again, with the size of my district, there's so many different ideas and policies I have to approach, that I have to go policy first based on my district.

    You know, President Trump's policies, yes, I agree with a lot of them, but if it's a policy that I disagree with, I'm not afraid to say I disagree with it. And I'm uncomfortable wearing another person's sports jersey, so it really comes to me about policy over personality in everything I have done in my life.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of talk about Washington, D.C., being a swamp. We have heard that from the president and some others.

    What does it look like to you here?

  • Rep.-Elect Mark Green, R-Tenn.:

    If I were to say I didn't see some of the swamp still there, I would be lying.

    And I think that's why some of us ran, is because we do see that. So, for me, I'm here to maybe — maybe we stop, you know, some of the shenanigans that all of us have fought behind closed doors and maybe, you know, drag some of those vampires into the sunlight, you know, and see what we can do there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Elissa?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.:

    Yes, I think there's certainly a perception when you get into Washington a little bit of a bubble.

    And the conversations going on in my district are not the same as the conversations going on in Washington. And I think everyone has good intentions, but I also think it wouldn't kill some people to come out of Washington sometimes, come and be on the ground, hear what we're talking about, instead of thinking it's all about what's happening here in this town.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you very much, Elissa Slotkin, Lauren Underwood, and congratulations to you.

    And to you, Mark Green and Denver Riggleman.

    Thank you so much for joining us.

  • Rep.-Elect Denver Riggleman, R-Va.:

    Thank you for having us.

  • Rep. Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.:

    Thanks for having us.

  • Rep-Elect Lauren Underwood, D-Ill.:

    Thank you.

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