U.S. House members took office Thursday embroiled in a standoff over the president's demands for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and no end to the government shutdown in sight.
Democrats seized control of the chamber by reinstalling Nancy Pelosi, of California, as House speaker, and preparing a plan to provide short-term funding for the Department of Homeland Security with yearlong support for other agencies. That would end a shutdown that began Dec. 22 and open a 30-day negotiation window, but the threat of a veto by President Donald Trump stands in the way.
The new congress convened with two freshmen from Kansas taking office — Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from the 3rd District who backed Pelosi, and Rep. Steve Watkins, the Republican who now holds the 2nd District seat. Two other Republicans in the Kansas delegation, Rep. Ron Estes and Rep. Roger Marshall, returned to action.
Watkins said he was ready to get to work on behalf of his constituents, who he had in mind when he opposed placing Pelosi in the leadership position she previously held from 2007 to 2011.
"As I crisscrossed Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District over the past year, there was a reoccurring theme among both Republicans and Democrats," Watkins said. "They did not want to see Nancy Pelosi serving as speaker of the House again."
He also said he would ask leadership to forfeit his pay during the shutdown.
In an appearance on MSNBC, Davids said she has heard from constituents caught in the political crossfire who are wondering when they will get their next paycheck and how long the shutdown will last.
Part of the duty for lawmakers, she said, is to make sure they are doing everything they can to protect the American people.
"I can tell you that one of the first things we're going to be voting on today is going to be a funding package that will get the government back up and running so we can perform those services that the American people need," Davids said.
Pelosi and other Democrats hoped to apply pressure to Trump by taking action on a budget package that previously received support from Republicans. The White House signaled the president would veto the plan while holding out hope for border wall funding, and the Senate appeared unwilling to consider the effort without Trump's blessing.
Trump made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to congratulate Pelosi on becoming House speaker and insist a wall is necessary.
"Without a wall, you cannot have border security," Trump said. "It won't work."
Democrats also moved to change House rules in an attempt to avoid confrontation as they press their agenda. Estes spoke in opposition on the House floor, saying the changes will make it easier for Democrats to raise taxes on families in Kansas and across the nation.
"At a time when our nation's debt is $22 trillion, increasing taxes and government spending will only succeed in further bankrupting our children and grandchildren," Estes said. "For generations, Americans have worked to leave the country better off for their kids an grandkids. Mortgaging our kids' future will not do that."