For 77-year-old Donna Shalala, the 116th Congress is an exciting new challenge. The Democratic congresswoman is one of 127 women serving this session − a record-breaking number, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
“I think that will make a difference in terms of the quality of legislation, in terms of the passion of taking care of those most vulnerable in our community,” Shalala said.
She said she is hoping to tackle issues such as immigration, sea level rise and gun control.
In her first two weeks on Capitol Hill, she has co-sponsored six bills. But, the partial government shutdown, now the longest ever, has taken the spotlight.
“I feel so badly because there are 5,000 government workers in my district and many of them are affected,” she said. “Most of the people I know live paycheck to paycheck, and it’s just unfair to them.”
Across the aisle, Rep. Ted Yoho said he is working on his own list of priorities.
“We want to focus on debt, China, national security, education, healthcare and immigration,” Yoho said.
Though it’s his first time being in the minority party — he has held office since 2013 — Yoho said he does not anticipate much of a difference.
“It’s just going to be a different way of working legislation through,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be as difficult as you would think.”
Still, there is no compromise on how to end the government shutdown. President Donald Trump said he has planned to veto any bill that does not include $5 billion for border security.
On Monday, he tweeted: “Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!”
But, without the requested money for border security, the various bills Democrats have put forth to reopen the government have stalled after the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the latest report from the online Congressional Record.
“The bill that was put forth by the Democrats, you know, really was not a serious attempt,” Representative Neal Dunn said. “They knew they would not be taken up by the Senate, or it would be vetoed by the White House.”
Dunn, who represents Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, also expressed concern that it did not include money for disaster relief. He represents a portion of the Florida Panhandle that was hit hard by Hurricane Michael.
“My top priority is going to be ensuring that everybody who was devastated by Hurricane Michael gets the help that they need,” he said.
Farther south, Rep. Val Demings said she is making the shutdown her top priority.
“The American people did not send us there to shut the government down,” Demings said. “The American people elected us to make sure the government is open for business and that it’s running efficiently and effectively.”
With no compromise on the table, the partial government shutdown is now in its 26th day. About 800,000 federal workers are without paychecks, though many members of Congress are still collecting theirs, according to NBC News. Dunn announced this week he would join the list of Florida’s congressmen refusing theirs.
Despite the hardships many rank and file workers are facing, Yoho said things will likely work out and that the shutdown will end sooner rather than later.
“The people that have been hurt in this they’ll be made whole; they’ll get paid,” he said. “But it’s unfortunate that politics gets played on something that shouldn’t.”