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How 2 new House members plan to 'work across the aisle' in the next Congress

It's a time of transition on Capitol Hill. In the House of Representatives, Democrats are ceding the majority offices to the Republicans. As departing lawmakers pack up their things, first-time lawmakers are unpacking their belongings and getting ready to settle in.

Florida Democrat Maxwell Frost and New York Republican Mike Lawler are two of them.

"It's a surreal experience," Frost tells NPR. "I feel like time's been going by super fast since Election Day."

Frost is the first Gen Z member of Congress, and he recently made headlines for tweeting about being rejected for an apartment because of his credit rating. Lawler made headlines of his own, when he beat incumbent Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who led the Democrats' national campaign committee. And he wasn't alone; Republicans flipped four seats in New York, a state known for being reliably Democratic.

"We're the reason there is a Republican majority in the House," Lawler tells NPR. "I think there's an opportunity to really work with our colleagues in the Republican conference, but also find opportunity working across the aisle."

Lawler and Frost spoke with NPR about the new balance of power on Capitol Hill come January and how that might affect the way they work.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Mike Lawler on where he sees himself fitting into the GOP's ability to get things done

I think all of us have different experiences that shape our views, but it's trying to weave those experiences together. My approach has always been as a legislator and as someone who's been involved in politics for over 15 years, is to go build those personal relationships, sit down with somebody, get to understand what makes them feel the way that they feel about a certain issue and find the area of agreement and start to build on that. And so I think the question for both parties is, are there people within each conference that are really willing to do that work? It's hard work and there's going to be people pushing back from within. But you have to be willing to do that. I am. And certainly coming from New York and representing a district Joe Biden won by 10 points, you don't get there by not being willing to meet people where they are.

Maxwell Frost on newly-elected House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and the future of the Democratic party

I've had the privilege of getting to know Hakeem, our future leader, Jeffries, for the last several months. Even during my campaign, he's been very helpful. And, you know, I see a lot of myself in him. He's a younger Black man who's been fighting for progressive policies in the world that he believes in.

He's expressed that it's important that we have everyone come to the table. And we've been seeing him do that, from ensuring that there's the best representation amongst Democratic leadership in having younger people, folks from our LGBTQ plus community, Black and Brown folks, people from just all across the country. He's made it a point to ensure that he's making the caucus leadership look like the country. That's something that really excites me. And for me, that's really the way forward. And, you know, our caucus, like any other family, sometimes we have our debates and arguments and everything. But I'm really excited about the future of this party.

Both House freshmen on accomplishing their priorities despite the potential of logjam in Congress

Frost: Like I said before, a political party is just like a family, and there's going to be debates. But I think the important thing is, at the end of the day, we come together as a family again. And we work on the agenda that we've set. So that way, we can deliver for our people and the people that have sent us there. I will say, though: Yes, there are extremes on both sides – and outside – of Congress, that's just kind of the way our country works. But one extreme I do view as dangerous [is the] calling to question our democracy. It's hard to equate that to what others would consider the other extreme, which is, I guess, ensuring everybody has health care and that vast resources are dedicated to the climate crisis and things like that. I just don't see it being the same, even though a lot of times in these conversations we equate them. And I just think it's important to keep that in mind, because we have to protect our democracy. We have to ensure that we're electing people who actually want to work across the aisle.

Lawler: Listen, I appreciate Maxwell's sentiments, but I think part of the problem is that everybody is so quick to ascribe adjectives to those that they disagree with politically or to immediately question their motives. And frankly, I think that's part of the problem. I think that is part of what is destructive to finding bipartisanship and finding compromise. And I think it's nice to say that our extremes are radical and crazy and your extremes are just sincere in wanting to push policies that help the world. That's a little bit of a broad statement, if you will. There are extremes on all sides. For instance, I think Joe Biden won the election. I think January 6th was wrong. But I also understand when people raise concerns about election integrity, you don't just immediately dismiss that there are legitimate questions that get raised in the course of an election, and you have to address them from a policy perspective and a forward looking perspective. And I think we're just at such a toxic point in our politics. It's so easy to immediately jump in and say that person's evil or that party and those people are bad. And I just don't see where that helps anybody in this conversation or this process.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Alejandra Marquez Janse
Courtney Dorning
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.