Jones sworn into Congress after deal reached

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin enacts the ceremonial swearing-in of Rep.-elect Brenda Jones, D-Detroit, as the Rev. John Pitts, center, holds the Bible on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday.

Washington — Democrat Brenda Jones became Michigan's newest congresswoman when she took the oath of office Thursday after U.S. House leaders reached a deal on seating her. 

“I’m glad we worked it all out,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told Jones at the ceremonial swearing in beforehand.

It is the first time Michigan's 13th District will have representation in the U.S. House in nearly a year, since the resignation of former Rep. John Conyers Jr. last Dec. 5. 

"It's time for the work to begin, and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and begin the work. Their voices have been heard, and now they have a representative," Jones said after taking the oath, wearing a new congressional pin on her lapel.  

"I am ready for the lame duck and ready to get the work done in the district for the 13th Congressional District." 

Jones, 59, of Detroit will only serve a matter of weeks until January after winning a special election this month to finish out Conyers' term. She lost her bid to replace Conyers for the next two years to former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit. 

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, had delayed seating Jones in part because she has not stepped down from her position as president of Detroit City Council, saying there's no precedent for an individual to serve in the U.S. House while holding locally elected office. 

“The House had a precedent dating from 1909 that made clear that service as both a member of Congress and a state or local official were not compatible. However, Ms. Jones was duly elected by the constituents of the 13th District of Michigan," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Thursday. 

"Ms. Jones has written the speaker and indicated that she will abide by guidance from the Ethics Committee to minimize the conflict between her service as a member and her duties on the Detroit City Council during the short time she’s here. The House will carve out a narrow exception to the 1909 precedent."

Prior to the administration of the oath, the House adopted a resolution introduced by Rep. Sandy Levin — dean of the Michigan delegation — authorizing Ryan as speaker to swear in Jones, effectively creating an exception to the earlier precedent. 

Jones was hugged or congratulated by other members including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi after giving brief remarks on the floor.

Those who attended included Michigan Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; and John Moolenaar, R-Midland.

Reps.-elect Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township were also spotted on the floor, but not Tlaib. 

Brenda Jones takes oath of office

"I think they worked out a reasonable approach that she's allowed to represent the constituents, and they will have a voice," Moolenaar said afterward. "I think that's a constructive resolution." 

Under the deal between Ryan and Pelosi, Jones may accept no pay from Detroit's council and participate in no council votes while serving in Congress — conditions advised by counsel to the House Ethics Committee and to which Jones previously attested. 

Jones was on her smartphone handling a last bit of council business moments before her noon-time swearing in Thursday. 

"I now take that hat off and become congressional member for the 13th Congressional District," Jones said. "I am giving up a paycheck to the City of Detroit." 

Ryan's office had previously warned that any House member could have objected to Jones holding two offices, at which point the matter would have been referred to the House Committee on Administration. 

About 20 members were present for Jones' oath of office in the House chamber, and none objected. 

While the Constitution doesn't prohibit members from simultaneously holding state or local office, the House has historically taken the position that "high state office is incompatible with congressional membership," as stated in the House Ethics Manual. 

But Jones this week released a copy of the unofficial opinion provided by counsel for the House Ethics Committee that said her position with Detroit City Council "does not appear to be incompatible" with her potential position in the U.S. House. 

The Ethics Committee counsel said Jones' dual office-holding is only compatible given the "very limited time" Jones would be representing Michigan; given that she does not accept compensation from the council (including back pay); and given the council remains in recess during her term in Congress. 

The opinion gave the example of a mayorship that overlapped three days with a House position and was not considered an incompatible office by the Ethics Committee when the House member did not accept pay for the mayoral position and recused from all work on behalf of the city for that time. 

The House precedent from 1909 relates to GOP Rep. George L. Lilley, who was sworn in as governor of Connecticut without resigning his House seat. 

In Lilley's case, the Judiciary Committee determined serving as governor and congressman to be incompatible and recommended vacating the office and removing Lilley's name from the clerk's rolls. The House later agreed to a resolution to that effect. 

Asked whether she was frustrated by the delay in seating her, Jones said: "That is now all under the water, and I am ready to move forward." 

Jones said her next step is hiring staff, including Conyers' former chief of staff Ray Plowden. 

The 13th District includes parts of Detroit and other communities in Wayne County, including Romulus, Inkster, Highland Park, River Rouge, Westland, Garden City and Wayne. 

The district's Washington and Michigan offices have been closed since the Nov. 6 special election, with its voice-mail message referring constituents with urgent matters to call Michigan's U.S. senators for help. 

Jones said the voice-mail greeting would change as "as soon as I'm sworn in." 

Jones said she isn't sure if she would be assigned to a House committee but hopes to work on issues of affordable housing, health insurance and job growth while in Congress. 

Her brief stint in the House will likely be among the shortest in history but won't set a record.  

That distinction belongs to George Sheridan and Effingham Lawrence of Louisiana, who both served for one day only on March 3, 1875 — the final day of the 43rd Congress.