Slotkin leads freshmen Democrats in asking Pelosi for greater voice

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep.-elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly

Washington — A group of 46 newly elected House Democrats have signed a letter  asking Leader Nancy Pelosi for a voice on powerful committees and monthly meetings with leadership to give input on legislative priorities. 

The letter, drafted and circulated by Rep.-elect Elissa Slotkin of Holly, was signed by incoming Democrats across the ideological spectrum, including Michigan's three other Reps.-elect: Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit. 

They stress the size of their 60-plus-member class — more than two-thirds of whom were elected in Republican-held districts. They will make up over a quarter of the Democratic caucus in the next Congress and want to see things change.

"We are a diverse group. Politically and ideologically, we have different views. But make no mistake, the undersigned are united in the belief that our class has a responsibility and mandate for change in the U.S. Congress," they wrote in the letter sent Monday to Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership team. 

Pelosi, nominated by Democrats last week for House speaker, has already agreed to some of the group's requests, including allowing bills to go to the floor for debate and a vote when they hit 290 co-sponsors — an effort to move legislation with broad, bipartisan support. 

Slotkin said Pelosi had offered the class the opportunity to write a freshmen letter.

While attending orientation together, members agreed the letter would be a chance to showcase their unity and size, and share lessons learned from the midterm election campaign trail, Slotkin said. 

"Especially those of us who flipped seats, we had a very common thread from our campaigns: No matter what you think about the latest tweet from the president, Congress has a mandate to work across the aisle and pass legislation that becomes law and helps people's pocket books and helps people’s kids," said Slotkin, who defeated Republican Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester.

"That was such a strong theme, so consistent, that we felt strongly about putting it into writing."

After an early version of the letter leaked last week, Pelosi attended a meeting of the freshmen and started addressing each of the points raised, Slotkin said. 

"I was pleasantly surprised that she was so ready to come to our class and talk about the realm of the possible," said Slotkin, who voted against Pelosi for speaker. "I thought that was an important signal for her to send."

Slotkin admitted the "hardest" request the new freshmen are making is for greater representation on the exclusive committees of Appropriations, Rules, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services.

"Obviously, there are a lot of members who have been patiently waiting their turn," Slotkin said.

But, she said, many freshmen are coming into Congress with experience from prior careers, and they just flipped Republican seats that enabled Democrats to seize the House majority. 

"We wanted to put down the marker that this is an important thing to have our voices reflected. I don't know where she's going to come out on that," Slotkin said of Pelosi.

Tlaib, who is lobbying for a spot on Appropriations, has raised similar points with leadership. She noted the freshman class represents the largest group of incoming House Democrats since the Watergate scandal in 1974. 

"When I’m told by her team that it’s never been done, I’m pushing back against that," Tlaib added, referring to Pelosi. "Everything is possible if we push for a real seat at the table."

Slotkin said she's asked for a formal response from leadership on this request and others, such as having two representatives, rather than one, on the Steering and Policy Committee that helps decide committee assignments.

The freshmen are also calling for a more clear and predictable House schedule. Slotkin said freshmen got a taste during their first two weeks of orientation how often the schedule is "upended" at the last minute.

"We tend to be younger, have younger families. We all want to get back to our districts and spend as much time in our districts as possible," Slotkin said. 

"This class wanted to put down a marker that, please, keep to a schedule. Announce it, then stick to it. Because we all have obligations that make us better lawmakers if we can stick to them."