Michigan delegation gains 4 new members as Democrats take over House

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Rep.(D-MI) Rashida Tlaib poses with supporters outside the Capitol in Washington D.C. on Thursday, January 3, 2019.

Washington — As Democrats gained control of the U.S. House on Thursday, four new members joined Michigan's congressional delegation on a whirlwind day of family visits and ceremonial pomp.

Democrats Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, Elissa Slotkin of Holly, Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit took the oath of office and cast their first votes in the 116th Congress, amid political drama over the ongoing partial government shutdown. 

They're among 101 newly elected House members, including 67 Democrats — hailed as the largest incoming Democratic class since the Watergate era of the mid-1970s. 

A bus of 40-plus youth from Detroit arrived at Union Station early Thursday to witness the history made by Tlaib, who became one first Palestinian-American woman and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. 

"It gives me hope," said Tabarek Ahmed, 15, of Dearborn, who volunteered for Tlaib's campaign and hopes to run for office herself one day. 

"I always was told I can't do this because I was Muslim, or I couldn't do this because I wear the hijab. This changes everything. It shows how much we can do." 

Tlaib's brother Rachid Elabed organized the bus trip after an online fundraiser. 

"I'm speechless. It's like a dream come true that this happened," said Elabed, who drove volunteers around in a golf cart during his sister's campaign. 

Arab Americans from around the country gathered for a welcome reception at Tlaib's office.

They included Linda Sarsour, a leader of the Women's March and outspoken pro-Palestinian activist, and Faisal Saleh of the Palestine Museum US in Connecticut. 

Both wearing Palestinian thobes, Rep. Rashida Tlaib poses for a photo with Linda Sarsour, a leader of the Women’s March, on Capitol Hill  in Washington D.C. on Thursday, January 3, 2019.

"There's overwhelming excitement. Happy chaos," said Tlaib of Detroit, who brought her Quran from home for her ceremonial swearing in. 

She had considered but decided against using a copy of the Quran owned by founding father Thomas Jefferson and now housed by the Library of Congress. 

"My best friend said, why uplift up someone else? This is your moment," said Tlaib, wearing her mother's black and red thobe, a traditional Palestinian dress.

"This is a new era. A new social justice movement. Let them put my Quran in the Library of Congress, and let the next Muslima use it or use her own." 

Slotkin welcomed family and supporters to a reception featuring mini hot dogs in a nod to her family's Michigan-based company, Hygrade Foods, which created the Ballpark Franks first sold at Tiger Stadium. 

"This is a really exciting time mixed with a pounding sense of urgency because of the government being shut down," Slotkin said, as workers hung pictures in her new office. 

"The import of the moment isn't lost on anybody. I think people just feel like they're holding their breath." 

When she worked at the Pentagon, Slotkin was responsible for managing the furloughing of hundreds of personnel at the Department of Defense, due to sequestration and the October 2013 government shutdown.

Even before her swearing in, she was fielding constituent calls, including one from a U.S. Census employee in her district seeking direction on her furlough situation. 

Slotkin, who defeated GOP Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester, said she is hopeful that congressional leaders and President Donald Trump could reach a compromise, since both sides see a need for border security.  

"I very much hope that folk get in a room, kick the press out, and have a real conversation about our border, which must lead to a real conversation about immigration," Slotkin said. 

She said she plans to donate her congressional salary to the Alzheimer's Association of Michigan for the duration of the shutdown. 

Andy Levin left his office Thursday and picked up his new congressional pin for the 116th Congress from the Speaker's Lobby.

(From left) Former Sen. Carl Levin and Rep. Andy Levin and Andy's father, former Rep. Sander Levin in Andy’s new congressional office  in Washington D.C. on Thursday, January 3, 2019.

Also inside the packet were his electronic House voting card and an official congressional license plate for when he brings a car onto House grounds.

"I feel a tremendous sense of anticipation to get going. To tackle global warming and end gun violence in this country, to raise the standard of working people in this country. There's so much work we need to do," said Levin, who is succeeding his father, Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak.

To decorate his office, Levin brought from his campaign office a quilt of his T-shirts that his wife, Mary, had made for him.

Each of the shirts all hold personal significance to his life, including the environmental and labor movements, the Ultimate Frisbee team at Williams College, and a campaign tee for his uncle, former Sen. Carl Levin of Detroit. 

"We haven't had a chance to put anything on the walls yet. We just got the keys yesterday," Andy said as he unfolded the quilt on his office floor to show a reporter. 

Both Carl and Sandy were among the family members in town to support the newest Levin elected to Congress. 

"I'm happy. Not sad. Maybe a bit wistful after 36 years," said Sandy, who retired. 

Across the hall, Stevens had begun configuring furniture and hanging artwork in her office, including an oil painting by her mother, Maria Marcotte, of a secretary bird.

Rep. Haley Stevens hung a painting, “Madam Secretary,” by her mother, Maria Marcotte, in her new congressional office  in Washington D.C. on Thursday, January 3, 2019.

Her bookcase was stocked with Michigan-centric books, including "Detroit 1967" and a history of the United Auto Workers Union. 

On Wednesday, she convened a meeting of the Democratic freshmen as one of the class co-presidents, along with Texas Rep. Colin Allred. She's also been communicating with the State Department about the arrest of one of her constituents, Paul Whalen, in Russia. 

"It's very significant to have so many family and friends in town from Michigan in particular. People who I worked with over my career," said Stevens, who succeeded retired GOP Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham. 

"I feel very grateful. There were people who believed in this when it seemed impossible." 

Marcotte, who lives in Birmingham, was struck by the enormity of her daughter’s big day.

“It’s finally hitting me. Intellectually, I knew this was a big deal but now, seeing the office, seeing the beauty and just pomp and circumstance and D.C., it’s hitting me emotionally,” said Marcotte, who planned to watch the oath from the House gallery.

“With elected office, it is a strong mandate to represent the people of the 11th District, plus the nation. I feel like that is very significant, and something she really takes very seriously — representing everyone. She’s already hard at work at that.”