By: Ryan Faircloth
In an era of political tribalism, Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig strives to be bipartisan.
The congresswoman from Minnesota’s 2nd District has notched some early wins in her first months in Congress by keeping to her campaign promise to work across the aisle. In her first 100 days in Washington, she introduced four bills and amendments and co-sponsored 93 more. Sixty-one percent of the bills she co-sponsored were bipartisan.
Craig teamed up with a Republican from Florida on a bill that would give more water pollution grants to state and local governments. It passed out of the House.
The “State Health Care Premium Reduction Act” she authored is based off an idea that Minnesota Republicans have championed. It would give insurance companies $10 billion per year to reimburse them for high-cost claims and keep premiums down. Minnesota already does this at the state level. Craig, a former medical technology executive, wants to implement it nationally.
And she has built a relationship with Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber from Minnesota’s 8th District. The two sat down together while on a freshman retreat and learned that they both have kids with special needs. They are working together on a bill that would increase special education funding.
“Congresswoman Craig and I are committed to ensuring Congress continues to take steps every year towards fulfilling its promise to our special needs students and their parents,” Stauber said.
A NEW LIFE IN DC
Craig is still adjusting to her new life in Washington, living alone in an apartment in the city’s Navy Yard neighborhood when not with her wife at their home in Eagan.
Her office walls are adorned with reminders of home — a Minnesota Lynx jersey and photos of her district sent in by constituents.
The first time Craig took her seat in the U.S. House, all she could think about was her grandmother, who “dipped heels in glue in a union shoe factory to help raise us.”
Her typical day in Washington starts with a workout in the U.S. House gym followed by an early morning mixer. She then settles into her office for a marathon of meetings — an average of about 15 per day.
By mid-April, Craig had met with more than 3,100 Minnesotans in Washington.
Her constituent meetings help her tune out the DC noise, which can be deafening.
“It’s easy in DC, if you let yourself, to get distracted,” Craig said in an interview. “What I’ve learned is that what’s happening in your local communities matters a whole lot more than what’s happening in Washington.”
That doesn’t mean she isn’t paying attention. Case in point: She has read much of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and steps President Donald Trump took to obstruct the investigation.
The points Mueller laid out on obstruction of justice are “very troubling,” Craig said.
But unlike some on her party’s left flank, she is not calling for impeachment — nor has she called for Medicare-for-all or a Green New Deal. She wants Congress to obtain an unredacted copy of the Mueller report and hear testimony from key sources before that is even considered.
“I do not call for impeachment. We have a process in this country where I think the details need to be filled in from the redacted Mueller report,” she said.
PRESSURE BACK HOME
Her stances on impeachment and other issues have been met with mixed reactions back in her district, which spans beyond suburbs south of the Twin Cities to Scott, Dakota, Goodhue and Wabasha counties.
The district had sent Republicans to Washington for nearly two decades before electing Craig in November. But during a town hall meeting at Cottage Grove Middle School last week, some constituents pressed Craig to move her positions further to the left.
“I am so disgusted with the results of the Mueller report and the fact that … Congress is so divided that nothing can get done,” said Laura Morton of West St. Paul, who asked Craig to push for impeachment hearings.
Several dozen people attended the town hall — Craig’s fourth since she took office. Questions about impeachment and health care reform took up most of the discussion.
And Craig’s answers did not satisfy everyone.
Mary Nehring of Hastings said she thinks the health care system should be overhauled. Craig wants to stabilize the current market and then look at a public “buy in” to Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors.
“To me, the insurance model is not working and it’s been broken for years,” said Nehring, a cancer survivor who has multiple sclerosis. “We need to quit trying to fix it and move on to something that works,”
Even when Craig is back home, which is about three days per week, her work does not stop. The day after her town hall, Craig read to second graders and held a mental health roundtable in Wabasha.
She has made a point to be more invested in her district than in Washington. A look at her district office reflects this; she has more staff here than she does in Washington and hired case workers to help constituents claim their social security and disability benefits.
AN EYE ON 2020
Craig has also kept tabs on those who may vie for her seat in Congress.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, who Craig unseated in November, and former Republican attorney general candidate Doug Wardlow have said they are considering a run for the 2nd District.
“It’s easier to run on a blank slate,” Lewis said in an interview, adding that he thinks Craig’s Democratic positions do not line up with the values of the 2nd District. “I think she is doing about what I thought she would do.”
For now, Craig said, the talk of a challenge is just noise.
“I’m going to stay focused on serving the people of the 2nd Congressional District, and when I reapply for my job in 2020, I hope that’s enough that they’ll want to keep me here,” Craig said.