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New DPCC chair Joe Neguse wants to ‘speak up for the middle of the country’

Colorado Democrat pushes back against talk of coastal bias

Rep. Joe Neguse, seen here in 2021, has risen quickly through the ranks of House Democrats.
Rep. Joe Neguse, seen here in 2021, has risen quickly through the ranks of House Democrats. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Joe Neguse is the lone noncoastal lawmaker in House Democratic leadership, and he’s quick to remind visitors to his Rayburn office where he comes from.

With a grin, the affable and erudite former attorney points out a large photograph of Emerald Lake and a landscape painting of the Rocky Mountains hanging above the entrances. Behind his desk hangs a topographic map of his home state — a gift from former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.

Colorado looms large for the 38-year-old son of Eritrean immigrants, who has been candid about the challenges of being away from his wife and young daughter. But homesickness has not prevented Neguse from quickly asserting himself as one of a crop of new leaders in the Democratic Party.

Neguse was Colorado’s first Black member of Congress when he was elected in 2018 and built a national profile as a manager on Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. This Congress, Neguse will take the reins of House Democrats’ messaging arm.

He sat down with CQ Roll Call earlier this month to talk about his home state, his rapid rise and what, if anything, he might’ve done differently on impeachment.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You’re the only leader in the House Democratic Caucus who doesn’t hail from one of the coasts. How did you overcome that geographic bias?

A: I guess I would challenge the premise, in the sense that the leadership team on the Democratic side is large and diverse — and obviously, me being a part of the team indicates there is not a coastal bias, right?

The fact that the caucus put their trust in me to lead the messaging arm, being from a state in the Rocky Mountain West, I think signals that the leadership is holistically representative.

And when Leader Jeffries was deciding on some of the most important positions in our caucus, the Steering and Policy co-chairs, he appointed Debbie Wasserman Schultz from Florida, Barbara Lee from California and Dan Kildee from Michigan. Again, that’s a testament. I think the leadership team does represent all corners of the country, in part with my membership at that table. 

Q: Does that matter?

A: It’s important because the issues that we grapple with in the Rocky Mountain West are different from the issues that might be percolating on the Eastern seaboard. We think about drought, wildfires, public lands protections and preservation, and a myriad of other things. So yeah, I’m excited to be able to speak up for the middle of the country. 

As you can see on the walls behind me, even the artwork in my office is not your typical artwork. 

Q: Here’s a classic job interview question. You’ve ascended very quickly in the caucus. Where do you see yourself in the next five to 10 years?

A: My parents were refugees and were not involved in politics, and so I never take it for granted that I have this incredible privilege to serve the people of Colorado. I try not to get too far ahead in terms of thinking about what’s down the line. That’s kind of our mantra internally in our office: Be focused on the present.

We’re incredibly lucky to have our caucus provide opportunities to younger and less senior members. I brag about our caucus a lot, because I believe it is an embodiment of America. I just came from our weekly caucus meeting, and the diversity, the skill, the ingenuity and the talents are second to none. So I’m lucky that I get to work with them, but also to have the job of uplifting them. That’s essentially my job, to amplify the members of the caucus. 

Q: You were an impeachment manager during Trump’s second trial. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently? 

A: That’s certainly a question I’ve thought a great deal about. And I suspect my fellow managers have too — I’ve talked about it with [Jamie] Raskin from time to time. 

Ultimately, my answer is no. In the speeches they delivered after the trial, Leader [Mitch] McConnell and others made it very clear that there was, in fact, a two-thirds majority in the Senate who believed that the former president had engaged in conduct sufficient to justify conviction. I mean, we proved our case. But political considerations took center stage for several of those senators, and that’s unfortunate. 

I always remind people that we ought to look back on that impeachment and take pride in knowing there were seven Republican senators who chose to do the right thing, who chose country over party and took a stance that was politically courageous. Of course, some of those senators are no longer serving in the Senate. 

Q: You’re now the chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the messaging arm of your caucus. So what’s the message you want to send?

A: Our message is very simple and straightforward. House Democrats are more united than ever before. That was on full display during the course of 15 rounds of balloting for speaker of the House. 

We are focused on doing what we have done for the last four years since I arrived in Congress, which is working on the priorities that everyday Americans care about — better paying jobs, lower costs for working families, building safer communities, defending freedoms. Contrast that with the confusion and noise and dysfunction that we’ve seen on the other side of the aisle.

Speaker McCarthy’s capitulation to the right wing of his conference should concern every American, in my view. The concessions that he made have now rendered the House ungovernable. I worry a great deal about the other side of the aisle eroding the full faith and credit of the United States, as the debate over the debt ceiling looms large. 

We will look to forge consensus wherever we can and extend a hand out to our colleagues on the other side, because there are important issues facing the country. The farm bill comes up in just a few months, for example, and every American who traveled over the holiday season knows the importance of taking the FAA reauthorization seriously. 

And there are a variety of other must-pass pieces of legislation. Our goal is to get those across the finish line — and also stand in the breach to defend democratic principles when those come under attack by the right wing of the Republican Party.

Quick hits

Last book you read? A biography of James Madison by Lynne Cheney and a biography of Abraham Lincoln by Jon Meacham. I shouldn’t read them on my phone, because it ruins your eyes, but on the plane it’s easiest.

Closest friend across the aisle? I wouldn’t want to get them in any trouble, given the heated political environment that we have. But I co-chaired the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus with John Curtis, I served with Ken Buck on Judiciary, and Kelly Armstrong and I came in with the same class. 

In politics, can the ends justify the means? No. The way you pursue policy victories matters just as much as the outcomes. In order for our democracy to thrive, you have to adhere to basic norms and rules of decorum.

Best concert you ever went to? I represent the best musical venue in literally the world. Red Rocks is just incredible. I saw Dave Chappelle and John Mayer there with my wife, and I also saw Michael Franti. 

If you could do any other job, what would it be? I’d be practicing law. Prior to coming to Congress, I spent the majority of my career in private practice.

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