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Hayes takes in Day One as member of Congress from Connecticut

January 4, 2019

WASHINGTON — Fighting a cold that robbed her of her voice, Rep. Jahana Hayes could be forgiven for a bout of speechlessness Thursday as she took the oath of office to become the new House member for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District.

“It’s official,” she said in a raspy, barely audible voice as she sat alone on a bench in the Speaker’s Lobby, just off the House floor.

Hayes is unlikely to be quiet for long. With a government shutdown in its 12th Day over President Trump’s demand for funding a U.S-Mexico border wall, the Democratic-controlled House got right down to business by electing Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as House Speaker.

Democrats, who now control the House 235-199, scheduled a series of evening votes to fund the affected government agencies through Sept. 30, and the Department of Homeland Security — overseer of border protection — through Feb. 8 while negotiations over the wall continue.

The votes are likely to be DOA in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has stated he will not put any measure on the floor that Trump won’t sign — even though the Senate passed a similar proposal on voice vote on Dec. 19.

So on Day One, Hayes found herself enmeshed in a battle of which side blinks first.

“It’s just a reminder for me of the work that is necessary, and of what we have to get done,” she said. “It should not be a game.”

Hayes promises to be a reliable Democratic vote in a district that has been solidly Democratic since now-Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., defeated Republican incumbent Nancy Johnson in 2006.

As a teacher at Waterbury’s John F. Kennedy High School who was Teacher of the Year in 2016, Hayes hopes to win appointment to the Education and the Workforce Committee. She sees it as a natural fit for her background in education.

She asked Pelosi for the appointment in a one-on-one meeting. But so far, she hasn’t heard a thing.

Her second choice is the House Agriculture Committee, an important post in a district that covers virtually all of Northwestern Connecticut from Danbury to the New York and Massachusetts lines.

But Thursday was more about taking it all in. While Hayes attended the House session to vote in Pelosi, her smallish office in the nearby Longworth House Office Building was packed with well wishers who traveled from Connecticut to witness the day.

“I think she’ll do fine,” said 10-year-old Lemar Johnson of Waterbury, who was there with his grandmother, Louise Lopez, and sister, Kiarah Schofield. The family knows Hayes from Christ CME Church in Waterbury and helped out in her campaign.

“We were there for her in the beginning and we wanted to be here at the end — or, maybe, the new beginning,” said Jimmy Griffin of Waterbury, 74, who is past president of the Connecticut state chapter of the NAACP. “I’ve known her for years. We’re like extended family.”

Hayes’ husband, Milford, a Waterbury police detective, and three sons were in Washington for the swearing in.

But her daughter, Asia Clermont, was back home in Waterbury and about to deliver her first child — which would make Hayes a grandmother.

Over at the White House, Trump congratulated Pelosi on her regaining the position of Speaker, which she lost in 2011 after voters gave Republicans control of the House.

“It’s a very, very great achievement,” he said of one of his bitterest Democratic rivals in Washington. “Hopefully, we’re going to have a lot of things that we can get done together. And I think it’s actually going to work out. I think it’ll be a little bit different than a lot of people are thinking. “

But the president showed little interest in budging on his demand that Congress fund the $5 billion necessary to build the wall — even though he backed off his description of it as wall.

“You can call it a barrier,” he said. “You can call it whatever you want.”

For Hayes, the back-and-forth comes with a price tag of its own.

“It should not be about people’s egos, people’s pride,” she said. “Americans are hurting.”

dan@hearstdc.com

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