Two lawmakers facing potentially tough elections next year need to prove they can work across the aisle and actually get something done.
The answer to their prayers is the curse of the D.C. region — the Metro system.
Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) are working together to free up funding for federal oversight of the troubled subway system. Along with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the two are pushing a transportation bill that would authorize the Department of Transportation to take on safety oversight in the aftermath of several lapses.
“She cares about Metro the way that I do,” Edwards said of Comstock. “We all have responsibility for the region.”
Comstock has been repeatedly attacked by Democrats for voting against a landmark transportation bill while serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has held several protests at Metro Silver Line stations, saying that with her vote she endangered the addition of the Silver Line to Metro’s network.
Comstock won her seat in a low-turnout 2014 race but will face a larger electorate in the general election next fall. Democrats have yet to field a challenger in her sprawling suburban district. But businesswoman LuAnn Bennett has been considering a bid and appeared at a DCCC event this month.
Edwards, meanwhile, is already engaged in a heated primary battle with Rep. Chris Van Hollen for the Senate seat held by Barbara A. Mikulski (D), who is retiring. Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, has cast himself as the more effective candidate, capable of crafting legislation in a fractured Congress. His opponent, he has suggested, is not as strong a candidate. His campaign has accused her of favoring political attacks over making policy.
“That is just garbage,” Edwards said. The crafting of the Metro legislation is only one of many occasions on which she has reached across the aisle, she said. She approached Comstock, she said, because they both serve on the Transportation Committee and have interacted through events for female lawmakers.
“She’s been great to work with,” Comstock said of Edwards.
It is the first collaboration between the two lawmakers. Comstock said she knew most of the regional delegation through Virginia politics or from her time as a staffer for former representative Frank R. Wolf. Edwards, however, was new to her.
As the only congressional Republican in the immediate D.C. area, Comstock argued that she is an asset to the region in a GOP-controlled legislature.
“I can be a voice, where if we didn’t have some representation in the majority, pushing on Metro might be a little harder,” she said.
The federal takeover was announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx early this month and made official in a letter Monday. There will be new staffers on the ground working to implement years of uncompleted improvements as well as conducting random safety inspections. The lawmakers’ amendment is a bureaucratic measure, ensuring a smooth transition.
Comstock and Edwards say the issue is personal for them. Edwards’s son rides the Metro to work every day. For Comstock, it’s about her office staffers. Because of Metro, she said, they’re always coming in late.