The only Democrat to win a special congressional election this year still hasn’t shown up for work more than three weeks after winning his race — and more than six months after the seat became vacant.
Rep.-elect Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) won a special election June 6 to represent California’s 34th Congressional District but says he wants to serve a bit longer as a California state lawmaker.
That means he will miss votes this week in Washington that would have an outsize impact on his predominantly Latino and Asian constituents. The House is set to debate and approve Republican-backed measures that would enact stricter immigration policies that are supported by President Trump and widely panned by immigrant activists and Democrats.
One bill would target “sanctuary cities” that are refusing to cooperate in enforcing federal immigration laws. Another would stiffen penalties for undocumented immigrants who reenter the United States after being deported.
Los Angeles is a sanctuary city, and Gomez’s district encompasses a swath of the city that is home to predominantly lower-income, immigrant Latino and Asian immigrant families already bearing the brunt of the Trump administration’s decision to more strictly enforce existing immigration laws.
Gomez announced in a statement Wednesday that House leaders have told him he will be sworn in on July 11, when the House returns from the Fourth of July recess.
He’s had plenty of opportunities to join the ranks of Congress in recent weeks. He did not get sworn in Monday alongside Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Karen Handel (R-Ga.), who won special elections last week. Nor did he do it last week with Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who won a special election May 25 but had his swearing-in delayed while he settled criminal and civil cases against him for assaulting a reporter covering his campaign.
Gianforte’s assault charges earned global attention — as did the delay in his swearing-in — prompting GOP leaders this week to point out that all of the Republicans to win special elections this year are now in office.
Gomez, however, still isn’t in Washington.
The 42-year-old is set to replace former representative Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who served more than 20 years in Congress and is now California’s attorney general. Becerra left in late January after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) appointed him to succeed Kamala D. Harris (D), who is now one of California’s U.S. senators.
In mid-June, Gomez tweeted that he wouldn’t be sworn in until the results of his election were certified but that his office was handling constituent services.
— Jimmy Gomez (@JimmyGomezCA) June 15, 2017
In a letter sent Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) asked Gomez, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla for an update on Gomez’s whereabouts.
“Mr. Gomez’s absence means his constituents have no representative to help resolve veterans claims and/or appeals with the Department of Veterans Affairs. They have no representative to secure lost or misappropriated social security or Medicare checks,” McCarthy wrote. “And they have no representative to debate and vote in the People’s House on the critical issues facing our country.”
Caroline Behringer, a spokeswoman for Pelosi, suggested that McCarthy’s concerns are misplaced, given the light legislative workload this month.
“As the Majority Leader well knows, the Republican Majority has canceled votes the last two Fridays because there is nothing to vote on,” she said in an email. “While we appreciate his interest in having a full complement of Democrats in Congress, perhaps his time would be better spent identifying exactly what and where the Republican agenda is. Congressman-elect Gomez has been clear that he had an existing family conflict and couldn’t be sworn in this week.”
What that family conflict is wasn’t clear. Gomez didn’t specify in a statement, explaining that he had told House leaders he “would be available to be sworn-in after June 15th, except for the week of June 26th, due to a family scheduling conflict.” Once he’s in Congress, he said, he looks forward to “protecting healthcare, our environment and our California values.”
His statement said nothing about an explanation he gave to the Los Angeles Times this week: that he wanted to stay in the state legislature until Democrats vote to extend California’s cap-and-trade program that requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gases. Democrats hold more than the two-thirds of the chamber’s seats needed to pass the bill, but party leaders are concerned some moderates might vote against the measure, making it a close vote.
McCarthy seized on that explanation in his letter, saying that if Gomez wants to stay in Sacramento “due to his prioritization of state legislative matters,” then Gomez should resign so his constituents “can elect somebody ready to serve on Day One.”
Speaking on Fox News on Wednesday morning, McCarthy added that “I think he is neglecting his job. Either he wants to be a member of Congress, or he should be honest with his constituents and we should elect somebody who wants to come here and work Day One.”
McCarthy’s letter sparked Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, to accuse the majority leader of “impugning the motives” of Gomez. He noted that Gianforte wasn’t sworn in until 27 days after winning his special election as he settled the legal issues surrounding the incident with the reporter.
“Surely, you would not consider pleading guilty to assault to be a more acceptable reason for a delay than state legislative responsibilities?” Crowley wrote, adding later that McCarthy’s statements were “an unfounded attack on [Gomez’s] character.”
David Weigel contributed to this report.
This story has been updated.