After four elections, a round of redistricting and one office move, U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown is about to begin her first full term in Congress.
The Democrat from Warrensville Heights enjoyed a brief time in the House majority after defeating Nina Turner in a special 2021 primary, easily winning the general election in a safely blue district to fill U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge’s seat in Congress – and doing it all again in 2022.
As the year comes to an end, Brown is highlighting accomplishments from her truncated first term. The recently passed $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill includes $23 million in Northeast Ohio projects for which Brown advocated. Among the items: $500,000 for the violence interruption group Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance and $5 million to replace the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s rail cars.
The omnibus package also included Brown’s bill designating the Kol Israel Foundation Holocaust Memorial in Bedford Heights as a national memorial. The measure, which Brown sponsored in the House, garnered bipartisan support.
Brown, along with other Congressional Democrats, is also facing the fallout from the indictment of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the failed cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Federal prosecutors accuse Bankman-Fried of conspiring to commit fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations. They have not alleged wrongdoing by members of Congress.
Bankman-Fried donated $2,900 to Brown’s campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records. He also backed a super PAC that spent money on ads supporting Brown and other Democrats in the midterms.
The congresswoman said she will give the donation away and is awaiting guidance from the courts on how to proceed. Bankman-Fried’s plummet from grace was a “big surprise, and quite disappointing,” and underscores the necessity of cryptocurrency regulation, Brown said.
Brown spoke with Signal Cleveland about her 14 months in Congress and the two years ahead, when Republicans will hold the House. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Looking ahead to next year, are there any issues or policies that you want to make your own?
I’m going to continue to remain steadfast in the diversity, equity and inclusion space. Making sure that, when we focus on the farm bill, that we’re dealing with issues around food insecurity. Again, that is very, very important in the 11th Congressional District, and it allows me to also carry forth the legacy of my predecessor, Secretary Fudge…. I serve on the Agriculture Committee, very proud to be able to do that.
And I’ll also continue to likely serve on the Oversight Committee, which, as I understand, will be faced with a number of [GOP-led] investigations. So making sure we continue to push the president’s agenda and not lose sight of the great accomplishments that we’ve been able to achieve and starting to implement those things.
Despite being in the minority in the 118th Congress, we will have a number of successes and a lot of projects to deliver as we start to appropriate and allocate the funding around that trifecta of successes, including the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.
You mentioned serving on the Oversight Committee. With Republicans taking the House, I’m sure they’re gearing up for an adversarial relationship with the Biden administration. They’ve previewed investigations about President Joe Biden’s son Hunter. What role do you think you would play as part of the minority party on a committee like that?
I have had opportunities to speak with some of my more seasoned and senior colleagues who have been in this space. And I think the strategy and the method that we’ll have to continue to do is making sure that we’re focusing on the accomplishments and not getting distracted or divided by the Republicans’ effort to use Hunter Biden’s laptop as a distraction for the people.
I think one of the things that the people decided during this last midterm election is that they are not interested in the extreme MAGA insurrection supporters and election-denying Republican tactics. And so what we have to focus on are the implementation of the…historic investments around the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. So that’s what I’ll be focusing on while they’re talking about Hunter Biden’s computer.
Looking more broadly, you will be in the minority in this coming year. What do you think Democrats’ priorities should be? Are there things you think you’ll still be able to get done, despite not having the speaker’s gavel anymore?
I think you’ve come to know me as a cautiously optimistic person, so I am going to choose to focus on the things and the opportunities where we can find common ground. Look, I came into a special election with my colleague on the other side of the aisle, Mike Carey (OH-15), whose race didn’t get nearly as much attention as mine. But he and I have established a great relationship. [Republican] Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) also has been very friendly. And I am hoping that we can work together to deliver for the people of Ohio. That is going to be my strategy. That has always been my strategy, and it has worked out successfully.
Now if Republicans choose to continue on the path of, “No,” I don’t see how that is going to benefit them, as they are still struggling to decide on who the speaker of the House will be, while we have been unified and have identified all of our leaders. I think people will recognize that Democrats have done a fantastic job of governing, so it is incumbent on the Republicans to try to at least do the same.
You mentioned a couple of Republicans, Dave Joyce and Mike Carey. Could you describe for me, what kind of relationship do you have with Republicans in Congress?
Mike Carey and I are in regular communication. We text occasionally. Dave Joyce and I were in Rayburn [House Office Building] together. I got booted out due to seniority, so I’ll be in Cannon [House Office Building]. But we used to catch the train sometimes and have conversations about legislation, whether it’s about veterans’ affairs or making sure that we’re taking care of that natural resource that we all love, Lake Erie. And because of that, they have made connections and introduced me to some of their friendlier peers. I’m willing to continue to build on that so long as they are.
What people should know is, yeah, sometimes it’s not uncommon for us to struggle on some of the big things, but we do get quite a bit of bipartisan legislation passed on a regular basis. So let’s hope that continues for the sake of the people who elected us to represent them.
I’m sorry, you said you got booted out of your office? You’ve already had to do one move?
I’ve already had to do a move, yeah. When you come in in a special [election], you inherit your predecessor’s office. I had Secretary Fudge’s office, which was a very hot commodity. We were seven slots away from being able to stay in the Rayburn Building. But the good news is I am in Cannon, and I am in the newly renovated spaces in Cannon. So a little bit smaller, but a brand new space for myself and my staff. I am excited about learning my way from Cannon to the Capitol now.
On the question of redistricting, do you think your district is going to look the same as it does now when you run in 2024? Are you expecting the lines to get redrawn again?
Listen, it is Ohio, you never know. I am constantly telling my team and myself, listen, we don’t know what the district is going to look like for 2024. It could go back to what it was, it could stay the way it is, or they could create something completely different. And so because of that, there’s no room to get complacent or relax. It actually makes our job a little bit harder, because we are in a space where we are intentional about maintaining the relationships of the district in the past, maintaining our current district – and the prospect of new lines also makes us friendly to potential spaces, like the City of Solon has been talked about [as a possible addition to the district].
One of the things that I think you and others know about me is I’m going to continue to work hard, no matter what the lines are, in making sure that we deliver for the people of the 11th Congressional District, whoever they will be.