‘This time we were like rock stars’: Rep. Alan Lowenthal talks first days in new Congress

When Democrats unveiled a new legislative package of sweeping government reforms on Friday, they were met with a flood of media coverage.

For Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, it was a sign of change ahead in Washington.

“Normally when we have a press conference there’s one or two cameras, but this time we were like rock stars,” he said. “It’s a very exiting time to be in Congress… exciting and challenging.”

The representative of California’s 47th Congressional District since 2012, Lowenthal might seem mild compared to the more brash voices in politics, but this year he’s sounding off. And he’s planning for changes under the new Democratic majority that took control this week in the House of Representatives.

But first he’ll have to grapple with a government shutdown moving into its third week as the president battles Democrats over funding for his border wall.

In an interview from his Washington office on Friday, Lowenthal said Republicans must take the lead to end the shutdown and should temporarily set aside the disagreement over homeland security.

“What I think will happen is that (Senate majority leader) Mitch McConnell will need to put this up for a vote but the pressure will need to come from Republican senators,” he said.

While he’s open to talking with Republicans about homeland security, he said a border wall is “wasteful and unnecessary” and will do little to improve homeland security.

Though there are challenges, Lowenthal said he’s energized by the new face of Congress. This year’s House is the most racially diverse and most female group ever elected. And the new freshmen, he said, are hungry for change.

“These people reflect the diversity of the country and they’re very enthusiastic,” he said. “Everyone feels it and it’s infectious.”

As a long-time environmentalist, one of Lowenthal’s biggest challenges this year will be battling the Trump administration over its rollback of environmental regulations.

Before heading to Washington, he worked in both houses of the State Legislature to produce bills meant to reduce emissions in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Climate change should be top a priority, he said.

“(The Trump Administration) has undone all of our environmental protections,” he said. “We’re actually moving backward now in terms of pollution.”

Other top issues on his plate include gun safety and immigration. He noted the many undocumented students at Cal State Long Beach who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which is another battleground with Republicans.

Republicans remain in the Senate majority, but Lowenthal said he’s optimistic that Democrats will see accomplishments in 2019.

“There was a heavy cloud that hung over the capital and it feels like that’s all lifted,” he said. “A lot of folks are ready for change.”

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].