Just as she did from 2013 until 2019, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly will serve in the House minority once Congress begins its next term in January, but she has priorities for the next term as well as the lame-duck period before it begins.
"We in the Democratic caucus always had more confidence than those on the outside. It was supposed to be a 'bloodbath,' a 'red wave' or whatever you want to call it. But we did much better than people thought, and even now it's going to be very, very close," she said of the Republican-to-Democrat breakdown in the House.
"I'm sad I'm going back into the minority, I'm not going to lie about that. But also I'm happy that it wasn't the bloodbath that so many people predicted and thrilled about the Senate, of course."
On a national level, the midterm turned out to be a bit of a draw, even if Democrats exceeded expectations. They did far better in states like Michigan than they did in Florida and New York.
Kelly said her party should keep highlighting the work they've done. "That is what we did. We delivered," she said, naming the bipartisan infrastructure package, the COVID-19 recovery-oriented American Rescue Plan Act, the environmental and medical Inflation Reduction Act and a huge bill to build up domestic computer chip manufacturing to counter China. Congress passed alongside the student loan forgiveness plan President Joe Biden is working to implement using executive action alone.
Nevertheless, the GOP will control the House's agenda next year. Kelly hopes that, given the scant majority the Republicans will possess, that they will need House Democrats to legislate. She noted that she was able to pass the bipartisan Action for Dental Health Act, providing federal dollars to organizations that provide oral health care to underserved populations, in 2018 with a GOP majority. Members of Congress from the same geographic region collaborate across party lines on regional issues. But Kelly cautioned that much remains to be seen, when Republicans will set the body's agenda.
"We're still going to push our values and what we think are important things to do, and we'll have help from the Senate and the White House, but it's what we can get out of here, out of the House," she said. "I'm not going to say that we're not going to get anything done. I think we will, but give me a few months to see what the climate will be."
No matter what, Democrats will have the House majority for the lame-duck period, until the new Congress is sworn-in on Jan. 3. Kelly wants to pass legislation giving new mothers a year of mandatory postpartum Medicaid coverage. (The American Rescue Plan Act included her provision to extend that year-long Medicaid coverage on an opt-in basis; to date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have, and 330,000 women have received extended coverage. ) She also hopes her legislation on Pullman National Monument will be included in the forthcoming congressional public lands package.
Beginning next year, Kelly wants to continue her broader focus on mental health, including the consideration of gun violence as a public health crisis. (A bipartisan gun policy bill passed this summer.) She wants to continue her work on tele-health and artificial intelligence, given her work in consumer protection. Locally, she wants to get funding for economic and workforce development.
"We all do better when we all do better," she said. "If I can continue to lift boats, that's what I want to do."
Her constituents now extend from 43rd Street to Danville. She has an office in south suburban Matteson, but she also said she is considering opening another district office in Hyde Park.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that she will not seek a Democratic leadership position in the next term. Kelly sought a congressional leadership position in 2020 but said she is not seeking one now. She said she wants to support some of her colleagues who are seeking positions now and to focus on her new geographically extended district.
In a statement, she praised Pelosi for her leadership and legislative accomplishments, including the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
"Nancy Pelosi has shown everyone, including myself, what it means to take on leadership in Congress and continuously defend democracy," Kelly said. "Her place in history is assured as one of the greatest speakers of the House, and I feel privileged to have worked with her for over nine years in Congress.”
Kelly is old enough to collect Social Security benefits; she said she does not want to be a congresswoman in her 80s but that she is interested in staying in Washington so long as she has things she wants to accomplish.
Part of why some House members pursue such long terms, she said, is because of how their parties can get shut out of the legislative process when they are in the minority.
"When you get in, you want to think that, if that's your interest, one day you'll chair a committee, or you'll do this, that and the other," Kelly said. "I was in the minority my first five years; the class before me was for seven or eight years, so they never even had the opportunity. I think that newer members have to consider that, too, that there have been people waiting around for a long time."