Inland Empire congresswoman Rep. Torres reflects on her first six weeks
ONTARIO >> Despite having more preparation than many freshman members of Congress, Rep. Norma Torres, is finding Washington a whole new world.
“As much time as I’ve spent in D.C., you think I’d know the city better than I do,” Torres, D-Ontario, said Monday in her new Ontario district office that still smelled faintly of fresh paint.
Torres splits her time between Washington and Southern California, coming back on weekends when her schedule allows. At the moment, she’s still couch-surfing in the home of another member of Congress “that takes in strays,” she said, although she hopes to rent a home in the District of Columbia in the next few weeks.
It may take longer to get settled in as a member of Congress in other ways, though.
“I’ve served at all levels: local council member, elected mayor,” said Torres, who represents the 35th Congressional District, which runs from Pomona to Rialto. “State Legislature is a bit more partisan than (the Pomona City Council). At the House of Representatives, it’s even more partisan.”
During her time in Sacramento, Torres worked with colleagues across party lines, among them, Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, who was also elected to Congress in November.
“I got a lot done in Sacramento, working with Republicans,” Torres said.
But Torres is keenly aware that speaking with Republicans from Southern California draws notice in Washington, even as she hopes to see an Inland Empire group formed to discuss regional issues by members of Congress. The group will likely be formed this session by Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, she said.
That partisanship extends further than Torres would have imagined. In January, she was selected for a seat on the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Homeland Security, you think ‘that’s life and death,’” she said. “But we’re not able to work together on this issue.”
Instead, she said, committee meetings have been marked by partisan squabbling, which is a first, according to her Washington staffers
“In the past, you couldn’t tell a Republican from a Democrat” on the committee, she said, as everyone was united in seeking to shore up the national defense.
Torres and her fellow freshmen members of Congress had to jump into the deep end. Eight days after they were elected, they were in Washington, learning the ins and outs of their new jobs, being asked to help pick their offices and hire their staff.
“It’s like drinking from a firehose,” she said.
Despite the difficulties, like being asked to sign a lease before being sworn in and having a budget to do so, Torres said she was able to get her office open in time for being sworn in on Jan. 6.
“We wanted to be able to open the doors and have constituents visit on day one.”
And they were able to — and they had constituents from the 35th district visit that first day — although they had to use laptops and cell phones rather than permanent office equipment to do so.
Her days on Capitol Hill typically start with a 7:30 a.m. meeting and end with her getting home — or at least the couch that currently serves as one — around 8:30 p.m. It’s a schedule she said she’s used to after 14 years in politics, particularly during her two years in Sacramento.
And if she butts her head up against the partisan politics in Washington along the way, Torres said she will remain true to her constituents.
“The way I see it is the people in the district are the ones who check the ballot and sent me there.”