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 since 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 legislator.
That means he’ll 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 supported by President Donald Trump – and widely panned by immigrant activists and Democrats.
The first bill would target “sanctuary cities” that are refusing to comply with federal immigration laws. The other would stiffen penalties for undocumented immigrants who reenter the United States after being deported. Both are backed by Trump, who called for such changes as a presidential candidate.
Los Angeles is a “sanctuary city,” or a municipality that refuses to cooperate with enforcing federal immigration laws, 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.
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 and took the oath of office less than a week after their victories. He also didn’t get sworn in last week alongside 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 Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., who is now serving as California attorney general. Becerra quit Congress in late January after more than 20 years in office after California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to succeed Kamala D. Harris, 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.
Aides familiar with the plans say Gomez is expected to be sworn in July 11 once the House returns from the July 4 recess.
But 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 immediately clear. A spokeswoman for Gomez replied for to a request for comment with an automatically generated vacation message.
Gomez explained 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 Wednesday morning, McCarthy added that “I think he is neglecting is 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.”