WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, one of five new federal lawmakers from Minnesota sworn into office Thursday, was at the airport a few days ago to fly to D.C. when a group of Transportation Security Administration employees working without pay cornered her.
"As I was coming through security, six of them sort of banded together, they approached me as a group and said, 'We really want you to get this government back up and running,' " said Craig, a Democrat elected to represent a partly suburban, partly rural district southeast of the Twin Cities.
Craig, her fellow freshman House members and the state's five returning federal lawmakers found themselves plunging right into the dysfunction gripping the U.S. Capitol as a new congressional term gets underway.
"What a mess," said Rep. Collin Peterson, the western Minnesota Democrat beginning his 15th term in the U.S. House.
The day lacked some of the ceremonial pomp of a normal first day of Congress, with parts of the federal government closed for nearly two weeks thanks to a border wall impasse between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats.
Despite that overhang, most of Minnesota's new members had family members and friends in tow for the festivities. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, the new Republican representing Southern Minnesota's First District, brought his father, Tom, who served Minnesota in Congress from 1975 to 1983, for the first House floor session. The younger Hagedorn also managed to claim his father's old office in the Cannon House Office Building.
"I'm humbled by this opportunity, having seen firsthand my dad do it," Hagedorn said.
Craig and Hagedorn are joined in Minnesota's freshman class by Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis and Dean Phillips of suburban Hennepin County, along with Republican Rep. Pete Stauber of Northeastern Minnesota. Peterson, Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul and Republican Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano round out the House delegation.
Both of Minnesota's U.S. senators, Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, also took the oath of office after winning re-election last year. Smith, appointed to the seat a year ago, must run again in two years if she wishes to seek a full six-year term.
Minnesota's delegation reflects the historic diversity of the new Congress. Half the members are women, the most ever for Minnesota. Omar made her own history Thursday as the first Somali-American member of Congress. Craig is Minnesota's first openly LGBT member of Congress.
While the opening day of a new congressional or legislative term usually features tributes to bipartisanship, the standoff with Trump had members of both parties throwing jabs.
"That's his $5 billion campaign promise," McCollum said of Trump's demand that Congress provide funds to build a border wall that he had vowed Mexico would pay for. "Democrats support border security, and we're going to do it in a way that protects Americans. We're not going to do it at a $5 billion price tag to deliver on a campaign promise so President Trump and his cronies on the talk show circuit are happy."
Omar, whose rapid ascent to national prominence meant she was frequently approached by supporters and fans as she crisscrossed Capitol Hill on Thursday, came to the U.S. more than two decades ago as a refugee.
Her background and newfound celebrity are likely to position her as a high-profile critic of Trump's immigration policies.
"I think there is a way I can humanize the headlines," she said. She called the recent deaths of two migrant children in detention near the southwestern border "a dark mark on our nation's history."
Hagedorn and Stauber, who both won largely rural districts previously held by Democrats but carried by Trump in 2016, are sticking close to the president on immigration and his demand for a wall. "The president's in charge of the government, and one of his duties is to make sure we're protected," Hagedorn said. "Drugs are coming in, people are coming in, it's lawlessness down there."
With the debate over immigration and other issues as divisive as ever, Emmer said Democrats should consider downplaying anger toward Trump if anything is to get accomplished.
"People are maybe going to have to look past their emotional response to the executive and say, 'all right, let's look at the bigger picture,' " Emmer said.
Smith was quick to criticize Trump for the shutdown, saying he's made it tough to negotiate by shifting his position. But she also said that Democrats would need to offer voters more than just constant critiques of Trump for the party to build on its 2018 successes.
"They don't just want to hear what we're against and what we don't like about the president," Smith said. "They want to know what we're going to do."
Several Minnesota members from both parties called for a major boost in federal spending for public infrastructure — roads, bridges and other shared assets. Lawmakers from both sides also spoke of the need to improve the health care system but remain deeply divided over how to do it.
There was also bipartisan agreement over the need to better train new generations of workers, with states like Minnesota struggling with a depleted workforce in many areas.
"We have to see that we have more in common than what divides us," Klobuchar said.
Both Phillips and Stauber spoke of the need to work across party lines.
"This town gets so caught up in the tactics — mired down in political, tactical disputes," Phillips said, adding that he was excited for a bipartisan retreat for new members on Friday in Virginia.
Stauber, too, vowed to work with Democrats. "I'm not going to just talk about crossing the aisle — I'm actually going to walk across it," he said.
As Democrats pursue a policy agenda, they'll also have to grapple with revelations and fallout from investigations into Trump and his administration. Some on the left have called for Trump's impeachment, a much likelier prospect with Democrats leading the House. But most of the Minnesota Democrats weren't willing to go that far — at least not yet.
"We have to let the Mueller investigation conclude," Phillips said of the investigation into any links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. "If a crime was knowingly committed by the president we have to act on it, but not until that is presented and not until we have a full understanding of the facts should we initiate anything."
Omar, however, called Trump's impeachment "inevitable.''
"We have never in our history had a more flawed administration and flawed president," she said.