Chicago progressives in Washington to celebrate one of their own in Congress, Freshman Delia Ramirez

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In a ceremonial swearing in Vice President Kamala Harris greets the family of U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., including daughters Maile and Abigail in the Old Senate Chamber on Jan. 3, 2023.

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — In the House, the new 118th Congress was gaveled in at noon Tuesday with the four freshmen from Illinois in the chamber for a very chaotic first day, while in the Senate, Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., was sworn in for a second term.

A who’s who of elected officials from Chicago’s Democratic progressive political community — serving in the City Council, Illinois General Assembly and Cook County Board, plus the influential Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates — traveled to D.C. to celebrate one of their own — Delia Ramirez — becoming a member of Congress.

Ramirez, a former state representative from a North Side Chicago district, also has the distinction of being the first Latina in the Illinois delegation. She represents the new 3rd Congressional District — a seat created by Illinois Democrats in the remap based on the 2020 Census designed to elect a Hispanic.

At 12:17 p.m., the first tangible impact of Republicans taking control of the House — and underscoring that the Democrats were no longer in charge — was the carting off of the magnetometers guarding the entrances to the House chamber. I watched as two men hauled away the mag at the Speaker’s Lobby door outside the House chamber — the very door where on Jan. 6, 2021, Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol police officer as she tried to crawl through it.

Many GOP House members — especially those from the MAGA wing — objected to Democrats forcing them to go through mags before entering the chamber.

Tossing the mags would be the last flexing of new GOP House muscle on Tuesday, since, in a day of tumult on the House floor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in three votes, failed to win the speakership. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill., was among those refusing to support McCarthy.

The House adjourned with no speaker, which meant none of the House members were sworn in, since that can’t happen until a speaker is elected. The House meets Wednesday at noon to try again.

The 17-member Illinois delegation is made up of 14 Democrats and three Republicans, the smallest number of Republicans in decades. Once sworn in, Ramirez and Jonathan Jackson will be the newest members from the Chicago area, with Nikki Budzinski and Eric Sorensen in Downstate seats.

All House members were tethered to the House floor because of the speaker votes, causing them to miss open houses in their new offices.

When I went to check out the Ramirez reception in her Longworth House Office Building suite I found rooms stuffed with progressives from the Chicago area, to name a few, Alderpersons Rossana Rodriguez (33rd); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th); state Reps. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago; Norma Hernandez, D-Melrose Park; state Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago; and Cook County Board Member Anthony Quezada, D-Chicago.

Most in this group are backing, according to Guzzardi, CTU organizer Brandon Johnson, a Cook County Board member, for mayor. As it happens — small world — Ramirez’s Longworth office is a few doors down from Chicago mayoral candidate Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., who is among the most progressive members of Congress. Garcia represents the other Hispanic district in Illinois.

The Democratic Party of Illinois chair, state Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez, D-Cicero, was also there — she was making the rounds on the Hill — and it’s worth noting that Hernandez was one of the Democrats in Springfield overseeing the remap that created the additional Hispanic district.

“I am here because it’s a historic moment for our community,” Rodriguez said.

Davis Gates told me, “Today is Day One of Delia and Jonathan’s journey in Washington, D.C. Again, their values, their leadership before this point makes me very comfortable in how they will lead from their values.”

Ramirez is in a safe Democratic district; her big fight was in the June primary, where she defeated, with the help of the CTU and a progressive coalition, her chief rival, Ald. Gil Villegas (36th).

“What we saw on the North Side in Delia’s race was that all of us working together can have a really powerful impact on these elections. And so I think we are trying to take some of that solidarity into the 2023 race and see if we can bring some of that support behind Brandon as well,” Guzzardi said.

Over on the Senate side, Duckworth was hosting a reception in the Dirksen Office Building. With Republicans controlling the House — even with the speakership up in the air on Tuesday night — I asked Duckworth what the Democratic-run Senate can expect to get done, given that Republicans will likely block Democratic legislative initiatives.

Said Duckworth, “It’s going to be challenging. And I think that it’s going to force us to be maybe more creative in what we put forward. … I don’t think we are going to pass anything in a big package.”

Outside of Rep.-elect Delia Ramirez’s office on Tuesday, the first day of the 118th Congress, from left: Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago; state Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, the Democratic Party of Illinois chair; Cook County Board member Anthony Quezada, D-Chicago; CTU President Stacy Gates-Davis; Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th); state Rep. Norma Hernandez, D-Melrose Park; state Rep. Will Guzzardi; and Ald. Rossana Rodriguez (33rd).

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

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January 3, 2023 at 08:49PM

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