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Dr. Yadira Caraveo’s first week in Congress didn’t go the way she imagined. Instead of getting straight to work for her constituents, she was stuck on the floor of the House of Representatives as she watched Republicans take multiple days and 15 votes to elect speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The chaos also caused her family—most notably her parents, who immigrated to Colorado from Mexico before she was born—to miss the opportunity to see Caraveo sworn in early on January 7. “My family and my parents had to fly out that morning,” she says. “It was just those of us who were on the floor taking the oath at 1:30 in the morning. It really took away from what should’ve been a special occasion for everyone, particularly the freshman [lawmakers] on both sides of the aisle.”
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Caraveo’s victory during last November’s election was historic in multiple ways. The Democrat will be the first person to serve Colorado’s new 8th Congressional District and the first Latina to represent the state in Congress.
As she began her two-year term, we talked with Caraveo—a former pediatrician—about the turbulent start to her new role and how she plans to serve the new 8th Congressional District, which includes sections of Adams, Larimer, and Weld counties.
5280: What was it like for your first week in Washington to be disrupted by the speaker of the House votes?
Caraveo: It was really dismaying to see the chaos on the other side. It was the first time since the Civil War that we have seen this many votes, and there was disorder—almost borderline violence—on the House floor. I think it is sadly a reflection of what these two years are going to be like. [The Republicans] have shown us they’re starting off with dysfunction—and that is probably what they’re going to continue with. We still don’t know what Kevin McCarthy gave up to win on that 15th vote, and it really held up our work.
Was there a specific moment from the week that stood out?
Before the final vote, I was about 25 feet away from people who were screaming at each other and lunging at each other and having to be kept apart on the House floor. That is something I never thought I would see in the Congress of the United States and was probably the peak of what had clearly been a very frustrating week for everybody.
You made history as the first Latina congresswoman from Colorado. What does that mean to you?
When I decided to run, I actually didn’t realize that there had never been a Latina who represented the state. It was sad when I realized that it was 2022, and we had never had that voice, especially in a state with a substantial and growing Latino population. What it really means for me is that people who look like me, who have the background I have with immigrant parents, have a better voice in Congress than they’ve ever had before. I can bring their experiences with me and speak on their behalf.
You’re representing a totally new district. What challenges does that potentially bring for how you approach your job?
The first challenge you have with a new district is letting people know that they have a new representative, and we are here to serve you. Starting a new district operation also comes with some challenges that people who take over a district don’t have, including having to hire all new staff and establish offices. We want to make it apparent from the start that I am here to serve the entire district, from Commerce City up to Greeley, and that we are focusing on their needs in interactions with the government. The biggest frustration up to this point has been that we lost a week in terms of even being able to even check our email, right? Without being sworn in, we didn’t even have access to constituent email and certainly couldn’t go about signing leases for new offices.
When you served as a representative for Colorado’s 31st district at the state level in the General Assembly, a lot of your work focused on health care. I imagine you would want to keep working on that issue, given your background as a doctor. What would that look like at the federal level?
As a doctor, I definitely will never stop thinking about health care, and I view every issue through that lens. I want to continue focusing on costs. Even just over the last few days, I have had a friend who will not have the cost of prescriptions covered, temporarily. It brought me back to frustrations I had in the clinic every single day, and having to weigh the cost of [a patient’s] health care versus what I thought should happen as a doctor. Since we are in the minority, I am really hoping that I can find Republicans who I can work with to ensure that everybody has access to affordable health care. I think we developed a very good model at the state level that I am hoping we can continue at the federal level that includes looking at what some of the most expensive drugs are and putting pressure on pharmaceutical companies to say “certain systems are not going to pay that price.” These are life-saving drugs that need to be accessible to people.
Have you gotten any word on committee assignments or what you might be working on specifically?
That is another thing that has been delayed because of the speaker debacle. Usually by now, we would either have an idea of our committees or we’d be very close to hearing about committees. At this point, it will probably be the end of the month before we know anything. But I am really hoping to end up on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is going to be very important for this district. We have issues with infrastructure in Colorado because of the inability for the state to pay for those fixes. In a district with I-25, I-70 and US 85, getting investment into those systems is going to be very important. Also, water infrastructure is going to be important, as we face a drought in Colorado and the West overall.
I know you were still seeing patients when you worked as a representative at the state level. What will that look like in your new role?
It’ll definitely be more limited. I want to keep up my continuing medical education and certifications. I am going to drop into the clinic every once in a while when I am in town, but there definitely won’t be as much patient contact as I had when I was in the state legislature.
You are going to spend a lot less time in Colorado over the next few years. What will you miss the most about it when you are in Washington?
I miss everything about Colorado—in particular, the snow and the weather. Snow on the ground really makes me feel like I am at home. And then I will also get to spend less time with my family. Getting to see them is the best part of coming home.