By Ed O'Keefe CBS News January 10, 2019, 6:41 PM Congress' freshman class faces first crisis with government shutdown
Washington — This week, the 116th Congress got down to business despite the government shutdown. One new member has a unique perspective. Illinois' Lauren Underwood spoke from the House floor for the first time Wednesday.
She's a former federal employee who was furloughed during a shutdown in 2013. At 32, she's the youngest black woman ever elected to Congress.
One of Underwood's first orders of business was selecting an office. Getting a space large enough for her new staff is a game of chance. All 85 new members literally draw numbers out of a box. The lower the number, the better the office. Underwood drew number 70.
New members always come into Washington convinced they can change the place and Underwood is no stranger. She was a congressional intern just 13 years ago and she's a former Obama administration official, who helped implement the Affordable Care Act.
As a registered nurse and someone with a pre-existing condition, health care — the topic at the top of most voters minds — is also on hers.
"It's very clear health care is the number one issue in this election. Driven primarily around affordability. I think we need to quickly show the American people that we are serious about fixing the health care system," Underwood said.
The sheer number of new, young, female lawmakers like Underwood is injecting a new level of energy and intensity into Washington.
"I am in a car rushing late the Capitol," she said in a video diary for CBS News. "We have to pick up our voting cards, our special member pins and get basically lined up so we can be on the floor of the House for the noon convening."
But the hope and optimism of these new freshmen — who usually don't have much sway — is tempered by reality, this time in the form of a partial government shutdown.
Walking through the basement of the Capitol, Underwood spoke about being a furloughed federal employee. Back in 2013, she was forced to stay home for about three weeks without pay.
"I know how unacceptable it is, this is the nuclear option," she said. "It's ridiculous."
Minutes after being sworn in, Underwood took time to greet supporters in her new office. She isn't letting the harsh realities of Washington get to her — at least not yet.
"The day of business as usual in this Congress is done and the opportunity when the people of the 14th elect a 32-year-old woman to Congress and we notice things that people assume have been handled or not. We've shown up, and we're here for business, and I'm really ready to get started," Underwood said.