WASHINGTON — As a wave of new freshmen has entered Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes to reduce political infighting and advance across-the-aisle agendas with the help of a record-breaking number of young legislators.
The Congressional Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of millennial lawmakers, has tapped Reps. Katie Hill, Anthony Gonzalez, Lance Gooden, and Joe Neguse as its newest leaders. They take the helm from previous leadership which included Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, Will Hurd, Carlos Curbelo and Sen. Krysten Sinema, who steered legislation — written for and by young people — through both chambers.
The integration of social media into daily life has allowed the youngest members of Congress — notably New York freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez— to dominate the news cycle at the drop of a tweet. And while Ocasio-Cortez is not a member of the Congressional Future Caucus herself, her methods and style are reflected in the group.
“This caucus offers a unique opportunity to look for bipartisan solutions through a lens of a new generation. Millennials have revolutionized modern communication, transportation, and health care, and I’m really looking forward to bringing that same approach to the political challenges we face here at Congress,” Gooden, a Republican from Texas, told Yahoo News.
In 2013, the Millennial Action Project, a nonprofit focused on “post-partisan” relationships, helped organize the Congressional Future Caucus, creating the first bipartisan millennial group, which embraces the more broad “under 45” age parameters on Capitol Hill. Two presidential hopefuls (in addition to the aforementioned Tulsi Gabbard) — Seth Moulton and Eric Swalwell — are also members of the caucus.
President and CEO of the Millennial Action Project Steven Olikara stresses the ideological diversity of the caucus’s leadership.
“I think the fact that they are joining together as the co-chairs of the Future Caucus sends a very powerful signal that our generation is going to prioritize cooperation over conflict, that we want to work pragmatically to solve these generational problems,” adding that many of the country’s major political leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were under 45 at their peak.
“Political transformation comes from young people,” added Olikara.
The 2018 midterm elections appears to point to a desire among voters for younger lawmakers. According to Pew’s more narrow definition, 20 millennials were elected to serve in the 116th Congress. In Olikara’s estimation, considering freshman members who are 45 and younger, there were 26 elected — a 420% increase over the prior session.
“So often, young people are the ones who stand up and say: I didn't make this mess, but I'm going to clean it up,” said Hill in a written statement. “That’s exactly what the Congressional Future Caucus is all about, and I'm looking forward to the work we are going to get done on behalf of our communities, together.”
The Congressional Future Caucus will convene later this summer to lay the groundwork for next year’s priorities. While it’s unclear what issues will receive top billing, several stakeholders told Yahoo News that the group will likely focus a mix of noted bipartisan focuses — transportation, rural broadband access, veterans affairs — and more hot-button topics such as health care and student loan forgiveness.
And while these policy areas reach beyond the scope of “millennial America,” some affect younger residents in uniquely challenging ways.
“If you look at the building blocks of a society and an economy, to me, you think about homeownership and family formation. And if you approach that with the lens of a younger generation, you’re talking about folks who are on average going to have more student debt,” explained Gonzalez, who currently is the youngest Republican member of Congress.
“They’re going to approach a housing market that’s too expensive for them, housing prices that are too high for them. And because of the debt, they can’t get a loan.”
Gonzalez hopes to brainstorm solutions to broader societal problems, such as student debt, with the more conservative members of his party.
“I’ll work with anyone, I don’t care who it is,” added Gonzalez. “If there are good ideas out there that are going to make the American dream more attainable for young families, then I want to have those conversations — even if we don’t agree on everything. Maybe you don’t solve all the problems, but you can at least get somewhere.”
Gooden, who has worked with Rep. Jahana Hayes of Connecticut to co-sponsor legislation prioritizing veterans’ rights and Gold Star families, said the lack of bipartisan activity in Congress has been frustrating, but it’s also an opportunity for millennials who “haven’t been here so long that we are jaded.”
“It’s kind of a breath of fresh air to have younger people that are willing to work together and do some good,” said Gooden.