Finally, Becca Balint is sworn in as Vermont’s first congresswoman | Politics | Seven days

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  • James Buck
  • U.S. Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) in DC

More than a year after launching her campaign for US House — and after a week in Washington, DC, that felt like an eternity — Becca Balint can officially call herself Vermont’s first congresswoman.

As of 1:40 a.m. Saturday, the toughest battle for Speaker of the House since 1859 limped to its chaotic conclusion, allowing Balint, a Democrat, and her 433 elected congressional colleagues to finally be sworn in. For the previous four days, a zealous faction of far-right Republicans had refused to back the GOP’s pick for president, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), forcing a fight for the hammer nearly as historic as it was excruciating to see.

With the presidency held hostage, Balint and his colleagues could not be sworn in, rendering them powerless to legislate, help their constituents, form committees, authorize federal expenditures or otherwise constitute a functional chamber. In the early hours of Saturday morning, after the House had completed its 15th roll-call vote and elected McCarthy as its highly compromised leader, Balint’s only official action in the House since arriving in Washington on Tuesday had been to bellow the name of the Democratic Party nominated for speaker – Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.) – 15 times, with barely diminished enthusiasm. (At one point, according to Balint, Jeffries texted her on the floor of the house to thank her for her enthusiasm.)

But as the week progressed, even Balint, known for her hummingbird energy and spontaneous dance moves, seemed to fade. She’d spent her nights on a sofa bed in the Airbnb she’d rented with her family for the week; between those less-than-ideal accommodations and the mind-numbing array of dysfunction she witnessed day after day on the floor of the house, she explained, she wasn’t really sleeping well.

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Becca Balint votes for speaker on the floor of the United States House - JAMES BUCK

  • James Buck
  • Becca Balint votes for speaker on the floor of the United States House

On Thursday afternoon, after saying Jeffries’ name for the seventh time, Balint slipped out of the bedroom to spend a few minutes with his wife, Elizabeth Wohl, and their two children, Abe, 15, and 12. Sarah, before she was inevitably called upon to shout it again, and again, and again, then five more times after that. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Balint had donned a blue velvet blazer in which she hoped to take the oath; on Thursday, she had ditched it for a dark gray.

As she trudged through the underground tunnels of the Capitol to meet her family near the statue of Hawaiian King Kamehameha in the visitor center, she wore a glazed expression. No one seemed to know when they might be free of this unbearable bardo; even more troubling, Balint said, is that the chorus of GOP dissidents, most of whom have denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, didn’t seem to care at all.

“When you see people up close who don’t care that we have a functioning government, who would be perfectly happy to shut it down, it’s bleak,” Balint said.

She straightened up slightly when she saw her children coming down the escalator from the reception center. Abe welcomed her into his arms and asked how she was doing.

“I’m tired,” Balint replied.

The turmoil would last another 36 hours. Balint and the rest of the incoming class of congressmen were supposed to travel to Philadelphia this weekend for a bipartisan retreat, but speaking drama scuttled the trip. When the House convened late Friday night to hold what the GOP leadership expected to be the final ballots, Balint brought Sarah with her. Hours before they took upstairs at the house, Balint said, she learned that a friend had committed suicide.

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Becca Balint with daughter Sarah, left, son Abe and wife Elizabeth Wohl, far right - JAMES BUCK

  • James Buck
  • Becca Balint with daughter Sarah, left, son Abe and wife Elizabeth Wohl, far right

As the proceedings turned into pandemonium — at one point, two Republican members of Congress had to physically restrain a colleague from a confrontation with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the last resisters against McCarthy, no more than 100 feet from where Balint and her daughter were sitting — Balint was mentally and emotionally somewhere else, she said.

“It all seemed ridiculous and so ego driven,” she wrote in a text message Saturday morning. “And also I found myself not being particularly carried away with it.”

After two roll calls and a bizarrely aborted adjournment motion, Sarah sat quietly next to Balint, crocheting a stuffed animal. After the counting of the last votes, the speeches made, the swearing in, Balint and his daughter embraced. They took a selfie on the floor of the house, then left the bedroom together, finally ready to sleep.

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