WASHINGTON — With little more than 48 hours between the counting of the final votes Tuesday night and his swearing in on Friday morning, Republican Rep. Brad Finstad has been caught up in a whirlwind.
The farmer from New Ulm, who is also a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official, swiftly gathered his family to accompany him here and undergo a rapid tutorial on becoming a new member of Congress.
With his wife, Jackie, in the U.S. House gallery and his seven children seated before him, Finstad took the pledge to serve the residents of the 1st Congressional District right after the House was gaveled in to begin another day of partisan bickering.
The contentious issue on Finstad’s first day in Congress was a vote on a Democratic priority, a massive health and climate change bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
But Finstad’s swearing in by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a bipartisan, celebratory feel. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th, the dean of Minnesota’s congressional delegation introduced Finstad and praised his “life of public service” and experience in agricultural issues – something the new freshman lawmaker likes to stress.
In his first speech on the House floor, Finstad said “I’m extraordinarily honored to be here.”
“As a farmer, we wake up in the morning and don’t wonder if something will be broken during the day; we know something will be, so instead, we wonder how we will fix it,” Finstad said. “I will come to work every day in Congress with the intention to do everything I can to fix things.”
At a ceremonial photo-op with Finstad after the official swearing in, Pelosi told the new lawmaker he is the 431st member of the House and repeatedly complimented him on his “beautiful children,” which include twin eight-year-old sons.
“This is just a photo-op, but this is a special day for us,” Pelosi said.
Finstad then went to meet privately with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, and have a second photo-op with his hand on a Bible. Finstad used that photo on a press release that announced his swearing in.
Finstad won a special election against Democrat Jeff Ettinger to fill the remainder of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term. He’s continuing to run against Ettinger, a former Hormel executive, to keep his seat in the next Congress that begins in January.
Finstad has inherited Hagedorn’s office in the Longworth House Office Building, but he may not keep it in the next Congress even if he’s re-elected.
Besides moving into his new office, Finstad has a lot of other things to do in Washington, D.C. when he’s not campaigning for re-election in his south Minnesota district.
He’s not been assigned to any committees yet, but Finstad said he’d like to be on the Agriculture Committee, as was Hagedorn, as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Transportation issues are important to southern Minnesota,” he said.
Finstad also has to hire staff for his D.C. and district offices. He said he does not know yet where those district offices will be located. And he’s still negotiating his office budget, he said.
Finstad must also learn the peculiar culture Capitol Hill. But he’s well on his way to getting a good grasp on the GOP talking points of the day.
He said he opposed the Inflation Reduction Act because it would fund “87,000 more IRS agents instead of addressing the high cost of groceries and gas.”
“To me the common-sense Minnesota vote on this is ‘no,’” Finstad said of his first vote in Congress.
Many Republicans, including Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th, say the Inflation Reduction Act’s increased funding of the Internal Revenue Service threatens ordinary Americans with the specter of unfair and even politically motivated audits.
The $80 billion in new funding would allow the IRS to incrementally hire nearly 87,000 employees by the year 2031, but most of these hires would be replacement for agency retirees and included not only enforcement agents, but also customer service and technology specialists.
Finstad’s ability to keep the 1st District in GOP hands, at least for now, has thrilled fellow Republican House members from Minnesota.
Because Finstad is a farmer, Rep. Peter Stauber, R-8th, predicted the newest member of the delegation would “have a strong voice, in the upcoming farm bill, massive legislation that would reauthorize all USDA program for another five years.”
“He’s going to bring all that hard work, get-it-done mentality (to Congress,)” Stauber said.
And Emmer said “as a fourth-generation farmer,” Finstad “truly represents the bests values of our state.”
Because of the difficulty for his supporters to come to Washington, D.C. to celebrate with a celebratory “first-day” reception in his Capitol Hill office, Finstad said he might arrange for such a party in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, he said he planned to “take a deep breath” and perhaps take his family to see some of the sights in the nation’s capital after Congress adjourned on his first day.