Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Former US Rep: ‘Deeply concerned’ in aftermath of attack on US Capitol
A week after her term in Congress ended, former U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small watched in horror as scenes of an angry mob overpowering police and forcing its way into the U.S. Capitol building played out on television.
Torres Small, a Democrat from New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District who lost her bid for reelection in November, had returned to Las Cruces to embark on the next chapter of her life. But on the afternoon of Jan. 6, the marble halls of Congress were transformed into a scene of chaos and violence.
“I was looking for people that I knew,” Torres Small said in a Jan. 8 interview with the Roswell Daily Record. “I was looking for former colleagues and staff members of theirs I had worked with. I was looking for Capitol Police officers I had gotten to know over the last two years that I was there and worried about their safety,” she said.
Five people died and federal law enforcement has opened more than 100 cases against individuals who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection, as members of the U.S. House and Senate, along with Vice President Mike Pence, were in the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College win in the 2020 presidential election.
Now, with National Guard troops stationed in the Capitol and the country bracing for possible further violence, the 36-year-old former lawmaker said she is worried about the fate of the country.
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“I am deeply concerned about how we rebuild from this and that is going to take holding people accountable as well as working to build a foundational respect for our country and our government,” she added.
Doing so, Torres Small said, will require holding people accountable, including the president; ensuring election results are honored and followed by a peaceful transition of power; and that disinformation is rebutted.
During her time in Congress, she said that looking back, one of the clearest signals of the potential for violence was the rise of disinformation and conspiracy theories.
“That disinformation is one of the scariest parts of this, when people who disagree are then radicalized by things that aren’t true,” she said.
Since his November loss to Biden, President Donald Trump and many of his supporters have made unfounded claims that there was rampant voter fraud in the November election that led to Trump’s loss.
Trump’s own former Attorney General William Barr has denied those allegations, saying he has not seen any evidence that fraud exists on a scale that would have altered the outcome of the election. State and federal courts have also ruled against Trump in no fewer than 60 lawsuits his campaign has filed, including two that were brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Torres Small also accused her successor and two-time general election opponent U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell of spreading misinformation about their first race in 2018.
Herrell in 2018 lost the open race for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District to Torres Small by less than 4,000 votes. Herrell was initially declared the winner in that race, but thousands of ballots in Doña Ana County that had not been counted at the time the projection was made swung the contest to Torres Small.
Republicans such as Herrell have cast doubt on the legitimacy of those absentee ballots and Torres Small’s victory.
She alleges that Herrell is taking a similar tact with the presidential election.
“From the first time I was elected into office, my opponent denied that I had won the election,” Torres Small said. “Now my successor continues to spread misinformation about the results of this election.”
Herrell along with the majority of other House Republicans voted to object to the counting of electors in Arizona and Pennsylvania, both states Biden won.
Herrell said the vote was because of changes to protocols related to the handling of mail ballots state officials and courts made amid the pandemic. She has alleged that states did so without the approval of their respective legislatures.
During a tumultuous two years in office, Torres Small and her colleagues have had to cope with a partial government shutdown in early 2019, an impeachment of a president and the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But serving in Congress was not just about the national debates that dominate the headlines and ignite political debate, but learning to represent her district. For her it was also an education in the communities of southern New Mexico.
“I have never loved a job more than I have these last few years, getting to learn from the home that I love,” Torres Small said.
The 2nd Congressional District extends from southern Albuquerque down to the Mexican border, and spans east to New Mexico’s border with Texas and west to its border with Arizona. It is a diverse district, consisting of wilderness, rural areas, the city of Las Cruces and the oil-rich Permian Basin.
Widely seen as a moderate Democrat from a usually Republican-leaning district, Torres Small often stressed her bipartisan credentials and focused heavily on rural issues.
Govtrack.us, a database which tracks lawmakers and how many pieces of legislation they have introduced or sponsored, said that in her two years of service, three bills she has been the primary sponsor of have been signed into law.
Those bills were: The White Sands National Park Establishment Act, which made White Sands New Mexico’s second national park, as well as the Securing America’s Ports Act, which requires the Department of Homeland Security to come up with a plan to scan up to 100% of commercial and personal vehicles and freight rail that enter the U.S. through ports of entry, and the REACH VET Program reporting act, related to preventing suicide among military veterans.
Govtrack.us also lists her as having introduced 18 other bills not enacted into law related to rural health care, economic assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and legislation to look at ways to enhance U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s ability to better recruit and retain guards.
Among her other work, Torres Small said, was working with the Trump administration and other members of Congress to get Medicare to cover telemedicine, where people can reach a doctor and have their appointments over the phone.
Flaws and rewards
The freshman lawmaker though said she wishes she could have gotten more bills over the finish line.
One of her biggest frustrations, Torres Small said, was the glacial pace at which legislation is passed through Congress, and how many bills don’t even get a hearing.
That is not because of partisanship. She said even bills that passed overwhelmingly in the House would often not get a hearing in the Senate.
“It’s something we’ve got to solve. We’ve got to find a way to get good bipartisan pieces of legislation … to give them a shot of not just being stonewalled in the Senate,” she said.
One of the more rewarding aspects of serving in Congress, Torres Small said, was learning from other members about their districts and the various issues they face.
“I got to know our country in a unique way by learning from people who serve vastly diverse places across our United States of America,” she said.
As to her future plans, Torres Small said she is taking time to reflect on her two-year tenure in Congress and would be honored to continue serving New Mexico in some capacity and does not rule out a future run for office.
“I will take whatever comes,” she said.