He was 32 years old and had been sworn into Congress just three days previously. There he was on January 6th, on the floor of the House, standing on broken glass, watching violence erupt, stunned to see Republicans – even after the attempted insurrection – still vote to decertify the election results. “Believe me, they knew the election was free and fair,” recalled Jake Auchincloss. “It was the low point of democracy in my lifetime, and I hope it remains that way.”
Since 1970, his three predecessors – Jesuit priest Bob Drinan, singular wit Barney Frank, and political scion Joe Kennedy – had all, for different reasons, been instantly national figures. In 2020, running as a center-left candidate, Auchincloss won the multi-candidate Democratic primary with only 22 percent. His nearest competitor, an unabashed progressive, drew just one percent less, and the aggregate vote to his left well outpaced him. (In the general, he easily beat the Republican by a two-to-one margin in this solidly Democratic district.)
The 4th is my home district. I knew his predecessors well. Two years ago, when candidate Auchincloss was still “Jake who?” we had had a leisurely coffee in a booth The Central restaurant, exploring issues, political philosophy and experience. Last week, we sat down in the conference room of his district office to reflect on his first term in that storied seat.
A former Newton City Councilor, Auchincloss went to Washington intent on building working relationships in the 117th Congress. But he makes it clear he could never work with anyone who voted on that bloody day to decertify the 2022 election results. (The election deniers may be the only group Auchincloss won’t work with. His website lists no fewer than 35 caucuses of which he is a member.)
In the House, as elsewhere, it’s personal relationships that help get the work done. Central to this Congressman’s modus operandi is a willingness to talk to members on both sides of the aisle, getting to know their districts and their interests. As a member of the Financial Services Committee, he has found common ground with traditional conservatives like French Hill of Arkansas and Kentucky’s Andy Barry, “fiscally conservative but generally intellectually curious,” as well as Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Patrick McHenry of North Carolina. He has co-authored an op ed on Ukraine with anti-Trump GOP conservative Liz Cheney, protested a misguided SCOTUS ruling on the EPA with Democratic Socialist and “squad” leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, worked with Ayanna Pressley on so-called “baby bonds,” and teamed with centrist Stephanie Murphy on a trade article for the Wall St. Journal.
Auchincloss says, “I’d go anywhere and talk to anyone on issues I want to advance.” In keeping with that, while he has made appearances on MSNBC and CNN, he has also been willing to go on Fox. I admire that. How else can we address the hyper-polarization of our country if we’re not willing to go beyond the comfortable confines of whatever bubble we reside in? Republicans and Democrats have moved farther and farther apart, and the results are pernicious. Small wonder that just 17 percent of the country support the job that Congress has been doing.
Public opinion polls are slow to reflect the legislative accomplishments of the Democratic Congress and President Biden, which Auchincloss says are vastly underappreciated. Following a massive recovery act to rescue the economy, there was a bipartisan infrastructure bill, gun safety legislation, a science bill to support domestic production of microchips, health coverage for veterans sickened by toxins, and last week the Inflation Reduction Act meaningfully tackled climate change and teed up the first-ever containment of prescription drug prices. And all this was against the backdrop of the worse assault on our democracy since the Civil War and the worst public health crisis since World War I.
Auchincloss is enthusiastic about what these successes will help people achieve in their lives. None of this was done flawlessly. No one got everything he or she wanted. Everything was predicated on the ability to compromise. In this environment, Auchincloss seems a particularly good fit. Is he trying to be everything to everyone? I don’t think so. His approach seems consistent with the discussion we had had back in 2020.
Some on the left criticize him for slowness to embrace Medicare reform, especially regarding prescription drug prices, or his defense of the burgeoning cryptocurrency world. Unlike many, Auchincloss does not seem to view the world in binary terms: something is either good or bad. He did vote with the Democrats on subjecting drug prices to negotiation. Along the way, he remains open to information and deals in nuance. With cryptocurrency and blockchain issues, he says, “We are not bulls. We are not bears. We are zebras. We are the referees.” Click on this podcast to hear his approach.
Auchincloss is all about learning, synthesizing and practicing the art of the possible. But his thoughts go beyond today’s possibilities. He remains committed to future action on health care (expanding coverage from 90 percent to 95 percent and containing costs); on infrastructure (redirecting transportation investment excessively organized around vehicles); on the Pentagon budget (“every bureaucracy can do ten percent more with ten percent less”); on gun safety (weakening by civic action the NRA and its toxic effect on our nation’s young men); and more.
His wartime military experience continues to inform his attitudes toward foreign policy. He approves the goal of leaving Afghanistan, defending much of the exit implementation. While he is a firm supporter of Israel and believes that the Abraham Accords have real potential for stabilizing the Middle East, he is not above joining in criticism of Israel’s treatment of settlements in the West Bank. Many have given up on the idea of a two-state solution; this Congressman has not.
Does he worry about the prospects for bipartisanship if Republican Kevin McCarthy were to become the next speaker? Auchincloss sighed, then declared himself to be “an optimist by job description…….not conceding the midterms by any stretch of the imagination.”
He is certainly not dispirited, and is quick to say he is still learning, noting that it’s not that hard to figure out the who and the what of legislation and political action in Washington. It’s the “when” that is the challenge. “It’s the timing,” he explained. “Something can happen this afternoon or three years from now.” Discerning the timing, he says, separates the varsity from the J.V. He is fortunate to be learning from a Massachusetts delegation with many varsity players.
His district seems comfortable with that. Now, at 34, he is running unopposed and has organized a leadership PAC, MA4Dems to help candidates across the country focused on kitchen table issues and get-out-the-vote efforts. He resolutely refuses to be drawn into conversation about his own political future, using standard demurral language about being focused on the 2022 mid-terms. Fair enough. But this young man is thoughtful and nuanced, and he’s mostly making the right moves. Keep him on your “people to watch” list.