Representative Harriet Hageman reflects on nearly a year in Congress
Wyoming’s only Representative in the U.S. House, Harriet Hageman, has served in Congress for almost a year. In that time, Republicans have struggled to maintain their leadership and have fiercely debated government funding and American involvement in foreign conflicts. Wyoming Public Radio’s Will Walkey spoke with Hageman about her reflections about her tenure so far, as well as what issues she’s focusing on in the new year.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Will Walkey: It's been a tumultuous last few months in your chamber. We've had multiple unsuccessful nominees and floor votes for speaker. I want to ask about your reflections from that time. And how do you think members of the House should make sure that the chamber functions properly from here?
Rep. Harriet Hageman: Well, I would say that actually is part of the chamber functioning properly. We're a republic. And governing is going to be a little bit messy. And it's especially going to be messy, to a certain extent, when you're in the Republican conference. And the reason I say that is that I work with a lot of very independent-minded people. And I think one of the attributes of a conservative or a Republican is that we have our view of how things should be done. And we're pretty dedicated to that.
I did not vote to vacate the chair. I was concerned that it would create a chaotic situation at a time that we needed to be focusing on the appropriations bills and regular order – as well as I had numerous amendments and other bills that I wanted to move forward that I think are important for the state of Wyoming. At the same time, again, this gives us an opportunity to get in a room and kind of hash out some of the battles that we need to have as Republicans.
And I know people look at these things from the outside and say, “Oh my gosh. This is terrible. We're never going to survive this. We can't let them govern.” But the fact is that is governing. That's how we get together and understand what each other's concerns are. We have such a big country. We have so many issues. We have 330 million people. Wyoming is very different [from] Wisconsin which is very different [from] North Carolina. For us to be able to adopt legislation and move forward as a country and as a body, we're going to have to be able to have these discussions.
And sometimes, while that might look a little bit messy, the reality is it's the way that [the] government should work. Because on the other end, hopefully, we're getting some good legislation in place to make people's lives better.
WW: Funding the government has been a big topic in the last few months – [and] will continue to be a big topic in the coming months. You voted against a stopgap bill to avert a shutdown earlier this month. I want to look forward to the deadlines in the new year to fund key parts of the government. What sort of changes – maybe its specific funding cuts or other provisions – are you looking for in order to flip that vote?
HH: The first thing we all have to acknowledge is that the federal government is $33 trillion in debt. The largest debt in world history. So it is not something that is sustainable. And something that cannot continue forever, won't. That's just the reality. That's just a law of physics. So we're going to have to make some changes to how the federal government works.
Our forefathers never envisioned that you would have a federal government this big or have this level of power. The power was supposed to reside in the states. And so we're going to have to move back towards that business model. Is it going to happen overnight? No. But it does need to start happening incrementally. And we need to start looking at departments and agencies that probably shouldn't even exist at the federal level.
One of them is the federal Department of Education. Now, I come from a long line of educators, I am a strong advocate of a public education system. I am a product of public education. I went to Casper College. I went to the University of Wyoming. At the same time, I don't think that we need a federal Department of Education that we spend literally billions of dollars a year on when it should be the states that are funding the education and actually doing it on a local basis. That's just one example.
As far as what's going to happen in January, what I'll say is that, [in] the Republican controlled House, we have passed seven standalone appropriations bills.* It used to be that, when an appropriations bill cleared the house, it was taken up by the Senate. And you would have one appropriations bill. You'd come together in your conference. You'd take it to the President's desk. He'd sign it. That section of the funding would then go forward. They've stopped doing that because there are certain people who want to do omnibus spending bills rather than actually the standalone appropriations bill. So they're the ones that are standing in the way.
We've been doing our jobs. We've done seven appropriations bills. Those appropriations bills [would] fund about 75 percent of the government. If the Democrat-controlled Senate would take up those bills, we could actually be moving forward with this so that, when we get to January  – or February 2 – we'd be talking about 25 percent of the budget [and] not 75 percent of the budget. So I know the Republicans keep getting blamed for this. We've done our jobs. We've passed seven really good appropriations bills. And there is nothing that prevents the Senate from taking up those bills, moving forward with them, going to conference [and] ironing out our differences so that they can go to the President.
*Note: A link explaining the budget appropriations process is available here.
WW: One split within the Republican party, even in Wyoming in recent months, has been over sending additional money to Ukraine in their ongoing fight against Russia. You've opposed sending more aid. Why is that?
HH: I said it in my speech a couple of years ago. I'm fed up with the idea that the UN [United Nations] and various NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and other countries around the world believe that the United States is required [to protect] everybody else's border but not our own. I think the most critical issue facing this United States is the millions of illegal aliens that are flooding our southern and northern borders. What happened in Israel on October 7 should have been a wake up call for everybody. We are being infiltrated. We have people coming across the border. We don't know who they are. We don't know their criminal history. We know that the number of people on the terror watch list that are being apprehended has absolutely skyrocketed. But we also have over a million getaways.
So my view of it is that we need to be focusing on America first. Again, $33 trillion in debt. Every single dime that we send to Ukraine, we're borrowing. We have people who are struggling to pay their bills, to put food on the table, to put gas in their car [and] to put a roof over their head. I do not believe that we should be funding the government in Ukraine.*
What we're doing is we are destroying America from within in order to fight a war where nobody can tell me what the end goal is. We have yet to have any accounting whatsoever for the money that has already been sent to Ukraine. But we know that a massive amount of it has been graft. Has been corrupted. (Graft is defined as intentionally corrupting or misusing public funds for personal gains.)
We also know that nobody will tell us – by what metric do we know whether we are succeeding or failing? By what metric do we know whether we should be sending another billion dollars? Or $10 billion? How do we determine success here?
The White House has absolutely refused to engage with Congress at all when it comes to the funding for Ukraine and how that money is being used. And until we get that kind of information, I am a “no” vote on sending additional funding to Ukraine. I may be afterwards. But right now, until they provide that information and they provide accountability to the American public, I do not see how we can justify continuing to send money to Ukraine.
* Note: Hageman’s view on Ukraine funding is not shared by all politicians or even all Republicans. Wyo. Sen. John Barrasso has supported funding the effort in the past.
WW: You've been in Congress almost a year now. What are some bills that you've worked on or sponsored that you'd like to highlight that you're proud of?
HH: One of them is the COAL Act. I do not believe in government-imposed wretchedness, which completely describes the current administration's energy policy. Government imposed wretchedness. So the COAL Act would lift the moratorium on issuing permits for coal in Wyoming.
The REINS Act, which would try to rebalance that power between the congressional or legislative branch and the executive branch – with the administrative agencies. The Separation of Powers Restoration Act. That would do away with the Chevron deference. As a practicing attorney that dealt with Chevron deference for decades, it's something that needs to be changed. The court was wrong in 1984 when they adopted that and we need to go back to rebalancing the power between the federal government and states and the federal government and the citizens.
Another bill that's very important to me is I've got a bill to delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We are over double the recovery goal. Even the Fish and Wildlife Service would like to delist the grizzly bears. But every time we do that, you've got the environmental groups that sue to block it.
Another one is to stop the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] from being able to move forward with an electronic identification requirement – air tag requirement – for cattle and bison. And the reason there is it's just another form of surveillance. Now if people want to use air tags – electronic air tags – more power to them. But it should not be the USDA that is requiring that.
I've also done some work on trying to help our Indian tribes become more autonomous. Providing better health care services to the Indian Health Services is something that's been a priority for me as the chairman of the Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs. And then also I've worked on a variety of property issues for Indian tribes across the country. To try to make it easier for them to engage in economic development and also to right some historical wrongs where some lands had been taken away. We need to make sure they've got the freedom and liberty that we do to manage their own resources.
WW: Just a real quick follow up on that last point that you were making. We know that Native Americans go missing or are victims of violent crimes at much higher rates than non-Native people. This is something that you held a hearing on really recently. What do you think might be some solutions for increasing community safety on reservations?
HH: We did have a hearing just two weeks ago, and [a] chairman from the Northern Arapaho Tribe came and testified. And he did a fantastic job – Mr. Goggles – talking about the challenges that they face in terms of recruiting officers, training officers, the process that they have to go through to get officers and then the challenges of policing a tribe that is that big. Just the pure size of it provides a challenge in terms of being able to provide security and safety services.
So one of the things that was discussed during that hearing is that there have been some various organizations – state, federal, tribal [and] local – in New Mexico [that have] been pretty successful at bringing all of those groups together. To work together to provide better services on reservation lands. And I've talked to Mr. Goggles about, “Let's go get their statutory framework. Let's see if that's something that can be implemented in Wyoming.” So that we make sure that everybody is oaring in the same direction on this issue of public safety.
WW: I think the Israel-Hamas conflict has horrified and also divided a lot of Americans. Just for the record, you've supported Israel through [votes for] funding and statements. But how do you think folks in Wyoming – thousands of miles away from Gaza – should be thinking about this conflict? And what's the best way for us to promote peace in the region?
HH: I think one of the things that this comes back to is energy security. And I'm going to go to Iran. I'm old enough to remember what happened in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown and the Mullahs took over. And I was horrified. I was in high school at the time, and I was horrified [with] how that country changed overnight and became an Islamic republic. Something where all women's rights were taken away literally overnight. And that is the regime that has been in power over there for the last 40 years.
I am no fan of Iran. And I think it's one of the biggest failures of both the Obama administration and the Biden administration [is] their effort to appease Iran. Iran is creating much of the discourse of the problem within the Middle East. Supporting and funding Hamas and supporting and funding Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
So why is this important to Wyoming? Because we're one of the largest energy producers in the nation. You allow us to rely upon domestically produced energy coming from Wyoming or Texas or North Dakota or Alaska. Maybe we and the world are better off if it is domestically produced energy coming from the United States rather than having to rely [on] what is coming from the Middle East. So what Biden [has] done since he's been in office, with his war on domestic energy production, we have empowered Iran. Russia has been able to fund its war against Ukraine. Venezuela has been able to fund the continued destruction of that country.
And so it is in Wyoming's interest, I believe, to become energy independent again. And it is important to defend and protect Israel simply because of the neighbors. We don't want a stronger Iran with the current government in place. They are state sponsors of terrorism. They want to kill people, and they want to make people like me incapable of holding public office because they don't believe that women should do what I do. They don't believe in freedom and liberty. They believe in power and death. And I think that Israel is the buffer against that.
WW: I understand your criticism. But I just want to follow up and say [that] I know energy production hasn't actually slowed during the Biden administration. Oil has broken records, and it broke records in the last month. So what's your response to that?
HH: The responses are [that] we're not building the pipelines that we need to get the energy to where we where it needs to be. He [Biden] stopped the pipelines. We’re producing more energy, but it's at a much higher rate in terms of the costs associated with it simply because he's made it so much more difficult to get the permits. His Department of Interior has imposed a moratorium on future coal permits. So when they place a moratorium now, it is going to affect us long-term. And I would also argue that he's done everything possible to prevent us from being able to export and increase production so that the other countries around the world are not reliant on Russia – not reliant on Saudi Arabia or Iran. So it is a matter of who you are empowering.
Look at the BLM – the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan – that would deny access management and use and development of energy resources on a lot of 3.6 million acres of lands in southwestern Wyoming. So I'm going to push back a little bit that he is not adopting policies that are decreasing our ability to produce. What he's also done is he's limited our ability to ramp up our energy production when we need it. And all you have to do is go to the gas station and you see that. All you have to do is go to the grocery store and you see that everything is more expensive because energy is more expensive. And I'll say the words again, it's government-imposed wretchedness.