Jasmine Crockett was a passionate presence in her one and only term in the Texas House. She was an even more notable absence among the instigators of the quorum break that led almost the entire Democratic caucus to steal its way out of Austin and decamp en masse to Washington, D.C., for a few weeks in the summer of 2021 to try to keep Republicans from enacting new voting restrictions during a special session of the Legislature. Crockett, who is, at 41, the youngest Black legislator, emerged to the broader public as one of the faces and voices of the Democrats in exile, thanks to her background as a civil rights and defense attorney and her telegenic ebullience. 

Democrats failed to lobby a Democratic Congress and the Biden White House to enact federal voting protections, and Crockett returned to Texas, where the voter restrictions passed. Now she finds herself back in Washington, a member of the same body that didn’t ride to Texas Democrats’ rescue last session, serving in a House of Representatives with a new, narrow Republican majority.

Joining Crockett in Washington is another young progressive from Texas: Greg Casar, a 33-year-old former city councilman whose politics and style are crafted in the mold of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. The son of Mexican immigrants, Casar grew up in affluence in Houston (his father is a physician) but built his career as an outspoken labor and community organizer. In 2014, at 25, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Austin City Council, and he quickly emerged not as a gadfly but as the center of the action. He succeeded in pulling the city to the left on issues including housing, sick leave, wages, policing, and ending camping bans on the homeless. But he frequently found his victories short-lived as courts and a hostile state government countermanded them and, in the case of ending the camping ban, voters did too. He was loved by some and loathed by others, including Democrats who felt that blowback from his activism hurt the chances of more-mainstream candidates in Texas.

Both Casar and Crockett easily won U.S. House seats in deep-blue districts formerly held by liberal Texas icons—Crockett in Dallas, Casar in Austin (the district stretches into San Antonio)—and got off to a very fast start. Casar was elected, without opposition, the whip of the 101-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, the third-highest position in that wing of the Democratic party. Crockett, meanwhile, was elected the representative of the 34 Democratic freshman representatives in leadership. 

Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries placed Crockett, Casar, and six other freshman Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, which, with the committee under Republican control, will be a contentious assignment: the GOP plans to launch a plethora of probes into the Biden family, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the movement of migrants and fentanyl across the border, the origins of COVID-19, and so on. “We’re ready to go toe-to-toe with these right-wing extremists,” Casar tweeted last Tuesday about the committee’s first meeting.

Texas Monthly sat down with Crockett and Casar on January 25 in Crockett’s office in the Longworth House Office Building to talk about the two being dispatched to the front lines of the coming Oversight wars, about pushing progressive policies in a GOP-controlled House, and about how their style of politics will work in D.C. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Texas Monthly: It appears you are both going to be serving on the Oversight Committee. That committee has announced plans to investigate the Biden family’s business dealings, Twitter’s role in suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story, whether COVID was genetically engineered and leaked from a lab in Wuhan, the administration’s border and energy policies, and more. Are you prepared for an intense time on the front lines? 

Jasmine Crockett: Oh, it’s gonna be time to rumble.

Greg Casar: Progressives from Texas have a long history [of making their mark in Washington]. It’s been interesting. Sometimes introducing ourselves on the floor and these senior members say, “Remind us which state you are from,” and I say, “Texas,” and they kind of make a face, and I say, “Remember, this is the state that sent Barbara Jordan to Congress. This is the state that sent LBJ. This is the state that had repealed reproductive rights with the abortion ban, but also, Roe v. Wade came out of Texas.” And so I think that it will be an important time for us to show what Texas looks like.

TM: Are there oversight investigations that you would like to see undertaken, or is your primary responsibility to ride herd on the Republicans?

JC: We will be on the defense.

GC: Of course, good oversight and good government is a progressive principle. I don’t expect that with the current composition, we’re going to get much of that. So I hope that we can take back the majority—the challenge for  Democrats is that we have to both win the political battle and then show what the government looks like. For Republicans, the more they break things, that’s in their interest. I believe that oversight and agency oversight is an incredible opportunity. And it’s a committee that I also want to be on in the majority because it’s really important.

TM: Last Congress, Majorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, was stripped of her committee assignments by a vote of the House—every Democrat and eleven Republicans—because of comments she made on social media that trafficked in racism, antisemitism, and bizarre conspiracies. Now she has a spot on Oversight. In retaliation for what was done to Greene, Speaker McCarthy, now her close ally, has vowed to keep Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar, a Muslim and Somali refugee who is deputy chair of the Progressive Caucus, from retaking her seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, ostensibly because of comments she made in 2019 relying on antisemitic tropes to criticize Israel and the Israel lobby, for which she apologized. How do you process all of this, and what is the right course for the Democratic caucus to take? [On Thursday, the House, on a party-line vote, removed Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.]

GC: What you’re talking about is, to me, one of the bigger questions that we have to face, not just as progressives, but just as trying to be honest people in the Congress. I was in San Antonio at an Express-News interview the other day, and I said I think we should be talking about comprehensive immigration reform, safety on the border, a pathway to citizenship for people here. They said, “Okay, we hear your side of the argument. What about their side of the argument, that Democrats are bringing tons of people over here to vote for them?” That’s a conspiracy theory. It isn’t true. The question to us as Democrats—not even as Democrats, just as lawmakers—is, How do you engage when the argument that you’re often having is with folks that don’t mind making things up?  

I think it’s a challenge for us as lawmakers, because we want to negotiate and come to compromises and agreements for the American people. My hope is that we are able to just keep a steady drumbeat around the truth, around democracy. And I think it means that we have to show that our side has electoral strength. We have to be able to basically beat back lies at the ballot box. I think that’s why we’re getting moved to committees like Oversight, to really highlight the fraudsters and the grifters and the conspiracy theorists every bit that we can, so that, hopefully, the American people just start rejecting that.

TM: Being on the Oversight Committee means going nose to nose with some of the most conspicuous conspiracy thinkers in the Congress. There is Greene, and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, who endorsed replacement theory and flirted with QAnon. And there are two controversial Arizonans: Andy Biggs, who claimed at a December 13 Oversight hearing on the threat posed by white supremacists that the man arrested for bludgeoning Paul Pelosi in October was a “radical leftist,” and that the shooter who pled guilty to killing ten African Americans at a Buffalo grocery store was an “admitted socialist,” and Paul Gosar, who tweeted immediately after the Uvalde school shooting in May that the perpetrator was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien,” even though police had already identified him as a local boy. (Gosar later deleted the tweet.) Will it be hard to confront “the conspiracy theorists” when you’re serving with them on the same committee?

GC: I think it’s hard because we’re both nice people. 

JC: I’m going to say I’ve had to deal with murderers and everything else, so I have a tough-girl spirit; I’m going to have to deal with them in a different way. I think that Democrats need not continually engage in the false equivalencies, because we’re oftentimes put on the defensive, and we’re defending when, honestly, we should be going for the jugular. So when we talk about the jugular— 

GC: We need more of a taste for the jugular.

JC: No, seriously, because why am I having to talk and explain anything away about Ilhan Omar? That’s a problem. How does it make sense that Marjorie Taylor Greene is seated anywhere, when she is not qualified to be in Congress—and if you want to go one step further, George Santos. Same situation. Number one, this guy never should have won his election, number two, we’re still trying to figure out exactly who he is, and number three, one thing we do know is that he is fake and fraudulent. So how is it that he is qualified to sit anywhere? So listen, guys, you can’t be in a glass house casting stones. And that’s what we need to be saying: Listen, they aren’t in a position to take the high moral ground in any way when it comes to policing, when it comes to the deficit.

GC: We’re going to hear endlessly that the Republican House is worried about the deficit when their first bill was to increase the deficit by letting tax cheats off the hook. Their very first bill was to essentially cut IRS auditors that would go after all the people in corporations, and the CBO score—big deficit increase. That’s a big increase. [The Congressional Budget Office calculated that the bill, which would rescind about $70 billion of IRS funding over the next decade, would increase deficits by more than $100 billion in that time and encourage tax cheating.] We have to stop falling into the trap of trying to explain things away. Unfortunately, what we’re dealing with is a party, the Republican party, seeming to just be doused in hypocrisy, and it’s a challenge on how to deal with it when you’re trying to be a good-faith actor.

JC: We, as the members, need to be out front calling this out and explaining it to the everyday American people in a way that they can understand, so then when they hit the ballot box, they’re like, “Dude, those people are crazy.” Like, “They’re the ones that are causing us to have such bad debt, because we know that as they talk about this deficit, listen, y’all should have a conversation with Trump, because we know that 25 percent of this deficit that we’re talking about was approved just in his four years.” But how often are we saying that? Instead, Democrats talk very high-level, and they don’t realize that everyday voters are listening to those idiots. They’re talking in very plain language. 

Honestly, I think if we get stronger on messaging, and if we start to go on the offensive, we have all of the wins. We have the records to back us up. But we’ve got to make sure that the American people understand why Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ilhan should never be in the same conversation, because they are completely different, qualifications-wise, as well as when we talk about a threat to us as Americans as a whole. The only threat exists with Marjorie Taylor Greene, not Ilhan.

TM: What was your takeaway from your first five days on the job, when you had to wait to be sworn in as Kevin McCarthy could not secure the votes necessary to be Speaker on the first fourteen ballots. In order to win, he made concessions to some of the furthest-right members of his caucus. Aside from the time it all took, were you troubled by what you saw?

GC: To me, what’s scary for the American people isn’t that we got delayed in our swearing in. It wasn’t [the holdouts’] means that was the big problem. The big problem was their ends. If they’re willing to do this on the Speaker vote, they’re going to be willing to try to do this to shut down the government or hold the economy for ransom in order to cut Social Security and cut Medicare and wage the same attack they waged during the Speaker’s battle on the elderly, the sick, and the poor. That’s what scared us. Not getting sworn in for a few days is an inconvenience.

TM: Is there something that House Democrats might have or should have done over the course of those five days to try to keep McCarthy from having to make the deals he made to secure the speakership?

GC: If they were willing to negotiate and work with us, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries was very clear that we would have a constructive conversation. What we weren’t going to do was bail them out for nothing. But of course, we could have a conversation with them. I hope and believe that they will learn their lesson and have to come work with us to save the global economy and abandon their most extremist faction. I think that’s going to be the battle and the conversation that we have to have.

TM: Do you think that’s a plausible scenario, that enough members will engage in dialogue down the line to avert disaster?

GC: We have to [talk across party lines]. It’s our job to make sure that the global economy isn’t crushed by the bozos.

JC: For me, it’s the fact that there is no greater-good compass for them. And that’s the only way that the government works, is if you believe that you are part of something bigger than self, and they are very much individually motivated. What was scary for me is that we were very vulnerable during the Speaker vote. The way that I’ve described it is, it’s kind of like that time you leave your garage door up, and you don’t know how long you’ve left it up. And you don’t know if somebody’s come in during this time. There were no members of the 117th Congress—none of the members of 118th were members. Therefore, we were very vulnerable to attacks from people that we know want to come after us. So this was a national security threat at that time as well. And the fact that they did not care enough about that to say “Let’s just get this done” is a big problem for me. And that’s why I know that they are willing to crash the global economy. 

TM: If so, what is to stop them?

JC: It’s our understanding that there’s some folks in the middle that are not wanting to do this. We’ve seen this play out before. We’ve seen when our rating fell. [In 2011, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating for the first time in history, citing “brinkmanship” in the debate over the national debt.] And I think that it’s important that we communicate not just to our constituencies, but to the greater United States constituency in general. They need to better understand what it means when we don’t pay our bills. They need to better understand that, hey, the guy that you keep putting into office, that guy is saying that you’re not entitled to get the Social Security that you worked for. We know that seniors are always a solid voting bloc, whether they’re Rs or Ds. We need to make sure we’re telling them what their alleged representatives are trying to do to them, because I don’t think that they will be happy.