Jennifer McClellan’s leadership skills in Virginia will be critical in Washington, by Reginald Stuart

3/30/2023, 6 p.m.
When Richmond area voters elected former Virginia State Sen. Jennifer McClellan to Congress last month, the new federal responsibilities for ...

WASHINGTON - When Richmond area voters elected former Virginia State Sen. Jennifer McClellan to Congress last month, the new federal responsibilities for the veteran state lawmaker were already on the agenda for the seasoned politician.

“The main challenge she faces is being underestimated,” said Sonya Ross, a retired reporter and race and ethnicity editor on Capitol Hill for the Associated Press and currently managing editor of Inside Climate News. “The structures are the same.”

“Still, Rep. McClellan will have to ‘outdo success’ in order to be considered successful,” said Ms. Ross, likening Rep. McClellan to Vice President Kamala Harris and House predecessors such as Maxine Waters of California and Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas.

Known as an “old boys club” for decades, that diminishing image of the once largely male population of law and policy makers on Capitol Hill in the House and Senate still lingers, Ms. Ross said.

Vice President Harris came to the job (in the Senate and White House) as a seasoned politician, yet media pundits and political operatives questioned her expertise, Ms. Ross said. In her own environment, Rep. McClellan faces the same hurdles in the very contentious 435-member House.

Rep. McClellan is a valuable vote for the Democrats. The slim margin for control of the House makes even a vote of one or two a crucial difference. “The old trick of controlling votes is delicate,” Ms. Ross said. Rep. McClellan’s leadership skills in the Virginia legislature may go a long way in helping her achieve success here in Washington.

Atop Rep. McClellan’s list early this month was a bipartisan appearance with fellow Democrats and Republicans from Virginia making a pitch to the General Services Administration, the federal government’s realtor, to choose Springfield, Virginia, from the sites under consideration, for construction of a new national headquarters for the government’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, known as the FBI.

Today, the FBI is located here, in the heart of the nation’s capitol, a few blocks from the White House, Capitol Hill and the U.S. Supreme Court. All are in the area known as the National Mall, known for the Smithsonian Museum buildings and a variety of related historical museums and monuments.

Taxpayers would spend several hundred million dollars to construct the new FBI building. It would also generate thousands of construction jobs and create employment opportunities.

Virginia is in a scramble with Maryland, as both states have sent their top politicians to make their respective cases for selection. With a competition as stiff in this month’s final rivalry between the nation’s colleges for rank as the top college for basketball athletics, Rep. McClellan is being called upon by fellow Virginia politicians on the home stretch to draw upon her legislative experience in making deals and negotiating, say observers.

Helping win the FBI headquarters move would also help solidify Rep. McClellan’s newest employment credentials should she decide to run in the next term for Virginia governor.

For now, she helps Democrats walk a fragile tight rope of political power in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Republicans lead the chamber by a slim two votes.

That majority includes George Santos, the rookie Republican from New York whose touted résumé helped win the election last fall. In the end, his resume was full of falsehoods that have prompted fellow Republicans in New York to urge him to resign. Another rookie, Rep. Andy Ogles, a Tennessee Republican, has also come under fire for embellishing the facts in his résumé. Both new national politicians had aggressively embraced and supported former President Donald Trump.

The added troubles for the Republican House leadership, complicate the party’s efforts to control the already unruly House.

Rep. McClellan has been appointed to the House Armed Services Committee and is taking on daily calls from her constituents for help on a variety of topics with which she can advocate as the member of Congress in Washington from Richmond.

Reginald Stuart was a daily newspaper reporter for 23 years at The New York Times, and he worked for more than two decades as a news talent scout for Knight Ridder Newspapers.