Cicilline prepares for SOTU after whirlwind 3 weeks

WASHINGTON — The first three weeks in office have been a whirlwind for David Cicilline, Rhode Island’s newest member of Congress.

“It’s been very busy,” he told me during a 20-minute interview in his new office at the Cannon House Office Building. Hiring staff members has been “a big part of the work,” as has learning more about his committee assignments, Foreign Affairs and Small Business. The first of those two panels has already held hearings about China and the United Nations.

Cicilline is also pleased that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed him to the Democratic caucus’ Steering and Policy Committee, whose responsibilities include choosing committee members and which could be a springboard for the former Providence mayor to climb the ranks in the House.

The new congressman had warm words for Pelosi, who was close to the late Martha Dodd Buonanno, a prominent Rhode Islander. He described the former speaker, who has remained House Democrats’ leader despite the “shellacking” they took in November, as “a tenacious fighter” dedicated to the Democratic Party’s core values.

What’s surprised Cicilline most about the House? How “fluid” and “unpredictable” the schedule is each day, he said, which can make it hard to set and keep appointments. But he expects he’ll get used to it.

Asked what he hopes to hear from the president tonight, Cicilline returned to the themes he emphasized in his successful campaign – boosting the nation’s manufacturing sector and increasing employment, the same message pushed by the other four members of the delegation.

“We have got to do everything we can to get people back to work again,” he said, adding that government “can’t create jobs” but can lay the groundwork for private-sector job growth.

Cicilline also said Obama needs to look for methods of reducing the federal budget deficit “in a strategic and smart way” rather than through across-the-board cuts. He suggested education and infrastructure appropriations should be boosted while agriculture and fossil-fuel subsidies get pared back.

Cicilline visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center last week and said the sight of so many young soldiers who were maimed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan offered a reminder of why he thinks the latter conflict needs to be wound down before long.

(photo: Ted Nesi/WPRI)

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