The day I visited U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans in his new digs on Capitol Hill was hectic even by Washington, D.C., standards.
The Justice Department's Rod Rosenstein was holding a classified briefing for House members on the ongoing investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump Administration. Also, there was a vote taking place on a bill that would allow probation officers to make arrests without a warrant in certain situations.
Reporters were swarming, searching for any little bit of news, grabbing at Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) and others as they walked the halls of the Capitol. The air was electric. It had been awhile since I'd been in D.C., so it felt to me as if drama and intrigue lurked around every marbled corner — and, by the way, was that Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis who just got on the elevator?
Evans, though, was his usual world-weary, I-can't-be-phased self. I met up with the newly minted congressman in his office — a first-floor, three-room suite not far from the main entrance of the Longworth Office Building. It's an easy walk to the Capitol. The quarters were a little tight, but they weren't bad for a freshman member of the 115th Congress.
Since moving to Washington in November, the longtime state legislator has kept pretty much a low profile. Beside spotting him in a news clip from earlier this year in which he stood behind Waters, as she famously denounced then-FBI director James Comey saying, "He has no credibility," we hadn't much heard much from Evans. That's why I figured it was high time for a visit.
The last six months have been busy ones for Evans, who represents the Second Congressional District. He was sworn into office last November, replacing former Rep. Chaka Fattah following Fattah's conviction on corruption charges. Evans made his first speech from the House floor on the very day he took office.
Earlier this month, he voted against the new Republican health-care bill, later issuing a release saying, "Today we learned that 23 million Americans stand to lose their healthcare by 2026. Today’s news is quite simple. Under the Republican healthcare law, Pennsylvanians will have higher premiums, higher deductibles and more out of pocket expenses. This is unacceptable and un-American.”
According to his records, the 62-year-old Evans has been to 386 meetings or gatherings in his district; answered 25,000 letters and emails; helped connect 285 citizens with services from various federal agencies such as Veterans Affairs and Social Security; and attended 29 committee hearings and workshops. He serves on the House agriculture and small business committees. Evans also has joined a number of caucuses including the Black Caucus and, the LGBTQ Equality Caucus.
In typical Evans style, he eschews the exclusive, members-only dining room, preferring to grab a quick bite at his desk. While in D.C., he lives in an apartment in Chinatown near the Verizon Center, which is a 15-minute walk to work. Every, single week, Evans is back on Amtrak and headed to Philly. He doesn't keep a car in D.C.
"It's not new to me. I know a lot of these people," Evans said as we sat in his narrow office. "They know me and they know my work from the things that I've done."
Evans introduced his first bill in February, one that would allow authorities to give federal rehabilitation tax credits to private investors to renovate old, dilapidated city schools. Evans said that then-businessman Donald Trump successfully used those same credits to renovate the old Post Office near the White House.
"The rationale on that is, if you use that technique for renovating a hotel, why can't you do the same thing for public school buildings?" Evans said. "I think there're good chances that that can pass because, let's be frank —Republicans like tax credits."
Evans declined to discuss the classified hearing he attended the day of my visit but expressed support for the investigation into Russia and possible ties with the Trump administration.
"Obviously, do I believe the Russian hacking? Yes. Do I believe that it in some way influenced our election? Yes, I believe all of those things did occur. And I believe that Russia is not our friend and I don't think they should be viewed as our friend," he said.
The time for our interview flew by much too quickly. Evans had an early-afternoon train to catch back to Philly.