Record shutdown frustrates freshmen representatives from NY, NJ

Six years ago, Rep. Andy Kim was a government employee in the Obama White House and wasn't getting paid during a federal government shutdown. Today, he hopes he can be part of the Congress that ends one.

"It's horrible," Kim, a Democrat from New Jersey, told FOX 5 during an interview in his nearly empty congressional office, save for a few hour-glasses on one shelf.

"This is why I decided to run for Congress—because me and a lot of people in my district felt like things are broken here," Kim said. "What better showing of that than a government shutdown. The first Congress to ever be seated during a government shutdown, that shows you how broken things are."

Kim is one of the six freshmen members of Congress from New York and New Jersey. They're still less than one month into their first term. They are so new that some haven't even taken their official photos yet.

They're all Democrats elected with big plans and big promises for change.

"It feels important to be here and to be attacking this," Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., a former federal prosecutor and Navy helicopter pilot, said. "I'm a former federal worker. So to me, I just remember so clearly what it's like to be employed by the government during shutdown."

But while the new members and their staffs are still settling in, so are the political realities that the business they were elected to do can't really get underway during a government shutdown.

"Of course it's different than I expected," Rep. Max Rose said. "To put things in perspective, I have never been a member of Congress while the government is open. And that's just wrong." Rose represents Staten Island and part of Brooklyn.

"Well, we're starting out in a crisis that we have to resolve and nothing else can happen until we resolve it," New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski said.

Upstate New York Rep. Antonio Delgado called the shutdown "disorienting and disturbing and frustrating."

"I can only imagine what it's like for folks who aren't here who are being told to work and not be paid," Delgado said.

And like this new Congress as a whole, New York and New Jersey's freshmen delegation looks more and more like the areas they represent. They are veterans, an immigrant and diplomat, the first Asian American elected from New Jersey, the first African American from upstate New York, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

That diversity of life experience "brings a perspective that hasn't been in D.C. during the trends that have moved away from everyday Americans," Delgado said.

"We've experienced life from every possible perspective," Malinowski said. "What I think brings us together is we have an optimism that this government can work for the American people. We haven't become jaded."

Despite being in the midst of a record government shutdown and a country seemingly more divided than ever, that optimism gives these new members high hopes they can change things.

"If you look across the gambit, people are bringing a breadth experience to the table in the legislative space and otherwise and they're going to utilize that experience in hearings," Rose said. "And also, I don't think that their number one priority is re-election. They genuinely want to see this country improve."

But the New York freshman making perhaps the most waves is one you're not hearing from: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx. Fox 5 was there with her as she knocked on doors ahead of her stunning primary victory earlier this year, but her office declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this piece.

"It is incredibly exciting to be a member of Congress right now," Sherrill said. "You can really feel on the floor of the House that there is something going on that I think if we do this right and we can somehow harness this energy will affect the next 50 years of our country."

But to make those kinds of big changes, they'll have to master navigating their way through the complexities of Capitol Hill—many for the first time—both politically and literally.

"I've definitely gotten lost in the tunnels. They're mazes," Delgado said. "I tend to just walk outside because it's a straight shot from my office to the Capitol, rather than try to figure out the different ways underneath."

"At night after everyone went home, I walked around the Capitol for about an hour on my own, kind of getting lost but really also soaking in the majesty of this building," Kim said. "It's such a beautiful building and to be able to walk around it and have this pin and be able to serve the people of my district—it's extraordinary."