Maxwell Frost, the first Gen Z in Congress, calls fellow Floridian Ron DeSantis "the greatest threat to democracy in the United States"
Talking to the new House member about adjusting to life in Washington, Biden's move to drill in Alaska, our aged Congress, and what a Democratic Party that could decisively defeat fascism looks like
The most impertinent thing about Maxwell Frost is that he just turned 26. How rude.
Sworn in some weeks ago as the youngest member of Congress, and the first member drawn from Gen Z, Frost, a Democrat who represents Florida's 10th congressional district, is already busy at work. And he’s navigating the reality of entering Congress as a member of Generation Precarious, saddled with debt, his bank account not where he wishes it was, struggling, as other working-class members of Congress have, to afford a Washington apartment over and above his home in his Florida district.
As you know, I’ve been interested in young people stepping up to run for office in this moment, and interested in Maxwell Frost in particular, because he is, more than a Democratic Party stalwart, a political organizer who has thought hard about how to build durable political power over the long haul, rather than just winning an election.
The other day, we talked about his efforts to figure out his new environs in Washington, about his view of the Biden administration’s decision to drill for oil in Alaska, and, most alarmingly, about his up-close view of why Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is a force and why, in his estimation, the greatest danger the country faces.
There is a lot to learn from this young man. I hope you enjoy our conversation below.
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“It feels like a stab in the back”: a conversation with Maxwell Frost
The last time you and I spoke, Congress was a mythical land for you. Now you are there. I'm always curious when people have fresh eyes on something. Can you give us your fresh-eyes guide to Congress? Tell us about moving to Washington as a young person, trying to find a place, and trying to settle in to this august and totally weird institution.
Right after you win, if you win, in less than a week, the next Monday, you have to report to D.C. for orientation. So you really have less than a week to get ready for everything that would come after. I remember after I won, my family and all my friends coming up to me saying, Now you can take a break. That is not true. You actually get way busier than you've ever been in the coming months to prepare to take office. You go to two weeks of orientation, and then you have another orientation, and then you're sworn in. And my swearing in was a little different. I didn't get sworn in until Saturday night at 2 a.m. because they didn't have enough votes for Speaker McCarthy, and it took a long time.
But amid all that chaos, the silver lining, I guess, is that I really got an opportunity to meet a lot of my colleagues, which doesn't happen usually. Usually you get right into it.
And there are so many factors to assuming office that a lot of people don't know about. For instance, the apartment thing. I always say I'm privileged because I'm making a really good salary for at least the next two years, but you don't get that salary all at once. In Congress, you don't get your first paycheck until February, which is a month after you're sworn in, and you don't get healthcare until February. And so you kind of have to just figure it out.
The first month is sort of your responsibility.
Exactly. To just figure it out, essentially. And I have a lot of credit card debt. I didn't have a lot of money in the bank when I first moved to D.C. And so I was really concerned about where I'm going to live because, remember, I live in Orlando, so I have a lease here. D.C. would be a second lease, so that I have a place when I go to there, which is about a third of the year. So it was really concerning to me and, breaking news, I found an apartment. I have a place now, thank god, and now it's time to work on everything else. But that entire situation was very stressful, and I'm not the only one to have gone through it.
I remember AOC talked about it when she first came in.
AOC went through it, and she gave me a lot of advice and, honestly, there's a lot of other members that go through it but don't talk about it. And there's a lot of members who just kind of sleep in their office for the first year or so.
Is that true?
Yeah. Not a ton, but mostly Republican members. There's a good amount of them that sleep in their office. I think the interesting thing is a lot of them do it and they kind of say they're being fiscally responsible or something. It's something they hold up as a badge of honor to sleep in their office. The interesting thing is that that's essentially free public housing, and so if they want to work on getting that to be available for the American people, I'm down to talk about that.
Part of me wants to ask you if you can tell which members sleep in their office by the smell of the office when you walk in, but I'm not going to go there.
Give me the anthropology of entering the world of official Washington. What is it like? How do people actually relate to each other? Give us the non-C-SPAN version. Are people hanging out all the time? Are you and Republicans actually having nice conversations out of view?
Every night, there's a litany of events going on. There are PACs doing events. There are organizations doing receptions. And all of these events are really meant to have members connecting with a specific organization or lobbyists or people or interest. A lot of the time, interest is a bad word, but not always. There could be some noble causes that host events to get to know members. So oftentimes after votes every day, there's just four or five events you're trying to go to to meet people and show support for organizations or maybe a caucus that you're part of. And that's a time when members really get to say hi to each other and see each other outside of work. When we're at work, you actually don't get to sit down and hang out with members.
The House floor is very interesting. If you like to people watch, I suggest you get a gallery pass and sit in the gallery and look at the House floor. You see certain people walking around with these cards that people have. They're big enough to fit in your pocket. They can have anything on them — you could write on it, Can you join this caucus? Can you go to this event? Can you sign onto this bill? And you'll see people with lists of people they need to speak to, and they'll literally stand at the back of the House floor and just try to seek out people. And there's wheeling and dealing and people talking about bills and trying to get people on legislation, and, actually, it's organizing, to be honest.
As far as hanging out and stuff, if you really want to hang out with someone, you got to do it kind of late at night or after votes one day, which is difficult sometimes because we start our days pretty early in D.C., but this past session, on the last day I got to go out and get drinks with some of my freshman colleagues, and we just had a great time.
I wanted to ask you about the recent big decision by President Biden and the administration to open this oil drilling in Alaska. This has seemed to be an administration that was surprisingly progressive on some of the climate stuff. There's been a healthier dynamic between the progressive wing of the party and the White House than virtually anybody I know expected. And this felt like a departure from all of that.
It felt like a slap in the face to people, and, just pragmatically, it felt blasé about potentially kissing a lot of the youth vote away in 2024 and demoralizing young people. Can you talk about how you see that decision, not just as a policymaker but also as a youth organizer who understands the pulse of those voters?
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