Because the Home ready to substantiate Joe Biden because the nation’s subsequent president on Jan. 6, 2021, and put an finish to Donald Trump’s false declare that the election was rigged, Aguilar had an amazing view of the doorways Capitol safety would barricade to push back the rioting insurrectionists.
Simply earlier than he left the chamber flooring and fled for security with the remainder of Home management, Aguilar scratched in a little bit purple pocket book he had picked up on a visit to Peru one thing that many members and congressional employees felt that day.
“I’m a little bit scared.”
The Yucaipa native already was a rising star within the Democratic Occasion and climbing up the management ranks. That notorious day supercharged his ascent, first with an appointment to the Home committee shaped to research the assault on the Capitol after which together with his election as chair of the Home Democratic Caucus. Aguilar is now the third-highest-ranking Democrat within the Home of Representatives.
How the previous Redlands mayor turned Congress’ highest-ranking Latino stems from why then-Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi selected him for the Jan. 6 committee, which led one of many highest-profile inquiries for the reason that Watergate scandal took down President Nixon. Buddies and foes alike be aware his tranquil demeanor, openness to differing viewpoints, and status for providing counsel to colleagues expressing complaints, issues and compliments.
Partially due to his demeanor and the decidedly average a part of the state he represents, Aguilar is much from an ideological warrior duking it out over culture-war points. As an alternative, he’s a part of a Home coalition recognized for its pro-business bent and just lately was the highest-ranking Democrat to hitch Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) for a gathering with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
When it got here to talking up for democracy and the peaceable transition of energy, Aguilar was determined. And on the Jan. 6 committee, which had been stocked with attorneys and members schooled in previous oversight battles, he was an keen participant however a respectful listener.
“There have been instances when issues would begin to go off the rails and Pete was all the time somebody I might flip to, to get again on the rails. He was simply very pragmatic,” stated Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), a member of the choose committee on the Jan. 6 assault who has served for almost three a long time within the Home.
His tenure in Congress hasn’t essentially elicited landmark laws — although not for lack of attempting on topics akin to immigration. Nonetheless, the Jan. 6 investigation led to a brand new degree of prominence and credibility, the sort of discover that fellow committee members Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) are marshaling to run for or discover working for increased workplace.
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Aguilar has his personal concepts on how one can use that newfound cachet, yet one more attuned to the longest-serving Republican congressman in California historical past — Jerry Lewis. Often called the “grasp of the congressional earmark” throughout greater than three a long time within the Home that led to 2013, Lewis introduced thousands and thousands in federal cash to his Inland Empire district.
Lewis additionally was effectively favored by each his Republican and Democratic colleagues, even in a hyperpartisan local weather in Washington that rivaled the animosity seen right this moment. Whereas serving within the California Legislature within the Nineteen Seventies, Lewis crafted laws that established the South Coast Air High quality Administration District to struggle smog within the L.A. Basin and backed a protect regulation, an modification to the state Structure permitting reporters to keep up the confidentiality of reports sources.
Claremont McKenna political science professor Jack Pitney labored for Lewis and recalled, how at his funeral, Aguilar spoke glowingly of a person who rose to be the highly effective Home Appropriations Committee’s chair and head the Home Republican Caucus.
“He talked about their long-standing friendship going again to when he was mayor of Redlands,” Pitney stated of Aguilar. “It’s no coincidence they obtained alongside so effectively, as a result of Jerry was just about like that too. He was not a cultural warrior. He had a conservative voting file, however he made some extent of befriending folks on the Democratic facet.”
Together with Home Minority Chief Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Aguilar is a part of a more moderen, youthful vanguard of Democratic leaders who changed septuagenarian and octogenarian counterparts.
Aguilar stated he’s content material together with his station in Congress. He stated statewide workplace doesn’t enchantment to him and, at 43, he’s nearly a decade youthful than Jeffries and about 15 years youthful than Clark.
“It could be nice in some unspecified time in the future for him to grow to be speaker,” stated former Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Democrat from Downey. “He’s precisely the sort of particular person we’d like as speaker — somebody who’s revered, trusted and has core values that I believe all of us might help.”
Usually agile in answering questions, Aguilar responded cautiously when a Occasions reporter learn again Roybal-Allard’s feedback. He reiterated his pleasure to finally serve a “Speaker Jeffries” and rapidly pivoted to how McCarthy — the just lately elected speaker — so craved the put up that he bowed to the far-right nook of the GOP congressional caucus in January to win sufficient votes to grow to be third in line to the presidency.
“I don’t assume Hakeem goes to do that job for 20 years like Pelosi did,” Aguilar stated of turning into speaker.
“Come discover me in 12 years after he does this, and we’ll speak. It’s nothing I yearn for, to be sincere with you,” he stated, earlier than including: “Possibly I shouldn’t say that.”
Aguilar grew up in San Bernardino and Yucaipa, the son of a Southern California Fuel Co. district supervisor who later divorced from his mom. He as soon as informed a reporter that as a child he wished “to work for the gasoline firm like my dad. My mother had made me a uniform to match my dad and I wore it on a regular basis.”
Aguilar’s curiosity in politics and present occasions started when the Exxon Valdez oil supertanker spewed almost 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s coastal waters.
A 9-year-old Aguilar studied the San Bernardino Solar every single day and was entranced by nightly information protection of the catastrophe. Upset, he wrote a letter to Exxon’s chief govt that included a petition telling the corporate to wash up the spill and take accountability. He gathered signatures from neighbors, classmates and academics.
Aguilar arrived at College of Redlands as a member of the golf crew and have become fashionable on campus. He ran the native Habitat for Humanity chapter and was a daily presence on the basketball crew’s video games. Buddies recall his penchant for heckling opposing groups and referees.
His capacity to convene folks and unite them began on campus, stated his spouse, Alisha Aguilar — a fellow classmate who now works as an administrator on the college.
“He all the time wished to be in the course of issues. He went to all of the basketball video games,” she stated. “He undoubtedly went out lots, had a number of buddies and had a number of enjoyable. He’ll inform you that our paths didn’t actually cross as a result of he was very fashionable and I used to be very sensible, and so we didn’t actually have a number of overlap in our pal group.”
An internship within the nation’s capital with a Redlands alum additionally helped ignite his ardour for politics. He attended the 2000 Democratic Nationwide Conference in Los Angeles at a second when Josiah Bartlet, the loquaciously liberal president on the favored tv present “The West Wing,” was a cultural touchstone. The present was appointment viewing for Aguilar and his buddies and presaged a politics that was above partisanship and excessive on idealism.
Aguilar, who after graduating went to work for Gov. Grey Davis’ Inland Empire district workplace, cherished the present to the purpose of obsession.
He and roommate Kevin Dyerly hosted “West Wing Wednesday,” the place buddies would crowd into their residence. Chips and salsa together with some beer can be served with the quantity cranked excessive.
“We simply stated, ‘Look, you may come early and hang around and have an excellent time. You may keep late, however from 9 to 10, you’re quiet and also you’re watching,’” Dyerly recalled. “We did that for a few years residing collectively.”
The present has misplaced a few of its luster in recent times, significantly all through the Trump presidency because the neoliberal optimism it espoused fell out of trend. For a 20-something Aguilar, it was an influential information to a profession that till then appeared mysterious.
“I don’t know if I’d be doing this with out ‘The West Wing,’” Aguilar stated. “I assumed that it captured the idealism of working in these jobs that was actually, actually cool to me.”
After working for Davis, Aguilar turned director of governmental affairs for Arrowhead Credit score Union in San Bernardino County. Round this time he additionally managed the marketing campaign for a regional freeway tax measure.
Then, in 2006, a seat on the Redlands Metropolis Council opened up when a member resigned.
Eleven folks utilized for the put up, and after three rounds of voting on the appointment by the Metropolis Council, Aguilar prevailed and, at 26, turned town’s youngest councilman ever. Alisha — who had simply given delivery to their first little one — additionally had inspired him to place his hat within the ring.
As a council member and later mayor, Aguilar proved to be an adept fundraiser who advocated for financial improvement initiatives, touted his work chopping down the variety of metropolis commissions and balanced the funds.
In 2012, as has been the case all through his profession in politics, an surprising alternative opened up. Lewis retired and his newly drawn congressional district was extra favorable to Democratic candidates.
Aguilar entered a crowded major stuffed with formidable Democrats and, in the long run, received solely a precious lesson in humility.
The Democratic candidates splintered their social gathering’s vote, permitting two Republicans to make it out of the first and Rep. Gary Miller to prevail. Aguilar returned to the Metropolis Council.
“I hate shedding something — board video games with the youngsters or working for federal workplace,” Aguilar stated. “It harm. I believe what additionally sort of harm on the time was the Monday morning quarterbacking.”
Aguilar ran once more in 2014. Chastened, he launched his marketing campaign earlier to assist with fundraising and supply extra time for door-to-door politicking. The aggressive nature of the district meant that figures akin to then-Vice President Biden and former President Clinton joined him on the stump towards a Republican who had overwhelmed him within the nonpartisan major.
After the 4-point victory in 2014, he’s been reelected 4 extra instances. He additionally joined the New Democrat Coalition of pro-business Democrats.
“Mayors have a particular form of expertise. They’ve obtained to make issues work. They’ve obtained to cope with all of the council folks. They have to cope with the residents. They have to cope with all people. Pete introduced that with him to Congress,” stated Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who served as Home majority chief below Pelosi.
For Aguilar, the Jan. 6 committee offered a venue for the political idealism he’d seen a long time earlier than on “The West Wing.”
Throughout his comparatively brief time in workplace he has appeared for methods to inhabit that bipartisan comradeship inhabited on the present and untangle the political knot that has been immigration. His hope since arriving had been to search out consensus on points he cared about.
It was the closest he got here to doing one thing huge, daring and bipartisan. In 2018, Aguilar, former Texas Rep. Will Hurd and a number of other different average Republicans with giant Latino constituencies united to discover a path to citizenship for the thousands and thousands of immigrants who had been delivered to America as youngsters.
Often called “Dreamers,” there was a quick second of bipartisan help to discover a means to assist a bunch that had received a brief reprieve through the Obama administration.
However the alternative fizzled and their effort failed.
Aguilar expressed frustration about not with the ability to overcome ideological divides and procedural intransigence of Congress such because the filibusterer. Hurd’s exasperation over the divisiveness in Congress led him to not run once more in 2020.
Nonetheless, Hurd noticed in Aguilar somebody with the capability, he thought, to finally bridge a few of the monumental divides in Congress.
“The distinction inside Democratic management circles and Republican management circles is Republicans change very often,” Hurd stated.
“That doesn’t occur on the Democratic facet. So I believe we’re going to be seeing Pete Aguilar for a really very long time.”