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Opinion: The quiet march of Washington's moderate millennials

May 3, 2021

Even before Time magazine called them “entitled narcissists” and “fame obsessed” in 2013, millennials had a bad rap. They were made out to be self-absorbed and materialistic, shallow and lazy. A later Time story offered an ominous, follow-up warning to readers: “Love ’em or hate ’em, this much is true: one day soon, millennials will rule America.”

That day may come sooner than expected. Thirty-one members of the House of Representatives are millennials, up from five at the start of the 115th Congress (January 2017). And the Senate’s first millennial, Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff, took office this year.

Increased representation in Congress hasn’t erased the millennial stereotypes, though. In some ways, the most visible young members of Congress only cement them. Ossoff makes TikToks to inform constituents about vaccines; Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., lives by the mantra, “If you aren’t making the news, you aren’t governing”; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., gives Twitter lessons to her colleagues on the Hill.

But not all millennials in Washington are buying stock in this so-called “attention economy.” Rep. Blake Moore, a 40-year-old freshman representing Utah’s 1st Congressional District, was recently named a co-chairman of the Future Caucus, the first and only bipartisan caucus for young members of Congress. Joe Greaney, a senior manager of policy and outreach for the Millennial Action Project, which manages the Future Caucus, said Moore, who identifies as a millennial while on the older end of that generation’s age spectrum, is a perfect fit.

“There is a pretty stark divide between those who are here to lead seriously, and those who are advancing their own careers,” Greaney said.

The Future Caucus is now beginning its fourth iteration, founded in 2015. Its stated mission is to bring young members of Congress together and find bipartisan solutions on the issues that young people deal with — higher education, entrepreneurship, veteran’s employment, technology, sustainable energy solutions.

But finding common ground is rarely easy. Millennials and Gen Z grew up in an age of recessions and government shutdowns, of mass shootings and endless wars. And getting conservatives to cooperate with the caucus has been even more difficult, Greaney admitted.

“Most young people are not as conservative as their older counterparts,” he said. Greaney is right — younger American generations are more liberal, and stay more liberal as they age, than their older counterparts. And President Joe Biden — the oldest first-term president in U.S. history — is enjoying record-high approval from college students while rolling out a progressive agenda.

Younger Americans may be left-leaning, but they are open to compromise. Gen Z, especially, is far less dogmatic and more open to new political ideas than their predecessors. That openness is what Moore and the Future Caucus wish to capitalize on. “I want to find common ground,” Moore said in a recent Zoom interview. “And I’m very purposeful in how I go about doing it.”

Moore’s background in the Foreign Service and in business put him in prime position to lead. In addition to veterans affairs and entrepreneurship, Moore and his co-chairwoman, Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., have discussed several policy areas they wish to address — the national debt and deficit, health care, immigration and “democracy modernization” via technology.

While Moore is looking to compromise, he’s not shy in championing conservative principles. He wants to ask three questions in proposing any solution — “Is it aspirational?” “Is it pro-growth?” “Is it inclusive?” And he sees “basic constitutional principles” as the answer to most problems.

“Conservative values are good for our future; they are what our country needs to strengthen itself,” he said. “I want to be the party that’s constantly thinking about solutions.”

One solution that could gain traction with young people is his approach on immigration. He recently backed Florida GOP Rep. Maria Salazar’s Dignity Proposal, an immigration approach that emphasizes heightened border security while simultaneously providing immediate legal status and pathways to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (“Dreamers”); a path to legal status for undocumented individuals already in the U.S.; and modernization for guest worker programs.

But Moore is realistic about his sway. Both he and Jacobs are first-term representatives, and the greatest influence he sees himself having now is in forming relationships and maintaining a strong voting record. And with a reliably red district in Utah (and a blue California district for Jacobs), their focus can be on legislation, not reelection.

When asked if some of the more visible young representatives — like Madison Cawthorne or Ocasio-Cortez — have a place in the Future Caucus, Greaney again lauded Moore and Jacobs’ devotion to doing their jobs. “We’re not looking for people who are in it for the sound bites and the party politics,” he said. “We want people who are legislating seriously.”

Moore seems to fit the bill. “I am not an expert on 405 different pieces of legislation or issues that affect every industry across the board,” Moore admitted. “I just want to prove to the next generation of Americans that we are really thinking hard about what their needs are.”

No, Moore and Jacobs are not cable news regulars or social media superstars. But they don’t seem to care. As millennials in a sea of partisan bickering, they’re more interested in finding common ground — and they hope America’s young people are, too.