Now he’s a relatively young man in an institution built of marble and gerontocracy. He’s a five-term congressman in a safe district, but he has no clear path to higher office in California, and probably at least 15 years to wait until he has enough seniority to chair a committee and wield real power.
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Swalwell is trying to adjust—not just to life after Trump, but to no longer being the fresh new face, to transitioning from mentee to mentor, to accepting a new rhythm in his personal and political life, to being what he likes to call “the oldest of the youngest.”
“My first couple years, you’re constantly wondering, Do I belong here?” he said. “For the senior members, a lot of times, you’re just the IT help desk—‘Hey, can you help me get on Instagram? Can you help me turn my phone off in this committee hearing?’ We turned a lot of phones off in our first couple years.”
In his early days on the Intelligence Committee, Swalwell often felt like the CIA briefers mistook him for an intern. Now he’s sitting in a 100-year-old black-leather armchair that he proudly snagged from congressional furniture storage—along with a matching one I’m sitting in on the other side of the room—to decorate the new office he recently received as a perk of his seniority. He’s talking about growing up in Congress, figuring out that there’s value in experience. “It’s maturity, and learning,” he says.
Swalwell isn’t under the illusion that politics is returning to the Eisenhower era. This is the first time since he won office that the White House, Senate, and House are all in Democratic hands. But that hasn’t cured his anxiety—the margins are so close that it’s like “we sunk a three at the buzzer and we’re in overtime,” he says. He wants to be part of the rebuilding of America and back up Biden, but he doesn’t quite know how. He’s been thinking that he should do something about white supremacy, but he doesn’t quite know what. He’s ready to come down from the high of prosecuting an impeachment on national television, to move on from feeling a little envious of how much more coverage his fellow impeachment managers were getting, and to settle in for the long haul.
At least that’s what he’s trying to get himself to believe.
“I’m 40,” he said. “I don’t feel [the] pressures of having to make big career decisions. I don’t.”
The group of House members Swalwell arrived with in 2012 hasn’t done a lot of sitting back and waiting. Of those sworn in alongside Swalwell, there are now five senators, two governors, one lieutenant governor, one former White House chief of staff, five former Senate candidates, three other former presidential candidates, the current and previous chairs of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, one of the chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, two former vice chairs of the Democratic National Committee, and one member, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, seen by many as the likely next speaker of the House. About 30 minutes after our interview, Swalwell called me to point this out.