Rep. Celeste Maloy was sworn in as a member of the U.S. House Tuesday evening, one week after winning the special congressional election to replace her old boss, former congressman Chris Stewart, who resigned in September.
Maloy was introduced on the House floor by the new “dean” of Utah’s House delegation, Rep. John Curtis, of Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, who was flanked by Reps. Blake Moore, of Utah’s 1st District, and Burgess Owens, of the 4th District.
Following loud applause from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, Maloy stood with Utah’s representatives in the well before the speaker’s rostrum. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., read the oath of office as Maloy raised her right hand and responded, “Yes,” making her the newest member of the 118th Congress.
Fresh off the campaign trail, which involved thousands of miles driven across the expansive 2nd Congressional District and dozens of in-person meetings with local leaders, Maloy will now face the task of navigating a House Republican conference embroiled in fights over spending, personal controversies and an election year just around the corner.
But for now, the responsibility of being one of only 535 U.S. lawmakers in the House or Senate dominates Maloy’s thinking.
“The privilege of serving in the United States House of Representatives feels enormous right now,” Maloy told the Deseret News.
When was Celeste Maloy sworn in as a member of Congress?
Maloy was sworn-in Tuesday, shortly after lawmakers returned from their Thanksgiving recess and voted on a resolution to condemn the Oct. 7 attack of Hamas on Israel.
“We were all a little surprised that she won the election since the last thing she won was her 7th grade spelling bee,” Curtis joked during the one minute he was allotted to congratulate Maloy on being sworn in and review her biography before her new colleagues.
Curtis’ remarks were followed by Maloy’s first floor speech which, characteristically, centered around the creed of the Future Farmers of America, which she quoted, in part.
“I believe in the promise of better days through better ways even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us through the struggle of former years,” Maloy recited. “I think that perfectly describes how I feel right now about being a member of the United States of House of Representatives.”
Displaying a large smile and clear excitement, Maloy thanked the dozens of family members, including all five of her siblings, and dozens more friends who were watching from the gallery up above the House floor — and who received their own standing ovation from the lawmakers. Maloy then acknowledged the solemnity of the charge she had been given.
“I understand what a great honor and what a rare privilege it is to be standing here on the House floor right now giving a speech,” she said. “So thank you.”
I’m so grateful for my parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews who flew to see me sworn in as a member of Congress. Truly humbling ❤️ pic.twitter.com/uTQa1MZsc7
— Celeste Maloy (@CelesteMaloyUT) November 29, 2023
After being sworn in, Maloy took her first vote as a member of Congress in favor of a resolution affirming Israel’s right to exist.
“That felt like a really meaningful first vote,” said Maloy, who was excited to explain how she received a member of Congress ID card that allowed her to vote using the electronic boxes located along the House floor.
Maloy then attended a welcome reception hosted by Curtis before returning to Stewart’s mostly-empty former office — now her’s — where she will finish the legislative term.
Who is Celeste Maloy?
In some ways, beginning her work as a U.S. lawmaker will feel like returning to familiar territory for Maloy, who has spent the last four years working on the issues of the 2nd District, which extends from Farmington through west Salt Lake City and down to St. George, encompassing nearly all of western Utah.
Maloy worked as Stewart’s chief legal counsel from 2019 to June of 2023, assisting the former congressman on legislation like the Fairness for All Act, a bill attempting to balance LGBTQ rights and religious freedom, and worked closely with him on a bill to improve the federal government’s stewardship of the West’s wild horse population and to secure funding for crucial infrastructure projects in rural Utah communities.
Maloy shared that after being sworn in, several lawmakers approached her to say how much they admired Stewart and how excited they were for her to take his place.
“That was especially touching for me,” Maloy told the Deseret News Tuesday night. “As the person who’s replacing him in the middle of a Congress, I know I have big shoes to fill.”
Prior to working for Stewart, Maloy worked on public lands issues as an attorney for Washington County. This followed more than a decade working as a soil conservationist for the United States Department of Agriculture in Beaver County.
Maloy’s rapid rise from relative political obscurity to taking the oath on Capitol Hill marks the end of a whirlwind Republican primary and general election campaign, which saw Maloy face off against some of the most well-known figures in state politics.
It also signals the beginning of an abbreviated legislative term that will test the congresswoman’s ability to pick up where Stewart left off before she faces reelection next year.
What are Celeste Maloy’s priorities for her first term?
One of Maloy’s campaign talking points, and one of Stewart’s stated reasons for endorsing her, was her ability to continue the work begun by Stewart before he stepped down to spend more time with his wife.
Some of these priorities, Maloy told the Deseret News in an interview on Monday, include renewing progress on the Northern Corridor transportation route in Washington County, which local leaders have been planning for decades only to be tied up by “federal permitting issues.”
Maloy also listed from memory a number of other projects she wants to make sure don’t fall through the cracks in the transition from one representative to another: municipal water system upgrades in the small towns of Lyman, Marysvale and Elsinore, as well as funding for roads in Tooele County and a water storage tank replacement in Centerville.
In addition to dusting off these initiatives she started on under Stewart, Maloy’s goals for her first partial term in office include assembling a top-notch congressional staff and using her committee positions to empower local governments, instead of getting in their way.
“I want to keep helping local governments achieve their goals,” Maloy said. “I want to work with states and counties and cities and towns and make sure that the federal government isn’t an impediment to them doing their job or providing the services that they’re supposed to provide to their constituents. I want to be very district-focused.”
What challenges will Celeste Maloy face in her first term?
While there is rarely a dull moment in D.C., Maloy is entering Congress during a particularly fractious time for the House Republican Conference.
The last three months have seen GOP representatives oust their own leader, struggle for weeks to settle on his replacement and narrowly avoid a limited government shutdown twice.
House lawmakers are now tasked with passing several remaining annual spending bills and reconciling them with the Senate versions before federal funding is set to expire, yet again, in mid January and early February.
Unlike the House Freedom Caucus, Maloy does not think the threat of a government shutdown is an effective bargaining chip to force spending cuts. Rather, she said, House Republicans must acknowledge they are outnumbered by a Democratic-led Senate and White House and should push for “incremental spending decreases.”
The only situation in which she would vote for a shutdown, Maloy said, is if the alternative is a spending increase for FY2024.
Barring a change in circumstances, one of Maloy’s first votes as a member of Congress will be on whether to expel her colleague, George Santos, R-N.Y., who has been accused by the House Ethics Committee of deceiving donors.
Maloy said her decision-tree for this controversial vote will be the same as with each and every vote she will cast: “Is it within the authority of Congress to do this? Will it make Americans more free? And is it good for the people of Utah’s 2nd Congressional District?”
This three-step filter, as well as a commitment to spending as much time listening to her constituents in her district as possible, will prevent her from being forced to vote against her conscience as a freshman lawmaker, Maloy said.
Another move she hopes will earn her constituents’ confidence as well as restoring some trust in the institution of Congress is a constant effort to “pull back the curtains” so that Utahns know how the legislative process works and feel invested in it.
“I want Congress to feel accessible to people,” Maloy said. “I’ve been on the other end of this where it felt like Congress was a distant entity, was not responsive, and I’m doing my best right now to pull back the curtains and let people see as much of how this works as possible so that they feel like they’re part of the process.”