ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Senator Tina Smith, Minnesota’s newest U.S. Senator, was back in Minnesota for the first time since being sworn in to the Senate on Jan. 3.
Smith, the former Lieutenant Governor, was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to fill the Senate seat vacated by Al Franken in the face of misconduct allegations.
Less than a week after becoming a member of the Senate, Smith has started meeting people across the state to learn about what they think she needs to be working on.
Saturday evening, she met with business and labor leaders at a public reception. She was accompanied by fellow Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congresswoman Betty McCollum.
Smith said there are a multitude of important issues, like health care, the budget and immigration that lawmakers need to address in Washington D.C. this month. She also said she is grateful for the help and advice from her predecessor and current federal delegation members like Sen. Klobuchar.
“I think that R.T. Rybak said this about her, she’s the velvet hammer,” Klobuchar said. “And we need a few of those in Washington to get things done. She’s worked on everything from broadband to making sure that we have a strong economy in our state.”
As Smith settles in to the Senate, Congress faces issues including a long-term plan to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Funding for the program lapsed on Sept. 30.
“The fact that it wasn’t funded by the federal government is just a travesty,” Smith said. “And it’s actually the reason why Minnesota’s budget is a little out of balance, because we’re making up the difference. So fighting for CHIP as a bigger budget solution in January is really important.”
Smith is also firmly behind the revival of the Dream Act.
She joins the Senate as President Trump and Republican lawmakers scurry to come up with a plan for thousands of young, undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Last year the Trump administration officially announced its plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Obama-era program provides a level of amnesty to Dreamers, certain undocumented immigrants, many of whom were brought to the U.S. as children.
Now, the budget solution could come down to a deal for the Dreamers.
“I don’t understand why it is an issue we’re even talking about,” Smith said. “It has strong bipartisan support and we have to get it done because we have people—their lives are literally on hold trying to figure out what they’re going to do.”
Even though she's "hit the ground running," Smith does not have much time to make a mark in Senate. There is a special election for the seat in November, when Franken's term would have ended. She has committed to running for the seat.
So far State Senator Karin Housley is the only Republican to announce that she will challenge Smith for the seat.