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WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Jimmy Gomez was sworn in as the newest member of Congress on Tuesday, replacing former Rep. Xavier Becerra, now California's attorney general.
Gomez, a former state legislator from Los Angeles, was elected June 6, but his swearing-in was delayed amid hopes by California Democrats that he could help win a measure to extend the state's cap-and-trade program to address climate change.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., criticized Gomez for weeks for not assuming his seat in Congress earlier. In a speech on the House floor, Gomez jokingly thanked McCarthy "for all the attention he's given me," drawing knowing laughter from lawmakers in both parties.
McCarthy smiled and waved to his newest colleague. With Gomez seated, the House now has 240 Republicans and 194 Democrats, with one vacancy.
Gomez, 42, said he will focus on protecting the rights of immigrants, expanding access to health care and lowering debt for college students — issues he said were important to his constituents and extremely personal.
His parents and four siblings are immigrants from Mexico, and Gomez often speaks of their struggles in their adopted country.
He grew up in Riverside, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, and went on to earn a master's degree from Harvard University. When he was young, he spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia, an experience he said almost bankrupted his family.
"I believe young people from working families should have access to debt-free education because I know from my own experience that a high-school degree is not always enough, and a higher education can change a life," Gomez said in his first floor speech.
The former union organizer emerged as the establishment pick in his race against fellow Democrat Robert Lee Ahn in the 34th Congressional District, winning endorsements from Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
A liberal, Gomez calls himself a member of the "resistance" to President Donald Trump and said he would push for federal polices to combat global warming. Trump has called climate change a hoax and withdrew the U.S. from a global climate agreement signed in Paris by nearly 200 nations.
"I believe everyone deserves access to clean air and water, and that climate change has exacerbated this challenge," Gomez said.