- The Washington Times
Thursday, December 8, 2022

House Democrats are arguing about how the struggling middle class is being depicted in a first-of-its-kind documentary produced by Congress.

The bipartisan Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness and Growth will unveil a 30-minute film titled “Grit and Grace” this week, but some of its members say it missed the point.

“This film is not representative of communities where there was a struggling middle class and then the bottom dropped out,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Ohio Democrat. “I was very upset with the film. I was not allowed to give input. They did it on their own and they didn’t ask for any advice.”

The film, excerpts of which were viewed by The Washington Times, features three stories of individuals and families seeking the American Dream in the contemporary economy.

The stories feature Jeremy Cook, a small business owner in West Virginia who cares for his two nonverbal, autistic sons; Alicia Villaneuva, a Mexican immigrant living in California who started her tamales business; and Joseph Graham Jr., a single father in North Carolina who fought to secure higher education degrees in his adulthood.

It is narrated by “Sex and the City” actress Sarah Jessica Parker and directed by Emmy award-winning director Oscar Guerra.

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The documentary features cameos by Democratic Reps. Jim Himes of Connecticut, who chairs the committee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Gwen Moore of Wisconsin. Republican Reps. Kat Cammack and Byron Donalds of Florida, and Bryan Steil of Wisconsin, the panel’s ranking member, also appear.

It is Congress’s first foray into filmmaking, and will debut at the National Archives on Dec. 13.

The committee has emphasized its bipartisan working style, and has sought to bring its work outside of Washington.

Members have traveled across the country to hold field hearings and meet local officials in California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Texas, and Washington state.

But some Republicans argue they were shut out of the documentary and the final report.

“From my perspective, the frustration is that it was one-sided. I mean, most of the report focuses on the Democrat perspective, and it was a very small section of a minority view that was given at the back,” Rep. Stephanie Bice, Oklahoma Republican, said.

“I didn’t even know [the film] existed until a few weeks ago. I had no idea it was even being put together,” she said.

Rep. Jodey Arrington, Texas Republican, said he had “very little” input in the film, and disagreed with pursuing the project in the first place.

“I don’t know that I would have supported a documentary on it, but that’s the right of the majority and their chairman. He decided to do it,” Mr. Arrington said. “I have no idea what contents are in there or what messages are being sent.”

Ms. Kaptur argued that both the film and the report put out by the committee neglected the Midwest as a whole and she advocated holding hearings in places beyond the coastal regions.

“Let’s pay attention to some of the places that have been forgotten about,” Ms. Kaptur said. “I don’t think they understand it.”

The committee’s report highlighted areas where the federal government can advance its social safety net and better invest in small businesses, early education, affordable housing, and infrastructure.

Mr. Himes disputed Ms. Kaptur’s criticism of the committee’s attention to the Midwest, noting the first trip they took was to her district in Lorain, Ohio.

“I would be surprised if Ms. Kaptur has ever served on a committee that had more member input or that had more of her input including us starting the committee‘s activities in Lorain, Ohio, so I take exception to the notion that we didn’t really carefully consider and deeply consider the challenges and people in the Midwest,” Mr. Himes said.

The congressman also dismissed GOP members of the committee saying they had no input in the documentary.

“The ranking member was kept apprised and we actually did distribute drafts of the documentary and I would point out that three of the Republican members are actually in the documentary,” Mr. Himes said.

Ms. Moore, who brought members to her district in Milwaukee, noted that Ms. Kaptur did not attend the Wisconsin trip, but went to Seattle with the panel.

“Well, she didn’t make it to Milwaukee, and Milwaukee is in the Midwest,” Ms. Moore said. “I went to Lorain, Ohio, and of course we went to Mr. Steil’s district as well, which is also in the Midwest.”

Mr. Steil’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Donalds came to the chairman’s defense, saying he’s done a good job of reaching across the aisle.

“We really got a chance to exchange our ideas and have a back and forth and a real dialogue,” he said. “I think it’s beneficial to what we do here.”

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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