“Maybe don’t print that,” Rep. Andrew Garbarino of New York says moments after sharing perhaps a bit too much.
It can be tough for the affable and outgoing Long Islander to hold something back, even if it might be a little embarrassing — like how he got the nickname “Baker,” or his first question when the local GOP honchos approached him about running for office.
One of the youngest members of Congress sat down with Heard on the Hill on the Capitol steps just before the August recess to talk about Catholic guilt, his millennial ways and what it’s like dating as a representative.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: You did student government at Sayville High, went to George Washington for undergrad, came back home immediately to go to Hofstra for law school, and then ran for office just a year or two later. Did you always know you wanted to go into politics?
A: My junior year of high school, my dad ran for county legislative office in a special election. I was 17, so I couldn’t vote for him. Everybody told me he was going to win, but he lost by 42 votes.
But I got the bug. So I said, I’m going to apply to schools down in D.C. Nobody thought I would get into GW, but I did — probably because I was paying full freight — and I loved it there. I thought I was going to do a lot of politics, but I ended up doing other things. I worked on the First Federal Congress Project at the university, and I actually never did an internship on the Hill.
When I went home, I got involved locally in the Rotary Club, worked at the family law firm. The idea was maybe I would run for the county leg spot that my dad lost. But in 2012, the state senator decided to retire early. The political leader came up to me and said, “Hey, you want to run for the State Assembly?” And I said, “What the hell’s the State Assembly?”
Turns out it was the best thing I ever did. That’s one thing I learned — you can’t plan everything out. In politics, you don’t know when somebody’s going to die, when somebody’s going to be arrested or when somebody’s going to retire.
Q: You’ve said you love going to Mass. You even went consistently in college.
A: Yup, to St. Stephen-Martyr, a Filipino Mass, it was great. Thank God it was at 1 p.m., so I could sleep late.
Now I really enjoy the fact that it’s something I do with my dad. That’s our Sunday morning — church at 7:30 (even if I was out till 4:30 the night before), Fritzsche’s Bakery afterward, and then we’ll usually go play golf. But it’s not just because it’s tradition. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just feel better when I go. And maybe it’s the Catholic guilt. I feel guilty when I don’t.
Q: You’re 36 and one of the few millennials here in Congress. What’s the most millennial thing about you?
A: It’s tough because some of these things millennials do are nuts. The most non-millennial thing about me is I don’t have access to any of my social media on my phone. But the most millennial thing about me is I very rarely have cash. I think I got $10 on me right now, but dad? He’s probably got a couple hundred bucks.
Q: You’re also not married, which is another rarity in Congress. What’s that like?
A: I’m a restricted free agent, as [Texas GOP Rep.] Pat Fallon likes to call me. The woman I’m dating is actually from upstate New York, not Long Island, so I don’t even get to see her much at home.
We were dating while I was running for Congress, so this wasn’t a surprise to her. It’s not impossible to be in a relationship here, but it does take a lot of work. I flew her down for an event we had at the Salamander Resort this summer [in Middleburg, Va.] with the Republican Governance Group, the old Tuesday Group.
I see some of my friends who are married with kids who’ve done this for years. Lee Zeldin, Dave Joyce, Rodney Davis — they all include their wives when they can. Right now, it seems to work. She wants to rip my head off every now and then, but that’s for other reasons.
Q: Your friends call you Baker. What’s the story there?
A: You want to know the real story? It’s not a good story. So when I was young, in ninth grade, I was really fat. I was 230 pounds, I had a 42-inch waist, and I was probably as wide as I was tall. It was all my mom’s fault, I blame her, because she was a home ec teacher and she used to bake stuff all the time to give away to other people. But she was also a little obsessive compulsive, so if the cookie didn’t look right or the brownie was the corner piece, she was like, “Here, Andrew, eat this one.”
That’s why I have such a bad sweet tooth. But my brother was very mean to me. This was the ’90s, rap was getting big, so he used to turn the song “Patty Cake” into a little rap. He changed all the words to make fun of me: “Fatty cake, fatty cake, baker’s man, eat a cake as fast as you can.”
He started calling me Baker Man, and then that got shortened to Baker. His friends called me that, my friends called me that, my teachers in high school called me that — even my college professors. Because when you tell somebody, “Just call me Baker,” it’s easy to remember. But if I say “Andrew,” they’ll forget it every time.
Last book read? “The Training Ground” by Martin Dugard, a nonfiction book about how all these generals from both sides of the Civil War were trained at West Point and fought in the Mexican-American War.
In politics, can the ends justify the means? Sometimes.
Least popular opinion? Being from Long Island but being a Rangers fan. Maybe don’t print that? [Laughs.] I’m thinking, should I say it? Yeah, I should.
Best perk of the job? Because of COVID, we haven’t been able to do all the fun things. But so far, the best part is probably the member’s license plate. You know how hard it is to find parking in D.C.
Closest friend across the aisle? I work a lot with Congressman [Tom] Suozzi [D-N.Y.] on bills, but probably the person I’ve gotten to know the best is Ritchie Torres [D-N.Y.]. We really seem to click. We’re both pretty down-to-earth guys. What sucks is with COVID, at new member orientation, we didn’t really get to meet anybody. But I’m starting to meet new people. The Problem Solvers Caucus has been helpful with that, and I’m working with the Climate Solutions Caucus, with Ted Deutch [D-Fla.]. He seems really cool.