Maxwell Frost is an artist, so it makes sense that the first-term Florida Democratic congressman’s first policy tussle with the White House would be on behalf of his fellow creators.
“This makes it really hard for working-class artists in other countries to come here and perform,” Frost said in a phone interview Thursday with The New Republic, referring to a rule change proposed by the Biden administration that would substantially raise the cost of visas for artists traveling to the United States.
“Things like this have the potential to fly below the radar,” said Frost, 26. “As an artist myself who comes from the music industry, it makes the issue really important to me. Our independent, small, and midsize venues are distressed about this. Foreign artists can’t afford to come here and play these low-key venues with these fees.”
The Florida Democrat has organized a letter expressing concern and encouraging the administration to reconsider the rule. Under the proposed rule, the cost of visas for artists traveling to the U.S. would increase from $460 to more than $1,600. The letter, shared exclusively with The New Republic, is addressed to Ur Jaddou, Biden’s director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, or USCIS, the federal agency responsible for issuing visas. The agency claims the fee hikes are necessary to “fund operating costs.”
“We, alongside thousands of artists and arts organizations who have raised their voice in opposition to the proposal, know that fee increases of this magnitude would devastate local arts organizations and make it impossible for them to engage with international artists,” said the letter, which has so far been signed by seven of Frost’s House colleagues.
Oh wait … make that eight. “So we’ve just got our eighth co-signer,” a Frost aide excitedly declared on Thursday afternoon. “It’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!” (Frost and AOC traveled to Japan and Korea last week as part of a congressional junket.) Representatives Jamaal Bowman, Greg Casar, Nikema Williams, Jimmy Gomez, Dina Titus, Dan Goldman, and Nydia Velazquez, all Democrats, also signed the letter.
“It’s not the big artists who are worrying about this,” Frost said. “The Weeknd can cover this. They can afford the increase. If it impacted non-working-class artists, we’d hear about this. Most working-class artists lose money or break even anyways. Now they have a huge increase that makes it impossible for many foreign artists to come over here.”
Generation Z’s first congressman is distinctly working class, having worked as an Uber driver during his congressional campaign. Frost famously played the drums at Barack Obama’s inauguration with the salsa band he founded in middle school. In 2016, the musician-activist founded the annual “Mad Soul” music festival in Orlando to raise money to support the area’s houseless youth.
After taking a year off while Frost campaigned for Congress, Mad Soul will continue this year, though the House freshman doesn’t call it a festival anymore. “It’s a yearly community event now,” said Frost, to keep it kosher with the House ethics rules on fundraising by members.
Organizing letters like the one Frost and his colleagues have sent to Jaddou were once the purview of the Congressional Arts Caucus. Founded in 1981 in response to deep budget cuts to arts funding under President Ronald Reagan, the arts caucus fell apart under the leadership of Elise Stefanik and Chellie Pingree, the most recent co-chairs of the caucus, in 2019.
There have been whispers that the first Generation Z congressman might revive the arts caucus in the new term, an idea then Congressman-elect Frost floated last year to The New Republic. “Restarting” the arts caucus is a fairly straightforward process of submitting an application to the House committee on administration, but Frost won’t say if he will take the lead.
Meanwhile, Frost’s letter to USCIS is the first time he’s taken the administration to task in his official capacity as a congressman. As the vanguard for his generation in Congress, Frost could fill a wonky power vacuum in a national legislature that has long neglected arts and culture.
This article has been updated.