Jayapal stresses need to 'hold the line' in D.C.

Pramila Jayapal had remarks prepared on election night for the various potential outcomes of her race against Brady Walkinshaw, to fill the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Jim McDermott in Congress.

The stunning result that had Donald Trump headed for the presidency was not in any of them.

“I spent a few minutes trying to put my thoughts into my victory speech,” she said, “because I knew that people were heartbroken.”

The outgoing 37th district state Sen. won comfortably with 56 percent of the vote, but is now faced with a political climate where the executive branch, and both chambers of Congress are controlled by the GOP. 

While few had doubts that the House would remain in Republican hands, it seemed possible, if not probable, that Democrats would retain the White House and/or regain a majority in the Senate.

Instead, Jayapal said, she’ll be on the defensive. While she’s clear that, “there isn’t a place to compromise,” on issues like a woman’s right to choose and civil liberties, she’s reserving judgment and taking a wait-and-see approach on other potential proposals from the looming Trump administration on matters like infrastructure spending.

“I think people have to understand that this is a situation where we are really going to have to hold the line so that hardworking American families across our district and across the country actually continue to have some form of opportunity,” she said. “Whether it’s health care, education or social security and retirement pensions, or just civil liberties and civil rights that we thought were really guaranteed. We’re going to have to fight for that now, that’s going to be the first thing we have to do.”

However, she said, there’s a balance to be struck between “holding the line” and working across the aisle when the chance presents itself.

“We’re going to be looking not only to prevent things from being rolled back, but also where are the opportunities where there is something to get done, and you never know what those are,” she said. “… There are unexpected opportunities. You have to be ready for those, but we can’t be in a situation where are legitimizing destruction on the one hand, and then saying, ‘Well, we’re going to try and work together,’ on the other hand.”

Though passing legislation in a deeply divided Congress may prove challenging, Jayapal did note the passage of state-level progressive measures across the country, including places that voted for the president-elect.

As an example, she cited Arizona, a state that Trump won by approximately four percentage points, but also voted to approve a minimum wage increase and saw its most populous county vote out immigration hard-liner Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

“I think we have to be careful in recognizing that there may well be things that we can move forward,” she said. “Whether it’s on minimum wage, or affordable education, even if we’re not passing legislation, that we’re moving the concept forward, and that we’re continuing to build the movement for those progressive values.”

While the Congresswoman-elect spent only two years in the state Senate, she’ll lean on her advocacy experience, as the founder of Hate Free Zone (now OneAmerica) in the wake of the Sept. 11. The backlash against immigrants over the course of the campaign is reminiscent to her of the aftermath of those attacks. 

“I think what helps me the most is having gone through this right after 9/11,” she said. “It feels very similar in terms of many of the things we had to fight against.”

She also looks at the campaign for Congress itself as something that helped her prepare for her new role.

“Really hearing how people feel about what’s happening to their opportunity and how the system is really stacked against them and about their dreams, and how they want to send their kids to college and they want to be able to earn a higher wage,” she said.

Now, as she takes over for a three-decade incumbent, Jayapal — who is also the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives — said she’s grateful to voters for the opportunity to serve, and is committed to making sure she delivers in office.

“I just literally have had this sense every day since the election about what an honor it is to represent the 7th district,” she said, “and how committed I am to making sure that the business is not only here in Washington D.C., but it’s also to really have an incredibly responsive office to our constituents, and to really make sure that we are out there listening to people and responding to people and helping people navigate government at the same time that we’re talking about legislation both proactive and defensive legislation.”

For more information on Jayapal’s platform, visit www.pramilaforcongress.com. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.