Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, 51, talks about breaking barriers, what surprises her as a freshman in Congress, and working on airplanes.
Q: What has surprised you so far about being in Congress?
A: The thing that has surprised me the most is that we vote on bills without ever having had a hearing. I’m just stunned by that. I served in the minority in the [Washington] state Senate, but we got to have a hearing on every bill that was pulled to the floor for a vote. That is just not the case here. We’re constantly taking votes on bills that haven’t had hearings and [they’re] significant bills. I serve on the Judiciary Committee, I pushed really hard to be on that committee, but we’re voting on things like eliminating all class-action lawsuits, severely capping medical malpractice. These are things that affect ordinary Americans across the country and there’s no hearing and it just gets pushed through by the majority.
Q: What are your thoughts on being the first Indian-American woman in Congress?
A: It’s amazing. It’s such an honor, first of all, to be elected, but then to be the first is always a two-edged sword in the sense that you wouldn’t think that I would be the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives or the first woman in this district or the first person of color in the Washington state Democratic delegation. So, there’s kind of the sense of ‘Really? Could that be possible?’ But I think what it does is it opens up pathways for so many other people across the country and that’s what I’ve heard from Indian-American women, in particular, across the country who see themselves in who they elect.
But it also is important because I think it brings those diverse perspectives into a body that desperately needs that diversity reflected so that we can make better policy.
Q: When you get to have a morning routine, what is yours?
A: I like to have my cup of green tea. I bring my teabags from home because they’re a very special green tea. It really just kind of grounds me. If I’m lucky, I’ll do a little yoga or I go exercise or take a walk, and then it’s work. I really get my best work done in the morning, so if I have to edit speeches or comments, that all happens before I get to work. I usually wake up really early because I keep myself on East Coast time.
Q: What do people not know about Washington?
A: We’re one of only a handful of states whose immigrant population is evenly divided between Latin Americans, Asian-Americans and people from everywhere else. We have an incredible diversity to our immigrant population in Washington state and we’re one of the top 10 refugee resettlement states in our country.
It really doesn’t rain as much as people think it does. We just say that to keep people away.
Q: Have you gotten used to your commute from Washington state to D.C.?
A: It’s been OK. I think March will test me because March, I’m back home almost every weekend so I arrive on Monday and I leave on Thursday, or Tuesday and Friday. As long as I have one extra day to the weekend, I go home. I like being on a plane with no phone service because I get so much work done. My staff says, ‘Oh, she’s on a plane, look at 50 emails that have just come from her in half an hour.’
Quick hitsLast book you read: I’m rereading Brian Stevenson’s “Just Mercy.”
Last movie you saw: “Hidden Figures”
All-time favorite song: “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire
Role models: Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem, Ursula Le Guin