Take Five: Sara Jacobs

‘Nothing is just casual anymore,’ California Democrat says

California Rep. Sara Jacobs, here in her Longworth office in July, is in her first term representing the San Diego-area 53rd District.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
California Rep. Sara Jacobs, here in her Longworth office in July, is in her first term representing the San Diego-area 53rd District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 9, 2021 at 5:30am

California freshman Sara Jacobs speed-listens to podcasts and speaks at a rapid clip. You might too if you had this kind of schedule, flying back and forth between her San Diego-area district and her job in Washington, all while earning a reputation as the new member of Congress everyone wants to call a friend.

The 32-year-old Democrat even spent part of August recess freezing her eggs — and going public with that fertility decision to highlight issues facing millennials. “We need to make sure that our workplaces and our institutions actually reflect what life looks like now,” she told CNN last week.

Earlier this summer, Jacobs sat down with Heard on the Hill to talk about her 2,270-mile commute, being a “new young voice” and where things stand with her colleagues in the freshman class.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: I hear that you listen to podcasts at 2x speed. Do you do everything rapidly, or just that? 

A: I’m a very slow runner, so I definitely don’t do everything rapidly. But my constituents will tell you I talk very fast as well. For podcasts, I like “The Ezra Klein Show,” and there’s one from The New York Times called “The Argument” where they have people debating topics. I don’t know, I’m a nerd.

Q: Things have been tense in the freshman class between the parties. Back in February, you were one of a few Democrats that a lot of Republicans said they had met, really liked and could work with. But you’ve led calls for holding Republicans accountable for endorsing lies that led to the Jan. 6 attack, so it feels like those cross-aisle friend crushes were star-crossed from the start. 

A: Well, I’m a very friendly person. There’s some people I won’t talk to, but, in general, I don’t think there’s harm in waving at someone in a hallway and just trying to get to know them on a human level. 

I’m very fortunate that the committees I’m on are historically pretty bipartisan. [Oklahoma Republican] Stephanie Bice and I are working on things around military housing and military child care on the Armed Services Committee, for instance, and I led a letter on the Global Fragility Act with [Michigan Republican] Peter Meijer and the chairman and ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. 

I have my own metrics of who to actually work with — they have to accept that Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States.

But I think I’ve maintained friendships, and I’m on the bipartisan softball team, so I see some of them at 7 a.m. practice in the mornings. 

Q: When you ran, you got a lot of press coverage, but it mainly focused on your youth, your gender and your family wealth. Are you getting more attention now because of what you’re doing, as opposed to just who you are?

A: It’s a little bit of both. When I was running, as a young woman, it was very hard for people to conceptualize that you have experience. And so instead of focusing on all the things I’ve done, we really focused on being a new generation and being a new young voice. 

Since coming here, I’ve been able to both do that and focus on my experience in the foreign policy space working on childhood poverty. Now I’m on the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, and I’m able to talk more about the substantive things.

Q: Most lawmakers in Washington are married, but several freshmen aren’t, including you. What’s it like dating when you’re a member of Congress?

A: Getting to know anybody is really difficult. Even just meeting a friend of a friend out for a coffee, you’re now a member of Congress in their eyes, so nothing is just casual anymore.

For me, as a Californian, the amount of time I spend flying back and forth — I mean, my parents will tell you they don’t see me enough. There are extra complications to this job, being from the West Coast, that I’m still getting used to, seven months in.

Q: Speaking of your family, they are prolific philanthropists. If you see the name Jacobs on a building in the San Diego area, it probably had something to do with your family. What’s that like?

A: Funnily enough, just outside my district lines, there’s the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation — not my family. There’s another Jacobs family in San Diego that also does a lot of philanthropy. It was very confusing to everyone when I was running.

But growing up, I was always very aware and always told that it was my unique responsibility to be giving back. My family modeled that. Obviously, there are difficult parts to that when you are a young person and trying to find your own identity. It’s part of the reason I decided to go to the East Coast for college and be in a new environment, and then go work at the U.N., where there’s a constant reminder of everything that’s possible in this country with the right public policy. 

My grandfather was the first in his family to go to college. He went on scholarships and was able to start a business because he didn’t have any student loans. And I want to make sure that future generations have the kinds of opportunities that my family got to have, and that as a result I’ve been able to have.

Quick hits

Last book read? “An Open World” by Rebecca Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper, which is all about new international architecture we are going to need for what the world looks like right now.

In politics, can the ends justify the means? Yes. 

Least popular opinion? I’m a traitor to my generation, and I don’t like avocado toast. I think it’s slimy. 

Best perk of your job? I’m told there are many perks we have not experienced yet, since I came to Congress in a pandemic. But I am a member of the Bourbon Caucus, so that’s been fun.

Closest friend across the aisle? I’m working on a lot of things with Stephanie Bice right now, so we got to be really close, like passing messages to each other. We often get confused for each other. The Armed Services Committee sat us in the wrong seats a few times.