Anyone can dress well in Washington, says former fashion company executive Young Kim — you just need the right fit. For this congresswoman and immigrant mom representing California’s 39th District, the GOP remains the right fit for her Ronald Reagan-inspired style of opportunity-focused politics, even as Republicans have continued to embrace Donald Trump’s aggressive, nativist brand.
Heard on the Hill spoke with the freshman lawmaker back in July about her legendary energy, bouncing around the Pacific as a kid, the future of the Republican Party and her parenting tricks gleaned from NBC’s gross-out reality show “Fear Factor.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: You were a district staffer for Rep. Ed Royce for two decades, starting in the 1990s. Has anything surprised you now that you’re a member of Congress yourself?
A: Despite the pandemic and the lockdowns, there are a lot of members on both sides of the aisle trying to build relationships. To me, it’s very important, so I’m really pleasantly surprised by it. And also, whenever I’m on the House floor, I try to make an effort to get across to the other side to surprise my friends, because especially when we were wearing masks, it’s very difficult to know who everyone is.
Q: Your former boss called you the Energizer Bunny. Where’s that energy come from?
A: As a mother of four, obviously I always had to be on my toes and running after my kids. More importantly, I don’t stop until I finish the job that I’m tasked to do. But it’s really funny, because I used to call my boss the Energizer Bunny when we were working together, always going places — and now he calls me the Energizer Bunny.
Q: You started a woman’s clothing company before you went into politics. Who’s the best dressed member of Congress? And the worst?
A: I think I am. [Laughs.] But seriously, there are a lot of female members who really are confident. For example, I recently had a conversation with my colleague Nancy Mace, and I always compliment her on her way of dressing. It’s not how much an outfit costs, it’s whether an outfit fits you — that will make a difference. I mean, it could be a $10 dress from Target or a $1,000 dress from Saks Fifth Avenue.
I’m not a high-maintenance lady, so I’m not going to tell you how much this outfit cost, but I know I look good, because I’m confident. [As for the worst dressed,] I’m not gonna go there.
Q: You grew up in Korea, and then Guam and Hawaii. Which place do you miss the most?
A: You know, I really miss my days growing up on the island of Guam, because I have so many good memories with my mother. She would always take me down to the beach and ask me to pick up cans and bottles and trash, and she would go and recycle them, and give it as an offering to our church. Little did I know as a young girl what that meant. This was her very modest way of giving back to the church as we were trying to build our building fund to purchase our own church, and actually did. She would tell me how important it is for us to give back to the community and to this country that has given us so many opportunities. And so, serving in my capacity right now, it’s like my dream come true — the American dream — that I get to give back to this country, and that’s why I’m so grateful. I have so many memories of growing up on that island with my mom who is no longer with me.
Q: In a 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Times, you insisted that the GOP had not been captured by Donald Trump. “There is no party of Trump,” you said. Do you still believe that, even after what happened to Liz Cheney earlier this year? She’s no longer the conference chairwoman in large part because she disagreed with Trump over the 2020 election.
A: Well, I am a conservative Republican, and I am an immigrant. I am a Republican because I believe in individual liberty, responsibility, freedom. I believe in the Republican Party and the principles that the Republican Party has instilled in me. I believe the GOP is the grand opportunity party. So I believe in the party, not in one person defining who our party is or the principles.
Last book you read? “The Baby Box” by Reverend Jong-rak Lee, a South Korean who protects the lives of thousands of abandoned babies.
In politics, can the ends justify the means? The ends are just as important as the means, and vice versa. I just hope that the process of getting to that desired result is cultured, is reasonable — trying to understand the other side and not stab each other in the back.
Least popular opinion? People believe there’s only one solution to every problem, but you and I know there isn’t. And another thing is, people say if you want to get your kids to eat something they don’t like, you’ve got to be very forceful, but I’ve always used gentle intimidation. Remember that TV program, “Fear Factor”? My husband and I would say, “Hey, let’s play ‘Fear Factor,’” and then we’d put the food in front of them and tell them, “Do you want me to shove it down your throat, or do you want to do it yourself?” [Laughs.] They’d usually end up doing it.
America’s best president? Well, as a Californian, obviously Ronald Reagan. I always live by the famous quote [he kept on a plaque in the Oval Office] that you can get a lot of things done if you don’t care who takes the credit.
Closest friend across the aisle? I would say fellow Californian and fellow Orange County representative Lou Correa. We share a few things. He’s a father of four children; I’m a mother of four children. He’s a graduate of Cal State Fullerton, which is in my district, and since three of my four kids are Cal State Fullerton alums, we talk a lot about those good old days. I’ve known him since his days as a county supervisor and his time serving in the California Legislature. I always feel he’s very reasonable, very gentle. Tom Suozzi is also someone I’ve come to know as a friend. We serve in the Problem Solvers Caucus together, and we’re co-chairs of the new SALT Caucus, as we try to repeal the cap on [the state and local tax deduction].