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Q&A: Rep. Ayanna Pressley On Her First 100 Days In Congress

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., listens to testimony by Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 27. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., listens to testimony by Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 27. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley talked to WBUR’S Kimberly Atkins about her first 100 days in Congress, during which she questioned President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, filed or co-sponsored 115 bills and spoke on the House floor about the struggles she and her families have faced.

Questions and responses below from their conversation were edited for brevity and clarity.

You’ve had a busy 100 days. How do you feel about your time so far?

I feel grateful to be here. But as inspired as I am by the good work that we’re undertaking here in this Democratic-majority Congress, I’m always sitting with the gravity of the times we find ourselves in, and asking myself the question: Am I doing what I was sent here to do?

And so in this moment I do feel encouraged because I do believe we are acting on the motivations behind my run and what I pledged to do in that race: to be bold, to ask  questions that shake the table and never forget the people of the Massachusetts 7th.

One of the lessons that I learned here during new member orientation is: don’t forget the plot. And the plot is the people. That’s what I’m always coming back to — the impact on the people of the Massachusetts 7th District.

You often speak in personal terms — about your and your family’s experiences and struggles — when you speak about policy and legislation. Why do you think that’s important?

The best policies are data-driven, and the data are the lived experiences of the people we are sent here to represent. It’s not about lifting up my story, it’s that in lifting up my story we are lifting up the stories of millions. It’s important, especially now, that people know that they are seen.

I could develop the backpay bill [to cover contractors impacted by the government shutdown] because I was actively listening to those most impacted, and it was only then that I found out that there was no mechanism for that.

I want to lift up stories of hardship and struggle not only to keep us accountable, but also to harness the innovation. That is the interesting thing about the dichotomy of the Massachusetts 7th, because here we see very stark disparities. But, this is a district that also boasts many assets, beginning with its people but also the various institutions and industries that drive the district — industries like healthcare and financial services.

So I share my story because I hope that by doing that I’m amplifying the story of the lived experience of millions.

Congress is known as a slow-moving and gridlocked body. Has that been your experience so far?

Right now I think there are number of precedent-setting things that are occurring given the unprecedented nature of our class and how representative it is, and also the fact that we have the votes and are in a Democratic majority. I want to make sure we don’t squander a moment to advance an agenda for the American people.

The Oversight and Reform Committee has for eight years given this administration a pass, and those days are over. Though some people characterize what we are doing on the committee as a partisan witch hunt, this is, I think, the greatest demonstration of patriotism, which is truth, transparency and accountability.

The Financial Services Committee [has] established the first diversity and inclusion subcommittee in the history of Congress to diversify the financial services industry and also to address the wealth gap.

This is the time to lead, and that is what we are doing in this Democratic majority.

So what’s next?

Well, I need this MCL to be healed [after a fall last month] so I can get back to my heels, that’s what’s next for me. But other than that, hopefully just more of the same. And I’m so enjoying my committee assignments and the work of these committees, and they really do speak to the challenges and the opportunity that exist in the Massachusetts 7th. So stay tuned. And in the meantime I’m looking forward to being in the district during the two-week recess and spending time in the community with the people to update them and to hear from them what they want from this Congress through me.

Related:

Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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