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Rep. Ayanna Pressley On Her District, The Nation16:23
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U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts raises her hand during a memorial service for George Floyd at North Central University, on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Minneapolis. Hollywood celebrities, musicians and political leaders gathered in front of the golden casket of George Floyd whose death at the hands of police sparked global protests. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts raises her hand during a memorial service for George Floyd at North Central University, on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Minneapolis. Hollywood celebrities, musicians and political leaders gathered in front of the golden casket of George Floyd whose death at the hands of police sparked global protests. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
This article is more than 1 year old.

Despite the summer months, it's a busy time for Congress. With regular congressional business, election year politics, a global pandemic and a national reckoning on race, how does a legislator focus? And what's the balance between representing a district, and the country?

We check in with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who represents Massachusetts' 7th district, and who says the needs of her constituents mirror the needs of the nation in this moment.

Interview Highlights

On her responsibility to “legislate in a way that meets the moment”

“The inequities and disparities that are so entrenched and have been laid to bear and exacerbated in the midst of this pandemic — within a pandemic, a crisis within a crisis — are not new. They informed my run for the seat and really just bear out what the impacts of structural racism are in intersectional legislated oppression. And so the Massachusetts 7th is certainly no anomaly when it comes to these inequities and disparities across every issue. We're in a three mile radius where life expectancy drops by 30 years, and median household income by fifty thousand dollars. I also represent the district that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus. And it's also the most diverse: 53 percent people of color, 40 percent foreign-born. My district perfectly encapsulates the challenges that we're being confronted with by the hour. And it's incumbent upon me to legislate in a way that meets the moment, the gravity and scale of the hurt, and does it in an intersectional way.”

"My district perfectly encapsulates the challenges that we're being confronted with by the hour. And it's incumbent upon me to legislate in a way that meets the moment, the gravity and scale of the hurt, and does it in an intersectional way.”

On why she’s pushing for the collection of racial data on coronavirus’ spread

“This is not my agenda alone. This is a powerful movement and it is representative of the hearts, but also the visions for a more equitable and just world, that many have. So I'm encouraged. I'm encouraged by the sustainability of the movement, I'm encouraged by this moment of reckoning, and I want to continue to legislate to meet the moment. If you believe that black lives matter, then the receipts that matter most are how we legislate, and also how we codify that in our budgets, because the hurt that has been disproportionately foisted onto Black Americans since the very inception of this country from enslavement, the original sin to Jim Crow to redlining to the failed war on drugs, was very precise. So we must be precise and prescriptive in the same way that hurt and harm were precise. We must be precise and prescriptive in legislating healing, and justice. And so Black lives matter, and black data matters. And that's why I've continued to push for the collection and desegregation of racial data and the public reporting of it in the midst of this pandemic to ensure an equitable public purpose.”

On the Trump administration’s decision to reroute COVID-19 data away from the CDC

“Senator Warren and I led calls to collect and report this demographic data to guide our policymaking and to ensure an equitable response in that law. Our Equitable Data Collection Act was included, parts of it into the Cares Act. And it was a congressional mandate. And yet and still with that mandate, we see this administration has failed to provide Congress and the public with these reports. So, Senator Warren I wrote to Health and Human Services this week demanding an update. And instead of increasing transparency, this administration has chosen to reroute important COVID-19 data like racial disparities from the CDC’s public database to a private portal operated by political appointees at HHS. This is another demonstration of the politicizing of a pandemic. This is just shameful.”

"This is another demonstration of the politicizing of a pandemic. This is just shameful.”

On where bipartisan agreement on pandemic relief might be possible

“The reason why this is challenging is because, as you see this week, we were able to get the Trump administration to reverse their decision to deport international students. You know, that was not anything that we would have predicted. But we organized. We mobilized. There was public outcry, and they reversed their position. The same was true when they terminated their medical deferment policy and were going to deport chronically and terminally ill immigrant children. We were able to get them to reverse that policy. So, you know, to me, this is about public pressure. I know that since this pandemic has been politicized, that we have seen from those red states, mobilization efforts to that GOP-led Senate from those governors and those mayors saying, ‘You need to pass the Heroes Act because we need this aid. Otherwise, you are going to contribute considerably to the hurt because we will have to lay people off.’ So, I think that is one issue that we can be especially optimistic about.”

On the Trump administration’s plan to reopen schools this fall

“The Trump administration has politicized this pandemic, and their rush to reopen states to be the most irresponsible pacesetters in that way, which has now resulted in surges of the coronavirus infection rates and fatalities, is the same reason why they're rushing to reopen schools. They politicize this pandemic and they want to present a return to normalcy as much as possible. But my district, the Massachusetts 7, includes many of the hardest-hit communities, cities like Chelsea and Randolph, two cities that were the hardest hit in the entire Commonwealth. And again, my team and I, we speak regularly to students and educators and superintendents throughout my district. And their fear and trauma is real. We just cannot rush this. The consequences are unbearable. Our schools don't have the resources. They don't have the PPE. They may not even have the staff and space to physically distance students in the classroom in compliance with the safety guidelines that were set out by the CDC. So it's placing our educators and our administrators in an impossible position. A teacher said to me the other day, every situation is a bad one. And that is because of the failed leadership of this Trump administration.”

"We speak regularly to students and educators and superintendents throughout my district. And their fear and trauma is real. We just cannot rush this. The consequences are unbearable."

This article was originally published on July 16, 2020.

This segment aired on July 16, 2020.

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Paris Alston is WBUR's host of the Consider This podcast and a former producer for Radio Boston.

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Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.

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