'I Feel Emboldened': Rep. Ayanna Pressley Reacts To Biden's First Days In Office

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Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who represents Massachusetts' 7th District, joined Radio Boston to discuss her hopes and thoughts on the entrance of President Biden's administration in Washington.

Pressley also spoke about the ongoing investigation into the U.S. Capitol insurrection, as well as her thoughts on Boston's mayoral race.

Below are interview highlights, lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On how Congresswoman Pressley feels about the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris: 

The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris really marks a historic, critical transition from an administration that has really been defined by cruelty, corruption, callousness, contempt. And so, to now have a president and a vice president who will lead with compassion and empathy, I feel relieved, I feel encouraged and I feel emboldened. You know, emboldened to begin to deliver on the decisive mandate from the diverse coalition of voters that elected them — that made it possible for democracy to breathe another day — to advance broad progressive policies. And to begin immediately reversing many of the hurt and harms that were caused by the Trump administration.

On what she now feels more "emboldened" to do now, under a new administration:

Well, I was never shrinking in my advocacy, because I represent a vibrant, diverse, dynamic district — but one of the most unequal in the nation, where in a three-mile radius life expectancy drops by 30 years, from Cambridge to Roxbury. We know the wealth of a Black Boston family is $8, and that of a white Boston household is $247,000. So, representing a district like this — 53% people of color, 40% foreign-born — my district has disproportionately bore the impact of many of the draconian, cruel policies and the emboldened rhetoric of this administration.

So, I was always fighting, and I was always going big. I just did not have a thoughtful and committed partner to do that work with. And I believe with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I'll have that.

So immediately when it comes to the full authority and the power of executive action, what I've been calling for the administration to do, is to halt federal executions — to immediately save lives; to cancel student debt. I see that as a racial and economic justice issue, but also one that is necessary for a just and equitable economic recovery from this pandemic. And then also fighting for $2,000 reoccurring cash payments for the next relief package.

On what she makes of some of the Biden administrations actions just a few days in:

Well, first, I want to say they hit the ground running. This administration heeded our calls to reverse the racist and xenophobic policies of the last four years. Again, I represent a district that's 40% foreign-born. So the fact that by executive action, they made it a priority to restore those crucial protections for DACA, TPS and DED recipients is worth noting.

They also took important steps to combat the climate crisis, the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, and then — something else that I had been calling for — that is extending the national eviction and foreclosure moratorium. So I do want to give credit where credit is due. They have been strong out the gate. These are many of the things that I've been fighting for.

We're in ongoing talks about the canceling of student debt. We're in ongoing talks about using executive action to halt federal executions. I am encouraged by the fact that President Biden said throughout the campaign that he is opposed to the death penalty. And so, in addition to what I'm calling for by executive action to halt federal executions and to re-sentence those currently on death row, I've also introduced a bill to abolish the federal death penalty. I'm doing that in partnership with Sen. Dick Durbin. Now that we've regained control of the Senate, he is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And so I think our our chances look good on those issues in particular.

But I'm not going to let up on the pressure with the $2,000 reoccurring cash payments. I know that that is certainly what my constituents need. It's what they deserve. And I'm going to continue to fight for that

On her staff's realization on the day of the U.S. Capitol attack that panic buttons in her office had been removed — and what they know now:

Well, it was unnerving to learn later in the day from my chief of staff that those [panic] buttons had been removed. That is currently being investigated.

... My panic buttons have been reinstalled, but it does beg a larger question — which is why — within hours of this violent attack on our nation's capitol seeking to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power — in my capacity on the House Oversight Committee, I began to call for an investigation to know what individuals and agencies may have aided and abetted this violent insurrection.

Donald Trump certainly has culpability in inciting this insurrection, which is why I also called early on for his impeachment and removal. So, he will forever be the twice-impeached president by this Democratic majority-led House.

But he didn't act alone. There are members of Congress who I believe aided and abetted this insurrection by perpetuating this big lie and played a role in inciting this riot. And they should also be taken to account. And so that is why I'm supporting calls for the expulsion of those members.

After the insurrection on the Capitol, Pressley told the public that her husband, Conan Harris, tested positive for the coronavirus. In that announcement, she expressed frustration and dismay that some members of Congress refused to wear masks in the rooms where congressional members sheltered in place during the attack. Here's Pressley on the health of her husband and staffers: 

Thank you so much for asking. My husband and my staff are doing great. I want to thank everyone from throughout the commonwealth who expressed their well wishes.

We're certainly, you know, not extraordinary. You know, we're no anomaly. Thousands of families have been directly impacted by this pandemic. And so I want to send my love out to those who are grieving, who've lost loved ones. And I want to send strength to those who are being caregivers, to loved ones right now who are battling this virus. But Conan is doing great.

Certainly, I was livid that myself and my colleagues and my staff and and anyone who was in proximity to these these anti-maskers who are my colleagues, that they would operate with such callous disregard for human life.

On Boston's mayoral race:

Well, first, I want to say congratulations to this son of Dorchester [Boston Mayor Marty Walsh] making history in his own right as the first union rep to serve as secretary of labor. And I'm excited to welcome him to Washington and to work alongside him on behalf of working people.

I'm overjoyed for my sister-in-service and former colleague Kim Janey, for the history that she's making as Boston's first-ever Black mayor and woman mayor. And I'm committed to making sure that she is successful as acting mayor, as I partner with all the mayors throughout the Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District.

And I'm proud to call Councilors [Michelle] Wu and [Andrea] Campbell colleagues and friends for many years. I'm excited about their historic candidacies.

... I look forward to a robust campaign that's going to really center critical conversations about the future of our city. And I look forward to seeing how it unfolds, but it's an exciting time. You know, historic and unprecedented in every way.

This article was originally published on January 22, 2021.

This segment aired on January 22, 2021.


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


Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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