The Edmonds Noon Rotary hosted U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington State’s 7th District representative to the U.S. Congress, for a virtual presentation during its regular Tuesday meeting. Jayapal shared her perspectives on current congressional activity, the recently passed COVID relief package, her personal experiences and views on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and how she sees her role as a representative.
The 7th District includes most of Seattle and surrounding areas including Edmonds, Shoreline, Vashon Island, Lake Forest Park and parts of Burien and Normandy Park.
As the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Jayapal is the lead sponsor of the Medicare for All Act, the College for All Act, the Housing is a Human Right Act, and the Roadmap to Freedom immigration resolution. She currently serves on the Judiciary, Budget, and Education and Labor committees. She lives in West Seattle with her husband Steve.
“It’s a pleasure to be here with you today,” she began. “The 7th Congressional District is more than just Seattle. It’s a real honor to work with all of our cities, and it has been and continues to be a pleasure to prioritize my work with Edmonds.”
She explained how at a meeting with Mayor Mike Nelson earlier this year she heard his priorities of more robust investment in human services, housing and infrastructure, exploring hiring more social workers and improving policing.
“I was able to take immediate action on some of these,” she continued, relating how she urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi to ensure that COVID packages specifically support localities with populations less than 500,000 and calling for utilization of the Defense Production Act for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) to be made available to local communities.
She addressed the recently passed COVID relief package, describing it as a “robust plan that meets the scale of the devastating crisis before us, puts money in people’s pockets, crushes the virus, and sends a clear message that help is here.”
Calling it the “boldest legislation passed in the last decade,” she characterized her support as “the best vote I’ve made in my four-plus years in Congress.”
Jayapal went on to detail some specifics of the package, including $9.2 million in local relief funding specifically for Edmonds and $150 million for Snohomish County. Other features include $1,400 “survival checks” for individuals, expanded unemployment assistance, $20 billion for vaccine distribution, $130 billion for K-12 education, and an “historic” $3,000-per-child tax credit ($3,600 for children under age 6) that she said “would cut child poverty in half.” Overall this will bring $7.1 billion to Washington state and $276 million for the 7th District, she added.
On other fronts, she detailed her work with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the Ultra Millionaire Tax Act, which would level the playing field to ensure that the wealthy “pay their fair share.” It proposes a two-cent tax for every dollar made in excess of $50 million, and three cents on every dollar made of over $1 billion. She explained that this would affect approximately 120,000 taxpayers and is projected to bring in $3 trillion over 10 years to invest in cities, communities, health care, infrastructure, clean energy and more.
Another of her major priorities is the Roadmap to Freedom Resolution, which would transform the immigration system into one “focused on dignity and the quality of life for impacted people.”
Moving from prepared remarks to questions and answers, she was first asked about her personal priorities, the things that matter to her the most.
“Many of my personal priorities line up with those of the Congressional Progressive Caucus,” she began. “Serving on the anti-trust committee is exciting, and particularly valuable to me was our year-long investigation into the top four technology platforms — Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. Our work included interviews with the CEOs and addressing the monopoly power of these companies and how it is used – everything from spreading disinformation to suppressing local news media – and learning how consumers suffer when competition goes.”
Other personal priorities include the border situation and immigration reform, climate justice, investing in the “care economy” to create up to 600,000 long-term care jobs, and the $15 minimum wage.
“The $15 minimum wage is a huge priority for me,” she said. “The federal minimum hasn’t been raised by even a penny over the past 12 years. Raising it to $15 would lift 1.3 million workers out of poverty.”
The next question addressed the COVID vaccine, particularly the difficulties and frustrations many have faced in getting shots.
“The big holdup has been supply,” Jayapal explained. “Part of this is that the distribution system has not been getting what is available to where it’s needed. With $20 billion now in the COVID Rescue Bill earmarked specifically for vaccine, by the end of April we should have enough vaccine supply for everyone who wants it. The White House and Congress take this seriously and are putting resources and planning into the distribution system to ensure that we have shots in arms for everyone who wants it by the end of May.”
Asked about immigration reform and the situation at the southern border, Jayapal stressed the work being done to undo the damage from the previous administration, which she characterized as “doing everything possible to stop all legal avenues for coming to this county,” including things like eliminating work visas, imposing refugee caps, and blocking asylum seekers.
She also explained that a big part of the problem is that conditions in refugees’ home countries are dangerous, deadly and intolerable, which force many to leave out of desperation and in real fear for their lives. She added that part of addressing the immigration problem must include investments to improve conditions in their home countries.
She was also asked about the international situation, and what she sees as the most concerning international issues today.
“In my capacity as chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we outlined three key priorities for international relations,” she explained. “First is to move from ‘endless war’ and reliance on military intervention to solve conflicts by setting narrow criteria for use of military force. Second is the misallocation of resources to the Pentagon, and redirecting budget to areas such as humanitarian aid, public health, sustainability and basic research. Third is investing in diplomacy to address the challenges we face, an example of which is rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement.”
Asked about the Jan 6 insurrection at the Capitol, her remarks became immediately personal.
“I didn’t feel safe,” she explained. “I wish I could say I did. I had just had a knee replacement and was walking with a cane when I was trapped in the House gallery, and unable to get away from people who wanted to kill me and my colleagues. It was a horrific experience.
“How do we hold people accountable for this? Our answer was to impeach Donald Trump, because clearly he incited the insurrection with the big lie [about the stolen election],” she continued. “Our new Justice Department under Merrick Garland is prosecuting insurrectionists, and I have sent a letter to Justice (the Justice Department) asking for investigation of three of my colleagues who I feel were part of planning and inciting the insurrection.”
She added that long-term, that effort will mean working with Republican colleagues who have the courage to stand up, repudiate what happened, and elevate the role of their party be more than a “one-man cult.”
She also addressed questions about the current struggles with managing the U.S. Post Office, gun control, disinformation and getting rid of the Senate filibuster rules to clear the way for passing critical legislation in today’s closely divided Senate.
“The filibuster is a legacy of Jim Crow,” she explained. “It was put in place by Southern segregationists who didn’t want to pass civil rights reforms, and by requiring a super majority to pass legislation it essentially puts control in the hands of the minority.”
The final question asked of her was why she decided to run for Congress, and what’s been her greatest satisfaction in the job.
“I never thought I’d run for elected office,” she said with a smile. “I’d been an organizer and activist all my life. But this work brought me into contact with a range of elected officials, and I began to see that key to creating good policy was having the right people as representatives. So really, elected office is just another platform for organizing.
“I ran for the State Senate in 2014 and served two years as the first South Asian woman elected to that body,” she added. “Today I’m proud to be one of only 79 women of color ever elected to Congress. But it’s not just the picture looking better – it’s about how policies are being shaped.”
— By Larry Vogel