I think of the District as my client. And I can't lose this case. And this case comes up 10 times a day. I feel like I'm always on trial. The jury may be the Congress. The jury may be who I'm negotiating with. The jury may be my committee. But the fact is, I've got to win this fight. And that's more like the lawyer I was trained to be and was in fact before I came to Congress. That's really how I see myself. A lawyer has to offer zealous advocacy. And that may mean that you negotiate your way through a problem, which is always the better way. But it also means that your adversary has to know that you are willing to fight. And fight hard. I've had to make that clear, and it makes me a better negotiator.
Growing up in a city that was proud to be the nation's capital, but had the audacity to segregate its schools and most other entities, puts the spirit of fight in you at a young age. My grandmother and aunt lived on the next street and had as much to do with raising us as my parents. And to them, Eleanor was the oldest and therefore Eleanor was expected to do more, and to take more responsibility. That wasn't pressure. It's not pressure if it's the natural order of things.
I don't regard what I do in Congress as stressful. When I was chair of the EEOC, I coined the notion "Anybody that can't do five things at one time doesn't deserve to be chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission." Well, I think I would up that to 10 times if you're going to be a member of Congress representing the District. Pressure is how you're built to receive it. And I do not perceive the normal pace of the Congress as pressure. I thrive off it.
In a real sense, I was born to struggle in the streets far more than to be in Congress.
--Interview by Cathy Areu Jones