Pramila Jayapal, 52, is the first Indian American woman elected to the House. She came to the United States at 16 to begin college at Georgetown University.
You didn’t attend President Trump’s inauguration, nor his State of the Union. Do you think he’ll get the message that you’re not a fan?
[Laughs.] I think he probably has that message already. I will say that there are moments where I have, perhaps, some faith that he’s going to do something that’s going to change my mind, but he has not managed to make me any more comfortable that he is really trying to be a president for the entire country. He’s just trying to be a president for a shrinking minority of his base.
Do you and the president share any values?
I really don’t know what this president thinks. He makes polar opposite statements one day to the next. He says whatever the last person in his ear tells him to say. And most of all, he wants to be the star of his own reality TV show, and that is more important to him than proper policy.
You’re the first Indian American woman to serve in the House of Representatives. How significant is that to you?
It’s very significant. Not only because it feels wonderful to be a first, but also because I don’t want to be a last. I see young girls and women across the country, not only Indian but other immigrants as well, who see a different future for themselves because I’m there. It’s really very meaningful to me when people say, It means so much to see you there because maybe I can run for Congress someday.
How is America different from the country you arrived in at 16 in 1982?
I was so young. I don’t know how observant I was about the politics at the time, but what I did feel is that there weren’t these enormous wealth divides. America had poverty, but you didn’t see it the way you did now, for example, with the homeless crisis we have across the country. It was a society where many more people believed that they had a fair shot, and I don’t think that is true anymore. I think that a lot of people see America as falling behind in terms of its ability to really provide for everybody and to really be the kind of democracy we used to be perceived as in the world.
This is probably the laziest question to ask a politician, but who would you like to see run for president in 2020?
I was a Bernie Sanders supporter, and I think Bernie still has a lot to offer. I think Kamala Harris has a lot to offer. I think we’re going to see people emerge. What I want to see is someone who is not afraid to be bold, someone who is not afraid to challenge the corporations and the wealthiest who control our elections. I want to see someone who is actually inspiring. I want a candidate who is willing to call out what’s wrong and is willing to empower people and get people engaged across the country and who understands that race, gender and class are inextricably linked in today’s America.
Your parents saved all their money to send you to America to study. Are they happy with where you’ve ended up?
They’re incredibly proud. My mother has become an American political junkie. She tells me what’s going on before I know sometimes.