Jennifer Wexton at Georgetown
JACOB DENNINGER: Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton was elected to represent northern Virginia’s 10th congressional district last November. On April 3, Wexton spoke on campus at an event hosted by the Georgetown University College Democrats.
Here are four key takeaways from the event:
Washington Is A Little Different
Wexton, who was in the Democratic minority when she served in the Virginia state senate, said that serving in the majority in the House of Representatives has been a fortunate change.
But Wexton also noted Washington is different from her state legislature in a few ways that are less than desirable: Bipartisan compromise is harder to come by in Washington than at home, she said, where issues are more local and therefore less politicized. “It’s harder to change people’s minds,” Wexton said.
Wexton also said in Washington, there’s a 24/7 news cycle that tends to focus on President Donald Trump. Wexton said that she doesn’t want to respond to every stupid thing the president says, and would prefer to focus on more substantive issues like universal background checks, the Equality Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
The Government Shutdown
Wexton was sworn into Congress in the middle of a government shutdown. That was particularly difficult for her because her district just outside of Washington D.C. is home to tons of federal workers who weren’t getting paid during the shutdown. “It was terrible,” Wexton said.
Wexton was particularly frustrated because the Senate “wasn’t acting as a coequal branch” of government during the shutdown. Even though the House voted 12 times to reopen the government on terms the Senate had already approved, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to take up any of the spending bills because Trump didn’t approve.
Despite how terrible the situation was, Wexton said that Democrats couldn’t have made any concessions to Trump. She said that as someone who has parented toddlers, you can’t reward temper tantrums because it is just encourages the bad behavior. And in this case, Trump’s bad behavior threatens the livelihoods of thousands of Wexton’s constituents.
The Year of the Woman
Wexton was elected to the House as part of a wave of Democratic women. While noting that the gender dynamics of her race were a little different because her Republican opponent was also a woman, Wexton did say that she was running as a mom concerned about her own kids’ future. She thought that was something resonated with voters.
Wexton also noted how young women were energized by her race. She said that she doesn’t think the current wave of women-powered political energy is going to stop. “I hope it doesn’t stop,” Wexton said.
Scandals and Opportunity in Virginia
Wexton also addressed the scandals that have engulfed Virginia’s Democratic Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. She specifically addressed Governor Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal.
Wexton was in the Virginia state senate when Ralph Northam presided over it as Lieutenant Governor. While saying that she doesn’t believe Northam is a racist, she said the scandal and the way he handled it reflected his ignorance and cluelessness.
Wexton added that while no one can force Northam to resign and it doesn’t look like he will, she questions his ability to be an effective leader. He still might be able to do some good in the remainder of his time in office, she said, but it will take him a long time to get back into the public’s good graces.
On the bright side, Wexton sees Virginia’s 2019 elections as a good opportunity for Democrats to pick up seats and win the majority in the state legislature.
With redistricting happening after the 2020 census, these elections will determine Virginia’s political future for the next ten years. Wexton sees an opportunity for Democrats to undo the disadvantage they face from Republican-drawn gerrymandered districts, as well as make more progress in the state on issues like teacher pay and health care.
When asked, Wexton said it is “way too soon” to talk about the 2020 election. “We have elections in Virginia in 2019!” Wexton said. Until at least this November, she is focused on those elections in her home state.
Jacob Denninger is a Freshman in the College and prospective government major from Massachusetts.