Not even 10 months into her first term in office, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has already won national attention as “a rising star in the Democratic caucus” from House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and “a whirlwind of positive, progressive energy,” according to The Nation. I interviewed her about efforts on behalf of the Capitol Hill community at their downtown offices.

While she and her and spouse Steve Williamson (a labor movement leader) make their home in West Seattle, Jayapal lived in Capitol Hill when she first moved to Seattle in 1990. She recalls a tiny apartment on Republican Street with “an amazing view of Seattle Center” in an exciting, diverse community. After the September 11, 2001 attack, Jayapal made a name for herself as a defender of South Asians, Arabs and Muslims facing discrimination, founding the nonprofit OneAmerica, and later winning office in the state Senate.   

Elected last year as the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives, she continues to be a leader in defending immigrants. Jayapal has opposed Trump’s Muslim Ban since it was announced and is working for “a clean Dream Act” to defend DACA youth, both in countless meetings and rallies and within the House Judiciary Committee’s immigration subcommittee. 

“We also just introduced a bill to reform the detention system,” she added. “I don’t think people know how much money we’re spending on that.”

Efforts to repeal Obamacare were a threat to health providers and important local employers like Kaiser Permanente, Swedish and UW, but “we formed a huge coalition with hospitals,” which helped halt that attack. Jayapal was especially vocal regarding cuts to Medicaid.

“It would have been a huge step backward,” she said, hurting not only the poor, but new mothers, the disabled and seniors in nursing homes. 

The congresswoman spoke proudly of her work with the LGBT community in Capitol Hill and the rest of her district, “opposing restrictions on trans folks” and pushing the Justice Department to investigate hate crimes. Addressing sexual assault and a backlog in testing rape kits, “we led the Democratic delegation of support” for a $3 million grant to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office for that purpose. 

A familiar and eloquent presence at the many street rallies and resistance events around town in the past year, Jayapal also cautioned that Democrats “can’t only be an opposition party, but a proposition party,” offering hopeful alternatives. These include a “100 by 50” bill with the national goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. 

Addressing the crushing debts facing recent graduates, Jayapal is the House sponsor of a “College for All” bill to cut student debt and interest rates, along with Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Senate. She called student debt, now $1.4 trillion, “hugely abusive,” profiting banks and the federal budget, and it’s currently higher than all credit card debt nationwide.

Fully funding transit is another priority for the congresswoman, who displays a painting of the building of the Capitol Hill Link station in her D.C. office.  

“I’m the vice ranking member of the Budget Committee,” she said, where opposing proposed cuts to community block grants “is a big priority.” Her staff also prides itself on their services to constituents needing access to government programs, reportedly returning $320,000 to district residents.

In an era when each news cycle brings fresh outrages, the congresswoman urged citizens to join the fray. 

“Don’t get tired, don’t get discouraged,” she implored. “We are going to take our country back through street heat and electing progressives.”   

Her office is holding regular town hall meetings around the district, as well as at smaller coffee klatches called “Java with Jayapal.”  

For dates and other information, contact her Seattle office at 206-674-0040 or her website jayapal.house.gov.

Steven Beck, a New York transplant since 2015, is a retired city planner and English teacher.  Seattle-zed is his column about adjusting to life here.