Video: Pramila Jayapal Talks Economic Justice, Immigration Policy And How To Stop Corporate Capture Of The Economy

NCRC Just Economy Conference 2023 —  Recorded March 29, 2023

A conversation between NCRC CDF Executive Director Marisa Calderon and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal during the Awards Gala at the 2023 Just Economy Conference.


Speakers: Marisa Calderon, Executive Director, NCRC Community Development Fund; Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal



NCRC video transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. They are lightly edited for style and clarity.


MARISA CALDERON: Good evening, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us, Congresswoman.


PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, it’s great to be here. Good evening, everybody.


CALDERON: So I don’t live in DC. So I shared behind stage. This is a little bit of fangirl moment for me.


JAYAPAL: So we’re west coasters. Yes, we really appreciate. So shout out to all the West Coast people, including Seattle.


CALDERON: Bringing all the West Coast energy. All right, well, let’s kind of jump right into our conversation if you don’t mind. You embody many firsts. You’re the first Indian American to serve in the US House of Representatives, the first woman to represent your district, and the first Asian American to represent Washington at the federal level. I’d love if you could tell us how this has shaped the way you represent your district?


JAYAPAL: Yes, well, the thing I always say about first is, it’s great to be the first but you definitely don’t want to be the last. And so, you know, I’ve been very intentional about trying to make sure that we are preparing a whole leadership group that can step in. And when I left the state senate, I was replaced by a wonderful Latina. I was the only woman of color in the state senate at the time. Now we have many black women, we have many South Asian Americans. And I think for me, the only reason I got into politics and elected office is because I really saw how the lack of representation means that we don’t have all the best solutions, we don’t have our communities at the table, we don’t have the ability to really have our voice be at these policymaking tables. And, and I think for me, as an immigrant, somebody who came here when I was 16 years old, by myself, you know, and now get to serve as the first South Asian American woman in the house. It is part and parcel of how I approach the work, I think about and have worked on immigration issues for a long time. I’m a woman, I’m a mom, I’m an immigrant, I have a I’m the mom of a transgender daughter, and all of that. All of that shapes how I think about what people need, we are not single, siloed individuals, we are people. And that’s why I love this conference. We are people who really need all these different supports in our lives, for us to be who we are. But also as an organizer that shapes a lot of what I do, too. I was an organizer for 20 years before coming to Congress. I think about this as an organizing platform. Yeah, you can clap for that. Absolutely. Because we’re building a bigger movement. And so much of what we have to do to get our policies passed and our vision passed, is we need to organize and we need to organize on the outside with you all, but we also need to organize on the inside. And I think that has also shaped my approach to the Progressive Caucus. And to all the work I do in Congress.


CALDERON: It’s great. Well, speaking of the Progressive Caucus, you’re Chair of the Progressive Caucus, and you have a front row seat to what most of us observe as a deeply divided, very partisan Congress. And we’d love for you to talk to us about how you deal with the partisan rancor while still focusing on actually getting something done.


JAYAPAL: Yeah. Well, the Progressive Caucus, first of all, I’m very proud to be able to be elected chair, we have 102 Members, we have continued to grow. And we’re about 50% of the Democratic caucus, of course, you’re honoring Maxine Waters, who’s one of our founders of the Progressive Caucus. But we have really, I think, managed to build the Progressive Caucus to be a caucus that votes as a collective bloc on critical issues. That’s how we were able to hold the line to get build back better across in the last cycle in the house. And really, we’ve been at the forefront of pushing for the most just ideas. I always say people say what does it mean to be a progressive, and I just say it means that you’re the best, you’re the first to the best and most just idea. That’s what it means to be a progressive, everyone else has to run to catch up with us. And so we are at the frontlines of that. I think in a in a very partisan environment. It is very difficult. But I will just tell you, I’m so proud of what Democrats got done in the last two years. With your help with many of you helping us on this, we accomplish some of the most landmark legislation that this country has ever seen.

I mean, everything from the biggest investment in taking on climate change, really phenomenal where we can cut, you know our fossil fuel emissions by 40% by 2030, maybe more I’m taking on big pharma making sure that people have insulin capped at $35, at least for seniors, and now it’s pushing the drug companies to do more. The infrastructure bill getting led out of water, you know, all of our investments in building our communities that have been so essential. And we did that, despite a very partisan environment. We did that because we stuck together. And we also called out the contrast between what Democrats stand for investing in families, investing in communities, we stand for freedom, we stand for family, we stand for Faith in our Constitution and our democracy. And we know that the lot of the folks that we are dealing with on the other side are actually trying to tear that all down. So how do we do it, we think about our constituents, I think about the undocumented women I work with, I think about people who are struggling with homelessness, I think about people who are struggling with mental health issues, and I bring those people into the room with us, because that’s how urgent the fight is for us every single day. And we can’t take that for granted ever.


CALDERON: You’ve introduced legislation– Go ahead, clap, please. You’ve introduced legislation designed to curb the outsized influence corporations have on the federal rulemaking process. So that’s something that’s important to all of us here in this room. Can you describe how corporations currently exert their influence in what advocacy organizations like ours can do to ensure that stakeholders have a voice in the process?


JAYAPAL: Yeah, well, I’d love your help on this bill. It’s called the stop corporate capture act. And it got a mark up in the in the last session, and we’re going to try to move it forward in this session. This, I think a lot of people think about legislation, as that’s the end of the lobby. You know, I think people think that there’s a lot of lobbying and power in politics. And there is there’s a lot of corporate lobbyists out there that are at our door every day, trying to influence legislation for the biggest corporations instead of for communities. And people think that once you pass the legislation, that’s it. Now it’s all done. But the reality is, there are 1000s of lobbyists who are focused on trying to write the regulation in a way that benefits special interests and not communities. So my stop corporate capture bill would actually require transparency, disclosure, so that we know who is lobbying on for what it would also, you know, I have another bill with Senator Warren, that would stop the revolving door so that you wouldn’t have people that go and write the rules, and then go and immediately work for a company that could benefit from those rules. So. So I think the way that you all can be helpful with this is, first of all, just educating people about what happens in this rulemaking process. And that’s, it’s an important process to have. But I also think we need to have transparency and disclosure. And we need to prevent these rules from being written for special interests. But also, then, you know, any help on my bill and moving it forward, I think would be fantastic. And as Elizabeth Warren always likes to say, I’ve got a bill for that. We’ve got we’ve got bills for these things, we can make government work for the people, which I think everybody in this room is all about.


CALDERON: So this is the just economy conference, where I often hear comments like access to credit and capital begins with a livable wage job. And when we think about the trans community, many trans people experience additional hurdles to getting a good job in keeping a good job. The Center for American Progress survey found that 53% of transgender people experienced discrimination that affected their ability to get hired. And 47% said it affected their ability to remain employed. Yeah. What can you tell us about any legislative efforts to address this sort of discrimination that leads to or compounds income inequality?


JAYAPAL: Well, I mentioned this earlier, I’m the mom of a trans kids. So this is very, very personal to me, and I’m so proud of my daughter. She is so beautiful and so wonderful, and I firmly believe people should get to be who they are that benefits all of us. And unfortunately, this is a timely in a bad way question because the Republicans are coming after trans kids. They’re coming after the trans community. And it is really painful to me. I I sat in an Education and Labor Committee hearing last week went for 14 hours. It was On banning trans girls in sports, and it was on a so called parents Bill of Rights, which was also about outing trans kids, among other things, banning books, censorship, and outing trans LGBTQ kids in schools. And I just have to say that our kids want the same thing. It doesn’t matter who they are, we all want the same thing for our kids, as parents, and our kids all want the same thing. They want to be able to play in sports, they want to have friendships, they want to be able to get good jobs, they want to be treated with respect and dignity for who they are. And so we’re not at that place yet. Because somehow, or some folks on the other side, have decided that this, they are going to make the trans community a political football. And I’m going to ask all of you to stand up for the trans communities, in your, in your states in your cities, because they are under attack. I have a trans bill of rights that I have introduced. And it gets at this very question, it says, Let’s have all the same protections that everybody else would want in hiring, in education, in housing in all of these areas, and recognize that our trans community is us. And on the on the committee at the committee hearing, I actually, you know, just had to say to my colleagues, this is my daughter you’re talking about, and it could be your daughter, I fight for a lot of folks that I think don’t have their seat at the table. And this is one of those moments where I think we’re going to be tested, and the trans community in our country needs to know that we see you, we will stand by you, and we will fight for you.


CALDERON: And thank you for your leadership in that space. You’ve introduced a raft of legislation that prohibits members of Congress and the judiciary from owning individual stocks and securities. Can you talk to us about how the current ethics environment might invite or tacitly condone conflicts of interest?


JAYAPAL: Yeah, well, you know, this is, this is a bill that I introduced, it’s a bipartisan bill, I’m very excited to say, and it’s a ban on on stock trading and it for for members of Congress and spouses. And this seems pretty simple, right? Like, you should not be a member of congress that’s trading on stocks, when you are actively engaged in regulating many of those companies, you have information that comes to you long before. And I think a lot of people didn’t realize how much of a conflict of interest there was. So I’ve just introduced the bill just last week, actually, with two Republicans, Matt Rosendale, from Montana, and Ken Buck from Colorado. And I really think that this is a bipartisan bill that could pass because everybody thinks that we should be fair, we should not have conflicts of interest. And at the end of the day, we should not be trying to profit from this job, we should be trying to benefit our constituents and not profit from this job. And I will say there are a couple of proposals out there on this, but take a look at mine because it actually does not permit blind trusts, which some of the other proposals do because in doing my research, I’ve come to see that a blind trust is not really blind. And so I think we have some really sensible ways that you know, your your basic diversified investments can be protected your pension plans, those kinds of things. We’re not trying to say you can’t have any investments, but we are saying there should not be conflicts of interest.


CALDERON: So you are an immigrant and your voice and perspective, I think in that way is unique on immigrants related issues and immigrants contribute to the American society in many ways. They’re 80% more likely to start a business firms that are owned by immigrants provide millions of jobs for us workers and generate billions for the US economy. And yet, anti immigrant sentiment is no seemingly at an all time high, and actual immigration has plummeted. what hope is there for a transition to a more humane and inclusive path to citizenship?


JAYAPAL: Well, this is what I spent 15 years working on as you know, it’s near and dear to my heart. I started the largest immigrant advocacy in Washington State. And we had some amazing policies that are pro immigrant policies pro Washington policies pro America policies. I think that this is a very tough issue because immigrants, without immigrants, our economy would collapse. Immigrants contribute in so many ways. Absolutely. Immigrants run small businesses, immigrants do the labor that we need are probably a lot of our staff here that are serving us tonight are immigrants give it up for all of our staff here that are serving us. You literally cannot do anything in this country without the labor of immigrants.

So let’s not be hypocritical about this. And yet, Republicans and sometimes Democrats over the last 20 years have used immigrants as a political football. And it is time for that to stop what we need is comprehensive immigration reform. I know that that’s difficult right now. But we need a real path to citizenship for the 11 million that are here doing the work that we are asking them to do. And many of them live in mixed status families, we need a complete change of the family reunification system.

The reality is our immigration system has been broken for a long time, and we have been passing the buck every single term. And instead of trying to help immigrants we have been blaming, we have been allowing Republicans or other anti immigrant folks to blame immigrants.

So do we have a chance of passing anything in this session? I don’t know. I am the ranking member of the immigration subcommittee in the house. I’m the first naturalized citizen to serve as chair or ranking of the immigration subcommittee. We will do everything we can to pass whatever we can and to protect immigrants. We did pass the Farmworker Modernization Act.

Last year, we passed the dream and promise act, we have passed a number of pro immigrant policies, they have all been stuck in the Senate. And so as long as I’ve got this big room, let me tell you that one of the big structural changes we need to make is to get rid of the Jim Crow legacy filibuster in the Senate. Which literally on every issue that you care about, gives the power to block a piece of legislation to 40 senators who represent less than 11% of the country’s population. So hopefully we can do that at some point.

But I think we’ll have to continue to stand up for immigrants and, and help people understand the economic contributions and the moral contributions that immigrants make to our country, every single day. And at the end of the day, economic engine. Absolutely. And at the end of the day, let me tell you that the issue of immigration has never really been about immigration policy. We know what we need to do. It has always been about what this country is willing to stand up for. And we need to continue to build that movement to stand up for the immigrants who contribute every single day to America.


CALDERON: Thank you. Well, I want to thank you for your leadership, for being such an inspiration to everyone from especially to this brown girl. And we’d love to leave you with any parting comments.


JAYAPAL: Well, Marisa, thank you, first of all, for your leadership, thank you to the just economy conference and NCRC. And let me just say this as a progressive, sometimes we’re told that we’re too idealistic, that we’re naive that we can’t achieve the things that we are fighting for the vision for adjust economy. And to that I would just remind everybody, that if politics is the art of the possible, then it is our job as bankers, as activists, as housing advocates, wherever you are, to push the boundaries of what is seen as possible. The possible is not static. It can be moved and what you all are doing every single day is creating a new vision of what is possible. So thank you so much for that. Keep it up, and let’s go win

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