Back in March, before most Americans had even come to terms with our strange new COVID-19 reality, California congresswoman Katie Porter was already looking to the future. During a House Oversight Committee hearing, Porter and her trusty whiteboard were able to get a commitment from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield to make coronavirus testing free for all U.S. citizens. A video clip from the hearing currently has over 27 million views.
Porter first entered Congress as part of 2018's incoming freshman class. Now the single mom, who had a coronavirus scare of her own, is back in California, waiting for the call to return to Washington D.C. with the rest of the House of Representatives.
This Tuesday, the same day House Democrats released a new relief bill, Porter went live on ELLE’s Facebook to answer 20 questions about living and working during the pandemic. She revealed what show she's been binge-watching (Ozark), what book everyone should read right now (Scarcity), and what she wants to say to Trump, all while showing off her favorite quarantine activity: creating succulent kissing balls. Find an abridged version of the Q&A below, or watch the full video here:
What's been your #1 coping mechanism during this stressful time?
If I were being honest, which I guess I will be because it's really who I am, I would say probably cursing. I would also tell you that with a crowded house full of kids, as a single mom sometimes there's no place to get away. I've actually been known to go sit in my minivan in the driveway and just hide to get a break and a moment of silence and privacy during this time.
What's your best tip for single moms right now?
We hear so much about work-life balance. It's this elusive thing that we're always grasping toward. When we think about work-life balance, we shouldn't be thinking about work and family being perfectly balanced. Instead, we should think about work-life balance like a bicycle. You're just trying to stay on the bike. So sometimes you're going to have more work, you’re going to hit rocks, you’re going to have a steep, uphill climb. For a lot of moms, a lot of dads, a lot of Americans, this pandemic has been that uphill climb. Don't put too much pressure on yourself to keep every minute, every hour, every day, even every week in perfect balance. Recognize there are going to be days in which work takes all of your energy, and you barely have any time for home or yourself. Then there are going to be other days where you're going to have a chance to catch your breath.
What's the most outrageous thing someone has said about you?
Probably comments about my appearance, my body. People who say because she's a plus size, she doesn't have any self control and therefore won't vote to make good decisions in government. People don't say those kinds of things to men. I just find it discouraging that I'm not being evaluated based on the work that I'm doing in Congress, but they're trying to make some equivocation between my appearance and my brain and who I am, how I look and how I present to the world and whether or not I'm fighting for the right things in Washington.
Who is your top pick for vice president?
I am a super fan of Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. These are the two women who made it possible for me to launch my campaign. When I first thought about running for office, I'd never run for anything, not even city council or student government. When I went to both of them and I said, "I'm thinking about running for Congress," they both made very clear that they would be by my side and be with me every step of the way. [There's] that potential for growing the next generation of leaders. I've seen them both do that. They're both passionate about justice, about equality. They're both willing to stand up to power, and they both have strong voices.
What's one thing you've impulse bought during quarantine and why?
I bought what I like to call pandemic bras, which are bras that are stretchy, comfortable, wireless. I'm not wearing fancy clothes a lot. So I bought these super stretchy, really comfortable bras. I highly recommend them. We have so much stress in our lives. The last thing we need is uncomfortable bras on top of it all.
If you only had 30 seconds to speak to President Trump face-to-face, what you say to him?
I don't think I need 30 seconds. I think I need three seconds. I would say, “Wear a mask.” Leadership really matters and modeling really matters. People have a right to expect that their government leaders are leading by example.
When you're having trouble sleeping, what's something that you usually do?
To be honest, I usually read the news. There's a lot going on in the country right now, and I'm only seeing one part of it. I'm here in California. I'm only one person. I'm really cognizant of the fact that my life experience is not what everybody else's is. I know it sounds weird, but I'll read the news in order to relax. It just makes me feel better to feel like I know what's going on, so I can get up the next morning and try to do what it takes to help people.
What's your greatest fear heading into the 2020 election?
One is that I represent an area with a large campus, the wonderful University of California Irvine. I'm very worried about those students and how they're going to vote. I'm also worried broadly about how Americans react when they're struggling. This is a time in which so many people are unemployed, so many people are worried about how the economy is going to bounce back, how they're going to pay their rent or their mortgage, what kind of job opportunities might be there for their kids.
I think when that happens, that fear often turns into anger and frustration, and sometimes that turns into wanting to find someone to blame. The reality here is the problem is the virus. I worry that people will just be so frightened, and they'll get angry and they'll get discouraged about the potential of government in a time like this. There've been so many lost opportunities by the administration in this pandemic. I very much hope that people see and believe in the good that government can do.
What's one book everyone should read during quarantine?
I recommend it not just during the quarantine, but it's really apt during the quarantine. [It’s] a book called Scarcity, and it's written by two behavioral economists. It talks about how do people behave when something is in short supply. So if you want to understand panic buying of toilet paper, this explains it.
I have to read so much legislation, memos, news articles, briefings every day that when I read for pleasure, I almost always read fiction. My favorite long fiction book is Lonesome Dove. It's a cowboy story of all things, but it's really a book about friendship. I know the suburban mom in the cowboy genre might seem [like] a little bit of a surprise, but it's really one of the best books about what it means to be a friend to someone through thick and thin. That's an important message to think about right now.
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