Much attention has been focused on four new first-teerm progressive congresswomen who have really shaken things up in the establishment-friendly Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. But there is another first term congresswoman whose well-prepared, sharp questioning of witnesses before congressional committees has drawn a great deal of admiration but not as much publicity, perhaps because she has not been singled out for criticism by Donald Trump. She is Katie Porter from the state of California.
Kim Kelly profiles Porter
Unlike some of her fellow freshmen, Representative Katie Porter of California has managed to escape the ire of the current occupant of the White House. While she isn’t exactly rushing to take part in the Squad’s frequent Twitter smackdowns with the president, she is on friendly terms with the four women who make up the most controversial clique in her class.
These women share many of the same priorities—Medicare for All, reproductive and LGBTQ rights, a desire to get corporate money out of politics (in 2018, while running in conservative Orange County, Porter refused to take PAC money)—but, today, she conveys cautious, considered pragmatism more often than idealism or militant fire.
Her background as a law professor, a textbook author, a consumer protection attorney who studied under Warren at Harvard, and a single mother of three has helped to equip her with an even-keel approach, an incisive analytical mind, and a boundless well of patience—qualities that have served her well during her customarily rigorous preparation for congressional hearings, which often begins around midnight, when she gets home from Capitol Hill.
From her position on the House Financial Services Committee, Porter has staged neatly surgical dissections of testimony. If she senses a lack of preparation, she approaches her target with all the languid menace of a coiled python. As witnesses like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Housing Secretary Ben Carson have discovered, when Porter strikes, it leaves a mark.
In Porter’s mind, the American public is hungry for proof that their government is working for them. As a result, she throws herself into hearings; she understands that the five minutes she has with a witness are the most direct form of democratic action available to her—her best chance to tease out answers to the questions that matter most to her constituents.
It’s also why her videos keep going viral; her ability to demystify technical, often esoteric financial concepts is a boon to those who understand that nitty-gritty details, all the minutiae of government work, are important, but aren’t sure how to connect the dots. It’s not all that different from what she used to do as a professor, and as a textbook author; now, she just has a much larger audience.
The rules of congressional testimony generally limit questioning by each congressperson to five minutes unless special arrangements are made. This allows some witnesses to filibuster while some congresspeople use their time to make speeches rather than try and unearth new information. What these new representatives are showing is that if you are well-prepared, those five minutes can be very enlightening.
CNN reported today that Porter is considering endorsing Elizabeth Warren for president. Earlier Ocasio-Cortez had endorsed Bernie Sanders.