Congresswoman Katie Porter Fighting for a Better America? Better Believe It

Congresswoman Katie Porter Fighting for a Better America? Better Believe It

By Isabelle Lee


Because knowing where our money is going is always a good idea.

By Isabelle Lee

Even before Rep. Katie Porter was elected to represent California’s 45th Congressional District, she took on financial institutions on behalf of consumers. Now she is fighting for Orange County residents and quickly becoming known for her tenacity and brilliance on the congressional floor. This week on The Carlos Watson Show, she sat down to discuss the Capitol riots, her mentors and fighting for an equal America. The following are some of the best cuts from the full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.

On the Capitol Riots

Carlos Watson: So will you forgive me for asking you to retell the story, but did you have any sense that Jan. 6 was going to happen? Like a spidey sense, an actual sense?

Rep. Katie Porter: No. Yes. I mean, I think this is what’s frustrating for some of us. We’re trying not to, you don’t want to say “I told you so” about something that took people’s lives, right? Like you hate to say “I told you,” but even that morning when my staff picked me up, I said, “Well, do we have a lot of time for parking and walking?” and he said, “No, I’m just going to drop you off right in front of the building.”

“Between the Capitol and my office building?” And he said, “Oh, yeah, Independence Avenue was open.” “So they can drive by and shoot us?” I mean, I was kidding, but not, right? Like, to me, that was a big sign that they weren’t getting the picture here on how much security we need. But I definitely had a sense that there was a protest, that there was likely to be some violence during the day, maybe between the protesters. And it was very clear, the second I got out of the car on Independence Avenue, that there was not nearly enough security.

Watson: So what does it say to you that after four years, so people had a good close look, 74 million people said, “Give me more President Trump”? And that had it not been for less than 100,000 votes between Wisconsin and Pennsylvania and Georgia and Arizona, we’d be having a completely different conversation? And I’m not presupposing. I’m genuinely asking. What does it say to you as someone who’s a public leader, has been a professor, who’s paid attention to these things? What does it say to you that a lot of people said, “Give me more, I’ll take more, please”?

Porter: This is the really hard thing about democracy is that it’s not really about blaming some “other.” They’re all Americans, our fellow Americans, many of them voted to continue President Trump’s presidency. Despite all of the harms, despite the failures, the shortcomings, the lost lives. And so I think the hardest thing about it is really recognizing that those are not just somebody else — that’s part and parcel of our country. And it’s not going to go away. President Trump isn’t the sole reason for those feelings and those beliefs. And it’s not going to go away just because we got rid of President Trump. That’s not going to take anything away from the very good outcome of November, which is ending Trump’s presidency. It’s just to say that the work continues.

Watson: And so what would you love to see? What would be a successful next two years or next four years as someone who’s involved in making policy? Like what would make you say, “You know what, that wasn’t just a good start, that was like a special distinctive strong start”? What would be true by 2022 or 2024 for you to judge this, a particularly unusually strong start?

Porter: Well, economics, financial services, consumer protection. This is my passion. I’m going to start with the benchmark in that area, which is if we made progress addressing some of the wealth and income inequality in this country, that would be a fabulous thing. I’m looking to see, are we taking a real crack at reducing child poverty? Are we taking a real crack at improving the racial wealth gap, the gender pay gap, the number of women in the workforce, which COVID has pushed a huge number of women out of the workforce? I want to see those basic economic indicators improve. I think a lot about it, we’ve talked about the stock market and GameStop and all these things. I really think about how households are doing. How are families doing. I’d like to see them have more savings. I’d like to see them be able to afford college, and really think about how they’re doing.

And then the second big bucket of things is, I am a capitalist. I believe in capitalism. I think in our country, it’s really inextricably tied to democracy, and those two things work together. But you have to have some guardrails on capitalism. Capitalism presupposes that you have things like competition, that you have things like price transparency, that you have things like efficient capital markets, that consumers are making choices.

That means we have to tackle some of the markets like health care, where we don’t have those things, where we don’t have competition, where we don’t have price transparency, where we don’t have consumer choice. I’m thinking about some of those markets, the problem with monopoly power in agriculture, not just in tech. What are we going to do about some of those issues?

Whispers From the Katie Whisperers

Watson: What did you learn from Senator [Elizabeth] Warren and what have you learned from Vice President [Kamala] Harris, both of whom, as you said, have trusted you in different ways?

Porter: Yeah. Senator Warren was my teacher when I was in law school. I’ve known her a really long time. And one of the things that I think she really models, and she still does this today, I was just looking at her remarks on student loan debt cancellation and saying that’s exactly how I’ve been thinking about it.

She’s really, really good at helping to explain financial and economic issues to regular people, and being able to bridge that gap between feeling like you can’t make ends meet or literally being worried about eviction. Will you have a secure retirement? And then taking those feelings and those concerns and translating them into policies that people can understand and get behind. Too many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle hide behind acronyms. They say, “Well, it’s really complicated.”

From Kamala, one of the things that I really saw was her commitment to making things work on the ground. When I took on this role of being mortgage monitor, helping to enforce the national mortgage settlement, Kamala, who had been a prosecutor … I guess I should say Vice President Harris now. Vice President Harris, who had been a prosecutor, she knew that when a jury made a conviction, there was some kind of consequence, but what she saw with big corporations is they break the law, pay a fine and go right back to breaking the law.

So she was really insistent that my job was to make this settlement not a deal on paper, but a change in people’s lives. That was inspiring. And I worked really hard for both of those two people when I worked with and for them. I learned so much from the experience. I wish everybody had amazing mentors.

How Equal Is Equality?

Watson: Congresswoman Porter, over the last several months, and particularly last year when Black Lives Matter protests were happening, I ended up having lots of conversations with people about where do we go from here? And so I think we need to focus more on what’s right, and that may mean a more narrow majority, or even minority, but that that’s the right way to make true racial progress and move through these issues. How do you think about this question? Because I know you mentioned the race gap, but I’m sure you’re thinking about it in lots of different dimensions. How do you think about the right approach to make, not surface progress, but like meaningful, deep, fundamental progress on racial questions?

Porter: Yeah. I think one of the core points to make here is that every American benefits from a country that really offers equality to all. I think we need to be making this point not just to Black Americans, but to white Americans. It would be a better country for all of us if Black children and white children got equal educations and had equal opportunities. And everybody, for example, has the equal ability to afford college, got the best education that suited them and their capacity. That makes our entire country stronger.

So I think there’s a way to bring everybody into this conversation, and not allow sometimes the other side to say, “Well, you’re carrying water for this group or that group, or you’re beholden to these voices.” But instead to say, “We’re a country. We’re a community. That’s what we are. We’re a nation-state. We’re a collective entity. And what’s best for all of us is to address inequality, to address injustice, to create a more fair country that benefits every single one of us.” You’ve got to be in that project.