United States Congresswomen (Florida-District 7)
What motivated you to run for office?
I am a refugee and an immigrant, and someone who really loves this country. I had the opportunity to work in public service after 9/11 and I think in 2016 with that as sort of my background, I was dismayed at the hateful rhetoric that I was hearing, I was concerned about the fact that government wasn’t functioning because of how hyper-partisan and gridlocked it was. Then, somebody walked into a nightclub in my community and took the lives of 49 innocent individuals. It really felt like you couldn’t have that level of hateful rhetoric and government dysfunction and not expect to see it manifest itself in acts of violence in your community. Moreover, the man who had represented this community took a check from the National Rifle Association (NRA) only two days after that shooting. I decided that the only way you can change that is if you change the kind of people who are going to Washington, DC, so I ran a long-shot four-month campaign against a 24-year incumbent, and I won.
As a Jewish person in this political climate, following the shooting in Pittsburgh, that was meaningful for me to hear.
The Pittsburgh tragedy must have deeply affected you. I was on a run today and I saw the flags were yet again flying at half mass. I’m deeply sorry for all the victims of Pittsburgh. As a country we have got to do something about the issue of gun violence because it feels like our flags are flying at half mass more than at full mast these days.
What does your role as a Congresswoman entail? How do you manage the different aspects of your role?
My role as a Congresswoman always starts with listening to my constituents and learning about what concerns them, what is going on in their lives, and how my office can help address that; whether with case work where we work with constituents to navigate the federal bureaucracy and cut through red tape, or if it requires some legislative-policy solution. I cast my votes through the lens of “Is it good for my constituents? Does it move this country forward? and Does it sit with my conscience?”
There are a range of policy issues that any Congress-member has to cover. I’m grateful that I’ve had the experience of working both in the private sector as well as in national security because it gives me a bit of background on the wide range of issues that I work on every day, which includes a healthy bit of domestic politics and foreign policy.
What are you proudest of in your political career?
My political career is pretty short, I’m coming to the end of my first two-year term, but I am most proud of leading an initiative to lift the 22-year ban on gun violence research. I’m proud of that particular initiative because it matters so deeply to my community – by trying to take common sense approaches to gun violence, but also because it was done in a bi-partisan way. In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting this initiative was able to secure bi-partisan support for the first time and get it over the finish line, so not only is the subject matter relevant for my constituents, the manner in which we were able to achieve success embodies the way I try to approach policy issues: by trying to find common ground to work with both parties to move things forward.
Are there any issues in foreign policy that you wish got more coverage?
At the moment, I wish the President’s trade policies would get more coverage. I hear all the time from small businesses or individuals in my community who are seeing the negative impacts of this trade war without end. The media isn’t covering very much the impacts on individual people and small businesses of tariffs and the trade; it’s uncertain what the end-goal is.
The other thing is living in Florida, what I wish got a little more attention is what’s going on in Latin America. There is a lot of worrisome trends in Latin America (for example what’s happening in Venezuela, and the recent outcome of Brazil’s elections) and that is in our hemisphere it’s awfully close to our borders, what happens in those countries has a significant impact on Florida, and on our constituents and I wish it got more coverage. But it seems these days it’s hard to punch through the media cycle with these meaningful things that take time to explain like the crisis in Venezuela and these trade wars.
Women and especially women of color are often underrepresented in leadership positions. As elected officials, how does this lack of diversity impact you?
I’m grateful and it’s an honor to be the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve in Congress. I think that we have a long way to go to enable our representative democracy to actually look like and represent the people who live in this democracy. Women make up about half the population, and half of the American workforce, and yet they make up only 20% of the people who are serving in Congress so there is a lot of room to grow as far as making sure women and minorities are better represented in their elected officials.
I was working at Deloitte Consulting when 9/11 happened, and I distinctly remember being at Metro Center (Washington, DC) that day. I was deeply affected by the terror attacks on a country that I love, and I felt called to public service after 9/11 in hopes to be able to contribute to keeping this country safe. That’s why I left Deloitte and went to Georgetown University for graduate school. I did a Master’s in Foreign Service and focused on International Finance and Commerce. I was also a Newsom Junior Fellow in the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, where I did research on a terrorist group in Southeast Asia. Eventually, I went to work at the DoD.
How has your experience in the private sector effected your work style as a Congresswoman?
In the private sector, and this is true in the DoD, nobody walks around saying “I’m a Democrat” or “I’m a Republican.” First and foremost, they identify as Americans and they are focused on the business model or the mission (in the case of the DoD). I take that perspective to Congress too. I really don’t think through a partisan lens, I think what about what’s best for this country and what’s best for my constituents, and how I get that done. Keeping sort of a different approach has been helpful for me, especially working in a Congress, which can be dysfunctional and partisan. In fact, I’m proud to say that I was named the most affective member of my freshman class and seventh most affective member of Congress. Those two things go hand-in-hand, being bipartisan enabled me to be effective.
Do you think female politicians deal with foreign policy differently than male politicians do?
Not to generalize, but I do think women bring a level of civility in resolving conflicts. There’s always a focus on listening rather than being heard, which is important when we’re dealing with foreign policy. I’ve been in so many meetings, whether as a member of Congress or when I was working at the DoD, when my male counterparts missed the undercurrents and dynamics of what was going on with our foreign counterparts because they were so focused on projecting their ideas and being heard, as opposed to listening. I see more of my female colleagues listen first and they are then able to pick up on the nuances and dynamics of a situation better, which then helps them reach a resolution more easily.
What advice do you have for young women hoping to work in foreign policy?
Throughout my career I’ve had to exercise a bit of grit and a lot of grace. The grit is what allows you to work hard and to get through tough situations, and that grace is what allows you to do it with a smile. Whether it’s working in foreign policy, business, or in Congress, people tend to underestimate young women in some ways. My advice is that when somebody underestimates you or sells you short, you need to kill them with competence. That means really putting your shoulder into it, and working hard, not leaving any room for anyone to doubt your abilities and your right to be at that table.