Q&A: Stanford U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo on polarization, partisanship and policy

April 24, 2022, 10:18 p.m.

On Tuesday, The Daily sat down with United States Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA18). Since January 3, 1993, Eshoo has represented the San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties — including Silicon Valley and Stanford University — in the U.S. Congress. She serves as chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee of Health and is currently running for re-election in what will be known as the 16th district following 2021 redistricting.

The non-partisan primary election between Eshoo, three Democratic challengers, three Republican challengers and an Independent will be held on June 7, after which the top two performers will advance to a general election scheduled for Nov. 8.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

The Stanford Daily [TSD]: This November will mark the 30th anniversary of your acquisition of this district’s U.S. Congress seat. What inspired your 1992 run, what inspires your current run and what has changed?

Anna Eshoo [AE]: The year 1992 was dubbed The Year of the Woman because so many women ran for elected office. What inspired me to run in 1992 still inspires me today. When I ran in ’92, I was a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and my portfolio of legislation was healthcare. I led the effort to create the health plan of San Mateo, led the effort to rebuild the county hospital and the public health department and my environmental and land use work protected the coast in San Mateo County. The environment, the protection of lands on the coast side and healthcare are still the issues that I champion in the Congress.

On the political side and societal side, we were not a deeply divided nation in 1992. We had our debates, but facts were facts. Facts are not followed now. There’s obviously a political divide, but the cultural divide is to me what is really troubling. You hold a mirror up to the Congress, you hold the mirror up to the country. There are a serious number of people that don’t believe that the attack on the Capitol, the attack on our democracy in an attempted coup, actually took place.

TSD: When you mention that holding up a mirror to the Congress holds up a mirror to the country, do you believe that Republicans are following the lead of their voters? Or do you think that the voters are following the lead of people in Congress, or both?

AE: It’s both, because when you hold a mirror up it not only captures the background, but it captures the person looking in the mirror. Republicans need to work hard to take their party back. This is not the traditional Republican Party, the GOP. Trump has created a sweeping change in terms of the GOP. I think that some members say what they say to their base out of fear and to keep their seats in Congress. And that’s deeply troubling as well.

TSD: As you know, polls are dire for the Democratic Party, and there is a strong chance that Republicans will retake the House of Representatives in November. In the event that this happens, how do you plan to engage with this party and presumably Kevin McCarthy’s speakership?

AE: For the overwhelming majority of the years that I’ve served in the House of Representatives, I’ve served in the minority. Serving in the minority is not something new to me. There are challenges serving in the minority, but I’ve passed successful legislation into law in the majority and the minority.

TSD: On the topic of that legislation, even a cursory look at your career reveals a robust portfolio. Of what you have written, sponsored and cosponsored, which pieces of legislation are you proudest of?

AE: I think one of the most sweeping and historic pieces of legislation was the Affordable Care Act (ACA). We have had Republican and Democratic presidents going back to Richard Nixon that ran on providing a form of national health care. The Affordable Care Act has provided health care coverage to people across the country, because prior to the ACA, if you had a pre-existing condition, you could not receive insurance coverage.

I think that my legislation on the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act was prescient, because this was pre-COVID. That legislation established the platform for the major investment of the federal government for developing the vaccines for COVID so I’m very proud of that. 

Another one is establishing the BARDA — that stands for Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. That was a new agency under HHS (Health and Human Services) responsible for developing and procuring needed medical countermeasures — including vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and non-pharmaceutical measures. There is a great deal of partnering with the private sector, and I consistently get positive reviews from startups in my congressional district and across the country. 

TSD: According to FiveThirtyEight, you have voted 100% with President Biden’s legislative recommendations. Could you comment on the Biden agenda and how successful you believe it has been?

AE: Because of the very narrow majority that the American people have given the Democrats, we have tough math. A 50/50 Senate — a tie that has to be broken by the Vice President casting a vote in that body — and in the House of Representatives we have a three or four vote margin

The legislation known as Build Back Better had to be packaged as a reconciliation bill. It contained many domestic policies meant to improve the lives of working people, including child care policies and elder care policies. It contained climate change — an existential threat to the entire globe. Polling nationally shows that most individual policies have widespread support with Republicans, Independents and Democrats.

Many years ago, when Republicans were in the majority, they passed legislation that prohibited Medicare from negotiating directly with the pharmaceutical industry for the cost of prescription drugs. The policy changing that policy was contained in Build Back Better.

The president ran on these policies, and I believe that they would benefit the American people. I’m proud of those votes, and now negotiations are taking place between the leadership of the House and the Senate. My constituents consistently ask me about the advancement of those policies, as they support them as well.

TSD: What is your personal agenda in the US Congress moving forward?

AE: It’s not a personal agenda, it’s a public agenda. The first three words of the Constitution are “we the people,” not “me, Anna Eshoo.” I think overarching the next term has to be the protection and the defense of our democracy. We see across the country, Republican state legislatures passing legislation to suppress the vote. And what is absolutely chilling to me are the bills they have passed that allow the manipulation of votes once they have been cast. 

I think the issue of choice is also on the table. I’m on legislation and have voted for legislation to codify Roe v. Wade. We have to address climate, and every step we take to accomplish that is going to prepare your generation for your future.

Jed Ngalande '23 is the politics and government beat reporter for The Daily's news section. Contact him at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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