House Freshman Ayanna Pressley Carving Her Niche in Washington

Ayanna Pressley (Photo: Susan Walsh/Associated Press)


Drawing on more than two decades of political experience as a Capitol Hill aide and a Boston city councilor, Mass. Representative Ayanna Pressley is fashioning herself as an ambitious new member of a chamber where change usually comes slowly. And she is emerging as an early player in the bigger group of hungry new members who may eventually clash with the seniority-driven leadership structure of the House.

“I think the job description for a member of Congress has changed and that’s why I ran,” Pressley said in an interview. “We can be even more innovative now, even more bold, even more aspirational.”

Pressley has shown an unusual savvy and cut a remarkably high profile for a lawmaker who has yet to be sworn in. While many freshmen were quite literally getting their bearings, she finagled the gun-bill promise from Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol and flew down to Mississippi as one of the few out-of-state Democrats asked to stump for Senate candidate Mike Espy. And she has built alliances with other high-profile members of the younger, historically diverse House freshman class, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, who call themselves a #squad on Instagram.

Pressley is the first black woman to serve Massachusetts in Washington — and the first black person from the state, period, to serve in the House. Representative Katherine Clark calls her a “superstar” while Jim McGovern, the likely incoming Rules Committee chair, says she’s a “leader” who’s going to “shake things up.”

Pressley had heard the calls by Pelosi for the newly empowered Democrats to open the next Congress with a bill on campaign finance and ethics reform, and she was not convinced. Her district, which stretches through such Boston neighborhoods as Mattapan where gun violence is a familiar worry, had recently seen eight gun deaths over 11 days.

During a meeting in Pelosi’s office and in phone calls afterward, the women hashed out an agreement. Pelosi committed to Pressley that she would make a bill addressing gun violence a priority in Congress and assigned Pressley to the Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force to help develop ideas for the legislation. It was enough to secure Pressley’s vote.

“It was an opportunity for her to get a commitment out of a person that I expect to be our next speaker,” Representative Joe Kennedy III said. “I think it was a smart and savvy way to do it.”

Despite a steady drumbeat of mass shootings since Sandy Hook in 2012, Congress hasn’t passed any significant legislation aimed at tightening gun regulations.

On the gun task force, Pressley hopes to develop legislation to expand background checks to all gun purchases, close the so-called boyfriend loophole to make it harder for convicted domestic abusers to buy firearms, and develop an assault weapons ban.

Source: The Boston Globe