Congress is back in session and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is busy. Senate Democrats have a packed agenda for the fall: Figuring out a spending bill, coming up with legislation to aid Dreamers, among other issues. Plus, the ghost of the Obamacare repeal effort is still making rounds. But without control of Congress or the presidency, the effort to establish a progressive agenda will be an uphill battle. So what does this freshman senator, who also happened to make history by becoming the first Latina ever elected to the Senate, think of the most pressing issues the country is facing today?
Refinery29 decided to ask Cortez Masto during a phone conversation earlier this week. We discussed with her how Congress plans to help young undocumented immigrants, whether she would stand behind Sen. Bernie Sanders "Medicare for All" bill, and her message for Latinxs who may be interested in following in her footsteps.
Looking back, it seems unreal that it took until November 2016 for Americans to elect a Latina to the Senate. (After all, Latinxs currently make up 17.8% of the population!) But perhaps the rise of Cortez Masto will inspire more women like her to run for office: Her serving in the Senate brings Latinx representation to 4% percent — and we can all agree that it's not enough.
On the next steps for Dreamers
"I’m very hopeful and confident that my colleagues and I will do everything we can to make sure we pass the DREAM Act. And at the end of the day, it’s not just Congress’ burden. Everyone has a role to play. It’s one thing to say, Oh, we love Dreamers and we want to make sure they can stay here. It’s another to actually put those words into action, and be vocal about it, and protest, and contact their congressional representatives to make sure that everybody is fighting for these Dreamers across the country."
On the issues the Latinx community cares about
"The Latino community is not monolithic. And the issues I have talked to so many families about are very diverse — whether it is fighting for education for their kids, or healthcare that’s affordable and reasonable, or a job and wages that are allowing them to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, or immigration and making sure that if they’re here through a visa or undocumented, or as a Dreamer that we’re fighting for them because they’re an important part of our communities. These are all conversations I have. These are families that are no different from all the families in our neighborhood."
On healthcare and Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All"
"I think everything should be on the table and I support a public option. We should look at all of that, absolutely. It’s important that when we try to solve the problem that we are looking at all of the options. And a public option would be an important part of that. It should not be discounted.
We fought against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and rightfully so. What needs to be solved is finding a solution so that everyone in this country has access to affordable, quality healthcare. That’s where it starts with me. It doesn’t start with repealing [Obamacare] and taking away healthcare from millions of Americans. Now is the time for Congress to work in a bipartisan way to solve these problems and answer that one question, which is How do we make sure that every American has access to affordable, quality health care?"
I’m a firm believer that when it comes to this issue, it’s a woman’s decision to make with her spouse, or significant other, or her doctor, or anyone else — but that choice is hers.
"I can tell you my position is I’m pro-choice. I think that gives everybody the opportunity to decide for themselves what’s best for them based on their experience. I’m a firm believer that when it comes to this issue, it’s a woman’s decision to make with her spouse, or significant other, or her doctor, or anyone else — but that choice is hers. It’s important for voters at the end of the day for somebody who is running for office to be able to have that discussion with [them] and explain that decision."
On being a woman in the Senate
"I know the women — can’t speak for the men because I haven’t been invited to their get-togethers — and one of the first dinners that I had here within the first 60 days was a bipartisan women's dinner. And it was not to talk policy, it was to get to know one another. There’s only 21 [of us] right now and it’s more than we have had in history, but we need more women because we bring a different perspective. I’ve seen that women really have a tendency to work together, to focus on solving problems, and to focus on the policy and how we can work together to solve the issues we’re dealing with. I’ve seen it with my colleagues so far and I’m really proud of that."
On her message to young women interested in running for office
"If I can do it, they can do it. If they have a passion and they believe in something, that is what they should use to motivate them to make a change and get involved. It’s important for young women in general to realize their voices matter and they can make a difference."
On being Latinx in 2017
"Hispanics have contributed so many positive things to this country and have a commitment with this country and I don’t think people realize it. It establishes an integral part of who we are as Americans, as a country, our diversity, our strength — and it’s fantastic. Now to be the first Latina in the U.S. Senate, opening doors and making sure that those young Latinas out there see me and know that if I can do it they can do it too, and having a voice at the table to represent them... I’m very honored and proud to be able to continue to fight on behalf of Latinos and Latinas across the country."
This interview has been edited and condensed.