Rep. Katie Porter’s approach is best summarized with something she told Samantha Bee earlier this year: “If you’re full of bullshit, I’m coming for ya.” Just today, she went viral for taking a pharmaceutical executive to task over the price increase of a cancer drug that helped boost his bonus, methodically explaining his greediness to him on her now-trademark whiteboard. Porter is also known for her revealing questioning of Trump officials — she recently got U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to admit that he doesn’t know how much it costs to mail a postcard.
What you might not know about Porter is that she is a single mother of three school-aged kids, juggling Zoom school and her job just like millions of other parents are doing during the pandemic. The morning after the chaotic presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former VP Joe Biden, we spoke with Porter, who represents the 45th District in Southern California and is expected to win reelection in November, about the struggles of working parents, climate change, the U.S. Postal Service, and more.
What has been the biggest challenge for you of doing remote schooling with three kids during the pandemic?
“It’s been really hard on my kids. They’re scared, and they need a lot of support and reassurance at this time. With there being partial remote and partial in-person school, it’s a scheduling nightmare. None of their schedules overlap, they have different drop-off times, different pick-up times, different days that they are in school, different days that they’re online, different technological platforms that they’re using. Sometimes I get upwards of 70 or 100 emails a week from the school, and on top of the work emails that’s a real challenge.
“It’s also difficult for my kids to see me. They never know when I’m working and when I’m available to them, and I have the same problem. I’ll go upstairs and want them to unload the dishwasher, and they’re on Zoom or they’re trying to do their homework. At some point, it becomes exhausting for parents on top of trying to perform at the very highest level possible for their job, which is certainly what I’m trying to do for my constituents.
“And, some of the frustrations of technology that a lot of us are familiar with now for work are also happening to kids. My son was told that he needs to adjust his screen so his P.E. teacher can see him do push-ups. This is not a professional workout video, this is his little tiny cramped bedroom! He can barely even do a push-up in his bedroom, much less get the screen perfectly angled.”
You and Sen. Kamala Harris recently wrote a letter to the Trump administration asking for guidance for schools nationwide on how to reopen safely, and you said you never heard back. Meanwhile, recent reports show that top White House officials pressured the CDC to downplay the risk of sending children back to school in-person. How has this lack of guidance affected your own life?
“We have known about COVID since February, and when schools closed in many places in March like they did in California, that should have immediately triggered a planning process led first and foremost by the CDC, by infectious disease experts, to work collaboratively with the Department of Education and school districts to come up with guidelines. We missed a lot of opportunities. In my area, for example, a lot of learning could have potentially been moved outside, which we now know is much, much safer. They could have put up tents and temporary structures. Instead, what we got from the CDC is radio silence.
“What we’ve seen this president do over and over again is shift responsibility for planning to deal with this pandemic from the federal government, from President Trump, down to individual parents, and so each parent — including me — had to make very agonizing choices without information or clear guidance. I’m so grateful that my kids’ school district has been helpful. That makes me feel okay about my kids returning part-time to school. But I have no confidence in [Secretary of Education] Betsy DeVos and the CDC. And so, I think it makes families feel really isolated in trying to navigate a very complicated infectious disease.”
Last night during the debate, Trump once again refused to acknowledge the threats of climate change and lied about his own record. Being in California, how have you seen the effects of the wildfires play out where you live?
“I’m in Orange County, we’ve had fires coming from L.A. and the impact of these fires is felt across the entire Western half of the United States in the reduced air quality. We really couldn’t see the sun for days on end because of that thick smoke in the sky. It’s compounding people’s worry about their health — we’re dealing with a respiratory pandemic on top of the air quality from these wildfires. [Trump’s] lack of ability to tackle a health problem, level with the American people, and make a plan to fight back on coronavirus told us everything we need to know about why he is failing and will continue to fail on climate change.”
You grilled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy back in August on the cost-cutting measures he had made that have slowed down the U.S. Postal Service ahead of the election. In your view, has any progress been made since to improve the USPS so there are fewer problems with mail-in ballots?
“Postmaster General DeJoy refused at that hearing to commit to reversing the changes that he made that have slowed down mail. So we are still seeing a delay in mail. I think what we have been able to do — with no help from DeJoy — is be able to talk to voters about different ways they can vote instead of the mail, and about the importance of early voting, allowing more time. We’ve seen local officials come up with different methods; drop boxes, drive-through, and others, so I think that we’re working to solve this problem despite DeJoy — he is doing nothing to help here.”