Congresswoman Jayapal, the First Indian-American Woman to Chair US House

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On Tuesday, June 4, Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state made history by becoming the first Indian-born woman to preside over the U.S. House of Representatives and the first South Asian American woman as well.

Born in Chennai, Jayapal, 53, tweeted that she was extremely proud to preside over the most diverse Congress in the nation’s history. Today, a record number of 17 Asian Americans are part of the Congress, 14 in the House and three in the Senate.

“Today, I became the FIRST South Asian American woman to preside over the U.S. House of Representatives. Beyond proud to serve in the most diverse Congress in our nation’s history and to hold the gavel today,” Jayapal tweeted.

Jayapal complemented this message with a clip of Tuesday’s session where she presided over the House as a temporary speaker. The presidential position of House Democrats is filled on a rotational basis by members of the chamber.

Jayapal has a proud and extensive history of progressive advocacy in the country. She serves as the U.S. representative from Washington’s 7th Congressional District, which includes most of Seattle as well as suburban areas of King County. As a member of the Democratic Party, Jayapal represented the 37th legislative district in the Washington State Senate from 2015 to 2017. Previously, she served as a civil rights activist in Seattle, as the executive director of OneAmerica, a pro-immigrant advocacy group.

Pramila also founded the organization Hate Free Zone following the 2001 September 11 attacks. Hate Free Zone registered new American citizens to vote and lobbied on immigration reform and related issues. The group’s landmark victory included suing the Bush administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services to stop the deportation of around 4,000 Somalis across the country. Jayapal was recognized as the “Champion of Change” by the White House in 2013 following her leadership position at Hate Free Zone.

The advocate’s early political career includes serving on the Mayoral Advisory Committee, which negotiated Seattle’s $15 minimum wage, and co-chairing the mayor’s police chief search committee, which resulted in the unanimous selection of the city’s first woman police chief.

In 2014, she ran for Congress and defeated fellow Democrat Louis Watanabe in November 2014.

Jayapal was the primary sponsor of SB 5863 in the Washington State Senate. The bill, that passed in July 2015, directs the Washington State Department of Transportation to direct a pre-apprenticeship program for women and people of color. Jayapal also co-sponsored a bill to test and track thousands of police department rape kits.

During her tenure at the U.S. House of Representatives, Jayapal has co-sponsored legislation intended to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for the majority of the families and to reduce student debt. Along with Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, she introduced the Trump Transparency Package, a sequence of bills aimed at encouraging transparency and eradicating conflicts of interest in the Trump White House. Jayapal and her fellow co-chairs of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force also brought on a series of Environmental Justice bills to combat the effect of climate change on frontline communities. Pramila is an advocate for universal healthcare and a co-sponsor of the Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act.

On April 25, 2018, Jayapal was among the 57 members of the House of Representatives who released a censure of Holocaust distortion in Ukraine and Poland. They condemned Poland’s new Holocaust law, which would criminalize accusing Poles of involvement in the Holocaust, and Ukraine’s 2015 memory laws glorifying the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and its pro-Nazi leaders.

After the House passed the bill pulling back American support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen in April 2019, Jayapal was one of nine lawmakers to sign a letter to President Trump requesting a meeting with him and urging him “to sign into law Senate Joint Resolution 7, which invokes the War Powers Act of 1973 to end unauthorized U.S. military participation in the Saudi-led coalition’s armed conflict against Yemen’s Houthi forces, initiated in 2015 by the Obama administration.” The lawmakers declared the “Saudi-led coalition’s imposition of an air-land-and-sea blockade as part of its war against Yemen’s Houthis has continued to prevent the unimpeded distribution of (food, fuel, water, and medicine), contributing to the suffering and death of vast numbers of civilians throughout the country” and that Trump’s approval of the resolution would “send a powerful signal to the Saudi-led coalition to bring the four-year-old war to a close.”

Jayapal also serves as the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the Judiciary and Budget committees. Jayapal was described by fellow Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “a rising star in the Democratic caucus”.

The 116th Congress saw landslide victories for minority and diverse ethnic groups, crossing racial and religious barriers, especially for Asian American lawmakers.


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