Abigail Spanberger – the Democratic congresswoman-elect who flipped Virginia’s 7th District – is keen on building bipartisan relationships when she arrives in DC.
And she just might start in the congressional gym.
In a recent interview with CNN, she described a conversation she had had earlier this week with a colleague: “I said, ‘How do I make Republican friends?’ And he said, ‘Only one way: It’s at the gym!’ “
Spanberger, a former CIA officer who’s the mother of three young daughters, expressed excitement and optimism about her new role and the historic wave of women elected in last week’s midterms while she was in Washington for orientation.
“It’s amazing the way some of us have already bonded and become friends and found commonality,” she said. “I realized this morning that my 4-year-old will probably not have any strong memories of me not as a public person, which is amazing to me.”
In a district that was Republican red – held by conservative Rep. Dave Brat, who famously defeated GOP Rep. Eric Cantor in a primary just a few years ago – Spanberger describes herself as a pragmatist on the political spectrum.
“I want to get things done,” she said over a cup of tea. “I want to move forward.”
Her desire to work with a bipartisan group of members extends beyond Congress to the White House, where she thinks she can work with President Donald Trump to lower the prices of prescription drugs.
“He’s the President,” she said matter-of-factly, “So if we want to have legislation signed into law we have to work with him.”
“Prescription drug prices should be a pretty straightforward place. It benefits the people in my district. It is consistent with the values of the American people for us to have greater competition and allow people to get the drugs that they need to stay healthy,” she said adding, “I think there are other areas, particularly infrastructure bills, things into the opioid crisis – on a related note – where if we could make the right steps forward, ideally, we’d be able to make progress and get him to sign off on things.”
Her opponent in the race, Brat, tried to paint Spanberger as a Nancy Pelosi-sympathist. Having never run for public office before, Spanberger tried to keep the race about policy, she said, “but it became a very personal race.” She reflected more: “It was motivating but it was absolutely challenging. It was all worth it.”
For the record, she doesn’t support Pelosi for speaker, but she also doesn’t know who should fill Democratic leadership roles, calling it “problematic” that no one has stepped forward to challenge the leadership.
“I really do think that it’s incredibly important that if we are going to change the conversation in Washington we need to change the people having it and directing it. It’s not in any way a negative assessment of the job that anybody is doing but at times cyclical change, I believe, is a good thing.”
Another political issue she’ll be wading into: the Democrats’ desire for oversight of the White House and the Trump administration. Her initial reaction is that it’s not a good idea for Democrats to focus on oversight investigations.
“I don’t think that we should sort of all of a sudden say, ‘We’ve got the majority, therefore we’re going to march headfirst into investigating everything,’ ” she told CNN. “Where appropriate, I am in no way opposed to investigations. However, investigations for the sake of investigations is not something that I support, because there has to be a significant and legitimate concern. And there has to be a goal. And if it’s diving deep into something just to prove a point, I have concern about that.”
Spanberger, like many Democrats in the 2018 midterms, focused heavily on health care on the campaign trail, but the issue she is most eager to tackle in DC is campaign finance, after she says voters repeatedly expressed “a basic level of distrust of the government” on the campaign trail.
“I want to focus on a variety of things when I first get there but I think the place where we actually need to achieve first steps is on campaign finance reform and good governance,” she said. Likewise, she has her eyes on a few committees she’d like to serve on, including Ways and Means, Intelligence, Education and the Workforce, Foreign Affairs, and Veteran’s Affairs.
In the meantime, she’s trying to enjoy the week of orientation exercises and bonding time with her fellow new members while she navigates the lottery system for offices (“I had somebody tell me, ‘Don’t be on the sixth floor of Longworth and don’t be near construction in Cannon’ but I don’t know how you avoid the construction in Cannon!”).
“I’m just trying to enjoy it at this point,” she said with a smile, adding, “My husband keeps joking with me that I’m going off to college.”