MONTVILLE, NJ – Freshman Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D-11) visited teacher Scott Riotto's advanced placement government class at Montville Township High School to answer students’ questions and paint a picture of “A Day in the Life of a Member of Congress” on April 5.
Sherrill said she has been in office for about three months but it feels like longer, and she started when the government was shut down.
“It’s been a very exciting time to enter our government for a lot of different reasons,” she told the class of juniors and seniors. Sherrill is on the House Armed Services Committee, and the Science, Space and Technology Committee. She is the chairwoman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
When asked by one of the students, Sherrill talked about her desire to run because “Congress was not serving the people’s needs.”
“I didn’t think that things this country widely agreed on were being legislated correctly,” she said. “For example the Koch Brothers, considered very right-wing, and the ACLU, considered very left-wing, both agreed on the steps needed to reform our criminal justice system. The votes were there, but we couldn’t get it on the floor to get something critical like that passed. Universal background checks for gun purchases – we just passed that in the House, but there’s no sense that that’s going to get through the Senate. I felt Congress was less and less serving the American people.”
When another student asked how Sherrill’s time in the Navy affected her political service, she said that many in the military are Republican, and she has accomplished missions with those who have different political views than she does. However, not everyone has had that same experience or has been exposed to people who have differing views, she said, and she thinks that’s harmful.
“There are some people in my party who just don’t want to work with Republicans – no matter if they agree or not – they are just very angry right now, and I don’t think that’s helpful to a well functioning government,” she said.
Sherrill said that the Affordable Care Act was a largely partisan vote, and it was attacked 60 times by Republicans, which was a waste of time. It’s not perfect, but most people think it’s a good start, even though it needs work, she said. The tax bill from the last Congress was partisan, and exploded the deficit and harmed middle class families in our district, she said, and she wished that Democrats and Republicans could have worked on a bill together the way that President Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill did in the 1980s.
A student who is a member of the Jam-E-Masjid mosque in Boonton thanked Sherrill for speaking at the recent unity walk and prayer event following the attacks in two New Zealand mosques. She asked what Sherrill plans to do for minorities, who replied she thinks it’s important for leaders to speak out forcefully against racism and she doesn’t think it’s happening in all quarters.
“The words you say, matter, and I think that has power, especially if you’re an elected official or the president of the U.S.,” she said.
She’s looking at legislation that would denounce “Islamophobia” to make sure the role of Congress is clear in attacking any sort of Muslim ban in our immigration system, she said. It’s depressing to see what’s going on in the world, she said, but she was heartened by the fact that police are patrolling the area to protect those worshipping at the mosque in a positive way.
“We’ve made some good strides, but we have further to go,” she said. “A lot of that comes with education and understanding, but also ensuring that our leaders are speaking out forcefully against all forms of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism or xenophobia, and what people are incited by.”
But not all was seriousness and talk of legislation. When a student asked about attending the State of the Union address, Sherrill said that she didn’t think about it in advance of the election because she was too superstitious, but when she got there, “it was amazing to be there – and it’s not as big as it looks on TV.” She said she was excited to see so many fellow women having been elected to Congress.
“I sat with some veterans that I ran [for office] with, because I remembered [heckling going on] during President Obama’s State of the Union address,” she said. “I didn’t want to be around anyone who might do that. I sat with these veterans who I knew would be respectful. I sat behind Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9th) who is a ‘Paterson guy.’”
Pascrell did his fair share of heckling, Sherrill told the students with a laugh.
“That’s why you avoid sitting with the other members of the New Jersey delegation,” she joked. “Overall, though, it was an honor to be on the floor of the House.”
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