Jenniffer González-Colón, 41, the Republican resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, talks about navigating the House as a nonvoting member, getting support from leadership after Hurricane Maria, and how her perception of President Donald Trump has changed.
Q: What about Congress didn’t you expect?
A: Before being a member of Congress, I was a state legislator for 14 years, so I was speaker of the House and then minority leader. Everybody told me before that things in Congress are slow, and I got mixed feelings about that because there’s been a lot of things going on here, a lot of important deals.
I can’t vote on the floor, so for Puerto Rico, it’s a challenge to move through the process and the committees. Finally, I managed to include amendments [at the committee level].
Q: You were first elected to public office at the age of 25. What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to enter politics?
A: The first thing is, never allow anybody to tell you that you can’t run or to wait, because I received that advice. That is discouraging women to get access, and I think that’s the wrong advice. Instead of asking for permission, you should ask for forgiveness when you do it, and that’s what I did.
I think we need more women in power. That gives you another vision of what’s going on — this incivility with a lot of issues. I feel a lot of support from my colleagues in the House. Many of them understand the issue once you raise a point.
In my [case], with the hurricane, my whole experience in Congress just flipped from one day to another … when you’re receiving calls from the speaker, from the minority leader, from the chairmen of the committees, “How are you? How’re you doing?” For Puerto Rico, the hurricane was and still is a bad experience. But it gave me [the] opportunity to know to reach out, a lot of members were … trying to help.
Q: What has been your favorite day in Congress so far?
A: I got the opportunity to be on Air Force One with the president when the hurricane came to the island, so that was a completely different experience for me to sit down with the president and it was my first time with him.
I had a completely different perception of him and when I sat with him, it was completely different. … He was very warm and focused, asking me, “What resources do you need?”
Q: Do you prefer to hire staffers from Puerto Rico?
A: I only have two staffers who are from the island. The rest of them were living here. Right now, I’m hiring two personnel. My two former [legislative directors], they were not from the island. They were from here. They did not speak Spanish at all. So for me, that’s not an issue. Of course, that would be a plus. For me, what I’m looking for is people who can drive bills out of the committees.
Q: What’s something that your colleagues might not know about you?
A: I love to see movies. I just love biographies, drama. Don’t like suspense and horror movies. I get sufficient stress here.
Last book read: “George Washington’s Secret Six” by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger; a lot of things regarding hurricanes.
Pet peeve: When people tell me no. For me, no is another way to say yes.
Cats or dogs: Dogs. I have a dog.
If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Margaret Thatcher.
Closest friend across the aisle: Rep. José E. Serrano.