Rep. Sylvia Garcia wants you to know something about people in her home state — they mostly support abortion rights and they definitely aren’t “crazy Texans.”
“We’re always having to — I wouldn’t use the word defend — but at least speak up to make sure people know that not everybody is that way,” she says.
This is the second term in Congress for the Houston-area Democrat, who describes her time so far as “memorable,” especially serving as an impeachment manager back in 2020. Belonging to the party in charge was a new feeling.
“I had gone through 13 years of being in the minority” while serving as a county commissioner and state lawmaker, she says. “And it sucks.”
Garcia sat down with CQ Roll Call last month to talk about her state’s so-called heartbeat law, the future of abortion access and the shortage of acceptable tacos near the Capitol.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: You come from a state that tends to drive conversations at the national level, on topics like abortion or trans rights. What is that like for you?
A: Remember, I come from the Texas Senate. I was there standing by Wendy Davis helping her get through her filibuster [of an anti-abortion bill in 2013]. We always laugh because I tell her I was her super paralegal. And I was there when we fought the bathroom bill.
Regrettably for us, Texas has always been in the lead when it comes to attacks on the most vulnerable, the least among us. When you think about it, what we do isn’t driven by what happens in Washington, it’s almost the opposite. What happens in Austin is picked up by other states, and then Washington reacts to it.
The abortion bill is a perfect recent example. That was our worst fear, was all the copycat laws that would follow SB 8, and it happened, and look at where we are today.
Q: Did you see it coming?
A: I never, never would have thought we would be in a position where we could reverse the clock and go all the way back to pre-Roe v. Wade days. I mean, it’s just incredible. We kind of knew that’s where we were going, but oh s---, it’s here now. And a lot of that has been driven by what’s been happening in Texas.
You saw the results of that University of Texas poll. Seventy-eight percent of Texans think we should have access to abortion — that’s huge. But the cronies in Austin don’t legislate for the 78 percent. They legislate for their base.
For me, it’s always about making sure that people know we’re not all crazy Texans. We’re not. Texas may be red, but a great number of people are still independents and independent thinkers, just the way Texans have always been.
Q: This is your second term in Congress. Has it lived up to your expectations?
A: You always hear so many things about Washington and the gridlock and the fights and the lobbyists running everything. For me, I’m a Virgo and I like knowing what I’m doing next. And I just quickly discovered that I had no control over my schedule.
But I had gone through 13 years of being in the minority, so I was a happy, happy camper when I got to Washington and I was going to be part of the majority.
Just as a recent example, I was named to the conference committee for the COMPETES Act. I never would have been named by [Texas Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick to any conference committee. It could have been the conference committee to decide what color to paint the building, and he would not have put me on that.
Q: What else has changed since then?
A: I was having a conversation recently with someone about immigration reform, and they said, “What would you do to get something done?” At this point, I’m so exasperated by it, and how it’s used by both sides as a wedge issue, that I would be willing to do a lot — even if it was out of my ordinary repertoire.
I never really liked the Bracero program. But what if we could settle on a Bracero program that would allow people to come in and work but would also later count for the years they needed to be here in this country to get full citizenship? A Bracero program that would let people reach their potential, let them send back money to their families, but avoid all the harassment and the ridicule? I think now I would probably be prepared to vote for something like that. I would not have said that even four years ago.
Q: I’m from El Paso, but Houston has the best food. Have you found any good places near the Capitol?
A: I have yet to find anything worthy of the name of Mexican food in Washington. One taco place that everybody talks about, they don’t even deserve the name taco. It’s more like a big burrito full of white rice and black beans.
I was stuck in Washington [this spring when I had COVID-19]. And when I got home, the first thing I did was go straight from the airport to the place where I love to get my cheese enchiladas. I just like them with lots of cheese. I don’t even have them put on ground beef or chicken — to me, an enchilada is a cheese enchilada.
Last book you read? “The Exiles” by Christina Baker Kline. My niece always gives me a book for Christmas.
In politics, can the ends justify the means? Yes.
Your least popular opinion? I got in real trouble once when I was asked about guns and said we should melt down every handgun and just issue them to police officers and the military. I grew up in the country and know how to use rifles and shotguns, but handguns are for killing people. They’re not for hunting.
Closest friend across the aisle? In Congress, it would probably be two people from Texas, Van Taylor and Lance Gooden. I still can’t believe what Van Taylor went through. He was the last person I would have thought was out there cheating on his wife. And Lance is just Lance. We still visit a lot with each other, but a little bit less these days because he was such a strident insurrectionist.
America’s best president? If I had to pick, I would say Franklin Roosevelt, because he got us through some tough times. And I know Eleanor had a lot to do with that. They were a great presidential couple.