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DCCC Chair Suzan DelBene thinks voters will reject Republican ‘chaos’

On Bidenomics and Pete Carroll’s coaching tenure, she stays the course

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., is seen on the House steps on Sept. 13.
Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., is seen on the House steps on Sept. 13. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In the last Congress, Democrats accomplished just about everything they set out to do. They passed pandemic relief aid that included a temporary expansion of the child tax credit, a multibillion-dollar infrastructure bill that had eluded lawmakers for decades, a subsidies bill aimed at staying competitive with China, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which combined long-sought-after corporate tax increases with money for reducing carbon emissions and expanding public health insurance. 

If you ask voters what they think about all that — and pollsters do, constantly — they’re less than impressed. It’s a conundrum confounding and frightening Democrats across the nation. But Suzan DelBene, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, isn’t too worried, yet. “People are just starting to see the impacts of that,” she said. “Now those dollars are flowing, projects are starting and people are feeling that.” 

DelBene also told Heard on the Hill that she thinks voters and other lawmakers will come around to see the need for national data privacy standards that she’s been supporting for years now. Do the work, don’t get distracted, and things will work out in the end, she seemed to suggest.

When we spoke on the House steps last month, DelBene’s beloved Seattle Seahawks had just been demolished by the LA Rams in their opening weekend game. I asked the Democrat from Washington state a question that was bouncing around the sports talk radio airwaves in the Pacific Northwest: Was it time for their 72-year-old head coach, Pete Carroll, to go? She said no. 

Since then, the Seahawks have gone 3-1, beating contenders like the Detroit Lions along the way. So maybe there’s something to DelBene’s patient approach. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You’ve been pushing Congress to pass a national data privacy standard for a while now. But it seems like a lot of people either don’t care or don’t know how their data is being collected. How do you overcome that?

A: Actually, I think it’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue for the public all the time. We have health information that’s being used in ways that people don’t expect, because health information isn’t just the data in your doctor’s office — it might be on an app on your phone that’s not protected by traditional HIPAA laws.

Other countries have been putting together policies, and our individual states are passing data privacy laws. But we need fundamental data privacy across the country, so people know what their rights are. And it’s foundational to other laws we want to put in place to address issues of technology and social media.

So it’s the building block policy that’s important, it’s important for folks across the country to know they have control over their data, and it would give us a seat at the international table where laws and standards are being created. But we don’t even have a domestic policy to build off of.

Q: You’re also a big advocate for expanding the child tax credit. The 2021 expansion was credited with raising millions of kids out of poverty, but now it’s lapsed. Why hasn’t this taken off as a political issue? Why aren’t people almost breaking down the doors to get it permanently enacted? 

A: I’ve heard stories from families across the country and right at home in my district who were impacted by those monthly checks, the huge difference it made to help them pay for housing, food, school supplies, diapers. 

It just took a load off families, and it lifted almost half of our kids who were in poverty out of poverty. We know it could do more if the policy was in place for longer. The data is incredible.

These families don’t have time to come out to Washington, D.C. — they’re working, they’re trying to get by. Their stories are powerful, and they’re strong advocates, but they don’t have lobbyists coming out for them like you do for large businesses or the wealthy who are fighting for tax policies. 

There’s a cost to doing nothing. Child poverty costs us over a trillion dollars a year right now. So this saves us money, and it means better outcomes for our kids. We know what works, we should do it. 

Q: Let’s talk about redistricting. Democrats have gotten some good news recently, winning legal action out of Alabama and feeling hopeful in New York. How has that changed how you’re approaching the path back to the majority?

A: First of all, we’re gonna stand up for communities across the country and fight for fair maps. That’s been an ongoing legal fight, and it was really, really important to see the Supreme Court stand up for the Voting Rights Act and make sure communities weren’t ignored, as we saw in Alabama with the Black community, with their vote being divided up so they couldn’t have a strong voice. 

That’s important in states like Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and even Florida. Right now the majority is pretty slim for Republicans, and if they’re fighting with maps that aren’t representative of our communities, they’re going to try to maintain that. 

So we’re seeing change there, but also, we have incredible incumbents and incredible candidates running across the country. People want to see governance work, and right now in the House in particular, [Republicans] are in chaos and dysfunction and are led by the most extreme members of their caucus. And we have responsible leaders who want to govern, and that’s what the American people want to see, and that’s gonna make all the difference.

Q: Over the summer, Democrats led by the White House spent a decent amount of time touting Bidenomics and pointing out the low unemployment rate. But polls still show that voters tend to view the president’s handling of the economy poorly. Why is that?

A: We did accomplish an incredible amount last Congress, and people are just starting to see the impacts of that — those infrastructure investments that mean there’s groundbreakings in communities. Now those dollars are flowing, projects are starting and people are feeling that. There was a little bit of time between when the bills passed and when people could see that. 

Unfortunately, you see Republicans out there trying to take credit for projects, because they know they matter to their communities. And we want to call out the hypocrisy of folks trying to take credit for things they voted against. 

But there’s more we need to do. Families are still struggling. I’ve been working on legislation to help build more affordable housing across the country. Those are the issues that people want us to be talking about.

It’s not just what happened last Congress. We need to continue to build on that, and to do that, we need to be able to govern. And right now we have folks who aren’t interested in governing.

Q: You’re framing it as chaos versus governance, and accomplishment versus dysfunction. But if Democrats can point rightfully to a series of accomplishments and voters don’t seem to care, what does that mean going forward for how our political system works? Is this a media problem?

Q: We always need to make sure folks are aware of the impact of the policies we put in place, and we’re going to continue to highlight that in our communities, as we have been doing. Clearly, media can be challenging, and some communities don’t actually get a balanced view of what’s happening, and that’s disappointing. 

But that’s something we’ll continue to work through, and we’ll make sure we’re talking locally. The national dialogue is different than the dialogue that’s happening right at home. And, as I said, we need to speak to folks about the issues they’re still facing. It’s not like a bill passed and things are done. There’s ongoing work, and we’re gonna keep focusing on that, so we can move our country forward.

Quick hits

Last book you read? “Little Poems for Tiny Ears” by Lin Oliver. Dolly Parton was recently out in Washington state promoting literacy [and her Imagination Library], and so that’s why I came across this book. I read it to my granddaughter. 

In politics, can the ends justify the means? People sent us here to govern. And so to me, that’s the litmus test. Are we getting things done? There’s a lot of talk, but what really matters is having the votes to get things to the president’s desk.

Your least popular opinion? Jellied cranberry sauce in the can for Thanksgiving clearly wins out. And we take it out and serve it so it still has the shape of a can. The ridges are important.

One thing your friends know about you that your constituents don’t? I love to bake. It’s harder for me to do in D.C., but when I’m home and have the time, I love to bake bread. I have sourdough starter in my refrigerator that I keep going, and then I also make a good potato bread.

I hear you’re a big sports fan, the Seahawks in particular. Is it time for Pete Carroll to go? We’ve had rough times before and surprised everyone by coming back stronger. So I’m still hoping for the coming back stronger part, and so we’ll be there like a good 12, yelling loudly for our team.

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