Home Jennifer McClellan Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-VA04) on “One Year in Congress: Standing Up for...

Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-VA04) on “One Year in Congress: Standing Up for Our Democracy and Our Freedoms”

"One year ago, I was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives as the first Black woman to represent Virginia."

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by Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-VA04)

One year ago, I was sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives as the first Black woman to represent Virginia. Standing in the well of the House floor, surrounded by my family and the Virginia congressional delegation, I took my oath of office. It was a powerful moment to enter into this body that, at its founding, was never meant for me. Since that day, I have often thought about the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis’s final words: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act that requires every generation to do its part to build the Beloved Community.”

I stand on the shoulders of all those who came before – the trailblazers who helped break down barriers and paved the way. I am often reminded of John Mercer Langston, the first Black man to represent Virginia in Congress, also from Virginia’s Fourth; Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to serve in Congress; A. Donald McEachin, my friend and predecessor; and my parents and grandparents, who grew up in the segregated South during Jim Crow and fought for their fundamental right to vote. They did their part to move our country forward. I am fighting to do the same.

I am one of 29 Black women in the Congress, and one of the 3.1% of women of color who are mothers to young children. My lived experience as a Black woman in America helps inform my policy making decisions and provides a unique and historically underrepresented perspective – from maternal health to voting rights to abortion rights. I am fighting every day to make progress on the issues that matter to hardworking Virginians: lowering costs and strengthening our economy, protecting reproductive freedom from ongoing attacks by Republican politicians, addressing the climate crisis, advancing environmental justice, and protecting voting rights.

In collaboration with the Biden-Harris Administration, we have taken significant steps to create good-paying jobs, tackle inflation, and build an economy from the middle out that will leave no one behind. Extreme MAGA Republicans have manufactured crisis after crisis, bringing our nation to the brink of a devastating default on our national debt and nearly shutting down the government four times. Despite their chaos and dysfunction, House Democrats repeatedly delivered the necessary votes to clean up their mess and save the American people from economic disaster. I have been a vocal and outspoken critic of how their government shutdown brinksmanship would have particularly devastating impacts for our Commonwealth, which is the second-largest recipient of federal funding and home to over 170,000 federal employees and 130,000 active-duty servicemembers.

Since the Trump-packed Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, we have witnessed widespread attacks on reproductive freedom, including 21 states that have banned or restricted abortion services, ongoing attempts to undermine access to contraception, and disastrous court rulings that have imperiled access to fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization. Donald Trump bragged that he overturned Roe, and he won’t stop there. Republican politicians and conservative legislatures want a national abortion ban, which is why I am fighting every day to protect reproductive freedom. I am an original cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act to restore Roe and codify abortion access into federal law. America has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-income country in the world, and Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. As a Black mother who almost died during childbirth, I am fighting for reproductive health care to protect the health and well-being of parents and children across the nation. Earlier this year, I signed a discharge petition to compel an immediate vote on the bill, and I will continue my efforts until it is signed into law.

Under the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration, congressional Democrats took historic action to pass the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), legislation to lower energy costs for hardworking families, mitigate the climate crisis, supercharge our transition to a clean-energy future, and reposition the United States as a global leader on climate. Since its passage, communities nationwide – including here in Virginia’s Fourth – have received robust federal investments to deploy new, sustainable technologies and reduce our carbon footprint. MAGA Republicans in the House, however, are dead set on rolling back our progress and halting implementation of the bill. Over the past year, I have fought back against their extreme attempts to deprive communities of the historic investments laid out in the IRA. I have also led several successful efforts with my congressional colleagues to the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to limit our reliance on fossil fuels and protect vulnerable communities from harmful air pollution.

Following the Supreme Court’s disastrous ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we have seen a rash of voter suppression bills pop up in states across the nation. My grandfather had to pass a literacy test and find three white men to vouch for him to be able to vote. My grandfather and father had to pay a poll tax to vote. My great grandmothers and grandmothers never voted, and my mother didn’t vote until after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Access to the ballot box is personal to me, and voting is our most fundamental right outlined in the U.S. Constitution. As the first Black woman to represent Virginia, I feel a strong responsibility to fight back against Republicans’ ongoing assault on our democratic processes. I am an active member of the Task Force on Strengthening Democracy and a proud original cosponsor of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. I joined Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-07) on the steps of the Supreme Court to introduce this historic legislation that would restore the Voting Rights Act and ensure every American can make their voices heard.

As we look ahead to 2024, the stakes could not be higher. I promise to continue doing my part to protect Virginians’ freedoms and preserve our democracy.

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