Rep. Mikie Sherrill is heading back to Washington this week while attempting to solve the same problems most families are confronting during the coronavirus pandemic: childcare and making sure her children are keeping up with their virtual schooling.
“I just got a call to have a Zoom conference call because (my child) was shutting off her camera and microphone whereas I thought she was ok,” said Sherrill in an exclusive interview with North-JerseyNews.com.
“I have talked to so many employers which had many women who had to quit or really scale down their work effort because they just can’t juggle both,” she continued. “I think the pandemic has had a really (negative) effect on working women. That is something I worry about in the long term.”
Effect on Woman
The congresswoman knows her struggles, while similar to those across the U.S., pale with those who are less fortunate than her when it comes to those who are working in a grocery store or an emergency room.
“As we are sitting here, with my debacle going on with homeschooling, I am thinking of all the single moms across the county and I think that I am not doing a very good job with homeschooling and how much worse not to have support, not to have a job on Zoom or have to go into work,” said Sherrill. “I am sitting here in the same home as my kids and they are not doing everything there supposed.”
The dominant issue in her successful re-election bid this year, the congresswoman expects dealing with the coronavirus to be an emphasis of the lame duck session as well as when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
“COVID-19 is tied into a lot of issues, mainly our healthcare system and why certain communities of color have been impacted so much worse than others,” said Sherrill. “We have been talking about it a lot for years, why we need preventive care, why that makes sense not just for the health and well being of our country but economically…investing in preventive care is so important.”
Sherrill cited the pandemic’s impact on small businesses and the expansion of unemployment insurance needing to be addressed as well.
The rise of telehealth is an issue the congresswoman heard about increasingly during the campaign. Describing it as being “in the ether” before the pandemic, Sherrill said he family used it over the last eight months and is working on several bipartisan bills to continue the progress we made in telehealth.
“The need has become so great during the COVID-19 crisis. We implemented it very quickly and I think the things that a lot of people thought would be barriers turned out not to be problematic,” said Sherrill. “Talking to people in the district with mobility issues or ones that have health issues with a lot of appointments, the telehealth has really been a godsend to them.”
Getting legislation from the House to the President’s desk has been a problem for Democrats in the last term, a reality Sherrill believes her party has to be realistic about.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” she said. “We don’t have the Senate, so we have to come to a bipartisan agreement. If the Senate was not willing to pass the HEROES act, not sure what has changed or moved them. We really got to work together to come up with a way to support Americans.”
“I was quite frankly, disappointed we did not get that done before the election.”
Sherrill believed there was a pathway to compromise before the election, with different bipartisan bills put forth and different concepts offered by the White House.
“I think we should have been able to at least come to an agreement between the White House and the House,” said the Montclair resident. “But (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell seemed to be working to upend the process so I do worry about getting something through the Senate during the lame duck.”
Despite those headwinds and inability to reach a deal, getting another piece of coronavirus legislation is still her top priority.
“People are suffering”
“We have to get it passed now. People are suffering—people are losing their jobs on a weekly basis, we have businesses going under, there are many kids still not back in school we need to address in funding our schools, address the public health pandemic with funding for contact tracing and testing to get the numbers down,” stated the congresswoman.
Additionally, as a member of the House’s Armed Services Committee, Sherrill is working to get the National Defense Authorization Act passed.
Looking past the lame duck session, Sherrill is hopeful legislation passed in her first term in Congress will make it to the incoming President’s desk but realizes “until and unless we address the public health crisis we will have a very hard time working through the economic crisis and, then getting passed it, stimulating the economy.”
“We got a lot accomplished in (the House) the last two year…what I would like to see is things that I promised my district to continue to work on, get them through the Senate and get President Biden to sign them,” said Sherrill, who listed infrastructure projects such as the Gateway Tunnel project, water infrastructure, getting rid of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction cap, and high speed internet as top priorities.
The congresswoman said from the arguments before the Supreme Court she was “hopeful” that the Affordable Care Act will survive so that Democrats can address some of the improvements they want to make.
“President Trump has been trying to sabotage it. Hopefully now with President Biden we will be able to make improvements to our healthcare system,” said Sherrill. “Healthcare it is not just coronavirus, but really addressing the problems in our system that lead to such disparate outcomes during the pandemic.”
A national issue splitting Democrats on how it affected the race, the former prosecutor said she will work to reform the criminal justice system.
“Something I have long worked on before my term in Congress is criminal justice reform. I think that accompanied by how we are going to address systemic racism is going to be critical,” she said.
The reforms Sherrill is looking to address was messaged as “Defund the Police” by GOP candidates, a issue moderates in the Democratic caucus cited for the loss of House seats this election cycle. Sherrill knows her party needs to work to reestablish their ties with those who supported President Trump and Republican candidates in 2020.
“I am just worried overall the very people we are working so hard for and care so much about don’t feel connected to the Democratic party,” she said. “Working families across the country…I think about them everyday.”
The voters the congresswoman envisions are those like her grandfather, a non-college educated white male from Ohio whose family was impoverished by the Depression when he was a child. He fought in World War II and found “a good union job” that allowed his family to move into the middle class.
“If he knew people like him across the country didn’t feel supported by the Democratic party, I think he would be shocked,” said Sherrill. “How have we lost so much ground with the very people we work so hard for?”
Sherrill credited President Donald Trump with connecting with voters, resulting in a higher turnout she admitted she thought would benefit her party.
“We saw some way and somehow he has connected with people that have been disenfranchised and left out,” said the congresswoman. “Say what you will about him, people feel he doesn’t talk down to them, that he has connected to them, that he cares about them and they are voting for him.”
The priority of the party must be to reconnect with these voters according to Sherrill, focusing on the issues they care about. While arguing the Trump policies have really hurt the future of working people and increased the pace of wealth accruing at the top, she acknowledges it doesn’t matter if there are people across the county voting for him feeling very differently than she does.
Making Lives Better
“I think about the lives of working people in this country constantly and how hard it is and how can we make it better,” she said. “How can we make them feel confident in their future, confident in their child’s future, confident they will be able to take care of tier families, feed their families, be able to afford a nice retirement.”
“We have seen people really lose ground in recent years but despite that people across this country don’t feel the Democratic party has a laser focus on their issues. Where is that disconnect and how we have that disconnect is certainly something on my mind.”
Happy in the 11th
With Biden an early supporter of hers when she launched her first campaign in 2018, she has been listed as a possible candidate to serve in the cabinet, especially with her military background.
Sherrill laughed at the suggestion, replying “I believe deeply in service but the best way I can serve right now is in the 11th District of New Jersey. I happen to love my job and feel very grateful for people giving me a second term.”