Pramila Jayapal, the representative from Washington State’s Seventh District, an early Bernie Sanders supporter and a longtime advocate for immigrants, ran for Congress in 2016 expecting to join a progressive caucus that would push President Hillary Clinton to the left. Instead, she joined a resistance movement fighting to stop Donald Trump from enacting policies of fathomless cruelty. In her first few months, she’s excelled at that job. “She immediately began showing people what resistance looks like,” recalls Democracy for America’s Robert Cruickshank, who lives in Jayapal’s district. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi calls her “a rising star in the Democratic caucus.”
Indeed, Jayapal is the Anti-Trump, politically and psychologically: A sunny Indian immigrant, she’s a whirlwind of positive, progressive energy. She came to the United States at age 16 to study at Georgetown; did a short stint on Wall Street before getting her MBA at Northwestern; and worked for a while in international development. After the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, Jayapal founded the group Hate Free Zone (later OneAmerica) to promote tolerance and fight for immigrant, civil, and human rights. In 2014, while running for a State Senate seat as a Democrat, she joined a hunger strike sponsored by immigrant- and women’s-rights groups to protest President Obama’s deportation policies. Now, four months into her first term in Congress, Jayapal is already a leader of the Democratic resistance. She’s played a high-profile role supporting Washington State’s challenges to Trump’s Muslim ban, rallying with thousands at Seattle’s airport and working with targeted residents. Trump’s immigrant crackdown, in turn, has raised her national profile. “When Seattle-area residents are being rounded up by ICE or detained at the airport, and Pramila Jayapal fights for them—that’s both local and national,” Cruickshank says. “Seattle sees itself as a national leader, and we want a member of Congress who reflects that.”
Her Republican colleagues have noticed, too. Jayapal tangled with Idaho Representative Raúl Labrador during a House Judiciary Committee hearing after he told her to “learn how to read” when she called Trump’s travel ban a “Muslim ban.” She smacked back at Iowa Representative Steve King for tweeting that “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” proudly declaring: “I am ‘somebody else’s baby’ and a proud American.” In March, the progressive fund-raising group Blue America chose her as its first freshman endorsement for 2018. And Bernie Sanders asked her to help him publicly announce his College for All Act, alongside progressive stalwarts Representative Keith Ellison and Senator Elizabeth Warren; Jayapal is the sponsor of the House version.