WASHINGTON — Freshman US Representative Katherine Clark, a former state senator from Melrose, began her term in Congress in January, after winning the seat vacated by Senator Ed Markey in a special election. She campaigned on improving economic opportunities for women and middle-class families. Six months into her term, The Boston Globe checked in with Clark, 50, in her Capitol Hill office on adjusting to Washington, forging bipartisan ties, and balancing her family life with life as a congresswoman. (Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Q. What are the primary issues you’ve been able to focus on so far?
A. Making sure women have equal pay. The first bill that I cosponsored was the Paycheck Fairness Act so that we could do something to close that gap of a woman making 77 cents on average to a man’s dollar.
Q. But it’s been quite difficult to get anything done in this hyper-partisan atmosphere. How have you tried to overcome that?
A. The gridlock is a formidable challenge. But what I’ve been trying to do is meet as many different members of Congress as I can and really try to find those areas of common ground. I come into the Capitol through the Rayburn building and end up on the Republican side of the House, so I often vote on that side and talk to people over there. I’ve been going to every bipartisan dinner that is available for the freshman class.
Q. Congratulations on winning a big softball game recently. (The Congressional Women’s Softball Game, an annual event where members of Congress play against women in the DC press corps to raise money for breast cancer.)
A. It was a great experience to get out and practice with both Republican and Democratic women. When you’re on the softball field at 7 a.m., the politics definitely takes a back seat and we just had a good time as moms and grandmothers and members of Congress. I’m hoping that having gotten to meet members of Congress who I might not have come in contact with, I can now go back to them and say, “Let’s work on this piece of legislation together.” As less and less members are moving their families here to Washington, finding those personal connections becomes even more important and might lead to finding the policy connections as well.
Q. So who’s your favorite Republican?
A. Oh boy, I couldn’t choose. Steve Stivers [of Ohio] is someone I just filed a bill with on babies born addicted to opiates. And I will be calling on all my women friends from the softball team to help me with this legislation as well. Women like Kristi Noem from South Dakota, Jaime Herrera Beutler from Washington, Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida.
Q. Do you hang out with Democrats, too?
A. Many of the freshmen women try to get together for dinner once a week when we’re in Washington and talk about issues with balancing this life with family. I’m the mom of three boys who are 12, 14, and 17.
Q. How often do you see them?
A. I’m generally in Washington Monday through Thursday afternoons, and then I’m home in the district the other days of the week. I’ve never had to travel for work before. So far I think it’s going all right. We’re very lucky right now to have extended family who’s very involved in their lives. I’ve also known what it’s like to have to be that mom who is trying to get to day care before 6 p.m., avoiding that fee that comes with every minute that you’re late, and it’s stressful.
Q. What’s been your biggest surprise so far?
‘What I’ve been trying to do is meet as many different members of Congress as I can and [find] areas of common ground.’
A. I sort of thought maybe nobody will ever talk to me from the other side. But despite some real challenges we have on getting issues to the floor, getting past the gridlock, it has been possible to get to know people and to work on legislation together. That gives me a lot of optimism that we are going to get through this dysfunctional cycle in Congress.
Q. So have you found Congress to be anything like it’s portrayed in “House of Cards” [a Netflix series with a scandalous view of Capitol life]?
A. Well, I haven’t seen anyone get thrown in front of a subway yet. But who saw that happen on “House of Cards”? As somebody on the softball team said: It’s exactly like here; minus the murders.