Metro

Q+A: Ayanna Pressley heads to the House Financial Services Committee

Rep. Ayanna Pressley is interviewed after the member-elect class photo on the Capitol Hill. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Melina Mara
Melina Mara/The Washington Post
Ayanna Pressley.

WASHINGTON — It is a lucrative and powerful House committee: Financial Services, which regulates sectors including banking, real estate, and insurance. It is considered a primo assignment for members of Congress, many of whom have historically drawn generous campaign donations from those very industries.

But this year, some of the freshman Democrats appointed to the committee — including Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts’ Seventh District — say they plan to approach things differently.

“I cannot stress how important this moment is,” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congresswoman, who said she was grateful for the chance to join the committee as a freshman. “Democrats are putting members who rejected corporate campaign money on a committee overseeing Wall St.”

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What does it mean to be on Financial Services, and why did Pressley want the spot? In an interview with the Boston Globe earlier this week, Pressley said she won’t accept donations from the financial services companies regulated by the committee, and said she hoped to use her seat to focus on issues including student debt, red-lining, and housing.

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Additional progressive freshman appointees to the committee include Katie Porter, of California, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

Financial Services is one of the most powerful committees in the House. It’s one that can be difficult for freshmen representatives to get placed on, given the seniority-driven nature of the chamber. Was this an assignment you hoped to get? And why?

I ran to represent Massachusetts’ Seventh Congressional District, to address the entrenched, systemic inequities and disparities in the district. And to serve on the Financial Services Committee will allow me to do that in a bold and thoughtful and comprehensive way.

It will also allow me to build upon work that I’ve already been doing on the municipal level on that space. Consumer protection, tackling student debt, affordable housing crisis — and the thing I’m most excited about is to keep Ben Carson in my sightline. He has all but abandoned public housing. I have one of the largest housing developments in the country.

In the last Congress, PACs and individuals from the the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors contributed more than $30 million to members of the House Financial Services Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Will you accept donations from financial companies under the committee’s jurisdiction?

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No.

Do you want to say more about that?

I’ve heard those rumors that those who have pursued the committee in the past for its positioning for stacking one’s coffers and fund-raising. That had zero to do with my compelling motivation to want to be appointed to the committee. Whatever committee I was appointed to I was going to lead and fight for my district, but I’m very grateful for the support of Democratic leadership in my delegation that made this appointment possible.

I will as a member of Congress do what I did as a candidate for Congress: I’m rejecting corporate PAC money. I think we’ve proven that this is a representative democracy — and our campaign did expand the table of democracy by igniting and growing the electorate, by engaging new voices, by lifting up the voices of those who contributed one penny, one dollar and ensuring they have a stake in government and can take part in building our promise for tomorrow. That’s what I’m about and that’s not only what I espouse, that’s what I practice, so no, I will not be accepting those contributions.

How do you think the committee should use its subpoena power this Congress? Do you have any early thoughts on that?

I don’t, except to say again that this is a Republican Senate and we’re the only checks and balance. It is an encouraging prospect that, given the subpoena power and reach of this committee, this will allow us to leverage that oversight.

Massachusetts has a long history on this committee. Your predecessor, Michael Capuano, was on the committee, and Barney Frank, who used to represent Massachusetts’ 4th District, was chairman. Have you or would you talk with them about it? What’s your process of getting advice as you go into this?

My process begins with the residents of the MA-7 congressional district. They are my greatest counsel and my stewards in how I vote, and in what legislation that I introduce. It’s by actively listening to them that I better understand not only the nuance and the complexity of the problem, but usually where I find the solutions.

What are your policy priorities for this committee?

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As far as student debt, MA-7 has the largest concentration of college students in the country. Student debt is crippling and handicapping dreams and the full contributions that so many people hope to make. It is a national crisis. I’m especially concerned about some of these recent agreements at play, where students are signing away huge swaths of their income for more than half of their life not even aware of what they’re signing on to and what the risk will be. So I’m very interested in protecting those consumers and those students.

I also want to address the wealth and wage inequities and disparities in MA-7. Mitigating the impacts of redlining, which has contributed for generations to the wealth gap — a very sharp contrast along racial lines. I also want to tackle the issue of under-banking. So I’m excited. The reach of this committee allows me to legislate and to govern in a way that is very appealing, and in a way that I’ve always tried to model — and that is to address the intersectionality of so many issues.

Jess Bidgood can be reached at Jess.Bidgood@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@jessbidgood