Law professor Katie Porter never considered running for office. She worked under then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris and had Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a professor and mentor, but the idea of holding office herself was never even on the drawing board. That all changed election night 2016. Two years later Katie Porter flips California’s 45th district, delivering a Democratic victory that helped fuel the blue wave of 2018.
Now the freshman Congresswoman is known for her signature ability to grill witnesses in congressional hearings. Let’s put it this way — it takes a lot for a hearing to produce a viral video and yet, Rep. Porter has had her fair share. Hear her talk about the moment she decided to run, how she is using her office to stand up to special interests, and what convinced her to come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry.
KATIE PORTER: It is my preference that the Democratic Party leads us forward in a way that is about standing up to special interests, in a way that advances campaign finance reform, in a way that fights for meaningful prescription drug reform. In a way that champions our environment, that recognizes the important of jobs that pay. That will take on the banking system when they're trying to cheat consumers. But if the Democratic Party won't do that, then I will stand up to the Democratic Party.
CHRIS HAYES: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me, your host, Chris Hayes. Well, if you know the freshman members of the Democratic Congress, you probably know a handful. I mean, most likely if you were to say, okay, name one, it would be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is I think the most famous. She won that sort of remarkable primary upset over Joe Crowley. Then of course, there is now "the squad," which has been sort of rendered iconic. In large part to the president's horrifying attacks on them, including Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who's in Detroit and Ayanna Pressley who is in Boston. Ilhan Omar is in Minneapolis. Those are some members of Congress you may have heard of, there's a whole bunch of others. We have Max Rose, who's a really fascinating guy on program who flipped a Republican district in Staten Island and Brooklyn, who you should check out our conversation with.
There's this one woman who is not like, she's not part of "the squad," I don't think she's famous for other reasons except she's just really super good at grilling people in hearings. Now you may not even know her name or which district she represents, but I bet you if you're listening to this, you've probably seen the viral footage of some bank CEO, like the Wells Fargo CEO or Jamie Dimon getting up and asked how much his tellers make. Or the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is supposed to be protecting consumers but has been turned into a kind of declawed agency under Trump, struggling to do the basic math of APR, which is annualized calculation of interest. You can think about these moments where someone comes before the committee and there's this Congresswoman who looks sort of professorial and nice, she's like super nice, just absolutely gutting these people.
And it's become sort of micro genre of viral video in 2019, in the era of this Democratic House. And I thought it would be worthwhile to talk to the woman in question. Her name is Katie Porter. She's got a really fascinating story. She's freshwoman, I always do that, Tiffany's laughing at me. She's a freshman member of Congress. She's a freshman member of Congress, she won in California's 45th Congressional District, which is in Orange County near Irvine. She's a law professor at the University of California Irvine, or was a law professor. She had never been in politics as you will hear in this conversation. Never run for office before, never really considered running for office. Wasn't the daughter of a politician. A lot of the ways that people find themselves in politics. Just one of these people, one of these stories of the Trump era of kind of waking up and being like, "I got to do something about where this country's going. I got to do something."
She's also really interesting because she won a contested primary. She was not the candidate in that swing district that the Democratic Party wanted to take on the Republican incumbent. There was another candidate they backed. So she had sort of two improbable victories back to back. She beat the establishment-backed Democrat in the primary to win the primary. And then there was a lot of questions of like, "Oh no, she beat the most electable candidate in primary, now we're not going to win the seat." And lo and behold, when all the votes were counted she had in fact won the seat in Orange County, and she is now a member of Congress representing the 45th district. She is a really fascinating figure, as you're going to hear, with a really interesting backstory. And one of the things I think, when you think about where we are in the politics of this moment, so much of the politics revolves around when people talk about the swing voter. They're talking about like, oh the Republicans in the suburbs who don't like Trump, but they don't want single-payer. Or when they talk about the industrial Midwest.
There's these kinds of voters that are talked about in the abstract, but then there are actual politicians who represent voters that are the kinds of voters the political pundits talk about as like they're the key- can we convince these people? One of the reasons I thought it was interesting to talk to Max Rose is to get his read, he's in a frontline district, that's a contested district. It was a Republican district. His district voted for Donald Trump. He's got to deal with that fact as the brute political reality he navigates around. And he does it in a very Max Rose-ish way. Katie Porter is on the other coast, in a very different place, culturally from Staten Island and Brooklyn, and she's got the same set of issues. Like, that district is not a deeply democratic district. I think it went for Hillary Clinton by a very narrow margin. The woman that she defeated had won that district by huge amounts, it's been traditionally Republican. So, she's got to deal with the political reality of her district. And she does it as you will see in a very Katie Porter-ish way.
I think as you think about the politics of this moment, particularly amidst the conversation about, will Democrats impeach or not? Or Nancy Pelosi's concerned about the frontline districts, which are the most vulnerable Democrats, and what will Trump run against when he runs against the eventual Democratic nominee. And are Dems moving too far left? And all that stuff. I just find it really illuminating to just speak to and listen to people whose daily life is drenched in the politics of precisely this question. How do you navigate the politics of being a Democrat at the time of Donald Trump in a place that is not a 70/30 Democratic district. There is a lot of wisdom to gleam from it, but there's also just a ton to learn about this moment in politics because I think this moment in politics, and you will hear this from her, I don't think there's another moment in politics that would have produced Congresswoman Katie Porter, but I'm really glad that this moment in politics did.
I think I said this to you the first time that I interviewed you on air, that I first encountered you on a blog back in the blogging days, and I thought maybe we talk a little bit just before you became a member of Congress. Where were you born, where did you grow up?
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, I was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa. My parents lived in a little town called Eagle Grove. My mom taught high school and my dad was an instructor at the community college. And when I was about two, two-and-a-half, my brother was just about to be born. We moved to South Central Iowa to the farm where my dad had grown up, where my grandfather had grown up. The house was actually, it was a tiny little house. It was about 600 square feet and it was built by my great-grandfather. And that's the house I spent time in as a child.
CHRIS HAYES: What was the world like there? Was there sort of an expectation growing up that you would go off and go to college?
KATIE PORTER: My parents were both college-educated and on my mom's side, her parents were college-educated. One was a home economics major and had been the county home economist.
CHRIS HAYES: Oh wow.
KATIE PORTER: And my grandfather on that same side was a veterinarian. So they had both gone to Iowa State. My parents had gone to Iowa State, my aunts and uncles had gone to Iowa State. Are you sensing a theme?
CHRIS HAYES: Yes.
KATIE PORTER: So, it was a big break with tradition when I went off to Yale for sure. Yeah, my parents really valued education; they were both educators. But it was definitely true that I grew up in an area where a lot people didn't go to college. A lot of people did two years, a kind of terminal two years at community college.
CHRIS HAYES: I grew up in the Bronx, and then I went to this magnet school in New York City that exposed me to a certain kind of affluent urbane professional class of New York, and then I went to Brown, and even having been sort of acclimated to a certain kind of degree of sort of the American elite… I found Brown a bit of a culture shock at first. What was Yale like coming from Iowa?
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, so the real culture shock occurred for me in high school. Because when I was 16 entering 11th grade, I went to Phillips Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts.
CHRIS HAYES: Oh, you went to Phillips, oh yeah, that's ...
KATIE PORTER: So that was a huge culture shock.
CHRIS HAYES: That's a long way from the farm.
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, I had never been east of the Mississippi River before. I mean, I had been in the Mississippi River but that was literally I had never been to the other side of it, even when I went to boarding school. So, that was a tremendous culture shock. From there, the leap to Yale was not hard.
CHRIS HAYES: Oh yeah, Philips is probably more sort of rarified than Yale actually.
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, I mean, it was an incredible experience but my path there was one largely driven by coincidence, good luck, some of the strength of the state universities in Iowa. So basically what happened was a researcher, a psychologist at Iowa State got some grant funding to study gifted kids. And so she wrote letters to the school districts in Iowa, and asked them to nominate a gifted kid to come and study at Iowa State for the summer.
CHRIS HAYES: Wow.
KATIE PORTER: I ended up taking the SAT in seventh grade and getting into this program. And it was completely free, which was really important at the time. This was in 1987, the financial crisis, the farm crisis is in full swing, nobody has any money, my family included. I went to Iowa State, I ended up living in a dorm that my grandmother had lived in. Did a college class with other gifted kids in the morning and then in the afternoon, they did psychology experiments on us. Personality tests, career aptitude, social skills. So I'll never forget the career aptitude test, something must have been a little off on that instrument because the vast majority of my gifted middle school friends and I all got the same career. We all got vending machine repairman. I mean, lawyer was like fourth or fifth on the list so it wasn't like it wasn't in the list.
CHRIS HAYES: Maybe the calibration on that experimental design could use a little refining.
KATIE PORTER: Or maybe Chris, it's a really satisfying career. And I just haven't found my actual calling. I mean I reserve the right to think about what I might pursue after Congress.
CHRIS HAYES: So specific.
KATIE PORTER: I know.
CHRIS HAYES: So through this channel, then you somehow got recommended or connected to Philips somehow?
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, so they sent us…it was a longitudinal study, and so they sent us follow up information, and one of the things they sent us was a booklet on opportunities for gifted kids. I went through, and I wanted to go to another one of these summer experiences. My public-school education was amazing in Iowa, but it was a very small school. There were 14 kids my sixth grade. There were 42 when I got to the bigger school; the combined school for middle school and high school. So, I wanted to go to another summer camp and have another opportunity to learn and be with other kids. So I wrote these little pre-printed postcards, the pre-stamped kind and I wrote on them, "Please send me information. Katie Porter."
And it turns out if you tell Andover that you want information, they assume you mean for the school year. I thought it was a summer camp. And so, they send me the information and I ended up ... it's a glossy brochure, and it looked fun. And I filled it out, and I got in. I went on scholarship, and I remember that first night being there, my roommate was from Naples, Florida, which is actually a town that in some ways is not unlike Irvine in some ways. But she was describing her town, and I was telling her about where I was from, and she was talking about all the city programs and the landscaping the city was doing. The city pool and her junior high and she'd already taken all these years of French. I just remember thinking like, please let me pass, please let me pass. And I wound up doing obviously well, and I got into Yale, but that was a really important experience for me, and I will always be grateful to the donors, the people who made that experience possible.
CHRIS HAYES: It's interesting talking to you. A theme that I keep coming back to and I spoke to your colleague Max Rose about a month back is, America can be very siloed, there's many ways in which there's a lot of distance between folks sort of socially, geographically, there's sort of class divisions, there are racial divisions. And in some ways, unique and rare and important experience when people get to move through different subcultures in parts of America in terms of how that creates the person you are, and the vision you have and your ability for kind of empathy. I mean, do you think that's in your case, just hearing you describe the small town Iowa to Phillips to Yale, how did that affect the person you became?
KATIE PORTER: It absolutely had an impact, I mean it most directly it had an impact on what I chose to study in college. And then what I chose to study in law school. When I went off Yale, I was an American Studies major but what I focused on within that was how Americans understand economic dislocation. And in particular, the work of some anthropologists who were studying, American anthropologists, who were looking for instance at how did folks in Kenosha, who had worked the Chrysler, GM factory when it was shut down in the '80s, how did they understand that? Did they feel like they were victims? Did they feel like they were being taken advantage of? Did they feel like this was just part of the struggles of the up and down life and part of American meritocracy?
So I was very interested in that. After that though, I taught eighth grade, which I absolutely loved in Hong Kong. I took a trip around the world by myself for six months. There is no way parents should allow their children to do that. I just want to be on record that my parents are completely, completely fell down on the job.
CHRIS HAYES: How old were you when you took a trip around the world by yourself?
KATIE PORTER: 22.
CHRIS HAYES: Oh, well, you're a grownup.
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, you don't know where I went and what I did. I mean, and they don't either, and we should keep that way for the sake of them.
CHRIS HAYES: Good God, now I'm curious.
KATIE PORTER: I mean, I went to Vietnam the year the embassy opened. And this was of course, 1997 and so email was very, kind of "catch as you can." And so a month would go by, and they wouldn't hear from me. And they apparently were fine with that. I mean, you know.
CHRIS HAYES: Wow, good for your parents, actually.
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, it was a great experience. And then I came back, and I went to law school. And I had some inkling when I started law school that I might want to be a teacher, that I might want to be a professor. My mom had taught high school; my dad had been a professor. I had loved my Yale education and learning. I went through law school really loving it but not having found any one thing in the law that really captivated me. And to be a good academic, you have to love what you're studying because the number of hours you're spending kind of on these tiny, what can seem like tiny issues. You go deep as an academic. Very different than my job in Congress, where it's often about the breath of the issues that I'm studying.
I took Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy class, it met at 8:00 a.m. It was my third year of law school, and I can still tell you, I sat in the front row next to my friend Barb, and you could feel when Elizabeth arrived. You didn't need to turn around. You could just feel the energy come into the room. And she was a terrific teacher. The first day lecture she gave is still really important to me, I have the notes from that first day lecture. I give a version of that first day lecture in my own bankruptcy classes when I teach. But what she talked about that first day is something that I'm still talking about today in Congress. With folks like Jamie Dimon, which is, what do we do in a capitalist economy with the fact that there are both ups and downs? So, capitalism does a great job of rewarding risk taking, of rewarding those who are successful of incentivizing that. But nothing about capitalism inherently tells us what we do when people stumble, when people take bad risks, when there are downturns. And there's that volatility aspect to capitalism that is part of its genius, but we do have to grapple with that downside.
CHRIS HAYES: It's funny you say that. I want to talk more about what Warren was like as a professor, but I just was reading, the New Yorker did a profile of Alan Dershowitz.
KATIE PORTER: I also had him.
CHRIS HAYES: You did, right, of course, it's a small world.
Get the think newsletter.
KATIE PORTER: I will not give him rave reviews. He gave me my only B, and I'm still bitter.
CHRIS HAYES: Oh, that's amazing.
KATIE PORTER: That B stands for bitter.
CHRIS HAYES: But there's this line in there that was just to me sort of perfectly embodied this, the kind of “too big to fail logic of American capitalism,” cushions for people at the top and nothing for people at the bottom, which is that Jeffrey Epstein convinces some hedge fund manager he knows to let Dershowitz park a little money in the hedge fund even though he doesn't have quite enough that would normally go in. And then said hedge fund has huge losses in a year. And Epstein calls the manager to ream him out and basically being like, “You're making Alan whole.” And I just thought to myself, man, is there ever a more perfect microcosm of the way it actually functions at the top. Which is that, if you get caught up in the housing bust, through no fault of your own, you’re SOL, but if you're a well-connected Harvard law professor who gets his investment wiped out, the hedge fund manager refunds you.
KATIE PORTER: There's actually something really fundamental there that I've grappled with a lot in my work as consumer advocate and working on issues like credit card fees and payday lending and student loan debt and all of these issues, which is that, it is a fundamental human impulse that people don't like the feel cheated. But if you really want to see fury about being cheated or losing money or being on the downside of capitalism, it's when people at the top have that experience. I remember when I was working for our now Sen. Kamala Harris, but our then attorney general, and I was working on the mortgage foreclosures across California and trying to help families either navigate to relief or make the hard decision to let the home go.
A lot of these families have been struggling for two years, three years, four years to hang on to this house. They knew if they let this one go, they might never become homeowners again. And those families were always ... as much as the banks were wronging them, they had a lot of empathy for, you'd say “you got to fill the paperwork out again, I'm so sorry, the bank has lost it again or they want more documentation. We'll help you with the forms.” And then I would get these calls for these sort of like hedge fund managers in La Jolla, or Marin and they would be like, "I'm underwater on my third home and what are you going to about it?"
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah.
KATIE PORTER: One of the things about the depth of the recession and with the foreclosure crisis, was that it really did touch a group of people who really hadn't had economic hardship before. And they didn't like it very much. And I think that was part of how we generated the momentum to enact the Dodd Frank Law, was that there was the sense that this economic recession was so big and so sweeping that it didn't just hurt first time home buyers, it didn't just hurt low income communities, it actually resulted in massive losses for those kinds of titans of the banking industry.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, it's a great point. There's a lot of anger at the big banks from people with a lot of money and social capital. That they felt like they had been screwed by the big banks.
KATIE PORTER: No, I mean when we had our hearing with the big banks, I actually thought that my Republican colleagues and with Wells Fargo in particular, I actually thought some of my Republican colleagues were significantly harder on the banks than my Democratic colleagues. It was sort of eye opening to me.
CHRIS HAYES: Did Warren become kind of a mentor? It's interesting to hear you talk about this because what you're talking about are some of the same things obviously that she worked on and both from the consumer finance and bankruptcy. Clearly that class really influenced you.
KATIE PORTER: Absolutely and I went on to teach that area of law. She did become a mentor to me. I helped gather the data, I flew around the country helping to gather the data that ultimately was used by Elizabeth and some of her colleagues to write the study on bankruptcies that are related to medical illness and injury and medical debt. So, it was incredibly important. She's a wonderful, wonderful teacher, a wonderful mentor. I mean, my daughter is named Elizabeth, I mean, we're close.
CHRIS HAYES: Have you endorsed her?
KATIE PORTER: I have not.
CHRIS HAYES: Huh, why not?
KATIE PORTER: Because I'm also very, very close to Kamala and Kamala is my California senator. She represents me and the United States Senate. And I'm very proud of both of them. And I would be delighted to endorse them both right this very minute. But they are really both dead serious about their capacity, their desire, their willingness to lead this country forward, and I have tremendous respect for both of them.
CHRIS HAYES: So you then become a law professor yourself, right?
KATIE PORTER: Yes, I became a law professor.
CHRIS HAYES: And your area of research is what?
KATIE PORTER: Is bankruptcy and commercial law. And then ultimately consumer law and I remember at the time I was getting ready to become a law professor. It was about 2004, 2005, the economy's booming, everything's great. Nothing to see here, says Al Greenspan over and over again. I remember telling Elizabeth that I wanted to teach consumer law. And she said, that's not really a thing. There isn't really a field there, there aren't any scholars, no one really does that. That has changed and the recession of course helped that change. But this idea of kind of understanding our rights as consumers, I think is on the upswing. I think you see it with people's reactions to both the Equifax and the Capital One data privacy breaches. I think you increasingly see people bringing a kind of consumer mindset to healthcare. Like, I paid this premium and you don't cover my claims. That's wrong. This kind of identity as a consumer was on the wane sort of in the '90s. That wasn't a way that people thought about themselves. They were more caught up in thinking about themselves as employees, as women or men and sort of these other kinds of social movements. But I think the recession really triggered this new sense of identity that being a consumer is one of the most fundamental ways that we engage with our society and with our economy.
CHRIS HAYES: And then you decided to engage with society by running for office. And I want to talk about the decision to do that right after this.
You ever think about politics or running for office during your time as a law professor?
KATIE PORTER: I never thought about running for office until Donald Trump was elected. I thought several times, and I was invited several times, to go to Washington to work with Elizabeth. I was invited by Elizabeth to come work with her when she started the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I interviewed for a job at the Federal Reserve to be in charge of their consumer affairs. So the idea of doing policy work was definitely something I had thought about. But I always thought that I would apply for this job and be selected on merit or I would be appointed. But the idea of being a candidate, and being kind of popularly elected, was completely foreign to me.
CHRIS HAYES: Where were you teaching law?
KATIE PORTER: At the University of California Irvine, which is the area I still represent.
CHRIS HAYES: So you live in or around Irvine now.
KATIE PORTER: Yup.
CHRIS HAYES: Donald Trump's elected, you're a professor there, you had done some work for the Attorney General of California, Kamala Harris. I'm so curious about that mental journey from, "I never thought about running for office" to "I'm going to do it."
KATIE PORTER: It's funny, on the campaign trail I didn't get asked about this often, and I didn't really tell the story, the intimate story of kind of how I personally made this decision until election night. On election night, we were losing. We continued to lose for the next day or two, five days, six days. I was still losing about day, I don't know, eight or nine or 10.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, you were one of the last ones to come in.
KATIE PORTER: Yeah, I think I was the third last race in the country to be called. It just took a long time. There were a lot of ballots and very high turnout. But because I was talking to this audience of people who had worked so hard to get me elected, and they were so disappointed that we were behind on election night. I'm not sure anybody really paid attention as I was telling them very heartfelt personal things about how I came to this decision. But my attitude after the election was really, "Well, I'll wait." I will wait four years. I can wait. Maybe Elizabeth will run for president or maybe Kamala will appoint me to something or maybe I'll decide I want to be a judge. We'll just see what the universe holds, but my job as a citizen, as somebody with policy knowledge and expertise was just to wait for the call, to wait for the opportunity.
I remember talking about this with my boyfriend, and he just looked at me like I was nuts. And he was like, "Why would you ever wait around for somebody else to make it possible for you to make a difference? If you want to make a difference, go do it. Why are you waiting for, even these amazing women like Elizabeth or Kamala to enable you? You have that capacity in you, you should run for office." That was really the epiphany, and I knew who our congressperson was, but I literally started by kind of googling how much she'd won by and I was like, “Oh, 17 points. Oh, that does not seem close.”
CHRIS HAYES: That's not promising.
KATIE PORTER: I was not a political expert but even to me, I do understand math. I was like, “Wow, 17 points.” But I also knew living in this area, and running this huge Cub Scout pack, which I absolutely love doing and three kids in school here, and teaching and teaching at the largest employer in the area, I just had a real sense that my friends and neighbors and the students of this area, weren't a good fit for kind of ‘Donald Trump's America.’ And that of course, once the election returns fully came in, and we had the district by district analysis, we learned that Hillary Clinton had actually carried this district by five points. That was sort of the opening when I went to kind of start my race. People said it was hopeless. People continued to say it was hopeless right until I had I won. I mean, while the ballots were being counted my opponent was still whipping votes to be the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee.
CHRIS HAYES: That's amazing.
KATIE PORTER: While I was beating her. Meanwhile, what was I doing? I was cleaning my house. Because there was nothing else to do, and my house was a mess after two years of campaigning.
CHRIS HAYES: Could we go back to that moment where your boyfriend says, “Why shouldn't you?” To me there's so much there about gender and running for office. I mean, all these sorts of studies about “what are the impediments to more women running for office and being elected?” And there's lots, there's things having to do with social capital and donor networks. But there just seems like there's a lot of like the structured and gendered acculturation of women to think about what their own ambition should be is a big part of the story as well. And it's just so interesting to me, your boyfriend being like, "No, you should run." That kind of, I don't know for lack of a better word, culturally cultivated male hubris.
KATIE PORTER: No, but it's true.
CHRIS HAYES: It seems like a big part of what goes into making these intimate decisions that are really difficult about running for office that end up with these crazy gender disparities.
KATIE PORTER: Well, I think being a candidate much more than other things I had done, law professors particularly in commercial law and business law, that's very male dominated. I had been in this kind of male dominated field. When Elizabeth Warren left academics to go into government, I mean that was like a quarter of the women law professors of bankruptcy at the top of the field went away. It was a noticeable suck kind of outward of women in leadership there. I think being a candidate is a kind of personal vulnerability and standing up, and I think it felt to me like I was asking people to think I was best. And instead, my job as a woman was to show people that I was the best. It was just to do the best work. It was just to write the best article or work the hardest. But this idea of being a candidate is a lot about standing up and affirmatively saying-
CHRIS HAYES: I'm the best.
KATIE PORTER: I am the best. And that felt uncomfortable to me. It wasn't that I didn't think I was good or talented or hadn't worked hard, it was just that there's a kind of declarative aspect of being a candidate that I think can be kind of culturally uncomfortable for women. And I think we're pushing back at that a lot or understanding more. But we know for women that most women don't run unless they're asked to run, unless they're told to run. This doesn't come to them as a bolt of lightning. I do think we're seeing that change. But for me there was something about ... I remember someone saying to me like, "Don't you think you're better than your opponent?" And I was like, "Yeah." And they were like, "Well then why are you so worried about the outcome of this election?" Right, and of course I could give them many answers like, "I represent more Republicans than I do Democrats, and I'm a Democrat.” That would seem like a good reason to be worried.
I had other real reasons to be worried. The country had just elected Donald Trump, and I'm running on a campaign that is about standing up to Donald Trump. So I mean, I think I had some legitimate anxieties. But some of it was kind of personal at the end.
CHRIS HAYES: You have three kids, and you've got a job and you're running for Congress. What surprised you most about campaigning?
KATIE PORTER: I think how fun it is actually. There are aspects of it that are not fun. There's just no way around the fact that raising the money particularly as first-time candidate, particularly as a woman, particularly as someone from modest means. I meant that just requires a grueling amount of effort. But I think it was really how much fun it was to learn and how much I learned on the campaign trail. Here I was kind of an expert in consumer bankruptcy and consumer law and mortgage servicing and these things, and then all of a sudden, as a candidate I'm having to learn a whole bunch about things like, project labor agreements and workforce agreements and Davis-Bacon labor statutes. And environmental issues and issues in healthcare and foreign policy.
All of the people and I'm fortunate to represent an incredibly well-educated, incredibly talented community. And so all of those people who stepped up to teach me and educate me, not only about what they know professionally, but about their own life experiences, and what their life experiences have taught them. I just soaked up all that knowledge and really loved it.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah. That does sound fun. Yeah, you sort of mentioned parenthetically a few sentences ago about a campaign that was sort of focused on standing up to Trump. And there's sort of interesting conversation that’s happening now, in Democratic politics about to sort of oversimplify this kind of balance between focusing on kitchen table issues as people sort of invoke. You know “We're going to protect your healthcare, and here's how we're going to deliver a better life for you and your family” versus mounting a resistance to this president and all he represents and wants to do…and how you struck that balance in the messaging in your own race?
KATIE PORTER: I think a lot that kind of how I think about that just grows out of my work. I have spent my career thinking about how hard it is for families to make ends meet and why that is. How they cope when they do struggle, how we can better help them avoid getting into those situations. I thought about that in my own life. How am I going to make ends meet after my divorce? Having two households to kind of support. Things like that and so I think from my position on the Financial Services Committee with the questioning that I've done of folks like Jamie Dimon at J.P. Morgan Chase, of Ben Carson at HUD, of the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I've really shown that I get the economic struggles, the financial struggles, and the personal fears that people have about whether they're going to be able to hang on. Whether they'll be able to retire, whether there's going to be a good job waiting for children.
I get those things on a very personal level and also from my professional work. And I see those struggles as about what kind of economy are we going to have for our kids? What kind of opportunities are we going to have? How are we going to take care of our seniors in this next generation as the baby boomers, this huge generation of people, retire? I don't see those things as different necessarily from resisting Trump. But some- many- of the actions that President Trump is taking are really setting back American families. So, driving up the deficit is a huge problem for the next generation. Some of these trade wars are causing families to feel a lot of financial pain.
The failure, utter failure, of Betsy DeVos to do anything competent at the Department of Education is creating a lot of hardship around student loans. I see kind of resisting Trump as resisting some of the economic hardship that his presidency is creating.
CHRIS HAYES: And that's been very clear I think in your so far brief, but I think quite, if I may say, impressive Congressional career. But when you were running ... if you said to me, if I got in an elevator with candidate Katie Porter and you were giving me your 60 second pitch to me sort of undecided voter, what was the Katie Porter message?
KATIE PORTER: I think it was one of standing up to special interests. Of really being kind of from the middle class and for the middle class. So just really understanding that I get what it's like to make ends meet. I understand that this is hard. I understand that sometimes corporations are making this harder for us. I've gone toe to toe, and you heard both Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris say this, and it's true about both of them, and it's also true about me. I'll never forget when I worked for Kamala, the first meeting I had with Bank of America. And it was in Los Angeles, and I had been appointed to help with this mortgage foreclosure settlement and help make sure families got help.
And at the time, I had been on the job like maybe a week and a half. I had zero staff, and the Department of Justice in California was still trying to figure out how they were going to get me a budget and things like this. And Bank of America wants to have a meeting. So I say to the only staff I have at that time, who is my assistant, my secretary, who is a five foot Vietnamese young woman, "Lynn, you're coming with me to meet with Bank of America." And she said, "But I don't know anything about banking." And I said, "They don't have to know that. Don't say anything. It's just important that we ... they're going to have 10 people...
CHRIS HAYES: You can't show up solo, dude, yeah exactly.
KATIE PORTER: ... around this conference table and we have to bring a little strength." So here we come these two women into the meeting with all of these banking executives, and we came out the winner.
CHRIS HAYES: It's a funny thing about adulthood that I’ve realized, it's like how many people you have at the meeting matter a lot. It's a real power thing about if you're solo versus three people, but if you bring three people and they only have two. It does really matter to have a little backup.
KATIE PORTER: Oh, I mean this is the entire story of Congress, right? I mean this is deeply important to understanding how Congress really functions. Which is like things where you sit and how many years you've been there and these things all matter. And how many members are on this committee. And the number of votes and things like this. I mean, it's interesting because I think I really focused my energy on the questioning that I do in the hearings. And part of the reason for that is a lot of these other tools to help people are driven by seniority. And I don't have any.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, that's a good point. Everyone gets to question, not everyone gets to do a lot of other things because of that seniority.
KATIE PORTER: Everyone gets the five minutes. And if you've been on the committee 30 years, you get five minutes. If you've been on the committee 30 days, you get five minutes. And so this I saw as the real opportunity I had to kind of find my voice, to ask the questions that I thought were on the minds of my constituents and American families and to kind of push on some of the things that I had think are wrong or we need to be addressing or we need to be thinking more about and grappling with.
CHRIS HAYES: You know what's really interesting? As I sit here and listen to you and your sort of theory of the case here and thinking about Max Rose... one of the things that I think ends up happening in political commentary is sort of a fight over there being one true way vis-a-vis political messaging. One true way for the Democratic Party or any party to sort of pursue its both communication efforts and it's governing agenda, and it's just interesting. Max Rose and you are both are fresh members of Congress, you both flipped districts, your district was a Hillary district, his was Trump but you both had to take out Republican incumbents. You're both Frontline members of Congress. You're going to have a tough re-elect probably, it'll be contested most likely.
And you have very different ways of approaching that, both of which seem affective in their own right. You represent different constituencies and you're different people with different life experiences, and it just strikes me how much we focus on, oh there's got to be one way to do this. But listening to you just makes me realize that that's maybe not the case- that you've got a very authentic vision of how this works that fits your community quite well that might be different than every other one of the 30 Frontline members.
KATIE PORTER: Well, I think actually, Max is good friend of mine in Congress, and I can tell you why. It's because Max is Max.
CHRIS HAYES: Exactly, yes.
KATIE PORTER: And I am Katie Porter.
CHRIS HAYES: And that's what I mean. What you are describing and the way you went into that race is, here's my experience and here's what I believe in and here's my theory of the case that really matches who I am and what I believe in. And Max I think did very much the same thing in his New York district. In either case, both of you ran races that were authentic to really what you do believe and how you see the world and sold that to your district.
KATIE PORTER: Yeah and I think that's one of the reasons that we work well together in Congress. I mean, Max takes votes sometimes and I'm like, what are you doing? And he feels the same way about me. But the reason that Max and I work so well together, I think is two things. One is that we're very comfortable with who we are. We have lived our lives, we have had these kinds of interesting experiences, and Max's personal story of military service is different than my story, but we're really comfortable talking about what we've gone through, what we've learned, the challenges we faced, and why we think that we can use those experiences to represent people well in Congress.
The second thing about Max that I do think is a common thread across a lot of the freshman class, that was talked about a lot when we were being elected and then suddenly when we got to Washington, is being reported on a lot less, and that is standing up to corporations. The anti-corruption platform. The not taking corporate PAC money. I mean, Max and I talk about those issues, we approach things like prescription drug pricing and some of those things from a very, very similar position. Which is, we believe that we need powerful, fearless voices who will argue for what is right, not for what is easy. And we've had experiences in our lives where we've had to do that.
Even though they're very different experiences, there's kind of a feistiness, kind of a populism, kind of an energy to Max and me temperamentally that makes us actually I think, two of the more similar members, even though there are aspects of our lives and of our races and of the areas that we represent that are very different.
CHRIS HAYES: I think we played this video on our show of you coming out in favor of an impeachment inquiry and you were one of the first Frontline members to come out. Tell me about the thinking that went into that.
KATIE PORTER: Really for me it was reading the Mueller report. And I really didn't think about or talk about impeachment at all in my campaign — it didn't come up. My view is it would be absolutely inappropriate to presume the findings or not that Mueller may make. And until the Mueller report came up, I just viewed this as completely premature. I had no comment other than to say I supported the special counsel having independent authority to conduct the investigation, and I had confidence in him. After the report came out and he read it, I began to look at the Constitution and start to kind of think about what does it really say about impeachment, what does it mean to begin an impeachment inquiry. What's my role in this in the House of Representatives?
I just felt like I needed to be… once my mind was made up that impeachment was appropriate, I felt that I absolutely needed to be honest with my constituents about that. I definitely represent an area where not everyone agrees with me. That is true on every issue. But it's true on impeachment. I have Democrats who are opposed to impeachment in my district. And I have some Republicans who are for it. I mean, people are struggling with a lot of these issues across traditional party lines. So for my ask to my constituents was not that they agree with me, but that they hear me out. That they listen to what I'm saying, that they respect that I have really grappled with this, and I am really trying to do what I think is the right thing to do for our country. It really boils down to the Mueller report is very clear that there is substantial evidence of four or more acts of obstruction of justice.
I thought a lot about what a high crime and misdemeanor was, the history of the impeachment statute, the kind of building blocks of our democracy. And I think obstruction of justice, particularly multiple instances of it, is really, really a terrible offense for a president who's charged with safeguarding our democracy to have engaged in.
CHRIS HAYES: It's interesting you put it that way because I think one thing that happens in politics is people have their private views and their public views. And I just think it's-
KATIE PORTER: I can't do that for better or worse.
CHRIS HAYES: I think it's just dangerous for a space to open up too far. The other thing I will say, I think people have a lot of cynicism about politicians but actually a thing that people under count as a theory of why politicians do the things they do is that they actually believe in it. I see people all the time imputing to politicians like they're not saying this because they want to get re-elected. It may just be that that's what they think on this topic. I'm curious what you think because you're someone who is fresh on Capitol Hill. Your read on the degree to which... has anything surprised you or challenged the mental model that you had going in of how members of Congress make decisions, what sort of confluence of factors determine their positions and what you've actually seen up close?
KATIE PORTER: I think impeachment is actually a good example of people coming out really because they believed it.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, right, agree.
KATIE PORTER: That has taken different people different amounts of time. And that's because people make decisions differently, people consume information differently. Most of those decisions have been driven by, at least the decisions that followed the Mueller report, have really been driven by people's convictions and their beliefs. Watching kind of what happened in the wake of the Mueller report with Trump directing witnesses not to appear before Congress, for example. I do think sometimes though in Congress, I am a little surprised by the degree to which people are nervous about challenging whatever the orthodoxy is. I guess for me, and this is something I think I have in common with Max Rose is, I didn't get here in an orthodox way. I never ran for office, I ran in this district where the incumbent had just, 17 points, 19 points, huge victories. I had a very, very tough primary. I was not endorsed by the Democratic Party in my primary. So I was actually uphill against the Democratic Party during my race.
The fact that then when they get to Washington, it's like some of those same independent, streaks of independent minds and independent candidates that I think helped create this big majority for the Democrats, some of those people now are like “What's the party position?” And I don't think that's probably a good idea, it just isn't how I personally work. I'm really interested in what's the right answer. I do think the Democratic Party has more right answers than the Republican Party, and that's why I'm a Democrat. But I had an interesting conversation with my colleague Justin Amash, who recently declared himself to be an Independent. I saw him and I said, "Justin, you look so happy." Because there are not a lot of happy faces on the floor of the House of Representatives. I said, "Justin, you look so happy." And he said, "I'm so happy." He said, "I can vote my conscience without having to feel that pressure to conform to the party."
So when I say to people in my campaign, I am willing to stand up to leaders of both parties, it is my preference that the Democratic Party leads us forward in a way that is about standing up to special interests, in a way that advances campaign finance reform, in a way that fights for meaningful prescription drug reform, in a way that champions our environment, that recognizes the important of jobs that pay. That will take on the banking system when they're trying to cheat consumers. But if the Democratic Party won't do that, then I will stand up to the Democratic Party. And that is that kind of streak of kind of stubbornness that probably partly grows out of my having been in these David versus Goliath battles with banks my whole career.
CHRIS HAYES: Katie Porter is a freshman Congresswoman from California's 45th district, which is around Irvine, California which is where she lives. Really great to get to know you a little better. Thank you so much for taking the time.
KATIE PORTER: Thank you.
CHRIS HAYES: Once again my great thanks to Congresswoman Katie Porter, you can type her name into YouTube and see some of those viral grillings that I talked about. I suppose if we were a different kind of podcast, we would just produce that for you. It occurred to me, I was sitting here in the intro and it occurred to me, should I play my phone into the microphone of her grilling Jamie Dimon? That seems like sort of a bad hack. So there's a way I think to do that. I don't know how any of these machines work. There's also a universe in which we were the kind of podcast that did that. Maybe that's the kind of the podcast we'll be in the future. Right now, Tiffany just rolled her eyes. Right now, we don't have a staff so it's hard to do that. I got to wrap this up so I can do our show. But great thanks to Congresswoman Katie Porter, who also waited around for 20 minutes of technical difficulties. I'm so sorry that was super embarrassing, sorry about that Congresswoman.
As always we love to hear your feedback, got great feedback from our conversation with Suketu Mehta on migration and people's migration stories. I was struck by the cord that that conversation struck with people, which I was really psyched to hear. I re-listened to it while I was on an electric scooter in Brooklyn, maybe not the safest, but I found it really moving to listen to him again. If you missed that last week, it's a really good conversation. Particularly, particularly germane in the wake of the mass murder that happened in El Paso. You can tweet us with the hashtag, WITHpod, you can send us emails at firstname.lastname@example.org, particularly if you want to annoy Tiffany Champion. Send a lot of those. In fact, if you have an email maybe just break it up line by line and just send each line as a separate email. Think it would really be appreciated in the old inbox there.
"Why Is This Happening?" is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the "All In" team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work including links to things we mentioned here by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening