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Monday, March 6, 2023

Lauren Underwood: The Personal Cost of Public Service

 At WP, Ruby Cramer has a remarkable portrait of Rep. Lauren Underwood  (D-IL):   (h/t Cheryl Bonner)

Was this what she signed up for?

Not exactly. But Lauren Underwood was here to do the job, and today, on a Friday at 11 p.m., the job was to sit in the House chamber and to wait, alert, present, attentive, for her name to be called near the end of the alphabet. So that’s what she did. She had her navy-blue blanket draped over her legs. She had cough drops and hard candy in her bag. Underwood came 405th in line, about 40 minutes into each roll call, after four Johnsons, four Smiths, three Thompsons and two Torreses. Fourteen rounds of votes and still no speaker of the House. Four days of anxiety and confusion, waiting to be sworn in. It occurred to her early on that week that the world was watching, and that Congress was not exactly putting its best foot forward. There was a grimness haunting the place. It was not a happy scene. Underwood scrolled through text messages on her phone. Across the aisle sat the new Republican majority. She heard murmurs. Then she heard yelling. The word “combustible” came to mind. She turned and saw two colleagues about to lay hands on one another — an almost-fight breaking out in the House chamber. Was she surprised? After four years in this job, no, not really. She looked back down at her phone and fired off a skull emoji to her sister. One more vote and then she could begin her third term in Congress.


 But she was 36 years old now. She was single. She wanted kids. She dated, but life with a member of Congress, she knew, was “not for everyone.” Like a lot of women, she had mapped out what it would mean to raise a child on her own. She had researched the costs of fertility treatments, the timeline she’d need to follow, the financial reality of paying for full-time child care on top of not just one home, in Illinois, but also an apartment in Washington, on a salary of $174,000. Like a lot of women her age, Underwood said, she had health complications that put her “firmly, permanently,” in a “high, high, high risk category” for pregnancy. She knew all the data, all the risks, in part because she had made Black maternal health her signature legislation in Congress. Like a lot of women, Underwood had made sacrifices for her work.