Want Proof the Resistance Will Last? Meet the 33-Year-Old Former Nurse Turned House Democrat

Rep. Lauren Underwood is young, gifted, Black and flipped a Trump district

A new documentary, “Surge,” released this week follows three Democratic women who were part of the wave of female candidates running for office in 2018.

Unlike “Knock Down the House,” the Netflix doc that followed women taking on the Democratic establishment in 2018, Wendy Sachs and Hannah Rosenzweig (who both directed the film) set out to feature Democratic women out to flip GOP-held seats. They followed Lauren Underwood in Illinois’ 14th District, Jana Lynne Sanchez in Texas’ 6th District, and Liz Watson in Indiana’s 9th.

Both Sanchez and Watson lost in districts that Trump won by 12 and 27 points respectively. Underwood, however, defeated a four-term incumbent Republican in a district Trump won by four points. She became the first woman to represent her district and the youngest Black woman to serve in Congress, which is significant given that the 14th district covers the western suburbs of Chicago and is 85 percent white.

As a registered nurse, Underwood made health care one of the main themes of her campaign. In addition to her nursing degree, Underwood holds two Master’s Degrees from Johns Hopkins University and focused her career on health care policy. She served as a senior advisor at the Department of Health and Human Services helping to implement the Affordable Care Act.

Underwood is a force in Congress, part of a wave of women elected in 2018. In fact, Underwood produced a video capturing all the Congressional class accomplished in their first 100 days. She also sat down with Rep. John Lewis (as the youngest and oldest members of the Black Caucus) to discuss the importance of Black History Month.

Underwood first came to my attention during the inquiry into the Trump administration’s family separation policy. She posed the important questions to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen about its physical and mental health effects on children.

Two days after the sixth child died in U.S. custody, Underwood posed those same questions to Neilsen’s successor, Kevin McAleenan. He became even more combative and Underwood ended by saying, “The evidence is really clear that this is intentional…It’s a policy choice being made on purpose by this administration, and it’s cruel and inhumane.” Republicans erupted and her remarks were removed from the record. But since then, we’ve learned that she was right.

Newly obtained government documents reveal that the underlying intent of the Trump administration’s brutal practice of separating migrant families at the border was, in fact, to deter additional immigration and asylum petitions. This is significant, because Trump administration officials have earlier claimed that the forcible separations were mandated by law (thus necessitating congressional action to end the policy) or compelled by “national security” concerns. We now know neither of these purported justifications is true—this was nothing short of a deliberate policy choice to brutalize parents and their children in order to stop others from seeking refuge in the United States.

Freshman Democrats like Underwood haven’t received as much media attention as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, but they are just as noteworthy. First of all, they are the ones whose election gave Democrats control of the House by defeating incumbent Republicans. Most of them did so by defending Obamacare. That is even more important in 2020 when opposition to the ACA  has become a political liability for GOP incumbents.

Public sentiment about Obamacare has shifted considerably during the Trump administration after Republicans tried but failed to repeal it. Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, and the loss of health insurance for millions of people, health care is a key issue for voters.

Finally, as women of all races and classes organized to form the resistance following Trump’s election, there was some chatter about whether the movement would have staying power. The Democratic women who won in 2018 and are now serving in the House (including Underwood) suggest that it does. Forecasts show that the number of women running in 2020 will surpass the record set in 2018.

Every day Donald Trump does something to remind these women why they can’t keep quiet.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.