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After historic Virginia win, a former CIA case officer goes to Washington

Among the record number of women elected to Congress last week is former CIA case officer Abigail Spanberger, who defeated two-term Republican Rep. Dave Brat in Virginia's 7th District. Rep.-elect Spanberger will become the first woman ever to represent the district and the first Democrat in nearly 50 years. She speaks with Judy Woodruff about her landmark victory and her Washington agenda.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, one race that was decided last Tuesday, Virginia's 7th Congressional District, where former CIA case officer Abigail Spanberger defeated two-term Republican Congressman Dave Brat.

    The district, in suburban Richmond, has not been held by a Democrat for almost 50 years. Spanberger will also be the first woman ever to represent the district.

    And she joins me now.

    Congratulations.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    Thank you very much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I have to say, many of us saw the photograph from the election night, your victory speech. It was a picture of you speaking, with your 4-year-old daughter crawling on the floor between your feet.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I guess that's a symbol of the kind of juggling act that you and others are going to be doing.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    Yes, absolutely.

    She was so excited. It was funny. I could hear my husband in the back trying to call for her, "Catherine, Catherine," but she was just so beyond excited that we had won, so…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you beat conservative David Brat, who was just elected four years ago. He had knocked to off a prominent, leading member of the House Republicans.

    What changed in your district in such a short time? What happened?

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    So, I think there's been a number of changes or shifts at play in our district.

    And I think first and foremost is the way that we campaigned. We got out in the community. For me, it was such a priority to really be accessible. For so long, that had been the criticism of my predecessors, is that they weren't accessible.

    And so we started by doing meet-and-greets in people's living rooms and dining rooms, just to talk to voters about the issues that were important to them. And that's how we conducted the entire campaign.

    I was present across our 10 counties as much as I could be, meeting voters, talking about the issues. And that's, from the beginning until the end of our campaign, really where our focus was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, accessibility more than issue — position on the issues? I mean, you're not nearly as conservative as he is.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    Well, that's true.

    And so I was talking about the issues. You know, when you're accessible and you're listening to people, then you have the chance to hear what's actually really important.

    And, in our district, like so many districts across the country, the top issues — I mean, the number one issue that people wanted to talk about was health care, the cost of prescription drug prices, the cost of their premiums. And so that was the issue that we were talking about.

    And in our district, we have some infrastructure issues, like lack of broadband Internet infrastructure in some of our rural counties. And people are concerned about educational opportunities that exist for their children. And so these are the things that I really made my priority.

    And as the district has changed — we have been redistricted a few times in the — recently — but there are some shifting demographics. But I think, overall, there has been a shift towards people really getting engaged in the political experience.

    And so we saw that with a tremendous number of volunteers. We had over 5,000 people registered to volunteer with our campaign. And I think that's really what drove us.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You said — you mentioned prescription drug prices. And you have listed some of the priorities. You said you have got — you will have when you come to Washington. You mentioned prescription drug prices, getting those prices down.

    You talked about infrastructure, building infrastructure. You also talked about campaign reform.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finance reform.

    But are those things that you think the other side, the other party, the Republicans, President Trump, are prepared to work with you on?

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    Well, so I would hope so, because our voters, in a historically Republican voting district, health care is the number one issue.

    And I have heard that from people across the spectrum, from districts that were solidly blue districts, to districts that were also tossup districts. And I think that really wrapping — wrapping our hands around the issue of prescription drug prices and the rising cost of premiums, and just the instability that exists in the health care market, is something that there's a mandate from voters for us to get together on this issue.

    And I think voters are tired of seeing people in Washington bicker along partisan lines, because the bottom line is, there are Republicans who cannot afford their prescription drug prices, just as the same as there are Democrats. And it's something that, if we're really trying to meet the needs of the American people, that's something that both parties should be willing to try and find common ground on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the things you have got to resolve, though, before you work with the other party is who's going to be the leader of the Democratic Party in the House. You have said that you are not prepared to support Nancy Pelosi for speaker.

    You have said you want a leader who can represent the full House, make progress for the American people. My question is, who can fill that job?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If not Nancy Pelosi, who is it? Who are — name one or two people.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    You know, and it's interesting. So I have tremendous respect for everything that Nancy Pelosi has done as a representative of her district, as a prior speaker of the House, and certainly as a leader of the Democratic Party.

    But I think that what we needed in Washington, and what we have had is a — we have a shift in new voices arriving in Washington at the lowest levels. And I think that, at the highest level, we also need a shift in the direction of the conversation. And that starts with changing the people who are directing that conversation.

    In terms of who would actually be next in line, no one has stepped forward at this point in time saying that they're going to run against her. So that makes that question a little bit harder to answer. But I think, in a vibrant House of Representatives, and certainly within a vibrant Democratic Party, there should be strong people who could step forward and who could usher in a new era, as we're pivoting with all of these new — these new members coming in.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're just days away from having to have a vote on this, having to figure it out.

    Is there — are there no names out there that you would be prepared to support?

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    I have not yet been made aware of anyone who is — who's intending to run, apart from Leader Pelosi.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the other thing, another point you made in this — after this — or after the election, you said Democrats shouldn't appear to be to partisan.

    I guess my question is, do you think that you shouldn't stand…

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is a president who is known for using very tough rhetoric, going right for the jugular in talking about Democrats.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Are you saying you should turn the other cheek?

    I mean, what should the approach be for Democrats?

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    I think it's the difference between offensive and defensive.

    I think, when we're looking at trying to solve problems, we need to talk about these issues that are impacting our communities and our districts as issues that impact the American people, like prescription drug costs and other related issues.

    When we're talking about upholding American values, when we're talking about who it is that we are as a people, that doesn't necessarily have to be partisan. I think that one of the things that in our district people are very tired of is the lack of civility and decency in politics.

    And so I think it's incredibly important that we stand up for our ideals, we stand up against attacks on the foundational principles of who we are, a free press, freedom of expression, freedom for people to be who they are, and certainly attacks on the intelligence community, and all of these things that we have seen in this shifting world that we're in.

    But it doesn't always have to be an us vs. them. It has to be that this is who we are, and we need to stand up for it, as opposed to a left vs. right, or Republicans vs. Democrats. It should be American values that we all stand up for.

    And, frankly, at this point, a lot of the loudest voices standing up for those values are Democrats. But turning everything into a partisan battle, I think, is where certain groups start to shut off, and it becomes a little bit less effective.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about — well, in connection with that, a lot of talk about investigating the president, ethical and other misdeeds, alleged misdeeds on the part of the president, his family members of the administration.

    Where do you stand on that? A lot of Democrats are saying that's part of the responsibility of this new Congress.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    So, Congress has a variety of responsibilities, legislating, representing the people in their districts, and certainly being a check and balance on the executive branch.

    And so I think it's an incredibly important role that every member of Congress should be ready to play. And I think, in terms of particular discussions related to investigations that may move forward or may be suggested, the question there for me is, what's the goal?

    And I think that, is the goal understanding something that happened, so that we can avoid it from happening again? Is it — is it upholding the rule of law? All of those are sorts of questions that I think we need to be, as Democrats in the majority, ready to answer, because I think the most detrimental thing would be if it looks as though we're being hyperpartisan in our efforts to potentially pursue any investigations, as opposed to being driven by a desire to uphold the rule of law, being driven by a desire to ensure that particular things don't occur again, such as potential Russian meddling in our elections or something like that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It doesn't sound like you're ready to impeach the president.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    If — I have not yet been presented with descriptions of impeachable offenses, so not yet, no.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congresswoman-elect Abigail Spanberger from Virginia, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Rep.-Elect Abigail Spanberger:

    Thank you very much for having me.

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