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9 questions for Sarah McBride as she launches a historic campaign

America’s first trans state senator is running for Congress.

Sarah McBride is on the right of the photo, speaking at a podium with a line of people behind her holding signs supporting trans rights, and the Capitol in the background.
Sarah McBride, then the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, speaking at the US Capitol in 2019.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Christian Paz is a senior politics reporter at Vox, where he covers the Democratic Party. He joined Vox in 2022 after reporting on national and international politics for the Atlantic’s politics, global, and ideas teams, including the role of Latino voters in the 2020 election.

She’s already the highest-ranking openly transgender elected official in the country, but Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride wants to soon clear a new bar — by getting elected to Congress next year.

McBride would become the first trans person to do so, if she wins the campaign she announced on Monday for Delaware’s sole House seat.

Though the primary is expected to be contested, she enters the race as the favorite, with the backing of labor organizers and national Democratic groups, as well as Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings and scores of state politicians. Boosting her in-state name recognition and national brand are her ties to the White House and the Bidens — she worked on the campaign of President Joe Biden’s son Beau when he ran for attorney general, interned in the Obama White House, and had the foreword to her memoir written by the president himself in 2018 (Biden has not endorsed McBride or any other candidate in the race).

I spoke with McBride on the day of her campaign launch — which coincided with the anniversary of several key dates in the struggle for equality and queer rights. McBride is running as an openly trans person during a wave of unprecedented legal attacks against trans and other queer people in Republican-dominated states, and as Americans’ acceptance of same-sex relationships wavers.

“It’s important for all of us to remember that progress is not linear. It happens in fits and starts and sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back,” McBride told me. “Yes, there are some elements that are worse now than they were five or 10 years ago. But by every measure, we have made progress since the start of this movement and we can never forget that. I have seen too much change in my own life to not respect how far we’ve come.”

I asked McBride nine questions about her campaign, her policy goals, and her hopes for 2024 and beyond. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

1. So tell me — what are you hearing from voters?

Certainly one of the top issues I hear about consistently is the need for government to do more for workers and families, especially when they hit hard times, even before Covid — certainly since Covid — and the challenges facing caregivers in our state, from new parents to adults caring for aging parents, to spouses looking out for one another through illness and health challenges. I’ve consistently heard that we need to do more to help people take care of themselves and their family members.

That’s why in the Delaware General Assembly, I led the charge to pass paid family and medical leave. When we started that process, political observers said it would take a decade or more to bring together Democrats and Republicans, unions and small business owners, to get it done. We were able to get it done in two years. But ultimately, I believe that to address the challenges facing workers and families, we need federal action.

2. What have you learned from your campaigns and from other trans representatives’ campaigns for the statehouse around the country?

The main thing that I’ve taken away from my campaigns, in my time in public office, is that we do genuinely have much more in common than divides us. That we share common hopes and aspirations and in our state of neighbors here in Delaware.

The second thing I’d say is that whenever a candidate like me declares for an office, political observers will sometimes question whether it’s possible. And we’ve seen that time and time again in blue districts and purple districts. We’ve seen it in big states and small states. We’ve seen it for state House and state Senate. And what I’ve seen is that voters are fair-minded. They are judging candidates based on their ideas, not their identities.

I think it undersells and undervalues voters to think that they care more about my gender than they do which candidate will actually deliver for them.

There’s no question that we are at a particularly critical moment for vulnerable communities in our country, and Republican politicians, in an effort to distract from their policy failures and complete lack of agenda, have focused in on transgender people as their scapegoat.

I’m eager to talk with voters up and down the state, to introduce myself to those who I haven’t had a chance to meet yet, for them to learn more about me, and yes, to have the opportunity to bring my whole self to Congress that includes my identity, but it also includes my life experience. It includes my policy chops. It includes my time serving as a caregiver to my husband during his battle with terminal cancer. We are all a collection of the experiences and identities we bring to the table.

3. What are the policy priorities that you have spent time thinking about, or pushing so far?

First, government needs to do a lot more to help workers and families get through hard times — whether that’s the challenging joys of raising a child or the terror of a serious illness — which is why as a member of Congress I’ll prioritize building on policies like paid family and medical leave.

To ensure that Delawareans across our state have access to affordable childhood education is really going to require federal investment. [We should also] lower the cost of prescription drugs and expand access to health care, which is work I’ve done as the Senate health and social services committee chair. Also, recognize that we have to do all we can to keep our communities safe and to uphold our rights, which is why I’ll fight for access to reproductive health care in Congress like I have in the Senate. It’s why I’ll champion gun safety legislation, as I have done in the state Senate.

And it’s why I’ll also make sure that all of us are kept safe by protecting our planet through meaningful policies to combat climate change.

4. Where do you consider yourself on the political spectrum? Would you consider yourself a centrist Blue Dog? Would you consider joining the Squad, an ultra-progressive?

I will be Sarah McBride in Congress. I’m going to be myself, and there’s no other way I can be. I think we have to reject the false notion that we have to choose between being bold and building bridges.

5. How would you grade President Biden’s first term so far?

President Biden has been an exceptional president. He has been exactly the person that we need at this moment to get our country back on track.

Now, three years into his term, we have the largest investment in our infrastructure since the 1950s, done on a bipartisan basis. We have the most significant gun safety legislation passed on a bipartisan basis since the 1990s, the largest expansion of health care since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and of course, the most significant investment in combating climate change in our nation’s history. That is a record that Democrats should be proud of.

Now, of course, there’s unfinished work. There were certainly elements of Build Back Better that didn’t pass. And I’m confident that the president is going to be running his reelection campaign, in large part, on passing those policies. I’m eager, as someone who has long worked with President Biden and worked with his son, our late Attorney General Beau Biden, to cast my vote in Congress to bring over the finish line those critical policies for families and workers across the country.

Sounds like you’re endorsing him?

Without hesitation and absolutely.

6. You do have a long history with the Bidens, including the president. Have you thought at all about what 2024 might mean for your race, in terms of Republicans trying to exploit your relationship with the president?

I’m proud that the president has never wavered in his clear commitment to equality for the entirety of the LGBTQ community and I’ve been moved every time the president talks about our friendship in public. I am confident that voters are going to see any attacks by Republicans to try to weaponize the president’s friendship with someone like me as cold-hearted, cruel, and once more a distraction from issues that voters actually care about.

So if Republicans seek to do that, I think voters will once again collectively shrug at the Republicans’ attempt to weaponize a vulnerable community for their own political gain. And once again, they will see that it’s not an effective strategy come Election Day.

7. At a time when trans rights are under assault and Republican lawmakers are using pretty charged rhetoric, have you given much thought to working with them in Congress?

I’ve certainly thought about what it’s going to be like to work with the full range of talent that exists in Congress, both those with incredible skills and those who aren’t representing the best values that exist in our country.

But the reality is, for democracy to work you have to be able to work with people who disagree with you on perhaps every other issue but the one before you.

I’m running because we need someone who’s willing to roll up their sleeves, dive into the details and work with anything to get things done because ultimately, the people of this state deserve nothing less. We can’t let the pettiness of politics get in the way of opportunities for progress.

8. If you had a moonshot policy idea or proposal that you could make happen right now, what would that be?

I believe that it is critical that the United States fill out the gaping hole in our social safety net by ensuring that every family has a cradle-through-career support system for their children, that lowers costs for families, improves outcomes for young people, and makes our society more competitive and compassionate.

That starts with paid leave. It continues through affordable child care and universal pre-K. It means better investments into our public schools, and of course, support for students who are either going on to two- or four-year college, or vocational training, or directly into the workforce.

That, to me, is one of the most important economic and moral issues of our time.

9. Back to reality: Given the very real limitations that exist in Congress, what’s something you feel you can’t change?

First of all, I reject the premise that there is something that we can absolutely not change.

But there are real, serious challenges we face as a society, from wealth disparities, to the challenge that comes with a civic society where we can’t have a shared conversation and a shared set of facts. There are real structural challenges that we as a society face, that we as a democracy face.

And ultimately at the core of a healthy democracy is the notion that government will be responsive to people, that democracy can work and function. And to do that we have to deliver for people.

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