New voice in Congress hails from Delaware, calls for leadership

Listen 6:24
 Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester speaking to supporters at a reception at the U.S. Capitol. (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

Rep. Lisa Blunt-Rochester speaking to supporters at a reception at the U.S. Capitol. (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

The small state of Delaware has only one representative in the U.S. House — and a new one at that.

Lisa Blunt Rochester boldly began her days in office objecting to President Donald Trump’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and his effort to defund Planned Parenthood. She took part in the Women’s March on Washington and stood against the ban on immigrants from Muslim nations.

It says a lot about the rookie congresswoman, Delaware’s first female and first African-American to hold the seat.

I caught up with her this week to dig a little deeper into who she is and what she stands for.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

As we spoke, Blunt Rochester reminded me she returned from a congressional visit to Israel a few days before the violent protests Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, which pit white supremacists against counter-demonstrators and led to the death of activist Heather Heyer, killed when a car rammed into a group of counter-protesters.

“To come back to seeing swastikas and Confederate flags and torches,” she said. “I was shocked, to say the least. I was, like many people, prayerful for our country.”

Asked what she thought of Trump’s initial reaction to the events, she said, “Really, I think so many people were just thirsting for leadership from the top, to be a leader for all of us, and were disappointed in the first response — and probably more appalled about the second response.

“I think we’re at a moment in our country that many of us never expected to see. And, to me, it’s a tipping point,” she said.

The president condemned white supremacist groups this week, naming some by name after receiving criticism for not disavowing hate groups in a detailed way in his initial response. In an intense exchange with reporters in Manhattan this week, the president said there was blame on both sides for what unfolded in Charlottesville.

I asked Blunt Rochester whether she thought leadership was lacking from the Trump administration.

“The question isn’t so much is it lacking. It’s is it for all of us? That’s what we want in a leader of our country,” she said. “A person who cares deeply and understands all of us. I don’t think people feel that right now.

“The thing that gives us hope is when we see not those who — it’s in their interest to stand up — but those who know it’s the right thing to stand up,” she said. “To take a stand.”

To listen to our interview, click on the audio button posted above.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal