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Vanity Fair: Katie Porter Has the Floor

Katie Porter Has the Floor

There was going to be trouble—that much was certain. The question was, how bad would the trouble get? It was a scorching Sunday afternoon in July, and Representative Katie Porter was about to hold her first in-person town hall since COVID-19 beset the nation. Porter, who represents California’s 45th Congressional District, had chosen an outdoor venue—a field at Mike Ward Community Park in Irvine—partly in deference to the virus and partly to be welcoming to parents and their children. A 47-year-old single mother of three, Porter understands the challenges of multitasking when you have kids.

By the 3 p.m. scheduled start time, more than 250 people had gathered. Locals came in wide-brimmed hats toting beach umbrellas. Some opened lawn chairs or spread blankets; most sat in the grass in front of an empty podium that Porter’s staff had set up under a tent. The event was billed as “Policy in the Park,” and the mood was that of a neighborhood picnic. Which made what was about to unfold all the more surreal.

Porter was running late, and some in the crowd were growing restless. A few minutes after three o’clock, a group holding a Green New Deal banner walked by a small knot of Trump supporters. (Orange County has long been a Republican stronghold—until Porter, a law school professor born of tiny-town Iowa, came out of nowhere to win there in 2018 and again in 2020.) One of the Trumpers—a man sporting cargo shorts, wraparound shades, and a pompadour—started heckling the Green New Dealers, calling them “globalist tools,” ranting about “corporations…conglomerates…Jews.” It was as though a tablet of toxic Alka-Seltzer plopped into a fish tank.

That’s about when Porter arrived, double-timing it across the field. When she finally reached the podium and began to speak, her mic cut out. Sensing an opening, Pompadour and his crew began to shout over her: “Carpetbagger Katie! Carpetbagger Katie!” The yelling, the glitches, the heat—it all boiled into a brawl. Arms swung, elbows flew, a guy pulled a guy off another guy—it looked like a rugby scrum in a mosh pit.

Porter was in D.C. on January 6; her office is where Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hid from a riotous mob of Trump supporters, fearing for her life. A longtime friend of Porter’s who texted with her that day told me: “Katie has always had hope and energy to make things better, to block out the negative and focus on the positive. On that day…I feel like that was the first time the wind was taken from her sails.” Now, this.

Porter craned her neck, sizing up the scene. Then she took off, speed walking toward the scuffle. A young male staffer tried to keep up with her, his head on a swivel. You could almost read the thought bubble over his head: Is this really happening? Porter made her way through the knot of people until she reached the center. She put each of her arms around two clearly rattled seniors; her immediate concern was protecting them, keeping both of them from being pushed over. Porter called for calm. Her sudden presence in the tangle, alone, seemed to startle the bad actors into reconsidering their behavior. A handful of police officers were about a football field’s length away. By the time they arrived, she had mostly de-escalated the tension.

On the ride home in a staffer’s car, Porter couldn’t help but dwell on the danger she and her constituents had just encountered. She couldn’t help but think of last January. “This is the parallel for me between the town hall and January 6,” she told me a few days later. “In January, we were unable to go to the House floor to do the business of democracy, certifying the election. Town halls and voting are the bread and butter of representative government, and both of those things in the last six months for me have been sites of violence.”

Striding blithely into the center of an active brawl is roughly equivalent to what Porter has done in the halls of Congress. “One of my mantras in life is there’s no universe in anything where I don’t see it could be improved, and that I don’t feel, for the betterment of the world, like I need to insert myself,” she says. “And that’s not always true and not always appreciated.”

She’s made headlines by acting as a consumer advocate vigilante, matter-of-factly dismantling the corporate spin of CEOs who operate at the expense of average Americans. Her refusal to mince words while doing so, along with her utter working-mom normalcy, has earned her a status somewhere between progressive folk hero and unlikely Democratic rising star. In this moment of unprecedented toxicity, she’s become a symbol of optimism—an embodiment of the idea that hard work and preparedness, and a willingness to stand up for what you believe in, gets results.

Back when Porter first walked into Congress, however, she was a national nobody. The fact that she was the first single mother with young kids ever elected in her own right, the fact that she had flipped the 45th from red to blue, barely registered as a footnote as media coverage of the 2018 election and the historically diverse 116th Congress focused on the Squad. A couple of weeks after arriving in D.C., Porter had lunch with attorney and former senior Democratic adviser Ann O’Leary; they’d met in 2008, when O’Leary was running the Berkeley Law School’s Center on Health, Economic & Family Security and asked law professor Porter to be a speaker. “I remember her looking really deflated,” O’Leary says of the lunch. “She was feeling like, this isn’t what I signed up for. She got to Congress and was being told, You have to be in your place, stand in line, it will be 15 years before you have any power. She was like, ‘I’m a single mom busting my bottom to be here and I’m not waiting 15 years to have impact.’ ”

Impact—Porter despises the word. She’s banned her staff from using it. “Impact, impactful…it means nothing,” she told me. “Millions of Americans were impacted by COVID; they lost their jobs and can’t afford rent. Jeff Bezos was also impacted by COVID; he got billions of dollars richer. So let’s not say impact. Let’s be clear about how people are affected.”

Anyhow, back to the lunch. Over burgers, O’Leary and Porter observed that part of being a congressperson is the committee structure, where members can use the bully pulpit. When you get your time in a hearing, that time is yours. O’Leary says she saw “a switch [go] off” in Porter. “There are always instructions from leadership,” Porter says. “ ‘This is how you vote, this is what our priority is, this is how you should message, this is how much money you need to raise’—and the questions in hearings, you can show up and do what you want. It’s like looking around and saying, where is it that nobody is trying to control me?”

Porter was assigned to the House Financial Services Committee, whose bureaucratically dull name belies its tremendous responsibility: overseeing the nation’s housing and financial-service sectors, including banking, insurance, real estate, public housing, and securities. Basically, all things capitalism. Few of Porter’s new colleagues had any idea how qualified she was for just such a committee assignment. She’d already been in the trenches, quietly drubbing Wall Street in one of the most high-profile socioeconomic crises since the Great Depression. But more on that in a bit.

Porter was still unpacking her D.C. office in February 2019 when she took her seat for her second Financial Services hearing. She wore a conservative black dress, her arms folded just so on the desktop in front of her. Seated in the witness chair down in front was a guy with a nice head of gray hair, a blue suit, and a tie that matched his tan. Mark Begor, the CEO of credit reporting agency Equifax, had the demeanor of someone about to tap in a gimme putt on the 18th hole at the club course.

At the time, Equifax was fighting off class-action lawsuits for a 2017 data breach that exposed 147 million customers to identity theft. Among the data exposed were tens of millions of Social Security numbers, birth dates, and addresses. Attorneys for Equifax were arguing in court that the case should be dismissed. On what grounds? Funny you should ask.

Porter began by politely asking Begor if he would be willing to share his Social Security number, birth date, and home address “at this public hearing.” Begor, as Porter expected, declined. Porter had a pretty good idea why, but she asked him anyway, so everyone could hear his answer. Begor said it was “sensitive information” and that he would be concerned about identity theft.

“Okay,” Porter said, “So my question then is: If you agree that exposing this kind of information…creates harm…why are your lawyers arguing in federal court that there was no injury and no harm created by your data breach?” By the end of the day, her time was the talk of D.C. The video clip of her questioning Begor went viral. Only two months on the job, in her second congressional hearing, Porter was national news.

For her fifth hearing, she came armed with a whiteboard—and a meme and a star was born. The target of her questioning was Timothy Sloan, the CEO of Wells Fargo, which was battling multiple scandals that had cost the bank $4 billion in settlements and fines. Using her board, Porter contrasted Sloan’s public statements encouraging investor trust with his lawyers’ arguments that said statements were “corporate puffery on which no reasonable investor could rely.” By the end of the month, Wells Fargo would announce that Sloan had decided to “step down.” After the Sloan shredding, Law.com dedicated a story to Porter’s impact on witness prep. The takeaway was essentially this: Corporate counsels needed to do as much research on their own clients as Porter did.

Porter’s district office is just off the 405 in Irvine, in an industrial park surrounded by high-rise buildings that are regional hubs for some of the nation’s most powerful corporations and financial institutions: PricewaterhouseCoopers, California Bank & Trust, Wells Fargo. It’s like Porter set up base camp not just behind enemy lines, but in the middle of enemy territory.

Porter knows what it’s like for a community to be decimated by Wall Street. She grew up in Lorimor, Iowa, about 50 miles south of Des Moines, a million miles from anywhere. In the late 1970s into the ’80s, the town got crushed by the farm crisis. The combination of skyrocketing interest rates and a drop in the price of commodities left many farmers saddled with debts they had no way to pay.

“So many of our neighbors and friends were in bankruptcy, losing everything,” said Angee Simmons, Porter’s friend from childhood. The Simmons farm was next to the Porter farm; their families were like family. “Our fathers were raised to provide. They were gritty, proud men standing in line for free cheese and peanut butter. What do you think that did to them?” On the phone, Simmons choked up. “I haven’t thought about this for a while,” she said. “You’d go to an auction and watch our friends’ parents sell off everything. There was this carnival-like auction and then silence—it was all gone. It broke up farms and families. There were mental health breakdowns when people didn’t talk about breakdowns. Many didn’t come out on the other side. There were suicides.”

The way Liz Porter, Katie’s mom, tells it, they only managed to save their farm because Katie’s dad, Dan, who has a degree in economics from Iowa State, took a job at the local bank, where he found himself in a different kind of hell, having to deny lines of credit and loans to his friends and neighbors. “It was a tough time,” Dan says, an audible crack in his voice.

Meanwhile, the quilting club that Liz and a neighbor started blossomed into what would become a wildly successful business. Dan and Liz believed their opportunities were made possible by hard work, but education was critical. So that’s how they raised their three kids, starting with their eldest. Her parents knew Katie had intellectual gifts, and largely due to Liz’s advocacy, they enrolled her in a gifted program. For her junior and senior years of high school, Katie attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

“I remember lying in bed that first night,” Porter says. “Andover has a grading scheme from zero to six. Six is an A-plus, a five is like an A. I remember thinking, Please let me get threes, please let me get threes, because I didn’t want to fail out. I just wanted to stay.” Culturally, it was another world. “The first break when I was there, I went home with a friend. It was around Christmas. I went to this giant house; inside they were playing classical music. And the thing I really remember is they served fresh creamed asparagus at dinner. I was like, Who lives like this?”

Porter didn’t fail out. She graduated with honors and was accepted to Yale, and then Harvard Law School. Her intention was to be a teacher, to communicate that there was more to learning than what’s in textbooks. “I wanted my students to learn that sometimes things happen beyond someone’s control, not because of anything someone did or didn’t do. And sometimes people just need help,” she says. “I wanted to teach because teachers changed my life.”

When Porter says teachers changed her life, it’s a given that she’s including Elizabeth Warren. The two met in the fall of 2000, when Warren taught at Harvard Law and Porter took her bankruptcy law class. Warren’s class was early. Many of her students would come in heads down, ginormous coffee cups in hand, take a seat, and try to avoid being called on. “Not Katie,” Warren says. “Katie was bright-eyed and ready to go. Head up, watching everything going on and ready to jump in.”

Warren says she called on Porter on the first day of class. In her words, Porter’s response was “Okay, but not great.” Later, Porter came to see Warren during office hours. Warren was used to students’ whining: I was terrible, I get nervous, please don’t call on me; I promise I’ll do my work. Professor Warren had a speech prepared about how the class is rooted in the Socratic Method, much of a student’s grade is based on class participation, yada, yada. But Porter defied the norm. “I know I was terrible today, but don’t give up on me,” Warren recalls her saying. “Please keep calling on me. I am going to learn to do this.”

Warren was impressed. “It was her recognizing that she fell down and scraped her knees,” she says, “and wanting to make sure I didn’t go easy on her. She wanted me to be tough because she wanted to learn how to be tough.”

At Harvard, Porter spent hours in bankruptcy court learning the machinations, but also observing how the courts and banks treated Americans in the system. Simmons, her childhood friend, visited her and once skimmed her notebooks. “I said, ‘Katie, this has to be emotionally exhausting. Why dig into what can only make you relive the pain of your past?’ She laughed it off.”

True to her plan, after graduating Harvard Law magna cum laude, Porter taught—for a while at UNLV, then at the University of Iowa, until the University of California, Irvine, offered her a tenured position. Not long after she arrived in Orange County, Porter got a call from her mentor, Warren, then another from California attorney general Kamala Harris. In 2012, Harris won a major victory. She extracted a settlement of about $18 billion from the nation’s top banks for their predatory lending practices that caused the 2008 mortgage crisis, which devastated the economy. By the end of 2011, some 700,000 California homes were in or near foreclosure.

As hard as the fight had been to get the banks to pony up—their original offer for California was $2 billion—ensuring that recipients who qualified for relief actually got it was a massive undertaking. The California settlement was part of a national framework that specified an “independent monitor” would make sure the banks complied. Harris decided she would also appoint her own monitor. But who? She went to visit Warren at her home in Cambridge.

Warren told her she needed to meet Porter. “Kamala asked me, ‘Does she have experience? Has she done this before?’ ” Warren says. “No, but nobody does. No one has done anything like this since the Great Depression. I said, ‘Kamala, you need someone who can walk into a room with high-powered lawyers from banks who are billing thousands of dollars an hour and are quite sure they will be able to run circles around the person representing the families who’ve been screwed.”

Harris called Porter, and shortly thereafter offered her the monitor role. Porter accepted, which on its face was insane. Porter had never run anything besides a classroom. She hadn’t faced off against a single high-powered attorney, let alone an army of them. Oh, and she had zero political experience.

The monitor job had three responsibilities: (1) Ensure the banks meet their obligations, (2) establish a monitoring system similar to that of the national monitor, and (3) immediately inform the attorney general of any attempt by the banks to delay or dither. Initially there were concerns about giving such a massive job to someone as inexperienced as Porter.

But there was a moment when Michael Troncoso knew she was perfect for it. Troncoso served as a senior counsel to Harris, and about two weeks after she assumed the role, he went with Porter to her first community meeting. It was in a church basement surrounded by Housing and Urban Development counselors—small nonprofit shops working in areas like south L.A. and Koreatown. For a year they’d been helping homeowners, operating hand to mouth, being told they’d receive funding only to be jilted; Governor Jerry Brown had used the $300 million intended for HUD counselors to plug a budget gap. Now there they were in that basement with Porter, all feeling something between disappointment and fury. “The meeting started with a lot of crossed arms, and Katie was one of the only white people in the room,” Troncoso, who is Latino, says. “And she just dazzled everybody. I don’t remember what she said, but it was obvious that she really cared. By the end, people were coming up with business cards asking, ‘How can we help?’ ”

Porter remembers that meeting well. “I wasn’t looking down at a set of bullet points,” she says. “I was listening. The people we were meeting with were like, Our communities are suffering. How is this not just a press release moment for the attorney general? I think a lot of what I told them goes back to where I grew up. I have seen this before—this ‘Don’t worry, government will do something,’ and then they don’t. They have a big press announcement, and later you’re wondering, where’s my money? Where is my help? I tried to explain that I was there to amplify their work, that I was there to consolidate our power as people who were collectively getting screwed by Wall Street, and that I needed them as part of the team to do that.”

Porter hired a staff of young attorneys and law students and turned them into an enforcement team. They sorted through hundreds of thousands of petitions from homeowners. They took in calls and data for settlement compliance. They looked out for third-party fraudsters claiming they could help homeowners get relief. Many of the people in direst need of assistance were Black and brown. Frequently, it seemed, the banks could find them to foreclose but couldn’t find them to provide the relief they were entitled to. Porter and her team tracked them down, called the banks, and made sure communities got the money they were owed.

Troncoso remembers Porter proving that the banks’ method for sampling, which they used to show they were meeting their obligations, was flawed. He remembers the time Porter was headed to meet with a team of bank attorneys solo, and she didn’t want to seem so outnumbered, so she asked a couple of interns to suit up and walk in with her. “Then,” he says, “there’s the follow-up. Katie is the master of follow-up. She outworked the banks. She just outworks everybody.”

It was while working for Harris, traveling around the state being immersed in Democratic politics, that Porter started to see the 45th from a new perspective. It had long been Reagan-red, but the demographics were changing. Hillary Clinton won there in 2016. And then there was the incumbent: Marian Elaine “Mimi” Walters. She’d won two consecutive terms, but the former investment banker had voted with Trump 99 percent of the time. Porter thought she could take her.

She wasn’t the only Democrat to think so. The primary was contentious and emotionally brutal. Someone with connections to Porter’s top primary challenger tweeted about the fact that she’d once obtained a restraining order as if it were some kind of failure. It wasn’t so much the tweet itself that got to Porter—it was that the tweet was born of gossip swirling on the campaign trail.

In 2013, Porter requested and was granted an emergency protective order against her then husband, Matthew Hoffman, who physically abused her. Hoffman spent a few days in jail for domestic battery and agreed to all the demands Porter made in court. She’s spoken about it in detail only once, to HuffPost, and then because she felt she had to—because her personal life was being used to undermine her desire to serve in Congress. “Even after January 6, a part of me still views that interview, having to tell that story, as the worst moment in my political career,” she says. “But my own decisions to protect my kids were being weaponized against me. What was I supposed to do? Withdraw from the race? I knew it would make things harder for my kids to see that again, to read it again, that it lives on on the internet. Because I told the story in that context, I think my kids associate it with me being a candidate. I think that taints their view of having a political mom, and in a way that I find painful.” (The story has a happy ending: Porter is currently in a long-term relationship with someone she describes as a “surfer,” no further explanation necessary. “I think I’ll stick to that,” she says. “For real Californians, that already tells them a lot.” What reveals a bit more is that during one of our interviews, Porter got a call. Her three children are Luke, 15; Paul, 13; and Betsy, 9, named for Warren. Her boys were looking for a ride home from a local Target; Porter called her surfer man, and he was happy to pick them up.)

Porter, of course, emerged from the primary and ran against Walters on a platform of Medicare for all, campaign finance reform, banning assault weapons, and overturning Trump’s tax plan. She also ran on her work as the monitor. Nathan Click was Porter’s communications adviser; he’d worked for Harris when she was attorney general and then on her Senate race. “One of the biggest stories for a proof point during the Kamala campaign was the mortgage settlement,” Click says. “And Katie was the person who basically shouldered all of the implementation of that program.” Within minutes of meeting Porter and hearing her account, he said, “That’s it. Your life is your stump speech.”

The race was a statistical toss-up. It’s a lot easier to promote progressive policy in, say, Ocasio-Cortez’s solid blue district than in a district where a Democrat had never won a congressional race. It took nine days for the race to be called, but Porter won with 52.1 percent of the vote. She won reelection in 2020 with 53.5 percent. Heading into 2022, she has an astonishing $12.9 million war chest as of June 30—the fifth largest in the House. Perhaps, in these dark and divisive times, when a mob will storm the United States Capitol and our elected leaders will lie about it and do nothing, when fights break out during a Sunday town hall in the park, when politics is so often and so obviously put before principle and people, there’s reason for optimism in Porter’s success—dare it be said, a lesson.

Warren thinks so. “Her scholarship is always around the law fulfilling its purpose,” she says of Porter. “In bankruptcy law, she saw there were these amazing tools to make real change, to stop a family from falling over a cliff. Tools to make sure corporations were honest and paid their fair share, to prevent banks from coming in and strong-arming everyone. It’s how you can use law to make things fairer. Katie was never in it for herself.”

Porter’s signature style has made her plenty of corporate enemies , but she’s also gotten crosswise with at least one powerful member of her own party. According to a veteran member of the House Financial Services Committee, the attention Porter attracted as a newly elected member irritated Representative Maxine Waters, the committee’s longtime ranking Democrat. “Maxine regarded Porter as ‘performative,’ ” said the representative, who was privy to the bad blood. “But imagine you’re Maxine, you’ve been running that committee for forever, and this freshman who asks questions in the first five minutes is all [that] gets reported—everybody runs the clip of the freshman and nothing about you.”

Waters’s beef played out in public. In April 2019, she convened a hearing wherein the CEOs of several of the nation’s largest banks were called to testify. Among them was Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. The hearing room was packed; it was just a few weeks after Porter had pretty much whiteboarded Sloan out of his Wells Fargo job.

Porter got down to business with Dimon. “You’re an expert on financial statements and you run a $2.6 trillion bank.” She removed the cap of a dry-erase marker; you could literally hear it squeak off. “And so I’d like to ask for your help on a problem.” Porter said she’d found a listing for a full-time job at JPMorgan Chase in her district that paid $16.50 an hour. At 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that worked out to a salary of $35,070. She presented an equation featuring a single mom named Patricia. Patricia claims one dependent and after taxes is left with $29,100.

Just as Porter began to write down the numbers on her whiteboard, she was interrupted by Representative Patrick McHenry, the committee’s ranking Republican. McHenry had seen firsthand how effective Porter’s board was. He raised an objection—a “parliamentary inquiry”—that it violated a rule requiring information to be shared in advance with all of the members and witnesses. Waters determined that Porter was in violation of hearing rules: “the practice of making sure that all members can see what it is you’re showing to the witnesses.” In short, the whiteboard was too small and too low-tech. Porter opted to continue without it.

Waters sided again with Republicans in September 2019 when they objected to Porter presenting a poster board she entitled “Financial Services Bingo”—a collection of arguments debt collectors had frequently made against regulation. “Please do not raise your board,” Waters said. “We’ve talked about this before.” And so it went for the next year or so. Porter navigated Waters and the rules, and she continued to dominate hearings.

Then, all of a sudden, she was out. The Financial Services Committee is exclusive, meaning it must be the only committee on which a member of Congress serves in a legislative session. If a member wants to serve on multiple committees, including one that’s exclusive, they must submit a waiver to the House Steering Committee. Porter did so in her first term and it was approved. Now, according to reports, her waiver had been denied. In theory, this can happen for benign reasons. Porter had also asked to serve on—and had been approved for—two other committees, and the process may have been arbitrary. Practically speaking, however, ranking Democrats and leadership have wide discretion to make the committee assignments they want. Rules can be rewritten. Only just last July, Waters decided that Financial Services would have fewer members.

According to the House member privy to the tension between Waters and Porter, “the only time Maxine would side with a Republican on an objection in that committee—look, with Porter she treats it differently. And Maxine wanted certain people off of her committee—certain people meaning Porter in particular. There was horse trading between her and [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi. It was bullshit.”

In what is perhaps an example of Porter recognizing there’s some bullshit she does have to tolerate, at least for now, she deftly addresses the topic. “Part of what happened with Financial Services is Chairwoman Waters didn’t ultimately rule in my favor using the whiteboard. And I was like, What? This was the thing where there were no things and now there’s a thing? Come on!” Beyond that, Porter says, “I can’t really comment. One thing I want to say about Chairwoman Waters, who I have great respect for, is that the woman keeps control of [her] hearings. There is no nonsense. You get to say in five minutes what you want to say, and then it’s the next person’s turn. And she has to have a lot of personal presence to do that.”

When I reached out to Waters’s communications director, Marcus Frias, for comment, I received an email from Veronica Morales, the deputy communications director for the House Financial Services Committee, asking if I’d be willing to discuss my questions off the record with her, Frias, and the head of the committee communications team, Eric Hersey. I agreed, and before our call ended, I asked for an on-the-record response. Shortly thereafter, I received another email from Morales: “Please note in your story that the Chairwoman’s office declined to comment on a story about another Member.”

“Here’s what I’ll say,” McHenry told me when I asked him about Porter being dropped. “As a Republican, I am glad she is no longer there. She offered tough and smart questions and deeply understood the jurisdiction. With her gone, I have one less thing to worry about.”

Not long after her Irvine town hall, Porter is seated at her desk in her D.C. congressional office in the Longworth building. This is precisely where she and Ocasio-Cortez were when the Trumpian mob attacked Congress in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election, beating Capitol Police officers and hunting, in particular, for the New York congresswoman. Porter describes “Alexandria” knocking on the door. “She was kinda rattled,” Porter says. “I didn’t really understand at first what was happening. I knew there had been some kind of evacuation from Cannon House offices, which is where her office is, but I didn’t understand.”

AOC sat down and Porter offered her a glass of water. Some of Porter’s staff were starstruck. Porter recalls AOC, in a black floral print dress and square block heels, looking at her, “and she wistfully, says, ‘I knew I should have worn more comfortable shoes so I could run.’ ” One of Porter’s staffers offered AOC a pair of sneakers that happened to be her size. It was cold, so Porter loaned her a puffy hooded jacket. Porter watched her pull her hair into a ponytail. “At this point we were starting to hear the noise, and the crowd was getting louder,” Porter says. “And she said, ‘Now I look like a kid; maybe they won’t recognize me.’ I mean, that was literally our strategy: to take off as many of the trappings of office as we could and try to blend in with that crowd, and run.” Ocasio-Cortez recounted a similar story in an Instagram Live video. “We were probably barricaded in that room together I don’t even know how many hours,” she said of Porter’s office. “The point of the situation was that we felt completely unsafe.”

That’s when Porter realized the significance of the situation. “If it’s not safe here at that moment for a member of Congress,” she recalls thinking, “what part of our country is safe to do political work, to be citizens? That’s the same way I felt about the town hall. If you can’t have a town hall with snow cones in Irvine—the police chief reminds us Irvine is the safest city of its size 15 years in a row—where there is plenty of room for people to spread out, and where there’s an opportunity for everyone to participate in the same way—if you can’t do that, well, then what can you do? That’s the part that really bothers me.”

The questions Porter raises are among the most critical at this most vexing, precarious moment in our nation’s unfolding history. As Porter asks them, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are trading jabs about who will sit on the House committee to investigate the January 6 attack. Porter, of course, believes there must be accountability and that restoring safety is paramount. But, she says, “I don’t think most Americans give a rat’s ass about that back-and-forth between Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Pelosi. It reinforces to them—like, who is Adam Kinzinger? What is this commission even doing? Meanwhile, what the American people would really like to know is: Are we going to build any roads and bridges? Will there be child tax credits?”

Along with banning them from using the word impact, one of Porter’s staffers says the congresswoman makes another point around the office so often, it’s become something of a mantra: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Right now, the ride is pretty bumpy. There’s going to be trouble, and no one knows how bad the trouble will get. But Katie Porter will continue to stride into the middle of it, believing she can make things better.