Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts is not only the top-ranking woman on the Democratic side of the House, she’s also the only woman in House Democratic leadership. The 59-year-old lawmaker, however, is used to breaking gender barriers. In 2021, Rep Clark became the first woman to become the Assistant Speaker of the House.
Know Your Value and “Morning Joe” recently visited the congresswoman in her office on Capitol Hill to discuss her journey, in addition to the best advice she received from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the latest on childcare relief legislation, and why paving the path for other women is so important.
Here’s what she said:
On the best advice she’s received from Nancy Pelosi
In her new role as House Whip, Congresswoman Clark is responsible for persuading her members to vote for the party’s position. And to do this, she learned a key piece of advice from her mentor, Rep. Pelosi on how to be successful. Clark recounted Pelosi telling her that “power will never be given to you, and you shouldn’t be afraid to take it.”
“How I interpret that is, know the power of the people you represent and know the power of being that voice for people who often feel they are overlooked in the process here in Congress, of government, in our economy, and feel left behind,” Rep. Clark said.
Whether it’s Roe v. Wade no longer being the law of the land, or the lack of healthcare many Americans still face, she’s taking Pelosi’s words of guidance into consideration. “All of those voices and people come with me, and they're right with me at the leadership table…to be that voice for children for families, for women, is one that I find gives me a strength and clarity.”
On why she decided to share the story of her own miscarriage
Last year the Congresswoman shared the story of her own miscarriage with the Boston Globe, hoping to spread awareness of the dangers of overturning Roe v Wade before it was ultimately banned last summer. In doing so, Clark expressed a vulnerability that many women, and men, in leadership roles hesitate to embrace. “I see the personal as politics,” Rep. Clark said, adding she prefers to see her vulnerability as a strength that she brings to her work. “Sometimes people, you know, look at the television, they watch the coverage of Congress, and they don't really see themselves or their families in their representatives. And I think it's important to say, I have this experience…”
On her best tips to negotiate and persuade
Being a good listener first and understanding the position or point of view of the people she is negotiating for are key components of the Congresswoman’s negotiating style. “I always think that if we understand where people are coming from you have a better chance of being able to get to yes,” Rep. Clark shared. “I also use a little tip that I discovered with three teenagers who often would tell you more in the car when you weren't looking directly at them. I find that elevator trips have the very similar effect on my colleagues, that when people are sort of looking at the elevator door, they can tend to tell you things they might not otherwise tell you.”
Why she’s optimistic childcare relief legislation will pass in 2023
“I’m determined. We have to do this,” said Rep. Clark. Early in 2021, the lawmaker introduced the Child Care is Infrastructure Act, which would make $10 billion in additional federal money available to renovate child care facilities, offer loan forgiveness for early educators and support on-campus child care for parents in school. She is also in favor of legislation like the CHIPS and Science Act, which is intended for semiconductor workers, but includes high quality and affordable childcare as a way to include childcare in infrastructure spending. That legislation was introduced by the Biden Administration in late February.
Childcare is one issue that the congresswoman said comes up repeatedly with voters. “We are going to continue to make sure that as we're handing out infrastructure money, the money to private businesses in collaboration with the government that childcare is part of the plan.”
The issue is personal for Clark. When first elected to Congress, Clark had quite the balancing act with three teenagers at home and two elderly parents who needed caretaking. Her mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and her father from a debilitating stroke.
“I remember pulling in that driveway and being really torn often in tears about who do I go to. Do I relieve my husband and go see my kids and hear about their week? Or do I go and check in with my parents and make sure they have what they need? Do they have the groceries they need? And you know I have a great spouse who was there to help me but that is not the story for so many families. So, let's get those policies in that that makes sense. Let's have paid family leave paid sick days so that people don't have to make a choice between keeping a job and taking care of their loved ones …”
On how she finds power in being the only woman in the room.
Throughout her career Rep. Clark has often found that she is the only woman in the room. Instead of being intimidated, she found power in it. She recalled a meeting when she was working on childcare legislation for the state of Massachusetts and was debating on the ideal length of the workday and how long children should be in childcare.
“The men in the room had forgotten that you also need childcare in the time that you are traveling to and from work. And being the mom who was often coming in right as childcare was closing and starting to add a large bind for every minute you were late, it's important to be that one to say, ‘this isn't how it works.’”
On imagining her career after 50
Rep. Clark said she never imagined a career in politics, let alone in her 50s and beyond. But now that she is climbed the ranks and doing what she loves, she urged women, “Don't be afraid to take a risk. But don't be afraid to fail. I certainly have lost a political campaign and it was painful. But you know, just push yourself because we're here waiting for you...And don't let anybody tell you you're too young or certainly too old to reinvent yourself, and keep moving towards whatever the work is that really is meaningful to you.”