47 minutes with …Lauren Underwood

New York magazine|July 20 - August 02, 2020

47 minutes with …Lauren Underwood
Adventures in remote legislating with the first-term congresswoman from Illinois.
By Rebecca Traister

ON ILLINOIS REPRESENTATIVE Lauren Underwood’s first flight during the pandemic back in March, she was the only passenger on the plane to Washington, D.C. The 33-year-old—who is the youngest Black woman ever elected to Congress and also a registered nurse with master’s degrees in nursing and public health—has a heart condition (supraventricular tachycardia) that puts her at elevated risk of complications if she contracts covid-19.

This has meant that doing her job—as both a legislator in a country clawing its way through economic crisis, where the unemployment benefits holding up many American families are about to expire and a candidate up for reelection in November in the historically conservative district she flipped two years ago—has been trickier than usual.

Underwood works mainly while sheltering at home in Naperville, participating in video conferences with colleagues and holding hearings over Webex, but when we speak, she’s in her car taking a “rare field trip” to Waukegan for a press conference on the use of cares Act funds in her district. Before she tells me more about how the work in Washington gets done in a pandemic, she talks about the anxiety of just trying to get to the capital every month. Her most recent flight was full. “No one right next to me,” she says, “but I was very scared because the man on the aisle was very, very, very slowly drinking a coffee without a mask on. It was just like, Oooh, God.

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July 20 - August 02, 2020