Katie Porter Is Getting Vanity Plates for Her Minivan That Remind People Not to F–k With Her

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Representative Katie Porter begins her second term in office with a reputation as the rare elected official who came to Washington to actually get shit done—usually by cutting congressional witnesses down to size with withering interrogations that feature both a whiteboard of doom and the attitude of a mom who is done with your bullshit. Be it Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan, who resigned two weeks after she caught him in a lie claiming his bank’s fraud-happy days were a thing of the past; ex-pharma exec Mark Alles, who basically shriveled up and died as she showed he collected millions while jacking up the price of a lifesaving drug for no other reason than greed; or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, who tried to hide behind bureaucratic nonsense before giving up and agreeing to free coronavirus testing just so she would stop publicly tormenting him, witnesses quiver in fear at the mere mention of her name. (While raising three kids and repping California’s 45th congressional district—which includes parts of Orange County—presumably leaves Porter no time for reality TV, we assume her RHOC tagline would be “Come at America and you’re gonna get a whiteboard marker up the ass.”) The congresswoman chatted with Vanity Fair earlier this month, and again after the attack on Capitol Hill, to discuss everything from how she prepares for her viral hearings to holding Donald Trump accountable to the never-ending depths of Republican assholery.

Vanity Fair: Do you think Joe Biden‘s Justice Department should criminally charge Trump for inciting the attack on the Capitol? What do you expect the outcome of the second impeachment trial to be?

Rep. Katie Porter: There definitely need to be consequences for Donald Trump, and I think impeachment is actually, based on the facts that I have, the correct way to do that. I don’t have access to or really know enough about the legal theories for incitement, for insurrection…I’m not a criminal lawyer so I can’t really answer that question about the Justice Department, although I do think it’s really important that they do that analysis and make their findings clear so that the American people understand why there are or aren’t charges being brought. We want to take the politics out of the criminal justice system as much as possible.

With regard to impeachment, I think that clearly is warranted. I voted for it, and I think it’s appropriate for the Senate to have a trial. I’m not going to put myself in the shoes of people like Ted Cruz. I struggle to understand how he thinks, if [thinking] is what goes on in his head at all. I do think it’s really important that the Senate take this seriously and that we do not allow the fact that Joe Biden is now our president to change the process for Donald Trump. We can’t let him evade responsibility for his actions. My job is to make that decision about impeachment and to urge my Senate colleagues to have a robust trial. 

Can you make a public plea to appeal to them—to the Ted Cruzes, to the Lindsey Grahams who have been on Fox suggesting it was Nancy Pelosi’s fault there wasn’t better security as opposed to focusing on what the former president did?

Well, the security responsibilities come from both the Senate and the House, and the attack was on both chambers of the Capitol and of course fundamentally on the Capitol Police officers and staff members who were put in a lot of danger, as well as [congressional] members. I think the pressure here should come from the American public, from people on both sides of the aisle who are appalled at the fact that we would ever suggest violence is a solution to overturn an act of democracy. It’s important to understand what happened in the Capitol for what it is. It was a violent attack. It was a workplace shooting. There may have been people there protesting, but there were hundreds if not thousands of people who broke the law and put lives at risk. So that is the way they ought to be thinking about this—not from a political angle but from what these people did and then holding them accountable. I’m encouraged that the FBI and others have been making arrests. I think it’s really important. This was not speech. This was a criminal act. 

Obviously I want to talk about the whiteboard. Every time it comes out we know people are going to get a dry-erase enema. How do you prepare for these hearings? I heard you say in a podcast that colleagues are always asking you how you do it, and one of the things you said was, “You have to be really prepared but you also have to be a little bit brave.” How do you find that bravery or badassery?

With regard to preparation, we start as soon as we find out, and sometimes it’s a few days’ notice, sometimes it’s a few weeks. I always try to start from not a topic really but an answer—like what do we want to know, what is the change we want to make? For me, this goes back to teaching. At the top of my lesson plans I always had: these are the questions I want to ask the students, these are the points I want to make, but I always had at the very top what I wanted the students to understand at the end of the day. So we always think about what that is. And then we begin to develop some lines of questioning. My staff will take a first draft, they often won’t get it done fast enough, so I’ll get in there and look at it, we’ll eliminate a couple. I’ll do background reading, they’ll do background reading. Part of my questioning of Jamie Dimon grew out of the fact that the night before the hearing I read the JPMorgan corporate report and his attitude was one of “There as so many problems in this country,” and I wanted to know, well how would you fix them? So it’s really thinking about that and then it’s rehearsing. You have to think about all of the tools that you have; it’s not just the words that you say. It’s the look on your face; it’s the tone of your voice; it’s the pacing. I’m trying to get an answer and I’m going to use every tool that I can, whether it’s a prop or a look to get there. 

That thing about bravery, there’s also an analogy to teaching. The very easiest thing to do as a teacher is lecture. You don’t ever lose control, you stand there, you talk, they play whatever today’s version of Candy Crush is, and you lecture. When you ask a student what the answer is, you’re taking the very real risk that they won’t know. But what you’re conveying to the students as you ask questions, which is the same thing I’m trying to convey to both the American public and to the witnesses, is this is not my problem, this is our problem. This is not my hearing, this is our hearing. I’m not asking Steve Mnuchin questions because I want answers, I’m asking Steve Mnuchin questions because the country deserves answers. You’re talking to someone who’s getting her license plate changed so that it says “Oversight,” OVRSITE—I’m very excited, I’m getting it on the minivan—so I see the value in accountability.

So when you open that up to that back-and-forth, then you are creating that collective sense of, we’re all trying to figure this out, we’re all in this moment. And I think that, as much as the whiteboard and anything else, is what draws people into those hearings. In terms of being brave, I think it’s safe to say I’m not one to back away from what I think is right. It does take a toll. When I finished questioning [Postmaster General] Louis DeJoy, I turned the Zoom off and just cried. I was like, I don’t think I got it. I wasn’t sure how it went, if I exposed some of the things I really wanted to. There was a lot of adrenaline in the moment, and there’s no do-overs. I used to walk out of the classroom and would be so drained.

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