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Democratic Representative-Elect Cori Bush Wants To 'Bring Home Change'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've talked a lot about how Kamala Harris broke one glass ceiling when she became the first woman elected vice president, but she's not the only candidate to make history this election year. In Missouri, progressive Democrat Cori Bush became the first Black woman elected to Congress from her state. Here's a moment from her victory speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

CORI BUSH: Our America - not Trump's America, our America - will be led not by the small-mindedness of a powerful few, but the imagination of a mass movement that includes all of us. That is the America we are fighting for.

MARTIN: Now, if that name sounds familiar, you are correct. We spoke with Cori Bush after she was featured in the 2019 Netflix documentary "Knock Down The House," which featured her previous run for Congress along that of another candidate you hear a lot about who's so famous now most people know her just by her initials, AOC. And now Cori Bush will be joining Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Congress. We wanted to hear more about her plans, so Representative-elect Cori Bush is with us now.

Welcome. Welcome back to the program, I should say. And congratulations.

BUSH: Thank you. And thank you for having me back.

MARTIN: Not only are you the first Black woman to represent Missouri in the House, but you're also, as you also mentioned in your speech, the first nurse, the first single mom. You're the first woman to represent Missouri's 1st District, which includes St. Louis. Can you just say a little bit about what that means to you?

BUSH: Oh, my goodness. It is bittersweet in some areas because, you know, as the first Black woman, you know, for Congress to reelect or elect someone every two years and for there to have never been a Black woman in the entire state in our history is absolutely unbelievable.

But to be the first nurse - you know, it is such an honor to finally have someone representing that voice as well, to be the first woman from our district - in our district history, which is 173 years. And then to be the first activist fighting for Black lives to go to Congress - you know, it's an honor. I'm taking it as a mantle. And I just want to make sure that I do a good job and I bring home some true change for our district.

MARTIN: I know that you're aware that there's already some tension between the progressives in the party in Congress and the more moderate members, so-called - we'll call it that - who are saying that perhaps the progressives cost the Democratic majority their seats by swinging too hard for the fences on issues like the COVID relief bill, for example, holding out for a bigger bill and then ending up with nothing, at least before the election.

So I just wanted to ask you your thoughts as briefly as you can about, you know, how do you move toward these big structural changes that you campaigned on and that you have advocated for some time - you know, like "Medicare for All," like the Green New Deal - but at a time when your caucus has even less strength than it did in the last Congress?

BUSH: Regardless of who says that, you know, we were the reason or certain people were the reason that other people lost seats, you know, I call bull on that because the thing is, we were elected to represent our people, to represent what is needed in our communities. We ran on certain issues that we believe in and we hold true. And how dare someone tell us that we should not continue to run on that just to make sure that somebody else keeps a seat? Because what we need them to do is run on your thing. Be strong and run on your thing.

And I'm sorry that people lost their seats. And hopefully, they can run again and get - you know, we can support them to help make sure that they come back. This is not the time to do the blame game. You know, I didn't blame other people. I looked at, what could I have done differently? And that's what we have to do. We can't split our caucus this way.

MARTIN: I think the question, though, is - for some people, though, is there an appetite for compromise once you get into the institution? I think the concern that some people have is that if the progressives become like a liberal version of the Tea Partiers, which were basically known for what they were against as opposed to what they were for. And since it's clear that this is still a very 50/50 country, how are you able to move forward?

BUSH: Yeah, we can move forward by, first of all, the group of people that feel like we need to keep things the same way, the same thing, have to move forward. And so I think that that's the other issue that we don't look at. We look at, OK, we have these people that are coming in with these ideas that I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing. And they're not willing to compromise, it seems.

But the thing is, it's because we've been waiting so long from the people that have been holding seats and in power. And so now we're at the time when we're tired of seeing our people die. We're tired of suffering and struggling. We're tired of that. And so we've waited on you to make a difference. We've waited on you to do some things where regular people like us can feel. But now we're saying, look, OK, maybe you need a push. And so we're going to push you because our people are on the line.

And I won't take that back. Will I listen to you? Absolutely. Can we have discussions and conversation? Absolutely. I am not one to come in, and I don't want to hear from you. I'm not - it's not that. But you will hear me, and I'm not going to back down on what I believe my community needs. And the more we grow this, the more people are going to come in that are like-minded. That's when we will start to see a difference.

And one thing that we're asking is, listen, you be willing to compromise. Because if you tell us that we need to compromise, but then you aren't willing to, then that's where our problem is.

MARTIN: You also mentioned in your victory address that you had COVID-19 earlier this year. And I have mentioned that you are a registered nurse, so you had to be aware how serious this is. Do you mind if I ask, how are you doing?

BUSH: You know, I was sick for about two months. And even though my actual tests came back negative, I tested maybe within 30 hours of the first sign of symptoms, so my doctor just felt like I had a false negative. But, you know, being sick for two months, it just really wore on my body.

But I'm doing better. I'm able to, you know, run and exercise and all of that. It's just going to take some time, you know? And as a nurse, I understand that, and so I've been trying to make sure that I'm keeping up with what I need to do to better myself. But also, I'm uninsured. And so I have to wait until I become an actual member of Congress to then have health care again.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, before we let you go, what is going to be your metric of success for your first year in office? How will you know you've done what you've set out to do?

BUSH: When I elevate the voices and make sure that legislation, any legislation that I am sponsoring or co-sponsoring, any bills that my team and I write, that we make sure that the people in our community who have the least are centered in that bill and that legislation.

You know, if I can get legislation, you know, passed out of committee, get things brought to the floor, if I can change the hearts and minds of people who don't believe the same things that I believe, and we are able to have some type of a compromise where my community benefits, I will start to measure that as success.

MARTIN: That is Representative-elect Cori Bush. She was just elected to represent Missouri's 1st Congressional District, which includes St. Louis.

Cori Bush, thank you so much for joining us. And congratulations once again.

BUSH: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIMT SONG, "LET ME LUV U") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.