Representative Sharice Davids, the lone Democrat representing a district in Kansas, faces a difficult reelection fight in November. The House Republicans’ campaign arm has targeted her seat, and she represents one of Democrats’ “frontline” districts. (The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently launched a billboard in Davids’s district highlighting her likely Republican opponent’s opposition to a gas tax holiday, which Davids supports.) Axios reported last month that Davids is among the Democrats who discuss inflation most, a key issue that may define the upcoming elections.
“I think that part of the reason that I am talking about this so much is because I’m hearing about it a lot,” Davids told The New Republic in an interview this week. But she refrains from opining on how other Democrats should address the issue. “I’m not a huge fan of saying how anybody else should be conducting themselves as representatives. But I’m taking it very seriously,” Davids said.
Davids also discussed her work on the conference committee for the bill referred to by the White House as the Bipartisan Innovation Act—formerly called the America COMPETES Act in the House and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act in the Senate—aimed at increasing American competitiveness, easing supply chain issues, and strengthening the semiconductor industry.
“I know that sometimes getting to a compromise, and working through these sticky complex issues, it’s not for the faint of heart,” Davids said. “And it’s always my preference to work across the aisle to get durable policy done.”
Davids also talked about her belief that members of Congress should not be permitted to trade stocks, and the potential that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Kansas will be voting on the amendment to deny constitutional protections for abortion rights pretty soon. [Author’s note: In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution protected the right to an abortion. On August 2, Kansans will vote on a constitutional amendment that would overturn that decision. If the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and the amendment passes, the state legislature would be able to pass legislation restricting abortion rights.] Do you think that voters will be motivated in the wake of a decision on Roe v. Wade?
I think that Kansans, a lot of folks in Kansas, were already concerned. I say that because we’ve certainly been watching our neighboring states like Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas—we’ve just seen the introduction of such extreme laws in other states that are complete bans or would criminalize people for seeking access to health care. I think that there’s probably going to be a lot of attention around the fact that Kansas is going to be the first state to vote on this issue after the Supreme Court issues its decision on Roe.… We’re at a time where we’re seeing potentially 50 years of precedent being overturned, if the draft opinion and everything around that turns out to be true.
The House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, but legislation protecting abortion rights is probably going nowhere in the Senate. [Author’s note: The Senate will vote to advance a bill to protect abortion rights this week, but it does not have the votes needed to break a filibuster. The Senate already failed to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act, the House-passed bill to codify abortion rights, earlier this year.] So how can Democrats make the case to voters that you support abortion rights when you’re finding it difficult to pass a bill through Congress even with control of both houses?
I’m the representative for the Kansas Third [District], and I spend so much time just trying to connect with and listen to the folks in my district. And I think that for the work that I’ve been doing and that I’m going to continue to do, the most effective thing I do is make sure that the folks in Kansas know not just where I stand on this, but what am I working on and what am I pushing for. You brought up a bill that we passed in the House. I voted for it. And I think that we’re seeing a draft opinion that, if it’s true, it’s going against how the vast majority of people think about this issue. And I have made sure that the folks at home know where I stand in passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, and also that I want to see the Senate feel the urgency to get the law passed so that we don’t see these extreme bans and extreme laws being passed, because that’s the alternative.
Switching topics to the COMPETES/Bipartisan Innovation Act … you are on the conference committee for that and recently completed a tour of Kansas businesses to gather their input. So what are some of your priorities for this bill and the priorities of your constituents?
There’s a couple of things that the Made in Kansas tour that we did highlighted and emphasized. I’ve been focused on supply chain issues and trying to make more in Kansas, even before all the global volatility that we’ve been seeing. But I think after the tour, my priorities continue to be fixing our supply chains, which this bill—the innovation and supply chain and manufacturing bill—will address. It also is partly addressed by the bipartisan infrastructure law that we recently passed. So continuing to work on fixing our supply chains, making sure that we’re supporting American manufacturing, which adds to making a more robust supply chain, and making sure our workforce is there so that we can build a future that’s made in the U.S. And also, I’m of course probably biased, but there are a lot of really great things that we’re making in Kansas that can absolutely be part of getting us to these more robust supply chains. One of the companies that I visited with was a battery manufacturer, and these kinds of advanced manufacturing, supplies, and needs are exactly the kinds of things that we should be supporting.
[Republican Senator Jerry] Moran is also on the conference committee on the Senate side. Have you spoken to him at all yet about the Kansan priorities you want to make sure get there?
We did speak briefly after we both were named to the conference committee. It was just before the manufacturing tour, the Made in Kansas tour that we did. And basically, I just let him know that as we start to move further down the line on this, we plan to stay in touch and ensure that—him from the Senate side and statewide level, and me from Kansas Third perspective—[there are] ways that we can make sure that the provisions in the bill and conference are helpful to the entire state.
It’s pretty rare that there is an actual conference committee on non-defense legislation.
That’s what I’m hearing.
Are you expecting any difficulties or struggles in hammering out this legislation on a bipartisan, bicameral basis?
This will be my first conference committee, and I didn’t realize the lack of frequency compared to, historically, how often conference committees would have been formed. But I think that, at least from the perspective of my working with folks across the aisle or even in a bicameral way, I feel really good about the fact that we’ve got both myself and Senator Moran to work on things. We know we’ll both be able to bring priorities of our state to the table. And I know that sometimes getting to a compromise, and working through these sticky complex issues, it’s not for the faint of heart. But we’ve been able to get things across that finish line, like the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And it’s always my preference to work across the aisle to get durable policy done. I think we can get there.
You support a bill from Representatives Spanberger and Roy barring members of Congress from trading stock. It seems like that was a big topic a few weeks ago but hasn’t been in the news as much lately. Has momentum on that stalled?
I wouldn’t say that the momentum has stalled. It’s actually interesting, I’ve heard from a number of people in the Kansas Third about it. I think, especially after these last few years, we’ve just seen too many instances of questionable financial conduct by elected officials. You think about when Covid first was emerging, and we saw members or their spouses buying stock in pharmaceutical companies or tech companies before the public really understood what was going on. Regardless of whether that was actually inappropriate or not, it certainly looks that way and can deteriorate trust in elected officials. I don’t know that I would say that there’s been a slowdown of the momentum. I think the conversations are continuing. And … because there’s bipartisan support of the concept, I don’t think we’re losing momentum at all.
Moving on to inflation, and specifically looking at gas prices—you support a federal gas tax holiday. Some critics have raised concerns that oil producers could benefit from such a suspension. And the White House seems kind of cool to the idea. So how should members of Congress and the president be addressing this issue of rising gas prices?
The number of people that I talk to at home … are concerned about rising costs and are feeling that pinch, whether it’s because of grocery prices going up or other things, or gas prices. I think that at the same time that we’re working on these long-term issues around supply chains—getting a more robust supply chain, getting more things here, domestically—I think that while we’re working on those, we need to also be thinking about these more immediate relief measures. I’ve been supportive of a gas tax holiday. It’s one solution. It’s one immediate way to get relief. To the point about folks’ concerns around oil company profits and those kinds of things, I was very intentional about making sure that there are guardrails in place so that savings are actually passed on to the folks who are at the gas pump, driving to and from work every day. And then also to make sure that we’re not hurting our ability to continue to work on these long-term infrastructure projects. So we’ve put in some guardrails to help avoid that.
[Author’s note: The bill would require the Treasury Department to transfer funds to the Highway Trust Fund to keep the program solvent and would authorize the treasury secretary to “use all applicable authorities to ensure that the benefit of the reduction in taxes” goes to the consumers. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate, co-sponsored by several senators who have difficult reelection fights in the midterms.]
Just in general, you’ve been raising the alarm on rising inflation for months. Do you think that Democrats are taking the issue seriously enough ahead of the midterms?
I think that part of the reason that I am talking about this so much is because I’m hearing about it a lot. I think I said it earlier, but rising prices is a top-of-mind thing for so many people at home. And so, my desire and my push to try to do as much as we can in Congress is because of that. And I imagine others are doing that too, because as the Congress, it does feel like something that we have been focused on taking seriously. I know that it’s very serious to me. I’m not a huge fan of saying how anybody else should be conducting themselves as representatives. But I’m taking it very seriously and going to continue to work on trying to make sure that we’re addressing in the short term and the long term the rising costs and the pinch people are feeling.
What are the top issues that you are going to be focusing on ahead of the midterms?
I think first, it all starts with listening to what the folks in the Kansas Third want to see. And I’ve been focusing on delivering results for the people in my community, and I’m proud of the things that we’ve gotten to accomplish. Getting a bipartisan infrastructure bill done—I don’t know if you know, but I’m a huge infrastructure nerd. So getting the chance to work on, on passing, such a massive investment, on modernizing and innovating and even just preparing our infrastructure is something that I’m very proud of. It’s going to create jobs, it’s going to have a direct impact on people’s lives. I’m going to continue to focus on things like trying to figure out how do we lower costs for folks. And whether that’s adjusting surprise medical bills, getting legislation around that done, and then also just trying to make sure that we’re addressing the big-picture concerns that folks are having. The workforce issue is something that I hope that with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we can start really implementing some of the workforce issues that are in there. And then us getting more manufacturing done here so that we can start to unstick our supply chains.