Retired Marine Lt. Col. Amy McGrath's political ad took the Internet (or at least the political corner of the Internet) by storm this week, but she tells NPR that she doesn't typically love being fussed over.
"People who know me personally know me as an introvert," she said. "I'm not somebody who seeks attention."
No matter, though; when the Kentucky native released an ad announcing she would run in 2018 as a Democrat in her state's 6th Congressional District, she earned swooning praise from liberals and even impressed some conservatives. In the ad, McGrath took aim not only at the incumbent, Republican Rep. Andy Barr, but also made a blistering attack on fellow Kentuckian Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.
Amid intense recruitment efforts on the Democratic side, NPR asked McGrath what she thinks of those efforts, the divide in the Democratic Party, single-payer health care and other important political topics. Her interview is below (and has been edited for length and clarity).
How did you decide to run? Were you recruited, or was this purely your decision?
So this was purely my decision. There's been a lot of talk of Democratic Party recruitment, and I sort of laughed at that as I was going through the process of defining myself.
Because I say, the Democratic Party didn't recruit me; I recruited it. After the 2016 elections I think like a lot of Americans, we just took a step back and for me I just refocused and tried to figure out what just happened. Who are the candidates, [and] how did we get here?
And I realized that I had to do something. I felt like I had two choices: I could accept things the way they were, sort of politics as usual, or I could accept the responsibility for trying to change something, trying to do something. And this is my response.
So was the 2016 election the straw that broke the camel's back?
I think the 2016 election was not necessarily the straw that broke the camel's back.
I would say it was the start of real reflection for me as to, "Hey. This is something I think I want to do."
The straw that broke the camel's back for me was when the Republicans in the springtime were putting up their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, this terrible bill that nobody liked, and they were pushing it through Congress without debate, without anybody knowing what was in the bill, just to prove a political point.
You talked about not being recruited, but Democrats are recruiting veterans and particularly women veterans for 2018. You check both of those boxes, so what do you think about that strategy?
I think it probably — hopefully it will be effective.
I think, look. With regard to women, I'm not running as a woman — "Vote for me!" But the fact of the matter is we have a very low percentage of women in our Legislature in this country compared to other nations in the western world.
Part of that problem is women don't run. We don't run for office. It's not that people are overwhelmingly voting against us. We just don't step up to the plate. So we have to do a better job of recruiting women and getting women to step up.
With regard to veterans, look. We have the fewest amount of veterans in our Legislature in places like Congress than ever before in history. [Note: She's close, in terms of modern Congresses, but according to the Congressional Research Service, at the start of this Congress, there was one more veteran member than there was at the start of the prior Congress.] And I feel this is a problem. Because veterans, they're a group of people who really put the country first. They put their lives on the line, they sacrifice, they know how to get a mission done.
So yes, I believe that strategy is a good one. Not because it's going to flip the House for Democrats — obviously I'm a Democrat, and I'm happy for that, and I hope that happens. But I think that's good for America. We need more women, we need more veterans.
There's this divide among Democrats right now, between the far-left wing and centrists. How should the party bridge that divide? Do you think you could help?
I think — it's not just Democrats that have a divide. I think you're seeing some real divides on the Republican side, too.
But there is a bit of a gap. So how I think I can deal with this or why I'm somebody who might be able to bridge that gap is I fully recognize that if it were not progressives — I mean real progressives; radical people at the time — in government, I would not have had a job for 20 years.
Because when I was 13, 14 years old, it was those progressives in government who said — when most of Congress said, "Hey, women shouldn't fly in combat. Women shouldn't do that job," — it was those progressives who said, "No. We should have the best person doing those jobs, and our goal is to fight and win wars. So we should have the best person."
With regard to the more moderates, I have spent 20 years as a United States Marine. I'm a little more realistic when it comes to some of these foreign policy, defense policy issues, some of the things we do overseas. And so I really feel like I can connect to the more moderates.
I also consider myself a fiscal conservative. And what does that mean? To me, that means that we actually pay for the goods and services that we want government to provide. That's what that means.
In last year's primary were you a supporter of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?
I was a supporter of Hillary Clinton.
In your ad, you criticize Andy Barr for supporting the GOP health care bill. How would you want to see Obamacare changed? Is single-payer something you could support?
I like single-payer. So let me take this back. If we have the structure that we have right now. If we were to start over and have to start over from scratch, say this was 10 years ago — I think we now know that single-payer would be the way to go.
But the reality is, we don't have that. We have a large infrastructure of health care in America. And maybe what we ought to do is try to shore up Obamacare and make it work. Make the holes that are in it — and there are some real holes; no one has ever said the Affordable Care Act was perfect — but let's not lie and say it's failing. It's not failing.
Many Kentuckians are benefiting from it. Even Republican Kentuckians are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. Let's have a conversation about it and actually try to shore it up and fill the holes. We still have large swaths of the American public that still cannot afford health care, even under the Affordable Care Act.