The House and Harvard: Interview with Chris Pappas

Chris Pappas ’02 is the Democratic representative-elect from NH-1. He previously served two terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives before becoming the treasurer of Hillsborough County. In 2014, he was elected to the New Hampshire Executive Council. Pappas earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Harvard College in 2002.

Harvard Political Review: What policies do you support to address climate change?

Chris Pappas: I think we need bold action to address climate change. I absolutely support the creation of a new committee in Congress that’s going to look at ways to wean ourselves off carbon, and we have to make the commitment to do that over the long term. I believe that we have to put the incentives in the right place to ensure that the technology continues to develop around renewables, and it’s going in that direction. You see businesses and communities doing the right thing, voting with their feet, and the federal government needs to act in a way that will tip the balance in that direction.

HPR: What is your (“CliffsNotes”) stance on immigration? On the Wall and DACA?

CP: We don’t need a wall. It’s a nonsensical idea that’s not going to keep this country safe. We need comprehensive reform passed. And there’s bipartisan support in Congress for major provisions of that, including allowing the Dreamers to become citizens, allowing individuals who are living here and contributing to come out of the shadows and be a part of what this country’s all about. We cannot allow the golden door of the United States to be slammed shut during the Trump Era.

HPR: How will you work to combat gun violence?

CP: This is a serious issue, and it’s a uniquely American tragedy. I fail to see how Congress cannot act to save lives and keep people safe while still allowing people to exercise their second amendment right. I think we should start by passing universal background checks. It’s widely supported by gun owners and non-gun owners alike. There’s no reason why we cannot get it done.

HPR: What is your view on the recent and future tax cuts?

CP: The tax cuts are creating fiscal instability in this country. And the time when the economy is growing is not the time to give billionaires and millionaires and big corporations a massive tax cut. The next step where some want to take us is to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare, foundational programs that are part of the social safety net of this country. We shouldn’t let them do it.

HPR: You’ve recently said that you support Nancy Pelosi for speaker, but you largely avoided this issue on the campaign trail. How did Nancy Pelosi as an issue affect your race?

CP: It really wasn’t an issue that came up from voters. I would hear about it from the media. I was really honest; I was going to take a look at who was running for the position and how they felt about incoming members like me and the challenges in my district. When it came down to it, we had some great conversations, and I think it’s important that we stay united at this time.

HPR: Did you feel more pressure from the left or from Republicans about Nancy Pelosi?

CP: I got some feedback, and it was mixed. I heard from some Democrats who wanted a change and some who wanted us to maintain our leadership. I heard from Republicans who said she was effective and wanted to see a change. I heard from others who wanted me to make the best decision for the district. I think I worked to do that, and through conversations with freshmen members and incoming leadership I got the appreciation that they were going to allow us to really have a voice in the caucus, which is important to me.

HPR: Do you support Medicare-for-all?

CP: On the campaign, this came up quite a bit. I think we need to take additional steps to cover everyone in this country and bring down costs. I say that as someone who provided the pivotal support to implement the Medicaid expansion in my state. That was the right step forward. I want to be a part of the discussion on how we create universal healthcare in America, focus on bringing down the cost of prescription drugs, and ensuring that when people have coverage it’s going to work for them at the time they need it.

HPR: Where do you see opportunities to work constructively with the administration?

CP: I think there are a number of areas. I’ve had some interesting conversations with some of the newer Republican members of Congress. I think around transportation and infrastructure, there’s common ground. Around veterans healthcare issues, there’s common ground. I think there are real ways we can get some action on those and other issues. It all starts with building trust, building relationships with individuals with diverse points of view and seeing where that takes you.

HPR: Would you lay off investigations to work cooperatively?

CP: I think the oversight function of Congress is essential. It’s a constitutional responsibility. It is a health thing for there for be a level of oversight even though it creates some tension within the government. I’m coming out of a position in New Hampshire, I was a member of our state’s executive council, which is a five-member board that oversees our executive branch. So I know what it means to make sure we’re providing oversight and accountability for the people of my state. We need that at the federal level. I think we just have to do it in a way that’s not motivated by politics but by the duty we have.

HPR: How has being an unmarried, gay incoming member of Congress affected your social life at the various functions meant for new members and their spouses?

CP: That’s an interesting question. You know, it’s funny; there are a few other freshmen who are not married, and we’ve joked that we’re going to form a singles caucus. I don’t know if that will materialize or not. The amazing thing about the incoming class is that we look a lot more like the rest of America. I think everyone deserves a seat at the table, whether you’re gay or straight, regardless of what community you come from. I’m hoping that the voices of the American people are heard — that the voices of every community are heard.

HPR: Harvard’s final clubs have lobbied Congress to take action against the university’s sanctions on them. As a Harvard graduate now entering Congress, do you have a stance on the university’s policy?

CP: It’s an issue I really haven’t considered. I wasn’t a member of a final club. I think it’s important that organizations that operate on campus or within range of campus that are open to some Harvard students are welcome to all students.

HPR: What has changed most about the College since your leaving Harvard?

CP: Physically, things haven’t really changed around here. Things look the same; maybe some names on some of the stores have changed. I had the opportunity to have a number of younger people come up and volunteer on our campaign from Harvard, and it seems like their experiences are pretty similar to what I went through. Actually, someone who was my driver this past summer is a sophomore student now. I got to talk to him a lot about it, and I think it still feels very familiar to me.

HPR: Where is your favorite place to get food around Harvard?

CP: I actually used to work at a restaurant that’s no longer here. I worked for a couple of years at a place in [Harvard Square], using the experience from my restaurant in New Hampshire. It’s something that I couldn’t get out of my system, and it was always helpful to have a bit of extra money, so I used to pick up some shifts down here.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Tim Pierce

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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