US Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) has been a San Gabriel Valley political leader since the mid-1980s.
In 1985, Chu was elected to the Garvey School District Board of Education. From there, she won a seat on the Monterey Park City Council, where she served as mayor three times.
By the turn of the century, Chu entered state politics, winning a seat in the state Assembly in 2001.
After terming out of that office, with her husband Mike Eng, who had taken over his wife’s seat on the Monterey Park City Council and then won her Assembly seat, Chu was elected to the State Board of Equalization in 2006.
In 2009, the former junior college psychology professor became the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress when she won the special election that year for the then-32nd Congressional District after then-Congresswoman and now-LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis was appointed Secretary of Labor by President Barack Obama.
In a packed field, Chu finished first with 32 percent of the vote, easily defeating Republican rival Betty Chu in the runoff election, capturing 62 percent of the vote in that race.
Since then, Chu has won re-election five times with at least 60 percent of the vote in four of those contests. Three of those victories have come against perennial Republican candidate Jack Orswell.
Since 2012, Chu has been representing Pasadena and the West San Gabriel Valley that with redistricting that year became the 27th District.
Currently, the 66-year-old lawmaker serves on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which has filed a lawsuit to obtain President Trump’s long-sought tax documents. The Ways and Means Committee also has jurisdiction over legislation pertaining to Social Security and Medicare.
On that committee, Chu is a member of its subcommittees on Health and Human Resources, Worker and Family Support, and Oversight, giving her responsibility for issues related to health care reform and safety net programs.
In April, Chu and Republican Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Fresno) teamed up on a rare piece of bipartisan legislation: the Sunshine for Samples Act.
This bill would amend the Sunshine Act to require drug manufacturers to publicly make available the number and value of free drug samples given to health care providers and charities annually.
Chu also serves on the House Small Business Committee, which has oversight of the Small Business Administration, and is the chair of the Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations.
She has also worked to bring two full-service small business development centers to the San Gabriel Valley — one located at Pasadena City College and the other at the University of Laverne. She reintroduced House Resolution 448, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.
Most recently she inspected conditions at migrant camps located in Texas along the border with Mexico.
“We saw children locked up behind steel doors,” Chu said. “There was a toddler that looked miserable. When we waved to him he pressed his face against the door, hoping to get out. It broke my heart.”
Pasadena Weekly recently caught up with Chu, who spoke about conditions in those camps, and other issues facing the nation.
PW: You just visited the migrant detention centers in Texas. What did you see there?
Chu: I was appalled and disgusted. It was a congressional delegation. We went to El Paso and we talked to a group of women in cinder block cells who immediately had tears streaming down their faces. They were miserable and had no idea when they were getting out. They have been separated from their children. One woman had epilepsy. There is no running water, and some of them had been asking for medication. There is no running water, and they were told to drink out of the toilet bowl.
Then we went to the Clint Border Patrol Station, where they house the unaccompanied minors. There were 106 kids there. At one point 700 kids were there. There is also a warehouse where there were 100 to 200 kids at one time. Imagine a giant steel garden shed that has no air conditioning, in an area where it’s is over 100 degrees. We could only be in there for a short period of time.
What can be done about this?
A judge dictates what should go on in this facility. He has ordered they come up with a solution. I am pressing on with demands for change. I did not vote for the bill that passed. I have great concerns about accountability. The second version did not have standard of care that was in the first version; it didn’t include anything about hygiene and nutrition, It should have a provision that money should only go to the intended target and a 90-day limit for the minors to remain in these places. Congressmen should be able to go in unannounced, so the centers cannot be sterilized. They tried to do that with us.
Where do you stand on impeachment?
I believe the president committed impeachable actions. I want to make sure the American public is with us on this. If we start the process, then all of America will be focused on it. What America needs to know is the ultimate goal cannot be accomplished with Republicans in charge. Unless there was enough pressure on Republicans we could have a frustrated public and a president who claims he has triumphed. I think Mueller’s testimony will be very, very important. For the people to hear from him, even if it’s just his account of what’s in the report, that is very, very valuable.
What are your thoughts on the first two debates?
The debates were fascinating. I would say in the first debates Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro stood out, and in the second one Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg stood out.
Is the country ready for a woman president?
Why not? I think we have many excellent qualified candidates.
How much damage would a citizenship question on the census do? (Editor’s note: The president dropped his effort to get the question on the census and has now ordered all federal agencies to compile information on illegal immigrants living in the country.)
I think they have already done damage because they have put this issue out there. Some people may think this question is on the census, even if it’s not, and avoid the census. Pasadena is in serious danger of an under count. We have to make sure there is a complete count. That is very important.
How important is the health care issue?
This is the number one issue for Americans. We have worked overtime to make our health care system affordable and to make sure it is for everybody. We should move closer to a universal system. I have cosponsored Medicare for all. I’m for a public option that could compete with private plans. People would flock to it. I am a huge proponent of lowering prescription drug prices. A month’s supply of insulin in my district costs $665. Yet, in Australia, it’s $28. Why is it if you cross the border it is one-tenth of the cost? Countless constituents are considering going to Canada and Mexico for medicine. It’s outrageous that Americans are in this position. I co-authored a Ways and Means bill, Sunshine for Samples, to address this issue and to put transparency on the costs of drug samples. Companies spend more on drug samples and commercials than they do on research and development. Samples of oxycontin may have led to the opioid crisis.
Are we headed for another war in the Middle East?
I am very worried and concerned the president will drag us into another war. He got us out of the nuclear deal and now Iran is building up its arsenal. It’s a very troubling situation. I am opposed to him using the 2001 authorization (for use of military force) as his excuse to go to war. Every president has to have approval by Congress. He has to have a new authorization by Congress.
Is there anything you want to say to your Pasadena constituents?
I have been fighting to get a veterans health care clinic in the San Gabriel Valley for seven years. Finally we got one opened on May 20, in Arcadia. Previously vets had to take long trips to Los Angeles, West Los Angeles or Loma Linda to get medical care. It is a full service facility and a bigger one is going to open in three to five years. We are going to have the grand opening on Aug. 2. If anyone wants details on the facility, they can call my office.