Editor’s Note: Amy McGrath, Democrat nominee for U.S. Representative, Sixth District, provided an exclusive interview with the News-Graphic. The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Amy McGrath is a former fighter pilot with 89 missions, including over 350 combat hours. Following her tour as a pilot, McGrath was assigned to Washington, D.C. as Marine Corps Congressional Fellow, serving as defense and foreign affairs advisor to Rep. Susan Davis, D-Dan Diego. Later she served in the Pentagon as Marine Corps liaison to other federal agencies. In 2014, as a Lt. Colonel, she was assigned to the faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy where she taught political science until her retirement on June 1, 2017.
McGrath and her husband, Erik, a retired naval commander, have three children and live in Georgetown.
News-Graphic: What motivated you to run for Congress?
Amy McGrath: Well, it boils down to I was fed up. The 2016 elections were a turning point for me. I was fed up with the entire election cycle.
The leaders that we had, everything from the fake news to the divisiveness, the labeling, the constant labeling of the other side, and they're all this, or there they're all that, or they're all radical this or they're all radical that.
It's just not us. It's not us as Americans.
And I was teaching. I was in my last assignment, what was to be my last assignment in the Marine Corps, teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy. So, yes, I was a fighter pilot for many years. But I also did some other things within the Marine Corps. I was the Marine Corps liaison to all the other federal government agencies in the Pentagon for two years. I worked on the Hill for a year as a Congressional Fellow through the Marine Corps, and then my last assignment was teaching at the Naval Academy.
I was teaching a national security course, and I was teaching a U.S. government course. And it became very difficult for me to stand up in front of my students, everyday and explain what was happening in our elections, what was happening to our country.
Who are these leaders? In an institution where if you lie, cheat or steal, you're kicked out—these are who we had running in 2016. And it made me sad. And my response to the election, itself, and the results, of course, was my response to everything else in my life is: I'm going to take some action. I'm reaching 20 years of military service. I want to go home. Home is Kentucky. That's where I'm from. It's where I want to go back. That's where my family is. And that's why I did it.
News-Graphic: So, you’ve worked in Washington, D.C. You have an understanding how the government works?
Amy McGrath: And I have a lot of experience in federal government, as well, and understanding through the military how that works. Yeah.
News-Graphic: Why Georgetown? What brought you to Georgetown?
Amy McGrath: Well, I have relatives in Lexington, and I am originally from and have relatives up in northern Kentucky in Kenton County and Boone County.
For me when I thought to come back to Kentucky I always thought there would only be really two places that I'd want to go you know because of family and location. One was the Lexington area because it's so vibrant and so awesome and beautiful. It's the Bluegrass area.
I've got friends and family down there, or where I'm from, because I have friends and family up there. It really comes down to friends and family. And Georgetown was perfect because it's sort of right in between the two. And we liked the small town. We liked the non-traffic, frankly, not having to deal with Lexington traffic, a very practical thing, and we just liked it here.
News-Graphic: You are a Democrat, but your husband is a Republican.
Amy McGrath: Yes, lifelong.
News-Graphic: So how does that play in the household?
Amy McGrath: Look I mean that's America, first of all. And my husband and I are able to get along, and we're able to have substantive conversations. We argue more about the kids than we do about politics.
I just think that it's great because we balance each other, and because we can get along. I can feel like we can do this in Congress too. You know if you get the right people there, people who aren't so set in their ways, which want to make a difference. Then we can make a difference. Just the same way, you know, Eric and I have our relationship. We disagree on some things. I'm further right than he is on certain things, believe it or not. Or he's further left, whatever you want to call it. He considers himself a Republican. That's what he always was.
I haven't always been a Democrat. I was an independent for many years. That is what it is. That's just who we are.
News-Graphic: Let’s talk about immigration.
Amy McGrath: So to me—and I took a trip to the border just a little over a month ago to really find out what was going on.
Amy McGrath: El Paso. I went down there with other combat veterans, with Representative Seth Moulton, who is also a combat veteran. And we went down there with no press, nothing.
We went down there to find out what's going on, to talk with sort of both sides of the border, and what I learned from that is we have we have a somewhat complex system in our country, and I think that we have to be honest about immigration.
And so when I see the far left talking about abolishing ICE, I mean, that's not the answer. I've talked to folks on that trip from ICE, who are Border Patrol agents. They are just doing their job. If you really wanted to tackle the immigration problem, illegal immigration—undocumented persons here—you have to look at Congress. Congress hasn't done anything on this issue since the Reagan administration. So we're in a lot of these problems today because we haven't had members of Congress that have been willing to look at the system that we have. So abolishing our law enforcement agencies is not the answer.
I am for strong borders. I mean, I protected the country for 20 years in the military. There's no way I would be for open borders. That's just a flat out lie. We've got to know who's coming into our country. We've got to be able to figure that out. On the other hand, we are a nation of immigrants, and we have to have a policy in our country where we remain a nation of immigrants, where people can come to this country and become citizens. I mean everybody here has somewhere along the line a grandparent who came here somehow. So I think we need to stay true to our values. So I'm not for open borders. I'm not for abolishing ICE. I'm not for family separation. I think the Trump administration went way too far on that. I think it's cruel, and that's not where we need to be. And there are other ways of handling this issue.
News-Graphic: The wall—are you in favor of a building a wall?
Amy McGrath: I think a wall is stupid. I've said that before, and I'm not the only one. When I went down to that border trip, Border Patrol agents don't think it's going to be effective.
I mean it's an 8th century solution to a 21st century problem. The vast majority of undocumented people don't come here with the coyotes. They're not coming across the border and, you know, 200 miles from El Paso. They're coming in here on visas, and they're overstaying their welcome. They come here, and it's mostly a function of what's happening in Central America. That's the other thing I learned when I was down there. It's not really a function of walls or not walls.
And so I just think, to me, that is a complete waste of money. If you talk to people down there who actually are in border enforcement, what do they need? They need more technologies. They need more UAVs, better technologies to be able to see the whole border.
News-Graphic: Now what is a UAV?
Amy McGrath: UAV, it's a drone. I call them UAVs because we don't like to use the word drone in the military because drone implies that there's nobody flying it, but a UAV, you're actually on the ground flying it.
I think better technologies are what the folks who are actually on the border are asking for. They're not asking for a wall. And then, just the sheer cost of this. Now, you know, I laugh because the president said that Mexico is going to pay for it. Right? But that's not reality.
And I look, and I go to places like Wolfe County. You know, the Sixth District is 19 counties. Wolfe County, out there in the far eastern part of this district or Anderson County down there in the South. I've been there many times. What do they want? They want running water in Wolfe County. What does Anderson County needs? It needs a new sewer system fix. And we're going to be spending money on a wall? Billions of dollars? That is basically not going to fix the problem?
They're going to find a way to come here. You know, a wall is not going to fix the problem, and then we're not spending the money where we need in infrastructure.
I talk a lot about that in my economic plan. I came out with a 32-page economic plan. And I talk a lot about 21st century infrastructure, not only fixing the roads and a lot of the problems that we have in this district and really in rural America, but looking to the future. How do you create new jobs? Well you create new jobs with new technologies and with 21st century infrastructure—rural broadband.
We're okay here at Georgetown because there's a lot here. No business is going to want to go to Wolfe County if they can't talk to the modern world, if they can't get cell phone coverage, if they can't have rural broadband. You can't you can't run a business in 2018 if you can't talk. These are things that I think government can help with. These can be public goals the same way roads and bridges have been in the past and need to be fixed in the future.
So, to me, if you're going back to your original question, I just think it's a complete waste of money. That we can we can do this. We can have strong borders. Let's do it smarter. Let's do it by better technologies, by drones, by things like the P3, which is a surveillance aircraft that can really see. Trust me. I've been up in it. You can see a lot that way. That's just my opinion.
News-Graphic: Illegal immigrants aren’t the only problem at the border. Much of the drugs in this country come from foreign countries. How would you stop illegal drugs from entering the country?
We've had a drug problem for decades.
Building a wall is not going to stop the drugs. OK. It's just not.
Plus when you look at the drug problem today, a lot of opioids. They're getting it right here. We want to focus on Mexico and Central America and all the drugs that are coming from it. They've been coming for decades.
I just think we've got to tackle the drug problem with not only enforcing and going after the people who are selling drugs, but why are people going on drugs? And one of the major problems that we're having right now, right in this district in Kentucky is the opioid problem. And boy that is way more complex than just saying that it's coming from cartels in Mexico.
I'll tell you people are getting addicted to opioids by having soccer injuries—they're not they're not looking for drugs. These are regular people who are getting addicted because of the pharmaceutical industry right now. So I think it's a much bigger problem than just, "Oh let's try to stem the drugs coming across the border." We've tried to do that.
A wall is not going to fix it because, again, most people come through the regular ports of entry, to include drugs through the regular points of entry. I sat there at the El Paso Port of Entry and just watched about an hour, just watched.
I mean it's a constant stream of flow back and forth. I'm not advocating for stopping that. There's a ton of jobs and trade and people that move back and forth across our borders. I mean, it's important. We have a lot of trade with Mexico. We have people that go across the border. It's okay. I just don't think the answer is to build a wall.
News-Graphic: Let's shift gears and talk about tariffs.
Amy McGrath: That's another stupid idea.
News-Graphic: What's your take on automobile tariffs and the aluminum and steel?
Amy McGrath: I think the whole idea of tariffs is stupid and hurtful to the industries here in the Sixth District and to our country. And I'm not just talking about the automotive industry, but with the steel tariffs, what you're doing is you're trying to protect one little sector of American manufacturing, and then you're hurting everybody else in the process. You can't do it that way.
I think the tariffs are hurtful for Toyota. I think they're hurtful for the bourbon industry. They're hurtful for the soybean farmer in Fleming County. And I actually feel like, with like the bourbon industry, that maybe if these tariffs go away within a reasonable amount of time and we all go back to normal, maybe they can get some of their customers back.
But guess what? That soybean farmer who's lost those soybeans, or now folks in other countries are buying their soybeans from Argentina or somewhere else, that's not likely to come back.
And that's a real problem. I just talked to a soybean farmer two days ago. And the real concern is they've lost their profits—gone for all year. They're basically looking at a whole year and no profit because the price just dropped. And I asked them about this billion-dollar bailout, the $12 billion, and they're like "yeah that's a great bailout for something we never did. You know something we don't deserve." So to me, I can't believe that we have a president that is doing this—hurting our industries.
And on top of that I can't believe we have a representative in this seat currently right now who is unwilling to stand up to it. He'll say I'm not for the tariffs. Yeah I've called Vice President Pence. I've told him that I'm not for them.
Great. You called the one guy who has no power in America. Awesome. Oh I'm the only one who has influence here. That's what he said really. Well if you have so much influence, nothing's happening. And, by the way, you do have a constitutional power. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3, it says Congress has the power to regulate commerce interstate and foreign commerce. Yet the Congress right now, controlled by Republicans, is refusing to do that.
Why? Because they don't want to go against the leader of their party? They're refusing to do their job, refusing to represent the people and the interests of this district. Because of their political party?
And this is my whole message. It has been my message from the start is: you have to get people in office that care more about this country, care more about it the people here than their own political party. And the tariffs are a perfect example of the person in power right now caring more about his political party than his district.
If he cared he would have done something.
News-Graphic: Has the campaign for national office been anything like you originally imagined?
Amy McGrath: Yes and No.
I knew this business was going to be difficult and nasty. I knew there was going to be a lot of lies. So in a sense, I expected that.
The good news is what I've been most heartened by are the amount of people who have sort of come out of the woodwork and are positive about this campaign are excited about their country.
I have 85-year-old women coming up to me saying, "Hey I've never had a yard sign in my yard, ever, for a political candidate. Can I have your yard sign?" I have 60-year-old veterans who shake my hand really hard look me in the eye and say, "Thank God you are running."
You know that, it just hits to the core. And I don't ask them what party they're from. I don't care. It's about having leaders of character and honesty and going at the heart of who we are as Americans, and I think that that has been the best part of this campaign for me, because that is why I'm doing it.
For other people to recognize that and kind of come out of the woodwork and say I'm going to help. That's awesome.
No. I mean we're dealing with attack ads right now, too, so I'm want to run my campaign a little bit differently than the average. I think what you see is this pummeling. And that's not who I am. You know I'm going to stand up and this is why I'm running. I'm running to be different, to change the dynamic in our country. We've got to be talking about the issues. We've got to be talking about where we disagree.
News-Graphic: If elected, what do you hope to accomplish?
Amy McGrath: I think we need to improve our health care in this country.
It's a completely unfair system the way it is right now. I think that there are a lot of people that are still struggling and very, very worried about their health care.
People have preexisting conditions. I think the Affordable Care Act was never a perfect piece of legislation, but it did a lot of good.
And I'm very concerned. And the biggest issue of my campaign, because it's the biggest issue in all 19 counties from what I hear from people, is that we have people in power right now that really want to undermine the system we have for purely political purposes.
You know the idea is let's throw (Affordable Care) away. We don't have a replacement. We've said we've had a replacement for many, many years but we don't really have one. Let's throw it away because we've run on this lie for eight years that this is so bad. But they don't have a replacement.
And people who have preexisting conditions are thrown out into the cold. And now, with that not being pushed through, now they're trying to undermine it and make it fail.
I just think that's totally un-American. In this country, we need to try to make things work. We tweak things. You know when Social Security and Medicare came out it wasn't perfect. We tweak it over the years. We make it better. That's what we do.
When we wanted to go to the moon in the 1960s and we had some rockets fail, we didn't quit. We tweaked it. We fixed it. That's the American way.
And right now we're not doing that. We have leaders who basically want to throw it away for political purposes, to call it a win.
That's not us. So I want to go in and tweak it. I want to make it better. I want to shore up the Affordable Care Act. I want to make it better by doing things like a Medicare buy-in plan for those who are 55 and older. They could buy into a system early the people generally like, where they're comfortable and they don't feel like their premiums are just going to skyrocket out of control and they're one heart attack away from losing their farm or whatever. I want to do things like public option. The public option is simply under the Affordable Care Act exchanges. You have an option in addition to all the private insurers; you could pick a public insurer, just as I have as a former military officer. I have a government plan, essentially.
I think you ought to be able to choose that. If you don't want it, then choose a private insurer. If you do want it you can choose that. It would give people more choice. It would bring down prices, because then the private insurers have to compete with a public option. It's wildly popular when you talk to Americans about it, including the majority of Republicans who are for it. These are practical things.
My message to this is: I'm a military officer by trade. I'm a practical person. I'm reasonable. I want to do things that we can do, that we can all come together and be like that makes sense. That makes sense. It's reasonable. Let's do this. So I think that's the biggest issue, there. And it is the number one issue in this district, still.
News-Graphic: You're talking about the ads. One ad says you're progressive. I guess I'm asking, is that bad?
Amy McGrath: Yeah, I think what it is.
The ad takes clips from what I say out of context.
And you know I'm progressive on many issues. I'm very progressive on many issues. I'm conservative on many issues. Most people are, and that's my point.
But when I go out and I talk, as they took from a talk that I gave, they took a clip out of there that said, you know, I'm progressive on this issue, and they're like I'm this radical. I'm not. Well, you make that decision. I'm not going to tell you. I am who I am.
Everybody's different. You line up 20 issues between you and your wife and Mark and me we're all going to have different differences of opinion on it. And this is what I hate. This is what the problem is right now. We want to label each other and say you're all that or you're all this. It's just not us. Most people don't align straight with the Republican Party, and God knows the Republican Party doesn't even align with the Republican Party these days. And then most people don't align straight with Democratic Party either. We're all somewhere in the middle.
My message is forget about that. Elect people that want to have solutions. Elect people that want to work to fix the problems and be honest about the problems that we have, whether it's immigration, whether it's health care, whether it's foreign policy and North Korea. Let's elect leaders who are honest.
You know what I hate is, I hate members of Congress that everything they say is propaganda. You know if you look on their Web sites and everything that's on there its, "Look at me. I'm so great. And look at the other side. They're always wrong." That's just not us. Good ideas come from Republicans. They come from Democrats.
You know Donald Trump is the president, right? I think that he's wrong on a lot of things. Character matters to me. OK? So I disagree with him on a lot of things, particularly how he treats certain people, like Gold Star families.
But he is our elected president. I'm the kind of person where should I be fortunate enough to be elected I want to work with him. I do, because that is our system. That is how we get things done. Too often we have politicians on both sides of the aisle who get into office and all they care about is their own party.
It's like the incumbent in this seat right now. Let me give you an example.
He was all for anti-debt, anti-deficit and debt when Obama was in office. Now that Trump's in office the only major piece of legislation he passed was adding $2 trillion to the national debt. Now all of a sudden it doesn't matter.
It's stuff like that that just doesn't add up. I can't process it. It's tough, and it makes no sense to me. Americans are tired of that. Let's get people in office that want to work with the other side, that want to do the right thing for the American public. Now that doesn't mean that I'm going to be with the president on everything. Certainly not! But if he has a good idea—he hasn't had too many of them yet—but if he does, I'll be for it, because that's how we get things done.
News-Graphic: Is there any question that has not been asked that you wish was asked?
Amy McGrath: In the primary I went out to the McDonald's here in Georgetown. I sat down with the group—it's actually a cool group -- a group of men who have coffee every Tuesday and Thursday. My husband hangs out with them sometimes.
And I go there one day because my husband said, "You got to go talk to these guys."
You sit down with them, and you realize that whether they're Republican or Democrat doesn't matter. They're just tired of the dysfunction. They just want to have honest leaders who get in there and try to solve problems that we have, whether it is immigration or whether it is the opioid crisis or health care or whatever.
Instead of labeling and pummeling and doing what the party tells them to do or the special interests tell them to do. And they're a good, good group of people. That's the average Kentuckian. That's the average voter. I think it's the fringes that are the ones that are trying to put everybody in a box. The average person just wants to get things done. And I've got to always keep that in mind.
One of the things I've learned is that you get pummeled from the right. You know it's happening of course on TV. I'll tell you what we're doing. I was trying to calm down the groups on the left, because a lot of left groups weren't happy with me because I wasn't progressive enough for them.
I didn't come out strongly on X, Y and Z the way they wanted me to. And so here we are. You can't. But that was more of a concern two or three weeks ago—that I wasn't far enough in their corner. They were telling me they weren't going to back me because I wasn't progressive enough. Now, here we are on TV, apparently I'm too progressive. I mean you can't. It's just. Forget it. Look at the issues, and look at the person. That's my message.
News-Graphic: You mentioned ‘fake news’ earlier. How has the media done covering you?
Amy McGrath: I think the media tries to be really balanced. I think it's really hard for me, only being in this business a year. I always tell Mark who's done this a lot more than I have, "Like why did they take that quote? Like, I said all this stuff, and they took that one thing.” And it's really hard for me.
I recognize that sometimes there's an angle that the media wants to do for a particular story, whether it's on an issue or they want to highlight a contrast or something. But I think OK. You know, the right wing media is the right wing media, and I don't think that they serve a purpose of unbiased. That's been my only concern. But for the most part it's been good.
News-Graphic: Your print ads are different. They are essays and explain your positions on issues. In this age of short interest spans, why run ads that require people to take time and read them?
Amy McGrath: When we kept doing that because a lot of the papers won't publish op-eds from candidates. They look at it as if it's a campaign thing. I want people to know that I'm a substantive person. But I also want them to understand the issue. I mean I do have some experience in securing our borders I've fought for our borders to be secured. I do understand that I do have some experience in international relations and international trade because most of what I've done has been on the international area.
So when I talk about tariffs, I can talk about that. I talk a lot about why I'm running for Congress. I put that in an op-ed.
And in the age of Twitter and in the age of this pummeling, I mean think about what's happening right now in the attack ads, and they are trying to label me as X, Y and Z.
That is not we as Americans. Okay?
And one of the things the essays allow me to do is to show people the complexities of these issues. I've had this criticism: "Are you for a wall or are you against all wall?"
Because you know in the Democratic primary when Reggie Thomas criticized you for being for a wall you basically said you would compromise on it. And that's true. In the primary Reggie Thomas came out and said, "I will never vote for one pair of taxpayer dollars to go towards a wall. You have my word."
And everybody cheered. But that's the problem.
You know, President Trump has already backtracked on the size and scope of this wall. He knows that it can't go the whole border. He wants a win. He wants to be able to put his red hat on, get a picture and call it a win. And Donald Trump cares about one thing, Donald Trump.
And so my feeling is if he's already backtracked, if we can give him 15-20 miles of this, what I call "stupid wall" in exchange for 900,000 DACA recipients. These are kids who grew up here. They weren't born here, but they came here when they were 2 or 3 years old. This is the only country they know. They're already thriving members of our society, in exchange for them becoming full citizens, full tax-paying citizens. I'll take that deal. Because that's how you compromise.
That's what we do in America. And, of course, the far left thinks that I'm selling out and I'm pro-wall now. Of course the far right says "Was she against the wall? She's flip-flopping."
But I never flip-flopped. This is the complexity.
Let's elect leaders who actually are thinking about these things and don't put a stake in the ground on this, because that's the problem. I mean, think about the Tea Party getting into office saying, "We're never going to raise taxes." Well that's why we're in debt right now. Let's have people that think, and what the 750-word op-eds allow me to do is to show people on immigration it's more complex than just the wall. We are not a wall.
So I'm trying to give people an example of which I'm running against, who pays for his campaigns? They're mostly big banks, special interest groups.
One of them is the payday lenders. He's also the chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee. One of the things that he writes at page 350 of a 400 page bill is just one or two lines—and he wrote it in there—it takes the handcuffs off payday lenders around military bases.
So in the last 10 years under the last administration, actually I think it happened under the Bush administration, but I have to look, Congress instituted some restrictions on payday lenders around military basis within a certain distance so these payday lenders would not fleece our private first classes and corporals and stuff, because they're not paid very much.
I saw this firsthand. We'd have Marines who go on emergency leave. Something happens back home, and they're right about ready to deploy or whatever and they got to fly home to see mom or dad or their girlfriend who's going to break up with them or something and they go out and they get that loan so they can buy that thousand dollar plane ticket for 24 hours and then come back, and they'll figure out how to pay it off later.
And guess what? These guys fleece them with like 60 percent interest. There's no restriction. There are no consumer protections.
Now honestly I think you should have consumer protections for all of America, but all we could do at that time 10 years ago was look at military bases. And the reason why it was so important is because it became a readiness issue. Marines were losing their security clearances because they were getting so far in debt. And for those of us who were in the squadron who were the leaders we actually had a pot of our own money that we would put our own money into so our junior Marines would not have to go to those loan sharks.
And so for Andy Barr, because the payday lenders pay him give him campaign donations, he just tweaks that one line in the bill that says that the federal government cannot enforce the restrictions. The restrictions are still in place but there's no enforcement. That's what that line says. And that's just an example of the kinds of things that somebody like him does.
News-Graphic: If I’m correct, the line you are referring was contained in the House version of the bill, but it was the Senate version that actually passed.
Amy McGrath: But it's to me it goes to the heart of, you know, when a guy like Andy Barr, who's like, "I'm pro military. I'm pro veterans." Well no you're not.
You are when it's convenient, but not when it conflicts with your donor base. Not when it conflicts with your financial services guys that give you all your money. And that's the difference. It's like, you know, I'm a pro veteran, too. I am one. But you've got to have people that want to do what's in the best interest of people, what's in the best interest, and not necessarily in the best interest of corporations and their donor base.
One of the ways I want to be a leader is to be that candidate, be that representative I always wished I had. And what does that mean? It means somebody who tells you the truth. So I'll give you a couple more examples. You know when Andy Barr talks about his Pro-Veterans Choice Bill, what he doesn't say is that it's not funded. So that's a problem, because when you tell the Veterans Administration to do something and you don't fund it, guess what? They have to move money from another pot within the Veterans Administration to pay for that. And that creates a problem, and it could make things worse. The opioid bills that he touts, awesome. I'm for trying to fix the opioid problem too. The problem is it's a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
So there's no additional money coming in. Let’s take it out of money for homeless people and move over there.
That, to me, is just not being honest. I'm not against these bills, per say, it's really hard to be against them because people get into the weeds on this stuff. But I want to be the kind of leader that says, eventually, if I'm fortunate enough to get there, "I voted for this or against it, and here are the pros and here are the cons. And, ultimately, I voted this way because this outweighs this." Instead of this propaganda: "Hey look at what I'm going to fix the opioid crisis." Well great, but you're taking the vouchers for housing from homeless and veterans to do it. I'm still trying to figure out how to say that.
Amy McGrath: You brought up fake news. You know that was the most shared fake news story in the 2016 cycle? Actually it was the most shared news story on social media in the 2016 cycle. It was a fake news story that the pope had endorsed Donald Trump. That was the most shared news story on social media in this country. And it was a fake news story.
News-Graphic: How did you become a fighter pilot? Give us a glimpse of your background.
Amy McGrath: I was an independent for many years. I've never been a Republican.
When I was a kid I had this dream. And I wanted to fly combat jets. Something snapped in me about 11 years old. I saw a History Channel documentary and I just said that's what I want to do. I remember doing the research as any young kid would do. How do you get there? I found out very quickly that there were no women doing this job. Why is that? Well there's a federal law prohibiting women from doing that job, and I didn't understand.
I was a tomboy. I was somebody who was beating all the boys in soccer and basketball and football, literally. And it didn't process in my 10-year-old, 11-year-old brain. I remember going to my mom, saying this just can't be right. Like why is this? She said, "Well, there's a law."
And that's how I had to learn about government, because I had to learn, how do you change a law? Can I just change it? Can I just go there and change it? No you can't. You have to advocate for change. There's this thing called Congress and the president. So I wrote my member of Congress, a guy by the name of Jim Bunning, Congressman Bunning. He wrote me back a lengthy letter that basically said you're a girl. Go do something else. And I wasn't deterred. I wrote Mitch McConnell. Of course he never wrote me back.
I wrote all members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees letters, between the ages of 12 and 13 at this point. This was the early 90s—1990.
I got several letters back, many of them said exactly what Jim Bunning said: "Women shouldn't be in combat. Women should be protected. Go do something else. There are all these other things you can do."
And I got several letters back that said, you know, "Our military exists to fight and win the nation's wars. We should have the best people in those positions. You ought to be able to compete." Those letters did not say, "You're entitled to that cockpit because you're a woman." It said, "You ought to be able to compete." There's a difference.
And if you're good enough you ought to be a good to do that job. All of those letters were from Democrats. All of those letters were from progressive, radical Democrats.
It's time, 1989-1990; the Pat Schroeder’s have the world, Pete Wilsons of the world. People who, when you read those letters, and I still have them today, when you read them, you read them and you're like, "Well that makes sense. You ought to be able to compete. Our military should be the best, should have the best people."
At the time, that was considered radical. And I'll never forget that. I'll never forget that if it weren't for progressives in government I wouldn't have had a job in the last 24 years, because in 1993 we had a new administration and a new Congress. Bill Clinton administration, within two months after he took over, the law was changed.
And they opened up all of these doors to women in the military that had never been open for women before—combat ships, combat aircraft.
The year was 1993, two months before I raised my right hand in Tecumseh Court in Annapolis, Maryland, to swear to defend the Constitution, all those positions opened up.
So later on when I was able to become the first woman to do X, Y and Z, I'm very aware that I was in the right place at the right time, when the doors opened. And I'm very aware of who the people in government were that opened the door.
I like Bush One. I think he's a war hero. He was an amazing guy. I actually have his autograph. Had he stayed president, I probably wouldn't have had a job, had the Republicans stayed, because they were conservative.
They didn't want to open any jobs they didn't want to change. And so, I'll never forget that. And it makes me as a person not afraid of change. Not afraid.
While I spent my entire adult life in an institution that's very conservative, successful in that institution, thriving in that institution. I love the Marine Corps. I've also recognized the importance of change agents and progressives, and I don't think that all of what they're saying is bad, just like I don't think that all of what conservatives are saying is bad. That's been my life story. I try to see both sides. But that's ultimately one of the reasons I'm a Democrat today, because that fight for equality, that fight for equal opportunity, I think is really important.
And back then a lot of people thought, "This isn't where we should go. You're going to weaken the military." That hasn't been the case. It wasn't the case, by the way, when they repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell in 2010.
The Marine Corps, everybody thought the world was going to end. Guess what? Didn't end. We're a better Marine Corps for it. Some of the best Marines I know are gay and lesbian. And guess what?
It doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter. It's a nonissue in the military today.
That's my background.