Pramila Jayapal becomes 1st South Asian American woman to preside over the House

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal Facebook photo 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The trailblazing U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D.-Wash.) — the first Indian-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress — was back to creating history, when on June 4, she held the Speaker’s gavel and presided over the U.S. House of Representatives.

Now in her second term, Jayapal, 53, the co-chair the Progressive Caucus, and a member of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, made sure the world knew of her moment in history when she took to Twitter to share a clip of the Congressional session, where she was seen, gavel in hand presiding over the House as the pro-tempore speaker.

In the text that accompanied the clip, she wrote, "Today, I became the first South Asian American woman to preside over the US House of Representatives. Beyond proud to serve in the most diverse Congress in our nation's history and to hold the gavel today."

Jayapal, who has been in the forefront calling for the impeachment of President Trump and also has reportedly been a mentor to the likes of progressive new members like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D.-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D.-Mich.), that has earned her the wrath of the far-right conservatives and Trumpites and led to her being constanrly trolled and also subjected her to death threats, in now one among a

a record number of 17 Asian Americans to serve in Congress, with 14 in the House and three in the Senate, including Sen. Kamala Devi Harris, who is of both Indian American and African American Heritage

The mid-term elections in November, where the Democrats regained control of the House, also resulted in the 116th Congress breaking records with women and lawmakers crossing racial and religious barriers—with Omar and Tlaib being the first Muslim Americans to be elected to Congress-and also including an all-time high for Asian American candidates elected to the Congress and boosting the ranks of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Although Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) has been serving as the Speaker of the House since January 2019, after the Democrats regain the majority, as per tradition, members of the majority party in the House periodically take turns to temporarily preside over the chamber.

In April, U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D.-Ill.) became the first Indian/Hindu-American to preside over the U.S.House as he oversaw floor debate from the Speaker’s chair.

At the time, Krishnamoorthi, who has coined the term ‘Samosa Caucus’ for the four Indian-Americans serving in the House, including himself, Jayapal and Reps. Ami Bera and Ro Khanna, both Democrats representing California, said at the time, “I am honored to become the first Hindu-American to have the honor of presiding over the House.”

“I’m humbled to have taken on this responsibility and recognize it was only possible through the work of those who came before me and the opportunities our country presents to all of us,” he said.

On June 5, Jayapal re-introduced the South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act—a bipartisan bill, co-sponsored with Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, which aims to raise awareness regarding the alarming rate of heart disease in the South Asian community and invest in reversing this trend.

 “Heart disease in the South Asian community has risen to an alarmingly disproportionate level. Our bill will fund research and analysis to identify solutions to these preventable circumstances and ultimately save more lives,” Jayapal said.

She predicted, “Not only will we prevent deaths within this specific community, but we will pave the way to increased awareness and a better understanding of heart health that will have impacts on the health and well-being of every American.”

 Wilson said, “We must take action to reverse the trend of heart disease in the South Asian Community,” and added, “I’m grateful to join Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal as a co-lead of the South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act to create South Asian Heart Health Promotion Grants at the Centers for Disease Control, strengthen grant funding for heart health in these populations at the National Institutes of Health, and to expand tools and education to focus on cultural differences.”

The legislation has the strong support of the American Medical Association —the bastion of organized medicine--and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and also the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin(AAPI).

ACC president Dr. Richard J. Kovacs, said, “South Asians living in the U.S. are more likely to die from heart disease than other Americans,” and predicted the Jayapal/Wilson authored legislation “would greatly expand research and outreach efforts necessary to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health among our South Asian population.”

“We thank Congresswoman Jayapal for her leadership and look forward to working with Congress and our counterparts in the health care space to move this bill forward,” he said.

Several studies have shown that South Asians in the United States—people who immigrated from or whose families immigrated from countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal—are experiencing a dramatic rise in heart disease in their communities. They have four times the risk of heart disease than the general population, have a much greater chance of having a heart attack before age 50 and have emerged as the ethnic group with the highest prevalence of Type 2 diabetes—a leading caucus of heart disease.

 Specifically, this bill will:

• Create South Asian Heart Health Promotion Grants at the Centers for Disease Control to develop a clearinghouse and web portal of information on South Asian heart health, develop culturally appropriate materials to promote heart health in the South Asian community and provide grants to work with community groups involved in South Asian heart health promotion;

• Fund grants through the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on cardiovascular disease and other heart ailments among South Asian populations living in the United States;

• Include a Sense of Congress that U.S. medical schools should include, as part of their nutrition curriculum, a focus on cultural differences in diets and ways to achieve optimal nutrition in communities that experience substantial heart disease.

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