IN HER 28 YEARS in Congress, Zoe Lofgren has done it all.
She has led committees on immigration, judiciary issues and technology. She’s participated in impeachment proceedings for three sitting presidents, serving as a manager for that of former President Donald Trump. And now she is participating in an effort to preserve democracy in the nation’s most-watched investigation since the Watergate scandal.
She began her career as an underdog. Many Silicon Valley politicos didn’t think she could beat the establishment candidate — former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery — for the congressional seat, but she did.
Now Lofgren is serving on the House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
In an exclusive interview with San José Spotlight, she reflected on the committee’s purpose — which is simple, yet monumental.
“(To) find the facts about what happened on that day, and the events leading up to that day to make legislative recommendations,” she said.
Lofgren’s leadership on the Jan. 6 committee comes after she was trapped in the Capitol building as she heard rioters outside scaling walls and shattering windows during the insurrection.
“We were on the floor. We could hear the rioters outside of the chamber pounding on the doors,” she told San José Spotlight at the time. She thought security measures would protect congressmembers from the crowd who tried to interfere with the democratic process of transferring presidential power. Lofgren was “stunned to see the lack of effective response” as the rioters breached the Capitol building with little resistance and rummaged through offices.
With Lofgren front and center, the Jan. 6 committee has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and is holding hearings revealing new evidence connecting Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election. On June 12, the committee announced it has enough evidence to recommend the U.S. Department of Justice indict Trump.
Lofgren’s powerful position on the national stage has thrust the Silicon Valley lawmaker into the spotlight — and brought San Jose along with her.
“She brings a very unique presence to the committee” said Larry Gerston, professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University. “With that experience, she knows exactly how to dig, what questions to ask and how to proceed. You really couldn’t ask for a more experienced person.”
Experience in leadership
Lofgren is no stranger to major political assignments — often serving as a trusted and reliable support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Lofgren is the only member of Congress to participate in three modern impeachment hearings, while also serving as a staffer for Rep. Don Edwards during the 1974 impeachment of President Richard Nixon. She served on the judiciary committee during the 1999 impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, and in the two impeachments of Trump—becoming manager of the second impeachment effort.
This is just the next step in a long political career for Lofgren.
Lofgren headed to the nation’s capital in 1994, a lifelong Bay Area resident who practiced and taught immigration law in the 1970s and had served on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for 14 years. She managed to defeat McEnery with a platform appealing to working class voters and parents, touting her background as the daughter of a truck driver and cafeteria cook.
Lofgren played a key role in negotiating a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the House. In 2019, she proposed a bill for immigration workers, called the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, to give undocumented agricultural workers a path to legal status. She also signed on to multiple bills to increase protections for children and families, like the Access to Baby Formula Act and the Military Dependents School Meal Eligibility Act.
“People come up to me on the street, in the airport and in the vegetable aisle of the grocery store, thanking me. People have said to me they’re happy I’m doing this; they think it’s important and they’re very appreciative.”Rep. Zoe Lofgren
Serving in the heart of Silicon Valley means she’s championed plenty of technology measures. She is known for her work on copyright issues and digital rights, fighting to allow people more control over their personal data and leading a bipartisan effort to decontrol encryption technology.
As the Jan. 6 committee announces new evidence and hearings, Lofgren said it may recommend tightening the Electoral Count Act and the Insurrection Act to protect against “misuse in the future.” She said the committee has found the Capitol riot exposed weaknesses that do not properly protect the integrity of votes and the peaceful transfer of presidential power—or the very building in which those processes happen.
Lofgren demanded future witness interviews for the committee be recorded to use clips during public hearings. She said her goal is to make it easier for the board to review all interviews.
“When I found out they were not recording them, I said, why not? How else are the members going to see?” she said. “We’ve had hundreds (of depositions) and it’s impossible to sit in on all of them.”
She said this experience is like no other committee or hearing she has served on.
“We’re focused. These days, committees organize along partisan lines,” she said. “That’s very different from this whole investigation—everyone is doing the same thing, finding out the facts and laying it out.”
Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna praised Lofgren’s work investigating “one of our nation’s darkest days.”
“My fellow Californian Rep. Lofgren has done an excellent job outlining how Trump fundraised off his ‘big lie’ and I’m proud of all my colleagues on the committee for their hard work to ensure that the American public knows the truth,” Khanna told San José Spotlight.
Gerston, who is researching and writing a book on Trumpism and democracy, said having three of the nine members of the committee from California speaks volumes about the value of the California delegation.
“The committee has a lot to do to make its case, to show what’s happened,” Gerston said. “More than 60 percent of the nation is following it at some level or another. The goal is not to press charges, their goal is to expose what has happened, bring daylight to all these events—many of which have not been public.”
Lofgren said she hears from everyday people that her work is making a real difference in their lives. And it often comes with a price tag. Some of Lofgren’s colleagues on the committee, such as Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, have received death threats.
“People come up to me on the street, in the airport and in the vegetable aisle of the grocery store, thanking me,” she said. “People have said to me they’re happy I’m doing this; they think it’s important and they’re very appreciative.”
Contact Natalie Hanson at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nhanson_reports on Twitter.