Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Donate today to support the journalism you rely on!

Science Policy In Congress


As fires rage in California, climate change is on many minds. For the past five years, the House committee on science, space and technology was run by Republican Lamar Smith, whom environmental advocates say attacked climate science. But with the Democrats taking over the House, the committee's leadership is about to change. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat, is likely to be in charge. And that would check off a lot of firsts - first female African-American to chair the committee, as well as the first with a science background. She was the first registered nurse to be elected to the U.S. Congress back in 1993. She represents Texas's 30th District. And she joins us from her home there this morning. Welcome.

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON: Well, thank you. Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning. Congratulations on your win. So what's the agenda item that's at the very top of your list?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, let me say happy Veterans Day to everyone and then say, actually, my first agenda item, perhaps, will be getting elected to be chair of the committee.


JOHNSON: (Laughter) And then after that, of course, in general, we'd like to ensure that the United States remains a global leader in innovation, which will require quite a bit of attention and some catch-up time that we've lost a little bit the last six years. We're going to be promoting effective STEM education solutions, encouraging entrepreneurial minorities and blue-collar workers in STEM fields. We've been looking at how we can keep up with automation and make sure that a lot of jobs are not lost during this time and hopefully get support to move ahead in that area.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was about to ask about support because, while the Democrats did take many seats in the House, Republicans still hold the Senate and the presidency. You know, there's been a lot of contentious debates in your committee. What is realistic for you to accomplish under those circumstances? Do you think you'd be able to get bipartisan support on something?

JOHNSON: I think we'll be able to get some bipartisan support. I think we could have with a different leader the last six years because I kept in touch with quite a few people on the committee. And it's been tradition that the committee members will - by majority, will follow the leadership. So that's what happened this last six years. But I believe that there are people. Of course, we lost some of the members from the committee. Perhaps, one of the most contentious ones behind Mr. Smith, Mr. Rohrabacher, won't be returning. And so I'm hoping that we'll have members who believe in science and believe in progress, believe in America and believe in innovation and know that we have to meet our challenges.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's been a lot of talk about what kind of oversight a Democratic House can provide as far as the Trump administration goes - for instance, when it comes to the EPA, in particular, which has been run over the past two years by people whose agenda is significantly different than yours.

JOHNSON: Very much different - we hope to have better oversight and more sensible oversight so that we can get back to regular order and to carry out the mandates of the committee, which is to oversee our environment. We hope to address climate change, which we have not been able to even talk about under the past leadership. And clearly, I think anyone - since any sensible person knows that we're dealing with it, we've got to address it in some fashion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much, Congresswoman Johnson. And best of luck.

JOHNSON: Well, thank you very much. I hope you'll keep in touch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.