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Dallas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett is going viral – just the way she wants it

By Grace Yarrow, The Texas Tribune

Dallas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett is going viral – just the way she wants it” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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WASHINGTON — In summer 2021, about 50 Democrats from the Texas House arrived at the nation’s capital — absconding from Austin in a plot to block Republicans from passing a bill that would impose tighter restrictions on voting access.

Buzzing with excitement, the lawmakers took their places in front of reporters, with senior members and leadership moving toward the center to field questions. But Jasmine Crockett — a freshman from Dallas — stepped away from the group to take a call. She held up her phone to film her own live interview with a TV station, the dome of the Capitol building peeking out behind her.

That interview would be one of many that Crockett would take while camped out in Washington to discuss the Democrats’ quorum break, in a move that would raise the little-known lawmaker’s profile as she became an unofficial spokesperson for the dramatic political spectacle.

“There were people in leadership from my understanding that were not a fan of a freshman being a bit of a face of some of this,” Crockett said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

Nonetheless, she accepted as many interviews as she could fit into her schedule, carrying two phones and a laptop to handle the crush of inquiries she received.

“I did not expect the world to pay attention,” Crockett said.

But she wanted them to.

Crockett, 42, didn’t get into politics to wait her turn. While she says she may have ruffled some feathers among her caucus peers at the time, her decision to grab the spotlight catapulted her career and provided the foundation for her to run for Congress the following year.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett uses a mobile device in her office on the second day the 118th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023 in Washington, D.C. The House adjourned without a speaker voted in.
Crockett, who was elected to Congress in 2022 after serving one term in the Texas House, is shown in her Washington office Jan. 4, 2023. Credit: Michael A. McCoy for The Texas Tribune

Now a freshman in the U.S. House representing the Dallas-based 30th Congressional District, Crockett is once again finding her voice, seeking out moments to go viral and trying to make a name for herself in a deeper pool filled with bigger fish.

Her unfiltered musings and barbs while in Congress have helped her amass one of the largest social media followings in the Texas delegation, with an online audience of nearly a quarter of a million people on both X and Instagram. Her online reach is bigger than every other Texas Democrat, with the exception of Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who has served a decade longer than Crockett has. And she’s been crowdsourcing the name for a new podcast, she’s considering.

Crockett got her first taste of going viral during a September hearing of the House Oversight Committee, which garnered media attention because of the Republican impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Crockett took aim at former President Donald Trump’s mishandling of classified documents, holding up printed photos from his indictment showing boxes of classified documents in the Mar-a-Lago bathroom.

“These are our national secrets, looks like, in the shitter to me,” Crockett said in a clip that was shared on Reddit and Tiktok. One fan edit of the moment set to music, created by a 16-year-old fan, raked in over 8 million views on TikTok.

Crockett spoke about the virality of the moment on CNN, saying younger Democrats are looking for their elected leaders to “push back” against GOP talking points. Actor Mark Hamill, of Luke Skywalker fame, reposted the video on X, supporting Crockett: “Omg is an understatement!”

U.S. Rep. Greg Casar of Austin, another freshman Democrat who sits beside Crockett in the Oversight Committee, said he often struggles to keep a straight face during Crockett’s speeches.

“She can speak so directly to people and bring humor to the table in a way that makes folks want to listen. And that’s what we need right now,” Casar said.

For her online followers, Crockett provides gleeful narration about the unfolding drama within the majority party, such as her updates on X about “SPEAKERGATE,” the fallout from the ousting of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Recently, she’s chronicled on X the expulsion of New York Republican George Santos, who was booted from the House following a searing ethics report detailing misuses of campaign funds. “Maybe a cat fight if Santos spills tea during debate, today,” Crockett posted before the expulsion vote.

Her posts — often interspersed with popcorn or eyeball emojis — are told as though she’s recapping an episode of reality television to a friend: “Welcome to preschool … I mean our prestigious congress (darn autocorrect).”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said that Crockett’s unique voice has proved to be an effective communication tool and that her expertise as an attorney is often on display.

He described her style as a combination of a lawyer’s “sharp analysis and lucid exposition” and a “Texan’s folksy and intimate manner.”

“Always a fighter”

Gwen Crockett said her daughter was a sharp-witted speaker from a young age.

In high school, Crockett participated in speech competitions. While in a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” at Rhodes College, a professor took notice of Crockett’s talent for public speaking and invited her to participate in a mock trial organization, where she first found her legal voice.

“I think that’s when it hit her that she wanted to become a lawyer,” Gwen Crockett said.

While at Rhodes College, Crockett was one of only 18 Black students and received threatening, anonymous racist mail.

“That was the first time that I felt helpless and felt targeted as a Black person,” she said. Crockett was paired with a Black female lawyer to help investigate who was sending the threats in the mail. Crockett now calls that lawyer her “saving grace” and another factor in her decision to pursue a legal career.

Jasmine Crockett studied at the Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law and the University of Houston Law Center. After law school, she moved to Texarkana to be a public defender and later opened her own civil rights and criminal defense law firm.

She said her time representing thousands of Texans in court has given her firsthand experience with inequities in the justice system. Adam Bazaldua, a Dallas City Council member, said Crockett is “always a fighter for the most vulnerable.”

Crockett represented thousands of Texans’ cases and handled high-profile lawsuits involving police brutality and other cases involving racial injustice. In 2020, as she campaigned for a seat in the state House, she took on the cases of protesters arrested in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Texas State Representative Jasmine Crockett holds a bag that reads, “Protect Black People” at a joint press conference with the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the Texas Legislature Democrats in Alexandria, Va. on July 16, 2021.
Then-state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, holds a bag that reads, “Protect Black People” at a joint press conference with the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the Texas Legislature Democrats in Alexandria, Va. on July 16, 2021. Credit: Eric Lee

Activist Rachel Gonzales wrote Crockett’s phone number on her stomach when she protested an incident of police brutality in Texas outside the state Capitol in Austin.

“I knew that she would be the first person to show up and fight if needed,” Gonzales said.

During those protests, Crockett consistently posted information for constituents on social media, according to her former chief of staff, Karrol Rimal. Receiving hundreds of calls, Crockett organized other attorneys to help advocate for protesters.

“She never loses sight of the people,” Rimal said.

Crockett was elected to the Texas House in 2020, quickly becoming an outspoken figure in the Legislature. During her first legislative session, she filed 75 solo bills and co-authored another 110, three of which became law.

“Many freshmen, they just kind of sit there. They don’t say a whole lot because they’re trying to learn,” said former Texas Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont. “But for her, the learning curve was very short. I mean, she jumped right in.”

State Rep. Jasmine Felicia Crockett, D-Dallas, speaks at a Texas House Progressive Caucus at the Capitol on Sept. 20, 2021.
Then-state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, speaks at a Texas House Progressive Caucus at the Capitol on Sept. 20, 2021. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Those who worked with Crockett pointed to the quorum break trip as her breakout moment.

“I think there was maybe some jealousy. She got a lot of national attention. She really was a lightning rod,” said state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, who sat next to Crockett in the state House.

Although the Democrats were ultimately unable to stop the Republican elections bill from becoming law, they boosted the national conversation around voter disenfranchisement.

Crockett touted her leadership in the quorum break when she campaigned for the U.S. House in 2022.

She now represents the seat that recently deceased Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson had held since 1993. After announcing her retirement, Johnson quickly encouraged Crockett to run.

Crockett said she hoped to carry forward Johnson’s legacy.

“Around 9 am, my predecessor, who hand picked me to succeed her, passed away and all of a sudden, like many of my plans this year, my plan to end on a high note, came crashing down,” Crockett said in a post last Sunday on X where she also said she had just done a media hit on MSNBC. “I appreciate the calls and texts and just pray that she’s resting easy. When I’m feeling a lil lost, I’ll always lean in and see if I can hear your voice, Congresswoman.”

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson talks to District 30 Democratic candidate Jasmine Crockett at Crockett’s election night watch party in Dallas, TX on May 24, 2022.
U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, talks to Jasmine Crockett at Crockett’s election night watch party for a congressional seat in Dallas on May 24, 2022. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

“Pragmatic progressive”

Being outspoken and online naturally makes way for comparisons to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a third-term representative who has attained near-celebrity status as the face of the progressive movement.

But Crockett, unlike Casar of Austin, is not a member of the “Squad,” a well-known group of congressional progressives who regularly garner national media attention and GOP condemnation.

Crockett draws a strong line between herself and those progressives. She says her “pragmatic progressive” policy goals make her more willing to work with the business community, in situations where members of the Squad may be less willing to compromise.

But Crockett said she and Ocasio-Cortez have a common goal of using social media to meet constituents “where they are.”

“I think some of us younger members are trying to better educate voters,” Crockett said.

Though she routinely tussles with the GOP — she called them “assholes” in a September interview and again in December — Crockett also says she knows the importance of finding common ground with colleagues across the aisle.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett walks through the U.S. Capitol on the second day the 118th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023 in Washington, D.C. The House adjourned without a speaker voted in.
U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, walks through the U.S. Capitol on the second day the 118th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Michael A. McCoy for The Texas Tribune

She’s found an unlikely ally in Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who Crockett calls her “best partner” in the Senate. The senior senator has promoted the STRIP Act, a bicameral and bipartisan bill that decriminalizes fentanyl testing strips. The bill is still awaiting committee action.

Cornyn said it was a “no-brainer” to collaborate with Crockett on legislation he said would benefit Texans.

“I think she’s been very approachable,” Cornyn said. “It’s not easy to get things done or bills passed in either of the two houses, especially if you don’t have a dance partner. So I offered to be her dance partner.”

Crockett introduced the companion legislation in the House with Rep. Lance Gooden of Terrell, who Crockett said is a trusted colleague and a dear friend.

“We argue and fight each time we are together, but we also hug and laugh equally as often,” Gooden said in a statement.

Crockett is running for reelection, and has drawn two primary challengers, Jarred Davis and Jrmar “JJ” Jefferson. But she said she has no intentions to stay in Congress long term.

She’ll spend the coming months campaigning both for herself and working to clinch a Democratic majority in the House due to her role as the caucus leadership representative from the freshman class, a fundraising position and an honor bestowed onto her by her freshman colleagues. She’s the first Black woman in that position, which she said adds even more pressure.

U.S. Representative Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas) casts her first vote on the House floor on the first day of the 118th Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 in Washington, D.C. The House adjourned without a speaker voted in.
U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas, casts her first vote on the House floor on the first day of the 118th Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Michael A. McCoy for The Texas Tribune

“I have to make sure this opportunity and door stays open for those that come behind me. Leadership in the Democratic caucus is about money. It’s a money game,” Crockett said.

Olivia Julianna, a 21-year-old Texan with over a million followers on social media, said Crockett’s rhetoric appeals to young people on social media, in contrast with other politicians’ “jargony” or “unattainable” speech.

The Gen Z political activist said Crockett regularly “steals the show” in Congress.

“That’s why people respect her so much, because she says what a lot of people are thinking, but they don’t have the platform to say,” Julianna said.

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/15/jasmine-crockett-dallas-congress/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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