“There’s jokes about extroverted politicians and shelter-in-place,” quipped Haley Stevens, the 36-year-old Michigan congresswoman, at the beginning of a recent Zoom call with some of her Jewish supporters in and around Detroit. “It’s all my favorite people!”
It was late on a Tuesday afternoon — the seventh night of Passover — and the freshman Democrat looked a bit lonely as she beamed into the meeting from her home in Rochester Hills.
Just weeks earlier, Stevens made headlines thanks to an impassioned House floor speech — while wearing pink latex gloves — exhorting her colleagues to take the coronavirus seriously, shouting over the gavel as her time ran out.
Now she is living a quieter life back in Michigan, while doing her best to stay connected. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans indoors, politicians have shifted their campaign strategies, relying on Zoom calls, Facebook streams and virtual town halls to keep in touch with voters.
Since 2019, Stevens has represented a suburban enclave northwest of Detroit that is historically represented by Republicans — and so maintaining relationships with Michiganders is a high priority for Stevens, even more so in an election year.
“Haley’s doing amazing things connecting with her constituents over social media,” said Rachel Neuhausen, a friend of Stevens who helped arrange the Zoom call earlier this week. “She’s a deeply empathetic leader, sincere and meaningful in her communications, and I wanted to share some of that love within my community directly.”
The congresswoman’s boisterous persona — coupled with a folksy, Midwestern twang that is immediately disarming — carries through in a virtual setting.
“I don’t take real liberal positions on things,” Stevens averred on Tuesday afternoon, “but my golly, is now the time and the awakening and the moment to stand up for the people and the hard-working people of this country — and that is not a platitude.”
Despite the somber circumstances, Stevens seemed to brighten up when she joined the hour-long meeting, taking questions from the dozen or so participants — whose names Jewish Insider agreed not to include as a condition for sitting in on the call — while also providing an update on the state’s effort to curb the pandemic.
“Legislating has been very different,” said the congresswoman, who previously worked in the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama. “I don’t know if you’re missing C-SPAN yet, but we’re not getting a lot of C-SPAN. We’re doing a lot of legislating by phone.”
The congresswoman defended Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has sparred with President Donald Trump over his sluggish response to the pandemic. On Wednesday, thousands of demonstrators converged on the Michigan Capitol to protest Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.
Stevens believes the governor’s actions have been working. “Whitmer’s been taking flak from the president and from other people,” she said. “But we have a flattening curve as a result of her actions.”
“Pardon me for touching my face,” she told her audience at one point.
Reflecting on her first term in Congress, Stevens recounted a tumultuous year that kicked off with a government shutdown and culminated in a historic global pandemic.
“Passover was sort of the first big holiday that we’ve had as a society since this hit,” Stevens said, taking stock of the past couple of months. It was good to commune with her supporters, she said, even if they could not be together. “I miss you all so much.”