Rep. Susan Wild is aiming for a third win, and a second term in Congress

The Pennsylvania congresswoman prides herself on being 'accessible and transparent' to constituents

Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) knows voters in her district haven’t had long to get to know her. But the freshman congresswoman has made a point of making herself accessible to her constituents, and taking the time to get to know them. And voters seem to be appreciative, electing Wild to Congress twice on the same day, including a special election. She’s hopeful that her brief stint in Congress — first representing Pennsylvania’s 15th district, and then its 7th district — has given voters in eastern Pennsylvania the confidence to elect her to a second full term representing the district.

“I know this is going to sound a little bit pollyannaish, but for me, the thing that I take the most pride in is my accessibility and availability to constituents and how much I listen to them,” Wild said in a recent interview with Jewish Insider.

Wild, 62, first entered Congress in November 2018 after a close special election for the seat in Pennsylvania’s 15th district, left open by the resignation of seven-term Republican incumbent Rep. Charlie Dent earlier that year. The former Allentown city solicitor did not want to challenge Dent, whom she described as a well-liked representative, in what was then a red district. On the same day, she won both the special election to serve the last two months of Dent’s term and the race for the seat in the newly redrawn 7th district, which encompasses Lehigh and Northampton Counties, as well as portions of neighboring Monroe County.

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Recapping almost two years in Washington, Wild told JI she tries “very, very hard to work in a nonpartisan manner, not even a bipartisan manner.” She acknowledged that is an almost impossible task in a city as partisan as Washington, but what guides her is the make-up of her district — home to an almost even number of Democrats and Republicans and a large chunk of independents. “So in terms of representing the district, I think I have an obligation to be as nonpartisan as possible.”

Wild is facing a close reelection race. Last week, President Donald Trump endorsed Lisa Scheller, one of two Republicans running to challenge Wild. Scheller has raised more than $1 million, according to the latest FEC filings, but Wild has brought in over $2 million. Earlier this month, the president visited the district and toured a local medical supply facility, his 18th trip to the state since taking office. Wild did not meet with the president on his short trip to her district, but welcomed the visit nonetheless.

“This was the first time he’s been to the district and he is the president of the United States, and I think it’s important as the representative of this district to welcome whoever the president might be, at any given time,” she said. And Wild has expressed an openness to meeting with Trump in the future. “I would love the opportunity to have a truly nonpartisan conversation with the president and members of his team,” Wild said, telling JI that if given the opportunity, she’d like to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, affordable health care and assistance to local municipalities. 

One thing Wild wouldn’t bring up to the president are his past remarks about Jewish Democrats. When Trump accused Jewish Democrats of “disloyalty” to Israel last summer, Wild, who converted to Judaism in 2006, said she was “personally offended” by the president’s statement. “I was actually offended on behalf of Jews everywhere, on both sides of the aisle, because my experience has been that Jews are very connected with all issues, and I’m not just talking about Israel issues. I am talking about health care, [abortion] choice, guns and all kinds of things. And that’s why I took personal offense to it, because it was almost as though there was a suggestion that Jews only vote one way for one reason, and I don’t think that’s fair to us as a people,” she asserted. “To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t repeated that statement and I’d rather just let that statement die, frankly.” 

Rep. Susan Wild chats with constituents after holding a town hall meeting at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The congresswoman maintains a close relationship with the local Jewish community, estimated at approximately 10,000 people — the largest Jewish population in the state after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Wild was born in 1957 on the Wiesbaden Air Force Base in Germany to a Quaker mother and Methodist father and grew up in Los Angeles. 

The congresswoman found her spiritual leader in Rabbi Seth Phillips, a retired Navy chaplain who moved to the district in 2014. He now serves as a senior rabbi at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Allentown and was appointed by Dent as a member of the Military Academy Selection Committee. Philips told JI that “as a consumer of retail politics,” he is proud that Wild is his congresswoman. “I have only felt pride in the manner she’s represented my district and all of its citizens,” he said, noting that “she has taken the ambition of Lehigh Valley students to go to the military academy very seriously. That and her strong defense of and support for Israel, and the fact that she kept showing up at places and causes that I care about.” 

Phillips, who as a congregation leader is opting not to make any political endorsements, told JI that voters in the district have come to appreciate Wild’s work over the past two years, and he was confident many would put their trust in her once again come November. “I believe she’s taken the high ground and people of all different backgrounds will have many reasons to cast their votes for her.” 

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Wild first traveled to Israel in July 2008 with her two children on a mission with the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley. Last August, she visited Israel on a freshman class trip sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), the non-profit educational arm of AIPAC. Wild described the organized visit as a “wonderful experience” because it offered her “an opportunity to see things in Israel that you never get to see when you’re there as a tourist,” and gave her time to engage with her colleagues on a more personal level. Nearly a year after the trip, Wild still raves about the food in Israel. “My first reaction when I came back from Israel was, ‘Wait a minute, what is this breakfast of two eggs and toast?’” she quipped. 

When the delegation was wheels up on its way back to the U.S. at the end of the trip, news broke that the Israeli government had just barred Wild’s fellow freshmen Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) from entering the country, reversing an initial decision to allow them to visit as members of Congress. The two had planned to see the region on a tour organized by Miftah, a Palestinian nonprofit.  

Wild said she was disappointed by the decision because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu had “promised” the delegation in a meeting during their trip that he would allow the two congresswomen into the county. “I don’t like being told one thing and then having something else happen,” she said. “I think that had the prime minister allowed that trip to occur, it would have shown the best side of him. So mostly it was disappointment more than anything else.” Wild added that part of being a democracy is “being able to speak one’s mind without fear of imprisonment, persecution or otherwise.” 

Taking the high road is Wild’s motto. Last year, when Omar ignited a political firestorm, accusing AIPAC of paying lawmakers to be pro-Israel, and charging that pro-Israel activists had an “allegiance to a foreign country,” Wild rebuked her comments. But she also took it upon herself to engage with the Minnesota congresswoman — with whom she sits on the House Foreign Relations Committee — to educate her about the matter. Wild told JI she had a private conversation with Omar — who lost the chance to become vice chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations as a result of the comments, a position Wild was then appointed to — following the incident. She called their meeting “an opportunity to try to educate her about why I was personally offended, and why so many of us were.” 

“I guarantee you she remembers our conversation about this issue much more than she remembers which members spoke out on the House floor,” Wild said. “I just have a different approach to those things. I think it’s a more effective approach.” 

Wild is one of 192 co-sponsors of a recent House resolution reaffirming U.S. support for a two-state solution (H.R. 326). Looking back on the legislation, Wild told JI it was important for Congress to make its voice heard and call out steps Israel may take — such as annexation of parts of the West Bank — that would hinder the prospects of peace. 

“I’m not jumping to criticize,” the Democratic lawmaker said, “but to speak out to make your views known to the leadership in Israel is incredibly important. One of the things that every country does, in exchange for support from another country, is to hear them out and understand their concerns. We’re not always going to be aligned on every issue, but we have to have a free flow of dialogue.” 

At the same time, Wild was one of 12 House Democrats who broke party ranks last May to vote in favor of a Republican motion to recommit on anti-BDS legislation that would allow state and local governments to adopt laws to divest public funds from entities that boycott Israel. “For the most part I believe these procedural tactics distract from the overall legislation,” Wild told JI at the time. “But I voted in favor of today’s motion to send a message on this issue — the BDS movement is harmful to Israel and ultimately undermines our national security.”

Rep. Susan Wild and her two children. (Wild for Congress)

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Wild is deeply committed to the fight against antisemitism. Amid a dramatic rise in antisemitism, Wild sees the recent displays of Nazi imagery at anti-lockdown rallies across the nation as “very disturbing and frightening.” 

“I have young adult children — they’re in their mid 20s — they are Jewish. They have been to Israel multiple times. They went there for Birthright, and they had their early part of their education at the local JCCs,” Wild said. “So antisemitic behavior is frightening to me not only as a person but as a a mother… And I think that what we have seen in these rallies is nothing short of horrific. To me it demonstrates either evil or a profound lack of understanding just how dangerous the use of graffiti, words and symbols are and how much it incites people to behave in an antisemitic manner.” 

Wild put the onus on Trump to serve as a role model in combating hate and antisemitism. “People model their behavior after what their leaders do,” she said. “And while I’m not suggesting that the president has used Nazi symbols or anything else, but he has said things over the years that he’s been in office, that, unfortunately, played to some of people’s basest instincts, and that’s really disturbing to me.” 

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Wild has not spent much time in Washington in recent weeks, choosing instead to remain in her district to oversee the local and federal response to the COVID-19 outbreak. She teamed up with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) from the state’s 1st district to introduce legislation aimed at stopping federal cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expected in October and increasing insurance programs to protect families for the duration of this pandemic. Wild also introduced legislation on health care enrollment and capping the price of some prescription drugs. “I really try hard to focus on the issues where I think I can find some common interests [with Republicans],” Wild said.

The congresswoman told JI the fallout from the pandemic in the district has improved since March, which saw a number of cases, likely due in part to the district’s proximity to New York City and the significant number of nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the region. “But fortunately, our local hospitals really did a good job of getting it together and they started doing their own testing pretty promptly,” Wild noted. The Democratic lawmaker gave a thumbs down to the federal government for being “too slow and too guarded” at the start of the crisis, despite efforts made by lawmakers on the local level. 

Wild is hopeful that her constituents are able to see the work their lawmakers are doing to control the crisis. “I want to be remembered as a representative who was very accessible, transparent and responsive,” she said.

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