Evan Smith: You’re the most prominent African American Texan in Washington, and you have Barbara Jordan’s old congressional seat, so this must be an incredibly resonant moment for you—to see the election of the first African American president in our history. What were you thinking on Election Day?
Sheila Jackson Lee: I didn’t want it to be taken away from us. I was reminiscing about the drama of 2000 and 2004. I was intimately involved in those presidential campaigns—I was actually in Florida for the recount for a period of time.
ES: You were one of the few members of Congress who refused to certify the Ohio election results four years ago.
SJL: That is correct. This time I just kept wondering: Will it be? But with the memory not only of the Honorable Barbara Jordan but also of [her successor] the Honorable Mickey Leland as a backdrop, I also imagined a kind of celebration, shouting, and joy. Well, I could see Congresswoman Jordan in a serious celebration, because she always gave that very focused and somber expression, juxtaposed against Congressman Leland’s exuberance—either “I told you so!” or “Long overdue!”
ES: Where were you the week of Election Day?
SJL: I was in Ohio the day before the election—I had the privilege of going there for the campaign. I did street work, visiting polling sites, talking to voters, shaking the hands of early voters. It was moving to be there, late into the night, and then to look up on election night and see that margin of victory. When Ohio and Florida went into Senator Obama’s column, that was significant.
ES: The margin was so wide—eight and a half million votes—that even if there had been a recount in one state or another, there was really no way for the election to turn.
SJL: There is a gospel song, usually sung by someone with a deep baritone, that goes, “Sometimes it causes me to tremble.” That was the feeling that a lot of us had on Election Day. Even as the numbers were coming in, we were just holding our breath to see if it would really happen.
ES: You were a loyal supporter of Senator Clinton’s during the primary. Was it bittersweet for you to see this victory, thinking that it could have been her?
SJL: I think what I understood, as someone who has been engaged in the process of winning and losing over the