Longtime summer resident Nancy Soderberg is running for Congress in Florida’s sixth congressional district.
Whether serving on the National Security Council at the White House under President Clinton, or as an Ambassador to the United Nations, or as senior foreign policy advisor to the late Ted Kennedy in the Senate, Nancy Soderberg has had a storied career in public service. Now after serving in a number of subsequent roles in the nonprofit and public sector, Soderberg is running for Congress in Florida’s sixth congressional district with hopes of helping flip the power to the Democrats. N Magazine spoke with Soderberg about how she’s paddling into the Blue Wave in these upcoming midterm elections.
SODERBERG: I like to call it a “common sense wave,” which is very rare in Washington. Across the country you see people standing up, not for party, but for common sense, for doing what’s right. That’s the message that I’m hearing when I campaign day in and day out in schools, or hospitals, or people’s homes or just in average stores. They just want the vitriol to end on the left and the right and have some decent decision-making. That’s why I think you’re seeing women and national security candidates splitting across the country because we’re different. We are politicians; we bring a perspective of experience and how we get things done.
N MAGAZINE: To oppose this “common sense” approach, will Republicans be playing the Trump card, using his divisive, hardline tactics going into this midterm election?
SODERBERG: The president has made a decision to double down on his base, not trying to reach out and get things done from the center. That’s going to drive the Republican primaries across the country. The Republicans have to run to the right of Donald Trump and “out-Trump” each other to pass through the gauntlet of the Republican primary. These candidates are becoming more and more extreme. The candidates that have emerged from Republican primaries are much farther to the right than where the American people are. That’s why I think you are seeing so many seats in play because with the president doubling down on the base, the candidates have to double down on their base. There is no room for compromise or moderation because they are afraid to lose. So, all across the country you are seeing these very extreme candidates emerge on Republican primaries and losing because American people are not that extreme.
N MAGAZINE: You have a tremendous amount of experience on the world stage, especially through your work as the ambassador to the UN under the Clinton administration. Where does US leadership stand on the world stage today?
SODERBERG: When the US leads, countries follow. Until the US plants a flag on where it’s going, people kind of wait and see. Then once we decide where we are going, some of these countries will oppose us, but largely the democracies around the world will follow us. I am concerned about the US not leading on a variety of issues. I don’t think a tariff war is going to help the American public. We need to be a leader on climate change, trying to stand up to Iran and Russia, trying to make sure China doesn’t take advantage of some of the void we are leaving in some of these Asian negotiations. We need strong leadership to stand up to that across the globe. Without that, the American people will not have a strong shot at the prosperity and stability that we need.
N MAGAZINE: Do you think that President Trump’s summit with North Korea laid the groundwork in creating a peaceful solution?
SODERBERG: We don’t know yet, is the short answer. The North Koreans figured out under the first President Bush that their only international currency was their nuclear program. They’ve used it to blackmail the international community for forty years. They’ll make an agreement and cheat. They’ll make another agreement and cheat. The agreements take a long time to negotiate. They are very difficult to make sure you have inspections and verifications. Ronald Reagan always said, “Trust, but verify.” I think we don’t trust them and verify because they have a record of cheating. President Trump flipped the process on its head by having the summit first then negotiating. Normally the summit is the capstone. Once you have an agreement that’s verifiable and tough, then you have the summit to sign it. But the North Koreans did not commit to anything that they hadn’t already committed to doing. So, the proof will be in the pudding of what comes out of these very difficult negotiations that can take years. But it seems to have diffused tension for now, and that’s a good thing. And I hope it works. Nothing else has worked, so maybe this will work. We need to make sure the Koreans are lockstep with us as these negotiations move forward, but I hope he moves forward. President Trump is changing our politics on this, and if it works, I think all Americans should support it.
N MAGAZINE: Like Nantucket, Florida is ground zero for climate change. What role to do you think you can play to bring us back in to a place of leadership when it comes to climate change?
SODERBERG: Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement was a mistake. We need to be pushing other countries to join us to combat this threat. This is a global threat that the United States cannot solve on its own. We need to lead and try and move it. The good thing is that across the country, mayors and governors are stepping up and there is a good chance that we will voluntarily meet our Paris Agreement commitments because of the strong leadership from mayors and governors across the states. In Florida alone, there are twenty-six mayors who have committed to having 100 percent green energy in their cities by the year 2050. That movement is happening across the country, so the American people get it.
N MAGAZINE: This is certainly one of the more contentious times to be entering Congress. What motivates you to want to take on this gargantuan challenge?
SODERBERG: I’ve been teaching students for a dozen years and watching them come out of school not being able to live the American dream that I did, my parents did, and my grandfather did. They are worried about their retirement. They’re worried about their health care. They don’t expect to live the American dream. That’s just wrong. I’ve spent my career promoting democracy around the world, and right now I am concerned about things here at home. I was raised to believe in giving something back to your country. I believe that I can make a difference and help put our democracy back on track and make sure that the next generation of youths can take advantage of the opportunities that I’ve had, my parents have had and my grandparents have had. That’s why I’m running.