Inside an 800-square-foot shop, D.C.-based social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar is using his Mom's falafel recipe to raise money for refugees.
Virginia politicians trade tough words over gun policy. New committee assignments shake up the D.C. Council. And a Marylander advances to a coveted leadership spot in the U.S. Senate. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Mark Plotkin Political Analyst, Fox 5 (WTTG)
- William Lightfoot Campaign Chairman, Fenty 2010; Former Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large)
- James Jones Communications Director, D.C. Vote; Former "Loose Lips" columnist, Washington City Paper
- Donna Edwards Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MD, 4th Congressional District)
Politics Hour Video
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) reacted to the National Rifle Association’s proposal that armed guards protect schools as a way to deter gun violence. “What was shocking about the NRA’s statement today is that they blamed video games, they blamed films, they blamed lack of mental health services, they blamed everything under the sun, but they didn’t say that there was a problem with having assault weapons on our streets,” Edwards said. Edwards advocated banning assault weapons, eliminating high-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring 100 percent of firearms purchasers undergo background checks.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, featuring Mark Plotkin. Tom Sherwood is off today. Mark Plotkin is our guest analyst today. He's an award-winning political analyst at Fox 5 Television, and truth be told, the individual who recruited me for this position some 14 years ago, a decision which, I think, you now regret, Mark Plotkin.
MR. MARK PLOTKINNo. That was a wonderful decision, but I've been reduced to being a stand-in for somebody else as the political analyst. But I'm still very glad to always be in your presence, Kojo.
NNAMDIA stand-in like no other stand-in that we can have on this broadcast indeed. Such a remarkable stand-in that, in the light of the prediction that the world will end today, we have decided that this is the time to say, welcome to the aplotkinypse. (sic)
NNAMDIIs that appropriate for you, you think?
PLOTKINYeah, that is fitting, very fitting.
NNAMDIOK. Well, let's get to it immediately. Albert Sessoms is out from the -- Allen Sessoms is out as president of the University of the District of Columbia. He was fired by the board of trustees yesterday, and no cause was given for his termination, as a result of which Mr. Sessoms' attorney says, we want the $295,000 that you owe us for one year of salary because he was fired without cause. But one could see this coming, could one not?
PLOTKINWell, to quote somebody who will go nameless, Allen Sessoms was a very weird guy -- let's speak in the parlance -- well-educated, well-spoken and very ambitious. And I am a big defender of UDC, and I think it should be treated with reverence and respect just like any other state university. But they seem to have a history of picking people who don't actually excel or inspire, and Sessoms, I think, was a victim of his own personality.
NNAMDIWell, let me just introduce our guest right away because he has opinions on all of these matters also, and I could see him chafing, chomping at the bit, waiting to get in. Bill Lightfoot is a former member of the D.C. Council. He was an independent member who held an at-large seat. He was also the chairman of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's 2010 campaign for re-election. Bill Lightfoot, good to see you again.
MR. WILLIAM LIGHTFOOTThank you. It's great to be here. It's good to see Mark.
NNAMDICare to comment on the ousting of the president of UDC?
LIGHTFOOTI agree. This was probably something we could all see coming. It's been very -- he's been very controversial up there. We've got tremendous financial pressures at the university, which they have not seemed to address, and their graduation rate is very poor.
NNAMDIAnd so Allen Sessoms is history. Of course, there'll be probably litigation having to do with the payment of the salary that he says he is owed.
PLOTKINHe was offered, just to give some additional information, a tenured position at the university, I guess, as a consolation prize or to keep him quiet. I don't know if he's accepted that offer.
NNAMDIWe will find out or not. Coming to a jurisdiction near you in the spring, an at-large race on the D.C. Council, and it involves, it seems, just about every registered Democrat in the District of Columbia who is running, the latest entry in the race of note being former "Loose Lips" columnist Elissa Silverman, who is currently an official with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
NNAMDIBefore you comment on Elissa Silverman or anyone else's entry into the race, I do have to quote from "Loose Lips" today, who says that because Elissa Silverman is not taking corporate donations, she will be at a sizeable disadvantage. That could be offset by the fawning coverage her former colleagues in the press will provide for one of their own.
PLOTKINWell, let me...
NNAMDIHe said he was just kidding, but go ahead.
PLOTKINLet me add to that fawning endorsement. I'm very fond of Elissa Silverman. I hope that won't be the death knell of her candidacy. But I think...
NNAMDIIt was the death knell of your own candidacies.
PLOTKINBut I think -- I was wondering if Lightfoot maybe wants to run again and be the Grover Cleveland of at-large, you know, run, go away and come back. Are you out, Bill?
LIGHTFOOTNo, Mark. I'm giving advice to all of those who may ask.
NNAMDIThere used to be a great deal of speculation that he would run for mayor.
PLOTKINYes, I remember that. I remember that distinctly.
PLOTKINBut, Elissa, let me join the chorus and be guilty. She's a person of great conviction, a charm, and maybe this disqualifies her from occupying any position on the D.C. City Council. She has real views. She's outspoken. She was a journalist and an engaging journalist. And I think she would be a fine candidate. And I'm very glad that somebody of that caliber and stature is running.
PLOTKINAnd I think that the present incumbent of a few days, Anita Bonds, is going to be very much -- she will probably say, unjustifiably, somewhat stigmatized by being viewed as a Barry protégé or a Barry factotum, referring to Marion Barry.
NNAMDIAnd also likely to be in that race is outgoing, at-large Councilmember Michael A. Brown, who has already indicated that he was also going for that race.
PLOTKINNever saw an office he didn't like. And Michael Brown has problems, which we're all aware of, and that's why he was not re-elected. But, look, it's a pretty country. You get to run. And I will say something in defense of him.
NNAMDIWait a minute, Bill Lightfoot.
PLOTKINHe's the only sincere...
NNAMDIHere it comes.
PLOTKIN...only sincere, genuine, committed person for D.C. statehood.
NNAMDIYou knew this was coming, Bill Lightfoot, didn't you? Because Mark Plotkin and D.C. statehood go hand in hand.
LIGHTFOOTYes, they do. It's a good thing.
NNAMDIThere's been a shake-up on the D.C. council in terms of assignments. The education stand-alone committee, for the first time since 2006, will be chaired by David Catania, the economic development committee, Muriel Bowser of Ward 4, public safety and judiciary to Tommy Wells of Ward 6. Yvette Alexander of Ward 7 gets the health committee. Vincent Orange, at-large, takes over committee that includes businesses and regulatory agencies, and Marion Barry will head employment and community affair agencies. Any observations there, Bill Lightfoot?
LIGHTFOOTAbsolutely. I think Phil is off to a very good start. I think he is showing us that he's going to depart from the old ways. He is going to start things that are new. He's going to change the way things are done. It used to be these assignments were based in large part upon seniority. What Phil has done, I believe, is drawn on those council members and put them in positions where they can -- they've got experience. They've shown an ability to get things done.
LIGHTFOOTFor example, David going to education is a great move. David, there's a great job -- did a great job in health. We have more people with insurance and health now than almost any place else in the nation, large part because David has accomplished that task. So let's give him a new task that he's committed to. Muriel Bowser is a great choice for economic development. She has shown that she's committed to community development.
LIGHTFOOTShe has done a great job over in Ward 4, in her own ward with Walter Reed, development around the Fort Totten subway stop, Petworth subway stop. She's tied this development into growth. So I think Phil has picked somebody based upon her expertise and her proven accomplishment and put her own a committee, likewise, Marion Barry. We can all talk about Marion and what he is or what he's not. But Marion is strongly committed to creating jobs.
LIGHTFOOTHe's got a large number of -- a very high unemployment rate in his ward. He is now going to be able to take his energy and channel it towards trying to create jobs for those people that most need it, his constituents in Ward 8. And lastly, let me add this, making Kenyan McDuffie, the -- a novice councilmember, to be the chairman pro tem, great move.
LIGHTFOOTBecause Kenyan is young. It would've gone to an older person in the past, somebody with more seniority. Furthermore, there's a racial balance. Phil was very sensitive to diversity and racial balance. And I think he has done a very good job selecting the council members.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Our guest is Bill Lightfoot. He's a former member of the D.C. Council, an independent who held an at-large seat. And our guest analyst is Mark Plotkin, award-winning political analyst for Fox 5 television.
PLOTKINI'm so glad I was invited because I would've had to phone in. I couldn't -- I beg to differ with former Councilmember Lightfoot's estimations of these people. First of all, to correct the record -- and I'm not being facetious. I'm being very serious. David Catania, when he was the health committee chair, allowed for a -- and, Bill, I'm really surprised, and I'm not being facetious -- allowed for the bottle up the non-smoking legislation for a good year and a half which, I thought, was actually bordering on criminality.
PLOTKINI'm not engaging in hyperbole. What a hypocrite to be the health guy and to abide by the tobacco interest and not let that bill get out of committee just because he didn't like Carol Schwartz. That's the first thing. Second of all, don't you have a bit of a disclosure? You're for Muriel Bowser for mayor, correct?
LIGHTFOOTMuriel Bowser is not announced for mayor, but, yes, I think she'd be a great mayor.
PLOTKINAll right. Well, I think there's a -- and in...
PLOTKIN…and in terms of Muriel Bowser, I think she's a fine individual. But campaign finance did not get out and did not become completed piece of legislation, and that was in her committee. In terms of...
LIGHTFOOTShe did pass ethics reform though, right?
PLOTKINYeah. But what about campaign finance? Without...
LIGHTFOOTOK. She didn't go far enough.
PLOTKINWell, she sure didn't. And...
LIGHTFOOTAnd neither did David. He didn't go far enough on the health committee. Is that it?
PLOTKINWell, I think not having smoking, anti-smoking in legislation, having people inhale smoke for all of those years...
NNAMDIOK. McDuffie, you got to move on.
PLOTKINAnd McDuffie, yes, I agree with Bill on that. That was a racial consideration, pure and simple.
NNAMDIFew stories in Washington, D.C. politics have been as confusing to follow in the past few years as the saga swirling around the chief financial officers, particularly around the awarding of the city's lottery contract. Bill Lightfoot, you offered testimony at a hearing on this matter last week.
NNAMDIYou listed the matter this past year as one of the reasons you felt the city should've considered someone other than Natwar Gandhi to be serving as CFO, even though you did include his name in the pool. At this point, what are the answers you are seeking, and why are you continuing to bang the drum on this issue?
LIGHTFOOTKojo, you're right. It is very confusing. But let me get to what I think is the central issue creates a lot of problems here. It is the lack of transparency. It's a secrecy. It's the lack of disclosure. It is the deliberate attempt to cover up certain reports and investigations so that we, the public and the city council, do not understand what happened in that office. For example, for years, they've had an office of integrity inside the chief financial office.
LIGHTFOOTThis -- the -- and they've had two different directors now. They're now on their third director. Two of the directors have left because they felt Mr. Gandhi interfered with the independence of their office, and he tried to write the audits they were doing or not disclose the audits they were doing. That's been central in one of the cases in courts. Some of that information has just come out. It's from that.
LIGHTFOOTWe've learned about questionable conduct by both Mr. Gandhi, as well as Councilmember Graham. This -- it's -- the theme has been one of cover up, and that is the problem inside the chief financial office. For example, Jack Evans held a hearing -- and Jack's been good about this. He's been a good supporter of Mr. Gandhi's, but as time has gone on, he started to question why don't we know what happens in that office.
LIGHTFOOTAnd Jack has sworn he is going to get to the bottom of why there are two different reports of one of the audits, critical audit, and nobody can tell him why these reports are different. Jack has held two hearings already. He'll probably hold a third hearing. I think he will continue with this. We've got an investigation from the SEC now because of some of the problems in that office. So it's the lack of transparency which causes the greatest concern.
NNAMDIMr. Evans was a staunch defender and supporter of Natwar Gandhi, as you pointed out, probably still is to some extent and said on this broadcast some time ago that he was willing to debate you as to why Nat Gandhi should stay here. But the main reason seems to have to do with how the District is in the bond rating markets. And apparently, Mr. Gandhi's, I guess, fiscal oversight of the city has led to that good rating. What would you...
LIGHTFOOTIt certainly has. And let's give credit where credit is due. But two points about this quickly: One, when it came time to reappoint the chief financial officer, this city should have done a search. Maybe Mr. Gandhi would've been the best, but maybe he wasn't. Without even trying, we don't know that we have the best.
NNAMDISo you're saying that we can maintain that bond rating if we get another good or excellent chief financial officer.
LIGHTFOOTThe bond rating is because the mayor and the city council live within the budget. You know, Mr. -- Dr. Gandhi didn't do this by himself. The council members have to vote on this budget. The mayor has got to implement the budget, and they have done a very good job in the last several years.
NNAMDIYou've served on this council, and Mark has been watching politics in D.C. for more than 40 years. But you've been to the circus, so to speak. What has this story and this investigation told you, and then, Mark, about how local politics works in D.C.?
LIGHTFOOTI think they have gotten off mission. They've gotten off message. Unfortunately, I believe there are people down there that for a while thought they were entitled to certain perks of the office. They have been more concerned with being -- rubbing each others' backs and worrying about their colleagues than they have been about worrying about the public.
NNAMDIWhat do you think, Mark?
PLOTKINI think Dr. Gandhi is doing a fabulous job. We have a reserve of, what, $1.2 billion. The federal government would like to be in the same financial situation -- fiscal situation as the D.C. government. I'm not a financial expert, and I don't claim to be. But I do know that he has restored financial integrity to that office where people who do not wish us well cannot turn to us and say, oh, your finances are in disarray. And the way in which you...
PLOTKINThe way in which you judge performance or his performance is the bond rating. And the bind rating has gone up, which decreased our borrowing cost. And I would think that if he left, it would cause concern on Wall Street and hurt our fiscal reputation.
NNAMDILet me quote from columnist Jonetta Rose Barras, "The CFO stopped collecting a council-mandated tax. Staff reduced the assessed values of hundreds of commercial properties. The tax office failed to track transactions, increasing the possibility of theft. Critical internal audits were kept secret, and director of the lottery office was accused of sexual harassment and abusing by his -- abusing his employees, all of that in addition to unprecedented embezzlement by CFO employees." Doesn't Mr. Gandhi have some things he needs to answer for?
PLOTKINI think Jonetta has been very vigilant, and I cannot dispute those things. And people would say those are liabilities which he has to justify. But overall, in terms of the financial picture, Bill compared him to some of his predecessors who really were removed from office or really did not inspire confidence by the rating agencies.
LIGHTFOOTWell, and if it...
NNAMDIJonetta goes on to say, "Gandhi's shop has almost -- become almost as mismanaged as -- and as controversial as Valerie Holt's was." But, Bill Lightfoot, let's put aside your misgivings about Natwar Gandhi for a minute. How much of this problem do you think has to do with the nature of the chief financial officer position itself? This is an office with a lot of power. Would you change any of that?
LIGHTFOOTIt is the most powerful position in the D.C. government, by far: collects the taxes, gives advice to the council, can control what the council does. I think we should have a chief financial officer. We're clear. I believe that is important. I believe there should be some level of independence of that office. I think that is very clear. But I also think the chief financial officer has got to recognize there are checks and balances in this government, and he is responsible to the city council.
LIGHTFOOTHe can't come before a hearing and not answer questions as he did just two weeks ago. He claims that he didn't want to answer questions because there's litigation. It's ongoing litigation. That is a civil lawsuit involving public affairs in his office. We are entitled to know what's going on there. He should have sat at the table and answered questions.
NNAMDIHow much of this has to do, in your view, with the city system for contacts? What would you change, if you could?
LIGHTFOOTI think probably we need to get the city council out of contracting, all right? I remember when that started years ago when I was on the council at that time. But what's going on now with the city, well, there's council members involved in contracting. Contracts are being awarded other just on merit, what's in the best financial interest of the city. They're down there trying to cut deals with their friends. They're interfering because of who their constituencies are. And that does not serve the public interest.
NNAMDIMark Plotkin is from Chicago where this kind of contracting would be considered the normal way doing business.
PLOTKINThese contracting situations where somebody who is relative or very well-connected in Chicago are referred to as coincidences.
PLOTKINWhich is a -- Jack Evans tells the story of his counterpart, a guy who is still in office, named Eddie Burke, who is the finance and revenue committee. And he was trying to explain to him TIFs, tax incremental financing, and Burke had no idea what he was talking about. And finally he said, oh, you mean deals.
PLOTKINIt's a different parlance in Chicago and their -- in terms of zoning bill, you should know that there is the council -- and Chicago does zoning, and the council members don't recuse themselves from zoning decisions. They hand out their business cards...
PLOTKIN...so you can contact somebody. So it's a far different world. But I agree that the same individuals, and we all know who they are, seemed to be getting contracts and there needs to be greater council oversight. And this is the way the game is played, but not as brazenly as in Chicago.
NNAMDIHow would you describe the political nature of the job of CFO? Colby King of The Washington Post basically said the other day that Natwar Gandhi enjoys a clean reputation as a balanced budget guy, but that his reputation was also partly the result of an aggressive behind-the-scenes courting of the media, that he was, in fact, a political animal. Well, the previous CFO became mayor of the city, one previous CFO became...
NNAMDI...became mayor of the city, Anthony Williams. How political is that job, or should it be, in your view?
LIGHTFOOTIt should not be, all right? This really is supposed to be a position where we get independent advice, where the pros and cons are analyzed objectively, and it has not been. There is a quote in a deposition of Mr. Andary, and I would encourage your listeners to, if they can, take some time...
NNAMDIMr. Andary who worked in the CFO's office as...
LIGHTFOOTHe was the -- essentially inspector general, for a better word, OK?
LIGHTFOOTHis deposition, his transcript has been posted on the website of the city paper, and I believe others. You can read the deposition, and Mr. Andary talks about how Dr. Gandhi was more concerned about his image than he was the quality of the reports being prepared. That's inappropriate. That's a major problem with this office.
PLOTKINLet me plead full disclosure. I am and have lunched and have been asked to breakfast with -- as a major peripheral figure here in the city. And...
NNAMDIDarn it. You're going to make me admit too.
LIGHTFOOTBoy, they never took me to lunch or breakfast.
PLOTKINNo. He never took me to lunch. He's never taken me to lunch or breakfast.
NNAMDIBreakfast for me.
PLOTKINI've always paid for lunch and breakfast. And, yes, he does -- he is concerned about his public image. And, yes, he does sell his programs. And it's up to you to sift through this salesmanship and to see whether it's of merit or not.
LIGHTFOOTMark, you're right. That would be good if he were to disclose what's going on in his office, then we could fairly judge what he's doing. But what he does instead is take influential people like yourself, take you somewhere, talk with you privately. Now, you come on the radio, you spout what he's told you about. And that's fair, and I have not problem with that. But what you don't get to see is the other side, the audits of what's going on inside his office. The city council had to pay us emergency legislation to release those audits because he was not going to give them up.
NNAMDIAnd I haven't had breakfast with him since the Fenty administration. But on to another topic. Mark and Bill Lightfoot, please don headphones, please, so that you can hear Evan in Washington, D.C. Evan, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please.
EVANHi. Thank you. Good morning, gentlemen. I had a question. I am current UDC student. I've about two years left before I get my degree. I'm just wondering if any of the gentlemen guests on your show could offer any kind of insight as to the short-term solvency or viability of UDC. And a number of students are concerned there. We, you know, only heard sort of vague rumors about what's actually going on. I was wondering.
NNAMDIWell, you didn't ask me. But I do know that this something that Mayor Vincent Gray is concerned about. Here is Bill Lightfoot.
LIGHTFOOTYeah. Let me just say, I do believe our elected officials and the mayor included are committed to having District of Columbia University. They are committed to having a law school. They are committed in having a program that our -- the residents can attend to improve their skills for education and take better jobs. The university will continue. I have no doubt about that. We've got the political will to see that is done. But changes have to be made because there are certain problems up there.
PLOTKINBill mentioned the law school. Shelly Broderick is the dean of the law school. The law school had a lot of problems with accreditation. It is now accredited. It has a very singular and unique mission, and I think it should be proud of the work, and she should be the proud of the graduates that graduated from the Dave Clarke School of Law at UDC.
PLOTKINIn terms of the other situation, there are people of prominence and accomplishment and stature who have graduated from the UDC, and I don't believe the university has never done a good job of linking alumni who have gone out in life and attained some level of success and celebrate what they have done at UDC.
PLOTKINYou'd like UDC to turn out to be like CCNY, City College of New York, that has a very vaunt reputation. And I think, to his credit, President Sessoms -- former President Sessoms wanted to create some admission standards where -- and have a junior college system -- and of course, there's a war between those two institutions -- where there isn't a question of anybody getting into UDC so there is some selectivity.
NNAMDIEvan, thank you very much for your call.
LIGHTFOOTQuickly, Kojo, there will be UDC. There's no doubt in my mind about that. So the students can be rest assure their education will continue. There are challenges at UDC that have been significant for many years. Number one, we have many students go in UDC from the D.C. Public School system that really are not prepared for that level of academic work, and they have to be brought along in a way that's appropriate.
LIGHTFOOTAnd then we have many students who go to UDC from East of the River but the campus is way over here in Northwest, so that's another issue that has to be dealt with. And we never really resolve those conflicts.
PLOTKINAnd you need a president who is an enormous cheerleader, a person of real renown, maybe, who considers this a challenge, who can raise money, who can go out and cultivate alumni and not fly first-class everywhere and actually consider this a vocational challenge where they are going to really transform the university into what should be like any other land-grant state college.
NNAMDIMark Plotkin is our guest analyst today. He's a political analyst at Fox 5 Television. Bill Lightfoot, thank you so much for joining us.
LIGHTFOOTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBill Lightfoot is a former member of the D.C. Council. He was an independent member who held an at-large seat. He was also the chairman of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty's 2010 campaign for re-election. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can also send email to email@example.com. Here is Andy in Rockville, Md. Andy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDYKojo, I just called in to say, yeah, I listen to your show all the time. Great show today as always. I really enjoy you as the host. But I had to call in. Mark was the guest analyst. Mark Plotkin, I love that you are on the show. I missed your opinionated -- you know, Kojo's a great guy, but he's so balanced. I assume he's a liberal like us. But you can't tell, and that drives me crazy. But you're a great guy. I love the (unintelligible).
NNAMDILiberal like us? You think Mark Plotkin is a liberal?
ANDYWell, I think he is.
NNAMDIHe is a contrarian is what he is. He's a contrarian.
PLOTKINThe check is in the mail. Thank you for those comments. Yeah, Kojo is just a, you know, too mild-mannered, too gracious and far too polite and appropriate. And I don't know how he's lasted this long as he has, quite frankly.
NNAMDIAll of which are the reasons that Mark Plotkin recruited me to come to this position in the first place, but thank you very much for your call, Andy. Homeland security and government affairs chairman in the Senate, Joe Lieberman, independent -- well, kind of Democrat -- of Connecticut, Senators Dick Durbin, Republican, of Illinois, Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California introduced legislation this week, Wednesday, granting Washington, D.C. full statehood, including voter representation in Congress for its residents.
NNAMDISen. Lieberman saying, as I retire from the Senate after having had the great privilege of serving here for 24 years, securing full voting rights for the 600,000 disenfranchised people who live in the District is unfinished business not just for me but for the United States of America.
PLOTKINFirst of all, I want to thank you, Kojo, for bringing this to everybody's attention. I did not know of this, and I am obviously thrilled. But I want to -- beyond ideology -- say what an important strategic maneuver this is. And just some brief history, in 1993, there was a vote on statehood. There were 153 people who voted for it. Congresswoman Norton took great, which I thought undue, credit for getting 60 percent -- to me, 60 percent is not 218, not a majority -- 60 percent of the Democrats to vote for it.
PLOTKINOne Republican who lost in the primary who went up to Congresswoman Norton, Wayne Gilchrest from Maryland, was the only Republican in the -- and he is still living here. So I'm glad I have the opportunity to be asked to comment on this. In the Senate, it never got a vote -- never got a vote -- because of two people: American hero John Glenn, who resisted holding a hearing even on the statehood bill and then had an informational hearing, and Jim Sasser, who, I understand, lives in the District of Columbia, who resisted any movement.
PLOTKINSo even though Jesse Jackson was the statehood senator and that George Mitchell was the majority leader and they were co-sponsors, the bill never got a vote. so I salute Durbin of Illinois, Murray of Washington, Boxer of California, Feinstein of California for moving this, and I hope Harry Reid brings it up. And I've said to Congresswoman Norton, she doesn't control the vote in the House because the Republicans control. Do what John Conyers did on the Martin Luther King birthday when the Democrats were in control.
PLOTKINHe brought up the idea that Martin Luther King's birthday should be a national holiday every year. What happened? Ronald Reagan signed it into law because every year, they locked in votes. So I am overjoyed. I am euphoric that Joe Lieberman has done this as his parting gift to the District of Columbia. And let's get at least 55 Democratic votes, and you'll get some Republican votes as well.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton is indicating that there's going to be a ceremony, or she is trying to make sure there is a ceremony, over the induction into Statuary Hall of the District of Columbia.
PLOTKINIt will not be, unfortunately, in Statuary Hall. It will be in Emancipation Hall and I won't get into that. And there won't be too, but it will be Frederick Douglass, who was a former District of Columbia U.S. marshal and an elected recorder of deeds as a Republican. She has sent a letter, I heard, from Pelosi's office today to speak to minority leader Pelosi and -- minority leader Pelosi has sent a letter. Congresswoman Norton, excuse me, has sent a letter to John Boehner, the speaker of the House, Harry Reid, the majority leader, to have such a ceremony.
PLOTKINI had a conversation with her and, Kojo, I am so -- it's propitious that you invite me here because now -- and they will invite President Barack Obama, who has done absolutely nothing, I repeat, nothing and has been terrible to the District of Columbia, and still gets 91 percent of the vote, won't put the license plate on, won't make a statement about D.C. to D.C., only goes to our restaurants and says nothing about our heart and soul to join America. He will be invited to the ceremony. Let's see if he shows up.
NNAMDISpeaking of the license plates, we are going to be discussing that very shortly because the petition section of the White House website was flooded this week with people who are pushing the president to take action on guns. But there's another kind of action that the president will be pushed to take, and joining us to talk about that is James Jones. He is communications director for DC Vote. James Jones joins us by phone. Jim -- James Jones, good to have you aboard.
MR. JAMES JONESGreat to be with you, Kojo, and very, very good to be on here with Mark and talk about something near and dear to his heart and something he was very, very involved with making happen, which is the taxation without representation.
NNAMDIYour group is launching a petition on the White House website to call attention to D.C. voting rights. Tell us what you're aiming to do and what realistic hopes you have that the president will give this his attention.
JONESWell, our petition is really quite simple. We're asking the president to put on the taxation without representation license plate, and we want him to put it on in time for the inaugural parade. We think that the license plate, of course, reflects the reality of D.C., and the president has made a lot of positive comments about the fact that we should have the same type of voting representation as everyone else in the country. He said that publicly.
JONESAnd we just think that this is the time to do it at the beginning of the term. And it's a simple message to the American people. It's something we think that will get people involved and have a -- and learn much more about the District of Columbia. I looked at the petition this morning just before I got on. We had 900 -- over 900 people who had already signed...
NNAMDIAnd tell our listeners how many people have to sign in order for the White House to be forced to respond to it.
JONESYeah, we're -- yeah, we need a lot. We need 25,000. Now, we need 24,000. But -- and what that will mean was the White House would respond. That doesn't say they would change the license plate, I want to say, but they would be obliged to respond to it.
NNAMDIAnd so far, they have not responded, correct?
JONESRight. And I will say, you know, we've only been at this about a day and a half, and we have 900 signatures. And we haven't even fully engaged Mark Plotkin on this yet.
PLOTKINWell, I'm so glad, Jim, that you're doing this. I have criticized DC Vote for being namby-pamby and not very effective, but I salute you for doing this. We should say, Kojo that the whole origin of this license plate really derives from this show. A woman in Foggy Bottom -- and let's give credit where credit's due -- named Sarah Shapiro emailed the show when I was working here, and it was a brilliant idea because she said it's a statement of fact.
PLOTKINIt's irrefutable. It's not a slogan, not no taxation with representation. This is a very tortured history. I brought the license plate to one of the last press conferences, and Jake Siewert was the press secretary for President Bill Clinton. And I literally held it up, and I said, when is the president going to put it on his -- this was President Clinton. And he said, Mark, you'll be surprised, and President Bill Clinton put it on his limousine for about the last 45 days.
NNAMDIPresident Bush promptly had it removed.
PLOTKINI knew that President Bush would not, and my idea was that President Clinton, who was the president till noon on Jan. 20, would drive up Pennsylvania Avenue -- I don't know if you know this, Jim -- and obviously Bush would take it off as his first act as president. Well, Bill Clinton, being the magnanimous guy that he is, obviously arranged for it to be taken on -- taken off on the drive up Pennsylvania Avenue.
PLOTKINThe minute President Obama was elected, I started inquiring, when I was at WTOP, about the license plate. They said, we don't know what you're talking about. Then they said, we're working on it. And he then -- and I think everybody should hear this -- told Vincent Gray before he was inaugurated mayor, when they had lunch at the White House. Vince Gray came out -- we were assembled -- and said, you can't believe what the president said to me.
PLOTKINHe said, the Secret Service won't let me. He has then amended that by saying that the president said to him -- he's revised that or corrected it and said that's the Secret Service's decision. Jim, what you're doing is terrific, but you don't need 25,000 signatures. If Barack Obama was sincere and interested in us joining America, he wouldn't need you to pry and to do this.
JONESWell, Mark, I agree with you on that, Mark, but the fact of the matter is we are still in a position where not enough of America actually knows about our situation. And this is a way, an easy way for people in D.C., people around the country, to share with whatever networks they have. And, I mean, we're going heavy on this in the whole social networking world. I hate to put Mark Plotkin and social networking in the same conversation...
NNAMDIIn the same sentence, yes.
JONES...but I have to say that. And just let me say -- I mean, I do want to give a plug because I think everybody in D.C. should be signing this petition. Just go to dcvote.org...
JONES...and you can click right to the White House website from there. But...
NNAMDIThat's at dcvote.org.
JONESRight. And you'll just -- it'll be obvious. You'll...
PLOTKINWell -- can I make a suggestion, Jim? You know, the only one member of the cabinet who has ever done anything for D.C. in this administration -- he's going to visit Vince Gray -- is Eric Holder, and you should enlist him and ask him to sign the petition, the attorney general of the United States.
JONESThat's a great idea, Mark, and we're certainly asking all of our elected officials as well, and they've been very supportive. And, Mark, I hope you can get there yourself, some way to get your name up there. But one thing that was -- is encouraging is, you know, of the 900-plus people that we've seen on there, I've been checking, and they say where they are from. Now, of course, the vast majority are from the District of Columbia.
JONESBut we're seeing a lot, a lot of people from outside of the District of Columbia who are signing this petition, and that is one of the purposes of this. And, course, after the first year, when we get closer to the inauguration, we will be pushing this very hard with the national news media as well and through op-eds from people like Mark Plotkin and others, hopefully, that will get the message further spread out there and get it really into the inauguration cycle.
NNAMDIJames Jones, we can assure you that we will find a way for Mark Plotkin to get to that online petition because this is the aplotkinypse. (sic)
NNAMDIOK. That's enough of that. James Jones, thank you very much for joining us. James Jones is communications director for DC Vote. Joining us by phone now is Donna Edwards. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat from Maryland. Congresswoman Edwards, thank you for joining us.
REP. DONNA EDWARDSIt's great to be with you. You had me laughing out loud there for a minute.
NNAMDIYou are in the middle of the aplotkinypse.
PLOTKINHave you asked her to sign? Will you sign the petition, Congresswoman Edwards?
EDWARDSI haven't seen the petition, and actually I tend not to sign petitions, but I'll take a look at it.
PLOTKINAre you in favor that the president's limousine have, as President Clinton had, that on his limousine?
EDWARDSI'm in favor of -- as you know, Mark, I have been an outspoken advocate for D.C. to have full voting rights and continue to work to do that. Let's talk about some other stuff.
NNAMDIIt's not exactly an atmosphere for caroling and eggnog on Capitol Hill today, particularly in your chamber. The speaker shut down business in the House after his so-called Plan B -- an alternative to negotiating a broader deficit reduction package with the president -- went up in smoke. What sense do you have today for where things are going, and what conversations are you having with Democrats in your caucus about what your party's strategy is going to be from here?
EDWARDSAbsolutely stunning. I've never seen anything like this and can't imagine that when Nancy Pelosi was speaker that she would have received such a rebuke from the Democratic caucus as John Boehner has from the House GOP. And so it's pretty amazing. I think right now all of us are, you know, sort of in a little bit of shock that there are some members of the Republican Party who would just as soon the country go down in a tank by not dealing with these issues as come to some sort of an agreement or compromise and that they are so vested in protecting millionaires and, you know, $50,000 in tax cuts.
EDWARDSI mean, it's pretty amazing, and I'm glad the American public frankly had an opportunity to see this, what we've been witnessing over the last two years of this Tea Party-driven conference that the American people had a chance to see firsthand.
NNAMDIWell, you don't stay shocked for long. Where do you see this going from here?
EDWARDSWell, I mean, I think that -- I mean, I still remain very hopeful, frankly, that we can come to an agreement. I think the speaker pretty much said it. He said, well, you know, it's up to the Democratic-controlled Senate and the president to come to a deal that's going to get us over this hurdle. And I think he recognizes that he's going to have to do what he did in the debt ceiling resolution, which is allow the Democrats in the House to deliver the vote for him, getting together the number of Republicans he can to deliver the vote for him.
EDWARDSAnd I think, in its essence, the speaker basically wants to just cut a deal and move on and realizes that they're not going to get everything they want, and we aren't either. But now we're actually much closer to getting what the president campaigned on and what is right for a middle-class family.
PLOTKINCongresswoman Edwards, you don't mind this moniker progressive. Some of the progressives in the Democratic Party do object to some of the changes that might be in the formal final agreement. One is raising -- and I wonder how you felt about it -- Minority Leader Pelosi said she's very much opposed to it -- raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65. How do you feel about that?
EDWARDSWell, I've been a, you know, long and outspoken opponent of raising the Medicare eligibility age, and I don't think it's necessary. I think that as part of the agreement, we put into place a lot of -- incredible amount of savings in Medicare that need to play out over the course of the next 10 years in the Affordable Care Act, and we need to stick to those and hold those in the -- in whatever agreement we come to. And I've also been organizing Democrats on the issue of changing the cost of living calculus for Social Security beneficiaries.
PLOTKINWell, that was my next question. What about -- some feel that that is a reduction in benefits to change the formula for the calculation for the cost of living for Social Security. So you would be in favor of altering that?
EDWARDSNo, I'm not.
PLOTKINYou're not in favor.
EDWARDSIn fact, I've led -- I led a group of about 60 Democrats who aren't just progressives, but actually span the breadth of our caucus, writing to our leadership and to Republican leadership, opposing what is described as the chained CPI, and it's a different way of calculating the cost of living for Social Security beneficiaries that isn't just -- some feel that it's a benefits cut. It is actually a benefits cut.
PLOTKINWell, what happens if the final agreement has an alternation -- the president hasn't spoken distinctly or directly on this -- and it's part of the package? Would you then vote against the package?
EDWARDSWell, I don't want to presage how I'm going to vote against a package that I haven't seen yet, but I will say this to you. When the same issue was raised during the debt ceiling negotiations, actually right about the -- this same time, we joined with another 70 of our Democrats opposing the chain CPI. And as a result of that opposition, it was taken off the table. I think we're in much the same position right now.
EDWARDSAnd I think, frankly, what happened last night in terms of the Republican rejection of Speaker Boehner, that I think that that actually put us, frankly, in a better position as we negotiate a final package of making sure that the cost of living calculus is one that really reflects seniors' cause and doesn't result in a benefits cut. So I feel very good about where we are right now.
EDWARDSAnd I don't want to prejudge because there are lot of different ways that you could do this, ways that you could do it that might not impact your seniors who -- or your most vulnerable and your disabled. But I'm convinced at all that imposing the chain CPI on Social Security beneficiary would not be very, very harmful to the vast majority of beneficiaries, especially those in my congressional district.
PLOTKINCongresswoman, let me ask you a question about Israel. There are constituents in your district who have said to me that you are not sufficiently enthusiastic about Israel, supporting Israel. And a January 2009 vote where you voted president -- present in terms of Israel's right of self-defense, how do you justify that vote? And what do you say to those people who say that you aren't sufficiently supportive?
EDWARDSI don't think that that is an accurate analysis of where I stand on issues related to the Middle East. I have been a very strong supporter of a two-state solution. I have been very vigorous in saying that the United States should play an active role in trying to make sure that the parties come together to negotiate a two-state resolution that ensures a secure Israel and a secure Palestinian state. And I think that my position overall has always been that Israel is our -- probably our strongest ally, frankly, in the region.
EDWARDSWe have a long history of support for Israel. And I think that it's important that whatever it is that we do, that we make sure that we provide for Israel's security, its right to exist without harm to its citizens, and that we provide a decent pathway towards representation of the Palestinian people on their own in an autonomous and secure state in Palestine.
NNAMDIThe NRA held a press conference earlier today, Congresswoman Edwards, breaking its silence following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called on Congress to put armed guards in every school. Here is what he had to say.
MR. WAYNE LAPIERREAs parents, we do everything we can to keep our children safe. It's now time for us to assume responsibility for our schools. The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
NNAMDICongresswoman Edwards, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Is that a policy you would support? It is a policy calling for more armed guards in schools around the country.
EDWARDSYou know, I thought I heard absolutely everything until I was shocked by what I heard from the NRA today. It is ridiculous to think that we're going to arm guards in every school across this country. We have over 140,000 schools across this country. They're in urban areas, rural areas, suburban areas. We can't put armed guards at all of them. We only have about 800,000 or so law enforcement officers all across the country. It just doesn't really make any sense. And what was shocking about the NRA's statement today is that they blamed video games. They blamed films.
EDWARDSThey blamed lack of mental health services. They blamed everything under the sun, but they didn't say that there was a problem with having assault weapons on our streets. They didn't say that there was a problem with not doing 100 percent background checks for every gun transfer in this country. And they didn't say that it was really important for us to make sure that we have the kinds of mental health services fully funded that we need in every single community across the country.
LAPIERREAnd -- or limiting large-capacity magazines. Their statement was so inadequate. It was so pathetic. It's embarrassing for real gun owners in this country who deserve the right to go hunting and shooting and to protect themselves in their homes. But we got to get this stuff off the street.
NNAMDIThe president asked Joe Biden to draft proposals during the course of the next several week and said that it's time to include guns in this conversation. What do you want those proposals to look like? And what do you think is going to be politically possible?
EDWARDSWell, I'm really excited actually that Joe Biden is going to be heading this. I mean, I worked with Joe Biden on the Violence Against Women Act in '94 that dealt a lot -- with a lot of these criminal justice issues, with Sen. Lautenberg on the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban and came face to face with the gun lobby in 1996. And so he is a good -- he is, you know, the best arbiter for this. I think that we can do reasonable solutions, you know, eliminating the large-capacity magazines, that seems like a no-brainer.
EDWARDSBanning assault weapons, that seems like a no-brainer. There's no reason that you should have military style and, you know, law enforcement weapons on our streets and 100 percent background check. Why should you be able to go to a retail counter and be stopped from getting it, preclude it from getting a gun because you're on the prohibited list, but then you can go to a gun show or a sale online and get that same weapon. And so it seems to me that most Americans agree that this is a common sense approach to gun control and to public safety.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to...
LAPIERREAnd we can do it.
NNAMDIAllow me to see if Nick in Winchester, Va., agrees. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKHello. How are you? I have a bit of an issue with the assault weapons because most hunting rifles are based on military weapons or military -- sorry, military grounds. But (unintelligible) point out to you is -- were two articles in The Washington Post. One was on Dec. 19. It's an op-ed by Charles Schumer in which he says, let's take the District of Columbia v. Heller decision and work on reasonable gun controls. That's first of all. It's the first time I've agreed in Chuck Schumer and...
NNAMDIOK. Second because we're running out of time. Nick, your second point, quickly.
NICKRight, right, right. The second one was an article by Neely Tucker yesterday in which she pointed out that the homicide rate in the United States is the lowest it has ever been, notwithstanding horrendous tragedies like...
NNAMDISo you that to say what?
NNAMDIWhat you -- what's the point you're trying to make? We only have a minute left.
NICKWell, that the homicide rate in the United States is at the lowest rate it has ever been, just not withstanding...
PLOTKINSo that means don't change any of the gun laws?
NICKNo. I'm -- I think you could make -- no, I just (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWell, I'm sorry, we're out of time. And Donna Edwards is our guest. She has to have the last word on this. Donna Edwards, where do you think we'll ultimately end up with gun control?
EDWARDSWell, I think most people believe that we can have reasonable gun control. And I believe that there is, you know, widespread support and sentiment in the Congress to do that, even among people who've traditionally supported the no holds barred position of the NRA. The NRA position is completely unacceptable. And I'm looking forward to getting this done for the children of Newtown and the children across the country.
NNAMDIDonna Edwards is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a Democrat from Maryland. Congresswoman Edward -- Congresswoman Edwards, thank you so much for joining us.
EDWARDSThank you. Happy...
NNAMDIMark Plotkin is our guest analyst today. He is a political analyst at Fox 5 television. Mark, thank you for gracing the airwaves with your presence.
PLOTKINThank you for having me. It was a joy. It really went very quickly.
NNAMDIOur resident analyst is Tom Sherwood, a little under the weather today, but he will be back. And thank you all for listening. Merry Christmas. Happy Kwanzaa. Happy holidays. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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