In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
A D.C. lawmaker turns to a private law firm for help writing a school reform bill. Activists in Maryland join forces with the National Rifle Association to challenge the state’s new gun bill in court, rather than through referendum. And Virginia’s presumptive Republican nominee for governor decides against mounting a campaign to repeal the commonwealth’s new transportation plan. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Tim Kaine Member, U.S. Senate (D-Va.); Former Governor of Virginia; Former Chairman, Democratic National Committee
- Peter LaPorte Homeland security consultant; Former director, D.C. Emergency Management Agenc
Featured Video Clips
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he’s “very positively inclined” toward D.C. statehood and that his staff is reviewing the merits of a bill that’s currently before the Senate. “The fact that D.C. residents don’t have the same rights as other American citizens do … it’s an injustice, and we ought to fix it,” Kaine said.
Hospital bed capacity and a nursing shortage would be primary concerns if an explosion similar to the one that rocked the Boston Marathon finish line were to occur in Washington, D.C., said Peter LaPorte, former director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency. LaPorte, who is now a homeland security consultant, also discussed potential security vulnerabilities of Metro and public spaces like Nationals Park and Verizon Center.
Politics Hour Quiz
Test your knowledge of the week’s local news, headlines and happenings.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODAn incredible week. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIIt has indeed been an incredible week. Are you doing anything at all connected to the story that's breaking news for the past several days and especially today in Boston?
SHERWOODYes, I am. But if you don't mind, I don't want to tell channels 9 and 7 and 5 what I'm doing on your show...
SHERWOOD...to give them time to repeat it. So, yes, I have a great story. People should tune in to see it later.
NNAMDIThe fact that I have been paid off by all of the aforementioned channels means that I have to extract this information from you.
SHERWOODWell, I can't tell you as we'll get into it pretty quickly. The fractured media world with the blogging and the online stuff, the TV, the radio, whatever it is, it's just an extraordinary explosion of interest in this for the Boston story, and this information is coming from every direction. It's important for the media people to be right about what they say before we say it.
NNAMDIEspecially because the tendency seems to be being first rather than being right and being (unintelligible).
SHERWOODWell, if I can quote Ben Bradley, the former editor of The Washington Post, who -- when I had a story that was breaking, he said, "Are you sure you're right?" I said yes. He says, "You know, if you're right, you're good. If you're wrong, you're famous."
NNAMDIAnd that's why Tom Sherwood is just good. Joining us in studio is Tim Kaine. He's a member of the United States Senate. He is a Democrat from Virginia. He's also the former governor of Virginia and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Sen. Kaine, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
SEN. TIM KAINEKojo, good to be back. Thanks.
SHERWOODAnd the former mayor of Richmond.
NNAMDIThat's correct. That will come up during the course of this discussion. By the way, if you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. A few weeks ago, you wrote in a newspaper op-ed that when it came to guns, the issue before you and your colleagues in the Senate was whether -- quoting here -- "a passionate minority of senators and special interests would stand in the way of measures that the majority of Americans support, like the expansion of background checks for gun purchases."
NNAMDIYou urged your colleagues to support gun measures and asserted that the power of the NRA's leadership was overrated. How do you feel now that the legislation was defeated?
KAINEI feel I'm very disappointed, Kojo, and I made the case to my colleagues that I represent a state where the NRA has its headquarters. And they have campaigned against me and every one of my statewide races, and they've not been able to beat me. And if they were that powerful, they would have beat me at least once. And what I take for that and what I shared with my colleagues many times, especially on Tuesday, was that gun owners matter, and we care about guns in Virginia.
KAINEWe care about Second Amendment rights, but gun owners support reasonable limitations. And the NRA leadership is out of touch with its own members. And I urge my colleagues not to be frightened. Well, we ended up getting more than 50 votes for the background record check measure. We had 55 votes until Harry Reid changed his vote for a procedural reason at the end to enable us to reconsider it.
KAINEFifty-five votes should be enough to pass legislation in the Senate. But, setting that aside for now, we had a majority support for the background record check. But the passionate minority was able to block that sensible improvement at least as of now, but I'm not giving up. And I know the Newtown families and the Virginia Tech families and others who believe in reasonable limitations won't give up either. We'll just have to find, you know, another moment and another way to come at this.
SHERWOODThe nation's gun show if that's what it's called is going on right now, opens today -- opened today in Chantilly, runs through the weekend. Why do you think people given the polls are off the charts in terms of some modest registration or gun licensing? Why do you think those members of the Senate who voted no chose to? Are they afraid of primary challenges or...
KAINESome are afraid of primary challenges. Now, those would be more in the Republican side.
SHERWOODAnd I should say they may have just straight out deep-held...
SHERWOOD...beliefs, too, that they don't want to do this.
KAINEThere are some who do believe that the Second Amendment is completely absolute. And what I'd say to them is, you know, hey, we care about the Constitution in Virginia and the Bill of Rights. It was James Madison who wrote the draft. But we understand, for example, on the First Amendment, the First Amendment, we love it, but it doesn't give blanket protection to child pornography.
KAINEIt doesn't give blanket protection to slander. There are socially responsible limitations to the freedom of speech. And the Second Amendment is no different. Gun ownership support -- and I own a weapon. I've got -- one of my children is an NRA member. You know, this is important stuff. But the Second Amendment is no more absolute than the First. But you're right, Tom.
KAINEThere are some who believe the Second Amendment is absolute, but more of what I've heard from senators on the floor and in discussion where they were worried on the Republican side about being primary if they voted for something like background checks. And Democrats are worried about will it hurt them in the general election. And I tried to tell them, you know, again, I come from a state -- we -- the NRA headquarters and we love guns.
KAINEWe love the Second Amendment, love the Constitution. But NRA members support background record checks, and the American people do overwhelmingly. But, you know, I learned something -- and, Kojo, you started and you phrased the question the right way. I learned something as a city councilman when I started in 1994 is that, you know, a passionate minority can beat a reasonable majority if their voices are louder and if they're more deeply engaged.
KAINEAnd one thing I have noticed on this particular issue for those who are, say, absolutist about the Second Amendment, it tends to be the issue that they care most about. And for many of us who believe in reasonable restrictions, like background record checks, it may not be the sole issue that drives us. There are other issues that drive us as well. And this was an instance of the reasonable majority not being able to get it over the finish line, but this isn't going away. And there's going to continue to be discussion.
NNAMDII really want to emphasize that because we talked to Quentin Kidd on Wednesday, who you know, and Quentin made the point that that passionate, the adjective that you used to describe that majority is what tends to make a lot of those people one-issue people.
NNAMDISo in upcoming elections, those people who are for background checks will not vote entirely on that issue but the passionate minority likely will. And that is what drives fear into the heart of some Republican and Democratic senators.
KAINEAgain, it does drive fear, but the electoral outcomes and the electoral results, say, of the NRA have been pretty pathetic. I mean, in 2012, their record of producing victories for the candidates they supported was, you know, it was, you know, less than the lifetime batting average of anybody playing in the major leagues right now. I mean, they had a horrible, horrible track record. And it's because they're out of touch with their own members' viewpoints. People accept reasonable limits.
NNAMDIAny options left for moving gun measures later this session?
KAINEYes. The bill - so there was a bill on the floor of the Senate. Various amendments were attempted, too, ended up being accepted. The bill is not going to move. Leader Reid is just going to put the bill on the shelf for now and continue to look for opportunities. There may be some who voted against the background record check that if there were a change or two could support it. You know, who knows, but we do have to keep looking for opportunities. I don't think the public support for reasonable measures like background record checks will change.
KAINEIt was a flaw on the background record check system that led Seung-Hui Cho to be able to purchase the gun that was used in the shooting at Virginia Tech six years ago this week. And what we learned in the aftermath of that was a better background record check system keeps you safer, simple proposition, and that's why people support. And so I believe its moment will come, but it was not this week.
SHERWOODGiven the events occurring in Boston rapidly even as we are talking, as a former mayor of a metropolitan city, 100,000 or so and...
KAINEMm hmm. Well, a million in the metropolitan area, yeah.
SHERWOODOr in the metropolitan area, much larger.
KAINEMm hmm. Yep.
SHERWOODAs the former governor when Virginia Tech happened, we had this sniper incident here in October 2002 when people were afraid to go get gas and go to the grocery do -- and let their children play outside, 10 -- 13 people were killed in these sniper attacks, as a leader -- official, how do you address the fear that grabs people? Like even in Boston right at this moment, the second person has not been caught…
KAINEYeah. It is...
SHERWOOD...the fear must be overwhelming.
KAINEIt is overwhelming. And I remember I was lieutenant governor, Mark Warner was governor during the sniper incident, and it just was so frightening to people because they didn't know where and when would be next and huge piece of real estate and horrible vicious crimes and -- that fear was so palpable. That was unlike anything I had experienced. And the aftermath of the shooting at Virginia Tech is horrible. So what you have to do is you got to do a couple of things.
KAINEFirst, have really valid communication. So everybody, if there's an incident like that, you need to run all the communication through, you know, the mayor's office or the chief of police and not have multiple points of view. And, Tom, you made the point that in today's media culture and people who have cellphones and they can tweet whatever they want, there tend to be a lot of rumors. We used to have a moniker in the governor's office, the first reports are always wrong, you know, and there's rumors happen.
KAINEBut if you can have a trusted source of information where you're putting out information constantly people will pay attention that that's very important. And the second thing -- and I think the Boston Police have been benefited by this. What you do in a crisis depends upon how much you prepare for the crisis.
KAINEAnd we used to do exercises, evacuations, public, you know, public emergency exercises all the time. The governor of Virginia, the governor of Maryland and mayor of D.C., we would do once a year some mock exercise where we would all be in our own command centers, and we'd run a simulation usually with DHS officials. And then we would use it to see what we would do.
KAINEAnd, you know, most people didn't know this, during the Obama inauguration in 2008, we even used that a little bit as a simulation. Well, you know, you got to close off some evacuation routes and we're not going to have bridges open. We're going to do other things. And we even tried to use that as a learning lesson for how to, you know, move large amounts of people in the minimal amounts of time.
KAINEAnd then in the aftermath of the inauguration, we got back together and walked through what had happened. Not just for the next inauguration we need to know this, but what does this teach us about if there's an incident or emergency? It does seem from what we're seeing, you know, I don't have any inside info, but just what I'm seeing, it seems like the Boston Police and the law enforcement community up there, state federal, is, you know, they're -- they have practiced and...
SHERWOODThe FBI's into it. Let me ask you one more question that's general subject.
SHERWOODIn the Richmond and metropolitan area of a million people -- in Boston I don't know how many millions it is, but it's huge.
KAINEYeah, probably like 4 million.
SHERWOODBut stay in place -- we used to have evacuation routes, thinking everybody would leave an area, in this case, with fear. But stay in place seems to be working most steadily.
KAINEMm hmm. Mm hmm.
SHERWOODA lot of people think that in a natural disaster or whatever, people don't stay in place.
SHERWOODIs this a proof that stay in place can work?
KAINEWell, I think so. You know, one of the things we did in the painful aftermath of the shooting at Virginia Tech, for example, is we put together a review panel. And the Virginia Tech officials were faulted by the review panel for not sending out after the very first shooting. There's been a shooting, and the assailant is at large and either stay in place or just take necessary precautions. They had been led to believe that the shooter had left campus.
KAINEAnd so instead of putting out the notice, they were pursuing, you know, trying to find who the shooter was. And by not putting out that alert in the hour or hour and a half between the first shooting and the second, you know, they could -- it could have led to more casualties. Well, the -- it's very much changed since Virginia Tech.
KAINEColleges and others now tend to put out word right away, and then they tend to often say stay in place. You're right. If it's a hurricane evacuation, well, there's going to be a different philosophy. But in the event of a crime like this, I think the law enforcement officials often find that that's the best thing to do.
KAINEIt makes it easier for them to do their job to actually try to find an assailant.
NNAMDIU.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, he is our guest on The Politics Hour. He's a Democrat from Virginia. Our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. If you have questions or comments for Sen. Kaine, you can call us at -- well, the lines are full. You better shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will start with Joe in Quentin, Va. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEHello. Good afternoon.
JOEHow's everybody? I'm just calling to talk about the gun legislation that failed in the Senate. I really think that the background check is a good idea in principle. But the problem is that you need to do a variety of other things first. OK? And this is also for the citizenry, too. You know, when you get -- everybody's got a relative that's not playing with a full deck of cards and people need to do their civic duty and report that individual.
JOEAnd the system needs to be set up that, you know, the rights of that one individual, when it's pretty obvious, like that dude the shot up Virginia Tech, there is a teacher that knew very well that this guy was going off the rail. And you need to address that sort of thing before we start passing a bunch of more meaningless gun legislation, whether it be, you know, in the state of Virginia or across the country as a whole. Take Richmond. They...
NNAMDIIt is one of the things that you addressed in Virginia.
KAINEYeah. And I would say, I agree with you completely about the mental health issues, and we did a lot of mental health work. But I disagree that you have to do everything before you do background record checks 'cause it's not meaningless. A background record check system -- it was a flaw in the background record check system that enabled Seung-Hui Cho to purchase his weapon.
KAINEHe had not just been noticed by a teacher, he had actually been adjudicated mentally ill and dangerous in a judicial proceeding. But because of a flaw in the system, that information -- the judge in that instance did not think that was information needed to be entered into the system. A better background records check would've stopped him from purchasing that weapon. And so -- and frankly, this is not even about new laws.
KAINEIt's about enforcing the existing law. The existing law is if you're a felon, if you're under a domestic violence protective order, if you've been adjudicated mentally ill and dangerous, you cannot purchase, you cannot possess a weapon. The only way to enforce the existing law is to have as near comprehensive a record check system as possible.
KAINEBut, I mean, I completely agree with what Joe said about the mental health issue is you got to have the right standards, you have to make sure that there's treatment that's available for people if they have adjudicated mentally ill and dangerous. And, of course, most people who are mentally ill are not dangerous. They're far more likely to be victims of crime than criminals themselves. But if there's been an adjudication that you're mentally ill and dangerous, of course, we need more mental health resources.
NNAMDIAnd here's Miriam in Arlington, Va., who wanted to speak on the same issue. Miriam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIRIAMYeah. Actually, exactly speaking to this, I just felt too deceived that the whole issue of background checks has been shunted to solving the entire mental health problem of the Unites States. It's such a complicated problem, and I don't really believe that it's going to be solved anytime soon. And I know it's somewhat of an off-base analogy.
MIRIAMBut it's confusing symptoms with causes -- causes an effect and to, you know, to shunt the responsibility of background checks and making sure that guns end up in -- not in the hands of people who really ought not to have them. In my mind, it's like saying in terms of dealing with another scourge that is cancer, let's stop doing anything for anybody who has cancer now and focus on finding the cure.
NNAMDII see how some of the (word?) things about that analogy.
KAINEYeah. And again, I don't disagree with the point you made, which is, you know, slightly different than Joe's. But you are saying something similar, which is, you know, we do have to have a significant discussion about mental health and mental health treatment, and I'm open to that. The point is, though, that's not a hard discussion to have in the Senate or Congress.
KAINEThe gun discussion has been one that for a variety of reasons has sort of been blocked from full debate on the floor for about 20 years. But having a discussion about the mental health issues is very good. In fact, one of the only amendments that passed this week was one dealing with mental health. But to maybe summarize again -- and we need to be careful about language here.
KAINEAnd so let me underline a point a just made. Mentally ill people generally are not dangerous. So you could have all kinds of mental challenges, mental illnesses, you know, organic or sort of environmentally caused, and you're not dangerous. And you are far more likely, if you have mental illness, to be the victim of a crime than a perpetrator of a crime. However, there are, you know, a subset of people with mental illness who are dangerous and not just to others, to themselves.
KAINEOne of the reasons for the background record check provision is to stop mentally -- folks with adjudicated dangerous mental illnesses from getting weapons that they would then use to harm themselves. So it is actually part of, you know, an appropriate treatment for somebody with mental health to make sure that if they've been adjudicated dangerously, they don't get a weapon.
SHERWOODAnd you can't just report someone you think has mental health problems. We have a tremendous homeless issue in this country. A lot of the people are homeless, some are economic issues. Many are homeless because they have mental health issues.
SHERWOODAnd you can't just lock them away just because they're homeless. They're not necessarily violent.
KAINEThe Virginia Tech shooting, frankly, exposed more weaknesses. I mean, it exposed a weakness in the background record check that we fixed and made is safer. But it also exposed many weaknesses on the mental health side: standards for ordering treatment, funding for community mental health, accountability. If treatment has been ordered, who's following up to see that is has actually occurred? Sharing of information, that's critically important, and all of these topics do really matter.
SHERWOODIf I can just jump in one question: It strikes me as ironic, I think that's the right word, that we had these debates on gun control and mental health issues on Fort Washington, which is formerly Capitol Hill, where it is the most bunkered. All the streets are closed to the Americans. It's not a free society on Capitol Hill.
SHERWOODIt seems to me -- I don't know why there's so much security up there but not the rest of the country. And I just wonder how you can be anti-gun control issues but then live yourself, if you're a senator or member of the House, behind some of the most extraordinary security (unintelligible) in the world.
KAINEWell, I'll tell you this, senators do in their offices but not in their homes. I mean, most of the elected officials I know, you know, we live in regular neighborhoods, and our phone numbers and addresses are in the book. And we, you know, I know very few people who are in elected office who have any kind of significant security. It is the case that the offices do and that the mail is checked. And thank God that it is because the other thing that happened this week was the mail facilities detected significant...
KAINE...ricin that would have very harmful to Sen. Wicker or his staff or the president and his staff. So sadly, the offices are protected, but most of us live, you know...
SHERWOODYou have to balance freedom and security, not...
SHERWOOD...give up either maybe.
KAINEYeah. That balance is harder and harder to strike.
NNAMDIHow do you expect the fallout from this week's gun vote is likely to affect other high-profile issues coming down the pike, starting with immigration?
KAINEKojo, I'm praying that it doesn't because I really do believe there's two issues on the table right now that are so critical and that we'll only solve if we can get some bipartisanship. And the first just in terms of timing that's coming up right away is immigration. I feel very confident that the Senate will pass an immigration reform bill with bipartisan support.
KAINEAnd to pass even -- pass the 60-vote threshold, for a variety of reasons, my conversations with colleagues and the Gang of Eight, the fact that both parties I think have a strong, you know, frankly, a self-preservation mode to support a smart immigration proposal. And I was briefed yesterday on the details. And the degree of debate and negotiation, really good faith debate and negotiation, to try to find some balance in this has been pretty noteworthy.
KAINEAnd I think that that will compel sizable bipartisanship in the Senate. The second issue that's on the table -- it's the big one -- is we continue to work to find a budget accord. You know, the Senate passed -- I'm on the Budget Committee. We passed our first budget in four years. The House passed one too. But the two budgets are pretty far apart. The president then came in with -- I've looked at both, and let me tell you what I think the compromise is.
KAINEAnd I really believe that we owe it to the American public, to the good of the economy to try to find a compromise. But with a Democratic House -- a Democratic Senate and a Republican House, there's not going to be a budget compromise that doesn't involve both sides getting some things they want, and both sides also having to concede on some things that aren't their top choice.
NNAMDIWould it be fair to say that the odds on getting immigration legislation passed are higher than on getting (unintelligible) ?
KAINEI believe they are. I believe both sides now see immigration reform is in their frankly future political interest. And while both sides would see some kind of a budget deal in their future political interest, their definition of what that deal would be is fairly far apart. But we need to do it for the good of the economy.
KAINEAnd I'll tell you, Tom and Kojo, I think a budget deal is not just about avoiding bad things, like, you know, we've had all this gridlock, and we want to get over. I think with other economies in the world, Europe, for example, still really kind of wrapped up in some challenging structural problems. To use my friend, Mark Warner's phrase, we're one budget deal away from really, you know, putting our foot on the gas pedal.
KAINEI mean, you know, the stock market has been relatively strong, consumer confidence relatively strong. We're not growing as much as we want, but we could really achieve a significant I think strategic edge over other nations in the world if we get a budget deal. And that should, you know, compel us to stay at the table until we do.
SHERWOODWell, it just seems like this is an extraordinary period of time with all the issues we've already talked about.
SHERWOODAnd another major issue for this country is members of the Senate -- several members of the Senate, including you, have changed their position about equal -- marriage equality, same-sex marriage.
KAINEYeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
SHERWOODAnd the Supreme Court now has that under advisement for a ruling later this year. What prompted you to make that change to go from trying to assure civil unions the rights of government recognition to actually recognizing same-sex marriage?
KAINEProbably three things have been responsible for this just recently. I mean, for me, it was actually a little bit my involvement in the 2006 effort. There was a 2006 effort that was successful in Virginia to not only ban gay marriage but to ban any recognition whatsoever of same-sex relationships. And I thought it just went too far. You know, at that time, back in '05, '06, I would have supported a straightforward, you know, sort of definition of marriage as a heterosexual marriage.
KAINEBut when the proponents of the ban kept wanting to go farther and farther to essentially -- and they said this candidly -- to make the state a hostile place for homosexuals, I just said, you know what, I just -- I'm now off the team. I'm now on the relationship equality team. And, you know, more and more gay and lesbian people I get to know who are great neighbors and great co-workers and great parents, the more comfortable I was.
KAINEAnd then the thing that really has caused a lot of discussion is obviously the cases before the Supreme Court. So what the case before the Supreme Court, you know, I mean I would say my thoughts really kind of cross over in about '06. But it wasn't the top-of-the-mind issue for folks. But as soon as that case is up before the Supreme Court, then everybody is saying, "What do you think?" During the campaign, my campaign, I said from the very beginning, I believe relationships should be treated equally as a matter of the constitutional law. I got no pushback on that whatsoever.
SHERWOODAnother hot issue: abortion. The -- across the country, many states seem to have -- people who are anti-abortion are looking for ways to erode abortion rights in many states by attacking abortion clinics or whatever. In Virginia, the legislature is doing that too. What are your thoughts about the erosion of abortion rights?
KAINEI think what's going on in Virginia is very bad. When I was governor, there were efforts to basically say that if a clinic -- health facility provides abortions that should have to meet every standard that a hospital meets. There was no demonstrated record of any unsafe or unsanitary conditions over these clinics. And again, the promoters, they made very plain it wasn't because of safety.
KAINEIt was because they were essentially trying to end-run Roe v. Wade and bad abortion by making it prohibitively expensive. Even, you know, journalistic outputs, my daily paper, the Richmond Times Dispatch, tends to be pretty conservative on the editorial page. They said the same thing. These regulations are a complete smokescreen. There are ways to reduce abortions and unwanted pregnancy by education, by access to contraception, et cetera.
KAINEWe should not reduce them by criminalizing women's health care decisions or by trying to subvert Roe v Wade. So I think what's happened in Virginia is very unfortunate. It is something that voters are waking up to and saying, "You know, we don't want people pushing us around and trying to criminalize our health care decisions. We can make our decisions for ourselves." And again, adoption, contraception, education, those -- that's the way to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
NNAMDIEarlier this month, you introduced your first bill as a senator. What does the Troop Talent Act aimed to do, and why did you decide this was the right issue for you to make your first go at a bill?
KAINEKojo, I'm very disturbed, as are most folks, by the fact that veterans' unemployment is higher than the national average, significantly higher and especially Iraq and Afghan war veterans. And I became convinced, 19 months of full-time campaigning and a lot of round tables and a lot of discussions with military families and veterans, that part of the reason for this unemployment rate is that people who serve in the military, they now get out.
KAINEThey go into a civilian workforce where only 1 percent of people are serving in the military and they say I was a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps and the hiring officer says, hey, I'm so glad you served, but I have no idea what skills you bring to the table. I don't know what your leadership training was.
KAINEAnd so this Troop Talent Act -- and Saxby Chambliss from Georgia and Max Baucus from Montana are my co-sponsors -- basically tries to change the culture within DOD so that anybody who's actively serving gets a civilian credential for every skill that they learn along the way so that when they get ready to leave, they're not just walking out with a military MOS or rank, but they're saying, and I'm a Cisco systems administrator. Here's my certificate.
KAINEI have a commercial driver's license. I've got half of my credits done for a physician's assistant degree because I was a battlefield medic. It's to credential our servicemen and women with civilian credentials that are understood in the workforce for the training that they have received. And there are pilot projects going on in this in DOD, but the purpose of the Troop Talent Act is to dramatically accelerate it to help people get traction back in the workforce.
NNAMDIYou've got to leave very soon, but you're in D.C., so I can't let you leave without talking about the fact that there is a bill in the Senate for D.C. statehood and you have indicated that you are "inclined" to vote for statehood.
NNAMDIDoes that inclination now have a more affirmative response?
KAINEYeah. I am very -- I will say I'm very positively inclined to D.C. statehood. The only reason I'm saying inclined rather than I've signed on is my team is actually looking at the bill, and then they're going to advise with it. I think the bill does the right thing but, you know, the fact that D.C. residents don't have the same rights that other American citizens do, you know, they pay taxes and they serve the military but they don't have the same rights to vote, it's an injustice, and we've got to fix it.
SHERWOODBut if we get that and we want to impose...
NNAMDIAnd we're just about out of time, but you should know that Tom Sherwood served in the military and so...
NNAMDI...he reserves the right to always have the last word. That's the skill he learned in the military.
SHERWOODAnd the last word is the fear of the other -- Maryland and Virginia is that if we have state rights -- statehood rights, we will impose a commuter tax, and that will hurt the economies of Maryland and Virginia because you guys now get $2 billion a year out of the city.
KAINEWell, you know what, in every other state -- I grew up in Kansas City, you know, and Kansas City has a -- Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Mo...
SHERWOODNew Jersey, New York, all of the...
KAINE...and we trust them to figure it out. You know, we ought to be able to trust folks here, the local officials and citizens, to figure it out.
NNAMDITim Kaine is a member of the United States Senate. He's a Democrat from Virginia. He's also the former governor of Virginia, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and, as Tom Sherwood reminded us, the former mayor of Richmond. Tim Kaine, thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODWhich is the best job.
KAINEThanks, guys. Mayor is a good job.
NNAMDIContinuing on with The Politics Hour as our next guest comes up: election on Tuesday, Tom Sherwood, election at-large, election to replace the chairman of the City Council, Phil Mendelson's seat. And they're not expecting a very large turnout, but I've got to say you and others have done your best to make sure that citizens know about this and there's a large turnout. You have personally moderated at least 25 at-large discussion...
NNAMDI…at-large candidate forums.
SHERWOODAnd I have to say, this is, you know, people should vote. This is an -- we only have 13 members of this legislature. It has city, county and state functions. It's important to know what your taxes will be, how the money is spent. So I don't know quite why people don't pay attention. Even -- this is a first. The board of elections has actually put out street signs as if they were -- it was a candidate itself.
SHERWOODThere are signs all over now, have just gone up in the last few days, telling people there's -- District residents -- although I wish I had said District citizens -- you know, go vote on Tuesday, the 23rd. There is an election. There are six candidates. It's really important who wins because that person and six other people can change your life dramatically. So look them up, decide and vote.
NNAMDIAnd Mr. Sherwood, you should know, has already voted.
SHERWOODI voted the first day of early voting.
NNAMDIAnd I'll tell you who he voted for if you bribe me, but that's another story. David...
SHERWOODIf you do.
NNAMDIThe at-large member of the City Council and chairman of D.C.'s education committee, David Catania, says he will not call for a full-scale reinvestigation of the cheating that occurred here on standardized tests in 2008, so we don't know exactly how widespread that cheating was. And we all, of course, are in favor of transparency and finding out exactly what happened, but Mr. Catania feels look, it's time to move on.
SHERWOODHere's the difference between Washington and Atlanta where there's been 170 something people who have been charged and 82 people have actually pled or admitted guilt and that -- in Atlanta, the cheating scandal, horrific as it was -- and I think there's Kansas and other places -- at least in Atlanta, it was top down. The leaders of the school system have been charged with cheating.
SHERWOODIn Washington, there have been examples of cheating, but there's been no evidence so far that this was a orchestrated effort by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee and current Chancellor Kaya Henderson or anyone among them to make this happen although there was tremendous pressure on administrators and teachers to get the scores up.
SHERWOODBut Catania says, look, we can do that. We can go back and rehash all of that and try to find the culprits. Or we can make sure the law is changed so that, you know, he wants to make civil and possibly criminal penalties for people who cheat -- administrators and teachers -- but he said, let's go forward and make sure that cheating doesn't happen rather than fighting five-year-old stories.
NNAMDIAnd in Maryland -- and we've just been discussing gun control -- where some of the nation's strongest gun control measures were passed in the recent session of the general assembly, a group, marylandpetitions.com, that was expected to put out petitions on Maryland's ballot that would attempt to get those gun control laws off the book says it's not going to do that.
NNAMDIIt's instead going to support a court challenge of the new law by the National Rifle Association, that coming from Delegate Neil Parrott, a Republican who is chairman of marylandpetitions.com, saying the decision was reached after consultation with several gun rights groups that believes the law championed by O'Malley violates the Second Amendment. I also think there might have been a political calculation here that they might not have been able to win.
SHERWOODWell, just look at what happened last year with the casino vote, with the same-sex marriage vote and the DREAM Act of the immigration. Those passed. Some of them were pretty close, but they passed. To put on an election is an extraordinary thing. You can go into court and you can fight maybe for years over something. So maybe that's the way to go.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Peter LaPorte. He is a homeland security consultant based in the Washington area. He's the former director of emergency management and homeland security in the District of Columbia. Here to talk about what's going on in Boston and how one prepares, if one happens to be a jurisdiction, for this kind of thing. Peter LaPorte, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. PETER LAPORTENice to be here.
NNAMDIReminding you that you can join the conversation at 800-433-8850 if you have comments or questions.
SHERWOODWhere were you in 2002?
LAPORTEI was here.
SHERWOODYou were here.
LAPORTEI was here during the sniper.
SHERWOODThe sniper. Address -- in Boston, there's shelter in place, fear for people's lives as we are talking now. What -- address as a public official who've seen a lot of this and has to make command decision, has made them, the fear factor that people -- you know, how do you get people in a whole metropolitan area feel like the authorities are really doing their job?
LAPORTEI think the Boston area is proving to really show its true pride by everyone paying attention to what the governor asked this morning, and shutting down the transit system was quite remarkable at about 5:30 this morning. A lot of people were already in the system, and they had to find their way home. But it is quite remarkable to see any live shots of Kenmore Square or downtown Boston. There's no one there. And it's amazing that everyone pulled together. But this is a unprecedented manhunt.
NNAMDII was about to say, have you ever seen a lockdown quite of the order, quite like this one?
LAPORTEI don't think anyone has seen it in the history of our country. It's quite amazing that folks not just in the Boston area -- this is Watertown, Newton, Belmont, Cambridge. You're talking over one million people impacted, staying home. They're listening to the public safety folks. And hopefully they'll get this guy, but time is going by here.
SHERWOODAs a reporter and a columnist, I've talked about shelter in place. When we have natural disasters, we have, immediately following, we have huge traffic jams. People don't want to shelter in place. If you tell a parent who's from Arlington and who's working in downtown D.C. that you can't go to Arlington where your child is in school or your elderly parent is in the home, and you need to get to them to help them, they're not going to shelter in place.
SHERWOODBut in a case where people are fearful that they could also be shot like the sniper, maybe you have a better chance of shelter in place. Is this a good example of shelter in place working or an extraordinary example?
LAPORTEIt's both, I think. And what's fascinating is just the private sector stepping up, and you know, it's not just government. All those businesses, those universities, the schools, places of worship, have all said, we're going to put our schedule aside, and we're going to do what's best for our community. It's pretty amazing.
LAPORTEThen you kind of juxtapose: Could we do that here? Because this is one governor. This is one city with a -- and several other cities involved. Here we have two governors. We have a governing mayor. We have the federal government. It is a challenging footprint here.
LAPORTEAnd what it calls out for is -- and when I was the emergency manager in town here and working for Tony Williams -- was we need to continue to do drills and exercises and not just for show, but to really do them and to do some type of shelter in place exercise one month, several months down the road, to do that expedited commute. We've never really done it here. We say we do it on the Fourth of July, and it's a nice expedited commute off the mall, but that's not realistic. We need to step up and do that type of thing.
NNAMDIA couple of questions. What would have been the things you weighed before issuing that kind of lockdown order here in the District, like the one that was issued in Massachusetts this morning?
LAPORTECoordination. The key, communication and coordination there. What was amazing as this thing broke, with the FBI releasing those photos and the videos, and then the shooting at MIT across the river, as that played out during the night, it just drove those decision-makers to say, we need to do what's best for all these citizens. It is a remarkable crime scene in Watertown that...
NNAMDIWell, at least you pointed out that those decision-makers all happen to be in one state. Who would be in charge of making such decisions in a situation -- if a situation like that presented itself here in Washington?
LAPORTEWell, I've always believed it would be a joint effort, and you heard from Sen. Kaine that during his tenure as governor, they did drills and exercises with Maryland, with the District and the federal government. I know that's something that Chris Geldart, the homeland security director here in town -- he's from Maryland. He was the emergency manager and homeland security director there. He has federal experience as well.
LAPORTESo I think he could drive that message, but it really comes to the elected officials. It also includes the president of the United States, and that's -- it gets to that level here. And I know during the tenure I was in town, George Bush's team was pretty responsive and communicated quite well with the Williams administration. It may have been different parties, but when there was an incident in town, Chief Ramsey would oftentimes take that lead, but Tony Williams was talking to the White House.
SHERWOODDoes -- in this city, doesn't the Secret Service have hold of the trump card, at least in the core of the metropolitan -- the federal city, that -- I'm told that they have plans to shut down Pennsylvania Avenue, so traffic can't go north and south. They have the capability of trucks to just be dispatched and kill all cellphones so that there will be no disruption in communication. I mean, there are some real DEFCON 4 or 5 scenarios that they're prepared to take if something happens in the nation's capital.
LAPORTEExactly. You hit the nail right on the head. There's a responsibility as being the nation's capital, is protect the first family, protect the president. If the president's in the building and he cannot fly out, well, there's going to be ways of getting him out. And that's going to be everyone better shelter in place 'cause that's going to be probably one of the first movements, as well as looking at continuity of government. Certain other officials from the Capitol will be moving. So it's a coordinated effort. And, again, I truly believe it's something that we continually need to exercise.
LAPORTEThe District's -- also benefits from having Terry Gainer up as sergeant at arms in the Senate. Having been the number two in the police department, he understands the District. He has a direct line to the chief of police, Cathy Lanier. So we've got familiarity. But, again, we really do need to kick the tires and test it, and that's a hard thing to do 'cause you can impact commerce. How much business is being lost in Boston today?
NNAMDIWe're talking with Peter LaPorte. He's a homeland security consultant based in the Washington area. He's the former director of emergency management and homeland security in the District of Columbia. Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Daniel in Logan Circle. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELYeah. Hi, Kojo. Quick question. I'm -- originally, I'm a native New Yorker. I was in Manhattan on Sept. 11. And obviously these two situations are not entirely analogous, but there are some, you know, some similarities. And New York City did not -- there was obviously a tremendous disruption, but the city did not shut down.
DANIELMy question about what's happening in Boston on a tactical level is if some -- you know, two individuals with relatively crude logistical and tactical abilities are able to shut down an entire major American municipality, doesn't that kind of serve as a template for further terrorists to say, hey, it's pretty easy for us to shut down a big city? Is there not a balance between finding these guys...
NNAMDIWell, technically, Daniel, the city wasn't shut down because two individuals got pressure cookers and set off a bomb. The city is shut down -- and, of course, Peter LaPorte can respond to this -- because there's a manhunt taking place for an individual or individuals who may be at large and threatening public safety.
LAPORTEAnd the manhunt right now continues to be unprecedented in size, but the belief here is that this individual, armed and dangerous, is exactly the term to -- he may have a vest on. He may have a suicide vest on. So he puts more people at risk. It's a situation that I -- I agree. It's -- you don't want to be cowardly, falling back towards -- you know, closing everything down, but at the same time, it's prudent. It's responsible to make sure we do all that we could do -- there in Massachusetts and here if it ever happened here -- to protect our citizens.
SHERWOODWhat -- the -- may I ask?
NNAMDIGo ahead, please. Yeah.
SHERWOODOne of -- I've talked to -- also about this, the pro -- the number of cameras all over that are in places, in semi-public places and public places. There's a proposal by Tommy Wells -- he's still working it out with ACLU -- to allow the D.C. Police Department to have real-time access to any camera that's focused on any kind of public space or a semi-public space so that rather than asking for permission or trying to get the cameras after the fact, clearly all these cameras that were in Boston that helped identify the two suspects.
SHERWOODDo you -- again, I worry about freedoms and being watched 24/7. Where is the line that you draw between having the police do a good job, but also not monitor us as if we're inhabitants of a prison or a reservation rather than a free society?
LAPORTEIt's a tough balance. But in today's society, we're almost -- there's an expectation of privacy, sure, but it certainly needs to be understood that your -- for the most part, you're under camera surveillance when you're driving down the road, when you're walking in a department store, when you're on the mall or taking a bike ride on the canal. It's -- they're everywhere. And reality is, how do we use that to the best of our ability here? Boston -- back in Boston, the camera across from the Lord & Taylor was the one shot that they are able to find that guy early on dumping that backpack.
LAPORTESo a lot of it is engaging also in the private sector. And I know Chief Lanier has been a big advocate of reaching out to those private entities and talking about whether if they had cameras and what are some of the things they do to hold that camera footage for an extended period of time if they ever need to use them. We have solved crime in this area significantly by using those cameras. So it's a true balance, but in today's society, I think there's an expectation...
NNAMDII'd like to ask Tom about another kind of balance because Tom, for a long time, has been complaining about the lack of access or the increasing lack of access that the public has to places to which the public should have access. And he's still talking about that. You also used to talk about the invasion of privacy by the likes of these cameras. Tom, we seem to have lost that one, the invasion of privacy by the camera. So I'm wondering how today you feel about the balance between the lack of access and the invasion of privacy.
SHERWOODWell, I think as an American citizen, I once told an authority, I said, I would prefer to die on a free street of Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue on a terrorist attack than live behind all the barriers that have been set up on Capitol Hill and around the White House. I truly appreciate the hard work security people do and some of it I do think is necessary. But I worry that -- very often that the balance gets tipped and incidents like this tips it's even far away. I don't think the battle is lost 'cause I think people...
NNAMDII mean the battle of the cameras.
SHERWOODRight. Yeah. I think -- well, I don't think that battle has been decided yet, at least in the city, in terms of whether the police will have real-time access to cameras all the time. I mean, it's worked in Boston that they accessed cameras and found the suspects. So the cameras worked, the police were not monitoring literally these thousand cameras on a real-time basis. And thinks that's where you start slipping over our line.
NNAMDIPeter LaPorte, you said earlier this week in an interview that Boston's responders seemed very prepared when they were forced into action after the explosions. What did you mean by that?
LAPORTEThere's been a lot of drills and exercises up in Boston, real serious ones, not just in response but also in recovery. I've participated in several of those drills where you don't just say, OK, here is the victims. All right, we have 50 victims. It's to take the victims to the hospitals. It's to actually do the transport, engage to hospital personnel, to go to that next level. It’s not just the public safety response, it's got to be more than that. And in Boston, they've done some two balance -- two exercises.
LAPORTEBut you also have to understand, you had a medical tent with 500 medical personnel 150 feet away from that bomb. That's unusual. You know, Fourth of July, we're going to have close to 1 million people on the mall celebrating, you know, like never before. Well, we'll have medical tents, and we'll have places where people can cool down, but we're not going to have a 500-bed medical facility right there.
SHERWOODBut we have like the Marine Corps Marathon, what is that, 30,000 runners, plus the additional people who come for that. We have the Memorial Day coming up. We have the -- maybe 30,000 cyclists who come into town talk about -- I mean, again, where is the line in terms of being a free society? We had the Emancipation Day Parade the day after this horrible event. And the police -- I have to say, I gave them great credit -- they were present, but there was no sense of a lock down. People enjoyed the parade, they ate the food.
SHERWOODThey were gathered -- the mayor walked down the street. And there was a sense of freedom that we will not been -- people I interviewed all said, it's important to come to public events. So don't believe that you have to stay away from football games or the Nationals stadium. But that's your job to be -- have the background security to be aware of those things.
LAPORTEAnd that's just it. At every special event, every one of them we do needs to make sure we have a plan. And it's tested and communicated with the folks hosting it as well as the city in being involved. So if it means a few more cops out there and being visible but not having such a heavy hand that they impact the fun parts of the event.
LAPORTEWashington, D.C. just had a very successful cherry tree blossom. I mean, there are more tourists here than ever before, one exciting event. And if you think -- if this thing happened in Boston before that, it would be the impact on that event. I would think that we would go forward and celebrated as strong as ever, but you make sure that our plans are in place and that they're tested.
SHERWOODAnd to respond as much as to prevent. I mean, both are important but you've got to be able to respond quickly if you can't prevent everything.
LAPORTEBut you'd like to prevent it.
SHERWOODPrevent if you can and respond if you can't.
LAPORTEAnd that's where intelligence and people -- if they see something unusually, they really do need to report it. See something, say something slogan is not just a cute little slogan. Everybody's eyes and ears need to be fixated on seeing something unusual. And if something unusual happens, let's make sure we report it on timely fashion.
NNAMDIWhat are the areas that most concern you about D.C.'s emergency preparedness at this point nearly 12 years after Sept. 11?
LAPORTEOne of the things that really impact my feeling about our preparedness is our hospital bed capacity. We saw it on 9/11. One of the things, a lot of folks don't know is we ran out of burn nurses. It's just so much capacity to have. Here in Boston -- back in Boston, you have so many hospitals. I mean, teaching hospitals -- you've got some of the greatest hospitals.
LAPORTEWe have great hospitals here, but we don't have that much capacity. And when you lose Greater Southeast and you lose some of the capacity that's out there, we need to really work as a region, and it's going to go a lot further than just a few miles.
SHERWOODAnd the nurse's organization here in town is campaigning for a law to get more nurses in the hospital saying there's not enough nurses there.
LAPORTEOh, I think that's one of the area. Secondly is to continue engage those facilities that have large gatherings to really test the Nationals Park over it, the Verizon Center or RFK, and to make sure we're being vigilant.
SHERWOODWhat about Metro Center? Every day, 1 million people ride Metro.
NNAMDII was about to say, what concerns do you have about vulnerabilities in our transit network? You also used to work for Metro.
LAPORTEI did, and it's something that I know they take very seriously. But that is, you know, a very open system. We can lock down Washington. We can put a lock of folks at all the monuments. But when you're talking about our transit system where it's one of the great civic areas of pride in the region and in this country as our Metro transit system, that's where the men and women of the police department there have done a phenomenal job. But it is something -- again, the citizens have to be part of that.
NNAMDIOne concern that haven't raised is raised by Bob in Bethesda, Md. Bob, we're running out of time, so make your comment or question brief.
BOBGentlemen, I remember participating in some protests back when the war with Iraq began. And we were basically cordoned off and chopped up and under threat of arrest, and it seemed like -- was they're more interested in shutting down this expression of civil disobedience. And I wonder how this plays into the surveillance of citizens.
NNAMDII was -- I thought, Bob, the point you were going to make is a lot of people demonstrate that they like to be anonymous. Now that there are cameras every place, they can be identified, and a lot of people don't like that.
SHERWOODAnd police actually take pictures, too, which is an issue for some people.
LAPORTEBut it's one of the things that makes Washington Washington, is the right to demonstrate.
SHERWOODAnd Occupy D.C. worked pretty well where the police worked with them to have those constant parades that broke up traffic. So there is a way to balance security and freedom. We don't have to get up one for the other.
NNAMDIPeter LaPorte, he is a homeland security consultant based in the Washington area. He's the former director of emergency management and homeland security in the District of Columbia. Peter LaPorte, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. We are both reminding you that Tuesday is the at-large election in the District of Columbia. If you have not voted absentee at this point, time to get out and vote on Tuesday.
SHERWOODSaturday is last day for early voting.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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