Kojo looks back on the local impact of Dick Gregory, the legendary comedian and civil rights activist who adopted Washington as his home town.
Kojo chats with U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) about the ongoing federal government shutdown, what’s at stake for our region and what’s in store with a vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling.
- Donna Edwards Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MD, 4th Congressional District)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, U.S. Special Forces carry out strikes in Libya and Somalia, what the weekend's raid says about Washington's approach to counterterrorism and to Africa.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, the government shutdown, day eight, we're joined this hour by Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards. More than 100,000 Maryland residents have been furloughed since October 1st and even though some defense employees are back at work this week and even though Congress has pledged to give them back pay, many of them feel like they are collateral damage in a bigger fight.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOver the weekend, 195 Democrats proposed a short-term solution, a so-called clean CR, which would temporarily fund the government with no strings attached. Congresswoman Donna Edwards is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat representing parts of Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. Congresswoman Edwards, welcome to the broadcast.
REP. DONNA EDWARDSThank you, Kojo, it's good to be with you. Actually, I just represent now Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, but even still, you're right, about 124,000 Marylanders are on furlough right now. And while it is true that the House passed a measure that would provide for back pay for those folks, the Senate hasn't passed it and so that's not a done deal yet.
NNAMDIOver the weekend, momentum appeared to be building for a possible short-term solution, the so-called clean CR, but House Speaker John Boehner dismissed this idea on Sunday during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on "This Week." Here's what he had to say.
MR. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOSI take it from your answer that you're not prepared to schedule a clean vote on government funding right now.
HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNERThere are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR.
NNAMDICongresswoman Edwards, you were one of the 195 members of Congress who signed the letter indicating that they'd vote for a clean CR. What exactly would it do and what prospects do you see for it to pass?
EDWARDSWell, I think what all of us did, 196 members of the House, Democrats pledged that we are committed to seeing a clean CR put on the floor of the House. And the reality is you only need 218 votes to pass something in Congress so, you know, all we're asking Speaker Boehner to do, is you know, to cough up a couple of dozen votes.
EDWARDSAnd you would think that in a, you know, the Speaker controls the majority of the House of Representatives. There are a number of those members who have already gone on the public record saying that they would support a clean CR and so when the Speaker says that there aren't the votes to do that, what he means is he's not prepared to put it on the floor because he doesn't want to do a bipartisan bill that the majority of us actually support to get the government running again.
EDWARDSThere are the votes there to do it. We've committed 196 and probably will get to 200. Democrats will do it. Come up with 18 Republicans who believe that government should be open for all Americans.
NNAMDILet me give it another shot. At a press conference today, John Boehner reiterated his demand that the White House and Senate Democrats initiate negotiations with them over bills to reopen the government and raise the debt limit. He declined to say what Republican demands would be at those negotiations.
NNAMDIHouse Majority leader Eric Cantor is also unveiling two measures that will likely be brought for a vote over the next few days, one to pay federal employees who are currently still working and one to set up a bipartisan working group for fiscal issues. What say you Congresswoman Edwards?
EDWARDSWow, another super committee, the only super committee we really need is the House Speaker to appoint conferees to a budget negotiation committee so that we can reconcile differences between a House-passed budget, a Senate-passed budge and what the president has proposed.
EDWARDSWe have a process for doing that and Speaker Boehner has a responsibility to do it. Look, let's look at what we're talking about. You know, if the Republicans had their way, they'd re-fund, you know, fits and start pieces of the federal government and not other pieces of the federal government.
EDWARDSI mean, they didn't shut the federal government down piecemeal. They should restart it in whole. We need to have all of the government operating for all Americans and you know, to say that the president hasn't negotiated and that House Democrats haven't negotiated is really ridiculous.
EDWARDSIn fact, the number $986 billion that's in the Senate-passed Continuing Resolution to fund government is their number from their budget and even I accept that, though I didn't vote for it because I think it's important for us to do the responsible thing, to stop being reckless and to open government again.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat representing parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850 or by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org Congresswoman Edwards, Democrats clearly believe that a clean CR is an acceptable outcome for them. But that deal would actually end up locking in spending levels to the sequester level and many people on the left really favor a deal that would set spending to pre-sequester levels. Is a clean CR really a victory for Democrats? Would you favor a clean CR for an entire year?
EDWARDSWell, no, what, the clean CR that we're talking about is the measure that passed out of the, out of the Senate. It gets us to about, you know, six weeks out. What that allows for is then conferees to be appointed to the budget negotiation committee.
EDWARDSI mean, actually, the Senate actually, you know called for conferees to be appointed. House Democrats have called for conferees to be appointed. The only person who hasn't appointed conferees so that we can work out this budget in a normal process is Speaker Boehner and he's in charge here so he should appoint those conferees.
EDWARDSAnd the, what we get to, is we allow the process to work. So we get a budget. Senator Mikulski from Maryland, my senator, as the Chair of the Appropriations Committee can work through appropriations, appropriations bill in regular order. There's a process to do that. It's our normal process. And what Speaker Boehner is trying to do and some, you know, faction of House Republicans, is to have their cake and eat it too.
EDWARDSThey didn't win an election. They couldn't, you know, win on this issue of defunding the Affordable Care Act and so now they're trying to do through the negotiation process of a Continuing Resolution just to get government running by, you know, effectively holding all the rest of us hostage.
EDWARDSThis really is not acceptable. It's hurting people in my Congressional District and across the country. We are feeling it. We're feeling it in the private sector and we're feeling it in the public sector.
NNAMDIHere now is Scott in Salisbury, Md. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTUm, my question or comment I guess for the Congresswoman was, when she asked for Speaker Boehner to cough up votes for a Continuing Resolution, I was wondering if her opinion would have been the same, like when the Democrats had control of the House and Obamacare was coming up, which passed with no Republican votes. Would they have asked if the minority party, being the Republicans back then, asked for them to cough up some votes so that they could get it defeated. You know what I'm saying?
EDWARDSYou can see the problem here, Scott. You can see that the problem is that when Democrats had control of the House, we passed the votes with our own caucus. We were unified. I don't know what's going on, on the Republican side. The fact that they can't even, you know, bring up a resolution to continue operations of the government with all Republicans on it really just shows you what disarray they're in.
EDWARDSWhat I'm saying to you is that we need to get to 218. Democrats are willing to commit at least 196 votes. Republicans surely can find, you know, what is that? Five percent of their caucus that will come up with the votes to get government running again, all of government for all Americans, not part of government, not some of government, not your favorite pieces of government, but all of it.
NNAMDIScott, thank you very much for your call, you too can call us at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. Our number is 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIThis standoff has highlighted rifts within the Republican Party as you just pointed out between its so-called Tea Party wing and its more moderate or institutional wing and that's received a lot of attention. But at the state level it's also highlighted some rifts between Maryland Democrats, the State Comptroller Peter Franchot has said it highlights an over-reliance on government employment.
NNAMDIAttorney General Doug Gansler, now candidate for governor, on this program last Friday made the same point. Is this a wake-up call? Is the state of Maryland too reliant on government largesse? Is it time for Maryland to rethink its relationship with the Feds?
EDWARDSWell, of course it's not. I mean, Maryland has 5.8 million people and we have actually a pretty balanced economy with, you know, a robust private sector and the public sector. The problem here is that when you try to shut down all of government the idea that somehow our state or others won't be impacted by that is ridiculous and so this isn't a fault of the way that we balance our government. It's right, squarely at the feet of Republicans in Congress who are acting very recklessly and irresponsibly.
EDWARDSI like the parts of government that in fact Maryland relies on because they contribute to a vibrant, private sector whether it's in the space industry or technology.
NNAMDIWell, I've got to tell you Doug Gansler questioned the vibrancy of that private sector. He said that Maryland is developing an anti-business reputation. Would you agree that the state is, in his view, somewhat hostile to the private sector? Is that a view that you could agree with?
EDWARDSNo, it isn't. I don't agree with that at all. I mean, I think, you know, look, Mr. Gansler is probably advancing his, you know, his run for governor and that's kind of one thing. I want to talk about really what's going on in the State of Maryland.
EDWARDSWe do have a robust private sector. We have an economy that is on the, you know, on the high road and developing and we're creating jobs that really are jobs that are about the 21st century. What we cannot have is the irresponsibility of shutting down government so that it doesn’t work for all of our people and that it actually puts a hammer into that robustness of the private sector.
EDWARDSAnd so there are folks out there who want to advance their own agenda and their own political agenda. I want to get Marylanders back to work. I want to continue to have the kind of balance that we have in our economy and that we grow our economy. And we were just starting to see home sales rise and that home values are going up.
EDWARDSAnd I sat with Maryland bankers just a couple of days ago and they were complaining about the utter irresponsibility of shutting down government. People can't even get an income verification to move a home loan forward. That is just ridiculous.
NNAMDIThis week, The Economist magazine released a very interesting poll which tracked the partisan attitudes towards the idea of compromise and standing on principle among Democrats. They found that voters favored a member who compromised to get things done compared to 15 percent who favored sticking to your principles no matter what.
NNAMDIAmong Republicans, 49 percent favored compromise compared to 51 percent who favored sticking to principles no matter what. Do you think this impasse that we're involved in right now is about more than policy?
EDWARDSWell, I think there's a lot going on. Look, you have a group of people and I would say they're 10 percent of the members of this Congress who are in the Republican Party who want to see the president's signature law, the Affordable Care Act, go down the drain and they will stop at nothing short of shutting down government, threatening the full faith and credit of the United States to do that.
EDWARDSThat's just completely irresponsible. I'm going to tell you something. As a member of Congress, I never voted for the sequester, Kojo. I didn't like those numbers. I didn't think it made sense. But I have accepted that sequester number because I think the responsible thing to do is for me to compromise to get government running again.
EDWARDSThat's how far I've come. How far have Republicans come? I don't think very far.
NNAMDIHere is Ryan in Bethesda, Md. Ryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RYANAh, thank you, Kojo. Congresswoman Edwards used to be my Congresswoman and so this recent gerrymandering, I had a few questions. One, is it true that Congress has just approved a raise for themselves last month before this crisis started? And two, do you think that it's a -- I do agree that it's the Republicans' fault here.
RYANBut don't you also agree that it is the continuing gerrymandering that has caused this dilemma because the people who are causing this stalemate are enjoying a 67 percent approval rating in their districts because of the way they've been cut up?
EDWARDSWell, you know, you're not going to get an argument from me about gerrymandering. I've complained about it in our own state and we're controlled by Democrats. What I will say however, is that this is about a recalcitrant. It's about taking down the president and stopping at nothing that impacts the rest of us to do that. And I will tell you this. That for me, you know, compromise involves a lot of things. It involves, you know, having conversations, talking to people and working out the differences.
EDWARDSAnd we have a regular process to do that in the congress and that is what is not happening now. And so I think the responsible thing for the speaker to do is to decide that he's going to be speaker of the whole House, to decide that his title is not more important than it is to lead and to, you know, find those 20, 25 Republicans who I know they've been on the record -- I'm not making it up -- that they would support us, you know, having a clean continuing resolution to continue government operations and to get going.
EDWARDSAnd let me just say this, that from my perspective, I think that when members of congress just dig their heels in and say, I don't even want to listen to anyone else because I want to take the president down, because I want to undo health care, that to me is the most irresponsible thing. When I have people calling my office sobbing saying, I'm not going to be able to pay for childcare, I'm going to lose my spot in daycare, I have to take care of my mother and I'm not going to be able, you know, to do that because of this government shutdown, I think about those people.
EDWARDSAnd I think the responsible thing for me to do is say, you know what, Speaker Boehner? I don't even like your number but I'll take your number because government needs to get operating again.
NNAMDIBefore you go, another issue, the sequester, is not the only highly polarizing debate taking place in Washington this week -- the government shutdown that is. Yesterday members of the Oneida Nation arrived here in Washington to protest the name of a certain professional football team that happens to play in your congressional district. And today NFL owners are meeting at the very same hotel. There seems to be a rising tide in public opinion against the Redskins' name. What do you and what are your constituents telling you about this name? What do you think about it?
EDWARDSWell, our constituents frankly aren't thinking about changing the name. What I will say to you from my perspective is, when you think about -- and we can think about all kinds of other offensive names, you know, that have racial or other kinds of indication -- and that would not be acceptable. What I would love to see Dan Snyder do is really to take the bull by the horns here and say, you know what? We have an incredible fan base for our team. We love our team. And really just put it to the fans to say, let's choose another name that we can all embrace and that isn't going to be offensive to anyone.
EDWARDSI do think it's the responsibility of the owner to do that and now necessarily of congress to interfere in that. But I'm going to just share my personal sentiments, is that I think any time you have, you know, a team name or something that is so deeply offensive, then we have a responsibility to look at what we can do to end the offense. And that one person who has the complete control over that frankly is the team owner.
NNAMDIDonna Edwards. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She's a Democrat representing parts of Prince Georges and Anne Arundel Counties. Donna Edwards, thank you so much for joining us.
EDWARDSThank you, too, Kojo.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, U.S. Special Forces carry out strikes in Libya and Somalia, what those weekend raids say about Washington's approach to counterterrorism and to Africa. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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