D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) talks about D.C. being shortchanged in the U.S. Senate's stimulus package. And Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) talks about the state's response to the pandemic.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed paperwork to run for reelection in 2022. But he hasn’t ruled out running for mayor. Racine joined The Politics Hour.
Racine Is Running For Reelection In 2022
- Racine is running for a third term as D.C.’s attorney general. And, he wants to create a public corruption division. The Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil broke the story moments before the show.
- “You talk about the way in which business is done in the District of Columbia with the same old lobbyists convincing, frankly, a lot of the same old councilmembers to pass legislation and do other things that benefit business at the detriment of individuals in the District of Columbia,” Racine said on The Politics Hour.
- Tom Sherwood asked the attorney general if he would leave his elected office to work for a Democratic president or if he’s considering running for mayor. Racine indicated he’s leaving both options open.
- Racine also said on the show that he’s supporting former Vice President Joe Biden for president. He originally supported California Senator Kamala Harris.
D.C.’s Attorney General Could Have Many Allies On The D.C. Council
- Five candidates in this year’s D.C. Council elections have ties with Racine’s office, according to a piece from Washington City Paper.
- Councilmembers Robert White (D-At large) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) are running for reelection, and they both have worked for D.C.’s OAG.
- So have three candidates: Brooke Pinto running for the open seat in Ward 2; Janeese Lewis George challenging Councilmember Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4); and Veda Rasheed running against Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7).
- According to Loose Lips, Racine isn’t officially supporting Rasheed due to his relationship with Gray.
- Kojo asked Racine if he is “building a political machine,” as political consultant Chuck Thies had told Loose Lips. “I don’t have a Fresh PAC. I don’t have a color. I don’t have a mascot,” said Racine, referencing Mayor Bowser’s Super PAC and The Green Team.
- Racine criticized Councilmember Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) repeatedly during the show.
- The attorney general called out former councilmember Jack Evans for his corruption on today’s show: “Jack Evans is corrupt. He lacks integrity.”
- D.C. won a lawsuit against an advertising company that wanted to install dozens of digital signs on buildings throughout the city, DCist’s Rachel Kurzius reports. The D.C. attorney general brought the lawsuit against the company in 2016.
- What exactly was the problem? Kurzius explains: Digi Media “did not seek permits for these signs. The company claimed that it believed it didn’t need the permitting because the signs were placed ‘within a building’—under D.C. code, they argued, signs installed underneath overhangs in the buildings’ facades were exempt from permit requirements.”
- But the D.C. Superior Court ruled that the exterior signs required a permit.
- How is this related to the former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans? When the Attorney General brought the lawsuit forward in 2016, Evans introduced emergency legislation that would have changed the city’s requirements for sign permits. The Washington Post found that Evans received 200,000 shares in Digi Media’s stock right before introducing the legislation. Evans said he returned the shares.
- And don’t forget: The relationship between Evans and Digi Media sparked a handful of investigations into the former Ward 2 councilmember.
- The Office of the Attorney General for D.C. wants residents to protect themselves from scams and misinformation during the coronavirus public health emergency.
- When Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) declared a state of emergency, the District’s national disaster consumer protection law went into effect. From the OAG: “District law prevents any individual or company from overcharging for similar goods or services that were sold in the 90 days before the Mayor’s emergency declaration (e.g., overcharging for products such as sanitizer, tissue paper, cleaning and disinfecting products, among others).”
- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) have also declared states of emergency. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) issued a press release alerting Virginians that the commonwealth’s anti-price gouging statutes are in effect.
- Racine’s office also wants D.C. workers to know about their rights to paid sick leave. Most District employers have to provide employees with paid sick leave. You can find more information on the OAG’s website.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) is under self-quarantine after having dinner with a friend who tested positive for COVID-19. He joins the show by phone.
Coronavirus At The U.S. Capitol
- Beyer announced on Tuesday that he’ll be under self-quarantine until Monday.
- Congress has shut down the U.S. Capitol to visitors and tours, and the White House has canceled tours until further notice.
- The first Hill staffer has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The individual is a staffer for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
- On The Politics Hour, Beyer said President Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday was “very discouraging … I just don’t think he showed any of the empathy and compassion our leaders need right now.”
- Beyer supports the decision to shut down the Capitol and noted that “some of the most important people [in Congress] are over 80 and are at very great risk,” like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Do you have questions about the coronavirus? Officials recommend that you reach out to your health care provider first.
Here Are Some Additional Coronavirus Resources
- For the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.
- D.C. residents can visit coronavirus.dc.gov.
- Maryland residents can visit health.maryland.gov/coronavirus. For general questions, call 211.
- Residents of Prince George’s County can visit health.mypgc.us/coronavirus. Prince George’s County also has a hotline for questions: 301-883-6627.
- Montgomery County residents can visit montgomerycountymd.gov/coronavirus for coronavirus resources.
- Howard County residents can call the Coronavirus Information Line at 410-313-6284 between the hours of 8:00a.m. and 5:00p.m. Monday through Friday. More information can be found at Howard County Health Department website.
- If you live in Virginia, call 1-877-ASK-VDH3 or visit the Virginia Department of Health website.
- Fairfax County residents can call 703-267-3511 or visit fairfaxcounty.gov/health/novel-coronavirus.
- Loudoun County residents can call 703-737-8300 or visit the Loudoun County coronavirus webpage.
- Want up-to-date coverage of coronavirus in our region? Check out WAMU’s live blog here.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
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 and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Don Beyer. He's a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Virginia's 8th District, who has self-quarantined. Joining us in studio now is Karl Racine. He is the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. General Racine, thank you for joining us.
KARL RACINEThank you very much, Kojo. Tom.
NNAMDIAnd the news, Tom Sherwood, all has to do with the coronavirus several aspects of it. I'd like to begin with Maryland officials apparently deciding or thinking about having the election by mail in response to the coronavirus outbreak. How would that work?
SHERWOODWell, let's hope it would be nothing like the Iowa caucuses. You know, they changed their system in January and then by February it was a mess, but you know, this is a very serious matter for the Maryland Board of Elections. State Senate President Bill Ferguson the legislators are looking at trying to see if they need to do it. Attorney General Brian Frost says that there's no need for legislation. But the logistics of getting everyone to vote by mail could just be overpowering the election.
SHERWOODThe primaries in Maryland are April 28th. That's not very far away. But there's a real problem. If you have people at -- everyone who has gone to an election site, a precinct, knows that mostly elderly people there who staff those precincts. There are all kinds of issues with the virus. So they're seriously looking at it. There's been no decision, but people are saying -- the mayor of Baltimore and others have said, if you're going to make this decision let's make it quicker and then start planning for it.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of making decisions, a decision has been made to close D.C. public schools. Tell us about that.
SHERWOODMayor Muriel Bowser is holding a news conference at this hour. She'd said this morning that after some consideration that she would be closing D.C. public schools for two weeks. She recognizes as every elected official does that closing schools creates its own havoc for working parents and trying to find child care. And there are many students in the D.C. public school system. I think the number might be 70 percent, who qualify for subsidized breakfast and lunch matters. And so the city is going to open next week to -- I mean, 11 sites schools around the city where parents will be able to take their children for food if they need to.
NNAMDIAnd Maryland public schools will also be closed.
SHERWOODMaryland public schools are closing.
NNAMDIAnd Virginia Governor Northam says he'd let counties decide to do that on a county by county basis.
SHERWOODFairfax has decided. Loudoun county. You know, when people -- when everyone is saying, well, you should avoid gatherings of 250 or 500 people, what more is there than a school with students gathering in an auditorium or in a cafeteria? So it's very difficult -- they call it distant learning or some bureaucratic phrase like that. It's hard to keep the children up to speed, but the first thing is to keep them safe.
NNAMDILet's talk D.C. politics for a minute here.
SHERWOODWell, I've got some.
NNAMDIThe Washington Post reports that former Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans more than likely qualifies for public campaign money in his comeback bid. This is something that Jack never needed in the past, because he was known as the most prolific fundraiser in the city.
SHERWOODHe has always been following of the traditional fundraising, but in this case, you know, after he resigned from the Council and then he decided fairly quickly he would seek a seat again. He said, "I'll do public financing." He initially opposed public financing in the Council, but then he voted for it when it passed the Council. And some people thought he shouldn't be allowed to use public financing. But, you know, if you have a public financing law and you're legally allowed, then you should just do it and let the voters decide what they think about him running.
SHERWOODSo, yes, he did turn in enough signatures. There's a set number you have to get in the ward itself and in the city, and he's gotten those. And so unless there's something really problem with him 10 days it takes for the Board of Elections to approve them all, he should be on the ballot June 2nd and again on June 16th for the special election.
NNAMDIAnd on that June 2nd ballot there are another what? Seven people running.
SHERWOODYes. You know, I did the forum last week. There are seven other candidates and they're all running. And most of them are getting the public financing.
NNAMDII noticed that in other Council races Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd has raised more than anybody else so far in this primary, $450,000, which is a lot of money for a ward council race.
SHERWOODWell, I believe that may be a record. I think Jack Evans may have held the record before then. You know, Brandon Todd is facing -- we might get into that a little more in a moment.
RACINELooking forward to talking about that.
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact we're looking forward to talking with our guest.
SHERWOODBut you know, it does take campaigns. You have to do mailings. You have to have some staff. Maybe do some polling.
RACINEPut me in coach.
SHERWOODBut, you know, Brandon Todd is in a fight to get for re-election.
NNAMDIWell, Karl Racine says put him in. But in a way he is already in even though he's not actually on the ballot, Tom Sherwood. It seems like a lot of people affiliated with the Attorney General are running and there is talk in town that the Attorney General seems to be building himself a political power base.
SHERWOODWell, you know, maybe since he's here the first thing we should ask him that he's already this week filed -- I've got the filing paper right here. He's filed to run for re-election as Attorney General. Although I thought he had said he would only serve two terms in that job, but more immediately in the current election cycle he's supporting four, maybe five -- four and a half I'd call it, candidates for the D.C. Council. So maybe we should ask him what's he up to?
RACINEThank you very much for inviting me to come here.
SHERWOODOh, welcome by the way.
RACINEWell, thank you. And I'm thrilled to be here. Let's get to it. First, I did file yesterday and have a couple more forms to complete, my intention to run for Attorney General for a third term. I cannot tell you how excited I am about having that clarity and how excited I am about talking about some of the work -- additional work and new sections that we're going to breathe life into in this city and bring the kind of change that actually residents have been clamoring for.
SHERWOODThat sounds like a campaign speech. Why did you make the decision? You know, people talked about you running for mayor. You had supported Kamala Harris. People had touted you as maybe the Attorney General. Are you going to be satisfied with another four year term as Attorney General should you win that?
RACINEWell, you know, I've got about two and a half more years in my current term. And if I were to win in 2022 and of course anything is possible. Then that would give me six and a half years. And my thinking is this, you talked about Jack Evans. We talk about public corruption. You talk about the way in which business is done in the District of Columbia with the same old lobbyists convincing frankly a lot of the same old councilmembers to pass legislation and do other things that benefit business at the detriment of individuals in the District of Columbia, particularly vulnerable communities.
RACINESo, yeah, I'm running really hard against the status quo on that point. And I want to have an impact on the status quo in that point. I'm happy to talk about Ward 2. Brooke Pinto is running for Ward 2. Yes, indeed.
SHERWOODShe's one of the eight candidates.
RACINEShe's the best candidate running for Ward 2 and I say that, because she's the only candidate who actually has legislative experience. She worked in our office for two years.
SHERWOODWell, Jack Evans has legislative experience.
RACINEWell, Jack Evans is corrupt. He lacks integrity, and I don't want to hammer him because I believe in the presumption ...
SHERWOODBut you just did.
RACINEWell, I believe in the presumption of innocence. I was on your show when I said that about Jack. And I got to tell you, I had a conversation with Jack after that show and he said, thank you. Jack is innocent until proven guilty, but he should not be a candidate for this race. It's his right and he's going to get beat. And he's going to be defeated by a person with integrity and experience in the legislative area and that's Brooke Pinto.
NNAMDISeveral people ...
SHERWOODCan we just clear this up, because there are several candidates who will be demanding -- I'll give it to them now. You're supporting Brooke Pinto because she had worked with you, and you like ...
SHERWOODWell, and you got to know her and she did good work for you.
SHERWOODAnd then she got in. But what is it that you're supporting several people, some people have said you're trying to be a king maker.
SHERWOODAnd some of these folks -- I mean, you're kind of supporting someone who is running against Vince Gray. Although, you're close to Vince Gray, I believe. And these are people who will decide your budget and what you can do and not do on the Council. You're setting up quite the war. We saw Mayor Bowser do this in 2018 with Elissa Silverman. You supported Elissa Silverman. I mean, is it unusual for the Attorney General to get so deeply involved in city politics?
RACINEWell, I'm not going to mind my own business when I see things that need change. I'm sorry about that.
SHERWOODBecause the Council to be overhauled? Is that what you're saying?
RACINEI'm not saying the Council needs to be overhauled. I am saying that in Ward 2, Brooke Pinto should be elected. I'm saying in Ward 4 notwithstanding the fact Brandon Todd has a boat load of money, you can bet my bottom dollar he is going to lose in that race. People want an independent councilmember, somebody who actually considers the issues, somebody, who puts forward real legislation.
NNAMDIAnd who would that be?
RACINEObviously that Janeese Lewis, who worked at the Office of Attorney General.
SHERWOODJaneese Lewis George.
SHERWOODIs her full name.
RACINEWell, you know ...
SHERWOODWhere is she on the ballot?
RACINEI love her sign. "Just remember Jeneese."
SHERWOODOkay. Again, what about -- this is the most political you have been. You ran for Attorney General saying you wanted to take control of that office. I think people in general believe you have. You've had some epic battles with the mayor over your budget. And, of course, Mayor Bowser is supporting Brandon Todd in Ward 4. So is this a larger battle than just who is the Ward 4 councilperson?
RACINEI don't think it's a larger battle in the sense that I'm ...
SHERWOODI mean, you're battling the mayor it seems.
RACINEWell, I think that we probably have two different candidates.
SHERWOODYes, you do.
RACINEOkay. And to the extent that we disagree, then, you know, we should debate that. I'm happy to have a debate with Mayor Bowser about, who is the best candidate for Ward 4, because it's not close. Ward 4 deserves a councilmember who thinks independently, who acts for the people not the big money interests.
SHERWOODHave you told Brandon Todd this directly?
RACINEHe knows I'm not supporting him.
NNAMDIWhat other wards are you supporting candidates in?
RACINELet me just note something about Brandon Todd, because civil rights I think is an issue that the entire city has a consensus around. We have drafted a bill at the Office of Attorney General and it's been sitting on Brandon Todd's desk now for over 13 months. What we want to do with the Civil Rights bill is have expanded authority so that our office can do frankly what other agencies in the District of Columbia are not empowered to do. And that is to bring lawsuits were folks have been discriminated against.
RACINEI note, as you know, we have brought Civil Rights lawsuits recently that have yielded the city millions of dollars. And forget the money. What's most important is the message. Do not discriminate against poor people, who have a subsidy and want to give you that subsidy Mr. Landlord. Why is Brandon Todd not passing the Civil Rights bill that has been on his desk for 13 months? Maybe had he passed it before I wouldn't be so enthusiastic?
NNAMDIFive people running in ...
SHERWOODYou politicized your office. That's what critics would tell you.
NNAMDIWell, five people running including two current councilmembers have ties to your office. Political consultant Chuck Thies says, quoting here, "You're building a political machine." Are you?
RACINEYou know what? I think that our city's history allows for sort of simple conclusions like that. I don't have a fresh pack. I don't have a color. I don't have a mascot. What I do have ...
SHERWOODFor those who don't know, that's a reference to Mayor Bowser's fresh pack and her green color, the green team.
RACINEI'm just saying.
SHERWOODI want to interpret this over here while you talk.
RACINEWell, thank you very much. Here is what we have at the Office of Attorney General. We have an office of public interest focused individuals, who want to use the law as a tool to help vulnerable people. There should be no surprise why we attract really committed people, who want to do more including running for office.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about what your office actually does. D.C. just won a lawsuit against an outdoor advertising agency that your office filed in 2016. Can you tell us what exactly that firm was doing and why it violated city code?
RACINESure. To make a long story show, Digi Media, then it changed to Luminate came into this city to really erect these large LED monitors on buildings. Problem with Digi is that it didn't ask to do it. So it violated the D.C. building code by erecting these big monitors without any review. And what's more DCRA, the D.C. agency responsible for this put up stop order notices. That means don't do this anymore. Guess what? Digi plowed right through those stop orders.
SHERWOODIgnored everybody, everything, every reasonable ...
RACINEEverybody, everything and that's why we filed suit. After we filed suit Digi, of course, got its lobbyists going, David Wilmot and they tried to kill our lawsuit. Jack Evans, that's right, Ward 2 candidate Jack Evans, drafted legislation that would have killed our lawsuit. And guess what happened? Enough councilmembers stood up and said no. We almost lost. And I've got a question about those councilmembers, including my friends who were going to go ahead and give Jack what he wanted.
RACINENow we later found out, okay, in the course of discovery and in course of news gathering, big shout out for two reporters. Jeff Anderson gets a lot of heat in this town, but Jeff Anderson doggedly pursued Jack Evans. Steve Thompson, a new reporter at The Post, doggedly pursued Jack Evans. What did they find out? My goodness gracious. Digi Media gave Jack Evans checks totaling $100,000.
RACINEJack for some reason returned those checks. Then again, Digi Media gave Jack stock certificates, 200,000 shares. Jack returned those.
SHERWOODAnd that's a very big thing, and he's paid a political price for it. Those 200,000 shares in that company turned out to be not worth much. But the fact is he got the shares.
RACINEWell, here is the deal on the value of those share, because you're right. The market hadn't determine the value. But I can tell you what the owner of the company Mr. McCort, he got over $60 million from investors on the basis of having in his mind permission in D.C. to put up these signs.
SHERWOODAnd he's also in prison now in California.
RACINEHe plead as he should and he's in jail.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Don Beyer. He's a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Virginia's 8th District who has self-quarantined. Here is Keith in Shepard Park. Keith, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEITHYeah. Hi, Mr. Attorney General. I'm not sure which ward you live in. I'm a long time Ward 4 resident. And Councilmember Todd or Brandon as everyone in the neighborhood and throughout the ward calls him is the most responsive, the most attentive, the most caring and honorable representative that we could possibly ever have. That is not just my opinion, but every neighbor, everybody that I do business with in the ward, if there's a pothole, if there's a senior in trouble, if there's a kid having issues with DCPS, Brandon again ...
NNAMDIBefore Brandon Todd became a councilmember he did constituent services for the then Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser and stood out. And what you seem to be saying is that he is still good at constituent service. I don't think that's the basis on which the Attorney General is attacking him. But obviously Karl Racine can speak for himself.
RACINEHey, Kevin, I really appreciate, you know, your comment. And I certainly respect Councilmember Todd in the context of his constituent service work. He knows what he's doing in that regard. My comments as to Brandon Todd, they're not personal. And I'm sorry if they come off as attacks. I don't mean it that way. What I mean is that Janeese Lewis is going to be an independent councilmember who thinks about the issues herself. My guess is that she is going to in time deliver constituent services that rival that of Brandon Todd.
RACINEAnd my point is this, think about the issues of the day in D.C. When is the last time Councilmember Todd has presented legislation on a matter of import to this city and why is he sitting on Civil Rights legislation that would protect vulnerable D.C. residents?
SHERWOODIf you went by -- and again I'm not going to be the alternate voice for the council people that you're opposing or the candidates that you're supporting. But, you know, there's lots of legislation, important legislation that either doesn't get passed or sits around for a long time. There's legislation that's passed with this phony subject to appropriations, which means you'll get credit for passing a bill but you won't put in money behind it. You know the legislative quagmire that's in legislature not just the D.C. Council. But it did seem somewhat personal or is it just your passion that you want change in the D.C. Council that we're hearing not animosity towards the members?
RACINEI have no animosity towards any member of the City Council. I also believe that reasonable people can disagree. And that's what elections are for. I am simply stepping out and making it very clear that I believe Janeese Lewis is the best candidate in Ward 4 because Janeese Lewis works extremely hard.
SHERWOODOkay, but are you endorsing any candidate that didn't work for you?
RACINEThat remains to be seen. I don't know.
SHERWOODBut not yet.
RACINENot yet. My guess is that there'll be a candidate who enters the At-Large race who hasn't entered who I probably will consider endorsing.
NNAMDISpeaking of endorsements you had endorsed Kamala Harris for president.
SHERWOODI got an email from somebody saying I mispronounced it earlier, Kamala.
NNAMDIOkay. Who are you now supporting?
RACINEYou know, look. I'm with the Vice President Joe Biden. I respect Bernie Sanders. I mean, my goodness has he created an incredible movement. I think it's important to understand why the young people are enamored and spirited behind president candidate Sanders. But I think that Joe Biden is the one who can win the White House.
SHERWOODLet's do a little bit more politics real quick. You were thought to be possibly the Attorney General for Kamila Harris is she got to president. Would you leave your elected office to go work for a new president, President Biden? Will you run for mayor? Are you foreclosing running for mayor in 2022?
RACINEI'm not foreclosing going into the federal administration if there is a job that is an important job that could advance the United States particularly on issues around immigration. I'd be very very interested in that. With respect to the mayor position I filed to run again for Attorney General. Circumstances can change and it may be that if those circumstances come to be that I would reflect and make another decision.
NNAMDIAnd decide to run for mayor instead. That's entirely possible.
SHERWOODYes. I think that's news.
NNAMDIWell, Fenit Nirappil reported that in The Washington Post.
SHERWOODYeah. But who is that?
NNAMDINever heard of him. Mayor Bowser declared a state of emergency this week in response to the coronavirus. Your office also issued a consumer alert about what people in D.C. should be aware of during this public health emergency. Let's start with paid sick leave. Something that's top of the agenda for many D.C. workers. What do workers need to know?
RACINEWorkers need to know that there's paid sick leave in the District of Columbia. That they have their rights and should they feel, obviously, that they're sick then the Paid Sick Leave Act allows workers to take the time necessary to get themselves well and still receive payment. We're happy to help walk anybody through that. But it's important that when the city has enacted laws for the benefit of people, who get sick that they know their rights exist.
SHERWOODAttorney General in Maryland, I think Virginia too and maybe you have, I haven't seen. There are concerns that the virus also is creating scams. What have you warned consumers, because you have the Office on Consumer Protection? What do you warn people as they are fearful for their family and themselves to be on alert for, the scammers who will try to make money off of it?
RACINESadly even in crisis scammers look to separate people from their money. The scammers will promise remedies cures and other relief that simply doesn't square with the scientific facts.
SHERWOODAnd a lot of this comes through social media too.
RACINESocial media is out there. We are monitoring that very closely. We're working with the attorneys general throughout the county in monitoring these false advertisements. I think it's really important to also know that, because Mayor Bowser went ahead and declared an emergency the city's anti-gouging law goes into effect. And what that means is that with respect to goods and services, purveyors or merchants, you know, cannot seek to unfairly gouge folks. There are limits as to the price increase. Anybody have a question about that, please feel free to call the Office of Attorney General 202-442-9828.
NNAMDIGot a couple of people with questions on the phone. But before I get to them there's a bill introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson that would offer quarantined workers' pay during this emergency. And evictions would be halted. Would you favor that?
RACINEI'm entirely supportive of the chairman's emergency legislation. I think in characteristic style it is extremely thoughtful and it represents D.C. values by looking out for people who may need a little bit of help now.
NNAMDIBut it's my understanding that D.C.'s Paid Sick Leave policy applies to some, but not all employees. Who's excluded?
RACINEOn that point I can't really answer that question now. But I would ask folks to simply give us a call and we'll answer it more fully when you call.
NNAMDIHere is Claire in Washington D.C. Claire, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLAIREYes, thank you for taking my call. I would like some help in finding a senior -- a lawyer that works with seniors, because I received a notice of correct or vacate on the 11th. And the notice is March 1, in my residence where I've lived for 53 years. And, right now, I don't have an attorney. And everything seems to be so shutdown, and I can't get any help. I don't know where to turn. Is there a possibility that you can just give me some help in finding...
RACINEYes, don't look any further. Do me a favor. You can call me at 202-352-7751, and I assure you that I will help you.
SHERWOODSay that number again.
RACINE202-352-7751. And what is your name, ma'am?
CLAIREI've given the name Claire, but I will correct that.
NNAMDIOkay. When you call his office, you can give him your correct name, and said you were the person who called as Claire.
RACINEThank you, Claire.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. A lot of work places are now moving toward tele-working for most of their employees. What is your office doing?
RACINEYeah, I'm so proud of my team at the office of attorney general, and that means the over 300 lawyers we have, the over 300 professional staff. So today is the first day of our move to telecommuting. So, today, about 30 to 35 percent of our workers are not in the office, instead are telecommuting. On Monday, we'll be up to 60 to 65 percent. And, on Tuesday, the goal is -- and I think we're going to achieve that -- 100 percent will be working outside of the office of attorney general.
RACINEIt's important for the public to know that essential functions will be represented by human beings in the office. So, for example, going to court, opening the mail and otherwise interfacing with the clients, we have to have people there to do that, because the government is not shut down, period.
SHERWOODYou have a personal interest in this. You have an elderly mother.
SHERWOODThe mayor, the other day, mentioned her 81-year-old mother trying to stay at home, not going to the theater, maybe coming to visit the mayor and her two-year-old daughter. How personally has this affected what you are doing?
RACINESo, a lot of people like to talk about differences that I have with Mayor Bowser. And, to be sure, I think we're two different leaders, both in style, and we have substantial differences in issues. One thing that we have in common...
RACINE...is mothers. And Mayor Bowser's fortunate, her father is still living. I have so much respect for the way that Marvin Bowser and Mayor Bowser...
SHERWOODThat's the mayor's brother.
RACINE...the mayor's brother, I have so much respect for how they love their parents. And, I've got to say, Mayor Bowser's only been nice to my mom, okay? My mom, if she could speak today -- she had a big stroke and she's not mobile, nor is she able to speak -- she would remind me to be kind and not exuberant when I'm being critical of people. And I violated that rule today...
RACINE...as to Mr. Todd. And I...
SHERWOODBut in terms of visiting with her, she's...
RACINEHere's the deal...
SHERWOOD...she's living with you, is that correct, in your home...
SHERWOOD...or your house?
RACINESo, I have -- yes, that's right. So, I have mom care responsibilities, lovingly, with my mother. However, I share that with my sister, who lives in Philadelphia. In light of the crisis, we moved my mom up to Philadelphia, because I interact with far more people than my sister does. So, I got to tell you, I miss my mom terribly.
NNAMDIBack to politics, here is Shelly, in Washington, D.C. Shelly, your turn.
SHELLYHi, Attorney General Racine. I'm just curious, you mentioned that you had a list of other councilmembers that you were supporting. Is Councilman McDuffie on that list?
RACINECouncilmember McDuffie is not running in Ward 5. And Councilmember McDuffie...
SHERWOODThere's no election in Ward 5.
RACINEThere's no -- that's right, there's no election Ward 5. And, you know, Councilmember McDuffie has been a friend to the office of attorney general. He was a judiciary chairman, our initial year. And he's also been an advocate and proponent of the violence interruption strategies that the office, you know, is implementing. I consider Councilmember McDuffie to be a dear friend.
SHERWOODYou passed over Vince Gray. Where -- what do you -- what's that?
RACINEI'm not passing over Vince Gray at all. I think the world of Vince Gray. I think Vince Gray is one of the most intelligent people in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODAre you supporting his opponent?
RACINEFor the reasons related to my personal relationship...
SHERWOODVeda Rash -- how do you say her name?
RACINEVeda Rasheed, who worked really well at the office of attorney general. But for reasons related to my respect and admiration for Vincent Gray, I'm not publically supporting Ms. Rasheed, although I want to tell you, she is a woman of great substance.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So, we can interpret then with the flipside that you respect Vince Gray enough not to oppose him, but you don't respect the other one, so you're opposing them.
RACINE(overlapping) It's not a matter of respect, honestly.
SHERWOODJust trying to...
RACINEIt's really all about who I think is the better candidate.
NNAMDIGot to mention this before you go. The deadline for the Do the Right Thing Challenge is tonight at 11:59 p.m. We mentioned it briefly on Wednesday's show when we discussed how local youth are dealing with gun violence. But is there anything you'd like to say about this essay contest before the deadline?
RACINEIt is an extraordinary essay contest where kids are asked -- middle school children, 6th, 7th and 8th grade are asked three questions. Number one, have you ever experienced violence? Number two, how did that impact you? And number three, do you have suggestions to adults as to how we might reduce violence? The essays are stunningly brilliant and incredibly painful to read.
RACINEAnd we, as adult folks in government and legislatures, with all due respect to my colleagues and myself, we don't listen enough to our children. The solutions are right in front of us. They're telling us the truth when they say we need more school counselors in the schools. We need more psychological assistance in the schools. My mom needs help in her workforce development skills, so that she can have a consistent job. That's what we have to listen to.
NNAMDIDeadline is tonight at 11:59 p.m. If you haven't written in as yet, now is the time to do it. Karl Racine is the attorney general for the District of Columbia. Thank you for joining us.
RACINEThank you very much, Tom and Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Don Beyer, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Virginia's 8th district. He's a Democrat, and at this point, he has decided that he is not coming out in public at this time. He is self-quarantined. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Joining us now by phone is Don Beyer. He's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Virginia's 8th District. He is a Democrat who has decided to self-quarantine. Congressman Beyer, thank you so much for joining us.
DON BEYERYeah, thank you, Kojo and Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, let's talk a little bit of politics, first, and the Virginia General Assembly. As the session wound down, Virginia lawmakers decriminalized marijuana and legalized casinos. It is clear that the leadership of the General Assembly has changed hands, because these were measures that couldn't get passed before.
SHERWOODThis is, I would think, in our lifetimes, one of the most historic gatherings of the Virginia General Assembly, whether you are Republicans who were shut out of leadership in both the House and Senate or not. But the Democrats said they were going to do a lot of things on gun control, abortion, collective bargaining. I'm sure the former lieutenant governor of Virginia might want to weigh in on this. But it was an extraordinary session of achieving a great many things.
SHERWOODRepublicans say that this legislature has raised the cost of business in the state, that's it's going to be bad for the state going forward. But the Democrats are very excited. They went in with a very aggressive antigun legislative package, and virtually all of it passed.
NNAMDICare to weigh in on this, Congressman Beyer?
BEYERWell, I agree with Tom. I think this was probably the most productive General Assembly session in our lives. And I know poor Terry McAuliffe, who had a great four years as governor, must be very jealous of the House and Senate that Ralph Northam inherited.
BEYERYou know, they were able to do things that most Virginians -- including a lot of Virginia Republicans -- wanted to do. The five out of eight of the governor's gun initiatives passed. And probably the most important thing for me -- which I know you will both appreciate -- is they passed, for the second time, the constitutional amendment to get rid of gerrymandering in Virginia. And now it'll go to the voters in November.
SHERWOODDid you -- I know we're going to get to your self-quarantine but, you know, you were the lieutenant governor from 1990 to 1998. You ran for governor. Jim Gilmore won in that election. But you must, as a Democrat, a national Democrat, state Democrat, you must be very proud of the legislature.
BEYERI am really proud, especially because, you know, Democrats in the minority kept saying, well, when we're in the majority, we're going to do the right thing and give up the right to choose our own voters. And there were a couple that pushed back, that wanted to keep it the old way. But I was proud that, at the end, they did the right thing.
NNAMDIYou announced on Tuesday that you were under self-quarantine until Monday. You and your wife had dinner with a friend, who later tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. First and foremost, how are you feeling?
BEYERWe're both feeling fine. And our friend didn't just test positive. He's badly ill, which is -- you know, we're really worried about him, because he's in his mid-70s.
BEYERBut, yeah, just out of abundance of caution, and at the direction of the Virginia Department of Health, they said, please, you know, make sure you're locked up for 14 days from that dinner, so you're not getting anyone else infected.
SHERWOODWell, I happen to know that on June 20th, you'll be 70 years old. So, you're right in the demographic of people who should also be worried.
BEYERYeah, I feel much younger, but, you're right. I do look at the calendar, I think. And I just saw today, there's 150 members of the U.S. House that are 65 or older. So, one of the big things we want to do is make sure the people who have been exposed, who may be not be symptomatic, but could be carrying the disease, are saying away from all the older Americans, for whom it could be fatal.
BEYERI just looked at the chart, 138,000 worldwide cases, 5,100 dead and another 5,600 seriously ill. You're still talking a 4 percent fatality rate.
BEYER...you know, 40 times higher than the fatality rate for the flu.
SHERWOODYou've said that, you know, you've acknowledged that you're a person of means, well-to-do Don Beyer Auto, and that you can care for yourself. But you have said in some other interviews that you also are worried about the people who cannot care for themselves, who don't have sick leave, who don't have means. Have you been talking to Congress about what it's going to do or not do, or what the state's going to do to help those people?
BEYERYes. And before I went home Tuesday night, I was part of meetings with both Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and with our Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And I believe that she has a deal with the president this morning to do paid sick leave for every American, whether they have sick leave or not, and extending unemployment benefits, trying to do food security.
BEYERWe have a lot of people in Metro D.C., kids, who are dependent on our schools for breakfast and lunch. If those -- when they close, as they're doing, we've got to make sure that those folks still get fed.
SHERWOODThis is The Politics Hour. What did you think of the president's speech the other night? I assume you saw it, the 11-minute monologue.
BEYERYou know, I always want to be sympathetic, but I thought it was very discouraging. The whole notion -- they said it was written by Stephen Miller, and it sure sounded like it, you know, blaming...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That's an aid to the president.
BEYER...other countries and, you know, talk -- I just didn't think that he showed any of the empathy and compassion that our leaders need right now. I certainly know that this administration would want to do the right thing, but they're lagging so far behind. And, you know, there was a stat this morning that we have 23 tests per million people, which is one of the worst countries in the world, and yet we know there could be tens of millions of Americans that ultimately get hit. So...
NNAMDIIndeed, I heard the governor of New York say today that they're instituting drive-thru testing in certain parts of the state. Have you or your wife been tested for the disease?
BEYERWe have not, Kojo. When we were first told that we were exposed, I called over to the House physician, Dr. Monahan. And, after a while, he came back and said that the tests are so short, that they're reserving them for people with active symptoms, people that they're actually worried are -- right now. But, in the short run -- hopefully by tomorrow or next week -- we'll be able to test everyone that's been exposed to somebody who's sick, because the real danger is not the folks that are sick. They're going home and they're going in the hospital. It's the folks that might be carrying the disease, but don't have active symptoms. And they could be, you know, basically, the Typhoid Marys, carrying coronavirus all through our society.
NNAMDIYou obviously can't go to the House floor to vote, so what have you been doing while under self-quarantine, and what has your staff been up to?
BEYERWell, we sent our staff home, too, Wednesday morning, and announced today that we're going to keep them home until April 10th. I've been looking at the other -- you know, just reading up a storm. And I can't seem to catch up on all the incoming emails and text messages on this issue. We had a town hall meeting by telephone Tuesday night, while I was waiting for Dr. Monahan's feedback. All but one of the questions over the course of an hour was about coronavirus. So, we're trying to be the most responsible source of information for our constituents we can be.
BEYERAnd, Kojo, Tom, probably the most important piece is looking at the four countries most grievously hit: South Korea, Iran, China and Italy. And looking at the measures they eventually came to after a number of weeks, and said, why don't we do that now and get ahead of the curve?
SHERWOODLet me ask you -- we asked the attorney general of the District about his personal impact. And he talked about his mother who's been moved to Philadelphia for that. But on maybe a lighter note, you're there at home in Alexandria, and you're a Virginia gentleman. And I know I'm from the south, Atlanta, and I know that when someone's sick or can't get out, people bring them things. Have people brought you food? Are you getting goodwill wishes? I mean, I realize you can buy your own food, but how are people in your neighborhood treating you?
BEYERYeah, well, lots of goodwill wishes. And we've had eight or nine different offers of, you know, lasagna, soup, pancakes, all kinds of different things to be left on the door. (laugh) And, so far, we've deferred because we have plenty of cereal on hand, but people have been wonderful.
NNAMDIOn Wednesday night, we learned that a Hill staffer had tested positive for COVID-19. And now the capital is limiting public tours and access. What do you think about those measures, and what else can you tell us about how Congress is working to eliminate the risk for the virus being spread among lawmakers?
BEYERAnd, Kojo, that's really important, because not only are there 150 over 60 years old, some of the most important people. Nita Lowey, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, Nancy Pelosi, our speaker, the dean of the delegation, Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, all these folks are over 80 and are at very great risk. So, I very much approved shutting down the Capitol.
BEYERYou know, we are blessed, because not only do we have sick leave, but almost everyone has the smart phones and the laptops and the good computers that they can work from home. I know my staff, they were still sending me emails at midnight last night. So, as we've discovered, many people will work much harder at home than they do in the office. (laugh) There's no water cooler conversations.
SHERWOODThey feel guilty.
NNAMDIIf the Capitol closes down completely and Congress needs to work remotely, is that something everyone, you think, is prepared to do? Is there infrastructure in place to do that?
BEYERI think largely so. And we're seeing, as I listened to the attorney general, we were able to send our people home right away. My wonderful chief had been anticipating this about two weeks ago, so she got people ready. And we're discovering new forms of technology, things like Zoom, that make it easier to do. We're all becoming Skype experts.
BEYERThe real worry are the folks like, you know, our automobile mechanics or the people working at the fast food restaurants who can't tele-work. We've got to make sure that we're protecting them. And the most basic message is to make sure that they are covered financially, so they don't come to work sick. Bad for them, but also bad for everybody they come in contact with.
NNAMDIHere is Glenda, in Alexandria. Glenda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GLENDAWell, thank you for taking my call, Kojo. I was just curious. I haven't heard anything about Russia. Have they been affected by the coronavirus? And if so, are they allowed to fly into the States, as well? Thank you for taking my call.
BEYERGlenda, good question. To the best of my knowledge, Russia was not covered in the conversation that the president talked the other night. Although I guess that's a little confusing, because it is -- at least the more populace part is part of Europe, and they banned everything from Europe. In looking at the coronavirus dashboard, I don't see any numbers for Russia. So, they may -- oh, actually, here it is, 34 cases, nobody deceased. So, they're much, much smaller than ours right now, and don't seem to be a major factor in the problem.
SHERWOODHere in the Washington area, the Smithsonian has closed down all its museums. Alexandria, this is the spring tourist season, both for Washington and for Alexandria. Have you got a sense of what's closing in Alexandria or something that's happening there in...
BEYERJust in the last half hour, I have two grandchildren in the public schools there. And I just got the note from my daughter that the public schools have closed, starting Monday morning. The only reason they brought the kids in today was to make sure that they got, you know, their ipads or whatever they need to study next week.
NNAMDIHere is Mark in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKThank you. First, I want to wish safety to your guests and to you and the audience. There is a sense of frustration and confusion. I have not seen one public service announcement. Remember Smoky the Bear, only you can prevent forest fires? We need clear, trusted, effective communication. Why? Because the 70, 80, 90-year-olds do not surf the internet. They watch TV, listen to the radio. And whatever announcements are going on appear remote from them.
MARKSecondly, in terms of Russia, I just saw that there are 10 European countries bordering Russia's border. And Russia is not under embargo. And, finally, we are only as strong as our weakest link. We need to support low income. And thank you for your time, and I appreciate your service.
NNAMDIThank you for your call. Congressman Beyer, care to respond?
BEYERYeah, well, Mark makes a very good point about the public service announcements. And we will get right on that and reach out to the four local stations to ask them to make sure they have PSAs on for the people who only watch TV. And we'll try to use our congressional platform to get that to the local cable stations or the national cable stations, too, FOX News and the MSNBC.
SHERWOODHave you been told anything, as a member of Congress, that maybe the general public hasn't been told?
BEYERI don't think so. I've not heard anything in those meetings that I haven't also read on the internet a couple minutes later. I was disturbed -- I think most of us were -- that the Trump Administration decided to hold all the early discussions in secret. We want to be as transparent as we possibly can be.
NNAMDINow it looks like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is nearing a deal with the Trump administration on a coronavirus relief package that would help workers and patients affected by the public health crisis. What have you heard about that package, and what are you hoping that that package will include?
BEYERWell, I'm hearing good things this morning. I was really disappointed with the Senate the other day, and specifically Senator Lamar Alexander, who said, we can't do paid sick leave. It'll be unfair to businesses. Because, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, it's essential that if people are sick, that they're out of public and are not forced to go to work just to put, you know, food on the table. I am pleased, though, if Speaker Pelosi's made this deal through Secretary Mnuchin, with the president's approval, I'm pretty confident the Senate Republicans will go along.
SHERWOODLet me ask you very quickly, a very big debate Sunday, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, one-on-one. Bernie Sanders, many say, this is seen as his last chance to change the course of this primary for the Democrats. What do you think Joe Biden has to do to finally put this to rest and get the nomination?
BEYERWell, I think, first of all, Joe's comments yesterday or the day before after the president's speech -- I think it was yesterday -- really showed him to be presidential, a much greater sense of both gravity and compassion. So, I think he needs to show that. You know, I was a Pete Buttigieg guy, now an enthusiastic Biden supporter. I think Florida could be the end of the line for Senator Sanders, because I think Vice President Biden's going to do very well in Florida.
SHERWOODWell, you know, will he do well enough in a 90-minute debate in terms of his gaffes and his ability -- I mean, his tendency to get off topic?
BEYERYou know, Joe is a great talker. And he has been doing the occasional gaffe every 1 percent, you know, throughout his long career. And I think we know who he is. He's smart, he's trustworthy.
NNAMDI(overlapping) And I'm afraid...
BEYERHe is an honest, good man. And, as someone who often can't finish a sentence, I really appreciate him. (laugh)
NNAMDIDon Beyer's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Virginia's 8th district. He is self-quarantined. Thank you so much for joining us, and good luck to you.
BEYERThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, Metro's proposed budget cuts would eliminate or consolidate dozens of bus routes. What does this mean for people who count on busses to get around town? Plus, as schools push music programs down on their priority list, arts organizations in D.C. are stepping up to fill the gap. That all starts on Monday, at noon. Until then, stay safe. Have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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