This week the release of a 50-page audit by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) painted a damning picture of Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center, calling it a “toxic workplace.” And lacking additional federal assistance, budget shortfalls at the agency may force service cuts next year, including closing the system earlier at night.

We ask D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, (D-Ward 5), about Metro’s woes, plus the District’s election readiness, school reopenings and more.

Then, we hear from Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, (D-Fairfax County), on the General Assembly’s special session in progress. It convened to tackle police reform and pandemic-related issues. What legislation has passed so far and what remains to be done?

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 Lauren Markoe


  • Kenyan McDuffie Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 5); @kenyanmcduffie
  • Dick Saslaw Virginia Senate Majority Leader, (D-Fairfax County); @DickSaslaw
  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood


  • 12:00:09

    KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:00:33

    TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.

  • 12:00:35

    NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking with the Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate, Dick Saslaw. But our first victim today -- I didn't mean victim. I meant our first guest today is Kenyan McDuffie. He is a D.C. Councilmember representing Ward 5. Councilmember McDuffie, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:51

    KENYAN MCDUFFIEAnd thank you for having me again, Kojo.

  • 12:00:54

    NNAMDIBefore we speak with the councilmember directly, Tom Sherwood, exactly what is going on with the Purple Line? A Maryland judge has apparently ruled that this PPP agreement is allowed to fall apart. And that is a public, private partnership in which the private partners have said, we no longer want in on this. We want to get out of this. At first it was thought that they couldn't. Now a judge has ruled that they can and it puts the future of the Purple Line it seems in jeopardy. Does it not?

  • 12:01:25

    SHERWOODYes. And as of Monday this partnership can get out. But, you know, this Purple Line should be called the Black and Blue Line. It has been beaten up from the time it was proposed, and when then new Governor Larry Hogan came in. He gutted state funding for it taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the pod for it forcing Montgomery and Prince George's to pay more. And all the along the state agreed to this contract picking up for the lowest bidder. And now we've seen the result of that. Work is being done. You drive around like I did up in Silver Spring and other areas where the Purple Line is being built.

  • 12:02:04

    SHERWOODThere's traffic disruption, holes on the ground. And at this point unless the state and the partners can renegotiate this thing and put it back on track so to speak, we may be facing years and years more of this line being built or possibly never being built. It's a real mess for the administration of Governor Hogan.

  • 12:02:28

    NNAMDIAnd in Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says that it is entirely possible that small groups can return to D.C. public schools this month. Some private and charter schools have already started doing this. She says, we don't think we can have entire school populations going to school, but maybe small groups later this month. Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:02:50

    SHERWOODThis is the most optimistic the mayor has been. You know, she wanted to do a hybrid system in mid-summer. She wanted to have classes some days and then homeschool the rest of the days. It was just too unwieldy. The teachers union didn't like it. And so now she's saying maybe after they get some weeks under their belt some students can go into the classrooms. But how that would work, what teachers would be involved, what schools would be involved, what grades would be involved, all those are unanswered questions as we start this program.

  • 12:03:22

    NNAMDIThe head of the union, Elizabeth Davis, says she understands that there are some teachers who are willing to go back into school. She's setting out to identify those teachers. Councilmember McDuffie, what do you think?

  • 12:03:34

    MCDUFFIEWell, I think I completely understand the concerns that Liz Davis raises and teachers that raise. I understand the importance of in-person instruction and the obstacles that many families and educators face as we continue to try to implement virtual learning. I think it's a delicate balance. But we've got to prioritize the safety and well-being of all our students, of their parents and families. And so I think it's important that in reopening the schools that we do so virtually. I think it was the right decision that the mayor made. I think the idea of reopening the school this month and allowing some folks to come in is ambitious. And that we should be guided by the advice of public health officials.

  • 12:04:16

    NNAMDISpeaking of safety, this week we saw the release of a scathing report about Metro, which depicted its Rail Operations Control Center as a toxic workplace. The audit comes from an independent commission, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission. It detailed racial and sexual harassment and managers ordering employees to ignore regulations. You sit on the D.C. Council's Transportation Committee. What do you think of these revelations and what do you think needs to be done about these problems? Are not only employees, but riders at risk here?

  • 12:04:48

    MCDUFFIEWell, I am deeply concerned about the report and some of the things that came out of that report are troubling. The Metro Safety Commission, you know, reports of employees being bullied, racially and sexually harassed. There were reports that some people were told by managers to ignore authorities and operating procedures. I mean, if these things are true it represents a clearly unsafe workplace and warrants immediate attention and focus to fix this and turn it around.

  • 12:05:23

    MCDUFFIEI think it really -- Metro needs to inspire confidence in all that they do given how linked our local economy is to, you know, safe public transit. And so I think unfortunately Metro has a very recent and a troubling history of some issues. And I think we are remember the 2015 incident that killed Carol Glover and the 2009 Fort Totten Station train crash that killed nine people and injured lots more.

  • 12:05:53

    MCDUFFIEAnd so I think people across our region, residents in D.C., and all the visitors to the District of Columbia rely on Metrorail to provide a safe commute. And everyone who uses the system has to have confidence and understand that WMATA's leadership prioritizes a workplace culture of rider safety and frankly of employee safety as well.

  • 12:06:16

    NNAMDIWe invited General Manager Paul Wiedefeld to join us today. He was unable to do so. We will have him on an upcoming show. But, Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:06:25

    SHERWOODMr. Councilmember, thanks for being here today. The audit of the Rail Operations Center called it a "toxic workplace." Said safety personnel issues, mistreatment of employees, you name it -- this audit said it was bad. David Horner who is a federal government Department of Transportation Member of Metro, suggested that Metrorail system be shut down until the Rail Operations Center is actually functioning the way it should be. Would you like to see -- I know you wouldn't like to see. But would you agree with maybe shutting down the Metrorail system until we know who's running it?

  • 12:07:04

    MCDUFFIEWell, I think it's going to be difficult to shut down the Metrorail system. I understand the concerns and as I mentioned earlier, you know, this notion of a toxic environment needs to be remedied immediately. But the idea that you could shut down Metrorail, to me given how many people rely on it -- I mean, you've got residents, who depend on Metrorail to get to and from work. You've got businesses that depend on WMATA as well. And I think frankly, you know, as we continue to experience, Tom, this global pandemic, the success of our local economy in many ways is tied to the success of Metro.

  • 12:07:46

    SHERWOODYou're being way too reasonable.

  • 12:07:48

    MCDUFFIEWell, I mean, look. A toxic work environment needs to be addressed immediately. I wouldn't want to work in it, and when I hear the concerns that have been raised by employees, which I get. Many of my friends I know work at Metro and there's no shortage of people who reach out to our offices to complain about the conditions there. You know, we know about the history about some of the safety issues that are there. You know, we've got to make the necessary investments and it's important for people to understand that those investments require a good deal from the District of Columbia and as well as our regional partners and the federal government for that matter to make sure that the operations are happening safely and that there's not a toxic work environment. That's just simply unacceptable.

  • 12:08:34

    NNAMDIOn top of the audit, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld announced on Wednesday that it is short more than $200 million. That could mean further service cuts, other measures. The pandemic has meant drastic reductions and fear revenue for Metro, which is quickly depleting its federal relief funds. Do you see a way out of this budget debacle or should riders braise themselves for longer waits and earlier closing times if the system isn't shutdown all together?

  • 12:09:03

    MCDUFFIELonger waits and earlier closing times does not inspire confidence. I just talked about how many people rely on Metro. And, you know, look, they're going through their federal funds. They need more federal funds. I think it's clear. I think Metro needs more federal funds as well as the District and jurisdictions across the country. So the federal government really needs to get its act together to make sure that those funds are forthcoming. And but my expectation is that the board is going to take the necessary steps to make decisions that ensure a balanced budget and -- without compromising safety. And so they need additional federal funds. But they also need to make some tough decisions to ensure that they can balance the budget and that's important.

  • 12:09:45

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:09:46

    SHERWOODLet's run through a couple of quick political questions. Attorney General Karl Racine says he will run for a third term in 2022. I've been told that if he doesn't run for attorney general again that you will run for attorney general in 2022. Your Ward-5 seat is up that year. Are you considering that if Karl Racine runs for mayor or does something else?

  • 12:10:09

    MCDUFFIETom, you got to check your sources, man. I don't know where you're getting all this stuff. Look, I hear that question all the time. Do you I want to run for something else besides Ward-5? Look, I got the best job that anybody could ask for.

  • 12:10:23

    SHERWOODWell, that's a yes or a no.

  • 12:10:24

    MCDUFFIEI serve for people who -- well, it's not, Tom. I think it's a little bit more complicated than that. I think people come to me and they ask that question, because they appreciate, you know, some of the things that I've been able to do, you know, around criminal justice reform. They look at the work that I've done --

  • 12:10:36

    SHERWOODHey, you've been elected with 70 percent of the vote. You're very popular in Ward-5. This could be an opportunity. No one would criticize you for wanting to maybe -- to step into a new job, but you have been a councilmember for 10 years.

  • 12:10:46

    MCDUFFIEAs with any decision of that magnitude that I make about whether I have anything to offer the District of Columbia in a different position, I'm going to make that decision, you know, by consulting my family, you know, my wife and my kids and talking to residents.

  • 12:10:59

    SHERWOODOn that same subject, people on Ward-5 are telling me directly that Harry Thomas Jr., the former councilmember had said that if you run for some other position mayor or attorney general in 2022, he will run for the Ward-5 seat again. You know, he spent time in prison for his taking government money for himself. He's apologized for that. He's trying to straighten out his life. Would you think it acceptable for Harry Thomas, Jr. to run for the Ward-5 seat if you were not running for it?

  • 12:11:32

    MCDUFFIEListen, I believe in second chances. So let me be clear about that. I believe in second chances, but I also believe that ultimately the voting public decides that. They decided when I ran in 2012 that they wanted, you know, new, fresh leadership, somebody who could come down and get work done immediately. And we were able to do that. And I think Ward-5 is really a smart electorate. They really pay attention to issues. Trust me, I know. I get concerns from them in every shape and form.

  • 12:12:03

    NNAMDIOnly got about 30 seconds left.

  • 12:12:04

    MCDUFFIESo I think that's premature. I think it's premature to decide.

  • 12:12:07

    SHERWOODAll right. Okay. But before Kojo cuts us off, there are two dozen people running for the At-Large seat that David Grosso is giving up. Are you endorsing anyone in that race -- At-Large race?

  • 12:12:16

    MCDUFFIEI've got some people in there who I've spoken to who I think are highly capable, but I'm not endorsing anybody.

  • 12:12:24

    SHERWOODNot yet.

  • 12:12:26

    MCDUFFIENo. I'm not endorsing anybody. No. Not yet.

  • 12:12:28

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. Our guest is Kenyan McDuffie, D.C. Councilmember representing Ward-5. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:58

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Kenyan McDuffie. He's a D.C. Councilmember representing Ward-5. And Anita has called. I don't know if Anita is disgruntled. But Anita does identify as living in Ward-5 and is now on the air. Anita, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:13:12

    ANITAHi. Thanks for taking my call. No, I have a simple concern and a question about the fire hydrants in Ward-5. There seem to be many of them that have been out of commission or out of service for years and I'm wondering if those are going to be addressed.

  • 12:13:26

    NNAMDICouncilmember McDuffie.

  • 12:13:29

    MCDUFFIEThey are absolutely should have already been addressed. And I appreciate you raising the concern and we'll make sure that we reach out to D.C. Water to address those immediately. I will tell you, I've been in communication with D.C. Water's leadership both yesterday and today after the heavy downpours that we got yesterday and we saw some unfortunate flooding experienced in parts of Ward-5 and so my office has been engaging with D.C. fairly extensively over the last 24 hours to make sure that we address these issues proactively. And so as related to fire hydrants, we will bring that up and make sure that they're checking them as they should already be doing.

  • 12:14:08

    NNAMDITom Sherwood has speculated about whether you might be running for attorney general at some point it serves to remind us that you are a lawyer and a former prosecutor, former of the chair of the Council's Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. So I got to ask, what are your thoughts on the recent killing of 18 year old Dion Kay by a Metropolitan police officer? And are you a proponent of what's known as defunding the police?

  • 12:14:32

    MCDUFFIEWell, I'll say Kojo, first, I send my condolences to Dion Kay's family and all of his loved ones. I had an opportunity to speak with Dion's mom, Natasha, and frankly one of the things that she wanted me to share was that that still frame image of Dion holding what appears to be something in his hand should not and does not represent the entirety of who he was. And so I wanted to make sure I shared that.

  • 12:15:00

    MCDUFFIEI'll say, you know, when it comes to defunding the police, Kojo, I think it's really tied less to simply eliminating, you know, the Metropolitan Police Department. There's some people who believe in that. I don't believe that we need to eliminate the Metropolitan Police Department. But I believe that we need to go farther than we've already gone in terms of scaling down aspects of MPD's budget and taking those resources and making those investments in the people and those communities that are being over policed. So when I think about Dion Kay and scores of people perhaps like Dion Kay, young folks who are in the District of Columbia -- and I don't want to assign this to Dion, there are a lot of young adults who don't have hope, Kojo, who don't see a future for themselves in this city.

  • 12:15:45

    MCDUFFIEAnd when we discuss, you know, the gun violence and that culture of gun violence we have to talk about, you know, systemic racism and institutional bias. And frankly what it's like for children who have to grow up with the daily trauma of seeing, you know, hearing gunshot sounds and seeing yellow tape and bloodstained streets. We're making any excuses for people who commit crimes, because they should be held accountable. But the reality is there are thousands of people in the District of Columbia who live with the fear and uncertainty of being poverty, all right, and we've got to address that.

  • 12:16:20

    MCDUFFIEAnd when I see people call for defunding the police they're saying that we need to make sure that we're looking at the Metropolitan Police Department's budget, which is well over a half a billion dollars. And not only giving MPD the resources that they need to do their jobs, but that we take additional resources and make those investments in those communities. And take approaches like the one that I championed with the NEAR Act.

  • 12:16:43

    MCDUFFIEThe Neighborhood Engagement Archives Results Act, where we're taking a public health based approach to crime prevention and intervention, and arming people with the resources that they need, the skills to be employed so that they can, you know, make money and take care of themselves and their families. I think when you give people hope, you give them opportunity. They're less likely to be engaged in the sorts of violent crime that we're seeing in the District of Columbia.

  • 12:17:06

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:17:08

    SHERWOODCouncilmember, back in June you were upset when Police Chief Newsham complained that the Council had completely abandoned the police officers. You stopped short of calling for his resignation. Have you talked with him since them? Have you tried to see what his point of view is? Do you support the chief? Do you think he should step down?

  • 12:17:30

    MCDUFFIEYou know, I was extremely disappointed in the chief's response. You know, I asked him some very poignant question during oversight regarding the Metropolitan Police Department how officers respond. And frankly, you know, as people continue to talk about MPD's role in the protests that are occurring downtown, I'm encouraging people to look at how people are policing in our communities across the District of Columbia.

  • 12:17:57

    MCDUFFIEI know some very very thoughtful and quality police officers in the Metropolitan Police Department. I would venture to say that that's the case for the police officers. But there are some who don't get the proper training, who frankly show up way to often in certain communities who create the friction and the antagonistic relationship that exists between the Metropolitan Police Department and certain communities.

  • 12:18:24

    SHERWOODExcuse me. Do you need to change the police chief in order to achieve the sensitivity that you're talking about?

  • 12:18:31

    MCDUFFIEI'll tell you what. I think it's important that we always look at that police chief and the leadership of Metropolitan Police Department. On the other hand, I think there's a culture that exists that -- in the Metropolitan Police Department where it doesn't inspire the sort of confidence with people in our neighborhoods. Community policing doesn't happen the way that it should. As you mentioned, Tom, I am a former prosecutor. But I'm also a former United States Department of Justice Civil Rights trial attorney. And I've investigated police departments for patterns of practice of misconduct. And I've seen quality policing. I've consulted with police professionals and know what it looks like.

  • 12:19:07

    SHERWOODThank you. I know -- a little at a time. Police Chief Newsham was on The Kojo Show, last Politics Hour, last week. I asked him if he was going to retire as chief. He's been on the force since '89. He said that he would be the chief as long as the people wanted him. But are you just not ready yet to say whether he should consider stepping down. You're obviously not interested in firing him or you would say that.

  • 12:19:29

    MCDUFFIEIf Police Chief Newsham stepped down, I would not be disappointed. And frankly I think --

  • 12:19:35

    SHERWOODThank you. Got an answer.

  • 12:19:37

    MCDUFFIEOkay. Okay.

  • 12:19:41

    NNAMDIWait a minute. Here's Greg in Brookland. We wanted to get Ward-5 callers. Here's Greg. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:47

    GREGHi, councilmember. This is Greg. I live in Brookland and I see a lot of development by the Brookland Metro, by the Rhode Island Metro. I've heard rumors of Brookland Manor being redevelopment. How do we make sure that the same problems that have happened in Shaw, U Street pushing out a lot of our long term residents that that doesn't happen here in Ward-5?

  • 12:20:09

    MCDUFFIEWe ensure that it doesn't happen in Ward-5 by, you know, looking at economic development through the lens of equity. We ensure that the economic development that occurs across the District of Columbia is community driven. And that people who are doing the development aren't making the decisions for people who live in these communities. And so I think it's important to approach economic development in a way that is balanced that empowers individuals who live in these neighborhoods.

  • 12:20:39

    MCDUFFIEWe don't want to see over the next, you know, 10 to 15 years what we've seen on the prior 15 to 20 years where, you know, thousands of District of Columbia residents have been displaced, because we've not been thoughtful enough in how we develop the city. You know, a lot of what I've done has prioritized housing affordability. It's making sure that the opportunities happen both with multifamily, but also with home ownership.

  • 12:21:06

    MCDUFFIEI think if you put in context who the city -- if you look at this city on a broad scope you see that it's one of the most racially segregated cities when it comes to our housing. And we can't simply, you know, do the same thing that we've been doing and expect a different result. We've got to be smarter and more thoughtful about how we approach economic development. And we've got to have housing that is available for people across income levels. We can't continue to concentrate poverty. We've got to make sure that we're more thoughtful in this.

  • 12:21:37

    MCDUFFIEAnd if you look at what we've been able to do in the District of Columbia and some of the things that I want to do with economic development giving more opportunities to minority developers, making sure that you have people who can make investments and actually have equity in some of the developments that occur in their own neighborhoods, I think this is the types of things that people want to see and they want their government to really be champions for that.

  • 12:21:58

    NNAMDITom Sherwood, we only have about a minute left.

  • 12:22:01

    SHERWOODWell, I'm going to do a Ward-5 constituent issue. Rhode Island Avenue, the 600 block, the underpass there, I think when I was 10 years old I did the story for Channel 4 News about the flooding of Rhode Island Avenue northeast, the 600 block. It's a terrible situation there. Why hasn't that roadway been fixed?

  • 12:22:23

    NNAMDIYou only have about 30 seconds left, Mr. Councilmember.

  • 12:22:25

    MCDUFFIEI'll keep it short. We've invested billions. I have been on D.C. Water since I got in office. You all remember the direct shows from 2012.

  • 12:22:34

    SHERWOODWe only have 30 seconds. Why hasn't it been fixed?

  • 12:22:36

    MCDUFFIEWell, it's because D.C. Water is currently working on a clean river's project on Rhode Island Avenue and it's opened construction sites along Rhode Island Avenue. And I'm being told that that could have contributed to what happened yesterday. It needs to be fixed. It's a 100 year old problem. And it's better than it had been, but people should not still be experiencing flooding period. It shouldn't happen.

  • 12:22:53

    NNAMDIKenyan McDuffie is a D.C. Councilmember representing Ward-5. Councilmember McDuffie, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:23:01

    MCDUFFIEAnd thanks for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:23:02

    NNAMDINext up Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate Dick Saslaw. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:24

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest now is Dick Saslaw. He's the majority leader of the Virginia Senate. He's a Democrat, and he represents Fairfax. Senator Saslaw, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:23:34

    DICK SASLAWWell, thanks for having me, Kojo. I appreciate it.

  • 12:23:37

    NNAMDITom Sherwood, before we get directly to questions for the senator, both the Senate majority leader, you and, well, all three of us were here back 19 years ago on September 11th, 2001 when, among other places in New York, the Twin Towers, the Pentagon came under attack. So, now we're having a remembrance of that event at which 125 people in the building were killed. All 64 people on the plane were killed. But this year, Tom Sherwood, something of a scaled back remembrance because of the pandemic.

  • 12:24:14

    SHERWOODIt's unfortunate. I was in Orlando when 9/11 happened, and I drove through the night to get back to town. And in the middle of the night, 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, I saw the flames at the Pentagon before I went to work the next day. But because of COVID virus, the -- it's not a ceremony -- the remembrance today is very scaled back. There was an early morning ceremony. A huge American flag was unveiled. Family members of those who died in that horrible event are visiting the site today. It's closed to the media and to the other people, the public.

  • 12:24:50

    SHERWOODAnd it's just a solemn remembrance. Next year -- it's just very difficult to believe next year will be the 20th anniversary. I hope that next year, we'll be able to properly mark this terrible occasion both here, Pennsylvania and New York.

  • 12:25:05

    NNAMDII think we all do. Senator Saslaw?

  • 12:25:08

    SASLAWWhat I was going to say was, you know, I was in the service station business for many, many years with stations in Maryland and Virginia. And one of them is at Braddock and Backwick Road (sounds like). And my office for the other stations was there, so I spent a good bit of my time there. I was in the office, and when I walked out, I had known about the two in New York, the two buildings in New York. One of the service station attendants outside (unintelligible) said, did you see that? I said, what? He said, there was a plane that just flew over here. He said, I've never seen a plane that low, flying that fast. That turned out to be the plane that hit the Pentagon. Went right over my station.

  • 12:25:52

    NNAMDIYeah, these are very difficult memories for just about everyone in these parts. As I said, our guest is Dick Saslaw, majority leader of the Virginia Senate. Mr. Senator, the General Assembly, where Democrats hold a majority in both houses, is in the midst of a special session. It drew up an agenda that includes the Commonwealth's budget shortfall, police reform and pandemic-related bills. But before we get to those issues, let's first talk about how this session is different than past ones.

  • 12:26:17

    NNAMDIThe whole General Assembly is not gathered in the State House, as it would be in normal times. Where and how is this special session taking place for the House, the delegates and the session, Senator?

  • 12:26:25

    SASLAWWell, the situation has become complicated as a result of that. I think had it not been for the pandemic, we would've been meeting, anyways, with respect to the budget, and probably social justice issues. But we would've both been at the capitol, and I think, by now, it would've been done, because we'd have been there exchanging bills five days a week. It hasn't worked that way.

  • 12:26:52

    SASLAWThe House, you know, is meeting virtually, so the communication is not what it would be under a normal set of circumstances. And that's what slows the whole process down. We meet at the science museum, which is several miles from the capitol. And we've been meeting there two to three days a week. Now, we're going to be holding meetings next week, committee meetings that will be virtual, but we will be in Richmond Tuesday afternoon. We go into session at 4:00. And then Wednesday morning -- and there'll be committee meetings on the phone and there during that time. But anyway -- and then Wednesday morning, we go back in session at 10:00.

  • 12:27:49

    NNAMDITom Sherwood....

  • 12:27:49

    SASLAWAnd by then we hope to have all the Senate bills, with the exception of the budget, clear to the Senate.

  • 12:27:56

    SHERWOODMr. Majority Leader, thank you. Normally, these special sessions last a couple -- one day or just a couple of days. Do you have a sine die, a certain date that you intend to adjourn, before I ask you a policy question?

  • 12:28:09

    SASLAWNo. No, we don't. That's been part of the problem, is we don't. We should be...

  • 12:28:14

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) One of the problems...

  • 12:28:17

    SASLAW...we should be finished -- we should be finished with the Senate bills this coming week, in other words, by Wednesday. The House would be finished with all of their bills. We will have less bills than we started out with, and hopefully we can clear their bills by sometime the following week, and definitely no later than the week after that. And...

  • 12:28:42

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) You talked -- you talked...

  • 12:28:43 then, it should've been moved along.

  • 12:28:45 talked about how difficult it is to just communicate with people, that you normally would do so in the state capitol. I've been told -- I've called around Richmond, because I haven't been down there for a while. I'm told one of the issues is that the Senate is far more -- while it may be progressive in some ways, it's far more conservative or moderate than the House. And that you personally are not getting along too well with House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, that...

  • 12:29:10

    SASLAWThat's not true at all. Eileen is a good friend of mine.

  • 12:29:14

    SHERWOODWell, but good friends can have serious debates over issues, but some of the police issues...

  • 12:29:18

    SASLAWWell, you're always going to have debates -- you're always going to have debates over issues, but...

  • 12:29:22

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Right. Right. But these police issues are going into the 2021 election, when all 100 House seats are up, and running candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

  • 12:29:33

    SASLAWYeah, well, let me tell you this. We sent an awful lot of bills during the 2020 session over there that that dealt with a variety of topics that you would call pretty progressive. And my understanding was that 16 or 18 of them were killed. So, that's not necessarily so on who's what, ideologically. It depends on the issue.

  • 12:29:57

    NNAMDIWell, let's talk specifically about police reform. Just yesterday, the Senate passed a massive package of bills in response to protests against police killings.

  • 12:30:04

    SASLAW(overlapping) That's correct. We did.

  • 12:30:06

    NNAMDIIt now has to pass the House of Delegates. But tell us a little bit about what's included in that reform package.

  • 12:30:13

    SASLAWIn that reform package, amongst some of the things, we prohibit no-knock warrants, okay. We ban sex with individuals arrested by law enforcement officers. Prohibit the hiring of officers fired or resigned during the use-of-force investigation. We definitely have expanded the decertification procedure for law enforcement officers, and they can't be rehired if they lose that certification. We ban chokeholds and strangleholds, unless, you know, the officer feels his life is at stake and can necessarily prove it. Require -- and your -- the officer's life is not at stake when the guy's face down on the concrete with his hands handcuffed behind him.

  • 12:31:06

    SASLAWThey have to require -- they have to -- it's requiring them to attempt to deescalate any situation prior to the use of force. They've got to require -- we're going to require warnings before shots are fired. They have to -- the law enforcement officer's going to have to exhaust all other means prior to using deadly force. They're going to create a duty by the other law enforcement officers on the scene to intervene if someone acts out -- if a police officer acts out of hand. We're going to prohibit the shooting at moving vehicles unless it's to save your life or the life of other people. Okay?

  • 12:31:54

    NNAMDIOkay. Okay.

  • 12:31:55

    SASLAWAnd the -- about 38 percent of the police forces in Virginia are nationally certified. We're going to essentially require them all to get certified.

  • 12:32:07

    NNAMDINationally certified. There's Chris in Falls Church, who'd like to comment on that. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:32:13

    CHRISHi. I'm calling to congratulate Senator Saslaw for passing that omnibus bill for the criminal justice reforms. We need it especially because, here in northern Virginia, a motorist was stopped on I-95 who had done nothing wrong and was terribly, terribly beaten and horribly mistreated by an officer of the law, and for no reason. And there was no -- there was no reason to stop him. There was no contraband of any kind found in his car. He was not an impaired driver, nothing. And so, we have to be able to discipline those unfortunate officers who go too far.

  • 12:32:59

    SASLAWAnd we're going to be able to do that if they violate these provisions.

  • 12:33:06

    NNAMDIWell, one police reform measure that failed to pass the Senate dealt with qualified immunity for police officers. Why was it...

  • 12:33:14

    SASLAWThat's correct...

  • 12:33:16

    NNAMDI...what is that and why was it harder to pass than others?

  • 12:33:18 know, Kojo, let's talk about that, okay?

  • 12:33:20

    NNAMDIYes, please.

  • 12:33:22

    SASLAWSenate bill -- Senator Locke's bill 5030 will help thousands and thousands of people, thousands, every year in the state of Virginia. The qualified immunity bill might help a dozen, okay. Might help a dozen cases. What we've got in this bill, in Senator Locke's bill, if you violate -- let me just -- let me just make sure you understand this.

  • 12:33:49

    SASLAWYou violate the chokehold provision, you violate shooting at a moving vehicle and your life or the life of someone else wasn't involved, you didn't issue a warning before using deadly force, you didn't attempt to deescalate the situation and another officer didn't intervene in this, you lose. Let me repeat this, you lose a claim of qualified immunity if you break this. And if you break the other provisions that are in Senate bill 5030, you lose the qualified immunity.

  • 12:34:26

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Could you explain for our listeners what qualified immunity is?

  • 12:34:29

    SASLAWWe've essentially knocked out 50 percent of the cases where qualified immunity is going to be used.

  • 12:34:36

    NNAMDIOkay. But exactly what is qualified immunity?

  • 12:34:40

    SASLAWWell, it enables them to say that, you know, because of the circumstances, we're exempt. We're police officers, we're exempt. Let me explain why that bill didn't make it. First off, on that committee of 15 members, there are nine Democrats and six Republicans. Of the nine Democrats, five are trial lawyers, okay. And, essentially, all five want us to drastically alter qualified immunity. Four of the five lawyers who would essentially be filing these suits said this bill was not ready for primetime, okay. And these are all progressive Democrats who are trial lawyers.

  • 12:35:34

    SASLAWYou know, to simply say -- use the term excessive force with no legal definition, you're going to have big problems, they said. You know, with -- there was one other term -- you know, you can't go into court with no legal definitions of a crime.

  • 12:35:55

    NNAMDIOkay. So, that's why that measure didn't pass. Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:35:57

    SHERWOODNow -- and let me tell you what we're going to do.

  • 12:36:00


  • 12:36:00

    SASLAWThe chairman of the committee, John Edwards, is going to appoint a subcommittee that will begin work probably within -- as soon as we get out of this special session in trying to put together something which can successfully deal with the situation of the remaining situations of qualified immunity. We took care of about half of that in Senate Bill 5030.

  • 12:36:23

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:36:24

    SHERWOODMr. Majority Leader, I think the state of Virginia, which I covered some years ago when you were a young man...

  • 12:36:31

    SASLAWYes, you did.

  • 12:36:32

    SASLAW...should get credit for addressing all of these long-simmering issues. But I want to ask you about one specific one.

  • 12:36:38


  • 12:36:39

    SHERWOODOne provision would establish citizen review boards in all the jurisdictions around the state. The Virginia Association...

  • 12:36:46

    SASLAW(unintelligible), Tom.

  • 12:36:49

    SHERWOODOkay. Virginia Association...

  • 12:36:50

    SASLAW(overlapping) It's local law (sounds like).

  • 12:36:51

    SHERWOODOkay. That's the Senate version, right? Is that in the House, also?

  • 12:36:55


  • 12:36:56

    SHERWOODWhat's -- the House have a local option?

  • 12:36:59

    SASLAWI don't know if the House is local, (unintelligible)...

  • 12:37:01

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) I don't think so. What I'm going to say is the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Virginia Sheriff's Association, the Virginia State Police Association and the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police have acknowledged that some reforms need to be done, but they don't want individual citizen review boards around the state. It's your view, the Senate's view, that these will be optional, not required.

  • 12:37:25

    SASLAWYes. The local governments will have that option. And the review boards, at least in the Senate version, if memory serves me correct, they cannot terminate someone. First of all, they couldn't do it in the sheriff's office, because that's a constitutional office, not under the control of local government.

  • 12:37:43

    SHERWOODI don't know if Kojo will let me. I want to switch back to state politics. Folks are lining up to run for governor next year. The Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax this week announced that he -- I think he filed today to run. Do you have a -- are you supporting any particular person? And what do you think of Justin Fairfax running...

  • 12:38:01

    SASLAWYes, I'm supporting Terry McAuliffe, and Fairfax has a right to run, if he wants.

  • 12:38:09

    SHERWOODDo you think that the allegations of sexual misconduct, two cases of -- not cases, but two allegations of sexual misconduct are going to make it difficult for him to win, or what is your...

  • 12:38:19

    SASLAW(overlapping) It's certainly not a plus in the campaign, and I think everybody knows that.

  • 12:38:24

    NNAMDIThe House of Delegates this week approved a bill that would make it easier for cities and counties to remove Confederate monuments, Mr. Majority Leader.

  • 12:38:32


  • 12:38:32

    NNAMDIThe many monuments in Virginia have already come down in past months. What will this bill do, and will the Senate follow with similar legislation?

  • 12:38:40

    SASLAWYeah, I would think that would make it through the Senate. Some of the local governments in far southwest Virginia probably won't be removing too many. In your urban I-95/64 corridor, a lot of them will come down. And it's quite an irritant to an awful lot of our citizens. And, keep in mind, you know, when the Washington Post did that story a couple years ago, several years ago after the incident in Charlottesville, I think it was Robert E. Lee V, who's a great, great grandson of the general, said the family wants the monuments down.

  • 12:39:22

    NNAMDIYeah, I do remember that. Our guest is Dick Saslaw. He's majority leader of the Virginia Senate. Let's talk for a minute about the felony case against State Senator Louise Lucas, a Democrat from Portsmouth.

  • 12:39:33

    SASLAW(overlapping) That was a charade.

  • 12:39:35

    NNAMDIPortsmouth police brought the charge of conspiracy to topple a Confederate monument, a charge the Washington Post editorial board this week characterized as, quoting here, "a preposterous example of rogue local police making a mockery of justice." How do you view this case?

  • 12:39:50

    SASLAWThey pretty much reflected my opinion.

  • 12:39:53

    NNAMDIOkay. You feel -- you feel it is a preposterous example of rogue police -- rogue...

  • 12:39:58

    SASLAW(overlapping) I have never heard -- in all my years in office, Kojo and Tom, I've never heard of a situation being brought like that where they bypass the Commonwealth attorney. The Commonwealth attorney and everybody else connected with law enforcement knows she committed no crime. You know, she talked to the chief of police at 1:00 in the afternoon. She was gone from the premises and, first off, the chief certainly, certainly had no obligation to listen to her. She's not a city official. And she was gone from the premises for eight hours before that whole mess occurred. Kindly tell me how somebody who's eight hours off the premises incited a riot.

  • 12:40:44

    NNAMDIWell, I can't. But I can change the subject. Governor Ralph Northam shared his own priorities when he called a special session, including $85 million to expand broadband and $50 million for historically black colleges and universities. He said they're important to diminish inequities across the state. Will the General Assembly fund these priorities?

  • 12:41:07

    SASLAWI think we'll fund a good bit of it, yeah. And we really do have to do something. And where it shows up, Kojo, is in this -- now that so many of these kids are learning, you know, through virtual classrooms. And when you live in an area that doesn't have broadband, that's a pretty difficult task.

  • 12:41:29

    NNAMDIVirginia's also facing a big hole in its budget due to the massive economic hit as a result of the pandemic. What's the General Assembly doing to sort up and...

  • 12:41:39

    SASLAWI got good news and I got bad news. The bad news is, you know, we projected the possibility of $2.7 billion shortfall. We just got August numbers, and they've all come in way above what we were projecting with respect to revenues.

  • 12:41:57

    NNAMDIThat's the good news.

  • 12:41:59

    SASLAWAnd it's not back where it needs to be, but we may be able to restore -- we won't be able to restore a tremendous amount of money now, because, you know, we're not like the federal government. We don't have a printing press, so that budget has to be in balance. But we may be able to restore a lot of the cuts that we are in the process of making or have had to make with respect to what we had planned to do for FY '21 and '22.

  • 12:42:31

    SASLAWNow, having said that, there are some priorities that the Senate will have, and we've identified a few possible savings in the budget where we may be able to find the money to do that. But it's not going to be a lot. It'll be some, but it's not going to be a lot.

  • 12:42:49

    NNAMDITom Sherwood?

  • 12:42:50

    SHERWOODTwo quick things, Mr. Majority Leader. One, I know the General Assembly has set aside $2 million to make it -- to allow election boards around the state to send out prepaid voting ballots or absentee ballots. But that's...

  • 12:43:04

    SASLAW(overlapping) That's if requested, yeah.

  • 12:43:07

    SHERWOODIf requested, that's a good thing. But let me ask you, also. The attorneys general of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia have all sued the federal EPA over the Chesapeake Bay, saying that the EPA is doing nothing...

  • 12:43:20

    SASLAW(overlapping) Right. They're not enforcing anything. Right.

  • 12:43:23

    SHERWOOD...against Pennsylvania and New York. How important is the Chesapeake Bay to the Virginia economy?

  • 12:43:31

    SASLAWIt's very important, because down in the tidewater area and along the upper peninsulas, fishing is a major industry.

  • 12:43:43


  • 12:43:43

    SHERWOODOf course, Norfolk -- I'm sorry, go ahead, Kojo.

  • 12:43:47

    NNAMDIHere is Rob in Arlington. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:43:51

    ROBYeah, hey, Kojo, Tom. Thank you for taking my call. Real quick for Mr. Senate Leader, are you guys going to relook at any further stronger gun control legislation? We didn't get everything we wanted last time. Thank you.

  • 12:44:07

    SASLAWWell, you got nine out of the 10 bills. Nine -- not during the special session, but we're probably going to take a look at semiautomatic military style weapons again, you know, next year. What Delegate Levine's bill would've done was -- and I voted for it in committee -- it would ban future sales of the AR15. And we may wind up looking at that again in 2021.

  • 12:44:43

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Let's go back into your history a little bit with Barney in Strasburg, Virginia. Barney, your turn.

  • 12:44:51

    BARNEYSenator Saslaw, if I'm not mistaken, you went to Woodrow Wilson in D.C.

  • 12:44:57

    SASLAWThat's correct. I sure did. Warren Buffett did, too.

  • 12:44:59

    BARNEYAnd what -- and what's your opinion of...

  • 12:45:03

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) He was much more successful.

  • 12:45:06

    BARNEYHe was a lot more successful than I. I can admit that.

  • 12:45:09

    NNAMDIWhat's your question, Barney?

  • 12:45:10

    BARNEYAs did Warren Buffett go to Wilson, and as did a lot of other people. But the question is, what's your opinion of this move to change the name of Wilson? Because...

  • 12:45:21

    SASLAW(overlapping) Look, you're going to find flaws with everybody. You know, segregationist views -- remember, he didn't own slaves, but his segregationist views were certainly not helpful. He did a lot of good things. He promoted, you know, the women's right to vote. He developed the League of Nations, which ultimately evolved into the United Nations. His views on segregation were deplorable, but I'm generally not for changing the name. But it's not -- you know, I'm leaving that up to the people, you know, that live in the city. That's their call.

  • 12:46:00

    NNAMDITom Sherwood, we only have about a minute left.

  • 12:46:05

    SHERWOODThe Vice President Mike Pence was at VMI this week, saying how much President Trump reveres the military. You've heard the news stories about his criticism with military in private, Bob Woodward's book. What are you seeing in Virginia as a purple state going into next year's presidential election and Trump’s troubles?

  • 12:46:24

    SASLAWWell, let me tell you, if he reveres the military anymore, they're in big trouble. (laugh) You know, I'm glad the voters didn't revere me the way he revered the military. Quite frankly, the comments that were published in that Atlantic paper are pretty deplorable. And I don't think there's anybody in their right mind that doesn't believe that considering the remarks he publicly made about Senator McCain and his treatment of McCain. And...

  • 12:46:59

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) That was the Jeffery Goldberg article in Atlantic Magazine. I said Woodward's book. That was something else that attacked the president.

  • 12:47:05

    SASLAW(overlapping) Right. Biden should carry Virginia by 10 to 15 points.

  • 12:47:12

    NNAMDIOkay. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Mr. Majority Leader, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:47:16

    SASLAWKojo, thank you. Okay?

  • 12:47:18


  • 12:47:19

    NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Lauren Markoe. Coming up Monday, acclaimed young adult author Jason Reynolds joins Kojo for Kids to talk about his books, what's going on in kids' lives today and his new video in which he performs his poem called "For Everyone." Writing it, he says, was like constructing a personal amusement park.

  • 12:47:37

    NNAMDIAnd finally, nearly 7,000 people in the Washington region have died of the Coronavirus. On an upcoming Kojo Show, we will remember local lives lost, and we need your help. Has someone close to you passed away from COVID-19? Share your story with us. Go to and click on the banner that says remembering the lives lost. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. Any plans, Tom Sherwood?

  • 12:48:02

    SHERWOODI just think recognizing 9/11 all weekend would be the right thing to do.

  • 12:48:06

    NNAMDIAnd everyone stay safe, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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