On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Virginians were plagued with voter registration issues after a fiber optic cable was accidentally cut, causing the commonwealth’s online registration portal to crash. And some of the men charged in a scheme to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allegedly talked about “taking” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. WAMU reporter Daniella Cheslow gives us a recap of this week in Virginia politics.
Then, we check in with Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford about the pandemic, voting and police reform in the state. Plus: What’s in store for the Purple Line?
And Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 10th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is facing a challenger this November. We talk with the Congresswoman about campaigning during a pandemic, federal coronavirus aid, healthcare and other pressing issues.
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.
Wexton’s opponent, Aliscia Andrews, was scheduled to join The Politics Hour on October 23, 2020. She withdrew from her appearance.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Daniella Cheslow Politics reporter, WAMU; @Dacheslow
- Boyd Rutherford Lieutenant Governor (R), Maryland; @BoydKRutherford
- Jennifer Wexton Member (D-VA, 10th District), U.S. House of Representatives; @JenniferWexton
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.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.
NNAMDIBefore we get into the news of the week, Tom Sherwood would like to make a correction from last week. Go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODI think the first one in the last 10 years. Last week I said that a Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray had endorsed both Marcus Goodwin and Vincent Orange in the At-Large race. I was mistaken. Vincent Gray has endorsed Marcus Goodwin, but he has not -- not endorsed Vincent Orange. Correction over.
NNAMDIThere we go, first time in 10 years. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Jennifer Wexton. She is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Virginia's 10th District. Next week we'll be talking to her opponent in the congressional race and that is Alicia Andrews. We'll also be talking today with Boyd Rutherford, who is the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. But joining us now is Daniella Cheslow. She is a WAMU Politics reporter covering Virginia and the D.C. region. Daniella, thank you for joining us.
DANIELLA CHESLOWThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIDaniella, there's a report that the ACLU on behalf of a protestor has filed a complaint against the D.C. National Guard for a helicopter tactic they used back in June in the area of Gallery Place, a place that you were covering at the time. What did the helicopter do?
CHESLOWThat's right. That night Tyrone Turner a photographer and I followed protestors as they walked through Gallery Place and then went on to Judiciary Square. And there were at least two helicopters that were sort of taking turns and hovering very close to the protestors. One of them had Red Cross markings on it and, Kojo, it was really loud. And the protestors sort of stood with their hands up, their clothes billowing in the wind. There were branches blowing in the street.
CHESLOWIn Chinatown when the helicopters hovered. There were also a lot of little pieces of glass from windows that had been smashed. And those were also blowing around. It was really unpleasant when that gets in your eyes and your mouth. So, yeah, the ACLU is saying in its suit that that's an intimidation tactic that's been used in Iraq and Afghanistan and it has no place in Washington.
NNAMDIIndeed. I read where the tactic has been used in warzones to incite fear and disperse crowds. So we'll have to see what happens with that lawsuit. Onto Virginia, there was a major hiccup with Virginia's voter registration system this week. The site went down on the day of the voter registration deadline. Daniella, what happened?
CHESLOWKojo, this just felt like 2020 in a nutshell. It's the last day to register. It's the morning of and all of a sudden nobody could log into the online registration portal. And it all traced back to one fiber optic cable that was accidentally cut during a utility works project. So it was down for hours and the Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, spoke to reporters. And, you know, he was speaking -- it was his first day back in the public eye since he had been diagnosed with coronavirus back in September.
CHESLOWSo the whole thing had an air of just last minute absurdity. In the end the website went back up and Virginia extended its deadline for voter registration to last night, and now it's over. And actually the numbers for voter registration are in. And apparently Virginia registration -- new registration declined since the last presidential election. And some of that is because of decline during the early months of the pandemic.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, I omitted to have you respond on the story we talked about with the D.C. National Guard using helicopter tactics. You've covered demonstrations in the past, ever seen anything like that before?
SHERWOODI had never seen anything like that. A friend of my son's had taken a photograph, which I tweeted out. It looked like something from some kind B grade Hollywood movie, people on the street kind of running away and looking up in astonishment. This helicopter just slightly off the ground virtually trying to scare the hell out of people, it was a terrible thing. I hope I never see it again on photos or otherwise.
NNAMDIDaniella, back to what happened in Virginia with the registration system that it was extended until 11:59 p.m. last night. If Virginians were not able to register by that deadline, will they be able to vote on November 3rd?
CHESLOWNo. That's it. You know, in D.C. and Maryland there are -- you can register on the same day in early voting or an Election Day. But in Virginia that was it, 11:59 was the hard stop.
NNAMDIWow. Some of the men charged in a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer allegedly named Virginia Governor Ralph Northam as another target. The governor held a press conference this week and addressed the claims. What did he have to say?
CHESLOWYeah, so this was the same conference where he was talking about the downed cable. He said that he thought that -- he referenced his own background serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and he said that these threats to kidnap him and this rhetoric unlike his own career, this time it's not coming from another country. It's coming from Washington, and in particular he was pointing to Trump tweeting out liberate Virginia back in April. Northam was saying that really gave added fodder to his opponents, who say that they don't like the way he's handling COVID. They think his lockdown measures are too severe.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, how does the -- President Trump's altercations if you will verbal with Governor Northam compare with his altercations with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser?
SHERWOODWell, President Trump clearly has no fans in either the Governor of Virginia or the Mayor of the District or even for that matter the Republican Governor in Maryland. I do think it's important to note that Northam's name came up in the course of FBI surveillance of these guys, who were talking and actually planning something against the Michigan Governor. As I understand that they'll be in court again today, but there's been no specific act or plan to kidnap Governor Northam just that talking about it. But it does tell you want kind of tenure we're in now when President Trump doesn't so clearly disavow white supremacists. And Governor Northam said that this lies at the feet of President Trump not just the right wing people in Michigan.
NNAMDIWell, Daniella, Governor Northam made his first public appearance this week since contracting the coronavirus. What did he have to say about his experience with the virus?
CHESLOWHe basically used it as a platform to tell people to keep careful, saying that winter is coming and, you know, that the coronavirus is serious. And Northam himself is a doctor. So he was saying, you know, basically anybody can get it, and you've got to take precautions. And he's contrasted his behavior with what he sees as sort of the cavalier behavior of the president and the White House holding that event in close quarters in the Rose Garden and then indoors with no masks and people hugging and not keep social distance. Northam has urged Virginians to really take this virus seriously.
NNAMDIThe Virginia General Assembly is still meeting for its special session. Daniella, what's the latest there?
CHESLOWSo, Kojo, the special session this summer has now gone longer than a regular session would, but people are finally getting toward the deadline. It was started, because Virginia had passed a budget that then the bottom fell out of it and lawmakers had to retrench. So tonight lawmakers are supposed to be voting on a budget. They've finally gotten to the end of it. It's talking about spending coronavirus relief funding and about doing things like lowering barriers to getting Medicaid.
CHESLOWAnd lawmakers are also working on a package of police reform bills that would do things like banning no knock warrants or limit chokeholds. But they didn't go all the way to where some reformers wanted them to go in terms of ending qualified immunity for police officers. So that protection for law enforcement will still stand at the end of the session.
NNAMDIYou know, in another life, Tom Sherwood used to cover the Virginia general assembly. Care to comment, Tom?
SHERWOODIt's interesting. They're finally going to vote today on the budget after a long discussion. This special session has been lasting longer -- two months, as long as the regular session. One big issue is, Democrats are starting to back away from this constitutional amendment to have independent commission draw the new lines for the legislature. After this census, there's still some dispute about what the wording will be or how that constitutional amendment if it passes the voters will in fact be enacted. That's some unfinished business as they call bringing this session to a close.
NNAMDIDaniella Cheslow is WAMU's Politics reporter covering Virginia and the D.C. region. Daniella, thank you so much for joining us.
CHESLOWThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Boyd Rutherford. He is the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. He is a Republican. Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for joining us.
BOYD RUTHERFORDThanks for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the lieutenant governor, Tom Sherwood, there were some interesting demonstrations this week in D.C. outside the home of a sitting councilmember, Anita Bonds. She said that these demonstrators from the Sunrise movement D.C. -- demonstrated at her home after 10:00 p.m. until after midnight -- reminded her of how the Ku Klux Klan used to terrorize Black people in the South. And then another group calling itself Protect Black Women staged a demonstration outside the home of D.C. Council At-Large Candidate Ed Lazere Wednesday night apparently, because he had supported the Sunrise Movement's D.C. action. What's going on here in D.C.? You can never leave race out of any conversation.
SHERWOODWell, that's true. The Sunrise D.C. is an advocacy group part of a national group about better housing. And Anita Bonds, she's not on the ballot this year, but she is chair of the Housing Committee. They went to her home in Southeast Washington and chanted and went on her property, and frankly scared her and some of her neighbors. And people have criticized that. Marcus Goodwin, an At-Large candidate, criticized it. But Ed Lazere, a progressive candidate in the At-Large race issued a two-page statement basically defending the right for people to go to homes of council members and others to press their views and that has created the flap. I don't know how long it's going to last, but it creates a problem in that people do support protests in this mostly liberal city.
SHERWOODThe question is should you be doing it at night? I know protests go to -- protestors go to the mayor's house. They've been to other homes. You know, if this Sunrise protest had been at six o'clock in the afternoon, in the evening, no one would of thought anything about it. The fact that it came about at midnight within the Black community this does have echoes, intended or not, and I don't think they were intended, but still of the times when KKK would stand on the lawns of Black people and intimidate them, and that's how this got out of hand. Ed Lazere has issued a two-page statement defending the protest and that's where we are right now as we head to the November 3rd election.
NNAMDIMr. Lieutenant Governor, the Governor of Maryland does not appear on this broadcast, but we pay very close attention to what he does. So Tom Sherwood has a question for you about what the governor has done lately and whether or not you will be following suit. Tom Sherwood, go.
SHERWOODLieutenant Governor, thank you very much for joining us on the program. Back about -- Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College said in 2014 that he thought you saw yourself as assisting Governor Hogan and did not see yourself as running for governor. You said then back in 2014, "After eight years as lieutenant governor, I want to ride off into the sunset." You may remember that quote. You know, people are talking about who's going to run. Governor Hogan cannot run for a third term. Where are you in terms of running for -- possibly running for governor? Where is your thought process? And I know your main job is still to support the governor to the end of his term, but looking ahead, where are you? Are you pointing to the sunset or not?
NNAMDIMr. Lieutenant Governor, hold your thought on that response, because we've got to take a short break. When we come back, you'll have the opportunity. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Boyd Rutherford. He is the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. When we took that break, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, Tom Sherwood had asked you about whether or not you plan to run for governor, because years ago you said you didn't.
RUTHERFORDBoyd Rutherford left the call. No, I'm just -- I have to say, Tom, you're the first person to ask that question today, and I will say -- it's still early. I have to say, I am considering it, which is different from what I was thinking six years ago. And primarily, because I think we've done a lot of good things in the state. We have some challenges. We had challenges before COVID, but there are particular challenges. And I think that, you know, there is some things that I could do, but I have not made a decision and I'll sit down and talk to my family more so after the November election.
SHERWOODLet me as you a couple of quick follow-ups. Governor Hogan has announced that he's voted for Ronald Reagan. Have you voted in this year's presidential election? Would you like to tell us for whom you've voted?
RUTHERFORDI did vote. I did not write in anyone, and I did not vote for the sitting president.
NNAMDIOoh, that's very ...
SHERWOODWell, you want to expound on that?
RUTHERFORDNo, not really.
NNAMDIWell, I think the answer is pretty obvious in that case.
SHERWOODWell, I think there's some independents candidates running. Can I just run through a couple -- I know we don't have a lot of time. Just two quick things voters are facing in November 3rd. One is sports betting, Lieutenant Governor, do you have a new on whether the voters should say yes or no to sports betting? It leaves a lot of details to the future, but just a yes or no on sports betting.
RUTHERFORDI think people are smart enough as well as mature enough to vote on sports -- to bet on sports if they like to, if they want to. And a lot of our jurisdictions surrounding us already have sports betting including the District of Columbia. So, yeah, I don't have a problem with putting, you know, putting it on the ballot and people voting for it. I am concerned like you said about the details being left out. I'm concerned that it's being promoted so much as saying that it's going to go to schools when we've kind of heard that before with the lottery and we heard it with the video slots. And then we had to pass a voter referendum to have a lockbox. So I'm a little concerned about how it was marketed, but, you know, I think people should have the right to bet on sports if that's what they want to do as long as they're doing it responsibly.
NNAMDIAfter the pandemic began, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan tapped you to run the day to day operations of the state while he focused on the coronavirus response. What's that been like leading the state through just about everything else?
RUTHERFORDIt's been busy. It's been interesting. I mean, but it really wasn't a surprise, because we do a lot of things together. I know about the decisions that the governor makes and have some influence on that. So I know how government operates and so it wasn't a big challenge particularly since with the coronavirus a lot of our external events and engagements have been basically canceled. Programs that we typically would go out to and speaking engagement or meeting with organizations and individuals those for the most part haven't been happening. And the ones that do, it's virtual. So that frees up a lot more time to be able to get to the operations of government.
NNAMDIMaryland has taken over the day to day management of Purple Line construction after one of the contractors quit over cost overruns. This project clearly did not go as planned and many point to the public private partnership model as the root of the problem. Do you think the state should rethink using public private partnerships for massive construction projects like this one?
RUTHERFORDNo. I don't. And I don't think it's the model that was the problem. It was the particular constructor that was having financial -- or is having financial problems outside of this project. No, public private partnerships are being used all around the world with a lot of success and this project will continue. And I have faith that it's just a slight delay and we'll continue to work on and get the Purple Line up and operational.
NNAMDIOfficials are still working with the larger consortium of contractors to see if the public private partnership can be saved. You are apparently pretty confident that it can.
RUTHERFORDYeah. I think it can. It can. I think we'll end up substituting a different contractor into the team and it will get done. If not, we'll take it over.
SHERWOODYeah, lots of people in Prince George's and Montgomery County are worried about what's going to happen with the Purple Line. It's good to hear you say that the state will finish it one way or the other. Let me ask you about Governor Hogan's veto last spring of the Kirwan Commission -- general assembly's vote on the Kirwan Commission, which is the multiyear millions of dollar changes in the state's education formula. There's some discussion that the legislature will override the veto when it comes back in January. Is there any discussion at all between the governor, you and the new leaders of the Virginia general assembly to reach some accommodation? You all agree education is important. But is it just a matter of vetoing or upholding the veto or overturning the veto? Is there any new developments here?
RUTHERFORDAnd I know you meant to say Maryland general assembly.
SHERWOODI apologize. Yes, of course. Maryland general assembly.
RUTHERFORDYes. There have been discussions with the leadership of the general assembly. The senate president and the speaker with the governor on this issue and others, and so it is something that everyone is taking a look at. And understanding that when it was first passed, and then eventually vetoed -- it was first passed before COVID and it was vetoed, uh, during COVID. And so the leadership understands that we are facing a very different financial situation, budgetary situation with regard to where we're going to be with the new fiscal year.
RUTHERFORDThe bill that was passed had some lack of a better term circuit breakers in it that if revenue was down by a certain percentage it wouldn't take effect. So even if they do override the veto it probably wouldn't take effect, because of, you know, the difficulties that everyone has forecasted for our upcoming budget cycle.
NNAMDIHere is Aleah in Arlington, Virginia. Aleah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALEAHThank you, Kojo. Hi, Lieutenant Governor, I am a current resident of Arlington, Virginia, but I grew up in Ellicott City, Maryland. My parents still live there. I actually participated in the Page Program for the Maryland general assembly the year that Governor Hogan was elected. And I wanted to ask you -- I know you said that you didn't really want to comment. But I really am curious about your thoughts on Governor Hogan voting for the departed Ronald Reagan's presidential election, because to me it seems like the leader of a state should really be casting their vote based on who they think would be the best person for the future of the residents of that state that they're purportedly devoted to. So for me it was really disappointing to read about that this morning and I'm really curious to know your thoughts.
RUTHERFORDWell, I mean, I let the governor make his own decisions. I mean, it's not up to me in terms of how he's going to decide. We had talked about, you know, the race and I knew he was not going to vote for the sitting president. He had not decided at the time what he was going to do. So I found out just like when you did, who he actually voted or at least he said he voted for. And that's all I'm going to say. That was his decisions.
NNAMDIWould it be incorrect for Aleah or yours truly to conclude that Boyd Rutherford voted for Joe Biden?
RUTHERFORDHey, come on, secret ballot.
SHERWOODBut, Lieutenant Governor, if you're going to -- if you might seek the governorship I would assume you would run as a Republican.
SHERWOODIn the 2022 race, if you run, wouldn't you want to answer that question?
RUTHERFORDIf I run, would I answer that question? I don't know. I don't know we'll see. I haven't decided to run. (all talking at once)
SHERWOODYou've gotten much better as a politician in the last six years. I have to tell you, I think you were on the show several years ago. You were not quite as clear as you are today. So -- about not answering a question. Congratulations.
NNAMDISomething must have happened.
RUTHERFORDYou know, I withhold the right not to answer a question.
NNAMDIBoyd Rutherford is the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. He's a Republican. He knows D.C. well, because he grew up here. Mr. Lieutenant Governor.
RUTHERFORDGrew up in D.C. and went to Howard, when you were on the radio there.
NNAMDIThat's right. Mr. Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for joining us.
RUTHERFORDAll right. Thank you.
NNAMDIUp next, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Jennifer Wexton. She is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Virginia's 10th district. She is a Democrat. Congresswoman Wexton, thank you for joining us.
JENNIFER WEXTONIt's great to be back.
NNAMDICongresswoman Wexton is up for reelection in Virginia's 10th district. Her opponent, Republican Aliscia Andrews, will join The Politics Hour next week. Before we get specifically to the congresswoman's candidacy, Tom Sherwood, I'd like to hear you and her comment about what happened. It seems like eons ago that Bijan Ghaisar was shot by Park Police. It happened in November 2017.
NNAMDISo far, the Park Police have still not launched an independent investigation, but Park Police officers have now been charged with manslaughter in that 2017 slaying. This was brought by a grand jury -- indictment brought by a grand jury. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODYou know, this is -- the heartbreak of this is that it has lasted for so many years without some kind of legal resolution. The park service has been extraordinarily silent in the face of Eleanor Holmes Norton -- the congresswoman from D.C. -- and others demanding that there be some action, some response, some acknowledgement about the death of this man. I would be anxious to hear what Jennifer Wexton, congresswoman, thinks about it.
NNAMDIYes, because, Congresswoman, you are a former prosecutor yourself. What do you think about this case?
WEXTONI am, and I also represent the Ghaisars, so they are constituents of mine. And before I was even sworn in, I was in communication with them about this terrible miscarriage of justice. There have been three years of stonewalling by the Park Police, by DOJ and by the FBI, and they're still not cooperating. My understand is that in this grand jury indictment, they still didn't get any actual cooperation from the federal authorities.
WEXTONThey still haven't released the 911 video, and the only information that we have, the only evidence that we have is because the dashboard cam was released by Chief Roessler of the Fairfax County Police Department. So, I'm glad that they were able to get this indictment through. It does make me wonder what the Park Police are hiding. You know, we have been trying to get disclosure from them and transparency, but there has been no response from them.
WEXTONI feel terrible for the Ghaisars. They've been through a horrible ordeal. You know, they weren't even able to see their son while he was on life support in the hospital. You know, they weren't allowed to even have contact with him until the doctors, you know, insisted that they be allowed to go into the room. So, everything about this case has been outside the mainstream and has been characterized by a circling of the wagons by law enforcement.
WEXTONWe actually had a hearing on this, because we have legislation, a number of us, to have body and dashboard cameras for all uniformed Park Police officers. And I pressed the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association about some of what has been done in this case. You know, the fact that these officers were allowed to ride home together after the incident, that they are now back on patrol duty, despite, you know, this case not having been resolved. The fact that -- I don't know if you guys have seen the video...
WEXTON...but seeing the conduct of the officers in that video, I mean, none of what they did or have done has been in accordance with the accepted, published protocol of what should've been done. You know, the officer slamming his gun into the window of the car, kicking the car, firing into the car as it was moving away. You know, there are so many unanswered questions in this case. But I'm glad that this small step forward has been taken. And I'm sorry that they haven't gotten justice from the federal authorities, but I'm glad that the Commonwealth’s attorney, Descano, is taking their case seriously and is moving forward with it.
NNAMDIYou were -- go ahead, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODOkay. This adds to the mindset where some people say, well, you know, the police departments, there's just a few bad apples, and they need to be weeded out. But incidents like this suggest that there's a more broad concern that police officers act with seeming impunity. Do you have any thoughts about, are there just bad apples, or is it a systemic problem within policing agencies?
WEXTONWell, the greater concern that I have in this case is that the Park Police have been absolutely unwilling to share any information and have dragged this on and on and on. You know, as I said, they still haven't -- they just keep saying that their investigation is open, so they can't share any information about it. And, at some point, you have to wonder, what are they hiding, you know. I mean, it doesn't help any officers when...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Like President Trump’s taxes.
WEXTONExactly. Exactly. But, you know, and so it does reflect poorly on the agency when they circle the wagons to protect people who may have gone outside the bounds and, you know, engaged in criminal activity in the line of duty. So, you know, I don't think it helps the profession when they act like this in the management of law enforcement.
NNAMDIAllow me to pursue Tom's questions. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there have been calls to change the way policing is done. State and local lawmakers, including the Virginia General Assembly, are wading through that process right now. Do you think that Congress can have a role in all of this? Should the federal government set any guidelines?
WEXTONI think we can, and we should. And we tried to do that with the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, which passed through the House of Representatives. That was a big, broad just...
NNAMDIOh, oh. Our...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) That didn't sound good.
NNAMDI...our guest seems to have dropped off for a second there. Jennifer Wexton is our guest. She's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Virginia's 10th district. She is a Democrat. If you have questions or comments for her, give us a call at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIA lot of people have comments about what's going on in Congress. We've got Amanda, who asked a question on Facebook: I finished cancer treatments in January. If SCOTUS shoots down the ACA -- that's the Affordable Care Act -- is there a plan for new legislation to protect preexisting conditions? Because one of the fears of a lot of people, Tom Sherwood -- and Jennifer Wexton is back with us -- one of the fears of a lot of people is that with a new conservative Supreme Court justice, the Affordable Care Act might be completely shut down. Congresswoman Wexton, thank you for being back with us. Please finish your comment from earlier.
WEXTONOh, the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act would include a lot of comprehensive reforms, things like bans on chokeholds, you know, incentives for law enforcement agencies to engage in training, like crisis intervention training and de-escalation training. It would also include a database of problem officers so that they can't just agency hop from one police department to another without any investigation of their backgrounds. And, also, would demilitarize the police.
WEXTONSo, these are all things that are pretty broadly supported in the general population and would go a long way to helping with police reform. I hope that it's something we will be able to pass through the Senate, although Mitch McConnell, it has gone to the legislative graveyard on his desk at this time.
NNAMDIAmanda asked a question on Facebook: I finished cancer treatments in January. If SCOTUS shoots down the ACA, is there a plan for new legislation to protect preexisting conditions?
WEXTONAbsolutely. In the House of Representatives, we have already done that. And we will certainly bring more legislation to do that. But the problem is that the Republicans in Congress don't have a plan, and they don't have any desire to protect preexisting -- they pay lip service to it, and they've talked about how they're going to introduce a plan that's so much bigger and better and lower cost, but they've been saying that for over a decade now. And it's pretty clear that they have no plan. So, we need to protect and strengthen the ACA, not strike it down in its entirety. But, yes, protecting preexisting conditions is a top priority for us.
NNAMDIWe heard from Ryan, who tweeted: In 2018, one of your top campaign issues was gun violence. What have you done in Congress on this and how will you continue to make this a priority?
WEXTONSo, in Congress, we passed HR8 which is the universal background checks law for all gun sales. It closes the gun show loophole. It imposes background checks on things like private sellers. And it would go a long way to stopping gun violence in our country. We also closed the Charleston loophole, which allowed the Charleston shooter to get his firearm.
WEXTONI'm also working on issues like after Virginia Beach to ensure that we get local law enforcement back involved in the transfer of NFA items like silencers, you know, those dangerous accessories that can be used by criminals to conduct their crimes. So, we still have a long way to go. You know, it's going to stay a priority. This is an issue that I ran on, as the caller noted. And, you know, I didn't run away from the situation. I ran on it, and it's certainly something that the voters responded to.
WEXTONAnd that has carried on, by the way, in the 2019 elections. Gun violence prevention was one of the top issues that people, you know, cast their votes based on. And it was the gun violence prevention side of the equation that people were more activated on. And now, the Virginia General Assembly has actually passed some very good state laws to replace, you know, what was a kind of Wild West of gun laws in Virginia.
SHERWOODI want to ask you about the 10th district, if I can jump in. The 10th district runs from suburban Northern Virginia all the way out to Winchester. I tried to listen to the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce forum with your opponent Andrews yesterday morning. And as you probably heard, the sound was horrific, and I would encourage the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce to do a sound check before they ever do another debate forum.
SHERWOODBut one of the issues that has come up is the issue of President Trump appealing to suburban white women, basically saying that he will not allow public housing to be built in the suburbs, and he will quote "keep them safe." Tell us something about the nature of your district, the 10th District. How suburban is it? Obviously, Northern Virginia and Loudoun County were the fastest-growing counties, but how does that play among suburban women that you know and see, whether they support you or not?
WEXTONYeah, I don't think that that argument of, I'm going to protect you from the public housing -- I mean, I don't know what exactly he was trying to say. Well, we know that that's basically a racist dog whistle, and he keeps invoking Cory Booker when he does it. But I don't get the sense that it's playing very well in the suburban parts of my district. You know, we have a lot of women who...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) How suburban is your district?
WEXTONSo, most of -- pretty much when you get to Leesburg, it starts getting more rural after that when you move west of Leesburg. And it doesn't just go out to Winchester. It includes all of Frederick County, so it goes out -- it includes Clark and Frederick Counties, which are largely rural and goes out along the panhandle of West Virginia.
WEXTONBut, you know, even in those communities, I don't know that they're so -- they have a big affordable housing problem. That's something that is an issue in Winchester. So, they do understand the need for public -- or affordable housing. And I don't know how well that argument is playing. But I can tell you, in the true suburbs, in, you know, Ashburn, Leesburg, Sterling parts of my district, that is not playing very well. And they understand that the true danger right now is COVID and everything it's doing to our healthcare and our economy. And the president doesn't have a plan and has failed in his leadership on that issue from day one.
NNAMDIHere's John in Winchester, Virginia. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNYou know, it's interesting to listen to my Congress -- my representative talk about failed leadership. In fact, it's kind of a laugh. Maybe to her, she thinks that her district ends at Blue Ridge Mountain Road, right there on 7 going over the mountain at Paris. I don't know. But what I'd like to know is -- yeah, I mean, I'm sure it seems that way.
JOHNWhat I'd like to know is given how much Speaker Pelosi helped retire the Congresswoman's campaign debt, what I'd like to know is who -- if there was a difference between what Speaker Pelosi wanted and what the constituents wanted, my first question is, who is your first allegiance, the constituents of Virginia 10, or Speaker Pelosi?
JOHNThe second question I've got, and this is really laughable...
NNAMDIWell, let's answer the first question first because I think the congresswoman can answer that in a very short period of time.
WEXTONYeah, I work for the people of the 10th congressional district, not for Speaker Pelosi.
NNAMDIOkay. What's your second question?
JOHNI am glad to hear you say that. The second question I've got is, in the 200 years of this republic, we have never had a proxy system in the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate, but let's stick to the subject. You're a representative, let's stick to the House. There's never been -- and you know this -- there's never been a proxy system. Why is it that, all of a sudden, the Speaker says that she wants a proxy system in the House and, like you just said, you work for the people of the Virginia 10th. Why do you support a proxy system? You...
NNAMDIOkay. Congresswoman Wexton?
WEXTONBecause we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the most important thing is that we manage to maintain doing the work of the House of Representatives while keeping people safe. You know, people don't have to use proxies, but if they have illnesses and preexisting conditions that might make them more susceptible to COVID, then I think they should have a right to do that.
WEXTONWe do conduct our committee meetings virtually, and that's going well. But, you know, it's also worth noting that a number of my colleagues across the aisle don't even believe in wearing masks. And it was like pulling teeth to get them to wear masks early in the pandemic. And they still wouldn't wear them around the -- even when they wore them on the floor of the House, they wouldn't wear them around the congressional office buildings.
WEXTONSo, it's no on me to endanger, you know, my colleagues and my staff and everything as we are conducting the people's business. And we've seen outbreaks at the White House, you know, even now. So, I think that we need to find that balance between conducting the work of the people and keeping people safe. And, you know, I have always appeared for my in-person votes. I have not missed a single vote day, as a member of Congress, and that's my decision.
NNAMDIHere is Ray in Great Falls, Virginia. Ray, your turn.
RAYKojo, thanks so much for putting me on, sir. Longtime listener, first time caller. Congresswoman Wexton, I don't know if you saw in the Washington Post the other day, they had a spread about rural broadband in Virginia, how maybe there's half a million Virginians who don't have access to broadband. My wife is a teacher and, you know, she's fortunate many of her students have access to broadband and can do virtual learning. But, you know, many other Virginians don't have access to that, and really, it's become a utility in today's society. Can you speak at all about your thoughts on this matter and how we're going to help those Virginians?
WEXTONAbsolutely. And this is a huge issue. You know, the digital divide has become a yawning chasm during the COVID pandemic, because we all depend on it for telework, for virtual schooling. And, you know, rural businesses who can't get reliable broadband are impaired in their ability to conduct business. So, enhancing and expanding rural broadband and access to broadband is something that's been very important to me.
WEXTONI worked on this in the state Senate. And in the Cares Act we did include funding for MiFis and devices for virtual learning, but we need to do so much more. And that's why, in the Heroes Act, we have even more money to close the homework gap directed specifically to students in need to create more hotspots and get more connected devices out to the kids who really need them.
WEXTONAnd in HR2, our big infrastructure bill, we included $100 billion to increase competition for rural broadband and really get it deployed with that whole electric cooperative model for that last mile. So, it's something that is a top priority. It is an infrastructure issue. It's really become a utility -- it's a utility like electricity or running water that you can't live without it in today's world. And something that we'll keep fighting for.
SHERWOODYeah, I'm talking to Verizon about buying the Apple 12 phone in 5G and how great all that will be. And I know people who live a mile or two from me who don't have the hardware to access the internet or don't have the internet reception. So, it's just astonishing to me that this country has been so slow to provide internet access across the country.
SHERWOODBut let me come back to Virginia. In 2018, three districts flipped from Republican to Democrat. Yours was one of them, the 10th district, the 2nd district and the 7th district. Can you tell us -- I know you're a Democrat, but can you tell us now, do you think the Democrats will hold onto those three congressional seats? And what do you think about the 5th district, where Cameron Webb is giving a pretty good challenge, Democrat, to Republican Bob Good?
WEXTONSo, I'm confident that...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Put on your analyst hat, not your Democrat hat.
WEXTONNo. Well, I'm confident that Abigail, Elaine and I will hang onto our seats come November. And it certainly helps that we have early voting and we're able to, you know, push out people to the polls starting now and have them develop their plan to vote. And the early turnout numbers are incredibly encouraging. You know, well over, I think, 1.2 million Virginians have already cast their ballots.
WEXTONBut as far as the 5th District is concerned, too, I'm feeling really good about Dr. Webb's chances. You know, we needed the stars to align in just the perfect way to win that district. It had been held by a Democrat, Tom Perriello, back in '08 to '10. But then it was drawn to be a little bit more Republican. And now I think we have the perfect candidate, Dr. Webb, who's a physician. He's a former White House Fellow. He's on the frontlines of fighting COVID, and he's got the policy chops to actually do something about it once he comes to Congress.
WEXTONWe have a very engaged electorate, and we have a Republican Party who nominated -- you know, who ousted a pretty well-liked incumbent, Denver Riggleman, and nominated somebody who is far outside the mainstream and is way too conservative for most of the folks in that district. So, I think that, you know, we have a very good confluence of events, and I know that he's running a fantastic campaign. People are really engaged and excited on the ground. And I feel very, very good about his chances.
NNAMDIThe next round of coronavirus relief has stalled in Congress. How confident are you that a deal can be reached in the coming weeks?
WEXTONWell, we are working around the clock to ensure that we get another round of relief out to the American people. Remember, we passed Heroes on May 15th, so five months ago, and we got nothing but crickets from the Senate. You know, they wanted to hit pause and just wait and see. And meanwhile, you know, over 215,000 Americans are dead, thousands of businesses have closed forever, millions of Americans are unemployed and have lost their enhanced unemployment benefits.
WEXTONSo, the American people are hurting, and we need to get help to them. But we can't just take any deal that's on the table that doesn't get the job done. And we need to ensure that we have, you know, the whole holistic plan with aid for states and localities with another round of direct stimulus, you know, with funding for the public health response and real small business aid, as well. So, you know, I feel very confident that we are working hard on that, and I certainly hope it will get something out to the American people in the near future.
SHERWOODIs Virginia a purple state or a blue state?
WEXTONI think that we're definitely trending bluer, but I would not say that we're 100 percent there yet. Because Virginia can be kind of swingy, and I feel that we're going to have a great blue wave this year, but we need people to stay engaged. You know, everybody -- after Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008, everybody's like, okay, well, then, we're fine now, and then they stayed home.
WEXTONAnd remember, in Virginia we have elections every year, so our state legislative races. And as a former state senator, you know, I ran in the year of the four-year cycle that had the lowest turnout, maybe 28 percent, if we were lucky. So, we need people to stay engaged and involved and keep voting. If we do that, then...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Are you support...
WEXTON...then we'll stay a blue state.
SHERWOODExcuse me, are you supporting anyone in the 2021 races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general? Mark Herring, of course, is from Loudoun County. Do you have a choice for lieutenant -- for governor in 2021?
WEXTONI take things one election at a time. I have not endorsed anyone in that race yet.
NNAMDIOkay. Not as yet. Here is Tatiana, in Virginia. Tatiana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TATIANAHi. How are you?
TATIANAThank you so much for giving me a chance to talk.
NNAMDI(overlapping) You only have about -- you only have about a minute, but go ahead, please, Tatiana.
TATIANAOkay. Sure. I feel like (unintelligible) Wexton office with petitions regarding the vaping epidemic in Loudon County, and I never got a clear response regarding it, and I'm not just a concerned mom.
NNAMDIOkay. Congresswoman Wexton, what are you planning to do about what Tatiana calls the vaping epidemic in Loudoun County?
WEXTONSo, we have passed legislation through the House to raise the national age for vaping to 21. This is something that is a huge issue. I absolutely agree with you. You know, they had to take the doors off of my son's middle school bathroom at some point because boys were vaping in the restroom. So, it's something we need to address. But raising the age to 21 would go a long way to stopping the spread among teens.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Congresswoman Wexton, thank you for joining us.
WEXTONThank you for having me.
NNAMDINext week, we will have the congresswoman's opponent, Republican Aliscia Andrews, on The Politics Hour. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, the new Netflix show "Deaf U" follows a group of friends at D.C.'s Gallaudet University, the world-renown college for the deaf. It's about hookups, awkward dates and late nights. It's also about navigating a world not always designed for them.
NNAMDIPlus, Kojo for Kids welcomes Steve Monfort, director of the National Zoo. We'll talk about all the zoo's animals, from the elephants to the zebras and, of course, the new baby panda. Kids, what do you want to know about the zoo? That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. You, too, Tom Sherwood.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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