On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia kicked off their legislative sessions this week amid an ongoing pandemic and the threats of armed protests. WAMU’s Daniella Cheslow gives us a preview for Virginia. And Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County) joins the show to talk about how Maryland will handle lawmaking during COVID-19, and Democrats’ priorities for health care, education, police reform and more.
Then, Attorney General for D.C. Karl Racine joins the show to talk about the violent mob attack in the U.S. Capitol last week. What legal action will the District take against insurrectionists?
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Daniella Cheslow Politics reporter, WAMU; @DaniellaCheslow
- Eric Luedtke Majority Leader, Maryland House of Delegates (D-District 14, Montgomery County); @EricLuedtke
- Karl Racine Attorney General, District of Columbia; @AGKarlRacine
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Eric Luedkte, the Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. But right now, we'll be talking with Daniella Cheslow, who's a WAMU reporter, covering Virginia politics. Daniella, thank you for joining us.
DANIELLA CHESLOWThank you for having me.
NNAMDITom and Daniella, how important is it that, in today's news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she endorsing Terry McAuliffe for Governor of Virginia? First you, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, I was stunned by this. Nancy Pelosi was just now on live television talking about the insurrection on Capitol Hill, the impeachment of the president, Joe Biden's $2 trillion plan to get the country kickstarted again, and then virus. And suddenly, there's this release by Terry McAuliffe, that she's endorsed him for governor. Well, it turns out, I checked, in Richmond, the financial reports were due out today. And it will show that the Speaker Pelosi has endorsed -- has given him money. And Terry McAuliffe is trying to use -- is using his national connections to solidify support in this race, both in fundraising, endorsements. And he's trying to lock this race up early against several other strong competitors.
NNAMDIBut Daniella Cheslow, how influential is Nancy Pelosi likely to be in a Virginia gubernatorial election?
CHESLOWI think it's not just Nancy Pelosi. I think it's the fact that Terry McAuliffe is a national name brand. So, within Virginia, he's made his own case by showing up. Every time you go out to the polls in Virginia, it seems that Terry McAuliffe is there. You know, they'll be a surprise press appearance in the middle of Fairfax in early voting, and all of a sudden, "Oh, it's Terry McAuliffe." But I think that Pelosi's endorsement just shows the muscle that he brings to the table with his national clout. And I think it's going to be really disappointing to some of his rivals who are struggling just to rise above the fray. Jennifer Carroll Foy resigned here seat to devote her time to making a name and raising money, and she has a formidable opponent, as do the other candidates, you know, Jennifer McClellan, Lee Carter and Justin Fairfax.
NNAMDIWell, Daniella, Virginia lawmakers kicked off the 2021 legislative session this week. What precautions is the General Assembly taking to keep lawmakers safe during the pandemic? Have any rules changed?
CHESLOWYeah. Well, so on the House of Delegates side, we saw the same setup they had in a summer special session. They met remotely from day one. So, Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn opened the session with just her, the clerk and a mace. There were no lawmakers in the chamber. In the Senate, they met again at the science museum, where their desks were spaced out. And one of those desks was covered in a black tablecloth. Lawmakers were putting roses on it. That was the desk that belonged to Republican Senator Ben Chafin, who had recently died of COVID-19. He was a beloved Southwestern cattleman, and I think his death put the danger of the virus in to focus. So, now, the mask requirement is mandatory. Lawmakers agreed to rule saying that they could have possible daily temperature checks, weekly COVID tests. And Republicans in the Senate agreed to rules that allow for remote voting, when over the summer special session, they had been more skeptical of conducting their business online.
NNAMDIHow about safety, in general? The FBI warned about possible attacks at state capitols in all 50 states. Virginia taking any special steps to protect the Capital?
CHESLOWAbsolutely. There are plywood boards on the windows of the Capitol now. There's fencing around the building. And also permits for protests that had been planned on Monday have been withdrawn. And I think one of the important things to note is that, in a way, COVID helps with this security, because most of the lawmakers are not in Richmond. They're remote. And those who are, are not at the Capitol. They're at the science museum. But I think, you know, we cannot forget, going into this weekend, a year ago, thousands and thousands of Second Amendment advocates came to Richmond. And I reported on it. People were there from around the country. Many of them carrying AR-15s or other firearms. So, Richmond authorities and the Capitol Police are trying to avoid that this year. The Virginia Citizens Defense League still plans on coming. They're going to have a car rally, instead.
NNAMDIDemocrats have a majority in both chambers, the General Assembly. What are -- and, of course, Governor Northam is a Democrat. What are their priorities for 2021?
CHESLOWSo, I think you can look at Northam's State of the Commonwealth Address that he gave on Wednesday night. Big headlines, he wants to end the death penalty. He says that black Virginians suffer more than white Virginians. He wants to legalize marijuana. We also heard him talk about COVID relief, adding more money to the state's rent relief program. He wants to give schools an infusion of cash, and he's looking to take down a statue in Capitol Square of the former Virginia Senator Harry Byrd, who led the effort to resist integrating schools.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODDaniella, I watched the speech Wednesday night. It seems like it was two months ago. But he also talked about a state $15 minimum wage. He also talked about paid family leave. It's important to note, this is his last year in office. He'll be leaving office next January. There will be a new governor. The governors in Virginia can't succeed themselves. But it was an amazingly progressive speech. And the Democrats are in charge of the House and Senate. But will he get all of this stuff done?
CHESLOWYou know, I think things like the paid leave question are really still open. You have more progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Guzman pushing hard for that. You have people who are more connected to the business community saying it's been a terrible year to own a business in COVID. How could you heap more burdens onto Virginia businesspeople? I think in other things like minimum wage, Democrats, last year, passed a minimum wage hike. But then they put it on ice, because of COVID. And so, I thought it was interesting that Northam touted that, and yet the state has yet to roll it out. People don't see that increase in their pockets.
SHERWOODHow long is this session going to last? Normally, it's a 46-day session. The Republicans tried to limit it to 30 days. They had that long, special session last summer. Is there a set time now how long this session will last, so everyone can get out and campaign for office? All the legislative seats are up this fall.
CHESLOWRight. So, Republicans say, "We had 83 days of special session. Why should we have another long session?" And Democrats say there's a lot to do. So, right now, they've agreed to a 30-day special session -- rather a regular session. But they can call a special session. And they passed rules that say that bills that they start in the regular session can continue. So, effectively, we may see a 46-day session, or frankly, as long as they want, because the special session has no set term.
NNAMDIThe Speaker of the House, Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat from Fairfax County --
SHERWOODOne thing that will keep it from --
NNAMDI-- already striped three lawmakers of their committee assignments. Tell us what happened there.
CHESLOWYeah. So, we're talking about Dave LaRock -- he's in Loudoun County -- Ronnie Campbell in Lexington and Mark Cole in Fauquier. They're all Republicans, and they signed a letter to Mike Pence asking him to nullify Virginia's election results. And it's important to note there have been no serious claims of fraud in Virginia. So, Filler-Corn striped each of them of a committee assignment, and her spokesperson wrote to me that "their attempt to cast doubt on our election's process in order to impede the peaceful transfer of power between one president to another is in a front to our democracy." LaRock told me he holds a view that a fifth of Congress holds and that's true. And among those congressmen who voted to object to Electoral College votes are all four Virginia Republican congressmen.
SHERWOODWell, I was just thinking one of the reasons this legislative session won't last too long is because the people who are running for election and reelection, the ones who are in office now, cannot raise campaign funds until after the election -- after the assembly adjourns.
CHESLOWThat's right. You know, and I do wonder about the political future of Dave LaRock. He's the last Republican, really, in Northern Virginia in the House of Delegates. The Leesburg Town Council has called for him to resign. So has the Loudoun AACP, and he did himself no favors by using an outdated term to describe African Americans in his response to some of those criticisms. But bottom line, he says, "I'm not going anywhere."
NNAMDIVirginia Senate Democrats move to censure one lawmaker, Senator Amanda Chase. Tell us what's going on there.
CHESLOWYeah. So, they have filed their paperwork to do it. It was Senator John Bell, and they say that she helped catalyze the insurrection at the Capitol. So, yesterday, Amanda Chase took the floor, and she kind of evoked the language of Black Lives Matter to say, "Say her name, Ashli Babbit." Referring to that protestor who was killed by police as she was trying to invade the Capitol. And she also said these people were not rioters. They were patriots. That really sparked a firestorm. You had Senate Majority Leader Rick Saslaw saying, "You can't call yourself a patriot if you're wearing an American flag, but you've got Nazi insignia on your shirt." And I think it's important to note that we've seen a number of Virginians arrested in connection with these riots, including a guy who was wearing a shirt that said, "Camp Auschwitz Staff."
NNAMDIBefore we let you go, allow me to get one caller in, here. Bonnie in Fairfax County. Bonnie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BONNIEHello. I am a longtime Virginia resident, longtime Democrat. And have been very active in the Democratic Party. I am stunned also that Terry McAuliffe, at this point, already has the Democratic national establishment behind him. I won't go into his climate record in Virginia, but it's despicable with his support from our power company, Dominion. What chances are there that another candidate can overcome this influx of money with his success in raising funds at this early date?
NNAMDIWell, Daniella, you pointed out he's a national name brand. So, we probably shouldn't be too surprised.
SHERWOODCan we say on more thing about Amanda Chase?
SHERWOODAmanda Chase is a State Senator from Richmond. She's running for governor. The Republican establishment in the state is horrified, in many respects, that she's running. Kirk Cox, the former Speaker of the General Assembly House is running for governor, is trying to be more of a moderate conservative, or conservative moderate. And they're hoping that she will not get the nomination for the Republicans, because they feel they'll just go down to defeat again. They've lost every year since, what, 2009.
NNAMDIDaniella, in the minute or so we have left, what will you be keeping an eye on as this session continues?
CHESLOWKojo, I think we're going to keep on seeing that governor's race heating up. I'm curious to see also whether you're going to see a firm opinion from the Republican Party on statements like Amanda Chase's. Right now, they have refrained from commenting. And I think we're going to see how far Democrats can get with some of their criminal justice reform agenda items, like ending qualified immunity or with things like paid leave. This is really the Democrats game, because they hold the majority in both chambers.
NNAMDIDaniella Cheslow is a WAMU Reporter, covering Virginia politics. Daniella, thank you so much for joining us.
CHESLOWThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Eric Luedtke. He's the Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. If you have questions or comments for him, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Eric Luedtke. He is the Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. He's a Democrat. Mr. Majority Leader, thank you for joining us.
ERIC LUEDTKEOf course, Kojo. I'm going to miss hearing your voice on the radio every day.
NNAMDIWell, we'll talk a little bit later about that. We'll talk about that a little bit later in the broadcast. But, Tom Sherwood, before we get specifically to the Maryland politics issue, let's talk about the coronavirus, because the UK coronavirus variant, which apparently spreads rather rapidly, has been detected in Maryland. And Governor Hogan says it's probably in every state in the country by now.
SHERWOODYes, that was Anne Arundel County. And the delegate may have more to say about this. But the concern is that this variant of the coronavirus is spreading more rapidly -- significantly more rapidly than the other strain that we've been so familiar with. And the question has been whether or not the vaccines -- and I know you got a vaccine this week and I did, too -- whether the vaccine that we're getting now, and we'll get our second dose in a couple of weeks, whether or not that will protect us from these variant strains. So, it has people -- we have enough to worry about already. And now we have to worry about that.
NNAMDII do want to mention that I got mine at the United Medical Center in Southeast Washington. And they assured me that they will be reopening for registration on Tuesday morning, so that if you want to call there you should be able to get an appointment if you call on Tuesday. But, Eric Luedtke, about the variant that's been found in Maryland and whether or not the vaccination protects against it?
LUEDTKEThe early information I've seen has said that the vaccination does protect against the variant. But it remains absolutely essential, as the vaccines roll out, that people continue to practice social distancing, wash their hands, stay home when possible. This is the most -- the biggest rate of COVID we've seen in this country since the beginning of the pandemic. We have to get it back under control.
NNAMDIAnd, Tom Sherwood, people who were living in this area in 2017 remember the brutal stabbing death of Richard Collins III. It also drew nationwide attention. This young black man was getting ready to graduate in about a week, and then he was stabbed to death. Sean Urbanski has been found guilty of that. And on Thursday, he was sentenced to life in this case. But there's been a change of the law since then. Tom Sherwood, I'll start with you.
SHERWOODYes. The concern was in the case of Lieutenant Collins's brutal murder -- there was a hate crime charge in addition to the actually murder, and the judge said he had to throw it out because the law as not good enough, not clear enough, not appropriate enough and clear enough for him to allow that charge to go forward. And so, the legislature did, in fact -- with some pressure from the Collins family and many others -- did change the law.
NNAMDIDelegate Luedtke, you care to talk about that?
LUEDTKELook, I work at the University of Maryland. The bus stop where Lieutenant Collins was murdered is steps away from where I teach classes. And that crime had a terrible impact on our community and led many of our students to not feel safe. I hope that the judge's decision gives members of the University of Maryland community some comfort. But we absolutely need to be aggressive in prosecuting hate crimes like this.
NNAMDIWe last spoke almost a year ago, and since then, there's been a big day for you, Delegate Luedtke. You got married in September. Congratulations.
LUEDTKEI did. Thank you very much. Yeah, it was -- we were going to do it in May, but we put it off. And then we did it, you know, outdoors, socially distance in the fall. And I'm glad my wife decided to be my wife.
SHERWOODDid you -- did you get married in a state park? And I've been really impressed that you've been making the point to visit every state park in the state, obviously. Did you get married in a state park?
LUEDTKEWe did not. We spend a lot of time hiking together in the state parks. The joke is that people refer to my wife sometimes as the state park selfie girl, because we take so many selfies. But, no. We got married in our backyard.
NNAMDIWell, Maryland lawmakers began their 2021 legislative session this week. We're still in a pandemic. What precautions is the legislature taking to ensure safety? How often will you be meeting in-person, and what will be handled virtually?
LUEDTKEWe are operating under completely different procedures than we normally do. The House and Senate and doing it slightly differently. But as for us in the House, we're only having basically pro forma sessions now with myself, the Minority Leader and the Speaker for the next couple of weeks just do procedural work. We're going to be holding our committee briefings and hearings and voting sessions all remotely. Sometime in February, probably, we'll start bringing members back. We actually have split the chamber into two chambers, which will be communicating through video and will be conducting business remotely, using shortened sessions mandating masks, doing everything we can to keep everybody safe.
SHERWOODLet me ask you about, what it's like in Annapolis? Every state capitol has had a threat made against it from these -- emanating from this January 6th riot here in Washington, and threats to every state capitol. What is the mood in Annapolis?
LUEDTKEYou know, I think people are concerned, but comfortable given that the Maryland State Police and our local and federal law enforcement partners have really stepped up. We've had an increased law enforcement presence in Annapolis over the past few days. But, you know, I think there's a lot of reasonable concern on the part of regular citizens and anybody in the state house complex. I think the State Police are doing everything they can to keep us safe.
SHERWOODThe lone Republican, Andy Harris, in the Congress has supported the overturning the election and has been not as critical of the violence as some people thought. You were among 71 state delegates and 13 state senators who've called on him to resign. He's not likely to do that. Let me ask you, in the redistricting that's going to occur in the coming year, is it likely that Democrats will redistrict the Andy Harris district so that he can't win? Just you did 10 years in the 6th District.
LUEDTKEWell, we're not even talking about redistricting yet. The numbers from the Census Bureau that we would use to draw districts haven't even been reported to the state yet. But, you know, I will be, whatever happens, spending time and money in his district doing everything I can to support a candidate to defeat him. He's, frankly, a disgrace. And that district was represented for many years by -- very ably by great elected officials, including Wayne Gilchrest -- who, by the way, was a Republican and, you know, one of my early political heroes. You know, that district deserves honorable representation again.
NNAMDIOn to legislative business. Governor Larry Hogan recently proposed a $1 billion relief plan, which he wants Maryland lawmakers to take up. His plan would provide financial assistance to some struggling Marylanders, $450 for individuals, $750 for families. What are your thoughts on the package, and are Democrats going to counter with an alternative?
LUEDTKEWell, we've actually been talking about COVID relief options for months now in the legislature, and some of the governor's ideas track with some of ours. It's a little hard to comment on the governor's plan, because he actually hasn't provided it to us yet. He hasn't introduced legislation. All we know about it is what was announced at a press conference. But, you know, early indications are there are some flaws to some of the things he's proposed. For example, that $450 - $750 grant is tied to people who have gotten the earned income tax credit. But there are tens of thousands of low-income Marylanders who are eligible for that credit, but didn't take it on their taxes. So, his proposal would miss tens of thousands of people in need.
SHERWOODAnother big issue is the Kirwan legislation, the multiyear $4 billion change in education across the state. Local governments doing more, the state more. The governor vetoed that. What is the status of that, going into the session?
LUEDTKEWe are going to override that veto. We will not step back from our commitment to making sure every kid has a great education.
NNAMDIBut how can it still be implemented? Can the plan still be implemented, given the financial shortfall that's resulted from the pandemic?
LUEDTKEAbsolutely. First of all, I meant to be clear. The people that have opposed Kirwan opposed it when the economy was in good shape, and they opposed it when the economy is in bad shape. The common denominator is they oppose funding public schools. But the good news is that we've been planning for the implementation of Kirwan for years now. We've been putting money away. The plan is fully paid for already, up through 2026. So, there will be basically no current fiscal impact if we override the veto, which we plan to do.
SHERWOODAnother big issue with sports betting that will be confronting the legislature, the lots of lobbying going on about that. Someone called I think Maryland Matters called it the lobby-palooza. And then there's also, maybe after all the election this past year with the drop boxes and voting absentee or early, there could be changes in Maryland to make some of these changes permanent. What about sport betting, and what how people will vote?
NNAMDIWhat about holding your response to those questions while we take a short break? When we come back, we'll have the answer to those questions. Our guest is Eric Luedtke, the Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. If you have questions or comments for him, give us a call at 800-433-885. Send us a tweet @kojo or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We'll be talking with Attorney General for the District of Columbia Karl Racine shortly, but we're still talking with the majority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, Eric Luedtke. And when we took that break, Delegate Luedtke, Tom Sherwood had posed a couple of questions to you and ordered you to remember them.
LUEDTKE(laugh) Yeah, I think the first one was about sports betting, which I'm hopeful will get done this session. The thing that held us up last session was trying to find a way to make sure that women in minority-owned businesses at a real -- will be rolling out a proposal in the next couple weeks that I think will point us in that direction.
LUEDTKEAnd on democracy, look, the seditious assault on the Capitol last week, I think, was a reminder to all of us that democracy's a fragile thing. And we have to, at every possible opportunity, work to strengthen it. We are going to be proposing a series of bills, making changes to expand access to the ballot box, make sure every citizen has the right to vote, including making sure those mail-in ballot drop boxes become a permanent thing, expanding early voting, allowing people to fill out one application to permanently get mail-in ballots instead of having to fill in a new one every election. So, I'm looking forward to those bills.
NNAMDIThe pandemic has exacerbated the disparities in healthcare for Maryland. What are Democrats' priorities for addressing healthcare during the pandemic?
LUEDTKESure. I think, you know, we've been focused on healthcare disparities for a long time in the legislature. We actually have a subcommittee that focuses specifically on disparities. The pandemic, I think, has made the general public more aware of them, but those disparities are unacceptable. And, you know, I think there are some short term and long term ways that we're going to try to address them.
LUEDTKEShort term, focusing on things like telemedicine, telehealth so that people have more access to providers. Long term, there's a proposal which is being introduced by Delegate Jazz Lewis, one of my colleagues in Prince George's County, to recreate something called health enterprise zones, although they're under a different name, here, and try to make sure we're getting more providers to locate within low income communities so that people have providers nearby.
SHERWOODPut on your Montgomery County hat for this. They're reopening the schools. President-Elect Biden has said one of his goals is to get the public schools reopened. And that sounds like good news, but also, we've learned now this week that Montgomery County Superintendent Jack Smith announced yesterday that he's going to retire in June. And there'll be, I guess, a big search to find his replacement. But that's some more turmoil in the public school system that's already in turmoil.
LUEDTKEWell, I mean, I don't think it's in turmoil. I think, you know, it's facing some challenges. It's a big system. It's one of the largest in the country. I think Jack Smith's done a great job. I have a lot of respect for the Board of Education. I think they'll find somebody good to take over for Jack over the summer, when he retires.
LUEDTKEAs to reopening, we absolutely have to get vaccines in the arm of every staff member who wants them, before we reopen. We absolutely have to make sure the schools have the resources they need to provide for the basic, you know, physical safety requirements of reopening. Because even after people get vaccines, they're going to need to wear masks. They're going to need to be washing their hands. I mean, this is not going to go away overnight.
NNAMDIMark in Crownsville, Maryland has a question about that, or a thought about that. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKHi, Kojo. I appreciate it. So, I've seen on social media a couple posts talking about the rate at which we're getting vaccinated, and counties like Anne Arundel and Montgomery talking about starting back up the beginning of March. But our own lawmakers are saying that that's not going to be possible. I'm just curious about, first, the disparity between those numbers and those timelines.
MARKAnd then, second, why no one's talking about getting the kids vaccinated before we go back. There are countless studies and anecdotal evidence that kids aren't, like, immune and invincible to this, so we're just going to send thousands of kids in small spaces, hoping that they wear masks and then possibly spreading this disease back to families. It just feels like we're endangering children to try to get them out of our houses. And I just don't feel like that's worth it to society.
LUEDTKEYeah. Thanks, Mark. That's a really good question. First of all, my understanding is that the vaccines that we have have not yet been authorized for use in people under the age of 18. So, you know, that's a scientific FDA question that we have no control over.
LUEDTKEI also agree and, look, I've got four kids, and learning at home is rough. But I'd rather they be safe. So, you know, I agree that we need to be very careful about reopening and not rush to it. But it's a decision, frankly, that I think should be made at the local level. It should be made in communities by educators, by boards of education, by parents, by students so that, you know, -- because it'll depend on the conditions in a particular county whether it's safe to reopen.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you get the last question for Delegate Luedtke.
SHERWOODOkay. Very quickly, Governor Hogan, Governor Northam in Virginia and Mayor Bowser all joined together this week to urge Americans not to come to the Capitol next week for the Inauguration of Joe Biden. Have you attended an Inauguration, and what do you think about the nation's capital being closed off to Americans for this important transfer of power?
LUEDTKEI have actually never been to an Inauguration, only because standing on the National Mall for hours in the cold is -- you know, I can watch from home. I think we're all horrified that we have had to implement the kind of security that we have in Washington. But it's the result of years of disinformation, years of, frankly, seditious speech. I think it's always darkest before the dawn, and I'm hopeful this is the darkest moment, and we will be experiencing the dawn as President-election Biden is sworn in.
SHERWOODAnd I'm hoping that we will reopen our nation's capital, where I live, as quickly as we have closed it down. Thank you.
LUEDTKEYes, absolutely. Absolutely.
NNAMDIDelegate Luedtke, thank you so much for joining us.
LUEDTKEOf course. Have me in the studio next time, so I can get Tom to sign my copy of "Dream City."
NNAMDIOkay, cool. You mean, that book's still available? Eric Luedtke is the majority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. He is a Democrat. Joining us now is the attorney general for the District of Columbia, Karl Racine. General Racine, thank you for joining us.
KARL RACINEIt's a pleasure to be with you, Kojo. Hey, Tom.
SHERWOODHi, Attorney General.
NNAMDIKarl Racine, we're still trying to understand what led to that deadly insurrection last week at the U.S. Capitol. But it seems that whatever happened, a lot of D.C. laws were broken during that violent insurrection. What specifically is your office looking into when it comes to charging individuals? Because we know that the U.S. attorney handles most of the criminal cases in the District.
RACINEThat's right. So, the federal prosecutor, the U.S. attorney, the acting U.S. Attorney, Mr. Sherwin, is responsible for now in leading the federal prosecution. He's looking at all kinds of federal offenses related to destruction of property at the Capitol, breaking and entering, unlawful entry, more serious charges like sedition and other charges related to murder and potential felony murder.
RACINEMy office is focused on following unlawful possession of a weapon without having it properly licensed, same with ammunition. And we're also looking at curfew violations. The money charge that we're looking at is the inciting violence charge, which could, of course, be applicable to the speakers, individuals who spoke in advance of the raid at the Capitol, as well as those who were raiding the Capitol in the midst of all that chaos.
NNAMDIHow much more difficult is your job, given that very few rioters were arrested on the scene and now have to be ID'ed and tracked down from video and other evidence?
RACINEThat makes it, certainly, more laborious, and it makes a high level of collaboration with the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, MPD and other law enforcement really necessary. And that's what our team is doing. And so, District residents should rest assured that the Office of Attorney General is fully investigating all potential charges within its jurisdiction and, where appropriate, will not hesitate to bring those cases.
SHERWOODYou've gotten national attention with your suggestion -- well, not suggestion, saying that you are looking at this inciting to violence charge, possibly to bring it against the President of the United States. I would assume that would be after he leaves office. If that's a misdemeanor -- it sounds horrible, inciting to violence. I believe that's a misdemeanor. One, would you really be seriously thinking about charging the President of the United States, in or out of office?
SHERWOODAnd two, this is The Politics Hour, there's going to be a new U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia. Some people have suggested you might be willing to be appointed by President Biden to be the new U.S. attorney. And I'll ask you what you think about that.
RACINETom, you're always pushing my mind, and I appreciate that. First and foremost, with respect to charging the president, I'm a firm believer that no one is below nor above the law. And if the president's conduct raises to the level of violating the law, we'll charge the president. The president obviously will have a robust defense. Hopefully, it's not Rudy Giuliani, (laugh) for his sake. And he'll clearly argue that his speech was protected by the First Amendment and that any mob action was not inspired by him.
RACINEI think there's compelling evidence to the contrary. All the lies, misinformation, disinformation about who won the election, the calling on people to fight, the calling on people to not be weak. You know, all those things line up as pretty good evidence, I think. And that's what my team's evaluating.
RACINEWith regard to -- yes, go ahead.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I'm sorry. Go ahead. Yes. U.S. attorney, go right ahead.
RACINESure. With regard to the U.S. Attorney's Office, let me just start by saying I'm on my sixth U.S. attorney or acting U.S. attorney in six years. That means that that office is quite destabilized. It's not had consistent leadership nor consistent priorities. Certainly, the local has not been important, I think, in the main after U.S. Attorney Machen and Cohen left and Channing Phillips. The Trump appointees, generally speaking, have done Trump's bidding, and we saw that with the interference in Michael Flynn.
RACINEWe need a U.S. attorney who knows the District of Columbia, who's an experienced trial lawyer, who has a good, sound managerial experience and who will promise to Eleanor Holmes Norton and her commission that they'll remain U.S. attorney for more than a cup of coffee. I'd say how about a minimum of a three-and-a-half-year commitment?
SHERWOODIs that you? Could you do that?
RACINEI'm not interested -- no. I mean, I think it's (unintelligible)...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You're not interested.
RACINE...U.S. attorney's job in the country, in my opinion, some would say the Southern District of New York is better. I would beg to differ. But for me, no, I don't see myself putting my had in the ring for the U.S. attorney position. I will say I have spoken to people whose name you'll not get me to say who I find to be, you know, really competent, credible and care about the community. And I'll advocate for them.
SHERWOODLet me wrap this up. On the possibility that you may bring some charges inciting to violence, is it that you will bring charges, just you're just determining what they will be, or is it possible you won't bring any charges at all?
RACINEIt's possible that no charges will be brought after a thorough evaluation of the evidence and the law. The last thing we want to do at the office of attorney general is to bring a criminal case when we don't have a good faith basis that we could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, since it's a misdemeanor, to a judge. If we believe that we can, then we'll bring it. And we're in that process now of evaluating.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And you said you were going to do it very quickly...
RACINECan I give you some news here? I know you all like good news.
RACINEKojo, it relates to you. I just want to let you know that today I authorized my team of crackerjack lawyers to file an action in federal court to prevent your retirement. (laugh)
NNAMDI(laugh) More about that later in the broadcast, because Tom Sherwood has a different word for retirement. I use reoriented, he uses another word. But we have two callers who want to talk about the insurrection at the Capitol. And I'm not sure you can answer their questions, but I feel obligated to take their calls. So, we'll start with Dem in Arlington, Virginia. Dem, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DEMYes. How you doing, Kojo?
DEMYes. I wanted to talk about how, you know, the Capitol and what was going on kind of like black people, they're feeling like (unintelligible). And when I looked at that TV and I seen people storming the Capitol and the police letting them in, I (unintelligible). And to paint the picture of people that's right there making mandatory laws and the reason that we been minorities for thousands and hundreds of years, I'm trying to figure out what exactly did you think was going to happen? Because now you're creating a Civil War amongst y'all, because you done left black people out for so long that there is no equality. Atlanta, Fortune 500 companies...
NNAMDIWell, I can tell you what the attorney general can speak to. Karl Racine, a lot of black people find themselves, like our caller, very disturbed by what they saw last week from a predominantly white crowd of rioters. And our caller is concerned about some of the images that still remain in the Capitol of slaveholders.
RACINEWell, and you can send me up to be right along with the caller and members of our community, black, white and otherwise who recognize plainly and vividly that there were different standards of justice and different standards of protection around federal assets. When African-Americans and white folks and folks from other states came down to D.C. for the BLM protests on June 1, we saw brigades of federal officials, folks you've never seen before, people from the Bureau of Prisons, from Homeland Security, National Guard from countless states that had Republican governors all protecting federal assets without any hint that any person who was part of the Black Lives Matter protests -- again, multiracial individuals protesting, including myself -- were going to threaten the federal assets.
RACINEAnd so, you know, if ever there was a plain visual of contrast to see, take a look at the protection of federal assets, including the U.S. Capitol on June 1 before peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, and take a look at the protests that occurred last week. So, I understand plainly what this caller's talking about.
RACINEWhat I would add is there are attempts from elected officials who should be ashamed of themselves to try to equate the terrorism that occurred on Capitol Hill where police officers courageously fought for their lives and our democracy with the occasional violence and destruction of property that occurred during the BLM protests. There is no equation to be made. It is outrageous and cynical. And these elected officials who seek to do that must be called out.
NNAMDIHere's Richard in Northwest Washington. Richard, your turn.
RICHARDYes, hi. Question for Karl Racine. Great admirer, first and foremost. Question about jurisdiction. As I understand it, most of the serious conduct that occurred on Wednesday was in the Capitol or on the Capitol grounds, which is federal property. Do you, as the D.C. attorney general, have jurisdiction over those offenses? And if so, how would you establish it? That's one question. And the other is, how would you respond to recent reports that protesters are seeking pardons from President Trump for their misconduct because he, after all, put them up to it? Do you think there will be pardons? So, those are two separate questions.
RACINESure. Well, thanks for the question and, you know, appreciate the compliment at the outset, there. With respect to jurisdiction, it is true, as Kojo said at the outset, that the federal prosecutor has the predominant jurisdiction over all of the events that occurred. My jurisdiction is limited to just about four or five charges, ammunition, guns that were not licensed, curfew violations and this important incitement of violence offense. I think if we get ourselves to a place where we have statehood, we're going to have more jurisdiction over adult offenses, and I would welcome them.
RACINESecond, as to the pardon issue, needless to say, pardoning a domestic terrorist who would run over the Capitol in a violent way and build a plank and with a noose and a platform to hang and hurt elected officials, including Vice President Pence, would be, I think, the most outrageous pardon action of any president in history. Not sure that precedent matters to President Trump.
SHERWOODMr. Attorney General, I heard you on CNN this morning not only talking about the violence and the stemming of violence and bringing charges, but you also threw in a plug for statehood. So, that would endear a lot of people to you. Let me ask you a political question I ask about you and the mayor all the time.
SHERWOODThe mayor was just now live on CNN talking about what she's doing for the inauguration. And she has asked the federal officials to coordinate with the District officials and not just flood the city with federal officials. Have you and the mayor -- during all this turmoil, have you and the mayor had a personal conversation about what's going on and how you're working together, or is it still pretty much on the staff level?
RACINEThe clear answer is yes, we have spoken. I think we both care deeply about the District of Columbia. And, again, you know, look, political rivalries are oftentimes overstated. You know, the fact is, the Office of Attorney general is a new office in the District government. People didn't know how its leader might, you know, sort of conduct himself. I think they now know that we're focused on D.C. values and really building the best attorney general office in the country. I think that we've been largely accepted in government, and I always look to collaborate with the mayor and her team at all times.
NNAMDIMayor Bowser has asked the Department of Interior to cancel any permits on federal lands during the Inauguration. It has not been granted, but do you think it should have been?
RACINEI think that, right now, our goal has to be to maximize and preserve the safety of the Inauguration. I'll note, there are a couple of other dates that are quite important. The online chatter from hate groups -- and to call it chatter is almost a little bit too kind. These are hate pronouncements and planning, you know, and directive targeting of individuals and buildings.
RACINEThey're focused on January 17. That's a date where folks were encouraged to bring guns, at their discretion. That's what the posters say online. There's also January 18. You got to be really careful on the 18th. That, of course, is Martin Luther King's birthday holiday. And today, of course, is Dr. King's birthday. The hate groups hate Martin Luther King, of course, and they've already identified the 17th as a day to be alert.
RACINEI think that the protective measures that we're taking right now make a lot of sense including, you know, maximum safety. I'm sorry to have to say that, because we love our open society. But, you know, I think we open up a little bit after the Inauguration.
SHERWOODOn another pressing public safety issue is the vaccine distribution in the city. Every region, it seems like, having trouble getting the vaccine out to the people who need it. Have you personally had the vaccine? What are you hearing from the people you talk to about how well the District is doing in terms of combating the virus?
RACINEThat's a great question. I have not had the vaccine. I'm not, yet, in one of the heightened...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You're not old enough.
RACINE...categories. And while I work every day, I'm not so essential so as to jump the line. And I'll just stay safe until my turn. Now, with respect to...
NNAMDIOnly have about 30 seconds.
RACINEOkay. To me, the number one issue is getting the word out to our wards that have been hit the hardest, where (unintelligible) the most skepticism. And clearly, that's Ward 7 and Ward 8. I would love to see Councilmember Trayon White perhaps take the vaccine in a public way and encourage people in our community to get behind the line with him.
NNAMDITom, of course, we haven't talked about one of the smaller stories of the week yet, which is why it is last, because it's about me. We announced this week that I'm stepping back from the daily show in April. But the good news for fans of this broadcast, The Politics Hour will continue. So, I'll continue to host and you, Tom Sherwood, will continue on as resident analyst. I don't know how we slipped that one past management, but somehow, we did. (laugh)
SHERWOODWell, you know, the Washington Post asked me what I thought about that. I said, you, over the last 20-plus years, have guided the region on every issue that you can think of, serious and not so serious. And for the last 12 years, I've been your sidekick on these Friday shows. And I said to the Post, the only complaint I have about you is you're entirely too polite, too NPR-oriented, and you don't interrupt windbag guests, not the ones on now. I'm not talking about him. But that that's why I'm here.
NNAMDIWell, one of the reasons...
SHERWOODSo, I'm proud of you, Kojo. The station is proud of you. The people are proud of you. And I'm just glad to be associated with you.
NNAMDIOne of the reasons I'm cutting back is because I've lost my favorite listener. That is Karl Racine's mom. Karl Racine.
RACINEWell, you know, she would take that 88.5 with her, obviously, to her grave. But I want to say one thing, here. You know, we grew up hearing Walter Cronkite, you know, and that's the way it is. Kojo, what you've done, just by your authenticity, your consistency and your compassion, is you have established trust in the community. We trust you so much, we like Tom. (laugh)
NNAMDIKarl Racine, the attorney general of the District of Columbia. Coming up Monday, we'll talk with the Howard Divinity School Dean about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Kojo for Kids welcomes Brian Pinkney, who's illustrated award-winning children's books on Dr. King. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo talks with author Briana Thomas about her book “Black Broadway In Washington D.C.,” and the District’s rich Black history.
Poet, essayist and editor Kevin Young is the second director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. He joins Kojo to talk about his vision for the museum and how it can help us make sense of this moment in history.
Ms. Woodruff joins us to talk about her successful career in broadcasting, how the field of journalism has changed over the decades and why she chose to make D.C. home.