Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) talks about the county's vaccine rollout and making the tax code more progressive. And D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) talks about disparities in the District's vaccinations and how the pandemic has affected plans to bring a hospital east of the Anacostia River.
We end this week with a new president and vice president. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) joins us to talk about the inauguration and his priorities in Congress. First up for Sarbanes is H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which focuses on reforming voting laws, reworking campaign finance regulations and strengthening ethics rules. And we’ll ask him what President Joe Biden’s relief package could mean for Marylanders.
And Virginia Governor Ralph Northam joins us to talk about his hopes for his last year in office, which include ending the death penalty and legalizing recreational marijuana. Plus, we’ll talk about FEMA’s decision to deny Virginia’s emergency designation for its role in securing the Capitol after the insurrection. If the decision stands, the commonwealth could be forced to cover the costs of sending its own law enforcement to protect the federal government.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood, I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with the Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam. But joining us now is John Sarbanes, a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Maryland's 3rd District. He is a Democrat. Congressman Sarbanes, thank you for joining us.
JOHN SARBANESKojo, thank you very much. It's great to be with you today.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, I'd to begin that today is the day when indoor dining in the District of Columbia is resumed, order of Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had held off over the holiday season, because of the spike in coronavirus cases even though we have not seen a significant reduction in that spike. We are nevertheless in the District indoor dining is now available starting today.
SHERWOODYes. And just at 25 percent. She did pause at the holiday pause, she called it over the holidays. She did not want large gatherings of people in restaurants. And she also extended it through the inauguration, because she and the governors of Maryland and Virginia were telling people not to come to D.C. It was a good idea maybe to keep the restaurants closed indoors to keep people from coming. So the mayor has in fact acted even though the infection rate of the pandemic is not easing. It's still going up and it's a significant number.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of the infection rate of the pandemic, now that vaccinations are available, the District of Columbia will give priority to overweight D.C. residents. Why is that?
SHERWOODWell, I'm still trying to figure out how the body mass index or whatever that's called, if you're fat, you get to get in line. It seems that so many Americans are fat. And who actually knows whether they have a body mass index of 25 or not? I actually figured my out. You have to divide your weight by your height or your height by your weight. It seemed a little confusing. I think this another example that across the nation that there is concern about the slow roll out of vaccines.
SHERWOODJust like at the beginning of this pandemic when there was a slow roll out of testing. And there was some confusion about who would get tested and how they'd get tested. That finally got worked out. But now we're just trying to work out the vaccines. And, of course, the new President Joe Biden has said that he is going to do more to get more vaccinations done. And that's the key point.
NNAMDIWell, apparently the people in the Department of Health in the District feel that people who are in low income areas tend to have higher rates of obesity. And since there have been complaints that people in the lower income areas of this city have not been getting as many vaccinations as people in better off neighborhoods that this is one way of trying to apparently bridge that gap so to speak.
SHERWOODWell, yes. But it seems more complicated. It makes it more complicated than it needs to be. In neighborhoods -- poor neighborhoods where you know there's the higher incidents of diabetes, heart troubles and all those other issues, then put the vaccines there. We don't have to have people going around measuring their waist size to see if they're over 35 inches if they're women or 40 inches if they're men. Just get the vaccines out.
NNAMDIWell, vanity won't permit me to do that.
SHERWOODI've seen you, Kojo. You know exactly where you are.
NNAMDIYou know exactly what my weight is. I'm pretty sure that you do. On now to events in Maryland, the passing of Mike Miller, Mike Miller the longest serving member of the Maryland Senate and the longtime President of the Maryland Senate passed last Friday at the age of 78 years old. And he was a giant in the Maryland legislature for such a long time. He's been there since -- he was there since 1971. And he only stepped down from his leadership post in 2020, but as we said, Tom, he passed a week ago. What's happening today?
SHERWOODWell, Senator Miller the lion of the Senate is lying in repose at the State Capitol. I believe State Senate in Annapolis is having a two hour special session today from 12:00 right now until 2:00 to honor him. And there will be a private burial tomorrow, Saturday, in Clinton, Maryland his longtime home where he was as common as the asphalt on the highways there. He was everywhere there in Clinton, Maryland.
NNAMDICongressman Sarbanes, I suspect you knew Mike Miller for just about all of your life.
SARBANESAbsolutely, Kojo. And as was just said, he was a giant as a legislator and as a leader in the Senate in the General Assembly. Respected from both sides of the aisle, had this larger than life personality and charisma. He will certainly be missed. But his legacy is going to live on with his colleagues who I think sort of assimilated a lot of his leadership qualities and certainly his commitment to trying to lift up all of Maryland every single day. So he will definitely be missed.
NNAMDIYour own father, U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes passed away last month. Please accept condolences from all of the producers of this show, Tom Sherwood and me about that. Before he was a senator representing Maryland he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Maryland House of Delegates. He died at the age of 87. Once again, condolences to your family, but what would you like to share about your father and his legacy?
SARBANESWell, thank you very much, Kojo, for extending condolences. And we've been very touched by all the remembrances and tributes that have come in about my father over the last month or so since he passed away. You know, I had the opportunity on the House floor to spend a few minutes just kind of reminiscing about my dad and what his commitment was. And, you know, he's someone whose parents came to this country from Greece. He was the son of immigrants. They had a restaurant in the Eastern Shore in Salisbury. And his life is really what the American dream is. He got access to a good public education in Salisbury. He got a scholarship to go to Princeton University and then to law school, and he studied in England. He saw that hard work, education was what could advance you in this country.
SARBANESAnd I think because of that he just dedicated himself every single day to try and provide that opportunity to others. And that's what motivated him. He wasn't someone who ran towards the camera. He was often called a workhorse not a show horse. He understood that if you want to get things done it's better to spread the credit than to try to grab it all for yourself. And I think it was very successful as a legislator. But more than that there was this sense out in the community that he could relate to you, that he understood your challenges and that he wanted to help people advance every single day. And these themes of integrity, of working hard, sharing the credit, you know, that's what I've been hearing from people for weeks now. And I think it really captures who he was and what his commitment was.
SHERWOODCongressman, I'd like to point out -- I told this story in December, your story about your father. He was in the Senate. He was on the Watergate Committee. He would come home at night lugging big briefcase full of papers, because back then there were no digital files. And you told folks that when he would get home he would stack it all up on your old radiators in your entrance foyer. That was the filing space. Did you ever rifle through those papers as a child when your father came home with those papers?
SARBANESI don't think I took that chance, but I do remember. It's a powerful image in my mind of those things being stacked about -- it was about two feet high and about six or seven feet across of these binders with all of the transcripts of the Watergate tapes that he was plowing through. I mean, he was somebody who took the job very, very seriously. And I think that's why he was so trusted and he was a go to person.
SARBANESI had the chance to talk with President-elect Biden right after my father passed. And he said, Look, when we needed to get the real story and get an inside sort of strategy on things, Paul Sarbanes was the person that we would go to. They obviously served together for decades. And so that kind of trust and confidence in his judgement and intellect and the fact that he was there to do the job and that was all that motivated him I think was what brought a lot of his colleagues to him over those period of years.
SHERWOODBefore Kojo gets into the heavy politics of the For the People Act, which I have tried to read, but its 791 pages. I saw you tweeted a picture of yourself at the inaugural on Wednesday. What were your thoughts there as you watched the peaceful transfer of power after the assault, the Trump riot two weeks prior?
SARBANESIt's interesting, because I've been asked that question a number of times and what I was reflecting on is that normally, you know, I've been to four inaugurals now. And there's much of it which is very ceremonial. And that's a nice dimension of it. But I feel like this time, we were hanging on every word of that inaugural oath thinking about what it meant and this idea of, you know, upholding, protecting, defending the Constitution of the United States executing the authority of the office of the presidency in a responsible way.
SARBANESSo I really found those words to be kind of heavy and have a gravity to them this time that I really thought about, but also comforting, because I feel that in Joe Biden we have somebody who takes that oath deadly seriously, and is another person like my father, who committed his whole life to public service, comes with deep experience and a desire to serve and lift people up all across this country. So it was a poignant moment. And I think, you know, we're in a much better place for my standpoint to begin to heal the country and move forward. And we felt all of that on that day, no question.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Representative John Sarbanes. He's a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Maryland's 3rd District. He's a Democrat. I want Jimmy in Annapolis, Maryland to get his question in before we go to break. Jimmy, you're on the air, but you only have about 30 seconds. Go ahead, please.
JIMMYThank you, Kojo, and thank you, congressman. My question was about Andy Harris, the representative from Maryland from Harper County in the Eastern Shore who rejected the certification of the election results. Is there any way to remove him from office without, you know, him getting beat in an election, because I know his district is heavily Republican?
NNAMDIAnd of course, Congressman Andy Harris tried to take a loaded gun into the House Chamber. We're going to have Congressman Sarbanes respond to that, but first we have to take this short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast we'll be joined by Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia. Right now we are talking with Congressman John Sarbanes. He's a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Maryland's 3rd District. And when we went to that break, Congressman Sarbanes, our caller Jimmy wanted to know whether you'd be able to have Andy Harris removed from Congress. And an anonymous listener sent us an email, "How do you feel about Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland trying to bring a loaded gun into the House Chamber?" which is what I mentioned earlier. But please go ahead, Congressman Sarbanes.
SARBANESWell, thanks, Kojo. Before I answer Jimmy's question, I've been meaning to say to you that I want to congratulate you on your 23 years in this role. That's amazing stent and I know your voice isn't going to disappear completely, which I'm glad about, because it's been a very steady comforting and knowledgeable voice over these many, many years. But I just want to thank you for being a source of real assurance for your listeners particularly over these last few years where we've had such a difficult challenge in the country. So I just wanted to thank you for that.
NNAMDIWell, you're welcome. I appreciate it.
SARBANESIn terms of the question about not just Andy Harris in particular, but what do we with respect to some of our colleagues who voted in many instances, twice on the House floor to call into question and reject the certified results from states around the country, Pennsylvania and Arizona and in a sense were continuing to push forward this false narrative about the election having been stolen. I can tell you, there's a lot of conversation happening on Capitol Hill certainly within our caucus about what measures we can take. It's a challenge, because on the one hand you want to continue to have a legislative body that can operate and produce good legislation for people. On the other hand, there has to be accountability for this.
SARBANESAnd so I think you're going to continue to see a lot of focus on that and real consideration given to what consequences should be imposed under these kinds of circumstances. Now that extends certainly to this question of carrying a loaded weapon on Capitol grounds. There is a bizarre exemption from the firearm ban that otherwise would apply that members of Congress are entitled to in terms of carrying a weapon, a firearm on Capitol grounds. That does not extend to allowing them to bring it into the House Chamber.
SARBANESThe fact that a number of members have tried to do that either intentionally or as Congressman Harris asserts accidentally is the reason that for the first time in the 14 years I've served we now have magnetometers setup at every entrance to the House Chamber, which is a bizarre and jarring consequence of what we've seen over the last few weeks, but I think it's disgraceful for a member of Congress to show up at a door to the chamber with a firearm. And unfortunately that's why we've had to take the steps we've had and I think there will be continued focus on this. Not just looking at establishing some new rules to govern conduct on the Capitol grounds and with respect to the chamber, but significant penalties for violating what those rules are going to be. So I think that's very much under discussion as we speak.
SHERWOODThe hopeful words of the inauguration to work together, reach out, be the president of all the people, Republicans, Democrats and all others, there's still a hold up in the Senate, because of the dispute over whether the former-President Trump's impeachment will go forward immediately or be delayed a couple of weeks as Republicans want. Again, there's a lot of legislation in the House, in the Senate that's backed up ready to go. But it looks like maybe there won't be any start of a lot of this until you settle on the impeachment issue. Do you think the impeachment should be done right now and get it out of the way in the Senate? And of course, Jamie Raskin from Maryland is leading the House impeachment or do you think it should be delayed for a couple of weeks?
SARBANESMy instinct is that we should move forward and get it done. And I gather from today's announcement that the speaker will be transferring the article of the impeachment this coming Monday and that then triggers the process. The Senate doesn't really have a lot of choice in the matter. They have to initiate a trial. There may be some time where they allow for preparation for the trial and that may add a few days to the calendar. But I think this is something we need to move on. Get it done, bring the accountability, and then move forward with all the other components. There is some discussion as you know about being able to kind of bifurcate the operations of the Senate so the confirmation hearings can continue on one track while the impeachment trial continues on the other.
SARBANESCertainly as you point out it's going to delay for a little bit of time any legislative calendar or initiatives on the Senate side. We want to move quickly on some very important things. And at the top of that list is the For the People Act, which I've been privileged to assemble over the last couple of years, which is this broad package of democracy reforms, which I think are really appropriate in this moment when people feel like democracy is on shaky ground. It's been designated as HR1 in the House, the For the People Act has. And last week Leader Schumer indicated that it will have the S1 designation on the Senate side where it's being introduced by Jeff Merkley of Oregon.
SARBANESSo it's got that first post position in both chambers, which I think communicates very clearly that it is a priority for the Democratic Congress and it's going to help lift up voting rights in this country. Address ethics and accountability on the part of lawmakers and members of the executive branch. And absolutely try to push back against the undue influence that money is having on our politics and the way we govern.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the voting section of this bill is based on legislation from the late Congressman John Lewis. What part of the bill is inspired by him?
SARBANESWell, I'm glad you point to that, Kojo. Title 1 -- the entirety of Title 1 of HR1 and HR1 has 10 titles, but the first title is John Lewis's Voter Empowerment Act. This is a bill that he introduced five congresses in a row, beginning in the 112th Congress. It's designed to make it possible for people to vote in America without having to run an obstacle course. It promotes automatic voter registration, same day registration, no excuse absentee ballot voting and other measures to push back on voter intimation, voter suppression.
SARBANESI mean, John Lewis understood better than anybody really what it means to vote in America. And I think he was frustrated that, you know, here we are more than 50 years after he spilled blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge just fighting for the right to vote that it's still so difficult in American for people to access the ballot box.
SARBANESNow Americans fought their way to the ballot box in November and overcame a lot of obstacles, but those obstacles are still there. And I think if we could get HR1 S1 passed and get these basic voting opportunities in place, it would do wonders to advance us. And frankly we ought to be the gold standard when you look around the world in terms of being able to access the ballot box. We're nowhere near that now, but John Lewis had a vision for that and we've incorporated that into the heart of HR1.
NNAMDIWell, passing HR1 in the House is one thing since Democrats have a majority, but it will prove maybe hard in the Senate will need 60 votes. Do you think you'll get bipartisan support on this bill?
SARBANESWe'll see, Kojo, but I've always begun this conversation about reform with the hope and expectation that we can get support from Republicans on the hill. I can tell you that the polling shows us that there is support among Republicans out in the country. This is a very bipartisan bill. All core components of it are ones that are supported by majorities of Republicans, Independents and Democrats. So I hope for that, but we've gotten a lot of resistance from Mitch McConnell and leadership on the hill. And so we may have to figure out another way to navigate this to get this across the finish line.
NNAMDIJohn Sarbanes is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Maryland's 3rd District, which includes parts of Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties as well as a significant part of the independent City of Baltimore. We'll be right back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We'll soon be talking with Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia. We're still talking with Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland. And we do have Tom Sherwood to talk a little bit about Maryland's internal politics, so to speak. Governor Hogan wants schools to bring students back to classrooms by March. We know in the District of Columbia, Mayor Bowser wants to do that by February. But this still seems to be a particularly controversial issue, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODI think the big, overall good news is that President Biden has said that he will seek to make more federal money available -- maybe Sarbanes can talk about that in a moment -- to help the jurisdictions reopen the schools. You know, Hogan has been pressing the jurisdictions in Maryland. The mayor has tried a couple of times to open the schools, but there's been pushback from parents and legislators and teachers about is it really safe to do so.
SHERWOODIn Virginia, of course, the governor has also encouraged it, but it's all up to the localities. Everyone wants the children back in schools. No one wants them to be unsafe, and it is a cunundrum.
SARBANESI agree. And I do think that the new president is going to be focused like a laser on this. Obviously, within the $1.9 trillion proposal for pandemic relief and economic assistance that he unveiled the other day, it includes crucial resources to support schools so that they can reopen again safely. That's the issue. What does that mean? What kind of protective equipment do you need to deploy? How do you begin to reengineer HVAC systems and other things so that they can make sure that, you know, the air is clear and that the safety is in place in these schools?
SARBANESBut it's not just the resources, Kojo. I want to point out that the new Biden team coming in is discovering that there just wasn't a very coordinated plan, at all, on the part of this administration. And already you're seeing the new president assemble a team that is going to put in place, I think, much better guidance from the federal level.
SARBANESYou're going to see recommendations coming from the CDC and other federal agencies that can be a kind of framework for states and localities to follow and base their own actions on. That's been missing, so far. I think if you have that in place and you share the best practices that we're seeing -- in this case with respect to school openings -- that will give people more confidence, and we can build on that moving forward.
NNAMDIMore internal politics, Tom Sherwood. The speaker of the Maryland House, Adrian Jones, has unveiled what she is calling a black agenda, and it's one that's designed to look at systemic racial inequalities in areas like housing and health and banking, government and private corporations. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, there's no doubt that she's trying to make it plain, to use a phrase from the civil rights movement. She's the first black, first female speaker of the House. And racial inequity -- again, just like the pandemic -- is an issue across the country about how you address historic discrimination. And she says she's going to try.
SHERWOODAnd so, it's 50 percent of spending on goods and services will be for small businesses, and it requires small business -- there'll be more funding for small businesses to reflect racial diversity. There's going to be an effort to make it easier for people to buy homes and not just depend on credit rating scores, because credit rating scores have a history of discrimination.
SHERWOODRecreate the health opportunity zones. That's something that former Governor Martin O'Malley did, but was ended by Governor Hogan, which would focus healthcare resources in communities where they're needed. And that means a lot of African-American communities. And just better track racial disparity. There are micro aggressions and there are major roadblocks for African Americans still. And that's what she's going to try to address.
NNAMDICare to comment, Congressman Sarbanes?
SARBANESWell, I did want to make this point, which is I think that in this terrible, terrible crisis that we're seeing, there is opportunity to begin rethinking and restructuring how we provide resources and the communities that we get those resources to. So, for example, in the relief bills that we've put together, we've been very focused, when it comes to small business relief, to try to get that distributed through what they call minority depository institutions, community development financial institutions that lend to the smallest businesses and lending communities where larger banks may not do business, and so forth.
SARBANESWe've certainly tried to improve and enhance that infrastructure in this pandemic, but we ought to carry that forward on the other side of the pandemic. We ought to be thinking about ways to keep those structures, that connective tissue in place, because it just makes sense on a permanent ongoing basis, not just in the middle of a crisis. So, we're exploring some new delivery mechanisms that can really lift up communities. Public health infrastructure's another example of that, that we ought to keep in place after this and build on and really strengthen the foundation of opportunity across the country, so it touches all communities.
NNAMDIHere's Scott in Olney, Maryland. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTHi. Thanks for taking the call, Kojo. Yeah, I'd just like to say, as a father of a fourth grader who has had to take off up to a week, a month of work, I don't think it would be right to put the kids back in school for eight weeks left. I think that's just political grandstanding and not putting the children first. There's no way that they'll all be able to adjust and learn with just a short amount of time left in the year. I think it's completely ridiculous that Governor Hogan has put out that decree yesterday.
NNAMDIAnd, voila, we have the controversy continuing to surround this issue, Congressman Sarbanes.
SARBANESSure. And, again, I want to go back to this point that with the new administration, we're going to have a different context and environment in which we're operating, here. And I think as we move along, decisions that governors and mayors and other local leaders are making are now going to be against the backdrop of a much more coordinated and directed effort in terms of what the public health advice is and the direction that can come from these federal agencies.
SARBANESAnd that may have the desired effect for a kind of more unified perspective on how we do all of these things. Open restaurants, open small businesses, deal with school reopenings, and so forth. So, I'm anticipating that by the time we get to March, we will all be operating inside a different environment of information, guidance and support. And that can help inform some of these decisions. So, I'm going to kind of reserve on whether this decision makes sense, because I think the backdrop for it is going to change.
SARBANESWe may get to March, and your caller may feel much more comfortable about this proposed decision from the governor based on the larger context in which we're operating with guidance and the status of the COVID-19 virus, or may feel much more strongly that it's a bad decision that the governor is signaling here.
SHERWOODI know we're about to run out of time. I've got two quick political questions, bald-face political questions. Should the Democrats in the state -- in Maryland and the legislature redistrict the congressional districts to change Andy Harris' district, just as it did to get Roscoe Bartlett to feed it in the 6th district?
SARBANESWell, I mean, you know, that's a Rubik's Cube, redistricting is. And you have one set of motivations or factors operating for a particular district, it obviously has a ripple effect on other districts. So, I'll kind of defer on that. I will say that as we move forward with redistricting, our bill, HR1, includes reform or redistricting nationally to create independent redistricting commissions in every single state. We think that's the best solution.
SHERWOODLet me ask you very quickly, Senator Ben Cardin has the seat in the Senate that your father held. He's in his third term. It's not up until 2024. Your name is already being mentioned that should Senator Cardin decided not to seek another term that you would run for the Senate. Or I think you're in your eighth term in the House, are you looking to make a name in the House for a long period, or would you consider that Senate seat?
SARBANESTo be very candid with you, all of my focus right now is on HR1, because I've worked on that bill for many, many years. And I think we finally have a real opportunity to get this across the finish line. And I've always approached politics from the standpoint of think about what you want to do, not what you want to be. And what I want to do, in this moment, is get this significant democracy reform over the finish line. I think it would make a huge difference for our country. And I'm absolutely dedicated to that.
NNAMDIWe got an email from someone who says: Could you please ask Representative Sarbanes if Congress will resume attempts to personally inspect the holding facilities at the border, find all of the lost children and address physical and sexual abuses, as well as COVID-19 cases among immigrants held there?
SARBANESI had the opportunity to visit the border, three or four places on the border and see with my own eyes this disgraceful policy that was being executed by the last administration, and to hear these heartrending stories of separation. I can tell you that among my colleagues in Congress -- and I think within the new Biden administration -- whatever can be done to reunite these children with their parents, we're going to do.
SARBANESNow, it may be that, in some instances, there's no way to make that happen, because of what occurred. But where we can do it, we're going to do it. And I think it's going to be a full-fledged effort, and a sustained one, in the coming months.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're just about out of time, except for this email that we got from James: Senator Sarbanes was a terrific advocate of national parks and the Chesapeake Bay. Without him, we would not have the national focus on the Chesapeake. His environmental record was special. Great way to be remembered. John Sarbanes, thank you so much for joining us.
SARBANESThank you, Kojo. Take care. All the best. Bye-bye.
NNAMDIJohn Sarbanes is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Maryland's 3rd district. Joining us now is Ralph Northam. He is the governor of Virginia. He is a Democrat. Governor Northam, thank you for joining us.
RALPH NORTHAMKojo, it's great to be on your show. I hope you and Tom and all your listeners are staying safe and healthy. And I appreciate you having me on the show today.
NNAMDIWe're doing the best we can. Governor Northam, thousands of law enforcement officers from Virginia helped secure the Capitol after the insurrection, but FEMA denied your emergency declaration. What does that mean for Virginia, and do you plan on appealing this decision?
NORTHAMWell, Kojo, what a slap in the face to Virginia. And, you know, we had a president that essentially built a tinderbox with his enablers over years and then threw a match on it on January the 6th. And the rest is history. And, you know, I was proud to be able to help our nation's capital. When Mayor Bowser reached out to me, we were the first to have our state police there to bring order back to the Capitol. And then we activated our National Guard. They were on the ground the following morning, which is very commendable.
NORTHAMAnd then the president turned around and denied us to be reimbursed for our expenses. And so, we are appealing it, Kojo. As you know, we have a new leader in Washington. It's great to have a partner that we can work with in Virginia. And we anticipate being reimbursed for the services that we provided to our nation's capital.
NNAMDIWell, following the insurrection, there have been threats to all state capitals across the country, including in Richmond. A handful of armed but peaceful protesters gathered on Monday. How concerned are you about violence coming to Richmond, now that we are past the inauguration and past President Trump?
NORTHAMKojo, we take these threats very seriously. As you know, we have experience in Virginia that started back in August of 2017 in Charlottesville. And then a year ago, we had a lot of armed protesters in Richmond. And we prepared for them as we did this year and gave them the message that if you're coming to Richmond with ill will, you're not welcome and you need to turn around and go home. So, so far, it's been quiet, but we remain vigilant. And we have our legislature in town, and we want to make sure that they're able to do the people's work safely. So, we'll do everything that we can to secure our capital city here in Richmond.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODHello, Governor. Thanks for being with us. I have a question about Fairfax and the coronavirus issues. But before I do that, I've got to get to a political question. State Senator Adam Ebbin of Arlington has a constitutional amendment legislation in the legislature that would allow the Virginia governor to serve two terms. Now, I know it's coming too late to affect you, but do you support that? You're one of the few states in the nation where the governor can only serve one term. What do you think about that legislation to allow two terms?
NORTHAMWell, Tom, you're absolutely right. Virginia is the only state in this country in which the governor can only serve one term. And, you know, four years goes by very quickly. And we have a great Cabinet in place, as have many governors in the past. So, I would certainly support the continuity of having eight years, if that's what the people so choose. Certainly, you know, we allow them to go to a ballot box and cast their vote. That's why elections matter.
NORTHAMBut I would certainly support that constitutional amendment.
SHERWOODI must say, it just feels like a couple weeks ago that I was there in Richmond for your inauguration at the railroad station and all around town. It was a great time. We'll see what happens next in the election this year, but let me ask you about the COVID thing.
SHERWOODBoard Chairman Jeff McKay in Fairfax County has written you a letter -- I don't know if you've seen it yet, because I'm sure you get a lot of correspondence -- saying what pretty much everyone is saying. That, you know, we appreciate all the help we're getting on the vaccine, but we need more vaccine. Everywhere, they need more vaccine. What are you doing to speed the distribution of vaccines in Virginia? Are you getting enough from the federal government, in terms of help?
NORTHAMYeah, Tom, and we've had a lot of communication with our local officials throughout the Commonwealth. And that's a frequently asked question. You know, I'm here in Roanoke today. We're giving 2,000 shots to our teachers. We really want to get our children back into school. Here's the issue, in a nutshell. We have the system in place now to give vaccinations. The hospitals have done a great job. Pharmacies, as you know, are working with our long-term care facilities. So, all of those facilities will have their first shot by the end of January. And then our local health department has set up sites across Virginia.
NORTHAMSo, the system, Tom, is in place. Now, what we need is more doses. We're giving about 105,000 doses per week in Virginia. We obviously want to ramp up to 50,000 doses to be administered each day. So, if you do the math, it's not going to work out. And so, what we need to do is continue to communicate with our leaders in Washington. We're pleased that we have a new leader, someone that we can work with as a partner, who is committed to making sure that all Americans receive this vaccination.
NORTHAMSo, the Defense Production Act has been put into place. The pharmaceuticals will be providing more doses to us. And so as soon as we get those doses, Tom, we're going to put them into arms. And what we're looking at is to have all Virginians vaccinated by early to mid-summer, and get back to our near normal lives.
SHERWOODAnd if Kojo will -- can I have one more question, Kojo?
SHERWOODIt's an easy one. He won't answer it very long. You'll be out of office in January. You're a physician. What are you going to do after you leave office? I know you're busy this year, but what are you going to do afterwards?
NORTHAMYeah, well, you know, my job right now is to make sure that we get this pandemic behind us. And I'm doing everything that I can to accomplish that. You know, I'm trained in child neurology. I'm a co-owner of a practice back in Hampton Roads. So, I actually look forward to going back and taking care of sick children and their families. That's what I'm good at doing, and that's what I'll do for the next few years.
SHERWOODThank you very much.
NNAMDIHere's Diana in McLean, Virginia. Diana, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANAHi. Good afternoon. Thank you for your time. My name is Diana. I'm a college student from McLean, Virginia. So, I've been noticing that Virginia has one of the highest COVID rates, actually, in the country right now in terms of change in daily cases in the last seven days. And we also have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. What is your plan to reverse this trend and decrease the COVID cases and increase vaccinations? Thank you.
NORTHAMDiana, thank you for your question, and I hope we can get you back in college, into the classroom soon. So, a couple things I would say, we've put some fairly stringent measures in place throughout Virginia, closing bars, having a curfew, a mask mandate. What I would recommend to Virginians right now -- and, really, all Americans -- is to follow the guidelines that we know work, that is, wearing facial protection, keeping your distance, not gathering in large crowds, washing your hands. Those are the scientific facts that we know, if people will follow, these numbers will come down. And they are coming down, Diana, in Virginia.
NORTHAMAnd as far as the vaccination rate, we're doing very well, especially compared to other states per population, how many vaccinations we're giving. We're going to ramp up to 25,000 and 50,000. And, again, it's going to be supply dependent, but we're going to get there. And I just want to assure all Virginians that when your time is there to get the vaccination, please be ready. But in the meantime, be patient. It's going to take a while to get to 8.5 million Virginians, but we're going to get there.
NNAMDIAnd here is Connor in Fairfax, Virginia. Connor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CONNORHi, Governor Northam. My question's actually about marijuana legalization and how it relates to the pandemic. I know it was a big part of your platform, and we did recently get decriminalization, but I feel like the progress towards legalization has been slow. And especially with, you know, everyone being in a year of lockdown, mental health is not really in a good place right now. And I'm sure we'll see very concerning alcohol use and opioid epidemic numbers coming out after lockdown is lifted. So, what do you think about medical marijuana and marijuana legalization in 2021, as it relates to the pandemic?
NORTHAMGreat question, Connor. And, you know, to your point, a couple years ago, we approved the use of marijuana, medically. It has a lot of -- I think a lot of promise for a lot of different diagnoses, medical conditions. Last year, we decriminalized marijuana in Virginia. And this year, we have proposed to legalize marijuana. There are 16 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have taken this step forward. And we've done two really thorough studies in Virginia. And I think the time is now to move forward with legalization in Virginia.
NORTHAMRegarding mental health, we're going to put resources to make sure that we take care of individuals that have mental health needs. We want to do this equitably, and we want businesses throughout Virginia to be able to participate in this. And finally, as a pediatrician, we want to make sure that we're protecting our children. So, a lot of thought, Connor, has gone into legalizing marijuana. I think the time is now, and I believe that Virginia can do it right.
NNAMDIOne of your priorities this year is to abolish the death penalty in Virginia. A bill ending the death penalty passed the Senate committee this week. How confident are you that it will pass?
NORTHAMWell, I'm very confident, and, again, we need to stop the death penalty in Virginia. Too many people have been executed. And also, Kojo, individuals that are not guilty have been very close to execution. One, namely Earl Washington, back in 1984. So, this is an equity issue.
NORTHAMIt's also an issue of a tremendous amount of resources being used for something that has not proved to be any safer for the Commonwealth of Virginia. So, it passed out of a committee, by 10 to 4, in the Senate this past week. I expect it to pass off the floor of the Senate and then move over to the House. And, again, I look forward to signing that piece of legislation in reconvened session his year. It's something that we need to do in Virginia, and that is to end the death penalty.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we only have about a minute left.
SHERWOODYes. And that's part of the racial equity to it, because more black people than white people are sentenced to death. But let me, very quickly, the marijuana thing, the law, as I read it, looking at the bill, it would not be effective until January 1st, 2023. Why would it take so long? Would that be to set up regulations?
NORTHAMAbsolutely, Tom, and it's something that we want to do right. You know, we're talking right now about who will oversee, whether it will be ABC or whether we'll form a new agency in Virginia. We obviously need to work with agriculture. We need to work with the businesses. So, probably '22, '23, in that timeframe, if we get the legislation passed this year. But, again, you know, I think the time is right.
NORTHAMAnd, again, you mentioned earlier, from an equity perspective, blacks and whites use marijuana at the same rate. Blacks are three-and-a-half times more likely to get arrested and four times more likely to get convicted. So, the way the laws were written are inequitable and, again, this is another reason that we need to legalize marijuana in Virginia.
NNAMDIAnd Governor Northam, thank you so much for joining us.
NORTHAMThank you, Kojo. And I know you took a step back, but I'm glad you're still on the air every Friday. And I look forward to being with you all again soon.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
NNAMDIRalph Northam is the governor of Virginia. The Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, community colleges in our region and nationwide are facing dropping enrollment numbers and dealing with the pandemic. We check in with local community colleges to hear how they're faring and what's in store for the spring semester.
NNAMDIThen, want to know the best part of being a police officer? Kojo for Kids welcomes Montgomery County Police officer Ana Hester. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. Any big plans this weekend, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODJust going to take a break and breathe fresh air.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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