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.
Fairfax County decided not to join Virginia’s statewide vaccine registration system. Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay joins us to talk about the vaccine rollout. Plus, we’ll talk about the county’s new policy barring cooperation with federal immigration agents.
Then, Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) joins the program to talk about leading the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. And we check in about the next coronavirus relief package and what the congressman hopes to accomplish under the Biden administration.
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 joined by Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. But joining us now Jeff McKay, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Chairman McKay, thank you so much for joining us.
JEFFREY MCKAYThank you very much, Kojo. Good to be with you again.
NNAMDITom Sherwood. Let's talk about another Jeffrey first, this being D.C.'s CFO, Jeffrey DeWitt who is announcing plans to resign next month. He says he wants to be closer to family in Kansas so he's taking a job in Kansas. But as I said in the billboard earlier, a lot of people might be saying, who's Jeffrey DeWitt? D.C. has only had three Chief Financial Officers since we first started in the 1990s. Tell us a little bit more about Mr. DeWitt.
SHERWOODWell, Mr. DeWitt did surprise everyone by announcing he's going to the University of Kansas. And far be it for me to correct you, Kojo, but there have been four Chief Financial Officers. Tony Williams took over the job in the mid-90s as the first CFO after the city was emerging from bankruptcy. And then after he quit to run for mayor, Valerie Holt was temporarily the CFO.
NNAMDIOh, I forgot her. I forgot that, yes.
SHERWOODYes, but she was unable to produce an annual budget. And she was out pretty quickly under Mayor Vincent Grey and Nate Gandhi, who was her deputy took over. And he stayed until 2014-13 when Jeffrey DeWitt came along. DeWitt is exactly what you just suggested. He doesn't look for headlines. He's tough on budget numbers. He puts out so much information it's hard to keep up with it.
SHERWOODBut he has family in, I think it's Leavenworth, Kansas. Always thinking isn't there a prison there not the University of Kansas. He's going to be the CFO and the Vice Chancellor there at the University. His daughter is married and lives there. She just had a child. So he has a grandchild there. And so he decided he would -- even though, he was approved for a second five year term in 2017, he decided he would go.
SHERWOODUnfortunately he's leaving at the heart of a major budget decision making for the District, but the mayor said this week she'll have an interim in place before March 9th when he leaves. And that the city will get through the next budget cycle. And just very briefly, the next budget cycle may be shocking to people. After all the cuts and worries from this past year, if the District gets its money from the federal government it will have about $2 billion to address reserves that have been spent and other programs the Council has been anxious to do. So there's a lot of money stuff going to be happening with a new CFO whoever it is.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned, I think Mayor Bowser. She is undertaking a new gun violence initiative that includes opening a gun violence emergency operation center in Anacostia. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, if you were running against the mayor next year, if she seeks a third term, crime and, you know, gun violence, homicide, carjackings, car thefts there are real serious issues. The mayor has tried any different ways to address the violence. Last year, 198 homicides was the highest in 15 years. So this week the mayor announced a new bureaucratic government program to address the issue. And there's a unique aspect of it. It's called Building Blocks D.C. And she says the city government and all its agencies are going to focus on 151 blocks where 41 percent of the gun crimes occur -- 151 blocks. That's about two percent of the city.
SHERWOODSo she says they're going to focus on it. She has a new director of gun violence, Linda Harper, who's going to have an office in Anacostia. And I think the other thing, which was not reported very much this week ...
NNAMDIAnd I should mention that, Tom Sherwood, you're the one who broke the story about Jeffrey DeWitt. Go ahead.
SHERWOODWell, thank you for bringing that up. Even belatedly, thank you for bringing that up. But the other aspect of this important move that the mayor is making is that I've talked a lot on this program about how the mayor and the Attorney General Karl Racine do not have a -- they have a strained relationship. And Karl Racine runs his own anti-gun violence program out of his office. And never the twain shall meet. And no one from the Attorney General's Office was at the mayor's press conference this week.
SHERWOODSo I called the Attorney General's Office. I said, where do you guys fit in? And I'm happy to report that the Office of Attorney General says that they have in fact been contacted by Linda Harper the new gun czar to work with the mayor's office to get ahold on these gun crimes. So that's good news.
NNAMDISo they are on board. On board with us right now is Jeff McKay, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Chairman McKay, across the region we've been seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases. And according to Angela Woolsey's report in Reston Now, Fairfax County had also been seeing that downward trend. But it's apparently leveled off since mid-January. How would you characterize the COVID-19 situation in Fairfax County right now?
MCKAYWell, first I'm very proud of the work that, you know, our staff and Health Department has done in attacking this challenge. But clearly there's a lack of vaccine. And that lack of vaccine is having an impact on our community. Right now I have over 100,000 people on the waiting list for a vaccine. That's down thankfully from 180,000 where it was a few weeks ago. But we're not getting nearly the number of vaccines from our state and federal partners that we need to meet demand.
MCKAYAnd so what we have been doing, obviously, vaccinating people, as soon as we get them, they're going into people's arms in a sophisticated way. But we have the capacity to administer vaccines to tens of thousands of additional people if we had the vaccine in hand. And so that's our biggest challenge. Obviously we're tackling vaccine hesitancy in certain communities that we're keeping a close eye on. But right now my challenge is not local resources and not local administration. My challenge is a lack of vaccine doses. And that's the biggest concern that we have.
NNAMDIWell, the Virginia Department of Health unveiled a new statewide vaccine registration system. But Fairfax County is sticking with its own system and won't participate. Why?
MCKAYWe are at time because there is a lot of anxiety in the community. There's a lot of fear that folks have and there's a lot of confusion. And setting up a new portal when we have a portal that's working very well in Fairfax would have been only one more layer of confusion and anxiety for the people that I represent. And so we may in the future transition over to the state program. But frankly, want to make sure it works and works well to begin with before we add another layer of confusion to our folks.
MCKAYWe did have and do have the most sophisticated system in the Commonwealth of Virginia until the state system was unveiled. Our system works well. Our people have learned to use it. They're confident in it. And frankly, you know, down the road we may transition. But right now it was a major concern of ours that it would be another source of confusion. And there is certainly a lot of confusion out there right now about vaccines, about how to get them, about what the challenges are we're facing. And we wanted to make sure we weren't adding to that problem.
SHERWOODChairman, thank you for joining us today. You know, I've been watching the national figures. We're right at just 1,000 or 2 short of 500,000 deaths. It's a number I really don't even -- I can't even appreciate. But it's an extraordinary number. We've had five weeks now across the nation of declining numbers of infections. What is the pressure on you to reopen a relaxed standards in Fairfax County? You were quoted I think earlier this week saying, "Until we start getting much higher volumes of people vaccinated it wouldn't make sense for us to reopen some of the floodgates." Is there something you can do to reopen short of floodgates?
MCKAYWell, first the county and Virginia counties don't have that lever of control like they do in Maryland and the District. And so we're reliant on the governor and the governor's orders. We're in regular communication with him. Frankly, I like to follow the science. And if we're seeing significant improvements, those improvements should run parallel with any reopening activities. At the beginning of this pandemic, many of us in the Northern Virginia region saw alarming numbers that didn't match what was happening in the rest of the state. And we requested that the governor look at us as a region and perhaps slow down the urgency to reopen our economy too early. And I think we've seen the results of that now. That was the right move.
MCKAYAnd so we have come a long way. People have made tremendous sacrifices over the last year. We want to be careful to not blow that at this point. Look we've administered over 165,000 vaccine doses in the county to date. We're making progress. We still have a long way to go.
MCKAYBut I don't want to send a message to the community that it's just safe now to go out and do everything we were doing before because we know we're not quite there yet. And I have to think about, you know, our long term strategies here, our long term recovery not what happens this week or next week. But what is the county going to look like and what is our economy going to look like in a few months. And certainly if we see ramp ups in vaccine availability as we've been promised at the federal and state level, those ramp ups hopefully will help us get to a more robust reopening quicker.
MCKAYBut we have to approach with caution. We have to follow the numbers. And we have to not ignore the many sacrifices people have made to get us to this point and below that because it's normal because it's not normal yet.
SHERWOODThe numbers are better in the state. I think the governor this week announced that there was $7 million surplus in several governments in our region. And elsewhere have announced that the hit to the economy was bad, but not nearly as bad as some had projected. What right now is the status of the Fairfax County budget given that 65 percent of your budget comes from moneys from commercial real estate?
MCKAYWell, 65 percent comes from real estate in general. And the driver of that right now is not commercial. It's residential, which is of course a double edged sword in the area of housing affordability. But to answer your question, we are projecting a $73 million budget shortfall going into the next fiscal year. And as you know, Virginia local governments are not allowed to run deficits by constitution. And so we are projecting $73 million shortfall for next fiscal year that will have to be addressed in the next budget.
MCKAYAnd so we thought that number would be worse. But $73 million is not insignificant as we work to put together a budget next year. And we also know that because, as you point out, a lot of our budget is based on real estate that the assess to value of those real estate holdings may not be fully known and the impact may not be fully appreciated for years, because those numbers lag the real budget. And so I think we're in this for a couple of years.
NNAMDIOkay. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Jeff McKay, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Jeff McKay, the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Here is Chris in Falls Church, Virginia. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHi, Chairman McKay, I just wanted to say thank you. Older relatives and friends are being vaccinated here in Fairfax County. So keep on keeping on and we'll get there.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you for your call, Chris. On a slightly different note here is John in Clifton. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNThank you very much. I registered with Fairfax County on the 19th of the month. And it got noticed that registration had taken effect. But then got notice yesterday I think that my registration had rolled over to the Virginia system. And I'm just wondering given what you said earlier about not participating in the Virginia system how that's possible or what does it mean?
MCKAYSo that's the first I've heard that. I will say that, you know, we are not in the state system at this point. But anyone who registers with the state, their information automatically comes to Fairfax County and is a part of our registration queue. And so if you have registered with the county already, you have nothing to be concerned about. And any information that comes from the state at this point about registration should be ignored at this time.
MCKAYWe know a lot of people got notices from the state and some of them may have registered in other counties and also in Fairfax and so there is some confusion over that. But the bottom line is if you've registered on the Fairfax County portal and you got an email telling you that you were registered with Fairfax County there's nothing that the state program will do that will affect you and where you are in the queue. So you should be good to go.
NNAMDIThank you for you call, John. Tom Sherwood talked earlier about these counties budget. How are Fairfax County businesses faring particularly restaurants and is the county providing any aid for them?
MCKAYWe are. We've put almost $50 million into a federal rise grant for small businesses and a majority of the recipients of those grants were smalls businesses with 0 to 10 employees, or in fact, you know, businesses that are minority owned and a lot of them are in the hospitality-restaurant business. We know that there's a disproportionality in impact on our businesses not just in sector, but also in ownership status, and so we have targeted a lot of grant programs to those industries most impacted.
MCKAYAs we move forward clearly the hospitality industry is going to need additional assistance from the county. And we're working on additional ways to help them as we move forward, because they have been very disproportionately hurt when you look overall at business. But, you know, we are faring better than we expected. But that success is not trickling down into a lot of industries that are going to need our continued help.
SHERWOODPart of this -- a friend of mine was telling me, he was driving by the Capital One Building there in Fairfax and he was amazed at all the construction going on around there. Last week I mentioned I was going out Washington Boulevard in Arlington and saw extraordinary construction. One thing, has any construction to your knowledge been delayed or slowed down or stopped, because of the expectation that workers may not return in large numbers to office buildings?
MCKAYNo. Tom, we have not seen that at all. In fact, we've seen people taking advantage of this time to get a lot of construction work done. We've had a lot of requests to expedite permitting and speed up our review process so that people can take advantage of the low interest rates that are out there for construction and real estate. And frankly, I think we've laid a foundation of investment in the county that is leading to success whether it's the Silver Line construction or the $1 billion we're getting ready to invest in a BRT system on Route 1. The infrastructure matters. And I have not seen any projects delayed or stopped as a result of the pandemic. In fact, we've experienced the exact opposite.
NNAMDILast month Fairfax County supervisors voted to prohibit county employees from working with federal immigration agents. Why was this a priority for you? Were Fairfax County Police cooperating with federal agents?
MCKAYWell, it was a huge priority for me, because it has always been a practice in the county, but frankly it had never been codified. And we need to be crystal clear not only with our employees, but also with the community what expectations are. We do not voluntarily share information with ICE. We have a police general order that says that. And I think it's more important now than ever, you know, we're talking about vaccine. We're talking about testing. We're talking about COVID-19. And our community needs to have confidence in their local government. And we need everyone who's living in the county to register to get a vaccination, to get tested to help us fight this pandemic.
MCKAYSo in a lot of ways it's never been more important now than to have local government be seen as a trusted source for people regardless of their immigration status to help us get through this pandemic. And so the timing of it was vital to have this pass on January 26. It's the first in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
MCKAYI can guarantee you it won't be the last, because it's morally the right thing to do. But more importantly it's logistically the right thing to do especially when there's a lot of hesitancy in the community about getting vaccinated, and a lot of distrust of government frankly as a result of the last four years. And we've got a lot of work to do in that area to rebuild confidence with our community.
SHERWOODDid I read the number correctly that 40 percent of the residents of Fairfax who are five years of age speak a language other than English at home? Is that right, 40 percent?
MCKAYThat is right.
MCKAYWe are a very diverse community. And really that's our strength. It's our strength economically. It's our strength culturally. And it gives us an advantage over many other parts of the country that don't have that rich diversity and, you know, don't have the workforce that we have and the assets that we have. So it's a statistic we're very proud of, but it's absolutely right. And frankly I think will continue to trend upward.
NNAMDIVirginia no longer has an eviction moratorium in place, and with the weather and the pandemic, being evicted is a more dire situation than ever before. How is Fairfax County addressing this problem?
MCKAYSo we're doing it multiple ways. One we have a hotline that people can call and that hotline will help them with any financial support that they need whether it's housing, whether it's utilities, whether it's food assistance. They can call that number. We have added in the last year over 1,000 new units of affordable housing in the county under this board's leadership. And we recently received a Department of Treasury emergency rental assistance grant of $34 million that our residents can use to make sure that they stay in their homes.
MCKAYWe pressed Richmond repeatedly to extend the moratorium on evictions. We supported those and we obviously know now that some of that is coming to a head. And so we have money sitting in our hotline call center to be put out to anyone who can -- feels like they cannot afford to pay their rent and is at risk of eviction. And they should call that number 703-222-0880 to get assistance. And we have the resources and finances to be able to aid them.
NNAMDIHere now is Susan in Reston. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSANYes, thank you for doing this great Q & A. I registered on the 18th for my shot about 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. However, I did not receive any acknowledgement until 10:00 p.m. that night. Given that you're first come first serve, am I logged in your system at my 1:00 p.m. registration or my 10:00 p.m. acknowledgement?
MCKAYYou're logged in when you first registered at the earlier time. There is a time delay in some notifications going out that people are registered, but you are timestamped in at the time you initially register. So in your case, the earlier time.
NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left. So I'll go where Tom Sherwood likes to go, politics about the governor's race. A poll from the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University has found that half of democratic voters are undecided on who they're going to support in the primary in the governor's race. Who will you support?
MCKAYWell, I publically supported former Governor Terry McAuliffe. I think he has the background and the experience that is necessary right now given this profound effect of the pandemic. So at this time I think it's essential to have someone, who understands how the state works, understands the importance of counties. And, you know, I have faith in Terry to be that person. I will say that Democrats in particular have an amazing slate of phenomenal candidates.
MCKAYAnd, you know, Jennifer McClellan, who is also in the race, someone I've known since college days. That's how long we've been friends. She would be an amazing governor as well. We have an embarrassment of richness in the slate of Democrats running for governor. But I have supported Terry McAuliffe and I think he'll do an amazing job if he gets a second shot.
SHERWOODDo you include Justin Fairfax in that list of amazing candidates? He seems to be having a quiet campaign.
MCKAYWell, I know Justin. He's a friend. I know he's had some challenges. Frankly, I don't blame him for running. You know, he has some great experience as lieutenant governor. I'm not supporting him for governor at this time, but I do think he is a good candidate.
NNAMDIJeff McKay, thank you so much for joining us. Jeff McKay is the Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Up next, Congressman Jamie Raskin. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Jamie Raskin. He is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland's 8th congressional district, which includes parts of Montgomery, Carroll and Frederick counties. Congressman Raskin, thank you for joining us.
JAMIE RASKINKojo, I'm delighted to be with you.
NNAMDICongressman Raskin, let's start on January 6th, the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Tell us what that day was like for you, especially. Where were you?
RASKINWell, that was a really hard day. The day before, Kojo, we had laid to rest my son, Tommy Raskin. And I had brought with me, on January 6th, to the Hill, our youngest daughter Tabitha, and my new son-in-law Hank, who married our older daughter, Hannah. And so, they were with me and we were using Steny Hoyer's office off of the House floor. And I was one of the managers of the majority team that was refuting the objections to Electoral College votes being received from PA and from Arizona and from Georgia and other states.
RASKINAnd so, they had come to the floor to see me, and then after I spoke, they went back to that room. And unbeknownst to them, there had been a breech in the Capitol. And none of us knew it, but very quickly, we did. And it was, you know, an hour or two of true terror there, because, you know, the insurrectionists were trying to basically, you know, knock down the door, you know, barge into the door. And that was a hellish sound that we heard. And I had no way of getting back to be with Tabitha and Hank.
RASKINSo, they were barricaded inside that room with my chief of staff, Julie Tagen. They had pushed all the furniture up against the door. They were hiding under the desk. And Julie had actually found a fire pick in the fireplace that she was holding up over the door in case anybody got in. So, you know, it was terrifying. And we had tried to tell part of that story of what happened on January 6th at the trial of the impeachment of President Trump.
NNAMDIYou certainly did, and you mentioned the passing of your son Tommy Bloom Raskin. So, allow me, on behalf of our entire production team, our entire station to offer our condolences on the passing of your son. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODCongressman, thank you for joining us. I know it's been an extraordinary period of time for you, and I appreciate the time you're giving us today. Let me ask you about the follow up from the riot, the heavy fencing that has gone up around the Capitol buildings. I have driven around it. Kojo knows I've ranted about it.
NNAMDII'm not the only person who knows this, Tom. The entire region knows that you rant about these barriers.
SHERWOODAnd there was clearly -- there will be investigations, the Speaker has said, about the U.S. Capitol police and what its management -- not its heroic officers but what its management failed to do to anticipate what was about to happen. Where are you on the fence? When can -- I know there's a State of the Union coming up, and that will probably stay till then. But where are you, as you work there and you have to pass through these 10-foot fences, where are you on these fences coming down? And what might be put up permanently, in its place, if we're not careful?
RASKINWell, it's one more terrible casualty of the violence that we experienced on January 6th. I mean, one of the great things about our open, democratic government is just the fluidity and the transparency and the ease of access to our institutions. And, you know, add that to, you know, the fallout of Donald Trump's incitement and mobilization of a violent mob to take over Congress and to lay siege and waste to the Capitol the way that they did, I'm hoping that we can come back to a place where it's open to the people. And, obviously, it's got to be secure.
RASKINI mean, the time for the security, heightened precautions should've been January 6th, and that has been a real problem. So, I agree with you about that, Tom. We've got to get back to, you know, the idea that in democracy, the government belongs to the people.
SHERWOODAnd let me also ask you, this week, there was news that there are 35 police officers -- there are about 2,000 Capitol police officers. There was news this week that 35 of them are being investigated for potentially helping the rioters. Do you have any sense of that?
NNAMDIThere might be some delay with the congressman, because he's joining us on Zoom. And if that's not working out, we can also reach him by phone. But Congressman Raskin, are you there? In that case, while we're trying to get him properly hooked up by phone, I'm going to go to the telephone. And I know there are people who wonder about the impeachment trial, such as Pam in Frederick. Pam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Pam.
RASKINKojo, I'm afraid I've lost...
NNAMDIPam in Frederick, are you there?
PAMYes. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, very well. Go right ahead as we try to reconnect...
PAMCan you hear me? Okay.
NNAMDIYes, go right ahead.
PAMOkay. I'm a constituent, and want to say Congressman Raskin did brilliant work. My question is, will he and Congress be pursuing the 14th Amendment against Donald Trump? And if not, why not?
NNAMDICongressman Raskin, are you back yet? Not yet, Congressman Ruskin. So, I'm going to take a note of these questions and make sure I ask them to the congressman when he joins us shortly on the phone. Here now is Duru in Silver Spring. Duru, your turn.
DURUWell, thanks. So, basically, I find it a bit maddening that the constitutionality question was settled. That's why they proceeded to the trial. And then you have people like McConnell saying, well, I'm acquitting because I don't think it's constitutional to try a non-sitting president but -- or impeach a non-sitting president, but, basically, I'm agreeing to everything that the prosecution is asserting.
SHERWOODWell, while we're waiting -- is the congressman back?
RASKINI'm back, Kojo.
NNAMDIYes, go right ahead. We...
RASKINI want to thank Duru for saying that. I mean, I share his frustration, absolutely. We dealt with that as a threshold procedural issue in the trial. We said, fine, let's have a debate about it, and we had two hours of debate on it, you know, with each side participating. And there were two weeks on that question in the Belknap case in 1876. And the Senate has always rejected the idea that it cannot conduct a trial of a public official who was tried for conduct committed while in office and impeached by the House of Representatives while in office.
RASKINSo, this wasn't a new issue, and it wasn't a hard issue. We settled it as a threshold procedural question. And then, you know, I tried to emphasize to the senators their job now was to sit as jurors hearing the facts of the case and not go back to that. But they all wanted to hang their hat on it, even though with Mitch McConnell many of them said, we had overwhelmingly proven our case. Which, of course, we did. The facts were overwhelming on our side. They were unrefuted, and we think irrefutable, but certainly Trump's lawyers did nothing to lay a glove on our case.
NNAMDIAnd Pam in Frederick, Maryland wanted to know if you plan on pursuing the 14th Amendment against Trump. And if not, why not?
RASKINWell, the 14th Amendment, Section 3 is directly applicable to what the President has done, because he committed insurrection and rebellion against the union. Some people are saying, well, it's only applicable to the Civil War. But, of course, there's nothing on its terms that applies just to the Civil War. It's, in general, engaging in insurrection or rebellion.
RASKINIt's a fascinating legislative history, Kojo, because some people were saying, well, anybody who participated in the Confederacy shouldn't be able to vote or hold office. And the radical Republicans in Congress said, that's too broad. That sweeps too far afield. Let's focus on the people who actually swore an oath under the Constitution to uphold the Constitution and to defend it, and then betrayed the country and betrayed their oath. Those people should never be able to serve again.
RASKINSo, Donald Trump is right in the center of that prohibition. And so, I think that Congress will be exploring ways to make clear that he ran afoul of the 14th Amendment, in addition to violating his oath of office and subjecting himself to the conviction vote, which I want to emphasize, was 57 to 43.
RASKINSo, it was a very strong vote to convict the President. It was the biggest bipartisan Senate majority vote in a presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. And we got seven Republicans who are from all over the country, New England, Mid Atlantic, the South, Midwest, you know, Alaska. So, all over the country, and those people are now, as you know, being subjected to a roundup by right wing cancel culture as they try to censure them in the state Republican Parties.
SHERWOODCongressman, this is The Politics Hour, as you know. You said a couple years ago that, quote, "My ambition is not to be in the political center. It is to be in the moral center." I think you're only in your third term, is that correct?
RASKINYeah, I just started my third term.
SHERWOODJust started your third term. You now have international identification for the work you've done on the impeachment trial. How do you assess the long term effect on what you plan to do? Are you looking to run for reelection next year? Probably yes, but are you looking to stay in the House? If Ben Cardin were to decide not to run in 2024, would you even think about, have people mentioned to you, have you thought about running for the Senate if Ben Cardin decided not to seek another term? Just where are you -- how are you going to use this political power, frankly, that you now have?
RASKINWell, let's see. I mean, thank you for saying that stuff, Tom. And I understand that when I was off leading the impeachment trial effort with the managers, that you guys were saying nice stuff about me, which made me very suspicious about what was going on.
SHERWOODIt was to set up the question I just asked. What are you doing next?
RASKINYou know, I honestly don't know the answer to that. I'm passionately committed to my work in the House of Representatives and to representing the great people in Montgomery and Frederick and Carroll Counties. And that's really all I want to do right now. I mean, we're not out of the woods with this thing. I mean, you know, Donald Trump has been declaring himself exonerated or rehabilitated by this, which is, of course, absurd.
RASKINYou know, I mean, he certainly beat the constitutional spread, which was two-thirds, but 57 percent of the U.S. Senate voted to convict him, a commanding majority of the House and the Senate. But we still have him, you know, pandering to racist, violent insurrectionist forces in the country. So, I'm going to be out there fighting, as I always have been, for strong democracy, Tom.
RASKINAnd, you know, I'm not somebody who has been, you know, addicted to a particular kind of germinating and public office. I just want to really be part of the movement for strong democracy in America and making sure we're making progress for our kids and our grandchildren.
SHERWOODWill you travel the country in the 2022 congressional campaigns to help people win and keep the Democratic control? With the census coming now and the Supreme Court opening the door to gerrymandering, the Democrats could have a very difficult time in the next 18 months, two years.
RASKINYeah, I agree with that. And I will be doing whatever I can to defend and expand the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate. I believe that Donald Trump has been convicted in the court of public opinion. He has been convicted in the court of history. And he may indeed be leading to the destruction of the Republican Party, which we should take no joy or delight in, especially if it's going to become an increasingly right-wing, authoritarian fascistic kind of party.
RASKINBut we have to be out in the country giving people hope, teaching people about the Constitution, teaching people about our history and moving the country forward in the way that we've been able to make political and social progress in our history. So, yes, I will be very much a part of that process. And as soon as we can really start to travel again, I will be traveling.
NNAMDIBefore I get back to the phones, I know Tom Sherwood wants to ask you about some other courts that the former President might find himself in. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, yes. The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at the end of his remarkable speech where he agreed with you on everything about what Trump had done wrong, except the Constitution, that you can charge him, said that there would be civil and criminal possibilities. Do you see any real civil cases that could have teeth in them?
RASKINVery much so. You know, more and more information has been coming out and will be coming out about the direct ties between the President and the extremist groups that were on the frontlines of taking over Congress. But my colleague Benny Thompson has brought a lawsuit under the KKK Act, which was another Reconstruction measure that was set up to allow civil suits against people who conspired to interfere with congressional operations. And, of course, that's what it was, when you think about it.
RASKINWhat Trump did with those mobs was to try to interfere with the counting of the Electoral College vote. And what Vice President Pence did, to his credit, was refuse to reject the electors coming in from Pennsylvania and from Arizona and Georgia and other states. But all they wanted to do was send those electors back so that they could declare there was a failure of a majority in the Electoral College, sending it into a contingent election in the House which Trump would've won. Because we both -- they are not one number one vote, but one state one vote.
RASKINWe were very close to seeing a successful coup in America. And he might have declared martial law to quell the chaos that he had unleashed upon us. So, we could've gone in a number of different directions there, but all of it was aiming towards keeping Trump in office, as he very honestly said he was going to do. It would be a continuation and not a peaceful transfer of power to keep Trump in office.
NNAMDIHere is -- here's Gilbert in Annapolis, Maryland. Gilbert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GILBERTHello. Thank you. I appreciate what Congressman Raskin has done. I want to point out that one of the main reasons why 74 million Americans voted for, essentially, a dictatorship rather than representative government is that we don't really have representative government.
GILBERTAnd what I mean by that is that when ordinary citizens write to their members of Congress -- whether it's in the House or the Senate, or in Maryland or in Pennsylvania or Virginia, elsewhere -- their messages do not get to the members of Congress. They only get to overworked, underpaid incompetent and ill-motivated staff members who just try to deceive the constituent into thinking that their message has actually reached the Congress.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, I've got to say, Gilbert, you express a very high level of cynicism by calling all congressional staff members incompetent. But I'd rather have Congressman Raskin respond to that.
RASKINWell, thank you, Gilbert. I don't know who your representative is, but I think I speak for the vast majority of people in Maryland delegation in that we pride ourselves on active and engaged constituent service and dynamic interaction. I take home 10 or 15 letters a week from constituents and I call those people. I write or I edit every letter that we send out. We do get thousands of letters and emails a week.
RASKINBut I've got a fantastic district office staff led by Kathleen Connor. And we take everybody's email messages and letters seriously, and calls, including people from around the country. And we've been getting more of those. But I think that your general point is correct, that there's been some breakdown in the connection between members and the people. But a lot of that has to do with gerrymandering -- as was mentioned before -- as well as the Electoral College whose booby traps are now obvious to the world to see after the nightmare of the President's incitement of mob violence against, you know, the counting of the Electoral College votes on January 6th.
RASKINSo, I think there are a lot of reforms that we need to continue the progress of democracy in America. I mean, if you look at where our Constitution has gone, it's always been the direction of making things more democratic, getting rid of state legislative selection of U.S. Senators and giving it to the people, allowing women to vote, dismantling race barriers in voting through the 14th and 15th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act.
RASKINGiving people in D.C., under the 23rd Amendment, the right to participate in presidential elections. And the next step, of course, would be statehood for people in D.C. So, I agree we need to move in that direction. I would not blame it on the hardworking and underpaid people who are staffers who are, you know, dealing with a lot of anxiety in the public, precisely because of the propaganda that Donald Trump has been putting out over the last four years.
NNAMDI(overlapping) I'm glad you mentioned the issue of anxiety, because that's a mental health issue, and you have talked openly about your son's struggle with depression. Earlier this month, you and other members of the Montgomery County delegation announced that more than $7 million would be used to expand mental health services. Why is this, in your view, important funding, especially during the pandemic?
RASKINWell, the pandemic has been a period of a lot of isolation and loneliness for people. The level of mental stress has been going up on every conceivable measure, Kojo. And, you know, we've, of course, seen the terrible heartache in our family related to this. And, you know, people have a lot of struggles, psychologically and emotionally. And that's just in the human condition.
RASKINBut if you add to that, all kinds of social isolation and division and polarization and a public dialogue that's based on, you know, race-baiting and, you know, meanness and viciousness towards people, it becomes a very hostile environment. And we've heard from so many young people around the country who've been struggling during this period. So, I think we need a politics and we need a government that is conducive towards just basic decency for people, so they can lead their lives in peace and in freedom.
NNAMDIHere is Eric, in Ward 6. Eric, your turn.
ERICHi, Congressman Raskin. I had a question. Was the gang of eight briefed before the Capitol insurrection? And if so, will this information be declassified? And if they weren't, why weren't they briefed?
RASKINI don't know what you're referring to, but we are supporting, I'm strongly supporting the creation of a 9/11-style commission that would look into all of the events that took place in a comprehensive and systematic way, both on, you know, the President's incitement, the mobilization of extremist groups, what took place there and why we were not ready for it.
RASKINSo, you know, I hope we get the answers to all of the questions that are out there, you know. So, I hope we don't get into a situation where we're just blaming the Capitol Police, the people on the frontlines with that medieval style violence and who were being, you know, beaten and pummeled with American flags and Confederate battle flags. They did everything they could. We'll look at whatever decisions were made above them by, you know, the Capitol Police leadership. And then we'll try to figure out what happened.
SHERWOODCongressman, President Biden has taken office. He's pursuing his agenda, including the $1.9 trillion relief package, and all of that. What are you -- there are many people who are saying he's doing a pretty good job of calming things down on the national level, but there are also progressives -- and you are a progressive -- who are complaining that he's already signaled he may not go forward with the $15 minimum wage aspect of the package. He might compromise too much. How would you assess Joe Biden, President Biden here in the early days of his presidency and not the one we just had?
RASKINWell, it's a remarkable breakthrough to have a president who actually believes in the government as an instrument of the common good and the public interest. And Joe Biden is someone who leads with tremendous compassion and solidarity for all people. And so, I think that that is just such a refreshing, dramatic change in our politics.
RASKINAnd, you know, obviously, progressives are going to be fighting for those things that we've been pushing for for a long time, like the $15 minimum wage. I saw a study yesterday, Kojo, that said that today's minimum wage in real terms is 15 or 20 percent less than it was when the minimum wage was first adopted. I mean, people really can't support their families on the minimum wage that exists.
RASKINSo, you know, the challenge of political leadership is to figure out how far you can go in pushing for change, understanding that there will always be forces of inertia and conservatism against you.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're just about out of time unless I can share this email with you. Barbara emails: Talk about profiles and courage. I am proud to call him my congressman. Obviously referring to you, Congressman Raskin. Thank you so much for joining us.
RASKINThank you, Kojo, and please tell me it ain't so that you're leaving the air.
NNAMDII'm not leaving the air completely. Sherwood and I will still be around to continue to pollute the air. Don't worry about it. (laugh)
RASKINWell, I love you guys. Thank you for having me on.
NNAMDIThank you. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, for the last 20 years, D.C. has been among the fastest gentrifying cities in the nation. A recent study says that's changing, but is it? Then Kojo for Kids welcomes soccer superstar and activist Abby Wambach. She led the U.S. women's team to two World Cups and won two Olympic Gold Medals. We're taking kids' questions about soccer and standing up for what they think is right. That's at noon, Monday. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend and stay safe. Tom Sherwood, big plans?
SHERWOODNo. It's too cold to do anything.
NNAMDIOkay. Well, stay safe and, again, thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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