On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Abby Phillip is a rare thing in the D.C. region: She was born and raised here, and still calls the area home.
Her Trinidadian parents moved to the area so her father, Carlos, could attend Howard University. She was born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1988. The Phillips returned to Trinidad for a few years, and when Phillip was in third grade they moved to Germantown, Maryland, before setting in Bowie.
Phillip graduated from Bowie High School before leaving for Harvard. It was while writing for The Harvard Crimson that she realized she wanted to be a journalist, and not a doctor. (She entered Harvard pre-med.)
After Harvard, she returned to the area and began her career in journalism at Politico, which led to a reporting gig with The Washington Post. She began at the Post as a general assignment reporter, but quickly went to the national politics desk, covering Hillary Clinton’s campaign and then the Trump administration.
In 2017, although reluctant to leave print journalism, Phillip joined CNN as a reporter. She quickly rose at the network by helping anchor the 2020 Republican and Democratic conventions and co-moderated the seventh Democratic debate (at the age of 31). And on Election Night and the days that followed, she was at the anchor desk alongside some of the network’s biggest names, reflecting on the historic moment: “Can I just say for Black women this has been really a proving moment for their political strength and carrying Joe Biden to the democratic nomination through the primary — Black women did that.”
In January, she began hosting CNN’s “Inside Politics Sunday” and was promoted to be the network’s senior political correspondent.
Abby Phillip joins us to talk about growing up in the area, how she’s gotten to where she has and where she may go next.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
- Abby Phillip Anchor, Inside Politics Sunday with Abby Phillip & Senior Political Correspondent, CNN; @abbydphillip
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast many Washingtonians have turned their hobbies into part-time businesses. We'll hear from some of them. But first if you live in this region, which you probably do, you probably know that it's rare to find someone who was born and raised here and still calls the area home. But these unicorns do exist, and I found one. It's CNN's Abby Phillip.
KOJO NNAMDIAbby Phillip was born in Alexandria and grew up in Bowie. She graduated from Bowie High School in 2006 and left the area for Boston where she attended Harvard University. It was there writing for the Harvard Crimson that she realized that she wanted to be a journalist. After graduating she returned to the area and began her career. Abby Phillip is now the Senior Political Correspondent at CNN and the host of "Inside Politics Sunday with Abby Phillip." She joins us now. Abby Phillip, thank you for joining us.
ABBY PHILLIPThanks for having me, Kojo. As a longtime fan of your show, it's really great to be with you today.
NNAMDIReally appreciate that. Abby Phillip, let's start with your childhood and your family. What brought your parents from Trinidad to the D.C. region?
PHILLIPWell, you know, I think that my parents ended up here, because we did not have very many relatives in the United States. But my great aunt lived in Virginia and like so many immigrants my parents tried to be as close to whatever family that we had as they tried to get started in this area. And in addition to that, one of the early reasons my parents ended up in the D.C. area was, because my father was actually finishing his bachelor's degree at Howard University. So he came up here basically as a student.
NNAMDIWe seem to be losing Abby Phillip. We should be reconnecting with her shortly. While we're waiting to reconnect with Abby Phillip, let me see what Cara in D.C. -- or is it Cara in D.C. would like to say. Cara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARAYou had it right the first time. It's Cara. Hi, Mr. Nnamdi. Hi, Ms. Phillip. I just wanted say what an asset you are to CNN and to the Washington D.C. area. I followed your work especially during the presidential election. And your analysis was always spot on and amazing. And now I see you every Sunday on "Inside Politics." I don't miss a Sunday. So I would just encourage everyone to watch you on Sundays.
NNAMDICara, Abby Phillip is back with us now, Cara. Care to respond to that, Abby?
PHILLIPThat is so great to hear, Cara. I really appreciate you saying that. And I really appreciate the support. I mean, it's been really incredible to start this journey with so many people who have been a part of watching CNN for years, but have really tried to kind of support the show on Sunday mornings. And I appreciate it. And I hope you keep tuning in. And I hope that we can keep giving you the kind of stories and conversation that you want to hear.
NNAMDICara, thank you very much for your call. Abby Phillip, you were explaining why your parents came to live in this region. It's similar to the reasons a lot of people come to live in this region including yours truly, friends and relatives and Howard University all being common denominators there. As I mentioned early, you were born in Alexandria. How long did you stay there until your parents took you and your siblings to Trinidad and Tobago and what do you remember about that time?
PHILLIPI think I was very, very young. I mean, I was probably a few months old when my parents moved back to Trinidad. So until I was middle school aged -- I was about eight years old when we came back to the United States, I had no memory of living in America. And all I knew was growing up in Trinidad with -- surrounded by my family on this tiny island in the Caribbean. So coming back to America was actually, you know, I was born here, but I felt like an immigrant myself.
PHILLIPI was coming to this place where I spoke with an accent, with a Trinidadian accent that I've since lost. And I had to learn the culture. And it was definitely challenging. But I remember as a kid just being so excited to come back to this place that I knew that -- where I had been born in. And all of my life knowing that I was born in the United States was ...
NNAMDII think we lost Abby Phillip again. We'll try to connect with her by phone once again. In the meantime, I will go to a caller to Iman in Chantilly, Virginia. Iman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IMANGood afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call.
IMANIs Abby on the line?
NNAMDIShe will be very shortly, but go ahead. If she doesn't hear your question, I'll relay it to her.
IMANOkay. I really want to ask Abby one question about, because she's a very outstanding reporter. She has a mannerism that she's always asking the right question. But as a reporter, I think the good reporter is always the one who gets the answer that they expect -- when they ask the politician a question they need to follow-up the question and make sure that the politician usually answers the question that they ask instead of pivoting the question. And I really believe that Abby that has that quality. And I think that she has a future on this CNN. And I really watch her every Sunday I can get. And I really believe that she can be a very good reporter just like the ...
NNAMDIShe is already a very good reporter, Iman. And what I'll do later on and Abby Phillip is back with us now. There was a particular question you were talking about dealing with President Trump. There was a particular question that President Trump refused to answer that she asked that we'll get to very shortly in this interview. But before we go there, Abby Phillip, when you returned from Trinidad and Tobago and you adjusted to life in Gaithersburg and in Bowie, did your family still -- was your family still have a community of people from Trinidad around?
PHILLIPThey did. You know, growing up we attended a church that was mostly immigrants from Trinidad. And so it was our way maintaining our tie to our culture and our community. And that was also one of the great things about it was just always kind being surrounded by those people who had also come to the United States, you know, at some point in the past and were a part of our extended family when we really didn't have anyone else in this country to kind of call actual family. Most of our family what remained in Trinidad and still does remain in Trinidad even to this day.
NNAMDILots of curry and roti to you folks who don't know what that is, you'll have to look that up. After graduating from Bowie High School, we have learned you were a violinist in the orchestra. You went to Harvard as a pre-med student. Talk about what changed that path and led you to journalism.
PHILLIPWell, I learned like so many college students that as much as I was interested in the sciences I was not particularly, you know, the kind of being in the labs and the math and the science it just wasn't my strong suit. And you kind of have to just figure out okay, what are your core competencies. And I realized very early on that was not one of mine, but one of the things I was always very interested ...
NNAMDIHere we go again. I think we're going to definitely try to get Abby on the phone this time, because her connection seems to be breaking up. Here is Bruce in Washington D.C. Bruce, your turn.
BRUCEAll right. Yeah, Kojo. I'm just kind of calling out due to your introduction to your guest and you called her a unicorn. And in the sense of all the unicorns, who live here just wanted to kind of stand up and say that the population in D.C. is not entirely made up of transients. I, my family and all my friends are born and raised here.
NNAMDIYes, wait. And Bruce, Bruce, even as I was saying that I realized that I would probably get a call from somebody like you, because I have a lot of friends who were born here, but I guess we weren't just talking about D.C. We were talking about the region as a whole.
BRUCEOkay. Just want to, you know, put a little pin in that, because I hear that a lot.
NNAMDIWhat high school did you go to?
BRUCECalvin Coolidge Northwest D.C.
NNAMDIYes. That's how you know that somebody is from D.C. They always know what high school they and all of their friends went to. But, Bruce, thank you very much for your call. Abby Phillips rejoins us now by phone. Abby, a lot of D.C. residents as we were just talking about go off to college and don't come back. Why did you return to this area to start your journalism career here?
PHILLIPWell, I have to say that it was a little bit of happenstance. I was graduating from college in 2010 and it was a time that we were still in the middle of the economic recession and I was just looking for a job in political journalism. And this is where those jobs were. So I ended up -- I actually in college I interned at WJLA at Channel 7 News if you're in the D.C. part of the D.C. area and I worked for the I-Team, the investigative team there in an internship, and I lived at home with my parents.
PHILLIPThe only reason I was able to do that internship was, because I could live at home. And then I came back the following summer and I worked at Politico, which is based in Alexandria. And so that's where I got my first job at Politico. And I ended up staying there. I actually left to work in New York briefly for about nine months.
PHILLIPBut I ended up coming back, I mean, I realized New York was not for me at the time. And I just wanted to live in this area, which I think is -- you know, I've been here ever since. It's a great place to live. It's a great place to build your life. And so I did end up coming back home.
NNAMDIA lot of people in this profession especially since you were in print journalism a lot of people strive to be on TV, but were in print and you were apparently reluctant to be on TV every day, why?
PHILLIPWell, you know, it's a lifestyle choice to be in the public eye in that way. And I always my work to kind of stand on its own and to not be the person that people paid attention to. I wanted it to be my work. Being on TV you have to accept that people are tuning in not just for what you're saying, but because of you, too. And I wasn't sure that was something that I wanted from my career.
PHILLIPAnd so I think that's different from a lot of people who start out in television they do it because being on television is something that in it of itself they like and they enjoy and they like the attention and the scrutiny. And that was just never my personality. So I had to think about do I want people to be looking at me physically looking at me every single day and do I want that to be part of my job?
NNAMDIAnd that's what happened. I have to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Abby Phillip. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Abby Phillip, Senior Political Correspondent at CNN and the host of "Inside Politics Sunday with Abby Phillip," Taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Abby, when we took that break we were talking about your initial reluctance to leave print for television. And I could tell you I share that experience somewhat. I worked in television for, oh, a couple of decades and a half maybe and during the course of that time when we were doing shows on a variety of topics that I thought were very important at the time. A lot of people would say, we watched your show yesterday. And we don't -- I don't exactly remember what you were talking about, but I hated your tie.
NNAMDIAbby, you were talking when we broke about why you ultimately made the decision to go from print to television despite your initial reluctance. Please, go ahead.
PHILLIPYeah. So I'll just -- and I'll just end by saying it's a trade-off in your life. You trade off a lot of -- you know, maybe a certain amount of privacy that you might have had or anonymity that you might have had to have a bigger platform to share the message. And I think that that has actually been a great side product of being on TV just for being able to reach a lot of different people. And then hearing from so many people how important it is to see someone, a Black woman on television in political journalism. I think that has been -- I didn't appreciate how important that would be, and that has been a huge side effect of this whole thing.
NNAMDIAnd while you're on that platform you never know whose watching, because while covering the Trump presidency for CNN in November 2018 you asked the president if he wanted Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to quote, unquote "reign in Special Counsel Robert Muller" and the president's response to your question was, well, not very nice.
PHILLIPDo you want him to reign in Robert Muller?
DONALD TRUMPWhat a stupid question that is. What a stupid question, but I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.
NNAMDIWhat was your reaction to that response, Abby, and how did you maintain your professionalism in the face of it?
PHILLIPWell, I think that in that moment I didn't really take it personally so to speak. I was more focused on the fact that he even reacted in that way in the first place. It seemed to suggest that he was angry about the question, because he didn't want to answer it. That it touched a nerve that perhaps I was on to something that was worth pressing on. And I was trying to follow-up with him. But as you can hear in the clip we were outside waiting for him to leave on Marine One, on the helicopter and so it was extremely loud, and he turned and just left right after taking that question. So there was no chance to follow-up.
PHILLIPIt was only until afterward that, you know, I think that a lot of people were rightfully offended by what he said. My reaction on a personal level was just that it didn't matter to me whether he thought the question was stupid. I knew that it wasn't a stupid question. And I was -- I felt more that his reaction had to do with the fact that it was probably an important question that he just didn't want to answer.
NNAMDIYes, I think his response in fact validated your question, but speaking of people who were upset by it, I think that would include Christopher in Winchester, Virginia. Christopher, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTOPHERHi, Abby. I watched that very particular moment and I was very impressed that you were not emotional, but you responded appropriately. And also I find you non-emotional even Jack Tapper or Wolf Blitzer or Dana Bash -- they would get very emotional and in their exuberant conversations if there's anything, but you are always very calm, cool, collect. How is that?
PHILLIPThat's a good question. I wish I knew. I mean, that's just -- it just feels like that's just how I am. That's how I approach these things. I mean, look, there's always a time -- there's a time and a place for emotion and for passion. And I think there's nothing wrong with those things. I do think that when I approach this job, I found that when you are talking about politics it's easy to get caught in the passion and it's harder to listen to people and to bring facts and to bring truth to an argument.
PHILLIPAnd I do think that when our politics works well it is when we are able to bring our competing arguments and listen to each other and make a determination about what is -- what you think is right and what you think is wrong. And so that's what I try to do is just try to bring as much factual information to the argument as I can.
PHILLIPAnd then people can decide how they feel about it. It's not my job to tell people how they should feel. But just to give them what I think is -- what I know is happening based on my reporting and what I know is happening based on, you know, my experiences as a journalist and as a human. And so that's why I try to kind of keep it even keeled, because I think it helps people get to the underlying information, which I think we need more of frankly in our politics and less of the kind of constant outrage that people are so used to.
NNAMDIChristopher, thank you very much for your call. 2020 was a big year for you. At just 31 year old you helped anchor CNN's coverage of the Republican and Democratic Conventions and co-moderated one of the Democratic debates alongside CNN veteran Wolf Blitzer. You stayed on the anchor desk through the election. And this what you said a couple days after votes were cast.
PHILLIPFor Black women this has been really a proving moment for their political strength in carrying Joe Biden to the Democratic nomination through the primary. Black women did that, and I think seeing a Black women on the ticket with Joe Biden on the cusp of this moment I think is something that will do down in history, because this has never happened before and not only would Black women put Joe Biden in the White House, but they would also put a Black woman in the White House as well. And that is the sort of historical poetry that I think we will live with for a long time. In addition to the fact that Donald Trump's political career began with the racist birther lie, it may very end with a Black woman in the White House.
NNAMDIAbby, that clip quickly went viral. As a recent Washingtonian article noted it was like nearly 30,000 times when HuffPost Senior Editor Philip Lewis tweeted out your quote. Were you surprised by the reaction your words got? And did you think of those poignant words on the spot?
PHILLIPI was very surprised by the reaction, I have to say, and yeah, I mean, it was very much an improvised moment. I mean, I will say that I had been thinking about putting into context the political power of Black moment -- women for a long time, for months frankly as I was reporting on this campaign and anchoring all of these big moments. It was always in the back of my mind that Black women deserve a lot of credit for what is happening in this country right now. And that just felt like the right moment to talk about it.
PHILLIPAnd I think a lot of people have gravitated toward this idea of historical poetry and that is a concept that I actually hold with me not just for that particular moment, but for a lot of moments in American history where sometimes the worst of us and the best of us can be right up against each other. And that is something that is sometimes difficult for us to live with as a country. But it's actually one of the things that makes us great that sometimes after our darkest moments or in our darkest moments we can have real signs of progress.
PHILLIPAnd it's one of the reasons that I love studying American history. It's one of the reasons I love American politics to see and witness those moments. And I think the election of the first Black and Indian American woman in our country's history was just such a moment, and I wanted to just mark that.
NNAMDIWell, in January you took over as host of the "Inside Politics Sunday" and were promoted to the network Senior Political Correspondent. With the election and the second impeachment trial over, things have slowed a bit news wise, but you don't appear to be slowing down. I hear you're writing a book on Jessie Jackson's 1988 presidential run. Tell us about it in the minute or so that we have left.
PHILLIPYeah. I am writing this book about Jessie Jackson and it has a lot of the same themes I think of this past election cycle. I wanted to go back to a presidential race that people don't talk about all that much, but that had I think a really profound impact on American politics, but on Democratic Party politics in general. You know, Jessie Jackson is someone who when you talk to political figures in Washington today they will say there would not be a Barack Obama without a Jessie Jackson.
PHILLIPSome people would say that Jessie Jackson was the precursor to what we saw with Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. And so telling that story I think is so important. Telling it now when there's an interest in Black stories.
NNAMDILooking forward to it. Abby, thank you so much for joining us. Abby Phillip is Senior Political Correspondent at CNN and the host of "Inside Politics Sunday with Abby Phillip." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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