The Democrats tend to bring a knife to a gunfight, while the Republicans bring a rocket launcher. In this special, live-recorded episode of Deconstructed, Mehdi Hasan is joined by a panel of leftist lawmakers and advocates at the National Union Building in Washington, D.C. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has been ranked as the most progressive Democrat in the Senate and is the only Democratic senator to have endorsed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016. California Congressman Ro Khanna is a leading member of the House Progressive Caucus and the co-sponsor of the STOP Bezos Act, which helped pressure Amazon to raise the company’s minimum wage earlier this month. CNN political commentator Symone Sanders was national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign and is a former Harvard fellow. Nina Turner, the founder of Our Revolution and former Ohio state senator, was named to Politico’s Playbook Power List of 18 people to watch in politics in 2018. Together, these panelists join Mehdi Hasan to discuss whether the Democrats will take a left turn and use their impending majority in 2019 to not just restrain or even impeach Donald Trump, but to push for a bolder, more progressive agenda.
Mehdi Hasan: I’m Mehdi Hasan and welcome to a very special edition of Deconstructed.
[music and applause]
MH: Today we’re in front of a live audience at the National Union Building in Washington D.C. ahead of next month’s midterms and the coming blue wave. I’m joined by a panel of lefty luminaries here to discuss the future of the American left, especially in Congress.
Because if Democrats take the House, maybe even the Senate too, what happens next, are they willing to take a left turn and really fight for what they believe in? Because Democrats, well, they tend to bring a knife to a gun fight, while Republicans they bring a rocket launcher. So, the question we’re discussing today is will a Democratic majority in Congress use its power not just to go after the tangerine tyrant in the White House but to push for a bold, progressive agenda? Are the Democrats ready to get radical?
We have a stellar panel today. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon has been ranked as the most progressive Democrat in the Senate. He’s also the only Democratic Senator to have endorsed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016. In June he was turned away from a migrant detention facility on the Texas border. He filmed the encounter. It rightly went viral earlier this month. He took legal action to try and get released thousands of blocked documents related to Brett Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House.
Congressman Ro Khanna of California is a leading member of the House Progressive Caucus, a former Obama administration official and one of the only members in Congress not to take a cent of corporate PAC money. He was co-sponsor —
This is a proper lefty crowd. We’re getting applause for all the right things. He was the co-sponsor with Senator Bernie Sanders of the Stop Bezos Act which earlier this month helped pressure Amazon boss Jeff Bezos into raising the company’s minimum wage to 15 dollars for all employees.
Symone Sanders was National Press Secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. No relation, I believe, between the two of them. The youngest presidential campaign press secretary in US history. She’s a former Harvard fellow and nowadays can be seen representing the progressive left on cable news as a CNN political commentator.
Another familiar face for progressives on CNN is Nina Turner who was a national surrogate for Bernie Sanders in 2016, a former Ohio State Senator and a member of the Democratic National Committee’s Unity Reform Commission. Nina is now president of Our Revolution, which is the organization set up to advance the Bernie Sanders economic political vision and was named to Politico’s Playbook Power list of 18 people to watch in politics in 2018. Ladies and gentleman, your panel.
[music and applause]
So, I was originally going to kick off this discussion by asking if the Democrats win in November big and take control of the House and maybe even Senate too, should they impeach Donald Trump? That was going to be my first question. But I think another impeachment question is worth asking given recent events. Should Democrats in Congress impeach liar, liar, pants on fire Brett Kavanaugh, the newest Supreme Court Justice? Ro Khanna, let’s start with you. You’re a member of the House where Democrats are much more likely to win a majority next month. Do you think impeaching beer-loving Brett for perjury among other things should be high on the party’s agenda?
Ro Khanna: I think there has to be an investigation and a continued investigation. But let me talk about something more urgent, which is the Democrats need to have a proposal to reform the Supreme Court. There is no reason to have lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court.
In fact, you could have a situation where you serve 12 or 18 years and serve on the appeals court and you don’t even need an amendment for that because under the constitution, you serve just for good behavior and you can move then to the appellate court. And we ought to expand the court not for simply political reasons but you look at the number of cases the Supreme Court is hearing. They used to hear 184 during the Reagan years, they’re hearing now about 84. We ought to have now a proposal to expand the court and require super majority confirmation. Democrats need to be for modernizing the Supreme Court in the 21st Century.
MH: Jeff Merkley, it’s less likely that Democrats are going to win the Senate, but even if you do, you’re not going to have the two-thirds super majority that you need to impeach a Supreme Court justice. So, what do Democrats do in the face of the most right-wing reactionary and tainted Supreme Court in modern American history, just roll over? What’s the solution? Ro mentions reforming. Are you on that train?
Jeff Merkley: Well, let’s start with the proposition that the Justice Department could obviously under a different leader than President Trump, proceed to pursue felony charges against Brett Kavanaugh for perjury before the US Senate.
MH: And would you be pushing for that from the Senate?
JM: Absolutely and we really have to wrestle with the court because, here is the situation – the court is no longer a panel of wise, individuals weighing the provisions of the constitution against each other. It is now the most powerful legislative body and it is a legislative body controlled by and for the powerful rather than by and for the people. And if we don’t take on the issues of gerrymandering, if we don’t take on the issues of voter suppression, dark money in campaigns, then we’re going to lose forever more to the one percent and the court’s right at the heart of all those key issues.
MH: Symone, “court packing” is now being talked about. Partly by me, I wrote a piece about it. But President Trump mentioned it at one of his rallies. It’s even reached the president’s desk, probably in pictorial form.
But what do you think? Do you think the Democrats, when they control all three branches of government, if they ever control all three branches of government, should expand the size of the Supreme Court to make up the fact that one seat was stolen and one’s occupied by a perjurer who was accused of sexual assault by three different women?
Symone Sanders: Not to mention a partisan. I don’t think Donald Trump knows what ‘court packing’ is. So maybe someone will send him your article so he can get well-versed on the issue. Look I do think that Democrats should entertain and really give a hard look at proposals to expand the court. We do need reform but first and foremost we have to win in November and then after we win in November then comes oversight and so even if we don’t win the Senate, which I do think is still possible Democrats in the house will have the opportunity to do what Republicans in the House are refusing to do is exercise their constitutional duty to give oversight and to check, put a check on this President.
And I think that is what will be important in so many things will come out of these oversight hearings. There are things now we only know of because of the media, because of what journalists are digging up, but what would happen if Congress was actually doing its job?
MH: Nina, there were a lot of activists who were at Capitol Hill over the last couple of weeks. How did you feel on Saturday when you saw Brett Kavanaugh getting that vote being sworn in? A lot of people were demoralized, others were just angry. What is the right reaction now?
Nina Turner: All of that, I mean people should be angry as hell. We’re mad and we’re not going to take it anymore, but folks need to channel that anger into action. I mean, it’s one thing to be mad. I mean, to have the leader of the senate in Mitch McConnell-
MH: There was literally an “ugh” from the audience. Poor old Mitch.
NT: You know, to have him refer to citizens who were and are exercising their First Amendment right as a mob, and that language is deliberately used, you know. There’s something wrong with that that they want to suppress the voices of the people. So, if he believes that the people who were campaigning against and making their voices heard against Justice – oh, Lord, Judge Kavanaugh, just to even say the word makes me kind of cringe – calling a mob mentality. Then what was it when African Americans in this country were fighting for civil rights? I guess Dr. King had a mob mentality or Mahatma Gandhi fighting for the rights of his people had a mob mentality. I will go with the mob mentality any day of the week as long as that mentality is about justice.
And they were not a mob in the sense that no violence was being perpetrated, but the anger is palpable and it is real and I’m going to tell you something we have a lot in this country to be mad as hell about. I am from the angry Black woman club.
NT: You with me, Symone?
NT: And we taking applications. All y’all can be angry Black women too.
MH: I’m from the angry Muslim club, but don’t join that club because you can’t fly. They won’t let you fly if you join that club.
NT: So, there’s a lot to be angry about but we have to channel that anger into action.
MH: Okay, and just on the action, I just want stick with you because you run Our Revolution you’re channeling people into activism. You know, you hear issues like Medicare-for-all. People turn out for Medicare-for-all. People turn out for minimum wage. Are people going to turn out for what seems like procedural stuff but it’s so important, as Ro said at the start, unless you change some of this I worry that people won’t take to the streets for term limits of Supreme Court Justice. Even though without that you won’t be able to get Medicare-for-all.
NT: But that’s not how we get them to the party. We got to speak their language Medicare-for-all will get them there and if we leave the bread crumbs or draw the distinction between why it is important to come out to vote so that we can get to those positions then they will come but no, they’re not coming out just to –
MH: So, I want to talk about those positions. Before we get to those positions, Jeff Merkley, you heard me say at the start that Democrats bring a knife to a gunfight Republicans bring a rocket launcher. Do you think that’s a fair criticism of your party that the Republicans are willing to do whatever it takes to get and execute power while the Democrats are busy trying to be bipartisan and friendly and conciliatory and compromising and looking reasonable and as a result you guys get beaten up time and again.
JM: No, I don’t think it’s a fair point and I would frame it differently. What I would frame it as is we have seen in the course of the last several decades a complete concentration of wealth at the top and those in the 1% are willing to spend massive sums to control this country. In 2014 they spent hundreds of millions of dollars to take control of the Senate they’ve controlled it ever since.
And now we’re at that point where we’re just – where the battle between the one percent and we the people, we are just hanging on by our fingernails and I mentioned some of the tools that the one-percenters are bringing to bear. That is gerrymandering, dark, dark money and voter suppression.
But what in addition they’re willing to do is exercise at any given moment of what they want to get the job done on the court and we saw with them removing the supermajority for the Supreme Court and then pushing this man through who was flawed in every possible, every possible way.
MH: But Jeff, see the problem I have with that argument is I hear Democrats, some Democrats now going on TV saying “It’s our fault. We made Mitch McConnell. Take away the filibuster because we took away for lower court judges,” as if he wasn’t going to do it anyways. I hear Chuck Schumer say we should bring back the filibuster, if we’re in charge, for Supreme Court Justices, which seems like unilateral disarmament on the part of the Democrats.
JM: Yeah, well that-
MH: Do you support that?
JM: I do not support Chuck Schumer on that. Listen. Hey, I’ll make you a deal though, if the two illegitimate justices step down then let’s bring back the super majority. That would be a fair deal.
MH: Just out of interest who are the two illegitimates justices?
JM: Well that would be Neil Gorsuch in a stolen seat, and now the name that I share with Nina the difficulty of saying: Kavanaugh, who should never have been confirmed.
MH: But if we’re going to get rid of people, dodgy people on the court who have committed sexual misconduct, there’s also Clarence Thomas, we could also go after.
Anyways, Symone. Do you think Democrats – I see you on TV fighting with people. I say that in a good way. You should fight with people. And I think is there enough of that energy in the halls of Congress amongst members of Congress who are Democrats.
SS: I think some. Some members of Congress have been willing to go out there and fight, willing to go out there and step out there on the issues that matter and really stand up. Some people have not but that’s where the base comes in. And that’s why it’s so important that so many people took to the streets, that they stormed the halls of Congress, that people are still raising hell and raising their voices because it’s that energy from the grassroots on the left that will hold our elected officials accountable.
So, where our elected officials sometimes fall short, I think that’s where it’s the grassroots’ job is to hold them accountable and tell them what it is that we want. Now the Republican base, does that extremely well. They do that extremely well. I think that’s if there’s anything we can learn from our Republican friends, that’s one of them. But I will also want to be clear that while the you know, the president, the current president of the United States and Mitch McConnell and others are on television, on Twitter and everywhere else saying that it’s the Democrats just for their brazen hunger of power are willing to do anything, these mobs — who they are talking about are themselves. It is the Republican party in this country who has bucked every single norm, every single value, every single process in pursuit of brazen power.
MH: So, when you’re up against people like that, can you win by sticking to the rules that they’re tearing up in front of you?
SS: Well I do not think we should stick to the old rules, you know. Sometimes I feel as though the house is on fire and Democrats are still looking for the keys to open the front door. And I think we just need to bust the window open and get in there and save the people. I will say with the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, Democrats broke the window. They broke the window and I think we’re willing to break the window again, but we cannot become that which with we loathe. I do not want the Democratic party to turn into this brazen hunger for power at any cost because what makes us that much different than them?
MH: Okay, Ro Khanna, I mentioned Chuck Schumer to Jeff. That’s Jeff’s boss in the Senate right.
NT: He’s not the boss.
SS: His colleague.
NT: He’s the first among equals, he’s not the boss.
MH: Kind of, kind of boss. Chuck’s not here to defend himself. Let me ask about your boss in the House. Nancy Pelosi said recently that if you retake the House, she’s going to bring back “pay-go.” She’s going to bring back “pay-go.” And if those of you don’t know what “pay-go” is, it means basically if you want to raise, if you want to spend some money on something, you have to match it by spending cuts somewhere else or a tax increase.
It basically binds the hands, I would argue, of Democrats because you’re trying to balance a budget. When we know what the Republicans do they put two trillion dollars on a tax cut which is completely unfunded. So, do you support Nancy Pelosi when she says we should bring back “pay-go?”
RK: Nancy Pelosi’s wrong about that both substantively and politically. The Republicans have been running the same script since 1980 – cut taxes, grow the defense, have five percent economic growth. And then we come in and we argue that we’re going to balance the budget. Why can’t we argue then Medicare-for-all, debt-free college, infrastructure investment is going to have five percent economic growth. It’s actually true. It’s going to increase consumer spending and it’s better politics.
But if I could just say very briefly because I agree, I agree so much with Symone’s point that we should not be like the Republicans. The Republicans are not doing anything new. ‘Might makes right’ goes back to the founding of politics. That was Thrasymachus’ argument in Plato’s Republic. Then we had thinkers – people like Socrates and people inspired like Gandhi and King and Vaclav Havel, who said no politics isn’t about ‘might makes right,’ politics is about inspiring people, about seeking a better world. That’s how Democrats win it’s not by copying the age-old strategy of ‘might makes right,’ which is completely unoriginal.
MH: Bet you didn’t think you’d be hearing about Plato and Aristotle when you came here tonight raising the level of conversation there, Ro. Nina, so on that note. Where do – I’m interested in this argument, you often hear this phrase “insider-outsider strategy.” Where does that fit in right now with where the Democrats are? Let’s say they win the house, they improve in the Senate they’re now wielding some power. Where’s the balance now between the “insiders and outsiders?” Is it in the right place where it should be?
NT: Not necessarily. To me, and just going back to the Democrats, I mean they did fight like hell, you know, I do agree with sister Symone on that. But not to be able to hold, you know, the line in terms of Senator Joe Manchin now. I’m just going to say this I served in the legislature in Ohio and I was a whip. I was the minority whip and there came a time in the caucus, as both of my colleagues up here know, that you are faced with the caucus and you have a decision to make. Sometimes you – most the time you vote in your district just straight up and you have to say I can’t go along with this because it hurts my district.
And other times your leader comes to you and says “Look, you got to sacrifice on this one. We got to draw a line.” And it would have been so historic for every single Democrat – Senator Joe Manchin is a Republican. So, he needs to go ahead and run like one, point blank. And the fact that the leader, the Democratic leader in the Senate could not hold the caucus one hundred percent together to get Senator Joe Manchin to vote the right way to me says something about leadership. I mean hell if you can’t get Senator Joe Manchin to do the right thing how the heck they going to do anything else outside.
MH: That’s a good point.
NT: So, in terms of the “inside-outside,” the Democrats really have to start to embrace, and the Democrats up here do, really have to start to embrace what activists and the people in the streets bring to the table. You know, we can’t understand the State of the Union until we understand the state of the streets and the state of the streets is crying out for authentic leadership and no more of this half-measure, play games policies. That’s what they want. They want people who are going to stand up.
MH: Okay, and I mean the Joe Manchin point is a very important point. I’m glad you raised Joe Manchin. I mean there’s this argument isn’t there that “Oh, well he’s running in a red state.”
NT: Forget that.
SS: So is Joe Donnelly, so it Heidi Heitkamp, so is Claire McCaskill. All of those folks voted no.
MH: Exactly. And also, what is the point of electing a Democrat in a red state if they’re going to vote like a Republican. You might as well just vote the Republican. I just don’t understand the logic. Jeff, have you had a chat with Joe since Saturday? Exchanged texts?
JM: I think we need to look at what an extraordinary thing it was that a group of individuals made up their mind about what was right and ignored really the politics of their home state. And you know, look at Heidi, look at Claire, Bill Nelson down in Florida. I mean those folks really took an extraordinary movement of the heart.
I must say I think the premise that the majority leader controls everything -we’re not a marching army. We don’t march to the tune of the majority leader. But what we do do is try to fight for those core values and seeing those folks stand up thinking that this may hurt me at home. But you know what this man lied to the Senate this man has a credible history of sexual assault and they took they took the right stand.
I will say in 2017, you saw two major issues. You saw the bank heist, the tax bill in which they, as you mentioned, robbed two trillion dollars out of the National Treasury and gave it to the richest Americans and most powerful corporations. One hundred percent of the Democrats were there and then they tried to wipe out health care for 22 to 30 million people and one hundred percent of the Democrats were there. So, it may not be a perfect record, but I can tell you those folks were voting the fight for working people and for those who are not in the one percent if you will.
MH: And do you think the people in this crowd have every right to be really, really angry at Joe Manchin?
JM: I think they are really, really angry with a whole host of Republicans including some who clearly knew they were doing the wrong thing.
SS: (cough) Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake.
MH: But not Joe Manchin?
NT: Don’t, don’t put this…I can say yes.
NT: I’ll say yes.
MH: Yes, let’s talk about what happens after November. Politics is about choices. It’s about priorities. So, what should be the top progressive priority for a House Democratic majority come January? Medicare-for-all, comprehensive immigration reform, debt-free college, $15 minimum wage? Somebody jump in.
SS: First it needs to be Puerto Rico.
MH: Both of you spoke, Jeff then Symone. Or Symone, then Jeff.
SS: I will say I think it needs to be Puerto Rico. I think what we saw from the Trump Administration is a grotesque, a grotesque disregard for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans who are Americans. And I don’t even believe I have to say that but the ball was dropped in Puerto Rico and we need, we need the house to exercise oversight to find out what happened where the ball was dropped and how we can support Puerto Rico in the ways that we have not supported them.
JM: And that’s certainly true. I went down there 8 months after the storm and what I saw were thousands of blue tarps over buildings, hospitals without repair, electricity still turned off in community after community. We have a lot of things to do in January but let me – I came back from that trip feeling that all other Americans who live outside of the state need representation, voting representation in the House of Representatives and the US Senate.
MH: Hey you’re in Washington DC. It’s a very receptive crowd to that argument. On the policy front, I think we can all agree that Trump betrayed the people of Puerto Rico.
NT: And the Virgin Islands, I want to add.
MH: On the policy front, we hear lots of these kinds of buzz word policies. Some of them are very, very important policies. Is there one that should be top of the list in your view Ro Khanna?
RK: I think it has to be Medicare-for-all for three reasons: One, we need to make sure that our presidential candidates don’t obfuscate that and we need to be clear that the Democratic party stands for Medicare-for-all and force a vote when we get back.
Half the candidates who are nominees are running on Medicare-for-all. It’s one of the biggest moral issues out there when you look at people who are being denied access for care. I had someone in my district who died of a sinus infection because they didn’t get care fast enough. And it’s one of the biggest economic issues when we know that the current system costs forty-nine trillion over the next 10 years, seventeen percent health care costs. Medicare-for-all would cost 32 trillion. It would free entrepreneurs, free innovation, allow us to compete with China. This party needs to have clear policies and we ought to be very clear that we are a party that stands for Medicare-for-all. We ought to vote on Senator Sanders’ bill in the house and if there’s a compromise version we can vote on that but let’s know where exactly people stand.
JM: So as long as we’re jumping in on most important issues and we have the ability in Congress to simultaneously pursue several key issues, which I think is so important because the clock runs out, the Republican strategy is the clock runs out. But let me just say if we have control of both chambers and we don’t address climate chaos, which is destroying our planet, then we are morally bankrupt.
MH: Well, that is a fantastic segue into my next question which was going to be and I’ll ask it to you since you raised it, the IPCC report out this week, which talks about time running out, talks about making changes to an economy “without documented historic precedent.”
Do you agree with my Intercept colleague Naomi Klein and others who have argued that the real barrier to stopping climate change, stopping climate chaos is capitalism itself?
JM: Well, I’ll say that the enormous barrier is the influence of the fossil fuel industry, which is absolutely determined to you know, squeeze every penny out of those reserves. But this we see in country after country. When Trudeau comes in, Trudeau comes into office, we think “Oh, we have a climate champion in Canada.” What does he do? The government pays five billion dollars to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline so they can expand it and triple the capacity.
We see down in Australia that the conservative Prime Minister Turnbull just got thrown out by his own party because he was a little bit concerned about climate while the Outback was on fire and the coral reefs are dying. And we have to have action at every single, every single level. But what it means is we have to call out that power that’s hidden. So, in 2014 when the Koch brothers came after Senator, after Senator, after Senator including me in Oregon, I’m the only one who put up an ad attacking the Koch brothers. And because they use these front groups like Americans for Prosperity and Generation opportunity and so forth.
We have to rip that facade away expose who they are, the damage that they’re doing to our generation, the next generation, the many generations after and really defeat them straight on.
MH: By the way if you haven’t seen, there’s a clip on YouTube which I urge you to watch of Senator Merkley questioning a guy who’s up for a job at the EPA, I think it was, who says he’s not sure about the science on climate change. He’s heard about it and Jeff kind of loses it and it’s worth a watch. Ro Khanna, you said in a tweet last year that climate change isn’t just a moral question. It’s a collective issue for our nation. We need bipartisan efforts to find real solutions. Now, how do you get bipartisan efforts when the other side doesn’t agree with the science and you have a president who says it’s a Chinese hoax.
RK: Well, I’ve spent a lot of time since the report came out thinking “Why do the Republicans or Trump not care?” And I believe it’s an issue of justice. If Trump really thought that Barron Trump was going to suffer if the Celsius if the temperature goes up 1.5 degrees, he’d be doing something.
MH: Would he?
RK: But do you know what he thinks? He thinks poor people in other parts of the country and the world are going to suffer. He thinks the impact of this isn’t going to affect the very, very rich and so this is an issue. Why is there indifference? The indifference is because people think that the wealthy are going to be able to skate by and those who are the marginalized are going to be the victims and we have to make this issue about justice. I mean this is, because let’s be very clear –
MH: That’s not going to get Republicans on board. When was the last time you said “justice” and Republicans came running?
RK: Well, I’m not convinced on the Republicans. You can get some moderate Republicans perhaps. I mean, there is the Climate Change Caucus in the House where you have people join and I often joke that the criteria for joining is not any policy. It’s just acknowledging that climate change is a man-made –
MH: Very low bar for membership.
RK: But you know, hopefully you get a few at least Republicans, but certainly the leadership or the president is not going to go along with it.
MH: Nina, I want you to come in and tell us what we do faced with climate chaos, and the Republican party that’s anti-science and a public that feels a little bit apathetic when it comes to this issue. We talked about getting people on the streets.
NT: Yeah, we get those same people to run so we can get the current Republicans out and get some folks in who do believe in climate science. I mean, you know back to what Ro was saying. It really is when the rubber meets the road how these issues impact you. And to the extent, I mean I’ve traveled to about 35 states or so between last year and this year and Mother Earth is really crying out for us to do the right thing by her. And in order to get the elected officials who currently sit there to really understand that and believe in that is going to take the constituents in West Virginia, is going to take the constituents in these red states to make it known to their elected officials that this is something that every – you know what, only all that we love is on the line.
That’s all. You know that as Americans and, in the world, because we’re world citizens, that clean air, clean water, clean food is something that really is a human right. So only all that we love is on the line. And so we have to make sure that we marry that particular issue to the needs of the people who actually go out to vote and voters must demand it and if the elected officials don’t do it, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, we got to vote them the hell out of there and get some other folks who do believe that climate change is real and that mother earth is crying out to us to do something.
MH: Jeff, very briefly.
JM: I think you have to talk about things that people understand on the ground and in rural Oregon and rural America, the impact on agriculture, the impact on fishing, the impact on forests. And for example, I was talking to a conservative audience and somebody attacked me saying you talked about climate, why not talk about jobs? And of course, I got to the jobs part, but I said, you know how many people here fish and everybody raised their hands. Half because they fish and the other half because they don’t want to admit they don’t fish but when as soon as I turn it, well, you know the streams without the snowpack are smaller and warmer and that’s bad for your trout fishing. They start nodding their heads, you know about the pine beetles killing our forests on the Red Zone.
MH: Speaking the language that they understand, the priorities that matter to them. Symone did you want to come on briefly?
SS: I mean, I just think it’s also a health issue. This is a justice issue. This is a social justice issue. If you go into a first-grade classroom in any urban community across America and you ask a student in that classroom to raise their hand if they know anyone that has asthma almost every single person’s hand is going to go up. That is a direct result of climate change. Truck depots in urban communities increase pollution. These all contribute to health issues in kids, increased lead amounts in the soil. And so, we have to speak very specifically like the senator said to the issues that folks are dealing with every single day.
MH: I do want to, I want to move on to some other policies, but before I do one of the other lines that has become very popular these days amongst progressives is “Abolish ICE.” Ro Khanna, abolish ICE?
RK: I think reform ICE and I’ll tell you why. I believe that when you say abolish ICE the message that you’re sending to people rightfully or wrongfully is that you want open borders and I don’t think that that’s politically smart. I think the message we need to be sending to people is we believe in protecting our borders, but we don’t believe in criminalizing mothers with young kids. We ought to be focused on drug trafficking, terrorism and have an agency separate that’s going after that. And have an agency that is also geared towards enforcement but I think “Reform ICE” is a better message.
MH: Is there anyone on the panel who disagrees our Ro? Who thinks we need to go abolish ICE?
NT: If we get rid of President Trump, then that problem is solved. The ICE problem is solved.
MH: Is it solved?
NT: Yeah in a way this is really about the leadership and them doing what this president wants them to do.
MH: They’re doing horrible things under this President. They were doing some pretty bad things under Obama.
NT: Yeah, but not to the same extent.
MH: So, you think reform ICE?
NT: It’s about leadership too. Because ICE can be replaced with something else.
SS: I agree with this. I agree with Nina, ICE can be replaced with something else. I think we do need to reform ICE, but we also need to think about a comprehensive family first immigration policy that puts the families in this country and folks coming to this country first. That’s not currently what our immigration policy does.
And secondly, I think we just need some education because we don’t have open borders if you’ve ever left the country and try to get back in even as a United States citizen. It’s damn tough and ICE doesn’t control the borders. There’s a separate agency that does that but because people don’t know and you know, our Republican friends are just a little bit better at hammering the lies through than we are hammering down the truth. We get caught up in this conversation.
JM: The CNN poll that just came out this morning – it said that actually the public trusts Democrats more on immigration than Republicans. That I was surprised about and I think one of the reasons is what they see out of the very dark heart of this administration is this policy of ripping children out of their parents’ arms, families fleeing persecution and simply seeking a fair asylum opportunity here in an America. And I think when we embrace that fundamental value of treating families fleeing persecution honestly, not abusing children, not doing tent cities in the desert for children, not doing internment camps which the administration is trying to do. We win this argument.
SS: And it didn’t start with Trump but he has definitely magnified it.
MH: Okay, I want to talk about foreign policy which sometimes doesn’t get a look-in in these debates. There’s been talk recently about what a left-wing foreign policy might look like. Ro Khanna, you are someone who has led the charge against US support for the Saudi war in Yemen and given the suggestion this week that the Saudis may have murdered a Saudi journalist and a US resident on foreign soil, should reevaluating America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia be at the center of a more ethical, less corrupt, more progressive foreign policy.
RK: Absolutely, there’s no question that the coalition has engaged in a barbaric war in Yemen – killing mothers, killing children. And it was a farce when Pompeo came to Congress and certified that there wasn’t any humanitarian crisis. It would have been more honest if he had said there is a humanitarian crisis and we want a national security waiver because we just don’t care and are engaged in realpolitik, but he insulted the intelligence of Congress by being dishonest a progressive foreign policy is actually consistent with the American founding ideals. John Quincy Adams and George Washington warned us not to get entangled in overseas interventionism.
We need to re-examine the neocon, neoliberal interventions in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya that have gotten us in this mess, have restraint in our foreign policy when it comes to military interventionism and lead with the things that Americans are loved for: our movies, our technology, our ability to solve world problems. That’s what we ought to be projecting to the world. Not our military tanks.
MH: And you listed a bunch of conflicts. I do want to come back to Saudi Arabia but before I do, you mentioned a few areas in the world a lot of progressives, a lot of members of the Democratic base, if you look at the polling, also want a change in US foreign policy on Israel-Palestine. Do you support that?
RK: I do. I sponsored with Betty McCollum a bill for human rights for Palestinian kids. I didn’t think it was very controversial. Human rights are human rights. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Palestinian, whether you’re Yemeni we need to stand up consistently for human rights. I believe in the US-Israel relationship, but that relationship is at its best when we stand up for human rights.
MH: Jeff Merkley, I interviewed Chris Murphy recently on the show and he was your colleague in the Senate who was making this very good point that people don’t realize when you vote in midterms, you’re not just voting for Medicare-for-all you could actually be voting to stop a war in Yemen that is killing kids every day, every minute as we sit here talking.
Do you think that’s fair? Have you seen a change amongst your colleagues in the Senate that you could actually see a vote on Capitol Hill actually going against the Saudis for the first time?
JM: Absolutely, there’s been a big shift and for a while the administration was saying well, we’re going to give Precision Munitions so they quit hitting civilian targets. We provided Precision Munitions and what happened they used them to hit civilians and we’ve seen it strike, after strike, after strike. We’re refueling their warplanes, we’re completely complicit in this. We’re not intervening to make sure that the port in Hodeida remains free and open.
There’s millions of people at risk of starvation there. If you’ve seen the pictures of the starving children in that country, it’s horrific. And so, this is one piece of a completely misguided strategy of partnering with the Saudis on this. We should be not only not partnering with them. We should be working intensely to intervene and stop that conflict.
MH: That is good to hear just one quick question for you and we’re short of time on this section. But one question, I do want to ask you last month the Senate voted 93 to 7 to increase an already bloated 600-billion-dollar Pentagon budget by 17 billion extra dollars in 2019. Every single Democratic senator voted in favor of that. Bernie Sanders and six Republicans voted against it. For the audience here and the audience at home.
What was behind your thinking when you voted in favor of that?
JM: What happened is this: I voted against it when it was by itself, but it was combined with the Health and Human Services budget that had tremendously important provisions for the quality of life for working Americans and poor Americans. They combine those deliberately so that made it very, very difficult. But you know, what we should be thinking about a massive decrease in the Pentagon side and a massive claw back of the tax bill so we can invest in health care and we can invest in education and so we can invest in infrastructure. And we’re way off track and we’re slipping behind the rest of the world.
MH: Symone you were press secretary to Bernie Sanders when he was running in the primaries. He was criticized a great deal at the time for not having a clear foreign policy vision when he was asked about Iraq. He was asked about other issues. He’s since worked very hard to turn that around. He gave a very important speech earlier this week about authoritarianism. Do you think the left lacks a foreign policy? It’s something that they haven’t done enough intellectual heavy lifting on?
SS: I think so. One – I also reject the notion that the Senator lacked a very clear foreign policy during the campaign. I think we talked about ISIS, we talked about Iraq. He did a whole press conference. He did a whole gaggle for 15 minutes one time on ISIS. The next day, we do a press conference, they’re like “You don’t want to talk about ISIS.” We just talked to y’all about it.
SS: But I say that to say I think that like America has to be honest about our foreign policy interest and what our foreign policy is. If we want to be honest, the current administration’s and many administrations before it if we just want to be frank, our foreign policy is directly tied to our geopolitical interest not our values, not human rights. It’s our geopolitical interests.
And so, we just need to be honest about that. That’s why many people are not calling out the Saudis because it’s against our geopolitical interests in the region. That’s why we’re backing the Israelis because it helps our geopolitical interests in the region. So, I think a progressive foreign policy is one that acknowledges our geopolitical interest in the region and around the world but also stands firm to our core values that we say that we care about. I think Democrats are doing a better job of defining that and I think in the coming months, you’ll see a lot of people step up to give their little foreign policy speeches all across Washington D.C.
MH: Nina, I want to ask you the same thing about climate change. It’s the same issue sometimes I find where even in the UK where I used to live and work, the same issue where people will get really worked up about healthcare, rightly so and jobs, but you try and talk about Saudi Arabia or Yemen or Israel, it’s much harder even on the left where people are very idealistic about these things to get people as worked up about foreign policy issues where people are dying as a result of American government decisions.
NT: No, it is, and we just have to do a better job of seeing ourselves as citizens of the world and I think the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King drew this out very nicely when he said what affects one directly affects us all indirectly. So, we cannot afford not to care what’s happening to our sisters and brothers around the world. But Symone’s point is right. Just the pure politics of this is really about the geopolitical interest that we have in this country and those on the right and the left have failed to look beyond that. We can’t say that we’re for justice and freedom but say that our allies can get away with murdering and pillaging all over the world.
And that is exactly what is happening that if you are my friend, I will look the other way and you can do bad things. So we are citizens of the world and what happens to one directly happens to us all indirectly and we should help our citizens to understand, put ourselves in the shoes of our sisters and brothers in Yemen, put ourselves in the shoes of other communities across this world who are suffering because of America’s intervention on the wrong side and how we destabilize almost everywhere that we go we make it worse than when we came in.
MH: That’s true. Okay, we’re running out of time. So, we’re running out of time. I hope you will indulge me as we do a quick rapid-fire round where I’m going to ask you all the same question and you only get to say yes or no, and that’s it. We’re going to go around – should a new democratic-led House of Representatives in January 2019 try to impeach President Trump? Yes, or no Symone Sanders? So yes or no, not a laugh.
SS: Look, I think that –
MH: No! You’re really bad at this game.
SS: This isn’t a yes or no question. I think the House has to hold the Trump Administration accountable.
MH: Okay. Well, you’re not even elected member and you sound like it. Senator Jeff Merkley?
JM: Investigate, yes, and if the information is substantial, yes.
NT: Yeah, it’s not that simple. Yeah, it’s not yes or no.
MH: No one wants to play this game with me. Ro?
RK: We’ve got to wait for Mueller’s report. If there are high crimes in Mueller’s report, you impeach. If there’s not then you follow the evidence. Democrats actually believe in evidence and process.
MH: Fine. Let’s stick with you, Ro: Should Nancy Pelosi be speaker if Democrats were in control of the house? Yes, or no?
RK: Yes, because we’re going to win the speakership on the backs of women candidates and women turn out and if you’re going to deny the first woman speaker of the house the gavel who leads us to victory, I think that’s a slap of the face of women across America.
MH: But she’s been woman speaker before it’s not like the first time. There are other women. Yes or no, Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House?
NT: You know, it’s up to the members of the Congress.
MH: What’s your view, Nina? We’re here to hear you, Nina.
NT: He’s not going to let me get away with that. You know, listen, I don’t want to just throw Leader Pelosi under the bus like that.
MH: Jeff Merkley.
RK: Throw to the house.
JM: That’s the only time the Senate’s ever done that.
MH: Should Nancy Pelosi – I just know I’m not going to get answer. Should Nancy Pelosi be Speaker of the House in January? Yes, or no?
SS: If she can get to 218, absolutely. That’s how many votes you need in the United States House of Representatives to be speaker of the House.
MH: There’s no point in asking the rest of the question. Should Chuck Schumer be leader of the Senate in January 2019? Yes or no?
JM: We’ll have a vote and we’ll talk about that then.
MH: People at home listening, I’m trying. You can’t see me. I’m trying.
JM: Listen, here’s what I want. I want to see Chuck Schumer being Majority Leader instead of Minority Leader because then we can as a majority, we can stop all the horrific nominations to the court and all the horrific, the Scott Pruitts and so forth.
MH: I’m going to try one that I think might get an answer-
SS: I’ll say no.
MH: You don’t think Chuck Schumer-
SS: I think Minority Leader Schumer has been outmaneuvered by Mitch McConnell and he gave way too much on the judges before we even got to Judge Kavanaugh. So, no.
RK: I agree with Symone. I mean look, I’d rather have a Merkley as Senate Majority Leader.
MH: I was about to give up on the quiz and you’re all like, yes! Yes! Schumer did it!
RK: Well, here’s the difference. I mean, first there are two differences: if you don’t have Nancy Pelosi, who are you going to have? You want Steny Hoyer?
MH: For those of you at home, Symone Sanders just fell off her chair. Steny Hoyer will do that to you.
RK: I’m supporting Barbara Lee, she’s running for conference chair. Nancy Pelosi, look she’s not perfect. But she opposed the war in Iraq. Schumer was for the war in Iraq. Nancy Pelosi at least fought for a public option. Schumer didn’t and there are plenty of progressive Senators like Merkley.
MH: I’m loving this game now. I love how Ro threw the other House’s speaker under the bus, but not his speaker. Can Joe Manchin of West Virginia still be called a Democrat? Yes or no?
NT: No, hell no.
MH: Oh, split there. All right, last one before we go into the final. We’re running out time. Should Bernie Sanders run for president in 2020?
NT: Yes! Yes!
MH: Yes or no?
SS: Yes, if people- Yes.
MH: Okay, so on that note on that note, on that note, on that note: There are other candidates who are also trying to throw their hats in the ring. There’s going to be lots of people running for president in 2020. All of you –
Audience member: Senator Merkley!
MH: An audience member is helping me in that direction that I was going to get to but before I get to Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren, what is your view of Elizabeth Warren, Ro Khanna?
RK: Brilliant, warrior for economic justice, very compelling candidate.
MH: Do you think she should run as well?
RK: Absolutely, and I think Jeff Merkley should run. Here’s my view. No, I mean this in all sincerity. We need to have 20 people, thoughtful people, who bring different skills, run —
RK: — share their vision with the American people and let the voters decide. And you know, Jeff Merkley has done tremendous work with outside groups. Different people have different skills. Let them run let them present their vision.
MH: But 20, does it really have to be 20 people?
RK: Well, I mean, of course, I’ll pick who I like but everyone should have that opportunity. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want a robust open debate.
MH: While we’re on the subject, do you think Michael Avenatti should have that opportunity?
RK: I mean he has a right to run. He would be a disaster for the Democratic party. Now I’m probably going to get sued tomorrow.
MH: He’s probably going to win now, as well. Nina?
NT: No, everybody. I mean, run. We went down this road in 2016. It was not good. Yeah, don’t do that. Let the variety of people who want to run. I agree. I mean everybody knows who my preference is. I want to see Senator Bernie Sanders do it and if he’s in, I’m in right with him. But everybody should be able to. Whoever wants to run, run.
MH: So, on that note Jeff Merkley, are you going to run for president?
JM: Ask me after November. I’m exploring it and I’ll tell you the I’ve done thing after thing in my life because I get infuriated with injustice and I’m infuriated now. And if I feel, if I wrestle with my family and feel like I can add something to that conversation. Then I’ll be yes.
MH: You don’t worry that you and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders might split the left vote.
JM: No, it’s all going to sort itself out.
MH: It kind of sounds like you’ve made up your mind. I’m just saying.
JM: It sorts itself out. Yeah, it goes back to the voters. As we go through those primary states by the time you get through three or four –
MH: So, let me throw out an awkward question because you’re all Bernie supporters and you’re a Bernie supporter but also a Merkley supporter. Let me throw an awkward question here. It’s awkward for me because I like Bernie Sanders and I like Elizabeth Warren and there’s good old Joe Biden who wants to run as well –
NT: Are you about to talk about age?
MH: I am going to talk about age and diversity in other ways.
NT: Ageism is not a beautiful thing.
MH: It’s not about ageism.
NT: Well then what is it?
MH: If you have a party where three candidates are going to be in their 70s, isn’t there an argument for a younger maybe a non-white candidate?
NT: The voters get to decide.
MH: A Cory Booker or a Kamala Harris just to kind of show that the Democrats are not an old white party?
NT: Yeah, but the voters get to decide that. You know when I look at President Nelson Mandela, who was the first black South African president, black South Africa, coming out of prison after he’d been there for almost 30 years. He was well into his 70s and he was transcendent in that country. So, if all of us live long enough, we’re going to get there.
MH: I get that.
NT: What I’m saying is that we can argue about the policy and about the diversity of this party which starts not just with the presidency it’s all up and down. I mean Stacey Abrams is on the verge of making history in this country being the first African American woman in the history of the United States of America to serve as Governor. So, it’s not just about the presidency and it’s not just one race where the Democrats can show their diversity.
MH: I’m just wondering in 2020 if it was Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump, what message would that send to a lot of people. I’m just wondering what message that would send.
SS: Well I mean I think that if it was Joe Biden or if it was Senator Sanders or if it was Senator Merkley that the voters decided that’s they wanted to be the Democratic nominee. That’s who the Democratic nominee is. I think you’re asking a different question. Your question really is do you think there’s an appetite in the Democratic party base for an older white candidate as the Presidential nominee. And I don’t know. That’s why we have to have a primary.
MH: I’ll ask our audience. If you would like to see Elizabeth Warren be the candidate in 2020, applause, cheer, make some noise.
MH: If you would like to see Bernie Sanders be the candidate in 2020, make some noise.
[slightly louder applause]
MH: It’s a Sanders crowd, I think, but wait till Jeff makes up his mind after November and that crowd, that applause is going to shift. We are almost out of time. I do want to ask you all this question: There is a lot of rage and frustration. Nina, you and I talked about it at the beginning of the show. People on the left are legitimately, justifiably angry. Some people are demoralized and angry. Especially after the events of recent weeks with Kavanaugh, but it’s Trump getting elected, Gorsuch getting appointed, tax cuts for the rich now Kavanaugh.
What is your advice, to all of you, one last question – What is your advice to people out there who are trying to fight the good fight, but are losing hope and saying you know what? Yeah, we get these victories. We’re having some good primary results, but the big picture, the one percenters as Jeff put it, are still winning these struggles. What’s your advice? How do you guys not lose hope? How do you stay confident and optimistic? Who wants to go first?
NT: Well, there’s never an end to the fight for justice. It really is a generational proposition. And every generation is charged with advancing justice for the next and they pass the baton to the next and to the next. So, we can never be so angry and frustrated that we give in, that we give out and that we give up.
You know, to quote something from our Native American sisters and brothers who said that we must be willing to see seven generations beyond ourselves. That’s what this is about or to be able to plant trees whose shade we may never enjoy. That is what our duties, that’s what our duties are right now, is to really be able to plant those trees whose shade we may never enjoy, to stay encouraged, never give up, never give up, and never give out.
MH: That’s beautiful, Jeff?
JM: Well, a lot of folks are caught right now between despair and deploying. And by that, I mean despair you’re curled up on your couch. You’re going “Oh my God, the world is horrific. I give up.” We cannot let that happen and it means reaching out, reaching out through Our Revolution, for example, through their organization. Or reaching out through Indivisible and discovering that you’re in a republican community. But you know, there’s a lot more Democrats than you knew.
I think when you join with others and then you have a sense. Yes, we’re not alone. We’re in this fight. We have to win this fight and we have to win it now before basically the 1% lock up government by and for the powerful forevermore this election. So yes, resist. Yes, persist and yes, vote on November 6th and take every friend and family member with you to the polls.
MH: Ro Khanna?
RK: Well, my perspective comes for my grandfather. He spent four years in jail with Gandhi for India’s independence. I serve in Congress every day with a man John Lewis who got beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Our struggles pale in comparison to what people have sacrificed before. I actually believe Trump is in the last gasp of a movement that’s dying and we’re on the cusp of a progressive future. And it’s our duty our responsibility to people who sacrificed far more than we did to persevere and see that through.
MH: Symone Sanders?
SS: Never forget that anger. Think about it when you go to the polls on November 6 and when you go to the polls in the next primary, when you go to the polls in the next general election after that, when you think about who should put their name on the ballot, never forget the anger that you felt when you watched the men and many of the men of the Republican-controlled Senate and Congress stand up there and disparage women, stand up there and disparage people of color. Never forget how you feel every time you hear Donald Trump say something stupid.
Because these people work for us. They work for us, never forget. And when someone does not perform on the job, they lose it. So, if you don’t like what Lindsey Graham had to say, vote him out. If you don’t like what Mitch McConnell had to do, get rid of him. Never forget the anger that you felt and we have to turn that anger into action and passion. The last thing I’ll say is to feed off of what Nina said the work that we are doing right now much like the work that Dr. King did 56 years ago colors the lives we live today. So, the work that we are doing today will cover the lives folks live 50 to 60 years from now. I hope we will be able to say that the work we are doing moved the needle and help the pendulum swing in the opposite direction.
MH: And on that note, we are sadly out of time. That’s our show.
Nina Turner, Symone Sanders, Senator Jeff Merkley, Congressman Ro Khanna, thanks so much for having this discussion with me on Deconstructed. Thanks so much to our audience here at the National Union Building.
Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept, and is distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. Thanks to my Intercept colleagues for their help on this live recording: Thomas Crowley, Rodrigo Brandão, and Kate Myers. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.
And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every Thursday. Go to theintercept.com/deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at [email protected] Thanks so much!
See you next week.