Our Body Politic

A Deep Dive into Voting Rights, the Impact of Cuomo’s Resignation, and Politics in Haiti in Context

Episode Notes

Farai Chideya goes into the history of voting rights with legal expert Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to fully understand why our democracy is under threat today. Representative Bee Nguyen of the Georgia General Assembly shares why protecting voting rights is central to her campaign for Georgia Secretary of State. Journalist Manolia Charlotin provides important historical perspective to help us understand the political upheaval in Haiti. On Sippin’ the Political Tea, New York politics is on the menu, with our host, Errin Haines of The 19th, and Marina Villenueve of the Associated Press.


0:53 Sherrilyn Ifill breaks down our history of voting rights in the U.S.

12:34 Georgia state Representative Bee Nguyen on her role defending voting rights in her state

21:52 Manolia Charlotin of Press On offers context for the recent political upheaval in Haiti

31:21 Sippin’ the Political Tea: Errin Haines of the 19th and Marina Villeneuve of the Associated Press talk about New York state politics

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening and sharing Our Body Politic. It's important to all of us on the show that we continue to shape it with lots of input from listeners like you, so I want to ask you a small favor. After you listen today, please head over to Apple Podcasts on your phone, tablet, laptop, or anywhere you listen and leave us a review. We read those because your ideas matter to us. Thanks so much.

This is Our Body Politic. I'm the creator and host Farai Chideya. In this episode we cover the critical topic of voting rights, examine the news still coming out of Haiti, and explore the future of the Democratic Party.

Sherrilyn Ifill has litigated voting rights cases since the '80s. She's the current President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the nation's premier civil rights law organization fighting for racial justice. She's been politically aware since she was very young, gathering with her family around the television to watch presidential conventions and civil rights documentaries. She's been a long-time legal scholar and practitioner, as well as an author. I'm excited to talk with her about one of the most pressing political issues of our day, voting rights. Welcome to Our Body Politic Sherrilyn.

Sherrilyn Ifill: Thanks for having me.

Chideya: The Biden-Harris Administration's been pushing for voting rights legislation. Some people who are aligned with that goal have embraced how the administration is approaching this, but others have criticized their tactics. So how do you and the LDF interact with the Biden-Harris Administration over voting rights?

Ifill: I know that Vice President Harris is well aware of the importance of voting rights. She was obviously a senator before she was vice president. I had many opportunities to talk and work with her around these issues, and I believe that President Biden is as well, so I don't have any doubts on those fronts. The question is always about how you are going to deal with that. How are you going to confront the moment? Many of us can remember the morning after election day in 2016, when many of us were really stunned that Trump had won the election. I remember having a conversation with folks and talking about the failure of imagination that so many of us had that we couldn't have imagined that he could in fact win, and I vowed that day that I would never suffer from a failure of imagination again about politics in this country and about what voters in this country are capable of. So I don't have a failure of imagination now, and I have no reason to turn away from my stance. Because what the last five years has shown me when so many people in the political realm, who both you and I know know better, have chosen to make common cause with the kinds of actions that we have seen over the last nine months. Because we've seen all of that, I know that it is quite possible that the Voting Rights Act, which has always been supported by a bi-partisan cohort of members of the United States Congress, it does not surprise me that we cannot find any Republicans who are willing to at least state at this point their support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would repair the damage done to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County versus Holder case in 2013. So to answer your question, I believe that we must do whatever is necessary. If that means carving out an end to the filibuster for voting legislation, then it must happen. And I have absolute clarity about that because I truly do believe that the integrity of our democracy is at stake and certainly the full citizenship of Black people is at stake. So that's what I tell the president and the vice-president in terms of what I think is necessary and required for this moment.

Chideya: You mentioned the Shelby County v Holder decision. That was in 2013. You're the legal expert here. Can you walk us through what got us to that moment?

Ifill: So let's take it back to where the power to even enact the Voting Rights Act comes from. It comes from Congress's power under the Enforcement Clauses of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. We know after the Civil War, there are three Civil War amendments, 13th Amendment and slavery. 14th Amendment provides for birthright citizenship to ensure that all Black people are citizens. That's basically the reversal of the Dred Scott decision, and it also provides for due process and equal protection of the laws for all persons. And then the 15th Amendment, which prohibits denial of voting based on race, color, national origin. The framers of these constitutional amendments decided that Congress would have the power to ensure that the rights in those amendments were enforced. From that enforcement power Congress creates statutes. The Voting Rights Act is a statute created pursuant to Congress's constitutional enforcement power. So Congress has that power, and in 1965 it enacts the Voting Rights Act and it enacts Section 5 for very particular reasons, and you can find it in the legislative history to Section 5 where Congress says that the pre-clearance requirement, requiring certain jurisdictions to submit their proposed voting changes to a federal authority for review, for pre-clearance to ensure that they do not affect in negative ways minority voting strength. I love this because in 1964 Congress was a bit more clear-eyed about race in this country and about white supremacy than many purport to be today. They understood that the jurisdictions that were covered by Section 5, which were mostly in the South, in the future would come up with new, what they called ingenious methods, of trying to keep Black people from participating in the political process. That's the whole point of Section 5.

Chideya: How does that take us to 2013 then?

Ifill: Then we get to the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, which is what the 2013 Shelby County versus Holder decision was about. Congress reauthorizes the Voting Rights Act, re-ups it, and it does it based on over a year of hearings and data collection. They amass thousands of pages of testimony and documents, they hear from experts, and in fact they're surprised. Congress says in its report, "We're surprised. We actually thought it would be better than it is, but it's actually worse than we expected, that jurisdictions are still engaged in these practices." And based on that record, they make the decision to re-up and reauthorize Section 5. The Supreme court in 2013, in the Shelby case, takes it upon itself to say, "Things have changed in the South. Things are not what they were. This is a permanent brand that Congress is placing upon a region of the country," even though Congress had re-upped it based on all of the testimony and so forth it had received about current conditions at that time.

Chideya: Let me jump in here. Right now in America when I look at all of the battles going on I think about the contestation of truth, not just about voting rights, but many other issues. So do you think that we have a problem accepting truths?

Ifill: Oh, I think so, and I do think that this idea that things have changed, it was a very 2013 kind of rhetorical tool that you could use. Right? We had a Black president. We had a Black attorney general. I don't actually diminish the significance of that election, but the backlash to that election tells a story as well, and is a story about where we really are in this country. You know, Congress didn't say, "We think that things are bad enough that we still need Section 5." They actually developed a record, and this is where your point about truth is really important. Truth is capable of being proven, and Congress did that. I remember I was sitting at the oral argument with our clients. LDF is part of the team that argued the Shelby case, and Justice Scalia who was obviously still alive at the time, poo-pooed the fact that Congress overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. I shared the figures earlier, 98 to zero in the Senate, 396 to 33 in the House. He said, "Well, who would vote against something called the Voting Rights Act?" You know, of course they voted for it. You know, these are the kinds of musings that the court was prepared to share. Right? That's what's really disturbing to me. That it makes you feel bad that the Tulsa race massacre actually happened doesn't mean we shouldn't be teaching it in our schools. It doesn't make it critical race theory. It doesn't make it anything but the truth that you just didn't know. The Voting Rights Act was meant to address an unfortunate truth in this country about the ability of Black people to participate equally in the political process.

Chideya: Yeah, and we've been discussing voting rights in the context of Black Americans, but how do you frame the issue, the value proposition if I can put it that way, to white Americans?

Ifill: There's the small, and there's the large. The small practicality of it is that last year when we were in the middle of, and we still are in the middle of the global pandemic, but when we were in the middle of a pandemic during the presidential election year, and we were in court fighting in Alabama, and Arkansas, and Louisiana, and South Carolina, to expand absentee voter opportunities, the relief we sought was not only so Black people did not have to get two notarized signatures on their absentee ballot, which would have required them to engage with people, and we represented people who were elderly, and who suffered from preexisting conditions, and were essentially quarantining themselves, it also would have done the same for white people. White people also were quarantining. They also have elderly white people who were afraid of catching COVID. People who had not seen their kids for months now would have to find a notary to sign their absentee ballot and had to include a copy of their photo ID. And when the secretary of state of Alabama was asked about it he said, "Well, they should just go to Kinko's." So when we bring a case like that, the benefits of it inure to all voters. When there are rules like the Texas legislature is attempting to enact that say, "If you come in the car to vote, to drop off, no one else in the car can be of voting age." Well, what about the elderly person whose adult child drives them to drop off a ballot? That isn't even about race. That's the concrete one. The second one, which is the bigger one, is that our democracy is actually in peril. That when members of a legislature meet and pass laws for the purpose of keeping fellow citizens from being able to cast ballots and participate in the political process, when they pass a law as they have in Georgia that removes the power to determine whether ballots are disqualified or not from local election boards and from the secretary of state, and puts the power to appoint the people who will do that job with the Republican-controlled legislature, I can't understand why white people wouldn't be concerned about that. This is an anti-democratic move. And I think this has been the problem Farai. I think too many people have seen or have regarded the work that we do as some niche issue that's about Black and brown people instead of about democracy.

Chideya: Sherrilyn, thank you so very much for spending this time with us.

Ifill: Thank you Farai. This was great.

Chideya: That was Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Georgia State Representative, Bee Nguyen, represents part of Metro Atlanta House District 89, the seat previously held by Stacey Abrams. She spent her time in the legislature working to protect voting rights, and now she's running to be Georgia's top election official, secretary of state. Welcome to Our Body Politic Representative Nguyen.

Rep. Bee Nguyen:

Thank you so much for having me on.

Chideya: On this show we've really tried to follow voting rights carefully, including Georgia, and have interviewed people like Nsé Ufot. Now, the current Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, is a Republican and he stood up to pressure from the Trump Administration when they falsely claimed that the Georgia results were rigged. Now he's being primaried by a Trump supporter, but if he wins the primary, how do you plan to explain to voters why you're better suited to hold office than someone who did stand up against those allegations?

Nguyen: Having worked at the General Assembly, I have witnessed and gone toe to toe with our current Secretary of State who is embracing Senate Bill 202. And so what we see here is the Secretary of State that is a double speaker. On one hand, he says that we had a secure election in the state of Georgia. On the other hand, he is supporting Senate Bill 202 and supporting this attempt to take over our Fulton county elections board. I was one of the many Georgians and many Americans who was holding my breath last year, watching to see what our Secretary of State was going to do. And he did uphold the law and I breathed a sigh of relief, but the reality is we deserve better, we can have better, and we should not be put in this position.

Chideya: The dynamics in this Georgia race are absolutely complex and very much a part of the national picture. And from what I understand, representative Jody Hice, who's backed by Donald Trump is leading in fundraising with you second. How do you view the influence of former President Trump on this race?

Nguyen: You know, I think that the former president has radicalized the Republican base. I think we're in a really dangerous position. And when you think about somebody like Jody Hice, potentially becoming our Secretary of State, he could wreak a lot of havoc and do a lot of damage to our state. And whether or not you're a Republican or a Democrat or independent or politically interested, I think all Americans agree that we need somebody who is going to protect our democracy, and Jody Hice is not that person.

Chideya: Obviously you believe in organizing, but you've also said that you can't out organize voter suppression. What did you mean by that?

Nguyen: What we're seeing now is the type of laws that are put into place, there is no recourse. It doesn't matter if we show up at the polls and out vote the other side of the aisle, when you put into place the opportunities for the state to take over the election boards or for people to overturn the results of the election. You simply cannot out organize that. And the one thing that I think is critically important is it is not the responsibility of Black and brown and Asian voters and organizers to overcome what we are seeing. The reason we worked so hard to send Biden to the White House, the reason we worked so hard to send Senator Ossoff and Senator Warnock to the US Senate is so that we would have a democratic controlled body that could pass federal protections for us and for other states who are facing the same challenges that we are. And the reality is to ask those people to out organize is not just. It is unjust in nature, is unrealistic, and we just can't do it.

Chideya: And you also have been active on the national stage. You are part of a cohort of 150 state lawmakers from 30 states who showed up in DC to urge senators to act on voting rights legislation. Did you see any results from that?

Nguyen: To see lawmakers across the country stand in solidarity with Texas lawmakers really shows that we are in a critical juncture and we can't let this go. I think for me, as a sitting state rep, having just gone through this intensive session in Georgia and us feeling like we battled as hard as we could to prevent Senate Bill 202, we actually don't have the same laws in Texas where we would have been able to break a quorum. But watching the Texas lawmakers make that decision that was incredibly bold, really inspires a lot of us to recognize that we are in it together. We're looking at Texas, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and recognizing that we have to be all hands on deck to support lawmakers and people in all of those states.

Chideya: The Democratic Party right now obviously has many different factions and constituencies, but there are definitely a bunch of progressive, generally younger democratic women who are on the national, local, and regional stages. And there is a bit of a tension between what is considered the current guard or the old guard and the new guard. How do you deal with the factionalization within the party?

Nguyen: It is healthy for a party to have diversity within its own memberships. I mean, that is how you cultivate new ideas and that is how you build upon the diversity of the party. It's not just gender and race and nationality. But we are a big tent party. And I think that is important. In terms of how you deal with it, I mean, we are a state that has to be united and the commonality that we will have going forward in 2022 is do we want to protect our democracy or do we not? And if we want to protect our democracy, then we have to be a unified front.

Chideya: I wanted to touch on another issue that we've covered, which is the wave of anti-Asian hatred, including killings. And we're five months past the shootings in the Atlanta area that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. How are you processing this as a representative? And what do you want to see happen both on the state and national stages?

Nguyen: The crime that happened in Atlanta hit so close to home, and it was so brutal and violent and horrific. And I think there are a lot of feelings that are mired up in that. We know that Cherokee county chose not to proceed with a hate crimes charge, and regardless of whether or not the hate crimes is recognized through the judicial system, a hate crime is intended to terrorize an entire community of people and the perpetrator did achieve that. But the other thing is oftentimes when we see crimes that are this brutal in nature, we rely solely on the judicial system in the aftermath to deliver what we perceive to be accountability, or we perceive to be justice. But the reality is justice can only happen when we dismantle those systems that allowed such an atrocious act to occur in the first place. And one of the things that I hope moving forward is that the media does a much better job of telling the story of the victims and not centering the perpetrator.

Chideya: As you look at your career in politics so far, and this race that you're in right now, can you describe what really centers you at times where things get tough? What keeps you going?

Nguyen: I think the things that center me are obviously my family. My parents are refugees from Vietnam. And a lot of what I've chosen to do for a living centered around honoring their story and honoring their legacy. So when I think about my parents, two people who fled their country in the middle of the night on a boat, who were coming to this country just for the possibility of a better life for themselves and their future children, that keeps me grounded. I recognize the courageous decisions that they have made to give me and my sisters a better life here in America. And I think that part of my responsibility as their daughter is to uphold that legacy. Our fight for democracy is also tied to some of that. They fled a country that didn't ensure that they would have the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom to assemble and free and fair elections. And the other thing is the students that I worked with in public schools for 10 years, they keep me grounded and they are one of the reasons I ran for office in the first place. And they have certainly been worth all of this.

Chideya: Representative Nguyen, thank you so much for joining us.

Nguyen: Thank you so much for having me on.

Chideya: That was Representative Bee Nguyen of the Georgia General Assembly and Democratic candidate for Georgia Secretary of State.

Chideya: The United States is home to the largest Haitian migrant population in the world with large communities and states, including New York and Florida. For many Haitians and Haitian Americans, the last month has been extremely difficult. On July 7th, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. Investigations are ongoing. Here to talk to us about it all is Manolia Charlotin. She's a co-founder of Press On, a media collective focused on movement journalism. Manolia, welcome to our body politic.

Manolia Charlotin:

Thank you for having me Farai. So good to be here.

Chideya: So, we were chatting a bit before the formal interview, when you were talking about growing up in places, including Brooklyn and Haiti. And you had been repeatedly going to Haiti and you were there during this critical period. How would you describe the political climate before and after the President's assassination? And I want to hear also what it called up in you to be there at that time?

Charlotin: Well, I have been, because I go back home so frequently. I actually, I was there during the first country lockdown in July 2018. And that's important context for what happened July 2021. In July 2018, there were massive protests across the country, protesting gas price hikes. That was when ... That was the first time that the airport was shut down. You couldn't leave. It was the first time it happened. And it began the very specific political turmoil that led to the events of July 2021. Less than 10% of the population voted in the election that would lead to the presidency of former President, Jovenel Moïse. This is someone that did not enjoy widespread support because most folks did not really, did not participate in the election. And so folks had been protesting this government and the former administration for a couple of years.

Chideya: Tell us where you were when you found out that the president had been assassinated during your time there. And where was it in your trip, at the beginning, the end?

Charlotin: So I was actually in Cap-Haïtien, pronounced Cap-Haïtien and that's the northern city. That's a historical center of the country. And it was the day before I was supposed to come back to New Orleans where I live now. We get notification that all travel is suspended and that essentially martial law had been implemented because the president was assassinated. I got to tell you. If anyone has ever lived through that, it's a very difficult thing, especially in a place like Haiti, where the justice system is not strong, there's not strong institutions there. So to be in that kind of very difficult political situation is a very hard thing to go through because you don't know ... You're in a state of the unknown. So you really, we were in limbo for a good 72 hours not knowing what actually happened and what will happen as a result of the assassination.

Chideya: Yeah. And the president's widow blames oligarchs, Haitian oligarchs. So what context do we need to understand about how money flows to, from, and within the island of Haiti, the nation of Haiti, and how that affects politics?

Charlotin: So United States has been involved in Haitian politics and the economy for well over a hundred years. For many folks who are listening, who may not know this, the United States actually occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Both the private sector and government have been involved in Haiti. So that's part number one. The other part I want folks to understand is Haiti has a long history of a small group of people holding power, both political and economic power, and that's throughout the history of the country. And that has actually been a major asset to the international interventions in Haiti. So that means it's much easier for the American government, the French government and other sort of international governments have been implicated in Haiti to influence what's happening politically and economically, because it's only a small group who've been running the country on and off for the last hundred plus years. So the vast majority of Haitian people have not been part of governing. They have not had representation in government in Haiti on and off for almost 100 years, and they have not been represented in the economy as well. That means you have, I think, the makings of a failed state. It's hard to build strong institutions that can withstand difficult political times.

Chideya: I'm really grateful that you're talking to us about history. One of the areas of history that I have found really important to understand is that Haitians had to pay for their own freedom from France and now are really continuing to be economically battered. But let's loop this back to your work. You are one of the co-founders and co-directors of Press On, a movement journalism center. How does your work in movement journalism relate to how you see our ability to understand and tell the story of big events?

Charlotin: I actually got my start in journalism at a small Haitian paper in Boston, home to the third largest population of Haitians in the US. And that was because I was in Haiti two days before the earthquake doing work. And the work I was doing was supporting social justice movements and trying to provide capacity and support to young people to be able to understand the country. And so, as someone who was there, I was able to tap into a different kind of storytelling about how Haitians were actually coming together and how the Haitian diaspora was responding effectively with a distribution. So as a result of that, I spent the early part of 2010 sharing stories and sharing aspect of movement response to the disaster that was very community driven, that was very justice driven. And so when I got the gig in the fall of 2010, I had already been supporting the narrative of communities coming together. And so for me, my actual journalism career is one of movement journalism. For me, movement journalism is about putting the community at the center, putting folks who are changing things, who are at the forefront of change in their communities at the center of the storytelling process. So that they're not just subjects that are rendered, that it's not a transactional process just to come in and say, "Hey, oh, this is a cool story in this community. Let me come in and tell this story." To say, "No, no, no. Actually the community should be at the center of the production of the story, that folks should have resources to tell their own stories and/or to have their voices elevated in any analysis, in any sort of broader reporting, done whatever issues that they are confronting that they are working to change." So for me, that's the only way I knew how to do journalism was through my community.

Charlotin: And being a Haitian person, narratives matter because the narrative power that was used against Haiti at its founding was really powerful. The United States was a huge part of shaping Haiti as this really negative place because these folks had come together to topple colonial rule, it was dangerous for the enslaved Africans that were here in the US to know that just a couple of miles off the coast, that these people had done this amazing thing. And that if you set foot in Haiti as a Black person in America, you would be free. That was dangerous. And so for me, it was really important and it remains really important for us to know the full story of communities that have been fighting for change, where there is community here across the United States, communities across the world, across the Global South for us to understand and make the narrative more complete. Because the more we understand what happens to oppressed and marginalized people, the better we can actually craft and build a world and a set of policies that can enable us to govern effectively and with equity and justice.

Chideya: Well, Manolia, thank you so much for taking us on this deep, beautiful, painful, enlightening journey. Thank you so much, Manolia.

Charlotin: Thank you so much.

Chideya: That was Manolia Charlotin, co-founder of Press On. Each week on the show, we bring you a round table called Sippin' the Political Tea. This week on the round table, I'm joined by our regular contributor, Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th. Hey, Errin.

Errin Haines: Hey, Farai.

Chideya: And we've also gotten Marina Villeneuve, reporter at the Associated Press, covering New York State politics and government. Hey, Marina.

Marina Villeneu...: Hello.

Chideya: So what's brewing in the political teapot today, Errin?

Haines: Farai, I think we have to start with the events in New York this week.

Andrew Cuomo: I think that given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing.

Haines: So that, of course, was Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York resigning after a damning report found that he had violated federal and state sexual harassment laws. Farai, how do you view New York Attorney General, Tish James' role in all of this?

Chideya: Errin, there's a fascinating backstory here. When New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned with his own #MeToo allegations and Tish James had the chance to potentially take the seat, she had a deal with Governor Cuomo. Cuomo said he would endorse her and open his donor networks, but she would have to endorse him and refuse the support of The Working Families Party, which is a third party coming from the left that sort of overlaps with the Democratic electorate. And so a lot of people thought that because she had done this, she would be beholden to him. But the outcome is clearly that she did not act beholden to him in any way. And she has stressed that no matter what happens, she is not above investigating people who have a strong power base, whether it's President Trump or soon to be former Governor Cuomo.

Haines: And Marina, Cuomo's approval among New York State voters has plummeted. His job approval rating among New Yorkers fell after the report came out 16 percentage points to 38%. Why do you think his supporters are backing away now?

Villeneuve: Before the report came out, his support already was plummeting, but it hadn't dropped to what a low number that we're seeing now. And it really appears that he's just really lost the confidence of Democrats and voters across the state. He also was able to get a lot of conservative support as well, and that just all seems to have eroded.

Haines: Yeah, yeah. And look, Cuomo is also facing multiple investigations, even possible impeachment proceedings at the state legislature. I mean, will anything protect him now?

Villeneuve: At this point, it does appear that there's not as much political will to keep moving forward with the impeachment probe, which also could have resulted in the legislature basically preventing him from ever running for office again, which is similar to what we saw with the second Trump impeachment push. We do see, obviously, figures like Anthony Wiener who tried to stage a political comeback, and obviously he was done in by revelations of more allegations of wrongdoing and sexual misconduct. I think it's an open question about what Cuomo's going to do next, for sure.

Haines: Yeah. Farai, can you speak to just how this shows are really huge discrepancy between Cuomo's public facing persona, him being an advocate for women's rights and this liberal Democrat, and his personal behavior? How do we interpret his attempt to deny that he did any wrong and attempting to discredit his victims?

Chideya: It's absolutely fascinating. I happened to get a heads up from another member of the Our Body Politic staff during the press conference that actually, and unexpectedly for many people, revealed his resignation. And as I was listening to the early part of the press conference, before he announced that he was going to step down, he basically said, "I didn't do it, but I'm from an older generation and I'm sorry." It was like, "You did it? Or you didn't do it?" It was a very confusing word salad of defense and apology. And I think that that's pretty common. The huge discrepancy between his public facing persona and his personal behavior is not uncommon. There are any number of people, including former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who then get exposed as people who have to admit grudgingly to having some form of inappropriate sexual behavior and bullying and entitlement. All of this has power. When we look at all of these questions, it's definitely not about sex. It's about the power to command people to do what you ask them to do when you want them to do it, even though they don't want you to do it. And that's a certain form of power that can be applied in gender, it can be applied in race, it can just be applied in general with people who are all purpose bullying or harassers.

Haines: This is indeed a story about power, Farai. And I think whether or not Cuomo is somebody who is able to return to power in some capacity is an open question, as Marina brought up, he certainly continues to have a huge war chest, even as he is leaving office in the next couple of weeks. But there's still a lot more to unpack here around questions of power, who has it, who does not, and what the implications of that are for our politics and for our society. Marina, how do you think Cuomo's resignation will reshape the Democratic Party, both in New York and nationally?

Villeneuve: Right. I think that the governor's resignation is really going to, for sure, at least in New York, completely leave open this big hole in the party. He's long been widely popular, and it's a big question about just who's going to be obviously running next year. Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor, who's going to become the next governor in 14 days once he officially steps down, she said that she wants to throw her hat in the ring. And I think just nationally it's just an example of what a lot of survivors are saying is just an example of someone finally facing a consequence for allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. I did think it was really interesting how a lot of top Democrats wanted to wait for the attorney general's report to come out before weighing in. So it might just set some precedent for when there is an investigation into these sorts of allegations that people are really going to speak out strongly if the report does find wrongdoing.

Haines: Yeah and I guess the only thing I would add to that, Marina, is I think it's going to be so interesting to watch as Kathy Hochul ascends to the governorship, New York has never had a woman governor, and how that reshapes our politics, both in New York but also nationally in terms of how the electorate starts thinking about women governing at the highest levels in our country. Will be a really interesting thing to follow as well.

Villeneuve: Right.

Haines: So Farai, we need to talk about COVID. Governor Cuomo was also criticized his handling of COVID in nursing homes. And I wonder how that factors into his political downfall today?

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:39:04]

Chideya: I want to refer to one of our former guests, Professor Steven Thrasher of Medill. He did a piece earlier this spring that really broke down many of the different cases that some political observers have made for Cuomo leaving office or being impeached that didn't have to do with #MeToo. Governor Cuomo's handling of COVID, which he kind of puffed himself up and many people in the state of New York and around the country viewed him as a bit of a COVID savior. But he actually defied New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's desire to shut down the city sooner. And Professor Thrasher cites research that modeled that perhaps 17,000 fewer people would have died if he actually had listened to de Blasio. And points out that 17,000 people is six times the death count of 9/11. So Cuomo made some decisions that were not really actually in the public interest. He also cut the Medicaid budget and sent patients recovering from COVID to nursing homes, which likely pumped up the death count significantly. And now, there's a lot of evidence that actually he covered up the COVID deaths in nursing homes. So the Me Too issue is what ended up taking him down, but there's been a lot else going on.

Haines: Yeah, and that was also a question of power, to your earlier point. So now, I want to turn to COVID in Florida, and this debate over mask mandates. Let's listen to a clip from Dr. Rosalind Osgood, Broward County school board chair, talking with ABC News about the school board's decision to uphold a mask mandate and defy Governor Ron DeSantis' mask ban.

Dr. Rosalind Os...: So we could not allow children and teachers and janitors to come into close environments in a school or on school buses and not be protected by masks.

Haines: Farai, we're seeing teachers and school districts pushback on these governors on these mask rules. Why do you think these communities are pushing back?

Chideya: Well, first of all, COVID is something that affects people of different ages differently. But now with the Delta variant, there's an estimation that 15% of COVID cases today are among kids. That comes from a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association. Children under 12 can't get vaccinated, so there are a lot of parents who are really desperately trying to protect their children by having them wear masks and going to school, because we know kids lost months and months, and in some cases years, of education, equivalent advancement like moving ahead a grade, because of the pandemic and remote learning. Other parents, however, are really pushing this idea that you can't demand masks as a question of personal liberty, and this gets deeply into the entrenched culture war in America. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has done quite well in many ways by standing for a kind of Trumpian view of masks as a civil liberty issue, as opposed to a public health issue. And this ends up pitting kids against kids and parents against parents. Parents of kids who want to protect their kids, they want there to be masks, against parents who for political or ideological reasons believe that they and their kids being unmasked is more important than protecting other people and other people's children. I'm just going to put it that bluntly, because this is a really basic question of how to save lives, but it's turned into political gasoline and matches.

Haines: And Marina, do you think it's reasonable that some of these lawmakers are saying that it should be up to parents? I mean, vaccination rates for students are low. 30% of students aged 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated.

Villeneuve: Well, I know that here in New York, schools have been expecting the state to come out for months with guidance about whether they think that schools should be requiring masks this fall. And at this point, Cuomo here, he has said that he wants to leave it up to schools, but it's really just led to a lot of confusion and debate. It's something that parents, especially of immunocompromised kids, they'd rather just have some sort of statewide policy than leave it up to just what your district happens to decide.

Haines: The recent New York Times story cited that parents are okay with mask mandates in schools. There was a survey that found that 63% of parents wanted masks required in schools for people who are vaccinated. So Marina, what do you think will be the biggest challenge for schools to remain open where there is still so much debate over masks in classrooms?

Villeneuve: I think parents are demanding that if there is no mask mandate, they want a remote learning option, so I just think it's going to become pretty unfeasible at some point.

Haines: Yeah. Shameless plug here, over at 19th News, we are talking about this issue. We've got a couple of stories up this week about school nurses that are feeling overwhelmed by the COVID-19 Delta surge as schools are reopening, and then just parents who are terrified about what the situation is going to be for their children without these mask mandates in place. So we've covered state politics. We've covered local politics. Now, let's turn to Washington.

Rachel Scott: After a 14-hour fiery debate on the Senate floor overnight, lawmakers have now passed this budget resolution along party lines.

Haines: So shout out to ABC News' Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott. She was talking about the Senate passing the Biden-Harris administration's $3.5 trillion budget to bolster social services and environmental programs. That legislation passed on a 50-49 vote, and they still have to decide how to spend it. According to NPR, House leaders announced that their chamber will return from summer recess in two weeks to vote on this fiscal blueprint, which contemplates disbursing the 3.5 trillion over the next decade. Farai, let's talk about what is in this bill, because it's going to pour federal resources into things like climate change, healthcare, and family service programs. But what has been the reaction from opponents?

Chideya: Well, there's many different types of opponents. Obviously, this passed by a very narrow margin and a very partisan margin. There's some really troubling rhetoric in publications from the New York Post to ones from the ideological far right, as in the white nationalist far right, saying that this is a bill that basically just gives money to people of color, and it's an anti-white... Literally, the rhetoric is air quotes "anti-white bill." And I think it's sad and fascinating that that level of culture war rhetoric is being applied to something that is very much across the board. When I about this $3.5 trillion bill that we're talking about. There was a separate package that was 1.1 trillion, this one that's 3.5 trillion... But really, it's been focused more, the 3.5 trillion, on also adding human infrastructure like childcare. And you, from the 19th obviously, Errin, have definitely been covering throughout the year how childcare is infrastructure. Infrastructure now is not just roads and bridges, it's also how do people actually work without childcare. Many people can't work. This $3.5 trillion bill provides free community college and pre-kindergarten. And so I don't see how that is racist, but I guess you can spin anything any number of ways. It's just where we are today.

Haines: You already have the Biden-Harris administration kind of touting how they believe the care economy policies are showing up in this legislation that just got passed, especially in terms of childcare provisions, lowering cost for families, helping businesses, helping to grow the economy, so really trying to appeal to folks at the very local level in terms of how this legislation is going to impact their daily lives. I guess to that point, Marina, you cover state politics. Can you talk about legislation like this and their kind of agenda to rebuild the country in the wake of the pandemic, how that is going to be playing out with voters?

Villeneuve: Right, yeah. We know that here in New York, Senator Schumer said that the state can expect a flood of money to upgrade and repair, especially in New York City, mass transit networks. The Senator said that that's more money than we've ever seen from infrastructure for the federal government. There are a lot of infrastructure projects that New York is really hoping for, including this extension of the Second Avenue Subway to East Harlem. These sort of investments could make a huge difference in everyone, in a lot of New Yorkers' daily lives, just being able to have shorter and less crazy commutes.

Chideya: And I'll just jump in as someone who has lived in New York most of my adult life. One of the things that we also have to remember is that during COVID, so many subway conductors and other subway workers died because they were very much on the front lines. And among other things, I really hope for a resurgence of the New York City subway, which serves people from around the world as something that can come out of this bill.

Haines: Yeah. Among the people in this country that we learned were absolutely essential in the past year, and who should be treated as such as we look ahead to our new normal. Well, that was a lot of tea, but that's a wrap for today. Thank you so much for joining me, Farai and Marina.

Chideya: Thank you, Errin.

Villeneuve: Thank you so much.

Chideya: We've been speaking with Marina Villeneuve, who you can find on Twitter at @ReporterMarina. She covers New York state politics and government at the Associated Press. And also, regular contributor Errin Haines, editor-at-large at the 19th, and she will also be interviewing a variety of people at The 19th Represents, a free virtual summit you can find at 19thnews.org. Thank you so much for joining us on Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Our Body Politic is produced by LWC. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya.

Chideya: Juleyka Lantigua is executive producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Our senior producers are Paulina Velasco and Sarah McClure. Cedric Wilson is lead producer, and mixed this episode. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Emily Daly is assistant producer. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Mark Betancourt and Veda Chand. 

This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, The Harnisch Foundation, Compton Foundation, The Heising-Simons Foundation, the Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation, the BMe Community, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. “A Deep Dive into Voting Rights, the Impact of Cuomo’s Resignation, and Politics in Haiti in Context.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. August 13, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/