Our Body Politic

DC Statehood Back in Play, Why National Security Risks Need Reassessing, and Looking Back on 100 Days of Biden-Harris Administration

Episode Notes

This week Farai Chideya talks with DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on why she’s fighting to make DC a state. Public opinion researcher Tresa Undem shares how attitudes about race, gender, and power influenced voters in 2020. Retired Major General Linda Singh of the National Guard talks about how the insurrection on January 6th highlighted the need to focus on domestic terrorism, and discusses the role of law enforcement in social-justice protests. On Sippin’ the Political Tea, contributors Errin Haines of the 19th and Jess Morales Rocketto of the National Domestic Workers Alliance join Farai to take stock of the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration.

0:52 Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on the argument for DC statehood

12:30 Survey researcher Tresa Undem on top predictors for voters in 2020

20:22 Retired Major General Linda Singh on the aftermath of January 6th

28:50 Sippin’ the Political Tea: a look back at the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration with regular contributors Errin Haines and Jess Morales Rocketto

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya: Thanks for listening to and sharing Our Body Politic. As you know, we're only a few months into this show and we're shaping 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 Podcast 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. This week we take stock of the first hundred days of the Biden/Harris administration. First, a trip to Washington DC.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has represented the District of Columbia in the house for 30 years. As a delegate from the district that is not a state, she doesn't have the right to vote for legislation on the House floor, but that might change. Her colleagues in the house voted a week ago in favor of making DC a state. Congresswoman Norton, welcome to Our Body Politic.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton:

Thank you for having me.

Chideya: Looking over the three decades that you've been in Congress, what has changed powerfully for the better in terms of equity and what is still lagging behind? How do you measure success?

Norton: We certainly can look at what has been accomplished for women and what has been accomplished for African Americans as leaning in toward a success. We see, for example, more women in Congress today. Although I must say it still lags well behind the numbers you would expect. As for African Americans, I think once we saw Black Lives Matter, we understood that Black people just would not take it anymore. And they went after everything from the way African Americans are treated personally to getting statues down that extolled the old Confederacy. So we are seeing the end of the tolerance for racism in our country.

Chideya: And yet, of course there is a powerful resistance to that, including white nationalists who marched on the Capitol on January 6th. And there is the question of taxation without representation, which is the rallying cry of many people who look at the status of the citizens of Washington DC. Tell us about your relationship to the push for statehood and what it would mean for the residents of DC and for the nation at large.

Norton: Well, I've been in Congress for decades pushing for statehood. And actually when I first came to Congress, Democrats were in power and I got an actual vote on statehood. A large number of those Democrats were Southern Democrats. And so I did not in fact get statehood in my first term. So the first time I got in the majority again, how was able to get our DC statehood bill passed. And I'm going to say it is about a time when you consider that DC residents pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the United States. We think knowledge of that may account for why, today, 54% of the American people support statehood for the people who live in their nation's capital.

Chideya: And so if you were to speak to a congressperson who you don't know well and make a case for DC statehood in simple terms, what would it be?

Norton: I would tell them some of the things I think they don't know. For example, that we have a budget that is larger than that of 12 states, that we have a higher personal and gross domestic product than any state. I bet they didn't know that. That we have a bond rating greater than that of 35 states. In other words, if anything, I think that the district is overqualified for statehood.

Chideya: And what about the racial dynamics of this moment in time around the demographics of Washington? Washington used to be called Chocolate City. Some still do, but it has become increasingly mixed. And there has been a loss of working class and middle class Black home ownership as the city has gotten more expensive. What, in addition to statehood, would really help people who are working class residents of Washington?

Norton: The demographics of Washington has changed because it's a high income city and we are losing lower income residents. That's the dynamics of the economy. I very much regret it. Housing is more scarce in the district than perhaps any place else. And that's in part because the district can't build high because of the presence of the Capitol, the monument and the rest. So there's almost nothing you can do about that except what the city is doing. And it is building more middle and lower income housing. Statehood would help only because we'd have two senators. That's the major reason that that would help.

Chideya: And yet, of course, it's a divided Congress. And prospects for passing in the Senate seem slim. How do you read the chess board and what are your next moves?

Norton: Actually, I'm encouraged by the Senate. And the reason is that we now have a 50/50 Senate and we have a democratic president. This year, the Senate was delayed in organizing over one issue and that was the filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass any bill. In fact, Republicans lost the Senate because they were passing nothing because of the filibuster. And that's how Democrats got control of the Senate. The Senate has gotten rid of filibuster for everything except legislation, for example, for nominations. Only legislation remains and it looks like that's on its last legs.

Chideya: So you see a path ahead to DC statehood through reform of the filibuster?

Norton: Precisely. So what we really will need to get most legislation passed is the end of the filibuster. And that's not just for DC statehood, that's for virtually everything the American people need and want.

Chideya: But do you think that the Democratic party is unified behind one idea or enough of a consensus around what happens to the future of the filibuster? For example, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of your colleagues on the Hill, has not been 100% behind filibuster reform from what I can tell. Am I wrong about that?

Norton: No, he's been a hold back and he's not the only one. We know that there are Democrats still to conquer to get rid of the filibuster or even for DC statehood. But I'm predicting now, right off your program, that I think we will add Democrats in the next two years because of how well we're doing under President Biden. And that will help us. Democrats know that they can't retain power if they don't do any better than the Republicans. So if they stand behind the filibuster and don't get things passed, they will be back in the majority. So Democrats are out in front against the filibuster and that will help the district as well as the American people.

Chideya: And this is more than I usually kind of get into all the Capitol Hill strategy. But if I'm going to talk about it with anyone, it's going to be you. But it seems particularly with the new census reapportionment numbers coming out and some traditionally strong Democratic states losing seats and some traditionally strong Republican states gaining seats in the House that overall political power of course will be determined not only by the individual vote, but also by redistricting. Just to pivot to that, to the census and to redistricting, how do you see the dynamics between the parties playing out there?

Norton: Oh, you got to be very careful about what's happening on redistricting. For example, California lost a seat. That won't make any difference at all. Texas gained a couple of seats. That won't make any difference because they were already Republican states. So I'm not sure redistricting will mean a lot for the country in terms of actually shifting the balance of power.

Chideya: So when you look at the voting rights issue and the wave of legislation, I believe last I checked 43 states had some form of legislation introduced. Doesn't mean it came close to passing, but introduced, having to do with restricting voting rights. As someone who is not only a member of Congress, but also a public intellectual, a long-time public figure, what are the different ways that you're trying to address this issue at hand?

Norton: Republicans are trying to reduce voting rights because they can't get over the last election when Democrats won even in some conservative Republican states. I think they won't succeed because even conservative states voted for Joe Biden. You can't take that back. And all those states are trying to change voting procedures. But those are the various states where Democrats came out. In other words, Democrats have learned there is a way to defeat Republican efforts and that's to come out. That's what happened in 2020.

Chideya: And so when you look ahead and I'll wrap up here. But when you look ahead, are you optimistic about America becoming a healthier nation where voting rights are enforced in ways that are equitable? I mean, some people find this era of ours with the racial reckonings and the pandemic and the issue of voting rights pretty depressing, pretty stressful. How do you process this moment?

Norton: On the contrary. When you see how the American people are engaged in a self-corrective, having given the Congress, the presidency to Democrats. When you see people in the streets, essentially moving the country more in our direction than any other direction, then I could not be more hopeful about the direction our country has taken.

Chideya: Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, thank you for joining us.

Norton: My pleasure.

Chideya: That was Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, delegate for the District of Columbia in the House of Representatives.

I want to hear from you, our listeners. So each week I ask you to call into the speak line right now. I want to know if you were the mayor of your city or town, how would you handle law enforcement and public safety? We've gotten some great responses so far. A listener in Los Angeles proposes taking a percentage of the police budget to create an agency of highly trained professionals without guns that can respond to emergencies. And many listeners suggested having social workers respond to mental health or other emergencies in communities. To leave us your message, call 929-353-7006 that's 929-353-7006. Or go to ourbodypolitic.show for a Google form to respond in writing.

Chideya: Word choice is everything, especially when it comes to political issues. That's why non-partisan public opinion research firm PerryUndem conducted a post-election survey with carefully worded questions based on focus groups to figure out what motivated voters in 2020. They found for example that the rhetoric around “defund the police” can be tricky. They asked respondents about a related policy idea, like if they'd support letting police focus on violent crimes while other service providers dealt with emergencies like homelessness. And they found that for Trump voters who felt “Democrats wanting to defund the police” was a top voting issue for them—42% of those Trump voters actually supported the idea when it was broken down like this. 

Tresa Undem is co-founder and partner of the research firm, and has more about this post election survey. Welcome Tresa.

Tresa Undem: Thank you for having me.

Chideya: Let's go deeper into your findings, and particularly the findings around perceived threats. Tell us what you found.

Undem: We had 176 questions in this survey, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions. We asked about 50 different election issues, economy, COVID. And our analysis showed us that there were essentially four things driving people's vote choice for president. One, president Trump's lies. So if that was a voting issue, that was a top predictor for voting for Biden. Two was feelings about Trump, like president Trump cares about people like me. President Trump is a great example of the American dream. And then it was views toward race and power, and views toward gender and power. The degree to which somebody agrees white men are the most attacked group in the country. So we had 13 questions in the survey that were like, these days, society seems to punish men just for acting like men. Discrimination against white people has become just as big of a problem as discrimination against people of color. So we created an index, everybody got placed on a scale of one to 10 essentially, And 10 was the highest level of perceived threat to white male dominance, one was the lowest. And then we looked at, was that correlated with a vote? It was extremely correlated with the vote. So just as an example, 99% of people who scored a one on that index, lowest level of perceived threat, 99% of those people voted for Biden. On the 10, 0% of those people voted for Biden. And when we looked among just white men, where they landed on that perceived threat to white male dominance scale was just as predictive of their 2020 vote as party ID or ideology. And in this liberal to conservative scale and in this research, the white male dominance scale was more predictive than ideology.

Chideya: And tell us about your findings on now-Vice President Kamala Harris.

Undem: So one of the questions we asked in the survey was, do you agree or disagree Kamala Harris is tricking everyone? She only cares about becoming president herself. We heard that in focus groups. When I saw that was one of the top predictors, I'd literally gasped out loud. I just thought to myself, you are kidding me. Out of 176 questions I asked and 50 different issues, from abortion, to the economy to threats to socialism, everything. This is what comes up? Once I see the other predictors, which relate to race, gender, and power, then it all made sense. Voters can just project all of the views they have toward Black people, toward Asian people, toward women, toward power and threat to power into this one public figure from that.

Chideya: What do you want to see public policy makers and journalists do with the kind of data that you've produced?

Undem: A lot of journalists have expressed interest in these data, but nobody has written about it yet. I'm curious about that. And to be honest, I shouldn't even say this but I crafted the intro with a white male journalist in mind. I think for policymakers, I think one great example is defunding the police that was used as a wedge issue, Republicans use that a ton. And in our survey, we did find for Trump voters, that was one of the top predictors that Democrats want to defund the police. But first of all, I get in trouble for saying this. But defunding the police is not controversial when you're talking about the policy. When we say, "Okay, would you want police to focus on murders and blah, blah, blah, and then other service providers to respond to homelessness, mental illness, whatever?" Only 18% of voters opposed that.

Chideya: So it sounds very much like certain phrases are triggering in ways that don't really reflect people's policy desires. It's that the language, or perhaps the idea of who it's associated with can push past what people actually want from public policy. That's interesting and a little scary.

Undem: Absolutely. The good thing is that “defund the police” phrase, there's been a lot of controversy. But personally I think it was monumental in that issue, and for people who work in that issue. And we were polling during this time. In a two to three week period, everybody had to find out what that meant. Because it was so controversial, everybody started talking about it. And then every time the media had to report on it, they had to explain, "Well really, it means this." And so suddenly, probably more than half the public got educated on, "Oh, here are these alternatives to public safety." And without that controversial phrase, I just don't think that would have happened.

Chideya: Based on what you learned from this survey and from your research, do you anticipate America will continue to be polarized for some time, perhaps become even more polarized? Or do you anticipate us becoming less polarized in the next year or two? Just what does your spidey sense or your research tell you?

Undem: Yeah. I don't think we'll become more polarized is my gut, and I don't think we'll become less in the next few years. Just as an example, looking at white women who voted for Biden versus white women who voted for Trump, 86% of white women who voted for Trump are unfavorable of Black Lives Matter. Only 20% are favorable of Me Too. I just don't see that changing in the next few years. But honestly, part of me thinks polarization is not bad when it comes to race, race gender and power right now.

Chideya: What do you mean by that?

Undem: Well right now, white people are really divided on these issues. Five years ago, they were less divided. The ignorance level of ignorance is really being shed. Now I'm hearing white men in a focus group use words like patriarchy and misogyny, and my mind is blown. I've never even heard that among women prior to Trump, nobody even knew what those terms meant. To me, it's a sign that half the country is actually becoming more progressive when it comes to racial and gender equity.

Chideya: Well Tresa, thank you so very much.

Undem: Thank you, it was great to be here.

Chideya: That was Tresa Undem, co-founder and partner of public opinion research from PerryUndem. As we examine the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration, we keep learning new details about the day Congress ratified Joe Biden's win in the 2020 election and about the threat of domestic terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security just announced that it will conduct an internal review to identify white supremacy and extremism within its ranks. A recent Washington Post analysis found that on January 6th, Capitol Police requested backup at least 17 times in just over one hour. They describe a mob outside the Capitol as outnumbering officers by more than 58 to one. Last month, a task force led by retired Lieutenant General Russell Honore briefed Congress on what happened on January 6th. Retired Major General Linda Singh, the former head of the Maryland National Guard was part of this task force. She contributed to the report recommending how security at the Capitol can be improved. Welcome Major General Singh.

Ret. Major General Linda Singh:

Thank you so much.

Chideya: So, looking at some of the recommendations that came out of the report, what is the road ahead? Because you as part of a General Honore's team have made these recommendations, but it's going to be up to other people by and large to follow them.

Singh: Right, that's correct. I would say the road ahead is first, they need to determine what's affordable. If you have plenty of money, then they could probably do everything. But now they're going to have to prioritize and look at some of the items that they need to absolutely get done today. So there were items that had no cost that they've already been implementing, they started implementing those things before we were even done.

Chideya: Give me an example if you don't mind.

Singh: Well, one of the examples would be just re-looking at how they were handling the security around the perimeter when they had the fence up, and how they were handling the staffing.

Chideya: Were you surprised by the gaps in security at the Capitol on January 6th as you're doing this post-mortem?

Singh: I would have to say not so much in the sense that when you look at what happened on 1/6, I don't think that we plan for something at that magnitude, that level. You just don't think about it in the US today. And we're starting to see it more and more and more, where organizations and groups are not happy and things get out of hand. And that to me is a flash response, even though yeah, there were a lot of things leading up to it. But it's a flash response. And so when you think about where your organization is, whether it's a federal government or if it's Department of Defense, you try to do the best that you can. But you're not going to be able to have something that plans for everything, so you have to think about what your worst case scenario is. And for the last decade, our worst case scenario was really still looking at 9/11. Now, we have to look at insider threats, you have to look at inner country threats, within our country. And so I think we have to start looking at things very differently, that we just have not had to do in, I would say, our lifetime. So it's a little different.

Chideya: I think that overall, one of the things that's been linked is just a lack of federal attention in the past administration to questions of domestic terrorism compared to what many experts saw on the case. I don't know whether that was part of the picture in how and when the National Guard was deployed on January 6th. There was apparently quite a delay, and quite a bit of debate among different people who were either affiliated with the White House or who were at the Capitol about how to treat the insurrection. What do we know now?

Singh: I would say that had those individuals already been through something like that, experienced that type of situation, I think the reactions would have been different. Because we would have then already had things in place that allowed us to deal with it and to know, okay here's the group that we need. Here's this organization, here's their role. And I think what you've seen come into play is yes, there were a lot of people who, I would say got stuck in what we call analysis paralysis. Or as General Honoré would say, got stuck on stupid. Because they just couldn't move. And some of that is, it's really all about leadership. I'm not even going to say some of it. All of it is about leadership. It is about leaders understanding their role and the action that they need to take and not to wait for somebody to say, oh, give you permission to do what you know is necessary to keep people safe.

Chideya: We've seen the National Guard deployed across the country in the past year for a number of reasons, a number of racial justice protests included. And in 2015, you and your troops went to Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. So what do you see as the role of the guard in the US at moments like this?

Singh: The National Guard is not the easy button. We are the ones who come in and back up the local authorities when it is deemed that we are needed. My team and I, as we were talking at the senior level, we were trying to make sure that in the event that something happened, we were prepared. And it really was only tied to looking at what was going on in the rest of the US. We weren't expecting anything to happen in Baltimore. It was a matter of, I knew that I could not deploy my troops before the governor asked me to. But I also knew that I had to be ready for when that call came. So that's why I say leadership is extremely critical before any of my troops ended up out there on the streets. I talked to all the different groups as they were getting ready to deploy. And my message to them was this is our home, and my point to them is these are our friends, our neighbors, our families, and our job is to provide that safety and security. And they had to represent and protect people like me. They had to represent and protect the police. And so you're kind of standing on both sides, which means you can't take sides.

Chideya: And how do you make sense of the Derek Chauvin trial and the killing of Daunte Wright? Meaning how do you assess the risk and the importance of there being the ability to protest when Black people are killed and to do it within the construct of civil society?

Singh: I think that the challenge that we get into is now the tensions are so high on all sides that we've lost perspective. And so we need to lower the tensions to the point that we can protest and protest peacefully. You have to understand that law enforcement is going to try to be ready in the event that it goes off the handle. Unfortunately, even from the law enforcement perspective they are people. So they're going to make mistakes. And they have a certain level of fear that we're not necessarily thinking about. The only thing that we can think about is that they are going to harm us, and that's not every single officer. And if we put them in the bucket and treat them all the same, then we're doing the same thing to them that they're doing to us. And that solves nothing.

Chideya: Major General Singh, thank you so very much.

Singh: Absolutely. Thank you.

Chideya: Retired Major General Linda Singh is the former head of the Maryland National Guard. Each week on the show, we bring you a round table called Sippin' the Political Tea. Joining me to dissect the week in news, we've got Our Body Politic contributors, Errin Haines, editor at large at The 19th and Jess Morales Rocketto, Civic Engagement Director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Welcome back, Jess.

Jess Morales Rocketto:


Chideya: Errin, it is another week in politics.

Errin Haines: No, it ain't Farai, first 100 days, joint address session of Congress. Two women standing behind President Biden, making history. It was quite a week. So we have a lot to dive into. This past Thursday marked 100 days of the Biden-Harris administration. Here's President Biden, making a speech, marking this milestone.

President Joe Biden:

Now after just 100 days, I can report to the nation, America is on the move again.

Haines: America is on the move, again is what the president said. And maybe a majority of Americans according to a CNN poll agree with him. 53% of Americans saying in that poll that they approve of how president Biden is handling the job. And yet CNN described his policy as moderate radicalism and a blue collar blueprint for rebuilding the US. So we're going to play a game now. Jess, I'm going to start with you. Let's each name one policy that's come out of this administration that has given you hope.

Morales Rocketto:

I mean, it's the immigration reform bill for me. The fact that he delivered on that campaign promise on day one and the fact that it really is a very bold, progressive vision for immigration reform. Huge. Now, whether or not it can pass through Congress is a whole other question, but I'm glad he's taken the swing.

Haines: Yeah. Farai, any policies that make you think maybe the country is headed in the right direction.

Chideya: I'm definitely watching the whole transformation of childcare from that thing that mainly women have to deal with to infrastructure. That is a big change. And I know we'll be talking more about it as we talk through the round table. So I think that's a huge one.

Haines: Yeah, absolutely. And look, I don't know about hope. I'm a journalist, so I'm not really in the hope business here.

Chideya: I was about to say.

Haines: But I think what we're seeing though is certainly an agenda that many of his voters and even some Republicans out in America can get behind. Whether you're talking about jobs, infrastructure, caregiving, raising the minimum wage, pay equity. Some of those things should maybe be nonpartisan and not things to fight about. But yeah, so you brought up infrastructure as a thing that evolved beyond roads, bridges, that kind of thing, to maybe include people in this Biden-Harris administration. So let's examine that. And specifically the plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund human infrastructure in the American Family Plan. This would be used to pay for things like childcare, paid family leave, education funding, free community college was mentioned. But the price tag is high. I mean, it's currently expected to clock in at around a trillion dollars and Biden's proposing to pay for this by raising taxes on families that make more than $400,000 a year and corporations. Farai what does this proposal communicate about the administration's priorities?

Chideya: What's interesting is that the wealthiest Americans used to be taxed at 90%, 9-0. That is not a typo. And sometimes we forget things like that as we look at what a tax structure should look like. And I think that there are people of all incomes who have different opinions about how they're being taxed. But the reality is that many, many, many nations have offered far more services to their citizens and charged higher taxes. So you do get support with childcare, you get more educational benefits. America has, despite the talk about taxation, been a developed nation with relatively low taxation, but also really low services compared to a lot of developed nations. And this is an adjustment that puts us more in line with other developed economies. So sure, some people will protest about the tax hike, but others won't.

Haines: Yeah, I think that's why you're seeing both the President and the Vice President really doing quite a sales pitch already hitting the road, coming out of the President's address. But also one thing that he mentioned in the address with regard to taxes is tax cheats. Those ultra wealthy people who are not paying taxes and that has been estimated to be a trillion dollars right there. So maybe dedicating more resources to the IRS to go after those kinds of folks, as he mentioned is a way also to kind of recoup some of that cash and possibly pay for his big agenda. So more than a dozen, 17 Democratic senators want the Biden-Harris administration to include healthcare reforms in the American Family Plan. You had those 17 senators sending a letter, requesting a president Biden, Vice President Harris to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 55. They want to expand Medicare benefits to include hearing, dental and vision care. Wouldn't that be something? Allow a program to negotiate lower drug prices. I saw Senator Sanders clapping about that in the address. I mean, Jess does this kind of pressure for members of their own party work to put this on the agenda?

Morales Rocketto:

Well I think that maybe the average person doesn't know about what I like to call the sign-on industrial complex. But these sign-on letters are a really important way that senators communicate with one another. It's extremely common for people to send out letters like those, both organizations and members of Congress. It truly hearkens back to these like very formal days when legislators would write letters to each other. So it's kind of quaint in that way, but it's also really important because the more senators that you can get on a letter, the better. I would say 17 is a little low. So there's more to go to make sure that this gets into the package. And sometimes these letters can be a signal of sort of the amount of support that a policy has in the caucus. And this just isn't what we would expect for something as important as Medicare eligibility. So I don't know if this is really going to make a difference, but this pressure on the Medicare eligibility age is essential because it would make a huge difference to people for that age to be lowered.

Haines: And I would just add to that, you talked about the Medicare conversation, but you really don't have issues like Black maternal health, police reform, equal pay on the table unless you're getting pressure and unless women and people of color are really at the table. So those are all good points. So let's take a step back and talk about the moment that marked the Biden-Harris administration, even before they were inaugurated. And that is the insurrection of January 6th. Farai, you spoke earlier this episode with a retired National Guard General about that day. Let's listen to a clip of Capitol Hill police officer Michael Fanone talk about his experience with CNN's Don Lemon.

Michael Fanone: It's been very difficult seeing elected officials and other individuals kind of whitewash the events of that day or downplay what happened. Some of the terminology that was used like hugs and kisses and very fine people is very different from what I experienced and what my coworkers experienced on the 6th.

Haines: And frankly, very different from what a lot of the American people saw in the video footage of the events of that day, even if they were not at the Capitol. So president Biden saved the last few minutes of his speech to address the insurrection. But he framed it as a call to unity and for us to do better as a democracy. But Farai, from the interviews that you've done about January 6, I wonder what your perspective is on really our ability to move forward and move on from it, and if we should. Have we addressed it properly yet?

Chideya: Errin, we have in no way addressed it properly yet, but I haven't given up hope. I think one thing that I have to just reiterate a million times is that white extremism is an ideology, not a race. I think a lot of white people are having trouble grappling with that because every time they hear white extremism, they understandably, in some ways, they're like, "What? You talking about me? You're not talking about me." We are talking about organized hate groups, including active duty and retired military members and law officers who showed up to try to take down the government of the United States. If this does not scare you and it does not provoke you thinking about the lives of yourself, your family, your children, get over the word white. I'm just going to say it. Get over the word white in white extremism and begin to assess this as a national security threat. And that's what our contributor, our tech and society contributor, Mutale Nkonde, calls it, that anti-Black racism expressed through white nationalism and supremacy is a national security threat. And in fact, the US military held a stand down in April, which is basically a chance to talk about something big. And what they talked about were the rising ranks or the exposed ranks of extremism within the military. This is something coming from the very top of the military saying, "We've got to deal with this." And if the military has got to deal with it, it means all of us have to deal with it. So let's wrap our brain around it.

Haines: Yeah, that's exactly it. All of us have to deal with it. And it's not the time to be defensive, but it is the time that all Americans should be rejecting white extremism and the resurgence of that in this country. So well listen, lots to unpack about the first 100 days. I can't believe how fast they went. But I want to get in the way-back machine all the way back to 2020. But also looking forward to the next election, vis-a-vis the 2020 census, because the census results, we started to get a picture of what the 2020 census was when those numbers began to come out this week. And the results of course mean that congressional maps get reshuffled, US House seats look like they're moving from blue states to red states. Republicans maybe could have complete control over congressional maps in places like Texas, Florida, North Carolina. Jess, how will this factor into all the issues already at play in Congress and in the Biden-Harris's administration to get their policies passed for the rest of their term?

Morales Rocketto:

Yeah, politically the most important thing here is that there is a razor thin margin in Congress. So Democrats control the House by just a few seats. So the addition or deletion of seats on either side matters a lot. In this case, it's looking like Democrats may net out one seat, plus one seat, and Republicans may net out a loss of one seat, which just slightly increases the Democratic majority, very important for them. But it's really going to put the spotlight on these 2022 elections where there's a real question of whether or not we will go into a obstructionist GOP control and nothing will happen for the rest of Biden's term or whether or not Democrats can retain their majority in the House and add potentially one or two more seats in the Senate. If so, you could be looking at really, truly a New Deal moment in 2023 and 2024, which sets Biden up well for a potential reelection run.

Haines: Well, yeah, I just want to come to you for one more on this and that is you've got parties, both parties in places like Arizona, Florida, and Texas raising questions about the count and specifically about a possible under count of the Hispanic population. I just wonder what your thoughts are on that. Was that something you were concerned with going into the census? And now that those numbers are out, is that something that you're looking at?

Morales Rocketto:

Absolutely. It was very concerning going into the census. One thing that Trump, Miller and all of his cronies were really good at was not only moving forward their policies, but having a regulatory framework in the government that allowed them to continue influencing how the government works even after they were out of office. And I think the census is a perfect example of that. The effects of under-representing the Latino population are going to be devastating in my community. This means that for the next 10 years, the government will actually have a less real number for all of the programs and policies that they put in place. Those census numbers are the basis of how they make those calculations, which means that millions of Latinos all around the country are going to have less support that is desperately needed. So this is both a political issue that we should be really worried about, it's democratic, small D democracy issue, but it's also going to have real material effects on millions of people in an extremely negative way.

Haines: Yeah. Farai, I'm wondering if you have anything to add on that, the census numbers coming out, we don't have drilled down data yet, but just those initial numbers?

Chideya: Well, one of the things I think most people who are data scientists and analysts who are looking at this assume that there have been under accounts in various ways in various states. And moving ahead, I think that the US government will have to begin to examine whether there should be a recourse, a more formal recourse embedded in the process for these under counts. I mean, one of the things that has given me great joy as I do some family history work is seeing my relatives in the 1800s in the US census. And I'm sure it's never been accurate, just to be frank, but this was a much smaller country and it was really analog. It was literally people walking around with their little forms, writing in their little cramped handwriting. And we have to accept some uncertainty about this, but also we know enough that hopefully this administration will also take on really assessing what a good census looks like in the modern era.

Haines: Yeah, well, the early days of the Biden-Harris administration was also marked by how much they had to do to get their agenda done via executive order. Things like revoking the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, requiring masks on federal property, because the pandemic was still raging, extending the ban on evictions during the pandemic, and reversing 62 Trump executive orders, like recommitting the US to the Paris Climate Agreement. So Farai, if the 2022 midterms hand the House to the GOP, is this what the rest of the Baton-Harris tenure is going to look like?

Chideya: Quite likely. But I do think that we are, as painful as it can be, we are living in an era of political reality about what bipartisanship is and what it isn't. I actually think America would be better off as a multi-party democracy, as messy as it is, because to get 300 plus million people represented by two political parties requires all sorts of ideological gerrymandering to try to fit roughly half the population into each of those buckets. But getting back to the reality of a two party political system, if there is not bipartisanship, and there does not seem to be right now in very deep terms, then executive orders are a concrete way to go.

Haines: Yeah. And Jess, I'm going to give you the last word on this.

Morales Rocketto:

Yeah. Ultimately, the Democrats have, I don't know, six more months, probably six, maybe eight, more months to push forward on a lot of the proposals that have come out which, we talked about before, are a lot bolder frankly than we expected from President Biden. And that also means that the White House has to put muscle behind those proposals. It's not enough just to say, "This is a great, progressive idea." They actually need to legislate into progressive solutions. That's going to require both President Biden and the White House and the administration and leadership in Congress and the Democratic caucus to get together and all make a push. Which, love the Democratic brethren generally, but I would say working in tandem, not their strongest suit. If they don't do that, if they pursue a bureaucratic, technocratic solution, which is very much in their mold, then they run the risk not only of getting hurt in the midterms, but also Biden's presidential legacy and his potential reelection. And that is also going to implicate, frankly, Vice-President Harris, who, as you can imagine, I'm sure is looking at what's next for her and a possible ascendancy to the presidency as well.

Haines: Absolutely. Their fates are certainly tied to each other. Well, listen, there was so much tea to sip this week and I love sipping the tea with both of you, but we have got to leave it there for now. It was nice talking with you though, Jess.

Morales Rocketto:

What a pleasure. I'm so glad we got to do this while it's all fresh and I'm still feeling fired up from that speech.

Haines: And it was nice to chat with you again, Farai.

Chideya: 100 days and counting. Thank you so much, Errin.

Haines: Thanks, y'all.

Chideya: 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 Lantigua Williams & Co. I'm the creator and host, Farai Chideya. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is executive producer. Paulina Velasco is senior producer. Jen Chien is executive editor. Cedric Wilson is lead producer and mixed this episode. Our producer is Priscilla Alabi. Julie Zann is our talent consultant. Original music by associate sound designer, Kojin Tashiro. Production assistance from Emily Daly, Natyna Bean, Sara McClure, and Mark Betancourt.

Chideya: This program is produced with support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies; from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies; from BMe Community, a network designed to build caring and prosperous communities inspired by Black people, and from generous contributions from listeners like you.


Chideya, Farai, host. "DC Statehood Back in Play, Why National Security Risks Need Reassessing, and Looking Back on 100 Days of Biden-Harris Administration.” Our Body Politic, Diaspora Farms LLC. April 30, 2021. https://our-body-politic.simplecast.com/