Our Body Politic

The Dangers of Medical Racism and Our GOP Debate Recap

Episode Summary

On this episode of Our Body Politic, host Farai Chideya, speaks with Linda Villarosa, journalist, author and educator about the dangers of medical racism. Then Farai speaks with Donald K. Sherman, Executive Vice-President of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, about section three of the 14th amendment to the Constitution and whether it can be used to hold former President Trump responsible for his actions leading up to the January 6th insurrection. We round out the show with Sabrina Rodriguez, National Politics Reporter for The Washington Post and Danielle Moodie, Political commentator, host of Woke AF Daily and Democracy-ish for our Sipping the Political Tea roundtable. They will help us unpack the recent GOP primary debate.

Episode Transcription

Farai Chideya [00:00:06] Hey, folks, we are so glad that you're listening to Our Body Politic. If you haven't yet, remember to follow this podcast on your podcast, Your choice. Like Apple or Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you have time, please leave us a review. It helps other listeners find us and we read them for your feedback. Here's what one of you had to say. I love this podcast. I love listening to Our Body Politic on a weekly basis. It's informative and holds my interest by covering a wide variety of topics from the perspective of Black women and women of color that I, as a Black man, am interested in listening to and learning from. This is a great show and Our Body Politic to your library. You won't be disappointed. Thank you so much for that review. And it is funny, when I was taking a car to the studio to tape this show, I had a Black male driver who quizzed me like an expert journalist about what we did and asked if he would be welcome to do it. And I told him that another driver on another ride in New York City had turned his wife on to the show. And so we definitely are here for you Black men and men in general. We are so glad to have you in our audience. Thank you for enjoying our show. You can also reach out to us on Instagram and X @OurBodyPolitic, where you can sign up for our newsletter. Just click on the link in the bio. We are here for you with you and because of you, so keep letting us know what's on your mind. Thanks for listening.

This is Our Body Politic. I'm Farai Chideya. We have got a lot of politics to cover. The GOP presidential candidates are fighting for attention, and some legal scholars are arguing to keep frontrunner Trump off the 2024 ballot. But we're kicking off this show by looking at another deeply political and personal issue. Our health data shows Black Americans live sicker and die quicker than their white counterparts. But why? That question is at the heart of Linda Villarosa is latest book, Under the Skin The Hidden Toll of Racism on Health in America. In the book, Linda uncovers how the American health care system, medical bias, environmental factors, and even racist myths from the time of slavery all contribute to negative health outcomes from Black and bipoc people in America and how racism is the common factor in all of it. Joining me now is journalist professor and author Linda Villarosa. Linda, welcome to Our Body Politic. 

Linda Villarosa [00:02:35] Thank you. I'm so glad to be here. I'm so glad to be with you. 

Farai Chideya [00:02:39] Yeah, I am so glad to be with you. We have known each other for decades now and you have always been doing incredible work. But this work has been recognized as a Pulitzer finalist and one of the top ten books of the year by The New York Times last year. It's really hit a nerve. So what was the catalyst for writing the book? 

Linda Villarosa [00:03:01] I think at one point I realized I've been writing these stories since I was the health editor of Essence, and they've gotten more and more political and less and less about personal health and more and more about institutional factors and bigger ideas. And people would take my articles, I'd get notes and say, Hey, is it okay if I Xerox your article on maternal mortality or HIV, AIDS or environmental justice for my class? And then I realized, Oh, people are putting together stacks of these articles in order to make sense of what's going on here. And then I thought, Wait, I know how to make sense of this. And I just started writing it. And I also got a lot of encouragement after the maternal mortality story I did in 2018, because that was a real eye opener for many people. 

Farai Chideya [00:03:55] Yeah, That piece was called Why America's Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life or Death Crisis. So what was it like to report that article and what were the things you surfaced? 

Linda Villarosa [00:04:06] I think I got the article because I latched onto it, was because I was listening to the statistics about maternal mortality in America, and it was Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die or almost die having a baby or in the months after. So I thought, Oh, that must be just really terrible. In the poorest places in America and where people really lack access to health care. But then I got the real information was that a Black woman, a Black birthing person with an advanced degree, M.D., JD, M.S., Ph.D., is more likely to die or almost die than a white woman with an eighth grade education. Mm hmm. And those statistics have been furthered now. And it's like now it's not just about education. It's also about wealth. And it's about rich Black people like Serena Williams can almost die in childbirth. So I think that got. Me. What I learned was slightly by accident when I was following a young mother in New Orleans, Simon Landrum. I was in the birthing room with her. I had been to her pre appointments. I had met her doctor and I was surprised how in front of me how poorly she was treated. Even though she had lost a baby and almost lost her life the year before, she was treated with such unkindness, such disrespect. Her doctor was not there. There was a someone none of us had ever met. And Black women are something like 20, 25% more likely to meet their doctor for the first time when they're delivering their baby. And so seeing it, seeing the research that I had and seeing how poorly she was treated, I'm like, well, no wonder we have these statistics. If in a hospital in New Orleans with the Black patients, the only Black people in the room are myself, the Dula and the mother in New Orleans. So there's a lack of providers and there's a lack of respect. 

Farai Chideya [00:06:06] And you really did get under the hood of what was happening by following this woman and her doula into the situation of her birth. What was it like to expose yourself to the emotional intensity of following another woman's birth journey? 

Linda Villarosa [00:06:26] I have been with other you know, I was at the births of both my godchildren. And so I think I'm pretty good in a birthing situation. But it was very difficult for me to remain that abuse, in quotes, neutral when I was seeing how poorly she was being treated. I wasn't taking notes. I was so shocked that I wasn't really recording. I let the doula let Tona do the advocating so I wouldn't jump into it. But I remember I went back to where I was staying to take a shower and then to return back with the mother. And I went home and I scribbled down all the notes. I got my shower. You know, I was tired. The baby was born at 1 a.m.. And I just thought, I can't believe I saw that. So I just had to keep myself focused and to say, this is real. You just saw this happen. I wasn't even really supposed to be in that birthing room. That wasn't our plan. I was just supposed to come later. But it was hard keeping composure and not wanting to jump in and help. So I was glad the doula was there. 

Farai Chideya [00:07:32] And you have two amazing, multitalented, grown children yourself. What does the experience of being a mother tell you about this part of your work as a journalist? You know what? What were you able to pull up from your own experiences? 

Linda Villarosa [00:07:49] Well, I think two things. First, my own birthing experience was difficult, and I was someone who was definitely not supposed to have a low birth weight baby. I was in really good health. I was the health editor of Essence. I had an amazing physician. I was at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. You know, once I found out that my baby wasn't thriving, I had inner uterine growth restriction. I was surprised, but did everything right. We managed to not have her be pre-term. She was born the day after what would technically would have been preterm. But she was £4, 13 ounces. And I kept thinking, what in my life experience could maybe have caused me to have this outlying, really small baby when I had done everything right? And having a low birth weight baby puts your child at risk of having an infant mortality experience. The other thing is, beyond this book, I do a lot of interviews with people who are disadvantaged and many people who have children. I realized that I really like children because I have children and I'm used to them. I raised them. I know their friends and I like having children be a part of the interview because if I'm interviewing, say, a mom or something or dad, I know that experience and I can handle the children, talk to the children and be super compassionate to the people that I'm interviewing who are parents. 

Farai Chideya [00:09:23] Yeah. I mean, one of the more intense interviews I've done on this show in terms of just my reaction to the subject matter was with Tressie McMillan Cottam, who is a Ph.D. and who lost a child due to what I definitely think based on the story is medical negligence. She was told to go home as she was in pain and bleeding and eventually lost her daughter. And that really relates to what you're saying about education, not preventing adverse birth experiences for Black women. You know, whether it's in the case of the mother or in the case of the baby before we go even. Deeper into some of what you wrote about. What do you hope that your work, whether it's with your book or with the 1619 project, which we'll talk about, can do to help reshape where we are? 

Linda Villarosa [00:10:15] I think it does two things. One is I want to I think it has and it continue to reshape the conversation around this to say when people are reporting like Tracy and so many others reporting being mistreated in the medical system, that's supposed to do no harm, that it's real and that providers must listen. People's stories turn into evidence, even though they're not It's not scientific. It is evidence. I have collected evidence in my book and in my work so that people in the health care system cannot turn away from mistreatment that I don't think is evil individuals. It's not doctors being racist necessarily, as individuals. It's a system that needs changing. And I think Callie, my daughter, pointed out to me that one of the things my book does, it validates the experiences of people who have had their experiences invalidated. It was very interesting. In The New York Times, there was a piece about maternal mortality, and it interviewed one of the researchers who was looking into maternal mortality. She's like a, you know, a scientist somewhere. And she talked about her own experience during birth of being mistreated when this is her very area of expertise. So I think at some point this has to change. People who can make a difference need to listen to people and read about the pile up of information about this in evidence and change this system. 

Farai Chideya [00:11:51] So let's go back in history. You also worked on the 1619 project and you wrote an essay on alleged physical racial differences. Race is a construct. And it's real because we make it real. But it's not like the universe created Black people. There's people all over the world with a variety of physiognomy and phenotypes. So what's the myth of physical racial differences, and how is that still part of the medical establishment? 

Linda Villarosa [00:12:20] I think there are several myths, but the one that's the most dangerous is the idea that began during the years of enslavement, that Black people have higher pain tolerance and extremely high pain tolerance. And that was used by enslavers, some of them physicians and scientists, to work people to death, to beat them, to torture them, to take their children away. The idea that we can just tolerate all kinds of pain and certainly that was hundreds of years ago. But studies and surveys show that health care providers, including medical students, still believe some of those myths, including the idea that we have a superhuman tolerance to pain. What strikes me is a, there's evidence to this, but the story of Dr. Susan Moore is very important in this. She was a physician who had got COVID. She went into the hospital system in Indiana where she practiced. She complained of pain. She said she had pain. I think it was in her neck or shoulder area and she was not given pain management. And she said herself that she was treated as though she was a drug seeking. So if there's this myth floating around that is embedded in people's mind and in the practice of medicine, that we have a high tolerance to pain, then we don't get proper pain management. Susan Moore died. 

Farai Chideya [00:13:43] Eventually, I remember reading that. I mean, it's a tragedy. 

Linda Villarosa [00:13:47] A tragedy. And part of the in the investigation following her death, part of the reason she wasn't treated well was because some of the medical providers that were serving her were intimidated by her level of medical knowledge. 

Farai Chideya [00:14:00] So basically, damned if you do, damned if you don't. 

Linda Villarosa [00:14:03] So that is very difficult to hear. But it shows that these myths are still sticking in modern medical education and modern medical practice. 

Farai Chideya [00:14:15] Let's move on to something else that you really went all the way with. You talk about involuntary sterilization and you wrote a whole piece about sisters who were sterilized as girls. Can you tell us who they were and what happened to them? 

Linda Villarosa [00:14:30] The sisters were 12 and 14. They lived in Montgomery, Alabama, in the early 1970s, and their family had come from a rural area to the city of Montgomery. So they were part of the tail end of the Great Migration. But they didn't go north. They came to cities like Montgomery. The family of six was living in a field. A Black woman social worker got assigned their case went was horrified by how they were living, not going to school. So she got them into the system. She got them into public housing and she got them into public health system so that they could get care and to education. One of them, the younger one, was disabled when they got on the radar of the public health system at the time. They were thinking they were doing no wrong, sterilizing many of the people who had come from the South and were living in the cities, Black people, because they were thinking they shouldn't have any more babies, they're going to tax the system and it's not good for them. It will help them thrive economically. They took three of them Katie, Mary Alice and Minnie Lee. Katie, the older one, got away, but they sterilized the Public Health Service, sterilized the two younger ones because they were afraid they would have babies. A 12 year old disabled child is not having babies. They said there are boys around. So that was the reason. 

Farai Chideya [00:15:53] And no sense of personal agency, of course. 

Linda Villarosa [00:15:55] Nothing didn't get their parents consent. The parents were illiterate, so they didn't understand. They put an X on a piece of paper. They thought they were getting immunizations. So the good thing is the social worker, Ms. Bligh, went to the Southern Poverty Law Center and told them what had happened and at the time it was new and they were all over this case and so they got the case. They won to say you cannot sterilize someone without their consent or without their parent's consent. But nothing happened to the Ralphs. They never got any compensation. So I started writing about them and thinking what happened to them. They must be in their sixties now. So I ended up going to Montgomery. It took me a year, but I found them and they were living together in public housing. I'm knocking on their door and there they are. These people that I've been writing about, reading about, and I wrote about them in my book. It was excerpted as a cover story in the New York Times Magazine. And that kind of happy ending is I got an email from a woman in Seattle who said, I am wealthy. I want to give the sisters $25,000 because I know that that's what other in some states people get compensated. So I was like, Really? Wow. Each each $25,000. Yes. So she ended up we went through a nonprofit in Montgomery, got them the money. They bought a house. They got their own house and moved out of public housing. I was there a few months ago and went to their house and it's so cute and I'm really happy for them. So that was sort of like, that's not really an apology at all. That's not compensation from the government, but something good happened. 

Farai Chideya [00:17:41] That's a really beautiful story. I mean, it's beautiful and heartbreaking. And along those lines, a couple of years ago, in 2021, California started a program to offer reparations to people who could prove they were forcibly sterilized while in the states women's prisons. But the deadline for people to apply for these reparations ends in December. And so far, only 101 people have been approved and 339 have been denied, according to the news organization the 19th. So what is your thought on whether or not there is a movement that will actually provide medical reparations for people who have been forcibly sterilized? 

Linda Villarosa [00:18:23] I'm going to say there's a movement, but it is nascent. It's small. Virginia and North Carolina also had a program that are now I don't remember how many people got money from that. It's sad about the California part that it's you know, it's hard to find people. It's hard to make sure that they know. And the rules are strict because it's piecemeal. Hundreds of thousands of people were sterilized and many of them still alive. So the Ralph sisters got money from someone kind, but they didn't get anything from their state. And I like that some states are apologizing, but you've got to do more. When people get confused about reparations and they're like, well, how do reparations work? This is one of those 100% clear ways you can give money to people who deserve it. And it's reparations and it's fair. 

Farai Chideya [00:19:11] Yeah. I mean, there was also a man. Sterilization of indigenous women, particularly in the 1970s. And I don't have any indication that that has been remediated. And I think of this haunting picture of Fannie Lou Hamer, where she's sitting in her house with a baby doll. And of course, she was forcibly sterilized. You know, one of the great foremothers of Black women's civil rights and rights under a democracy who could not have children of her own with her husband because she had been forcibly sterilized during some unrelated procedure where she had no idea that she would be sterilized. She was viewed as, you know, somehow unworthy of the right to bear children, you know, And yet Black women exist today and have survived through all of this. It's heartbreaking, but your journalism really does some incredible thing. So let's talk about the physical and mental toll that racism takes on the bodies of people of color. 

Linda Villarosa [00:20:12] I discovered, I guess, Darlene Geronimo's when I was working on America's Black mothers and babies are in a life or death crisis. And the funny thing about her was I had read about her theory of weathering. Yes. Which is basically it's when you're trying really hard to survive, but you are faced with all kinds of barriers in the form of racism. Sometimes it's classism, it's other things. But she's very interested in racism. And I remember I was talking to her and we had the longest conversation and she wasn't really getting off the phone. And she I will call you back after I make lunch. And finally I said to her, You know, I'm from The New York Times, and she's like, Oh, yeah, yeah. But she hadn't been interviewed because no one believed her theories. So once I interviewed her, a few other people, and then when COVID happened, Black people as a demographic died or were hospitalized ten years younger than white people. So all of a sudden, Arlene Geronimo is in high demand because her concept of weathering made sense. How it works is that if you are someone and you have microaggressions or macro aggressions, microaggression is someone moves away from you in the elevator because they think you're going to steal their purse, you're in a meeting, they talk over you. You have to always sit in the back or you're discriminated against in housing by the police or at your job, really. Obviously, then each time that happens, your body goes into fight or flight, which is a natural reaction. So your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up, your body is flooded with stress hormones, which is good if you are in danger. But if it happens over and over again because you're being mistreated, it causes a kind of premature aging, which Dr. Geronimo's calls weathering. Yes. So the good part about Dr. Geronimo's is that she has a book. 

Farai Chideya [00:22:11] Oh, that's great. 

Linda Villarosa [00:22:12] When I first was interviewing her, there was like, never talk of a book. But her book is really good and it really spells out her theories. And I'm really proud of her that she stayed with it. And a lot of the researchers that study these kinds of things that have to do with race and health have been doing it for years. Yes. Under the radar and really sticking with it. And she's one of them. So I was glad that now her idea of weathering, her concept of weathering is much more widely accepted. 

Farai Chideya [00:22:44] Yeah, I mean, the whole I remember when a friend of mine talked about weathering in relationship to her own fertility journey, which ended up having a happy ending. But she felt that through any number of life stressors, she probably was experiencing some acceleration of her biological age. And I interviewed Elizabeth Blackburn, who won a Nobel Prize for medicine, and she talks her work is on telomeres and cellular aging and all of the different stressors. And she used caregivers as one test group around stress. And it strikes me that if anyone is caregivers, Black women are caregivers. We end up taking care of the whole world. You know, our families, other people's families enter work dynamics. And I think that there's this sense of caring the world on your shoulders that sometimes comes to Black women. So what have you as a Black woman, as a mother and as a journalist discovered of ways that you can lighten the load a little bit? 

Linda Villarosa [00:23:51] I ask Dr. Jerome. It's about that because I you know, people ask me as individuals, it's like, oh, my God, weathering seems so inevitable. And what she said is that you just do your best to take care of your individual self. So an individual asks me about how to counteract. I say, do the things that you love. Be around the people that you love surround yourself. And that's the good thing about even the term weathering. It means the way a storm might weather a house, but it also means the way we weather that storm through love, kinship, taking care of each other, taking care of ourselves. People are very funny because they'll say, well, how do you take care of yourself? I was like, I play soccer, okay? I play in an all gender, all ages soccer group. And I think I am in the Olympics, even though I'm playing on this little short field in Prospect Park and I go fishing, which I love. 

Farai Chideya [00:24:50] That's about to raise fishing if you didn't. I've seen many pictures of you fishing and with your big fish. 

Linda Villarosa [00:24:58] And even when I'm fishing and not catching it still, you know, I have a lot of little rowboats and it's really relaxing. I have a best fishing buddy friend. I exercise basically every day in some form, even if it's just a walk to try to take care of myself. Because I know that I've had a life where I've had a lot of microaggressions. And I also do work that we do as journalists that, you know, I interview a lot of people who have been traumatized or had some trauma. So I want to make sure that I'm caring for myself so I can continue to do the work that I know is good and that I really love. 

Farai Chideya [00:25:33] And so as I conclude, you know, you've written this incredible book and you have an incredible legacy of your journalism on all sorts of things, from essence to the 1619 project. But with Under the Skin The Hidden toll of racism on health in America, as this key text that you have given to the world, how do you see public solutions like especially as we're entering the 2024 presidential election, What should we be talking about as a country? 

Linda Villarosa [00:26:03] I think we have to talk about maternal mortality and infant mortality. It's just continues to rise. It gets worse. First, we need technical solutions because we know that those work. But to heal the racial imbalance, the inequality with why Black women are so much more likely to pass away, we have to tackle the racism in the health care system itself. It's hard to, you know, like we were just talking about whether solutions to weathering it's like hard solve racism in the country, but in the health care system, we can do something. And I think there's a growing push and there's also a growing push back to institute anti racism or implicit bias training. There's a push there's a push back. But I think that helps. I think we need to encourage the growing activism among medical students, nursing students, midwifery students, students who are studying public health to say, yes, activism, health, justice must be part of your education and training. Otherwise you're going to continue to recreate the problems that the system already has. And I think finally, just really listening and being empathetic to people. And part of that work is done in the health care system. Part of it is done by adults. Part of it is community health workers, patient navigators, people who put the care and caring back to a system that is, you know, in our country, we spend a lot of money on it and we use a lot of technical solutions, but we need to put more love into our system. 

Farai Chideya [00:27:37] Amen to that. So Linda Villarosa, journalist and author of Under the Skin The Hidden Toll of Racism on Health in America. Thanks for joining us. 

Linda Villarosa [00:27:47] Thank you. 

Farai Chideya [00:27:53] Many of us vividly remember the events of January 6, 2021, when insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol. They clung to balustrades and leapt overprotective fencing all while engaging in threatening behavior towards lawmakers and violence towards police officers. Rioters who entered the Capitol and those who helped whip them into a frenzy are beginning to face consequences for their actions. Stuart Rhodes, founder of the far right organization The Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years for seditious conspiracy, and former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for his efforts in orchestrating the insurrection at the Capitol. Donald Trump has yet to face political consequences for his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and remain in power. However, he does face four indictments, which amounts to a total of 91 charges. Some legal scholars, conservative and liberal, argue that Section three of the 14th Amendment bars Trump from political office. Joining me now to break down Section three of the 14th Amendment and what it might mean for former President Trump's presidential ambitions is Donald K Sherman. He's the executive vice president at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, known as CREW and an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University. Donald, welcome to Our Body Politic. 

Donald K. Sherman [00:29:17] Thank you so much for having me. 

Farai Chideya [00:29:19] So first off, I want to make sure we're on the same page. The report from the January six committee has a recommendation section near the end, and one of the things they recommend is looking at the 14th Amendment to protect democracy. So tell me what Section three of the 14th Amendment says and what its purposes. 

Donald K. Sherman [00:29:36] Sure. Section three of the 14th Amendment was ratified in the aftermath of civil war in 1868. It reads, No person shall be a senator or a representative in Congress or elector of president and vice president or hold any office, civil or military under the United States or under any state who, having previously taken an oath as a member of Congress or as an officer of the United States or as a member of any state legislature or as an executive or judicial officer of any state to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two thirds of each House, remove such disability. And so it breaks down into three elements. Someone has to have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States as an officer of a state or of the United States. There has to have been an insurrection against the Constitution of the United States, and the individual has to have engaged in insurrection against the United States or given aid and comfort to the enemies thereof. 

Farai Chideya [00:30:57] So you say this comes out of the Civil War and some of the insurrectionists are cited and quoted as calling for a civil war or being excited about the prospect of a civil war. But this is not the same thing as the 1800s. How do you link the history to today and make the best comparisons between the use of the 14th Amendment in the past and the possible use of it today? 

Donald K. Sherman [00:31:23] The Congress that ratified the 14th Amendment and Section three specifically had an opportunity to limit its application only to the Civil War. They chose not to do that. And in fact, after four years, they gave amnesty to Confederates who participated in the Civil War but did not give blanket amnesty for future insurrections. So it was clear that this provision was meant to be a forward looking safeguard to ensure that anyone who engaged in insurrection against the Constitution going forward was not afforded the opportunity to betray their oath again by being entrusted with government office with respect to January 6th. It's important to sort of go back to where we were in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, because now there seems to be a lot of revisionist history. There were bipartisan votes in the House and the Senate, citing Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection. The impeachment vote, which fell short of the two thirds required to remove him but was 57 votes in the United States Senate. Republicans and Democrats finding that Donald Trump was guilty of inciting an insurrection. But it is also consistent with the historical understanding of insurrection because January six was focused on thwarting a constitutional requirement. To certify our election. It was an insurrection against the Constitution, which meets the standard of Section three of the 14th Amendment. 

Farai Chideya [00:33:01] So catch me up on what's happening right now. You have efforts to remove the former president from ballots in places like Colorado, Minnesota. Give me a sense of what's going on, where the action is, and also how your organization fits into this, because I understand that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has been really looking at this for a while. 

Donald K. Sherman [00:33:23] Yes. So CREW has been focused on accountability for January six since the attack happened, but really focused on how to enforce Section three against insurrectionists. One reason why we know that Section three of the 14th Amendment can be used to hold former President Trump accountable is because we brought and we won the only case in 150 years since the Reconstruction era to remove an official from office based on Section three of the 14th Amendment. We brought that case on behalf of three New Mexico voters against Couy Griffin, who was a state official there, who recruited people to come to D.C. for battle and then helped egg on the crowd as they crushed law enforcement in the Capitol tunnel. Mr. Griffin remains barred from office under Section three of the 14th Amendment. On September 6th, 2023 CREW filed litigation in Colorado on behalf of four Republican and two unaffiliated voters, suing both the secretary of State in her official capacity and the former president seeking to bar him from the ballot based on his disqualification under Section three of the 14th Amendment. 

Farai Chideya [00:34:38] There is the Constitution. There is the interpretation of the Constitution, and then there's everything else. And in the everything else bucket is just a lot of people who are like, I don't care what it says. There's no way you're going to get Donald Trump off the ballot as someone who is entrenched in the law. Do you think that people's aversion in some cases to taking a step which could give the former president another cause for grievance and claiming public grievance is a reason not to try to fight this battle? 

Donald K. Sherman [00:35:15] Absolutely not. If there's one thing that the former president does well, it's manufactured grievance. So the idea that one more thing is going to make a huge difference in terms of his level of grievance, it doesn't really pass the laugh test. But I think there's something more important at stake to remember. This provision in the Constitution was built precisely for this moment to ensure that we don't have insurrectionists trying to overturn a free and fair election. That's never happened in American history that the peaceful transfer of power was in doubt, right? Not even during the Civil War. Not even during the Civil War did the Confederate flag fly in the United States Capitol? As I said, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment was built for this moment. The only real question is whether we are built for it also. 

Farai Chideya [00:36:09] So let's go to a little bit about how the media dialog is evolving. Former President Trump sat down with Meet the Press’ Kristen Welker. During the interview, Welker asked Trump about who was the decision maker behind his claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and his efforts to overturn the election. And here's how that went. 

Kristen Welker - Were you calling the shots, though, Mr. President, ultimately? 

Donald Trump - As to whether or not I believed it was rigged …Sure, I… it was my decision. 

Farai Chideya [00:36:36] You've given a really good exegesis about this being an insurrection. But, you know, what is the recourse as you move forward with 14th Amendment cases? 

Donald K. Sherman [00:36:47] Obviously, the former president is facing multiple indictments. Will jurisdictions voice a legal attempt to overturn the election? And so, you know, Donald Trump's statements that he has made in the media and continues to make in the media certainly don't help his case. The reality is that Donald Trump has told himself many, many, many times. 

Farai Chideya [00:37:09] But to get back to the grievances question, you know, you have Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, who said in a Wall Street Journal op ed that this would, quote, reinforce the grievances of those who see the system is rigged and corrupt. But then you also have Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, saying in a Washington Post op ed that this was a, quote, misguided approach and that the courts should decide. But what you're really saying is that the court should decide and what courts are those? 

Donald K. Sherman [00:37:41] Well, what we're saying is that secretaries of state decide this all the time. If a 16 year old walked into an office and said, hey, I want to run for president. They would maybe. Ask for an ID and send him or her on their merry way. These officials took an oath to enforce state laws and in many cases to enforce the United States Constitution. They don't get to pick and choose what provisions of the Constitution they're going to enforce because one is perhaps easier or harder and they are required to enforce the Constitution, just as the former president was. 

Farai Chideya [00:38:23] I mean, one question that has come up is that with all the indictments against the former president, he's not indicted for, you know, seditious conspiracy, for example. Does it matter what he's indicted for in this case? 

Donald K. Sherman [00:38:36] So case law from the reconstruction era, as well as the case that we won in New Mexico last year, make quite clear that you don't have to be convicted of a specific crime like seditious conspiracy or insurrection or any crime whatsoever in order to be disqualified under Section three of the 14th Amendment. Our mandate is to prove the evidence by a preponderance of the evidence, 50% plus one more likely than that. If we do not stand up for the Constitution in this moment, then we have essentially abdicated Section three of the 14th Amendment from being used in the future. If not now, then when? We can't just sort of shrug their shoulders and say, Oh, well, we'll take care of this at the ballot box. One, Donald Trump is not eligible to be on the ballot. And two, we just did that, right. Donald Trump has been in two elections. The first one, he won and he questioned the results of that election. The second one, he lost. And he incited an insurrection against the Constitution, threatening Congress and the vice president of the United States. You don't get to do that again. 

Farai Chideya [00:39:43] Donald K. Sherman, Executive vice president for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, known as CREW, an adjunct law professor at Georgetown University. Thanks for joining us today and thank you for explaining Section three of the 14th Amendment. 

Donald K. Sherman [00:40:00] Thank you for having me. Happy to come back. 


Farai Chideya [00:40:19] This is Our Body Politic. I'm Farai Chideya. We're back with another installment of our favorite roundtable, Sippin’ the Political Tea. Joining me this week is Danielle Moodie political commentator and host of the podcast Woke AF Daily. She's also co-host of another podcast called Democracy-ish and writes a regular column for The Daily Beast. Thanks for being here, Danielle. 

Danielle Moodie [00:40:42] Thank you for having me. 

Farai Chideya [00:40:43] And I'm also joined by Sabrina Rodriguez national politics reporter for The Washington Post. Welcome back, Sabrina. 

Sabrina Rodriguez [00:40:49] Thanks for having me. 

Farai Chideya [00:40:51] So we're discussing the GOP presidential primary. It's like the Highlander; many people battle only one wins. And there's been another debate. Number two, freshly behind us. And it seems like a great place to start. So it seems like Ronald Reagan's presidential library was full of DeSantis supporters that night. Several of his answers were hits with the crowd, including this one on China. 

Ron DeSantis [00:41:15] As governor of Florida, I banned the CCP from buying land in our state. We should do that all across these United States. We shouldn't have them in our universities. We shouldn't have Confucius Institutes. 

Farai Chideya [00:41:27] Not like there has been anything like a rash of hate crimes against Asian Americans or anything. But anyway, Sabrina, you watched this debate with young Republicans in Des Moines, Iowa. What were some of the reactions in the room? 

Sabrina Rodriguez [00:41:40] You know, it was a mixed bag for sure. I think a lot of the Iowa caucus goers that I met last night were really still undecided and saying like, you know, it's still a big open question. If they think that there's anyone that can beat Trump, that's really the question in the room for a lot of people is, you know, he's not there in these debates. He's the frontrunner, without a doubt. And every poll that we see and there is sort of an energy of like you're watching the debate for who's second place. And a lot of people were pleased with how DeSantis performed. And I think there was a lot of pressure on him because he had a pretty shaky performance in the first debate. And his campaign has been a mess with, you know, different donors dropping out and him having to cut part of his campaign staff and such. So so a lot of people in the room were were pretty pleased, but I wouldn't say that it was like a okay. And now he's the frontrunner. There's still that Trump question always. 

Farai Chideya [00:42:38] Right. And you know, Des Moines has, you know, obviously a huge university population from different universities. Was it a diverse crowd among the college Republicans? 

Sabrina Rodriguez [00:42:53] It was not. It was yes, it was not an extremely diverse crowd. But but among the students in terms of their opinions, it was fairly diverse in terms of who they like, of the candidates and such. So it was I was kind of surprised to see that there was a very mixed crowd. I met some Nikki Haley supporters, some people that were impressed with the way that Tim Scott spoke and presented himself in the debate because they felt he didn't really talk very much in the first one. So there was definitely some moments that stood out to people where they were receptive to these other candidates. But but I will say, in terms of the diversity of this crowd at this at this event, it was not not a big one. 

Farai Chideya [00:43:36] Not racially diverse. Okay. Well, Danielle, let me queue some stuff up for you. Governor DeSantis was also asked about Florida's Black history curriculum, which now requires that middle schoolers be taught about the skills that enslaved people learned that could be used, quote, for their personal benefit. Here's DeSantis' response. 

Ron DeSantis [00:43:55] So first of all, that's a hoax that was perpetrated by Kamala Harris. We are not going to be doing that. 

Farai Chideya [00:44:00] And so in the background there, you hear South Carolina Senator Tim Scott saying, then take that line out. Scott has been critical of DeSantis on the curriculum, and Scott followed up the case with, you know, more of what he's trying to say to Black voters in particular. 

Tim Scott [00:44:15] So often we think that all of the issues you talked about crime and education and health care, we always think that those issues go back to slavery. Here's the challenge, though. Black families survive slavery. We survived poll taxes and literacy tests. We survive discrimination being woven into the laws of our country. What was hard to survive was Johnson's Great Society, where they decided to put in money or they decided to take the Black father out of the household to get a check in the mail. And you can now measure that. And unemployment and crime and devastation. If you want to restore hope, you've got to restore the family, restore capitalism and put Americans back at work together as one American family. 

Farai Chideya [00:45:05] Danielle, Scott is polling in the single digits. And I wonder if you see that kind of messaging, moving the needle for him at all. 

Danielle Moodie [00:45:13] I'm surprised that he's in the single digits at all. I think that, you know, Tim Scott is a very problematic figure for me in the Republican Party. Tim Scott is someone who carries the water for white supremacy and utters their talking points. And then the only time that I have seen him really forcefully come out is with regard to the Florida curriculum. And that's where he has drawn. That's the only place that he has drawn the line. I think that his understanding of history is false. I think that his understanding of the implications of slavery, of Jim Crow, of racial discrimination, of redlining, of all of the causes that have created the racial wealth gap, that have created an education gap, that have created and purposefully so have been orchestrated by state and federal government. I think that his misunderstanding and misrepresentation of history and facts is problematic. And as the lone Black man on that stage, you know, you would like for him to be able to do better, but his record shows that he has it's impossible for him to do so. 

Farai Chideya [00:46:26] Yeah. I mean, this is such a fascinating race. There's more people of color than ever in the GOP primary. And, you know, and yet no one seemingly except the former president has the lead. And I want to turn back to you, Sabrina, with a question about the front runner. He was in Michigan delivering remarks to supporters at Drake Enterprises, an auto parts supplier outside of Detroit. 

Donald Trump [00:46:51] It's all over television. This speech. You know, we're competing with the job candidates, are all running for a job. You know, they're all job candidates. They want to be in the… they want to do anything secretary of something. They even say, VP. I don't know anybody see any VP in the group. I don't think so. 

Farai Chideya [00:47:09] So that was, you know, some trash talking from the former president. Sabrina, what kind of precedent does it set for the frontrunner of one of the two major parties, which overwhelmingly dominate U.S. politics and certainly for a presidential race is not to debate. 

Sabrina Rodriguez [00:47:29] I mean, it's deeply concerning, I think, for for the traditions that we have in politics and the expectation that candidates will participate. But it's not surprising from Trump. It's not surprising from who we've known him to be, who he's shown himself to be since 2015. I think it's his way of doing a flex. It's him showing like I am the frontrunner. I don't even need to show up. And if I win and I become the nominee, you're all still going to support me anyway. He knows that that's what ultimately will happen in this case if he does become the nominee. And I think it really is his way of just downplaying these other candidates. I mean, we saw, for example, for one of the first kind of shots that anyone has taken pointed at him was DeSantis saying last night that he should give that respect to voters and should be on the debate stage. I think a lot of people agree with that sentiment quietly, but I think a lot of Republicans, whether it's Republican leaders, lawmakers, consultants or keeping that opinion to themselves or privately or on background, because they know that that there is the reality that Trump can very well be the nominee. 

Farai Chideya [00:48:44] And what did the people that you were with from the college Republicans in Des Moines, Iowa, obviously a very prominent state in American politics, what did they make of Trump's former President Trump's, you know, refusal to attend the debates and also of his viability as a candidate? 

Sabrina Rodriguez [00:49:03] I mean, several people… and I will say the event I was at ended up being a mixed crowd. So there was a range of ages and and it wasn't only young people and everyone that I've talked to, whether it's now in the second debate, and I was at a party in New Hampshire for the first debate with voters. A lot of people don't are not bothered that Trump is not there because they're like, we all know who he is. We all know what he stands for. We love him or hate him. I've met a mixed bag of people that that like him and are going to vote for him or want an alternative. But generally speaking, everyone knows what he's about. So they're looking at it as like, okay, well, it's an opportunity for these other people to to talk for these other people to kind of show who they are. But a lot of people I think it's it says a lot about the state of our politics. It says a lot about the state of the Republican primary, that there is not a concern or there is not They're fine with him not being there because they already kind of know what he's about. And they they either are going to already support him anyway or they're actually just trying to see who their options are. 

Farai Chideya [00:50:10] And Danielle, what do you make both of the refusal to debate and also of just the GOP field? More broadly, in terms of presenting a challenge, a real race for the primary to get the nomination? 

Danielle Moodie [00:50:24] I think that it's impossible to present a real race for the primary when you refuse to take on the frontrunner. I don't know, You know, how you command this idea that you can be commander in chief, that you can be the leader when you refuse to knock down who is number one. It is, you know, and it's the reason why Donald Trump doesn't have to show up and it's the reason why he clowns them every opportunity that he has in front of a microphone, because he knows that they are all lackluster. You cannot run for president and decide that you're going to run for second place or run for a cabinet position. It shows that you are weak. It shows that you have no vision. And so why would people vote for you? Right. Whether we're looking at DeSantis or Haley or Ramaswamy, there are none of them. None of them are pronouncing themselves to be a frontrunner, to be a real challenger, because you would look at all of the 91 charges, the four indictments, and you would start to talk to the American people about this party and how you don't want it to be dragged through the mud about how you are, you know, your ability to be able to pull this party back together. None of them are doing that because they're afraid of their base. 

Farai Chideya [00:51:39] We're going to take a little pivot from the former president and to the other person who was in Michigan this week. That would be President Joe Biden, who walked the picket lines with striking autoworkers that made him the first sitting president to ever do so. So here he is in a clip from The New York Times talking to strikers on Tuesday. 

President Biden [00:52:03] The UAW you saved the automobile industry back in 2004, made a lot of sacrifices and gave up a lot and the companies were in trouble. But now they're doing incredibly well. And that's what we should be doing incredibly well. 

Farai Chideya [00:52:20] So a recent NBC News poll shows that President Biden is at 41%. Meanwhile, former President Trump is overwhelmingly favored as the GOP primary candidate, but 52% still have major concerns about his alleged crime. So it seems like a lot of voters are really torn by who they dislike more. Danielle, what do you make of these numbers and the other range of polls that have come out showing that the race is tight or in some cases that the race may even favor former President Trump over President Biden? 

Danielle Moodie [00:52:54] I mean, these are the same polls that came out and said that Donald Trump was going to win the presidency in 2020. These are the same polls that came out and said that we were going to have a red wave in the midterm elections. These are the same polls, you know, that we pay attention to because of the horse race nature of our politics. The fact of the matter is, is that the only poll that matters is the poll booth that people walk into on Election Day, because depending on how you're asking the question, who you're asking the question to and the time of day that you're asking that question, you can skew these polls to say and do whatever it is that you want. I think at the end of the day, when you are seeing the actions coming out of the Biden administration, him, you know, making history by standing with workers, by standing with unions says a lot more than what people think about his age. Yeah, he's old. So is Donald Trump. Right. And I think that the American people are going to make the decision, do we want our country led by a wannabe authoritarian who will crime his way through the next four years? Because we also know that if Donald Trump becomes president again, that's it. It's a wrap. So I don't take a lot of stock in the polls, particularly this far out. 

Farai Chideya [00:54:07] Sabrina, you know, whether polls are part of this or polls or not, you're out there in the field talking to people and not just about your trip to Des Moines, but to, you know, New Hampshire, which you mentioned and I'm sure many other places. What are you hearing from voters about how they're weighing the assets and the deficits of the two major party candidates who seem to be headed for the nomination? 

Sabrina Rodriguez [00:54:34] I mean, look, I think the thing that's the most concerning to me from my conversations with voters and I spent a lot of my time in like the major battleground states, states, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania is how tired everyone is of all of this. I think there is like a level of exhaustion. There is a level of like voter apathy. I'm like a lot of people are like, it's not even about just the presidency. It's saying like, okay, I don't even know what these people in Congress do. Like, I don't even know what they what they resolve for me, what they pass for me. They all come and tell me they want me to vote for them. And then. I don't see things changing in my life or the things that they have seen changing in their life might not be things that are in the control of the president or Congress. And then they're frustrated with that. Things like inflation and grocery prices or gas prices. So there's just a lot of frustration and not feeling like what is the government doing for me? What are they actually resolving? And and being tired of the headlines around Donald Trump and his indictments? Like a lot of people I think have already made up their mind about Donald Trump. So for some of them, it's like I already hate him. I don't need 91 counts to to decide that. And then for people that love him is just reinforcing that they, you know, the mentality of like, oh, well, he can do no wrong. But I think a lot of people part of what I'm seeing a lot of Democrats trying to do and across the country, whether it's like local officials or state officials, is just be better about explaining what the Biden administration has done because some people just don't know what the Inflation Reduction Act did or what the bipartisan infrastructure bill did and how that's actually going to impact their life or is already impacting their life. And I think Democrats are really making the point that like that is what they need to work on in the next year, because to them, it's not a question about if they've gotten the job done compared to Republicans. It's a question of like, does everyone know that we have. 

Farai Chideya [00:56:29] Well, we're going to leave it there for today, but I definitely hope both of you will join us again. Danielle Moodie, host of the podcast Woke AF Daily and Democracy-ish. Thanks for joining us today. 

Danielle Moodie [00:56:40] Thank you. 

Farai Chideya [00:56:41] And Sabrina Rodriguez national politics reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks for joining us today. 

Sabrina Rodriguez [00:56:47] Thanks for having me. 

Farai Chideya [00:56:49] Thanks for listening to Our Body Politic. We're on the air each week and everywhere you listen to podcasts. We'd also like to invite you to sign up for our newsletter where we share additional insights and resources for the OBP community. Check us out on Instagram @OurBodyPolitic and click the link in our bio. 

Our Body Politic is produced by Diaspora farms and Rococo Punch. I'm host and executive producer Farai Chideya. Nina Spensley and Shanta Covington are also executive producers. Emily J. Daly is our senior producer. Bridget McAllister is our booking producer. Andrea Asuaje and Ann Marie Awad, Natyna Bean, Morgan Givens, Emily Ho and Monica Morales Garcia are our producers. Nicole Pasulka is our fact checker. Our associate producer is David Escobar. Our technical director is Mike Garth.

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