2020 National Political Conventions
MR. TRUMKA: Jonathan, thanks for having me on.
MR. CAPEHART: So, you've already endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president. In 2016, President Trump was able to pull many working-class voters over to his side. How does Biden get them back?
MR. TRUMKA: Well, first of all, he got about--Trump got about 3 percent more of our members than Romney did, the section before that. Look, Joe comes--gets them back because we know Joe, and Joe knows us. He's known working people all his life. He's a blue-collar guy that never forgot where he came from. He knows the importance of a job is more than just wages. It's about dignity and it's about respect, and Joe actually understands that. I think people are drawn to him because he's a blue-collar type of guy that understands blue-collar type of guys and will do what's right by us.
MR. CAPEHART: Did you see the--did you see the video during the convention last night, what people are calling the Amtrak video?
MR. TRUMKA: I did.
MR. CAPEHART: Does that get to you what you were talking about?
MR. TRUMKA: It perfectly exemplifies him. Nobody is more important. You could be the king of a country or the president of a country, or you could be an Amtrak ticket taker, and Joe Biden is going to give you the same amount of respect and attention and he's going to listen to you. In fact, he wants to hear from working people. He asks them what's it like, what's happening in your life, what can we do to make it better. He's a guy that really wants to learn. And as I said, Joe's never forgotten where he came from. He's always been a blue-collar guy and he's still a blue-collar guy.
MR. CAPEHART: So, Mr. Trumka, what do you think Democrats have learned from four years ago running against Donald Trump in order to win this time?
MR. TRUMKA: Well, one, I think you have to pay attention to working people, that jobs and the economy are extremely important, the kitchen table economics, the things that people talk about when they sit around their kitchen table. Not rich people. They're taken care of. They'll be okay. But working-class people, people who work for a living, essential workers, what they talk about. And they're talking about those type of things. They're doing things that are going to make it better.
Because right now, Jonathan, there are--we talk about inequality, but there's actually three facets to inequality. There's inequality of wealth and wages, there's inequality of opportunity that we're fighting hard to address right now, and then there's inequality of power. And you can't address the first two until you address inequality of power, because for the last four or five decades, maybe even longer, the rules of the economy, the tax laws, the trade laws, everything else, and even whole industries have been built up on making workers have less power. Joe understands that you have to address inequality of power and workers have to have a stronger voice. When that happens, you'll see the middle class being rebuilt, you'll see an economy that starts to grow from the bottom and the center out rather from the top down. That's very, very important to workers, and it's very, very important to Joe Biden.
MR. CAPEHART: I want to talk about the economy in a moment, but I'm curious, because during the 2016 presidential campaign there were many interviews that were done with workers and working-class Americans who looked at Donald Trump and said he's one of us. Even though he's a rich guy who lives in an apartment in a glass tower smack in the middle of Midtown Manhattan, they saw him as a blue-collar guy. Do you think those same--those same folks still view him the same way?
MR. TRUMKA: I don't think they ever saw him as a blue-collar guy, Jonathan. I think they saw him as a guy who said he was going to change the rules to work for them, because most of our members, most working people believe that neither the economy nor the political system was working for them. And so, Donald Trump comes in and says I'm going to change the rules to make it fairer for you. And they believed it. A lot of them said let's give him a try. Well, he's had his try, and he's changed the rules, all right. But they sure haven't been to benefit working people. Rich people are doing a whole lot better. We're doing a whole lot worse. Our health and safety's threatened. Our pensions are threatened. Our wages are threatened. Collective bargaining is threatened. He's appointed anti-worker union-busting lawyers to the NLRB. We have an OSHA that's the weakest it's ever been in the history of the country. It has fewer inspectors now than it ever has. Our health and safety is being jeopardized. And so, the rhetoric that he talked about doesn't match his actions.
And workers aren't stupid, Jonathan. They're going to match the two up and say, you said this, but you did this. And what you did wasn't good for workers. When you took away health and safety standards, that hurt us. When you took away overtime from 3 million people, that hurt us. When you took away a pension roll that would have protected our pensions that could cost us a quarter of our pensions, that hurt us. So, we won't believe what you're saying as readily this time.
MR. CAPEHART: So--and yet I'm thinking about the NBC Wall Street Journal poll that was released this week that showed more Americans saying President Trump is better when it comes to economic issues than Vice President Biden. Are the people who are being polled different from the people you're talking about, and how can Vice President Biden convince voters otherwise, that he's the one who's better on the economy?
MR. TRUMKA: All you have to do is look at the statistics. The statistics show that more jobs were created under Democrats than Republicans, higher GDP under Democrats than Republicans, better wage growth for Americans under Democrats than Republicans. And all Joe has to do is continue to talk about his plans. He talks about his plans to create jobs. He talks about his plans to create the economy and recovery from this pandemic. All he has to do is show them his plan which is geared towards working people and working people getting a fair shake. Donald Trump doesn't have anything to compare with that. What's he going to do? Say I lost 12.9 million jobs this year?
MR. CAPEHART: I'll take that as a rhetorical question. Let me--let me continue down this road. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the economy had its lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. The economy was going strong before the pandemic which, you know, those kinds of stats could derail any president's economic plans. Looking at President Trump's four-year body of work, why do you think now is the right time to make a change in the White House?
MR. TRUMKA: Because of everything he's done against working people. Let's start with the pandemic, his incompetent handling of the pandemic that's cost hundreds of thousands of people--or thousands of people at least to lose their lives. When he came in, he had--he had a pandemic taskforce that was in place that could have stepped in and handled this. What did he do? He dismantled it. He had an infectious workplace disease standard that was in place. What did he do? He dismantled it. He had an OSHA that was capable of protecting the health and safety of America's workers. What did he do? He dismantled it. So, when the pandemic hit, instead of even facing up to it, owning up to it, he said this is a farce, this is a hoax. All he was concerned about was getting this economy back up and running without regard to anybody else or who it hurt. He called us heroes for being essential workers, and yet he did nothing to protect us. He won't give us a health and safety standard. He won't allow--won't protect us. We had to provide PPE for our members. He wouldn't even help us get PPE. We had to do that for our members to protect them. And thousands of them, thousands of them got sick and hundreds have died.
And then what did he do in the meatpacking industry? He said go back to work. I'm ordering you back to work. But there was no health and safety plan. And as a result of that, tens of thousands of meatpacking workers contracted COVID-19, got sick, and many died. All of those things, the incompetent handling of this, shows he's incapable of protecting us. And you can't fix an economy until you fix the pandemic, and he has no plan to fix the pandemic.
His only plan is rush everybody back to on the job, rush everybody back to school, regardless of whether it's safe or not, so long as I get them back and I can get things moving. But what he's done in the process is given this country a tremendous setback. Now we won't open as quickly as we could have otherwise. Look at what other countries have done. His incompetent handling of this has hurt the economy, it's hurt workers, and it's hurt the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans.
MR. CAPEHART: Let me bring you back to--it's something you just said about PPE and the president. You--meaning the AFL-CIO--were a part of eight unions that demanded that President Trump invoke the Defense Production Act to force factories to switch to making personal protective equipment. And you said, quote, "The Trump administration is AWOL on safety and refuses to help the frontline workers who are still in desperate need of more PPE." Why do you believe the Trump administration has been--was then and continues to be AWOL?
MR. TRUMKA: Well, first of all, go back to the infectious workplace disease standard. Until you have a standard, employers have nothing to go by. In this pandemic, the whole pandemic, Jonathan, OSHA has issued four--four violations of health and safety standards. Four since March of this year. They're AWOL. They're not around anywhere. So, they weren't there to require employers to do PPE. They weren't there to require them to enforce the standards, the CDC standards that were out there that quite frankly are volunteer. That's why we want a standard so that they're not volunteer. All that says he wasn't there.
And then he got caught flatfooted. I told you he did away with the taskforce. He did away with the pandemic standard. He did--and OSHA was weakened. So, he wasn't prepared for this. And then when he was prepared for it, he tried to hide it. He tried to say this is going to go away, there's nothing to worry about now, we're going to be done with this in a couple of months. It's going to go away. As soon as the hot weather comes, oh, we're going to be good. Take this miracle drug that I have, by the way, over here. And all of that was a tremendous setback to the country. He treated us as expendable [unclear] but expendable.
MR. CAPEHART: But, Mr. Trump--right. And that gets to another question I was going to ask you, and that is, do you think President Trump, in particular, but the administration as a whole, even cares about the health and safety of the American worker?
MR. TRUMKA: Absolutely not. If he cared about the health and safety of the American worker, he wouldn't have gutted OSHA. He wouldn't have made it a walking cadaver. He would have given us a health place standard. When he ordered people back to work in the meatpacking plants, he would have had a health and safety plan. Before he ordered people back to school, he would have had a way to do it safely to protect students, our communities and our teachers. He would have done all that. He's considered us expendable all along. As long as we get his economy moving, he doesn't care what happens to us or how many of us go down.
MR. CAPEHART: You--we talked a lot about President Trump and what he has--mostly hasn't done. So, let's focus now on Congress, and particularly in the Senate. You've criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying the GOP's HEALS Act will heal nothing and will only hurt working people and families. Why do you think the bill will actually hurt working families? Isn't it a $1 billion plan better than a zero-dollar plan?
MR. TRUMKA: Look, it totally fails to recognize the magnitude of the problem. The magnitude of the problem takes at least a $3 trillion bill, because you have to give aid to state and local governments, you have to give more aid to our schools so that they can open up safely. You want schools to open up safely, we have to help them do that? We need aid to the Postal Service. He's trying to gut the Postal Service. His guy comes in and tries to slow things down. We know why, because he's afraid if they vote by mail, more people will vote and he won't get elected. This is all about him. And so, all of the things that he's done, all of those things that he's done lead back to what's good for him but not what's good for the country or for America's workers.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, one of the things President Trump says--said in 2016 and continues to say now is that he's going to be the person to convince companies to come back from overseas and come back to the United States. He's always talking about Apple and having Apple bring factories back from China--or out of China to the United States. What do you think Vice President Biden needs to do to convince--or can he--is it even realistic to convince companies to move from overseas and bring the jobs back here to the United States?
MR. TRUMKA: Well, before I answer that part of the question, Jonathan, let me go back and talk about President Trump, what he's done. So, he talks about bringing jobs back, but he passes a tax bill that rewards people who take jobs offshore. Zero tax rate if you send your subsidiary offshore. And as a result of that, more people have gone offshore. The supply chains have gone offshore. More jobs have been outsourced. Joe Biden's going to reverse that. He's not going to reward people for taking jobs offshore.
Here's the second thing he's going to do that's important. Our government spends about $700 billion a year buying stuff, for military, for everything. Joe is going to use, as much as we can, to buy American. That will create American jobs, not jobs overseas, anywhere else. So, he'll do that. He has a number of plans to increase manufacturing. And President Trump has talked about increasing manufacturing, but he hasn't done it, because his policies have rewarded those for going offshore.
So, Joe Biden will change the tax code. He'll work with us. He'll use procurement to make sure that the dollars that we spend get spent on American-made products. And he'll start to reverse that process. And I think he has the power of persuasion as well, because he will follow through on stuff, not just talk about stuff.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, let's keep talking about manufacturing, because the Biden campaign's Build Back Better plan says it wants to bring supply chains for auto manufacturing back to the U.S. Why do you believe Biden will be able to come through when so many other politicians for decades have allowed manufacturing jobs to leave the country?
MR. TRUMKA: Because he's determined to do it, and it's one of his top priorities. Second of all, he has a partner in the House of Representatives under Nancy Pelosi who has the same goal, to bring those jobs back. And third, he will have another partner under Chuck Schumer, who will be the majority leader in the Senate after this is over because of the way they've blown the handling of the pandemic, the Senate will be under control, and we'll have the partners and the ability to be able to do that, to be able to pass laws that reward companies who produce here. Because we have the best-trained workforce in the world. And if you give them a fair playing field, they'll be able to do it.
Second of all, President Trump has tried to attack China unilaterally. So, China has created an overflow of steel and aluminum, and he thinks he's going to be able to go after them unilaterally and dry that up. All that happens when you do that is, China sends it to another country, they overlap, and they send it back into this country. Joe Biden will form a multilateral front with all of our allies to stop that from happening and make China live by the rules and punish those people that are in--manufacturers that are in China who are not living by the rules.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, you talked about a bunch of partners Vice President Biden would have, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Let's talk about another partner he's going to have with him if he does indeed get elected, and that's his vice-presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris of California. What do you think Senator Harris brings to the Democratic ticket?
MR. TRUMKA: I think she brings the ability to step in and do the job on day one. I think she's a talented, tough lady who understands the world and the economy and how things work. She also understands workers, by the way. She has a hundred percent voting record with working people in this country, and we tip our hat for that, tip our hat to Joe for selecting her, and tip our hat to her for having that kind of a record. She will be a perfect complement to him. He'll be able to send her to places to solve problems where he can't go. It'll be like having two people, the ability to have two problem-solvers of the highest quality together working as a team.
MR. CAPEHART: How important was it that--or how important is it that Vice President Biden chose a woman of color, a black woman and a South Asian woman to be his running mate?
MR. TRUMKA: I think it was extremely important given where we are right now and how this pandemic has shown us what we've already known, how racism--structural racism still dominates in this country. We need somebody who's lived through that, who understands that, and will have the voice and the backbone to help us attack that, because as the labor movement, we intend to be the tip of the spear when it comes to attacking racism. And we're going to have a partner with Joe Biden and with Kamala Harris in attacking that, and they, too, will be the tip of the spear in going after structural racism and every other type of prejudice in this country.
MR. CAPEHART: Let me ask you a question here--go ahead.
MR. TRUMKA: On the other hand, we have a president right now who actually fans the flames of racism, who retweets white supremacist things and slogans. That's just totally unacceptable from a president. We need somebody's who going to unite us and bring us back together, not someone is going to divide us.
MR. CAPEHART: So let me ask you something live in front of an audience that I asked you before we went on, and that is to compare or actually contrast where the Democratic Party is right now in the presidential race compared to 2016 and whether you think that the Democratic Party, and in particular this ticket, is in a better position in 2020 than the Clinton-Kaine ticket was in 2016, and why.
MR. TRUMKA: Well--okay. I think that they are in a better position because they have the wisdom and the experience of watching what happened in 2016. When you take states for granted, when you don't go to states that you need to go to win and you don't go there, it's going to cost you and it costs you there. And also, when you sort of talk past working people, when you don't understand that the most important thing to them is kitchen table economics, how they're going to pay the bills, how they're going to make a living, how they're going to get the rent for this month, what am I going to do to send the kids to school, what am I going to do to get my healthcare that's gone--when you don't talk to those issues and you talk past them, I think it costs you.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris know more than anybody the importance of what's happening on the ground right now to workers. They know what's happening in the economy to working people, and they are focused like a laser beam on correcting the problems that affect working people first, not second, not Wall Street, not anybody else, but working people first. And that's why. That's why working people are going to swell up and vote for them and elect them to office on November 3rd.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, one could say that President Trump is focused like a laser beam on American workers and focused like a laser beam on the Biden-Harris ticket because it seems as though they are front of mind. In a form of counterprogramming, the president was in Minnesota. He's going to Wisconsin, and from reporting, he's probably going to be out on the campaign trail doing something every day during the general election. How worried should the Democratic ticket be that with the president out there going to those states--Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota that he lost by a little more than a percentage point, and that his--that his message will work?
MR. TRUMKA: They should take nothing for granted. They should continue to communicate effectively with the working people. Educate working people on what you stand for. The Democratic platform this time around is the most worker-friendly platform that we've seen in my history, since I've been around. I've never seen a platform that is more worker friendly and good for this economy than the platform you're about to see that will get adopted here in the next day or so.
They also have to continue to get in front of people, and they do that. They're talking in front of people every single day, educating people in what they stand for. See, the difference between them is, they don't get up and talk for an hour and a half and tell a bunch of whoppers. They look at workers and look them straight in the eye and tell them how it is, how they understand working people, what working people need, and what working people are going through. And I don't think the president has a clue about that, quite frankly.
MR. CAPEHART: Last night, former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the nation, 18-minute address that was, overall, you know, positively reviewed and received. For the workers you represent, how important is it to hear from her? And how important is it to hear from her husband, the former president?
MR. TRUMKA: I think it's important to hear from both of them. Look, workers love and revere Michelle Obama. She has been someone who has been totally honorable. She's someone that we can look up to and have our children aspire to grow up and be just like Michelle Obama because she's such as a wonderful human being, such a good patriot and such a great citizen of the United States. And so, it was an important speech last night and a powerful speech.
It's also important to hear from President Obama, because he was--he did a great job in office. I mean, he created a number of jobs. He brought an economy--he gave Donald Trump an economy that was humming along like you can't believe. Donald Trump didn't build that economy. He inherited it. All he had to do was hold the reins. And he didn't do that very well, quite frankly, but that's another story. So, it's important for them to hear from them. It's important for people of color to hear from them because of the message that they have. It's important for white people to hear from them. It's important for every citizen of the United States to hear from them because they have an important message and they have a perspective. They know what it takes to be good at that job. They did it. And so, they can talk with authority.
And last night, Michelle Obama talked with authority. And I can tell you, I felt a sense of pride in her and in our country that I haven't felt in a long, long time, because she was what you would hope every American could be. She said the words that were healing and would bring us together, not further divide us.
MR. CAPEHART: I can't let you go without asking about the Post Office. When asked your thoughts about it, you compared the Post Office to Social Security, calling it beloved by everybody. You also said if the president is seen as trying to debilitate the Post Office, he'll pay a huge political price. Supporters of the Biden campaign will most likely agree with you. But what would you say about the passionate--or what would you say to the passionate Trump supporters? Do you believe his supporters will agree with you?
MR. TRUMKA: I do, indeed, because if you look at any facet of the Trump supporters, there are rural people that are Trump supporters, right? The Post Office is central to holding rural America together. I came from a small town in Appalachia, and the Post Office was what kept the town--it was a place you met, it was a place where everybody talked. And when somebody didn't show up, an elderly person didn't show up, the postmaster sent one of us up to check on them. It was the hub. So, if you're rural, it's going to hurt you.
Look, when he talks--when he talks down about the Post Office, there's a hundred thousand veterans that work in the Postal Service. So, he's talking down to a hundred thousand veterans. They want to do a good job, and they are going to deliver every single ballot. I promise you that, whether he wants them to or not. And no matter what obstacles they put out there, we're going to deliver--the Post Service is going to deliver every single ballot out there. And when we pass the HEROES Act, we're going to be able to help them a lot.
Now, listen. Let's talk about how the Postal Service got where it was, because this is important for people to understand. George Bush wanted to privatize the Postal Service. He tried, and he couldn't do it because it was like the third rail, just like Social Security. So, what did he do? He figured out a way to make the Postal Service go from the black to the red. He forced the Postal Service to pre-fund their healthcare. That cost them $5 billion a year. No other agency has to pre-fund their healthcare. No employer has to pre-fund their healthcare. Social Security doesn't pre-fund. Medicare doesn't pre-fund. None of those pre-fund that. But he forced the Post Office to do that so it looked like it went from being in the black to being in the red. Take that accounting away from them and the Postal Service is strong as it's ever been. And it's doing more with less, because he keeps taking stuff away from them and the workers of the Postal Service keep rising to a higher level and delivering better services.
We have a thing called the Heroes Dinner that we have. It's where letter carriers out there have saved the life of somebody on their route. Ask those people if the Postal Service is important whenever they save their life because they saw smoke coming out of a building, or they didn't see the lights turn on when they should have, and they went in to investigate for people that are out there. They're truly heroes, and they ought to be treated like heroes, not treated as expendable like he's trying to do right now and denigrate them.
MR. CAPEHART: Mr. Trumka, Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, president of the AFL-CIO, thank you very much for coming on Washington Post Live today.
MR. TRUMKA: Jonathan, I tell you what, it's been a pleasure. Have me back any time.
MR. CAPEHART: All right, will do.
And don't you--you watching right now--don't you go anywhere. Coming up next, Congresswoman Val Demings.
2020 National Political Conventions
Rep. Val Demings
MR. CAPEHART: Hi. Welcome back to Washington Post Live's coverage of the Democratic National Convention. I'm Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for The Washington Post. And my next guest was an impeachment manager and was under serious consideration to be Joe Biden's running mate. She is Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida. Congresswoman Demings, welcome to Washington Post Live, and it's great to see you.
REP. DEMINGS: Jonathan, it's great to be with you as well.
MR. CAPEHART: So, okay, the last time we talked was in your office on Capitol Hill, and I ended the podcast interview with the question asking you how did it feel to have your name bandied about as a potential running mate for Vice President Biden. And your answer was so stirring. You talked about you were the daughter of a maid and a janitor, and it was so impassioned. And then, you know, we ended the interview, and the two of us looked at each other, because it was so intense, and we burst out laughing.
Now let's fast forward. It's been six months. You went from having your name being bandied about to being under serious consideration. What was that like? What happened? Let us in. Spill the tea.
REP. DEMINGS: You know, Jonathan, thank you so much for that precious memory of that day in my office, because I do remember when we just looked at each other after talking about my parents. You know, the daughter of a maid and a janitor, grew up in the South poor, black and female, and my name was being thrown around as a possible VP contender. And you know, I burst out into laughter that day because it was like, yes, in this country, this is possible. This is what America is supposed to be about, that opportunity. Jonathan, the vetting process was intense. It was crazy. But it was so amazing.
And I said it that day and I'll say it now, after having gone through the process with serious consideration, what an honor it was. We had some amazing women in the process. Vice President Biden has chosen an amazing woman to run with him. And, Jonathan, the hope that we need for the future, all or our fears and concerns about the current direction this country is headed in, and now with this team, it just gives me and others such hope. And it is an exciting time.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, you've said that seeing Senator Harris named as Biden's running mate has reaffirmed your belief in America. Talk more about that.
REP. DEMINGS: You know, Jonathan, when I think about black women and our contribution to building this great nation as we celebrate 100 years of women having the right to vote--and I want to be clear on that again, the women's movement, the suffrage movement was about white women having the right to vote. Black women were really not wanted in that struggle. There was a belief that having black women being a part of the movement would somehow sabotage the movement. And so, when I think about that, it's one thing to talk about black women and being the backbone of the party, and all that black women have done in this nation. But the selection of a black woman to run for vice president is action. That's action speaking much louder than words. And so to actually see it and think about all the amazing black women, whether we go back to Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth or Shirley Chisholm or Coretta Scott King or Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells and so many others who struggled for this moment, to actually see this moment come to fruition is--it gives me tremendous hope.
MR. CAPEHART: You know, President Trump and his allies are trying to paint the Biden-Harris ticket--or not trying--they are painting the Biden-Harris ticket as way too liberal for the American mainstream. How would you assess the ticket?
REP. DEMINGS: You know, the president could really do himself a big favor by just being quiet. We're talking about a man, Jonathan, who proved--I mean, I served as an impeachment manager--he proved a long time ago that he would do anything to quote "win"--that he would lie, steal and cheat for that opportunity. That's not politics. That's just the truth of the situation. So, I just--nothing surprises me that really comes out of this president's mouth. As Mrs. Obama said on last evening, he's in over his head. No one knows it better than he does. And so, the only tactic that he does have is to try to paint this particular ticket in some corner.
It doesn't matter what he says. Let's look at what this ticket does. They have an agenda that clearly lines up with the American people's agenda. And so that's what we're focused on, what Vice President Biden and Senator Harris are going to do, not the president's illusions and fantasies.
MR. CAPEHART: Actually, you know, you brought up the fact that, yes, you were an impeachment manager. And the whole reason the president got impeached was over Russia and the investigation. And now today there's news breaking of a Senate Committee--I can't remember if it's the Intelligence Committee--but a Senate Committee released a bipartisan assessment that showed that, yeah, there was collusion going on between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. Do you know about that assessment? Can you talk more about it?
REP. DEMINGS: That was with the Senate Intelligence Committee. But what I can say, you know, every time I hear breaking news like this, Jonathan, this was breaking news in 2016. This has been breaking news throughout this president's administration. And so, we had an impeachment trial where we presented an overwhelming, clear and convening case against the president and his wrongdoing, where he invited foreign governments to interfere in our election. There was never a question about that happening. The only question was, what was the Senate going to do about it. And the Senate chose, with the exception of one Republican, chose to not do their job and to not hold him accountable. So, Jonathan, quite frankly, every time I hear a breaking news story about more of the president's wrongdoing, like planning to have or give his acceptance speech out of the White House, I couldn't do that out of my congressional office. Every time I hear about the president inviting China or doing something else that's totally unethical, illegal or inappropriate, I can't help but think about the Senate who chose to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the president's wrongdoing, and so here we are.
MR. CAPEHART: A blind eye and a deaf ear to the case that you and your fellow impeachment managers made before the nation. So, when you see breaking news, do you look at the breaking news from today and go I told y'all?
REP. DEMINGS: Everything time--Jonathan, and look we're in the middle of a public health pandemic. The president didn't create that. But doggone it, his response to it, he creates that. And we have a complete failure and absence of leadership coming out of the White House. So quite frankly, every time I hear 5.4--I hate to give the numbers because they change so frequently--million people who have contracted the virus and almost or close to 170,000 people who have died in this country, I can't help but think about the Senate not holding this president accountable.
You know, my husband likes to say the best indicator of future performance is to look at past performance. That is so true, because Donald Trump showed us clearly who he was when he was running for the office, and everything that he has done along the way has been all about him. It has nothing to do with the American people. His complete failure of leadership, his inhumane policies, his unbelievable, unwavering efforts to divide our country among racial lines--I say it again--Mrs. Obama had it right. He's in over his head, and he obviously has no interest in governing because he has not tried from day one to govern. And so here we are.
And yes, we--it wasn't us telling the American people, but the evidence, the testimony, or the lack thereof, the obstruction, the interference, the lie after lie after lie was pretty loud and clear. But the Senate, the U.S. Senate, the Republicans, the GOP and the U.S. Senate are the ones who had the power and the authority to do something about it, and they chose not to. And so just as I said in an op-ed that I wrote a couple of weeks ago, we need to hold them accountable for their failure to hold the president accountable.
MR. CAPEHART: And you mentioned the pandemic, and let's talk about the pandemic in Florida, where, you know, the pandemic and the coronavirus is running rampant in Florida. Can you--how would you grade the state's response to the pandemic? And did the state reopen too early?
REP. DEMINGS: Well, let me say this, Jonathan. When--I think we have to--when you ask about the state, I have--I think we have to separate what direction came out of the governor's office from action that was taken by many local officials. I think our numbers, while they are alarming, concerning, and troubling, I really do believe that our numbers in the state of Florida would be even worse were it not for the those local mayors and commissioners and others who took matters into their own hands in the absence of any clear direction coming out of the governor's mansion to keep their people safe. And I have to give it to different communities who, when they were told to wear a mask, for the most part they did it; when they were told to stay home and shelter in place and not go out unless they had an emergency or had to or had to go to work, for the most part they did it; when they were told to social distance, they did it.
Our governor, unfortunately, decided to follow the leadership coming out of the White House. Well, it's difficult to follow someone who's going nowhere. There was no national strategic unified plan coming out of the White House, so what our governor decided to follow, I'm really not sure. And so, in the absence of leadership, Jonathan, bad things happen, good things don't happen well enough. And so, for those--as I said, those local jurisdictions that took matters into their own hands, working along with different businesses and others, having a strategic plan to reopen in a strategic, careful way, I think they did the best that they could do. But in the absence of any clear direction, local governments were left to scramble on their own. Some were more responsible and accountable than others. And so here we have alarming numbers in the state of Florida.
MR. CAPEHART: Well, another battle that's going on that's coronavirus-related is whether or not schools should reopen. Should they reopen? Should they go to all online? Where do you fall in that debate? Should schools reopen in Florida?
REP. DEMINGS: Well, you know, I thank God that we have a school superintendent, at least here, that is very well-experienced, very well-qualified to make the best decisions as they pertain to her particular jurisdiction. I do believe, though, when the president comes out with a blanket order basically saying that all schools have to open and not really considering the conditions on the ground is ill-informed. And the president has not--I mean, to say everybody just has to open and to even threaten to withhold funds from various jurisdictions if they don't open is just the most ridiculous thing that I have heard. And so as it pertains to our schools, I do believe that that's one area that we should leave to the local superintendents and allow them, based on their knowledge, the knowledge of their staff, you know, how well they've worked along with our state health officials to put processes in place that can help keep the children safe, I've heard of course reducing the class size, practicing social distancing, wearing masks or face shields, either practicing social distancing in cafeterias or not going to the classrooms at all. Now we have seen--not here in Florida yet--but some horror stories in other states where rules were put in place but obviously were not being followed. And so, there are a lot of things that have to be weighed before we can open the schools safely. But I do trust our superintendents to make the best decisions and not have to respond to a blanket order that has absolutely no plan in place.
MR. CAPEHART: Congresswoman, let's talk about the Post Office and what is happening there. The postmaster general is set to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Monday. What do you want--well, one, your view of what's happening with the Post Office and what the president is doing and what Postmaster General DeJoy is doing, but also what do you want to hear from the postmaster general when he testifies?
REP. DEMINGS: You know, Jonathan, in this country, with all of the issues that we are facing, public health pandemic, healthcare, access to quality education, affordable housing shortage, our infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, refurbished, jobs, wages, racial discrimination, systemic racism--we are dealing with a lot of issues. I really thought trying to save the Post Office would certainly not be one of those issues, but here we find we have a concerted effort on behalf of the president of the United States to basically destroy the Post Office as we know it.
Now let me be clear on this, and I know you've heard it before. The Post Office is the oldest, most reliable, most trusted institution in the history of this country. It has an extremely high--it's in the 90s, 90-plus--favorability rate. So to try to use the Post Office as a political pawn for the president's reelection on the one hand--but it's not all about race--or the upcoming election, it's also about the ability to make money, and that all centers around the president, whether it's about getting the president re-elected or his ability to make money. Remember I said every decision is always about him and his well-being. To use the Post Office as a political pawn is disgraceful.
As a matter of fact, later today we're having a national day of action at one of our Post Offices to just talk about what is going on and really raise the public's awareness of this concerted effort to destroy the Post Office. When the president puts one of his very high donors in the position of postmaster general and his first order of business is to basically remove much-needed sorting machines that will certainly--they're beneficial every day, but certainly as we approach the upcoming election--to reduce overtime. We know how critical overtime is in meeting those critical deadlines during particular seasons, election season being one of them, or whether it's short--the Post Office is short-staffed. All of those things are critical. And so, it does appear that the president's appointee, the postmaster general, is playing politics and doing things that will adversely impact the United States Postal Service's ability to do their jobs.
And, Jonathan, we can talk about the election and vote by mail, because I do support a push for vote by mail. But let's not forget that the Post Office delivers medication, checks to seniors, medication, delivers medication to veterans, and also supports small businesses. And so, it's so much bigger than this election, and we need to do everything within our power to support and protect the U.S. Postal Service.
MR. CAPEHART: So, Congresswoman, on that point about the impact that the Post Office, the Postal Service has on senior citizens and veterans, do you think what's happening with the Post Office will backfire on President Trump and the postmaster general?
REP. DEMINGS: I'm certainly hoping so, Jonathan. And that's why it's so critical that we have events like this and others, our national day of action. We're doing it around the country, members of the House, to increase awareness. People are so busy. They're worried about their jobs, or lack thereof. We have millions of people who are unemployed. They're worried about this pandemic that we find ourselves in. They're worried about their children going back to school. They're worried about being evicted. And so, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that the public is aware of what's going on.
You know, the U.S. Postal Service is the only institution that touches every American address. And so, you talk about leveling the playing field, regardless of what neighborhood, regardless of inner city or in a rural area, the Post Office is the one that really, the only really clear agency that levels the playing field and touches everybody regardless of who they are. Oldest, most reliable, most trusted institution in the history of this nation. And we have to do everything within our power to protect it, thereby protecting the people that the Post Office serves. And as I just said, that's everybody.
MR. CAPEHART: Congresswoman, you're an African American woman. You're also the former police chief of Orlando. And since May 25th, we have seen demonstrations where those two parts of your identity have come into conflict since the killing of George Floyd. What insight can you give to folks who might be watching, from your vantage point as being an African American former law enforcement official, about what this moment in time that we're in, what that means to you and what's the way out?
REP. DEMINGS: You know, Jonathan, this moment in time is--it may be new players, it's not a new moment. We know that racism, discrimination, systemic racism has been a part of this country for 400 years, since the very beginning. But what I do know, and having served as a social worker, also as a law enforcement officer--and I think about the first African American officers who integrated the Orlando Police Department in 1951--I know that the department became better because they were a part of it. I talk a lot about the importance of diversity within our law enforcement ranks, but within all systems. We still have a lot of work to go in that particular area, but we still need to make sure that police departments reflect the diversity of the communities in which they deserve, and that diversity has to be reflected at all rank levels, because we need people that look like you and me and others, people of color, in the rank structure within the department. And so what we have to do--and I'm so excited really about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which is a step in the right direction--I believe that we can do a lot when we have incoming new president, a new vice president and the full weight of the federal government behind this issue. To be able to create national standards for law enforcement agencies because they're all pretty much governed by state law right now--and certain states love to do their own thing as it pertains to who they hire, accountability, training, and other areas--to have some national standards that will govern the way police departments operate, whether they're a 10-person agency or a 36,000-person agency--to have some national standards as they pertain to training.
We talked a lot about diversity, I mean, de-escalation training. De-escalation training is the first level on the force continuum, and it is basically the gift of gab, the ability to be able to use communication skills to deescalate a situation. It is not required training in all police departments, and that's why it is so critical to have these national standards that can give many smaller agencies in particular the tools and techniques training that they need to be more effective.
Also, we need to look at training officers. We need to look at who's training new police recruits. I was absolutely shocked to learn that the officer in Minneapolis was a training officer, because remember, those training officers are the ones who set the unofficial standard for what's acceptable and unacceptable on the street. Having a national database that will not allow police officers who might be fired from one agency or resign pending termination to simply walk out of that agency into another agency and be hired.
But, Jonathan, I also want to talk about this as we move forward. And I do believe this can be done. As we deal with police misconduct with the full weight of the White House incoming administration and the federal government behind us, certainly looking at President Obama's 21st Century Policing Taskforce recommendations, we've also--if we're going to complete this work--we've also got to deal with some of the social ills that cause decay in communities in the first place. We've got to look at substandard housing. We've got to look at drug addiction. We've got to look at substandard wages and jobs.
In Orange County, for example, we say that the Orange County Jail is the biggest mental health facility in the region. We also say that the Orange County Jail is the biggest drug treatment facility in the region. So, as we deal with police misconduct and getting our law enforcement agencies on a better track, we've got to deal with--get serious as a nation about dealing with some of the social ills that cause decay in communities in the first place. And so, I think when we get serious about that, we can move forward in a better and more positive way.
MR. CAPEHART: Congresswoman, we've got less than four minutes left, and I want to end by asking you this. You were an impeachment manager. You've seen much more than we in the general public will ever see when it comes to the president and Russia and the last election and all of that. Given that, how concerned are you that President Trump and Republicans will stop at nothing to ensure that he--that President Trump is reelected?
REP. DEMINGS: Well, what I believe, Jonathan, is that this president, the president would stop at nothing to be reelected. The problem with the Republicans is that they will stand back and watch as oppose to intervening. We know that's what they will do because that's what we have seen. The best indicator of future performance is to look at past performance. And so, I don't put anything past this president. He's demonstrated that he will do anything to win. And when his friends go to jail, his enablers, he will pardon them without a second thought. And so, we have to make sure that we are doing everything within our power to protect election integrity.
One thing we do know is that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But understand this: Russia never stopped their efforts to interfere in American politics. They are trying to interfere as we speak right now. And so our job, working along with local supervisor and state supervisor of elections officials, is to make sure that we have--we have proper equipment in place, that we do regular assessments, that we test for any security breaches in those systems to make sure that we have well-trained and we're staffed up for Election Day, and then also encourage people to vote by mail, because we don't know what the conditions will look like on the ground come November 3rd, even with the public health pandemic. So, we need to be prepared. We need to make sure that the infrastructure is in place. That's why it's so important, with a ton of other reasons too, to protect our U.S. Postal Service.
And so, we need to do everything within our power to make sure we are ready for this election. But I put absolutely nothing past the president. As I've said earlier, he has demonstrated that he will lie, steal and cheat to win.
MR. CAPEHART: I lied, Congresswoman, I do have actually another question. And I think I may have asked you this before--if not in this interview, in past interviews. How surprised are you that your Republican colleagues, either in the House or the Senate, haven't done as much as I think they should to uphold their oath to the Constitution, at least their duties as a coequal branch of government, and hold the president accountable? At a minimum, do at least what Senator Romney has done, which is to at least speak out and say that the president is wrong? Why don't you think your Republican colleagues do that? They certainly weren't shy when President Obama was in office.
REP. DEMINGS: I've got to say that as a former law enforcement officer, you know, we had a mission. Our mission was to reduce violent crime and keep people safe, and we focused on that mission and we did just that. And when I went to Congress--as you know, I was sworn in in 2017--I really went with that same kind of attitude and spirit. Yes, I'm a member of the Democratic Party, but I don't make my decisions solely based on my party. I believe that we have a mission, and we would work to fulfill that mission of serving the American people. It was absolutely shocking to me to watch my Republican colleagues, way too many of them stand on the sidelines and watch the president engage in unethical and sometimes illegal behavior. I believe, Jonathan, that they are simply--now I've had some private conversations with many of them when I've gone into their office, slammed the door, and said what the hell did you just do with that vote. And, you know, so--but it's fear. It is just plain old fear. We know that the president will do--as I said, do and say anything. And unfortunately, too many of my Republican colleagues are afraid of what he will do or say about them.
Jonathan, I love being a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. But let me say this. When I do retire one day, I do want to be able to retire, come back to Orlando, Florida, look in the mirror and not only like but respect the person looking back. And so, it's disgraceful, but it's just plain old fear of what this president would do.
MR. CAPEHART: Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, great to see you again. Thank you for coming on Washington Post Live.
REP. DEMINGS: Good to see you, too. Take care.
MR. CAPEHART: And coming up next, my colleague Eugene Scott talks to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, coming up next.
2020 National Political Conventions
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
MR. SCOTT: Hi, I'm Eugene Scott, a political reporter for The Fix at The Washington Post. And today, my guest is Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms. She's set to speak at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night.
Mayor Bottoms, welcome back to Washington Post Live.
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: Thank you for having me. Nice to see you.
MR. SCOTT: You as well. So good having you.
And so, first, I would love to hear your thoughts about the former First Lady's, Michelle Obama's, speech last night as she closed out the Democratic National Convention.
What was one of the main takeaways that you think voters really needed to hear and take with them as they head to the polls?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: I still get excited thinking about her speech. I literally dreamt about her speech last night. It was everything that we needed to hear. And even from her delivery to the content, it was simply pitch perfect. She said and articulated all of the things that we have discussed in our kitchens and on television, that this president is not able to lead this country, and she did it not out of anger but with true concern and compassion for who we are as Americans and all that we should be in this moment in time. And it was a perfect way to end the first night, and certainly has set the tone for the next two days of the convention.
MR. SCOTT: You are one of the few black women to lead a huge city in this country. And so, I would imagine that seeing Senator Kamala Harris chosen as Joe Biden's running mate meant something important to you, to see another black woman hit that level of government in terms of influence and power.
Can you talk a bit about why it's so important to have black women in positions of leadership at the top levels of government?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: It's so important for so many reasons. One, women lead each and every day. We're leading in our churches, we're leading in the workplace, we lead in our communities, and in our families. But quite often, as women, we don’t call it leadership; it's just what we do. But over the past several years, you've seen so many women step up to the plate. And this is--we're in a long line of women who have been tremendous leaders in this country.
But this year, we have so many women who are leading major cities. Obviously, we have Senator Harris, who's now joined the ticket. We saw Vice President Biden commit to selecting a woman, and we all went through a very thorough vet. So, he meant what he said and was very intentional in assembling a group of women that he could consider. And when I saw that he named Kamala Harris, I obviously, personally, was disappointed that it was not me, but so very excited for our country and all that it represents.
And my first thought was my daughter and what would she think of all of this and how this would resonate with her for years to come. So, Joe Biden has picked an incredibly talented woman, one who's brilliant and certainly capable of leading, and it is just an example for women and for girls across this country that there are no limits, that we are qualified to lead in the highest of offices. And America recognizes that, and I think it's fantastic to see it happen, especially in 2020, where we had so many disappointments this year.
MR. SCOTT: Mayor Bottoms, I've written about cities for quite some time, and so many of the issues we're talking about today find their roots in the cities, or at least, should we say, are really relevant to residents of the cities, be they an economic downturn or a pandemic or a civic unrest.
But very rarely have we seen a mayor chosen as a VP candidate on a national ticket. Can you talk to us a bit about why you personally believe a mayor of a city, particularly a large city, would be really prepared to lead the country as a whole?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: There are 19,000 municipalities across this country. And so, cities make up who we are as a nation. And as mayor, you're dealing with very big problems, but also those kitchen-table issues that families have to deal with each and every day.
And I will just give the example of Atlanta. Atlanta is the capital city of Georgia, of course, but the metropolitan area in Atlanta is the 10th largest economy in the United States. So, on this very large scale, we're dealing with issues that face the nation and are a concern to our federal government. But also, on the other end of the spectrum, we're dealing with those issues related to job losses in our communities, related to how people will access quality health care, how they will access schools, quality schools for their children. Can they even afford to live in our cities with dignity? And the list goes on and on and on.
So, Mayor Pete really set the stage for a mayor to lead our country. I think we saw during the course of the campaign that people could be comfortable with that idea of a mayor. But I think it really is because, as mayor, we don't have a choice--we don't get to hop on a plane and fly to Washington and then show back up in our communities. We're here, day-in and day-out, leading and dealing with the challenges that face our families.
MR. SCOTT: One of the challenges you've had to face and deal with quite a bit this summer, and obviously before, is just issues related to criminal justice reform, as the nation figures out where it wants to go moving forward on issues related to police violence. And this is also going to be a topic that Senator Harris and Joe Biden have to address, and we've heard quite a bit of criticism towards Senator Harris about her prosecutorial record and just some other actions she may have done or been involved in when she was working in politics in California.
What could you say--what would you tell the Biden/Harris ticket that they can do to hopefully appeal to more progressive voters or skeptical black voters who aren't just convinced that this ticket will move the country in the direction that they're hoping, related to policing?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: Well, when you look at Joe Biden's policy on criminal justice reform, it very succinctly lays out an opportunity for us to really fill in the gaps on the national level for many of the things that are of concern locally.
So, for example, his criminal justice reform policy talks about providing monetary incentives to municipalities across the country who are navigating from mass incarceration. That in large part came from what we're doing in Atlanta. We're transforming our jail, which is over 450,000 square-foot facility into a center of equity and health and wellness so that people can proactively access the resources they need.
When he created that criminal justice policy, he sent it to us in Atlanta to allow us to give input based on some of the things that we're doing in our city. And so, what I would say to Senator Harris and to Vice President Biden, the policy is there. He's listened to us, and I know by virtue of the fact that Senator Harris is joining him on the ticket, she will also listen to us and continue to get input from our cities because we're dealing with it.
My belief has always been with criminal justice--and this in large part is based upon the time I spent as a judge--you're either going to pay on the front end or you're going to pay on the back end. You're either going to pay to house people in jail and all of the costs that are associated with crime; or you're going to pay on the front end and give people an access to opportunity and access to resources that will allow them to succeed and overcome many of the systemic obstacles that lead to a life of crime.
MR. SCOTT: So, Mayor Bottoms, you were an early supporter of Vice President Joe Biden, one of the more prominent black women to come out in favor of him and one of the more prominent big-city mayors.
And I remember the last time you were on Washington Post Live, I think in, like, February, you predicted that he would win the primary. What gave you such confidence, considering how large the field was and how unpopular he was with some segments of the electorate?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: You know, Eugene, my best polling source is my mother. And I often think about what does she care about, and when she goes in the club meeting, her bridge club meeting once a month on Saturdays, what are they talking about. And with every twist and turn and sometimes stumble throughout the primary season, she never left Joe Biden. And what was consistent is what I said throughout the course of the primary and caucus season, we know Joe. And I knew, and I still know, where his heart is and I know what he's done for this country.
And so, a lot of times when we're discussing things on television or social media, it feels bigger and more off-putting than it actually is, but my test case, like I said, is my mother, or going into the barbershop with my sons. What are they talking about in the barbershop? What's my mom talking about at her bridge club meeting? And what I saw is that she was not wavering from Joe Biden. It didn't mean that--you know, it wasn't--sometimes rocky because we know that's the nature of the primary and caucus season, but she never wavered. And that gave me the confidence even with the early states. And I remember that Bill Clinton lost the first several primaries, and I believe it may have been 12, in fact, that he lost before he was victorious and ultimately took the nomination. And I just believed in my heart that's what we were going to see with Joe Biden, and I'm very, very grateful that I was right about it.
MR. SCOTT: Indeed. I often say Twitter is important, but it's not everything when trying to understand the population as a whole. Joe Biden--
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: And my mother doesn't even have a Twitter account. So, if we had discussed on Twitter, she's not going to see it.
MR. SCOTT: No, it's very, very true. I think it's something a lot of journalists and a lot of political pundits need to remember.
But speaking of Joe Biden again and your mother's generation, we are seeing the future of the Democratic Party look very different from Joe Biden: a lot of women, a lot of people of color, a lot of LGBT Americans. How can, you know, we unite this party with its future leaders, with some of the individuals who are still in positions of power, to move the left in the direction they want to go, ultimately?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: Well, on the other end of the spectrum is my 18-year-old, who will be voting in his first presidential election and what does he care about, and he is influenced by social media. He has all the social media accounts--and by the way, I don't even think he's on Twitter. He's on Snapchat and whatever else that I still haven't quite figured out. My point being is obviously the Democratic Party, we have a lot of diversity, age diversity, racial diversity, sexual orientation, you go down the list. And it's important that we all have a voice and a say in our party.
And as I had the great honor chairing the platform committee, that's what I saw coming together with more than 55 witnesses that we had testify, 11 hours of testimony, and that doesn't include the various sub-unity committees. There was an opportunity for all of these varied voices to be heard and to have input in our party's platform. And I think the biggest thing for us as a party is to recognize there is no right and wrong way, anymore. There is no perfect path, but it really is about us all coming together, listening to one another, working together, and creating a platform and a party that really is reflective of who we are as Americans.
MR. SCOTT: Along those lines, you know, if you think back to 2016, at this point in the campaign there was still a lot of tension between the Sanders camp and the Clinton camp. And some saying--watching it say perhaps it doesn't seem as tense as it was then with Biden and Sanders. And so, how can the Biden campaign, like, maximize that and still perhaps, you know, win over the last few, I guess, progressives or people on the left who still aren't convinced that he should be the person that they vote for?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: So, it's interesting you would say that, as I was watching Senator Sanders speak last night. And by the way, he gave a great speech, as well. I looked at my husband and I said, "I think he really likes Joe Biden." You can tell that there is a personal affection and mutual respect there. I don't know one way or the other about his relationship with Senator Clinton or personally know of his relationship with Vice President Biden other than the fact that I could see that there was certainly genuine admiration and respect for Vice President Biden as he gave his speech last night.
But I think the leadership of Senator Sanders obviously is important because he has a very strong and vocal part of the Democratic Party that looks to him for leadership. And again, going back to--as we put together and worked together on the platform committee, there were representatives from Senator Sanders' campaign, which was important. And what we have to remember, again, it's not always going to work out the way either of us wants it, but going back to my time as a judge and even practicing as an attorney, whenever you're negotiating, you don't see it as a loss if you don't get everything that you want. But to the extent that you can come together and you can meet halfway in the middle, that should be considered a success. And it doesn't always mean that we won't get to one side or the other; it just may mean that we're not there, yet. So, it's not always a period; sometimes it's a comma. And this coming together this year in 2020, I think, really is a reflection of who we are as a party and how we should be as a party. We got to hear it from all sides and we've got to be open to hearing it and to receiving it and being genuine in our desire to work together to come up with something that gets us close to the middle as a party.
MR. SCOTT: Well, we can't talk about efforts to get more voters out without talking about efforts to keep some voters home, and specifically when it relates to black voters and voter suppression, especially in Georgia, something you're very, very familiar with.
We know in 2016 about 60 percent of blacks voted. What can Democrats do to energize the base and turn out voters, especially in the midst of COVID, the pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting black people? And also, efforts to keep black people home.
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: This is a very different year in so many ways. We're used to, often--to being able to run a traditional campaign. You go and knock on doors and you have rallies. But now, we've got to think outside the box, and whereas social media is not always the largest, most elevated part of a campaign, it's important that we elevate that to energize and bring out younger voters.
And also, we have to take the opportunity to speak to them with the voices that they will hear it from and receive it from. So, for example, if I'm speaking to my eight-year-old [sic], he may or may not listen to what I have to say, but if it's a celebrity influencer who's encouraging him and speaking to him, it certainly has a different impact.
But also keeping in mind there are people like my mother that if you don't call her on the phone directly in the old-fashioned way, or if she doesn't get something in the mail, she may not be swayed one way or the other. So, I think it's an opportunity for us to continue to expand those things that we know work, but also to be creative.
If you remember back in 2008, remember emailing and the social media piece in the Obama/Biden campaign was something innovative we had never seen before. Well, I think in 2020 it's the same opportunity for us to be innovative, expanding our point of contact with folks, but certainly not leaving behind the traditional methods which we use to energize voters.
MR. SCOTT: We know that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed 55 years ago, but voter suppression is still a big issue. How concerned are you about voter suppression in this coming election?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: I'm extremely concerned. And in fact, as I was preparing to chat with you, I was reviewing a letter that I'm sending regarding my concerns in the State of Georgia.
In Georgia, for our June primary, what we saw were lines eight and nine hours long for people to early vote. People were purged from the voter rolls. It was absolutely ridiculous. And Georgia is now one of 45 states that's received this letter from the General Counsel of the Postal Service saying, "By the way, we already know you're going to have problems with mail-in ballots in your state."
So, what we're doing in Georgia, I'm encouraging people if it's safe and if you are healthy, please vote as early as you can in person, if you can, as long as you can do it safely with your mask on.
If you are in Fulton County, where Atlanta is in Fulton and DeKalb Counties, but State Farm Arena has been opened up by the Atlanta Hawks. It's a very big facility with very spacious voting booths. We're encouraging people to go there to vote, and just to remember we aren't the first generation who's experienced challenges with voting but it is a sacred right. And Congressman Lewis reminded us in his parting words, if we don't exercise that right, we can lose it.
MR. SCOTT: You mentioned earlier if voters feel safe and protected, that reminds me you mentioned earlier in this year that you had contracted COVID. And I just wanted to know how you're doing and how's your husband and just what was that experience like for you.
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: It was very frightening, and thank you for asking. I was pretty much asymptomatic, aside from just needing to take a nap and a few sniffles and coughs here and there. My son was primarily asymptomatic, but my husband is still having a number of lingering effects. He wakes up every morning with a migraine headache. He's fatigued. He has muscle pain, many of the symptoms that you hear people speak about.
And so, this is, for as frightening as the experience was, it is very frightening not knowing what the lingering effects of COVID will be. And we were fortunate: My husband was not hospitalized. He's slept more than I've ever seen any human being aside from a baby sleep. So, he wasn't as bad as the many that you see on television. We count ourselves our fortunate because we're still--we're alive and healthy, but it does concern me that we don't know what this means long term for any of us.
MR. SCOTT: And I would imagine that personal experience shaped how you handled this politically. I recall you reinstated some restrictive safeguards in Atlanta last month, including a citywide mandatory mask mandate, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp sued you and the Atlanta City Council because of this.
He has since dropped the lawsuit. Did these actions surprise you at all?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: This whole thing has been bizarre with the Governor. What was interesting, I intentionally waited to institute Atlanta's mask mandate and went behind some other cities in the state, because I wanted to see if the Governor would have a response, particularly to Van Johnson, Mayor of Savannah, Georgia. He didn't respond to Savannah, Athens, and I can name many other cities in the state, but when Atlanta filed its suit--I mean, instituted its mask mandate, the day after Donald Trump came to our city and I pointed out he was violating our mandate by not having on a mask at the airport, we were sued.
And so, we were in the midst of negotiations with the Governor's office, in mediation. I reached out to the Governor, because I am, quite frankly, just disgusted that Georgia's on the track that we're on and we're looking so poorly throughout the nation. I'd hope we would come to some type of settlement. We negotiated a lot but where we were stuck related to businesses and whether or not we could institute this mask mandate inside businesses and who would enforce the mandate. And when I would not give in on that, the Governor, without notice, just issued a press statement saying mediation was over.
So, I share all that with you. It's been very concerning to see the amount of misinformation that's been pushed out from the Governor's Office. What concerns me about it is in the context of the data gathering in our state, because there have been a lot of questions on the integrity of that data related to COVID. And being on the other end, seeing the misinformation that was intentionally mis--pushed out by his office, it now makes me not give the benefit of the doubt as it relates to the integrity of the data. I now question whether or not that's being intentionally misrepresented.
MR. SCOTT: Speaking of data and Georgia related to coronavirus, we saw quite a few photos go viral earlier this month of schools reopening in suburban Atlanta and students being packed into these hallways shoulder-to-shoulder. And as a result, we've now seen some schools already have to quarantine students after cluster outbreaks. Do you think schools in the Atlanta area opened too early?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: I do. Given where we are with our number--on the availability of hospital beds, where we are with the positivity rate, where we are with the infection rate, it does concern me.
Atlanta public schools have decided to go virtual only for the first nine weeks. Some schools are giving parents the option of going in-person or virtual. I think that's, at the very least, what we can do for our teachers and cafeteria workers and custodians and bus drivers.
I think they also need the option as to whether or not they will go in person. I know some colleges and universities are giving professors the option of whether or not they will teach in person in class.
It's very challenging. My morning got off to a very rocky start trying to get three of my four kids going on virtual learning, and we had some hiccups. And then, of course, I had to be at work. So, it is challenging, but this is not a normal year. Nothing is normal about this year, and the sooner that we have the discipline that we need as a country and as a state to lockdown or do whatever it is we need to do, wear masks, whatever these things are, then the sooner we can get our economy going and get back to normal life. But we aren't going to ever get there because we don't have leadership that's calling upon us to take the steps that are needed to get to the other side of COVID-19.
MR. SCOTT: This, in fact, has not been a normal year in many ways, but there have been some good to come out of it. You've been catapulted pretty much into the national spotlight. You've been called America's favorite mayor. You made the vice-presidential shortlist. You're speaking at the Democratic National Convention.
Can you give us some ideas of some of the themes you hope to hit on to persuade voters to come out and support Joe Biden?
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: I wish my kids loved all those names and called me all those things, too.
So, this has been all about unifying our country. This is about restoring the soul of America and it obviously is a phrase and slogan we're using for the campaign, but it's real. When you look at Donald Trump saying he wants to interfere with our election, that is the most undemocratic thing that you could possibly do and say.
So, this convention is about reminding us of not only who we are but who we should be and who we can be. And what I saw last night was a reflection of who we are as a country, people of all walks of life, who are just saying, "I care about America. I believe in the possibilities of who we are as a nation." And that's what we're going to see over the next two nights. The convention is speaking to the issues that are challenging us across this country. Obviously, we didn't have a crowd and oftentimes the tone was a bit more somber, but this is a pretty somber year. And to put our heads in the sand and act as if everything is okay and we can wish it away is not very productive.
So, I'm excited about the next two nights of the convention. Again, going back to Michelle Obama, she summed it up for all of us. That literally was a drop-the-mic moment and it--I am certain that tonight and tomorrow night will continue to reflect that fierce urgency of now that Dr. King reminded us of.
MR. SCOTT: Well, we're excited to watch, but unfortunately that's all the time we have right now with the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, but thank you so much for taking time to join us. Good luck Thursday.
MAYOR LANCE BOTTOMS: Thank you so much for having me. Nice to see you, and thank you.
MR. SCOTT: To our viewers, please come back and join us tomorrow, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time, for First Look, featuring my colleagues Ashley Parker, E.J. Dionne, and Michele Norris.
And we have many more interviews scheduled tomorrow throughout the day. So, head to WashingtonPostLive.com for all of the details.
I'm Eugene Scott. See you back here tomorrow.
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