Mellissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway and I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. It's politics time. We've got plenty to discuss. Washington is breathing a bit easier today because late Wednesday night, Democratic and Republican Senate leaders reached a deal to halt the government from defaulting. At least temporarily. The short term debt ceiling increase is only good until early December, but in the one day at a time reality, that is the new norm for our governance. Congressional leaders are sounding triumphant for accomplishing the short term fix.
Speaker 2: We have reached agreement to extend the debt ceiling through early December, and it's our hope that we can get this done as soon as today.
Speaker 3: Democratic members and staff negotiated through the night in good faith. The Senate is moving toward the plan I laid out yesterday to spare the American people a manufactured crisis.
Mellissa Harris-Perry: Legislative action in the Capitol has a pretty short time horizon, but elected leaders are engaged in longer term planning on one thing, midterm elections.
More than a year out from November, 2022 contested races and key states are already beginning to make headlines. Both Democratic and Republican leaders are strategizing, fundraised, gerrymandering and prognosticating at a fevered pitch. All right, let's talk about it. We've got Michael Steele, former Lieutenant governor of Maryland, previous chair of the RNC and host of The Michael Steele Podcast. Welcome back to this show, Michael.
Michael Steele: Hey Melissa, how are you? It's so good to be back with you.
Mellissa Harris-Perry: It is so good. I totally want to rename your podcast, Man of Steel Podcast, but we can totally talk about that later.
Michael Steele: I have to tell you. We actually, that was the original name, but what we found was that people just got it confused with the actual man of steel. I was like, "Okay, that's complicated."
Mellissa Harris-Perry: Fair enough. We're also here with Christina Greer from Fordham university, who is co-host of the podcast, FAQ NYC, and author of the book, Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream. Welcome back, Christina.
Christina Greer: Thank you so much for having me
Mellissa Harris-Perry: Michael and Christy. This is for both of you. We've just been talking here about the debt ceiling and we sent our young digital producer, Zach Bynum out this week. We wanted him to talk to some folks. We went around the NYU campus and basically asked people what they knew about the debt ceiling and how it affects them. I just want to take a listen to an answer. That's pretty indicative of the responses we heard.
Speaker 6: For starters. I don't know what it means, but I mean, assuming it's talking about the fact that like student debt is so high, that like it's reaching like a ceiling that like, it shouldn't be so high. You know what I'm saying?
Mellissa Harris-Perry: Obviously, that's wrong, but it occurs to me that people are not necessarily very invested in a debt ceiling fight. Michael, let me start with you. I guess it's, in some ways the Republicans have picked it. Why have this fight if people aren't even sure what they're fighting about?
Michael Steele: That's why you have it. The reason you have it is easier to purvey in confusion and to create a narrative that is not exactly historically or otherwise correct. When you're out here making claims that for example, the Biden administration needs to do this alone, well, that's never happened and it can't happen.
You have to have a bipartisan resolution, one. Two, the idea that the Biden administration has to raise the debt ceiling to pay for its social engineering of the American economy. That's just BS because what raising the debt ceiling is to pay back, pay for the bills that were already created, meaning in this case, the $8 trillion that the Trump administration spent over its four years. If you have a public that is not engaged in the facts around what this is and what it isn't, it makes it easier for a political operation to play out where you just saw confusion and make it seem like this is a problem created by the other guy.
Mellissa Harris-Perry: That is actually extremely helpful to think of. I think we typically think, and, Christina, I'm even thinking like political science. We think, okay, people take meaningful positions and they're trying to position themselves relative to the political parties. If it's actually better to have a fight about nothingness, then we don't even get to the big issues.
Christina Greer: Absolutely, Melissa. I mean, think about this. We spent what a month, two months talking about critical race theory out of nowhere, instead of talking about the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died because of COVID and the ineptitude of Republican leadership. The Republican party has mastered this bait and switch that Democrats oftentimes follow along and play along with. We have to understand that it's really them creating these nothing burgers for the public to argue about and think about without a real conversation about what exactly is going on.
As we know, the stakes are so high, the Republican party is really invested in a lot of confusion to make sure that they're never held accountable for a lot of their policy positions. Because when we look at public opinion, we see that the country is going in a direction that consistently moves farther and farther away from the Washington DC Republican elites.
Mellissa Harris-Perry: What people really do understand though, is jobs. Friday job numbers came out. They're pretty disappointing. Economy added 194,000 new jobs in September. That is way down from 366,000 in August and more than a million in July. I'm wondering, Christina, if there's only so long that Democrats or Republicans can have a nothing burger, because people will notice in December, if they don't have enough money to buy holiday gifts and pay those student loans.
Christina Greer: Absolutely. Melissa, you and I as political scientists know that people go to the polls based on their economic circumstances, that's what they vote about. Lots of folks are like, "Oh, Latinx populations vote based on immigration." Absolutely not. They vote just like everyone else, pocketbook issues. Do you have enough money for you and your family to move forward?
I think the larger issue with the Democratic party has always been, even with their successes. They're not great at articulating to the American public what they have done, how they have rescued the American public from hard, Republican policies that have almost pushed us off an economic cliff. Even if Americans don't have as much money as say they want or need, or had a few years passed, the Democratic party needs to explain to the American public what exactly it is they're doing to make sure that there's a foundation being laid so people can actually have jobs moving forward if they don't have them right now.
Mellissa Harris-Perry: Michael, I'm interested as we are thinking about this like big questions here around, the material circumstances of ordinary Americans, as we're thinking about these DC fights that nobody even knows what the fights are about. I got to say, I absolutely thought that at the end of the Trump term, that we were going to see an all out battle for the soul of the Republican party.
This was like the moment when we were going to see which Republican party was going to come into ascendance and whether it was going to be one that was really on these issues, or one that was going to take questions like for example, critical race theory to talk about. Is that battle happening and I just don't see it because I might not be seeing it or is it seated? I see the fight happening at the Democratic party. Is it happening in the Republican party?
Michael Steele: No. In large measure, no, it's not. 75%, 76%, 78% of the base of the Republican party are stuck on Trump. We know, you certainly know as both of you as professors, when you have someone in your class who's stuck on stupid, you realize there's very little that, you might as well just give them the grade now and move on because it ain't going to work. That's where we are in the party. I mean, there're those of us who are trying to carve out.
In fact, I got into a little bit of a debate with a buddy of mine and he just kept pressing, "Why are you still a Republican? If all of this is going on then why are you still a Republican?" I said, "Well, because there's a handful of us who want to stay inside with the light that says, this is what democracy is about. This is what the Republican party of Lincoln was about. These are the things that we still value and stand for."
It's easy to blow the light out and leave. A lot have done that. There's some of us who want to hold that standard up because whatever iteration Republicanism takes in the future, we feel this is an important part and feature of it. We don't want to, while this form may pass. We remember the wigs. No, we don't, they're gone. That may pass, something better has to replace it and that's what the battle lines are being drawn around right now.
You're going to see some of that, Melissa, in the upcoming election cycle. You have candidates that are emerging, like Evan McMullin in Utah, who is running as an independent for the US Senate to former Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 cycle, who are trying to re-establish the guardrails. I think you're going to see more and more candidates like that. There is a groundswell of support, by the way for Liz Cheney, not just in her own district in Wyoming, but across the country. It's happening in pockets but it is happening.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Look, to be fair, that question, why stay in the Republican Party? Isn't really a bad question to also ask of Democrats, particularly maybe of Black Democrats, why stay in the party or progressive Democrats? Christina, maybe I'll just come to you on this about what is a very apparent public battle within the Democratic Party right now. I'm wondering, because I think our sense is if you're fighting internally that weakens the party going into the midterms, but is there a way to understand it as potentially strengthening the party going into the midterms?
Christina Greer: Yes, you know Melissa, I'm oddly on a weird optimism kick these days, but I do think-
Melissa Harris-Perry: What? Did you go on vacation or something? What do you mean?
Christina Greer: I don't know. I'm just trying to be like a plant and lean towards the light. I think it's good to have productive policy debates in an intra-party way, so that the Democratic Party can articulate a long-standing vision. Now, if these fights and debates become petty and too long standing, and the American public feels as though there's too much navel gazing and internal fighting, and not enough outward projection as to what the party is going to do for its members, then we've moved into a non-productive realm.
For right now, I think when you have the progressive wing that is significant within the Democratic Party, by no means the majority, and then you have a more moderate and centrist faction of the party that represents quite honestly, millions of Americans and the vast majority of Black Americans. They're trying to have substantive debates and conversations to figure out the best policy. We know that all things in American politics are rooted in compromise and so no one is going to get their absolute 100% wish list, this is the time for them to flesh these things out.
Now, as we get closer to primaries and Election Day, we need to solidify what exactly it is this party is doing for the American public, not just the Democratic Party, but just for the American public. The issue, as I said before, with the Democratic Party is even when they have wins and successes, and the compromise is being made, they still don't know how to articulate it to the American public to show the progress that's being made.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Michael, I want to come to you on Mike Pence. He was at one point a very clear critic of the people who attacked the Capitol on January 6th, but this week on Fox News suggested that the day was exaggerated by media. I'm just wondering again, why? He was a hero of that day in a weird way and now he's adjusting his stance.
Michael Steele: It is a reflection of the toxicity of Trumpism and the very unique attribute of wanting to somehow please this man, not be on his bad side or his wrong side, needing him to validate your political existence, which is the most incredibly stupid way to do politics. Mike Pence, who showed himself to be a true sycophant, as Vice President, even in the face of the president, essentially sticking his followers, his supporters on him during the riots, still now finds himself trying to mitigate that and explain it away and to make excuses and lie about it.
That tells you he's looking to run for president in 2024. He doesn't want to have Trumpists against him so this is the narrative that you see play out, and you'll see and hear more of it over the next 18 months.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Look, if there is one person or a set of people, we are supposed to be absolutely beholden to in the context of a democracy, it's the people, the voters. Christina, obviously one of the central questions moving up to the midterms and well beyond around the health of democracy, is voting rights. For a while, lots of noise around the voting rights bills, I'm wondering where they stand right now and, again, if the voters themselves can be a corrective to this madness?
Christina Greer: I know, Melissa. We know that that's one of the policy issues on the Vice President's plate along with immigration, border control, vaccine hesitancy and police reform and so much more. I do think that we really do need to rely on an insider-outsider approach when comes to voting rights. We need to stay on our elected officials with protest politics, not just in Washington DC, but also on the State House levels, to make sure that it's a multi-prong approach.
We know that the Republican Party is really invested in making sure that they roll back all types of voting rights. We know that in 13 different states, we've got proposals in the statehouse to do just that. We also know that there's some mealy mouth democrats that are not as assertive as they should be with making sure that in this democratic republic, all citizens have free and fair elections.
Melissa Harris-Perry: If there is a critical public social issue that has divided the parties now for several decades, it is the question of abortion. The Texas abortion law is obviously one that goes to a space we've never seen previously, not only in terms of restrictions, but in terms of deputizing ordinary citizens to actually enforce the law. This week, we saw a temporary block by a federal judge on the state's ban, and state officials quickly filing appeals.
I'm wondering, I'll start with you, Michael, and then I want to come to you, Christina, how you think this battle over abortion in the state of Texas, but clearly much more than that is going to play out again, as we are going into the midterms, how much will this dominate our conversations?
Michael Steele: It's going to be a dominant issue and it's going to be dominant because of the case that's before the Supreme Court now, in Mississippi, I believe, that effectively looks to gut Roe vs Wade. The Republicans have been trying in the latter half of the last 10 or 15 years trying to figure out strategies to do just that. They think they have found the formula and they're going to pursue it through the courts.
It is the reason why McConnell held the line on Supreme Court nominations the way he did, going back to Merrick Garland, because that was a big part of the strategy is one of the things, Melissa, you and I used to talk about this, when we were colleagues at MS and that was the Supreme Court. Y'all pay attention to the Supreme Court because republicans were very obvious where their target was, and I think you're now seeing that play out and you're going to see more of that coming from the States. The Texas law as someone who is pro-life and that's all the way, anti-death penalty, pro-human beings. Living life.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're Catholic. It's like, yes, that's right. Natural life to natural death.
Michael Steele: Exactly and this law is an abomination. To put a bounty on the wombs of women to strip away their choice, which is now safeguarded by the Constitution is unfathomable. I think the responses by citizens are going to matter a lot going into next year.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Christina, I want to let you weigh in as well.
Christina Greer: A few things, Melissa. one, there's no such thing as pro-life, it's either pro-choice or anti-choice. What we're seeing is the Republican Party really moving towards a conversation to take away choice from millions of women in America. Two, all the Gallup polls, and Pew Research is showing 60% of Americans say that abortion should be legal so the Supreme Court and the Republican Party, again, are not in lockstep with the American public.
I agree with Michael, this is going to be an issue that moves bodies to the polls. I think a lot of women are looking at not just their own choices, but the choices of their daughters. The beauty and the curse of American democracy is that we have progress and regress and so we thought that this literally was litigated in 1973 and we know that conservative members of the Republican Party have been working diligently for about 50 years to roll this back.
We're seeing it pop up in states all across the country and so it's really up to us to keep the pressure on our local state and national elected officials to make sure that we don't have these weak bills that protect a woman's right to choose. We have to be full-throated in our agendas, and really thinking about the courts, not just the Supreme Court but in many states, you vote for various judges, and really keeping an eye on your elected officials who appoint other justices so we know that even in the lower courts, a woman's right to choose isn't taken away.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Christina Greer is Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University, co-host of the podcast FAQ NYC and author of the book Black Ethnics. Michael Steele is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, the former chair of RNC and host of The Michael Steele Podcast. Thank you both for being here.
Christina Greer: Thank you, Melissa.
Michael Steele: It's such a pleasure to be with you again, Melissa. Really enjoyed the conversation.
[00:19:56] [END OF AUDIO]
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