'The Melissa Harris-Perry Show' for Sunday, June 16th, 2013
Read the transcript to the Sunday show
June 16, 2013
Guests: Nick Dranias; Jelani Cobb; Kenji Yoshino; Lani Guinier; Rich
Benjamin; Salamishah Tillet, Cristina Beltran, Jordan Goldberg, Amy
Hagstrom Miller, Howard Wolfson, Blake Jeff, Jackie Rowe-Adams, Errol
Louis, Amy Palmiero-Winters, Izzy Botko
ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning. I`m Ari Melber sitting in this
weekend for Melissa Harris-Perry.
In modern America we have a story we tell ourselves about civil rights.
It`s about protest movements pushing the courts and courts pushing
politicians even as they resisted to defend the status quo.
But today, we want to explore a slightly different take on the story. This
is a story where the courts are turning against social movements and
conservatives are claiming the mantle of a color-blind society. It`s a
story where idealism of Evers, Baker and King has been embraced and co-
opted for political gain by the same people seeking to strike down civil
Now starting Monday, the Supreme Court begins the end of this term. It
will rule on two core terms of civil rights law, voting power and equal
opportunity. But understand why the court may be on the verge of
unraveling its own precedent, you have to look back on its history of
So, let`s start with act one. In the early 1950s social movements and
legal campaign forced racism and discrimination onto the nation agenda.
The country was bitterly divided and politicians in both parties treated
apartheid as an issue of state`s rights. But the Supreme Court found
consensus where the nation could not. In the 1954 Brown decision, a
unanimous court in both the constitution drafted by slave holders to ban
the police of separate but equal. Two years later, the court held end
segregation of the bus system in Montgomery, a legal embrace of the long
shot effort Martin Luther King started in 1955.
Let`s turn to act two. Congress stepped in and enacted crown jewels of
civil rights era. Congress passed civil rights in 1964 but civil rights
were still divisive. And one out of four senators opposed the measure.
Then Congress tackled segregated power instruct and acting a specific
program to address subjugation of rights in America, the voting acts right
The law, not only ban specific tactics to suppress the black vote like poll
taxes, it also erected a dedicated system to prevent future racist acts and
tactics that didn`t exist at the time. Now, that`s pretty important
because the civil rights movement knew how creative some politicians were
when it came to voter discrimination. If poll taxes didn`t work they
changed district lines or registration rules. Think of it as the
innovation of discrimination.
So, the VRA included sections that required voting changes to be cleared in
advance because certain states had burned up their credibility and were not
entitled to deference. Then, the political parties began realigning around
race, a story you probably know. Segregation as Democrats had a harder
time on left and Republicans became a wider and more native its party. The
realignment last for decades.
But in the past few elections, something pretty interesting has been
happening. The GOP began rebranding its relationship with civil rights.
This is where we think act three begins. Republicans found a way to talk
about a vision of racial progress of quote "color-blindness." They found
away to talk about opportunity with some handpicked conservative minorities
on the stage at their national conventions and in their presidential
Now, even if that sounds like some posturing, the rebranding did yield a
re-legislator shift. Seven years ago, it was the last time the VRA was
reauthorized Republicans overwhelmingly supported it and President Bush
But, let`s look at that. This was the same president who appointed Justice
Samuel Alito and Chief justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court before
leaving office. And that takes us to the final chapter here, act four,
which I think starts next week. The core values of the civil rights
movement have become so sacred that very few national Republicans openly
challenge them today. The last Republican president touted the VRA, as I
mentioned, and last GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, was the first
in recent history to not run against affirmative action but simply run away
from it. The party is proudly elevating qualified minorities to key
positions and talking about a new appeal to minorities. That`s a testament
to the power of civil rights victories. And when authentic, I think it`s
an instinct we should welcome. But it is not nearly enough that each turn
this branding of civil rights falters when it comes to universal action.
President Bush may factor in diversity when choosing his cabinet but he
limited that practice to political appointees. When it came to public
policy he never supported hiring diversity programs for the rest of the
nation, for the rest of us. And he may have jumped at a chance to sign a
voting rights bill but he`s appointed the very people poised to unravel as
it soon as next week.
So, I think the story we tell ourselves about civil rights is more
complicated than we may realize and could all be about to change.
Now, to chart the road ahead, we have a pretty remarkable panel of civil
rights experts at the table. NYU law professor, Kenji Yoshino, a former
scholar and author of "covering the hidden assault on our civil rights,"
Jelani Cobb, director of institute of African-American studies at the
University of Connecticut and the author of "the substance and hope," Lani
Guinier, the professor at law school and Harvard law school, hope I got
that right, who previously worked at the civil right division at the U.S.
for department of justice and for the NAACP`s legal defense fund where she
headed their voting rights project, and Nick Dranias, director of
constitutional government at the conservative institute and a leader in the
Supreme Court challenge to Arizona`s public financing law.
Lani, I want to start with you on this thesis. Walk us through what the
Supreme Court might do and why Republicans seem to be of two minds about
civil rights nowadays.
LANI GUINIER, LAW PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: What the really good
question specially when you consider the re-enactment of voting rights act
was 98-0 in terms of the members of the Senate.
GUINIER: So you see that the Republicans are supporting at least on its
face things like the voting rights act but in terms of enabling the voting
rig act to actually work, there`s pushback and a case pending before
Supreme Court where Shelby County, Alabama is challenging the fact that one
particular provision of the voting rights which is called section five,
which is the preclearance provision and which has enabled the justice
department to intervene before damage is done as opposed to waiting for
damage to be done and then requiring independent plaintiffs to file a
lawsuit in which they have to then subsidize costs involved.
So, what I`m saying is on the one hand Republicans politically claim to be
in support of voting rights. But then in terms of Supreme Court and the
fact there`s a case pending before Supreme Court challenging the way in
which the act applies to particular jurisdictions rather than to all of the
states in the United States.
MELBER: So Kenji, is that encouraging or depressing?
KENJI YOSHINO, LAW PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: I would say it`s a
little bit depressing, because the encouraging piece of it, I guess, is
that, do we have majorities that are actually doing the right thing. I
think that Kerby (ph) Marshall in 1989 case called (INAUDIBLE) where he
(INAUDIBLE) programming, says how often is it that a majority of a
government actually reaches out to protect a vulnerable minority. Isn`t
that a wonderful thing ? And what is a court doing striking this down in
the name of color-blindness.
The dark side of it, I think with respect to color-blindness, Jelani
mentioned Shelby County case, we are also looking at the fisher case,
obviously, which is a big affirmative action which will be decided before
the end of June by the Supreme Court. What it seems the form of action con
cat is what the scholar job (INAUDIBLE) called ideological drift, where our
concept that occupied one end of the spectrum, drifts over to the other
side of the ideological spectrum, kind of see were describing in your essay
at the beginning.
So, his example of that is color-blindness. Because color-blindness, of
course, comes from Justice Harlan dissent, Quincy versus Ferguson, rate as
our constitution is color blind. It`s seen as idea logically part of the
left. But now, in more recent years it`s drifted over in the court`s
language to become a tool of the right where color-blindness has been the
name under which affirmative action programs, one after another, have been
struck down. And I think we are going to see a very, at least a fin under
the wedge of beyond the affirmative action being driven by the court in the
next two weeks.
MELBER: Jelani, I want to take a look at something you were just
mentioning, a shift in the voting patterns. If you look at the house GOP
as one measure of conservative views of this issue, what you see there up
on the screen is that from 1965, the percent of the caucus actually against
voting rights for predominantly African-American interests was up around 39
percent, a significant share. As we mentioned down in 2006 it drops to 17
And yet Jelani, what Kenji is saying here is it may drop but coming with a
high price of embracing a type of color-blindness that won`t advance actual
JELANI COBB, AUTHOR, THE SUBSTANCE OF HOPE: Right. Well, I think it`s
important to remember that even in Quincy versus Ferguson the idea is not
entirely incompatible with the idea of color-blindness because in that
decision it said there is no problem with segregation, save the problem
that black people have with it, saying the whole idea of segregation being
troubling and problematic may simply be all in your head.
And so, we have created a kind of color-blind society that recognizes its
color, if we can say it in that weird contradictory way. When we look at
that shift, it`s the same thing that happens with overt racism. No one is
going to say, OK, I believe in inferiority of this group.
COBB: Today. But, it`s possible to net policies with t same disparate
impact. And so, people say, sure, we`re in favor of voting rights. But,
are you in favor of pre-clearance which is the basis of vote rights
MELBER: And briefly, what is disparate impact.
COBB: What we mean but this is saying OK, we have, you know, a policy that
allows -- that makes it more difficult for black people or communities
historically been discriminated against to elect a candidate of choice. In
the saying that this will replicate, you know, the old kind of status quo.
And so, that`s what we mean by this when we talk about disparate impact.
But, on a more fundamental level, if we`re looking at, you know,
preclearance going what do people have about other aspects, the fact you
have to have language ballots, have to have language ballots in election
materials made available to people on a language of their choice, if that
group of people represents a certain portion of the population. What
happens there? What happens for voting rights for Native Americans. There
are all sorts of other implications beyond simply what we`re seeing right
MELBER: All right. I want to go to Nick here, who is more in line with
the conservatives but I`ll let you explain your own position.
I want to play for you though, something justice Scalia said at oral
argument about what I think the left and right might agree on, which is
it`s good, that people in both parties are supporting voting rights act.
We want to look at whether they mean it, it`s good. And yet Justice Scalia
didn`t think it was good. Let`s take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONIN SCALIA, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: And this last enactment, not a
single vote in the Senate against it, and the house is pretty much the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: What`s up with that.
NICK DRANIAS, GOLDWATER INSTITUTE: Well, I think the problem is
politicians don`t have the courage, which I hope this court will, which to
return to first principles, recognized its state racism, it is not going to
end state racism and it will not succeed particularly now we`re 50 years
past the water hosing and ban on sitting in the front of the bus.
I mean, it really belittles the challenges the civil rights movement faced
in the 1960s to 50 years later be insisting that the conditions still
warrant the extraordinary remedy that the court deemed it to be in the
1960s. It doesn`t warrant it.
The civil rights movement should declare victory. We should recognize we
have greater threats arising from the centralization of power in the
federal government. And we should also thank the Supreme Court on
reinvigorating decentralization of power of returning to the states their
primary role in regulating elections. Because right now, with things like
the NSA surveillance, the greatest threat we all face is from too much
power concentrating in Washington and not enough power concentrating in
MELBER: You`re talking about how we get to racial equality in the current
context and what people in the civil rights movement think would work. I
think a lot of you, though disagree with you, I think some are at this
table, so I want get responses to that when we come back.
Also, how did justice Sotomayor pick the VRA challenge apart during oral
arguments. She had some rebuttals of her own. We will take a look at that
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Assuming I accept your
premise and there is some questions about that, that some portions of the
south have change, your county pretty much has it. In the period we are
talking about, it has many more discriminating -- 240 discriminatory voting
laws that were blocked by the section five objections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, essentially
calling attorney Rhine (ph) on the notion the south changed enough we don`t
need these kinds of civil rights laws anymore.
Now, before the break we have Nick, and you were saying very much at this
things racism, as we understand it, as a justification for these rules and
these protections is not at a level that requires government action. And
as we`re going to break, Jelani, you said, are you serious?
So, go ahead.
COBB: That`s my question. The fact of the matter is, every single
indicator we look at, whether it is an employment, whether its health,
whether its criminal justice system, we see the continuing existence of
racism. And we very much, we have to have EEOC. We still have 10 or
11,000 complaints each year that we get in EEOC complaints. And there are
also some indicators that racism is a vital and very much vibrant, dynamic
part of American society right now.
DRANIAS: Yes. But racism is always going to be a problem just like crime
is always going to be a problem. The question is do we want to consolidate
more power in the federal government when we have an opportunity to
decentralize it now that we`re past the worst of it. No one can deny
conditions on the ground today are nowhere near close to what was faced in
the 1960s. And at that time the VRA had a five-year renewal period. Why
are the burdens heavier now under the VRA on state sovereignty than in
1960s. It makes no sense. I think this court will see through those
arguments and I hope it will down.
GUINIER: So, could I ask one question? Congress had an opportunity to
strike it down and did not. And in the Senate, as I said earlier, the vote
was 98-0, why should the Supreme Court be in the position of making this
judgment when elected officials of the country have made a adjustment that
is antithetical to what you`re saying.
DRANIAS: Because the court has the job of saying what the law is, the
constitution is the fundamental law of the land. Fundamental to the
constitution is the decentralization of power between the states and
federal government with the states having primary role of regulating
And keep in mind, what we`re talking about is preclearance where we have a
penalty box, where handful of states that are no longer the bad actors,
mind you, there are states outside of this penalty box that have worst
statistics on any sorts of racial concerns, and yet the law persists. The
law persists in violating state sovereignty.
MELBER: But Nick, part of your answer, I think, is going to fundamental.
To Lani`s question, which is such a good one, Justice Scalia had a
different answer, some people thought it was a lot more cynical, and we try
to give Justice Scalia a lot of air time so here in MHP, so that his views
are well exposed and understood. I want to play his answer to that
question right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCALIA: Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it`s very difficult
to get out of them through the normal political processes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COBB: So, I mean, this is the Supreme Court justice who should understand
the job of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law, not to correct
legislators, unless the legislators have violated the spirit of the
constitution or letter of the constitution. It is not a job to say well,
legislators are voting in a way that it would be politically unpopular or
voting for something they don`t have the temerity to vote something down,
so we are going to have to correct these in the Supreme Court. Nowhere is
the Supreme Court afforded that authority.
MELBER: Kenji, I want to Kenji though.
And on that point, when Scalia says it is very difficult to get them out
through political process, that sounds like political analysis. If they
were brought into the political process, a voting rights protection, even
federalized to your point that you think that intrudes on the states, if
it`s been constitutional this whole time, surely there must be a greater
burden than to simply saying it`s hard to get rid of for the court to
YOSHINO: Yes, absolutely. I mean, to that point, we have to think about
what a future Congress would do if I support a voting rights in the future.
Do I throw my vote against it in order to protect it against Justice
Scalia`s to this review.
MELBER: Well, you`re not joking. You are saying that would be under his
prudence so of reasonable jurisdiction.
YOSHINO: Yes, I do. Seriously, he is saying that, the unanimity in the
Senate, with the -- for the passage of the voting rights act counts against
in the constitution rather than for it, I mean, that`s his analysis.
DRANIAS: Bu look. The bottom line, is lopsided majorities have approved
all kinds of bad policies, all kinds of things that --
GUINIER: This isn`t just lopsided, this is a complete representation of
every member of the Senate who voted.
DRANIAS: It is not too different that what happened with the extension of
files of the patriot act, and those these other laws that are justifying
incredible amounts of invasive surveillance by the NSA. So, let`s step
back and recognized them. The court has a job to see against the
majorities. No matter how they are constituted, it enforcing the council.
MELBER: Well, but I think you`re blurring slightly. And I actually have
been critical of the way we conduct surveillance in this country. But I
don`t think in a constitutional dimension it has the same historical
antecedents of slavery and what we outlined in the beginning of the
So, surely, putting surveillance technology to the side, you can`t fully
endorse Scalia`s idea that something that was constitutional in a certain
context becomes more suspect when it has high majority support. That`s
what Kenji as asking.
DRANIAS: Well, I absolutely can support it. I think Justice Scalia is
dead on right. The fact is in the 1960s, you had pervasive state sponsored
and videos discrimination that was systematic. We don`t have that anymore
so you can`t use the same remedy.
YOSHINO: Yes. So, I think that part of this argument is really what Nick
is saying. And just to take it really seriously, is that we`ve seen so
much progress that this is no longer necessary, so it`s outlived
usefulness. It`s not a slam of what happened in 1965, it is a slam on
voting rights renewal that happened more recently.
But, if we were to take that seriously, people in 1965 could say, well,
slavery was so much worse than where we are today. And we have made so
much progress and slavery was abolished in the middle of the 19th century.
So, we shouldn`t do anything because things are so much better.
So, the question can`t be, have we made progress. Obviously, we have made
progress. The question has to be have we made enough progress and are
there still problems on the ground. And what Jelani -- I think, we just
have a factual dispute here about how much racism there on the ground -- .
MELBER: I`m glad you mentioned that because we are going to pull in some
numbers on disparate impact and racial disparities. Your question about
where an expiration date is when we have to explore the affirmative action
context where justices have said this is good for now, but maybe not
So, when we come back we are going to look a little deeper into that, what
happens to affirmative action as it bumps up against justice O`Connor`s
famous debt line.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I went to my staff and I
said how come all the people for these jobs are all men. They said well,
these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well God,
can`t we find some women that are also qualified. And so, we took a
concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be
qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women`s
group and said can you help us find folks. They brought us binders full of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Who could forget Mitt Romney`s version of affirmative action from
the second presidential debate, binders full of women.
And yet, Jelani, he was speaking to something important which is that if
you want to have America reflected in leadership, you have to find a way to
think about it and there are many ways. And some have been ruled directly
unconstitutional. The idea of reserving a spot just for a woman or a
certain minority is off the table and has been since 1978. But, the idea
that it when you`re booking a television show you want people who know
different things, are from different backgrounds or fill in military
leadership or looking at political leadership, is that something we should
be able to do? Is Mitt Romney actually gesturing very clumsily towards
something that we want everyone, including Republicans to do?
COBB: Absolutely. But I think what`s controversial here issue is that he
said binders full of women. Had he said binders full of black people, one,
I think it was inherently even clumsier, but it would have gotten a much
different reaction. But as we have seen affirmative action more acceptable
along the lines of gender than it is a long lines of race.
MELBER: Say more about that.
COBB: There are lots of dynamics. If we are look at what`s going on in
the Supreme Court, the many aspects, many elements people are allowed to
look at in terms of, you know, admission to University of Texas. Race is
the one people are most concerned w the same thing was the University of
Michigan. People moved beyond, much more nuanced as opposed to the
sledgehammer approach that people to diversity in the 1970s.
MELBER: And you are talking about what people are concerned with. Let`s
look at a poll which is not reliable. I put this up not for the truth
assurance, let`s talk about how we think about it.
Let`s look at a poll of affirmative action. What you there is, under the
kind of question, is affirmative action still needed or should it be ended,
you see a drop. You see that the points are meeting because people are
skeptical. But, lets dig into that. This is something Kenji has worked
on. The text question of that poll, about whether we need affirmative
action was affirmative action programs are still needed to counter-act the
effects of discrimination against minorities and are a good idea as long as
there are no rid quotas.
I just mentioned quotas are off the table. The idea of countering effects
against minorities, discrimination as history. Today, under current law,
regardless of what the Supreme Court does, right now, that is not legal
affirmative action, because the Supreme Court case that upheld it said it
had to be for diversity and not remedial measures. Whether or not that`s
good, what does it say about the conversation that we are still polling a
question that assumes a type of affirmative action that isn`t technically
YOSHINO: Right. Well, basically to set the table, if I may, for
constitutional jurisprudence two rational for affirmative action, one is
the immediate rational, which is that we are going to remedy past harms and
other is diversity rational which says that we`re interested in a diversity
of viewpoints and that`s better for everybody.
MELBER: So, one is talking about the history we were discussed previously.
Bad things happen, racism, and we need to counter act that long history.
The other you`re saying is what does diversity mean?
YOSHINO: Diversity is really, well, in the words of immortal Lani Guinier,
and I coded you before on the show, Lani, and we have clips to proved it.
You know, the appealing part of diversity is they cast individuals from
minority background as their gifts rather than grievances, and that`s a
quote from Lani.
And the idea there, is that diversity of back grounds, diversity of, you
know, socioeconomic status, diversity of race and ethnicity, actually allow
individuals to bring different perspectives to the table. So, it`s not so
much about past harm as it is about future and present convictions that
people can make.
And as you said in the 2003 case, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative
action practiced by University of Michigan on the diversity rational. And
they also said the military came in, that important briefs and that case so
green briefs, (INAUDIBLE) amicus written by military and the corporations.
Both are whom said do not dry up our pipeline. This is where we get out
diverse talent. We need it for diversity of thought. Don`t dry up.
MELBER: So, I want to get Lani`s response in salute what we call, Lani on
MELBER: A recurring MHP segment. But, since you brought it up, let`s
looks at the argument, that military argument which is not traditional
diversity argument, and is so important. The president instructing his
lawyers to make the case pretty strongly. I think we can put that up on
the screen when we talk about Obama`s brief and supporting affirmative
action. This is directly from, like I said, the president`s lawyers.
The absence of diversity in the officer corps also undermined the
military`s very legitimacy by fueling popular perceptions of racial ethnic
minorities serving as cannon fodder for white military leaders.
It seems, Lani, that that speaks to diversity but also legitimacy. What
the president`s lawyers are saying, is that, if you take away our tools to
keep in mind diversity and affirmative action, we could end up with white
military leaders like we had in Vietnam sending only minorities off to die.
And that`s not only bad for our society, it`s bad for our security.
GUINIER: There`s a lot to say in responding to what you`ve just said.
But, I think the key, since we`re talking about the military is an example
Malcolm Gladwell once gave where he talks about the difference between a
beauty school and Marine Corps in the context of diversity. He says a
beauty school looks for people already beautiful and wants to associate
itself with them and benefit from their beauty. The marine corps says, if
you come, meet our basic requirements, we will make you a marine.
And I think in terms of the admissions to higher education, which is where
the affirmative action debate really becomes very, very argumentative is
that we are using affirmative action to look for people who are already
beautiful -- or not using affirmative action per se, we are using
admissions to look for people already beautiful and then to associate
ourselves with them and say, ha, this shows what a great school Yale is or
Harvard is or any schools, because look at the people we`ve admitted.
In 2009, for example, Yale had its commemorative issue of "the Yale Daily
News" in which they talked about Yale by the numbers for the class of 2009.
Every single number was about the students before they set foot on Yale.
So, it was as if Yale added no value. The value came from bringing these
students who were from many different places.
MELBER: Right. Which I want to come back to that. It goes to policy
question of diversity and inversity (ph).
GUINIER: And what`s the issue? Is the issue simply diversity in terms of
the groups that you`re bringing to the school, or is diversity actually a
way of making better decisions because you have a diverse group of people
looking at a problem from multiple perspectives. And through that process,
you`re actually improving merit.
MELBER: Lets come back to that. And Nick, you`re a house conservative.
You`re not meant to be seen and not heard. So, we will get your take on
all of this when we come back right after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALCOLM X, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We don`t think that we should have to
sit around and wait for some segregationist congressmen and senators and a
president from Texas in Washington, D.C. to make up their mind that our
people are due now some degree of civil rights. No. We want it now or we
don`t think anybody should have it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That was Malcolm X in 1964 just before the passing of the civil
I want to go back to Nick. As a conservative, Malcolm X was also critical
of the role the federal government because he never thought it would go far
enough. Now, we have conservatives saying the federal government has gone
way too far. And the conversation we`re having about affirmative action,
why shouldn`t military that to Lani`s point be able to take into account
all types o diversity when deciding who is going to run one of the most
important institutions in American life.
DRANIAS: Well, I mean, the issue before the court, of course, is
university admissions. And there may be a different standard applied to
the military or not.
MELBER: Do you support the end of affirmative action in all government?
DRANIAS: I believe affirmative action in the sense of giving people
admission based primarily on their race or ethnicity or because they were
born in a certain place is clearly unconstitutional because it violates
color-blindness required under proper interpretation of the constitution of
the 14th amendment.
Lets pull back just for a moment, though, and talk about the case actually
before the Supreme Court. What you had was a young woman, Abigail Fisher,
who was more qualified than some African-Americans and Hispanics --
GUINIER: That is not true. That is not true.
DRANIAS: That`s the allegation and contention being made, that in fact,
people who are less qualified than her ended up getting admitted and she
did not on the basis of their ethnicity, because of a system being used.
MELBER: Brief rebuttal.
GUINIER: She was not in any better shape than the people who were, in
fact, admitted under holistic review. There`s no evidence she outperformed
any of the students.
DRANIAS: Well, look. The holistic review formula as a dissent pointed out
in this case is not any different than what`s been struck down in the past.
Because the bottom line is that all things are kept equal for two
applicants, one in a protected class, one is not, the protected class will
get in. And the problem with this is what we need is diversity of
ideology, of ideas in our universities, not a diversity of skin color so
What we want is a diversity of perspectives. And there is not necessarily
a connection between one`s ethnicity or once racial background and that
kind of diversity. In fact, I think there`s more diversity on this panel
than in the typical university on ideology.
MELBER: Well, Might disagree with you there but we strive for diversity of
Thank you for being with us today, Nick, and hope to see you again. The
rest of panel will stay for some more.
And up next, two reports on this week that show how far we still have to
go. Stay with us.
MELBER: Welcome back.
Even as we await these decisions from the Supreme Court that could
seriously alter laws and practices utilized for decades to address our
nation`s equalities and history there`s two new signs that show we face
The equal opportunity commission on Tuesday, accused two major companies,
carmaker BMW and discount retailer Dollar General of indirectly
discriminating against African-Americans by using criminal background
checks to screen out workers.
And also, this very same week, department of housing and urban development,
along with the urban institute, released an important new study that
indicated overt racial discrimination against minority home buyers persist
as they face subtle obstacles in housing surge.
So, while the Supreme Court maybe, preparing the rule against practices
like affirmative action, we are seeing that these are two seriously data-
driven indications that racial discriminations of a new kind is thriving,
so much so that obviously, the government is looking in getting involved.
And some people call it, the new racism or as the author, Rich Benjamin,
put it in his book, "Searching for Whitopia." Today, racial segregation
division often result from habits, policies and institutions that are not
specifically designed to discriminate. Contrary to popular belief,
discrimination or segregation do not require animus they thrive even in
absence of prejudice or ill will. It`s common to have racism without
Joining our panel discussion is Rich Benjamin, who is also a senior fellow
Rich, thank you for being here.
Let`s talk about racism without racists because these studies that we
mentioned and a lot of what your book looked at, was the idea that people
don`t need to be walking around with the racists target in their mind to be
a part of the system that still leaves things incredibly unequal.
RICH BENJAMIN, AUTHOR, SEARCHING FOR WHITOPIA: Yes. In my learning and
experience that is what often confuses students le Abigail Fisher. It is
that they operate in their everyday life and race relations on the
interpersonal level seem to be good and they are not generally aware of the
studies that you have pointed out that racial disparity still exists. And
when I spoke to conservative whites around the country, they say, you know,
well, we are not racist. And I say the point is to look at structural
issues, the practices that leave us with as much residential segregation
and educational segregation as we had a generation ago.
MELBER: So, your book looks at the question of where is the racism and
says for 2013 that may be the wrong question.
BENJAMIN: Exactly. We have to look at social engineering. We have to
look at our transportation policies, our laws, our practices that socially
engineer society with racist results we have to say. And I just say that
because with the affirmative action and with quote, unquote, "racial
positive policies," we`re told that`s racial engineering, you can`t change
human nature, but all public policy is social engineering. The question is
what effect do you want to have?
MELBER: And Jelani, that goes to the point, where we were just discussing
with Nick from a conservative view, which is saying look, things have
changed, people aren`t being fire hosed is some of the language he used, so
the government shouldn`t be in these decisions anymore.
COBB: And I think that the problem with that argument is that it`s like
saying if crime decreases then we no longer need to make murder illegal or
no longer need t say, you know, it`s illegal to assault someone. The fact
is that we have a kind of prophylactic effect with laws. The point is to
MELBER: I want to pause. That`s so important.
I mean, Kenji, that`s such an important point, right? The idea that
usually in public policy, if something is working and reducing the bad
thing, we say this policy works, right, and lets continue it. And here in
civil rights we`re being told this policy works so make it go away.
YOSHINO: Exactly. So, this progress narrative, I think, is hurting us
both in a voting rights context and affirmative action context, which is to
say we`ve made so much progress of racism is over. And I think that what
Rich is saying is so important here because I think that many of the forms
of racism that exist today don`t exist at the level of I have conscious
animus against a particular person.
So, I think the cutting edge research that is being done now is really
about structural racism, unconscious bias about things like that rather
than the person who is willing to come out in polite society and say I`m
against a particular racial group.
GUINIER: Yes. I want to underscore what Kenji just said in terms of the
unconscious bias. Because it`s absolutely correct to emphasize structural
problems, but I think many people are unaware of the fact that they harbor
a bias. That it is like if you`re in a place where people are smoking,
you`re inhaling the smoke, you may not be a smoker but you`re still
inhaling the passive smoke.
And so, this to me is not just about structure, it is also about the way in
which people individually claim don`t see or claim that they don`t see race
because psychologically they are attuned not to admit they see it. And so,
on these tests that you can take with the call implicit association tests,
you can find out that it`s much easier for you if you are white, to
associate other white people with good things and black people with guns
and with knives. And that is not -- it`s not intentional.
MELBER: It is weird. And you talk about that as well, Rich, the idea that
people have been taught to just pretend they are not seeing what they are
saying. So, I could say to you, God, look at your afro, big hair, let`s
talk about it or I could never say like, yes, Rich is my black friend.
What do you mean by black friend? Which is a funny thing people that
actually is driving, at least some people, in less diverse areas, less in
New York City, but in a lot of other parts of the country, to avoid talking
about things that we actually need more tools to expose.
I want to get your thoughts on that when we come back right after the
Stay with us here on MHP.
MELBER: Welcome back.
We have been waiting on the Supreme Court to make up their minds on some
pretty big cases on the docket. And this could be maybe possibly
potentially the week starting Monday and again, on Thursday if they decide
against government assurance of voting rights or against marriage equality
or against affirmative action, what then. What will be next for those of
us who care about the issue?
I`m going right back to Rich Benjamin where we have at the table. If we
see negative rulings on affirmative action and voting rights, which many
people expect especially when you look at Justice Alito replacing Justice
O`Connor, who is a key vote of some these prior decisions, what do people
who want to advance civil rights do?
BENJAMIN: As we were talking about, it`s going to become about social
movement. Here is the bottom line Ari. 2042, why people are due or
scheduled to become a minority. And this is animating a lot of these
decisions. So, the question becomes how will we manage that
transformation? Does one have a reactionary restrictionist (ph) division
of diversity where as diversity is a zero-sum game for white men or does
one have an expansive view like you or Bill Gates who sees this as an
opportunity. And how we manage that not just with Supreme Court decisions
but other policies and practices will be critical to our well-being
economically and politically.
COBB: I think the question is that will happen in the future. I think we
can kind of see what the general trend is. I think what will happen in the
future is the same thing that will happen in the past. We`ve never seen a
straight linear projection of progress for African-Americans. Every time
there`s been progress there`s been regression. After emancipation, there
were redemption governments that brought about lynching and so long. After
civil rights movement, we saw the regression that came in the `70s and
`80s. If that happens again, people will simply have to go back to
strategies that have been sustaining since the end of slavery and continue
to press forward.
YOSHINO: Yes. I guess I`m a little bit more optimistic than you are, Ari.
I think we are going to win marriage cases, right, and I think we are going
to lose in some ways two race cases, voting rights case and affirmative
action case. So, I think this is going to be a term about, you know,
promise and limits of formal equality. And I think that that needs to be
messaged out to the country, which is to say what does equality mean to
you? Does equality just mean that is kind of mathematical equal treatment
of people or does equality mean lifting up people historically
subordinated? Do we have an anti-classification or equal protection clause
or do we have any anti-subordination view of it.
GUINIER: And I would end that the action is in the reaction, which is an
organizing term for saying that people are going to have to mobilize in
order to direct attention to the fact that these problems continue to
despite the court or certain members of the court feeling we`ve solved
these problems a long time ago.
MELBER: And Rich, a final word?
BENJAMIN: Yes, we`ll see. We`ll see how it goes. But you know, Ari, you
went to Michigan. You understand the benefits of this. This is what I was
talking about, expansive, positive view of the future, one reactionary and
restrictionist (ph) people perceive resources to be limiting or can we
expand resources. Can we appeal to our best values as Americans and say
this is the opportunity, the pie is infinite? And I know that might sound
Pollyannaish, but it really is animating different views of how people are
viewing same-sex marriage, voting rights and the affirmative action cases.
MELBER: Well, I think it will also goes to the pictures that are in
people`s head, to Jelani`s point, how we react to this and whether we see
as advancement because we are all in this together or some arguments that,
as I mentioned, President Obama`s lawyers may, not just the gift argument
that Lani has written so eloquently about, that the person sitting next to
you in the classroom is for your benefit, potentially for the white
majority benefit and soon to be to your point, the white minority benefit,
but also that the legitimacy of our society depends on the people who are
empowered to make decisions and that includes equal opportunity policy and
clearly voting protection so we`re all making those decisions about power
I want to thank you guys. It`s been a really tremendous conversation. I
wish we had more time. I suspect MHP may have many of you on again as you
have been on before.
And next up, I want to talk about defending evil. What it really takes to
fight for the rights of those on the wrong side of the law. You`re going
to want to hear what we have to say about that.
And on this father`s day a special look at the challenges of being a dad in
More Nerdland at the top of the hour. Please, stay with us.
MELBER: Welcome back. I`m Ari Melber, filling in for Melissa Harris-Perry
House Republicans have begun a plan to limit and potentially ban types of
abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. This nationwide ban is
scheduled to get a vote next week. Now the house has the votes to pass it,
of course. The Senate will not have those votes. And even if it did this
is still a Republican dream bill because our president, President Obama,
would veto it.
If it passed under a future president, it would also be unconstitutional
under current precedent in the law. In fact, a similar law in Arizona was
struck down for that reason this year. For House Republicans, though, this
is a vote of pure symbolism. And that`s what makes it so important, we
think, and scary.
The GOP is staking a public claim here. This is what we believe. This is
who we are.
Now, they used to save some off the scariest stuff for their party platform
which isn`t really binding, of course. Now, House Republicans are
legislating at the same pitch that they used to just politic, declaring
that they will do anything possible to get between women and their doctors
and their choices about when or if to have an abortion.
Now, for a policy that`s clearly unconstitutional, there must be someone
sort of responsible, right? There must be some Republicans who at least
care about the legal precedent if not the values here.
Nope. It turns out every Republican man on the House Judiciary Committee
voted to move this bill last week. And since they only have men on that
committee, that`s the total. These views are just as extreme at the state
level, but there are some problems there that go deeper because there are
fewer checks and balances.
In state after state, Republican politicians are restricting reproductive
rights. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker, remember him, he`s
going to sign a bill requiring rules like compelled ultrasounds for women
Now, this is what happened Wednesday when Democrats objected to moving that
vote in the state senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down. You`re not recognized. The question before
the House is non-debatable. Call the rolls.
You`re interrupting a roll call. Sit down! Right now! Call the roll!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Carpenter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Call the roll.
In Texas, Republican Governor Rick Perry, you also remember him -- well, he
expanded a special legislative session in order to look at new reproductive
rights restrictions. The proposals were blocked by Democrats in the
regular session but under some of the special rules in the special session,
they may not be able to stop them. The restrictions could force nearly all
of the state`s clinics to close, I repeat, all of the clinics to close. It
would, in fact, leave only five for all of Texas` 26 million people. That
would be one clinic for every 54,000 square miles of Texas.
And in Ohio, the new approach seems to be shaming. A bill introduced this
week requires women to get ultrasounds and pay for the procedure
themselves, then the bill would also use a pretty sinister way to
criminalize Medicare. It would threaten doctors with a first-degree felony
charge if they don`t follow a state-mandated two-day waiting period for
abortions regardless of medical necessity.
So, don`t let the talk of a more women-friendly party fool you, and don`t
believe them when they say that jobs and the economy are clearly the main
thing they are focused on. This is the mainstream Republican mission now,
with the backing of the House Speaker and a slew of governors who could be
serious presidential candidates in 2016.
So, as we said make no mistake and gird your loins, this is what
Republicans are about.
At the table with me, counsel for the Center on Reproductive Rights, Jordan
Goldberg; professor of African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania,
And back with us Cristina Beltran, associate professor at NYU, and NBC
Latino contributor, attorney Raul Reyes.
I want to talk with you. What is the significance of what we just saw in
the states there?
SALAMISHAH TILLET, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, there are a couple of
things. One, if you thought that Obama winning the election meant that the
GOP war o women was over, we were wrong. Obviously, it`s an ongoing
onslaught against women`s reproductive freedoms and reproductive rights.
But the other thing is, Jessica Valenti had a really good piece in "The
Nation," recently talking about anti-choice legislative activism, as a kind
of magical thinking.
What`s interesting to me is that with these ongoing both state and national
legislations to limit women`s reproductive choice, that the GOP, while they
may have lost the war with Roe v. Wade, they`re winning the piece. So, I
just think that this ongoing onslaught against women`s reproductive rights
is just part of their platform and also kind of a response to other issues
that are going on like immigration reform, as well, as you know, we can
think about, even affirmative action. All of these things are part of the
changing demographic of the United States in which women`s reproductive
rights are part of that as well.
MELBER: Well, and, Jordan, that`s something that Melissa talks about a lot
on this show, how that fight moving to the state level is actually a very
different legal and constitutional kind of battle, right? I mean, you
can`t just get Roe everywhere to knock down everything. Explain some of
JORDAN GOLDBERG, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: Well, we`ve definitely
seen over the last few years an incredible assault on women`s reproductive
health in so many different forms, you`ve got ultrasound restrictions,
you`ve got bans on insurance coverage for abortion, you`ve got bans on
abortion at 20 weeks and even, and this year, we`ve seen states just take
it one level further. Arkansas banned abortion at 12 weeks a couple of
weeks later. North Dakota banned abortion at six weeks.
You`ve seen states --
MELBER: Six weeks.
GOLDBERG: Six weeks. Earlier than some women know they`re pregnant. It`s
just all across the board an assault. And although we take them to court
and get these things knocked down in a lot of situations and in fact you
were talking about the 20-week ban being considered by Congress and that we
were able to defeat a similar 20-week ban in court in Arizona, but it`s
issue by issue, state by state.
And honestly, this has to be a national thing. Your rights shouldn`t
depend on your zip code. It`s been incredibly challenging to fight the
MELBER: Well, to pick up on Salamishah`s point, I want to put up a pretty
striking image on the screen that goes to the idea that -- yes, in many
ways choice keeps winning in federal elections, yet when you look at the
numbers, here is the chart, you have abortion laws are spiking in 2011 and
2012. There it is. You see just a huge increase.
Cristina, why is that happening even as the national political discourse is
clearly favoring the president`s approach?
CRISTINA BELTRAN, NYU: Right, right. I mean, I think it`s a fascinating
issue. I think about sort of what you`re talking about in terms of the
idea of kind of hysteria and the kind of magical thinking like that, like
that logic is sort of interesting. Like are they so feeling disempowered
in some critical ways that this is one way they can go after something
where they have critical agency in doing this stuff.
MELBER: What do you by -- you mean the Republicans losing at the political
level generally makes them want to act out?
BELTRAN: Yes, really makes them want to enact a vision of the world in
which women`s bodies are treated this way. Like I think that`s part.
But the other part I was thinking about that I`m continually interested in
is, politically, it`s horrible for working class women, women in rural
areas. I mean, but what it also does is produces a collective sense of
women having a collective sense of threat, right?
BELTRAN: Which is really interesting when you think about the deep
diversity of women in this country, the fact that these kinds of laws
create a sense that women are kind of a bloc is really interesting
politically for Democrats. I think every time they do this Hillary Clinton
should send them a gift basket. It`s incredibly good for --
MELBER: Which is a weird backlash. What do you think, though, of that
TILLET: I think, the Census released data, the changing racial
demographics in the United States. For the first time in American history,
children born under the age of 5 are racial -- the majority of them are
racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S.
So, I think there`s a moral panic, a fear of the end of whiteness that
we`ve been seeing a long time in that I think Obama`s ascension as
president kind of symbolizes to a certain degree. So, I think this is one
response to that sense that there`s a decreasing white majority in the
country and that women`s bodies and white women`s bodies in particular are
obviously a crucial way of reproducing whiteness, white supremacy, white
So, I think it`s kind of a clamping down on women`s bodies in particular
white women`s bodies even though women of color are really caught in the
MELBER: And you`re talking not only then about a potentially religious
view about life, you`re talking about social control. I mean, that goes to
some of these programs that are different than just necessarily a position
that people disagree with. They also say, no, we need to go into the
doctor`s room, we need to tell women under it threat of, as I mentioned,
criminalization of their doctor`s conduct or as a prerequisite to doing
anything, how they should analyze their medical care, whether to have an
Do you think that is a piece of it, too, the social control, Raul?
RAUL REYES, ATTORNEY: To a certain extent. But I want to say there`s
another aspect to this equation that is so deep, from it a legal
standpoint, troubling from the role of a Supreme Court. Yes, Roe v. Wade
is on the books, but when you look at the cases that have been going
through the court, they are chipping away at these reproductive rights.
In 199, I believe the case was southeast Pennsylvania Planned Parenthood,
they said that women you cannot place -- the state cannot place undue
burden on a woman in regard to her on pregnancy, her life, her choice.
Fast-forward 15 years in the Gonzalez case, now the court says it`s OK for
the state to promote various interests it sees fit, including the life of
the unborn child.
And we have an extremely conservative Supreme Court. So little by little
they are moving the boundary for what is OK in terms of telling women what
And anytime when you`re in this type of issue, what is the -- the policy is
saying that we don`t doctors to tell women what is best for them and we
don`t trust women to decide what is best for themselves. And that is a --
that should trouble all Americans.
MELBER: Well, you`re hitting on something I want to go to Jordan on after
the break. That is a point we see even wider than the choice movement,
which is if the courts see something as a right and we mean that, then
there can`t be excessive burdens in that, which are your own medical
decisions, which are your own medical decisions. I want your response to
that when we come back.
And also up next, we`re going to talk to Texas to talk with one of the
people on the front line of this debate in Texas, trying to hold the line
on reproductive rights.
MELBER: Welcome back. We`ve been talking about how Republican state
legislators are passing increasingly extreme laws restricting access to
reproductive rights around the country perhaps no more restricting than
Rick Perry`s Texas.
So, joining us now from Austin, Texas, is someone on the front lines of the
fight, Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder of the Whole Women`s Health chain
of clinics and around the country.
And just this Thursday, she testified before the Texas committee on a range
of new abortion restrictions that could shut down all but five abortion
providers in the entire state.
The committee approved the restrictions on Friday and sent the legislation
to the full state Senate.
Amy, thanks for joining us.
AMY HAGSTROM MILLER, WHOLE WOMEN`S HEALTH: You`re welcome. Thank you for
MELBER: What did you tell them?
MILLER: Oh, I told them a lot of things. You know, it was remarkable
about how many questions I asked led me to understand there wasn`t a
mastery for what legislations we already have in place.
Texas already has some of the most onerous regulations for abortion
facilities in the country. We`re expected every year. We have quality
assurance programs. We report our complications. We have nurses on call
We already have a pretty serious system in place to be sure that all the
clinics are safe and that they`re compliant. So, it was amazing to me how
many questions I got from some of the senators who actually didn`t
understand the systems we have in place already.
MELBER: So, Amy, that goes to Cristina`s point, that some of this may not
be about actually deciding how many clinics there should be, but some sort
of just larger Republican backlash. You`re in one state. Is that some of
your experience there?
MILLER: Absolutely. I think this isn`t -- you know, they oftentimes couch
these kinds of regulations as though they`re about patient safety or
something like that, when really this is about access. We`re going to go
from 47 clinics from the state of Texas down to five immediately.
There`s no grandfather clause written into the regulation. And we have
four of the top 11 cities as far as population in the country. So, this is
a pretty serious regulation, and what they`ve done is they`ve put four or
five different bills from the regular session into this omnibus bill,
things they weren`t able to get on to the floor for proper discussion
during the regular session. They waited until the special session when
there`s sort of a super power, when they don`t have to go through the same
process in order go get these things brought forward.
And we`re very concerned. It will have a grave effect on the health system
here in Texas. It does nothing to prevent abortions. It doesn`t do
anything to prevent abortions, address the need for abortion. I mean, you
can`t just restrict access. It`s not going to change the fact that one in
three women in Texas is going to need our services. We`re going to have a
problem on our hands.
MELBER: Yes, I want to go to Jordan on that point.
GOLDBERG: Absolutely. I think this Texas bill is exactly -- it sort of
represents all of what`s been going on. You have four different types of
legislation ramrod through during a special session. The political will
wasn`t there during the regular session. That`s not what these guys were
elected to do. And, in fact, almost everything in that bill has been
blocked by a court in one way or another.
You`ve got at least four different kind of restrictions, a ban on abortions
at 20 weeks. You`ve got the part of the bill that would shut everybody
down, restrictions on medication abortion and requirement that all
physicians with admitting privileges. All of those have been looked by
court and all of them have been blocked.
TILLET: Yes, I just want to say in terms of who`s being disproportionately
effected, women of color and working class women being the victims with
regards to this legislative battles and also the kind of rhetoric, the
Couple of years ago in New York City there was that big billboard I think
in Soho that says the most dangerous place for an African-American child is
in the womb, right? Black women`s bodies, Latino women`s bodies, people
who may not necessarily have access to private medical facilities are being
used as pawns in this Republican battle against women.
I just want to reiterate that. Also, I think what`s really disappointing
or dismaying to me is for all of us who have to keep focusing only on
choice as the way we think about reproductive justice, this is what
happens. We can`t think about all the way women`s reproductive freedoms
are being curtailed. Everybody doesn`t have access to affordable health
care. We`re focusing on choice because the Republicans are keeping us in a
stalemate for so long.
MELBER: Amy, what do you say to that?
MILLER: I`m really happy to hear that reproductive justice framework
brought up. Texas is not -- Texas is hopefully turning blue. Texas has a
very, very, very large Latin and Latino population and many of our clinics
serve a diverse group of people. We already don`t have any Medicaid
coverage for women seeking abortion services, of course, but for women
seeking a lot of services. Insurance coverage is very small, we`re 49th
out of 50th, as far as people in our population with insurance coverage.
So, this is going to very much disproportionately affect Latino women,
African-American women, legal immigrant people that`s going to affect
families, that`s going to affect rural people tremendously because the five
clinics that will remain are only going to be in large urban settings and
Texas is a very, very large state.
MELBER: So, Amy, trace that back to political organizing. Does that help
you in communities of color or out there in Texas, that angle to try to
sort of make sure that people get the information they need about what`s
MILLER: You know, I think -- abortion is a complex issue. People have
very complicated feelings about it. I think when feelings start to affect
politics, we run into some difficulty, especially when ne start to regulate
I think abortion is one of those things, nobody thinks they will need
abortion until they do. That`s when they find out about the laws affecting
their rights and their access. So I think it`s very important to tell this
story and to have people understand that, while nobody plans to have an
abortion their lifetime, you know, one in three women are probably going to
need one at some point in their lifetime or most of us have thought about
it or ran into some sort of an unplanned pregnancy scare. So, if we can
sort of appeal to folks that this is part of mainstream medicine, that is a
common procedure very necessary for the health and safety of the population
of women in Texas.
MELBER: And for the final point, I want your response to that, Cristina,
the idea there`s a constituency out there but not always very aware.
BELTRAN: Yes, an aware one. And it works because we were saying before
women are such an incredibly diverse population, half the population, one
of the interesting things too is I think the fact that there are so many
different populations interested in things like birth control.
I mean, the Republican war on women has been so pervasive it`s even reached
into access to birth control and women`s health.
So I think for a lot of young women, in many ways if the Republicans hadn`t
played this card so heavily, this wouldn`t have become a back seat issue in
places who are more middle class, affluent, who feel like they have with
fairly decent health care issues. It`s creating a sense of collective
threat among women and politicizing women around reproductive rights. That
is sort of an interesting moment that is reaching across --
MELBER: That is one silver lining. I know Melissa is going to keep an eye
on this story.
And I want to thank Amy for joining us from Texas. And also thank Jordan,
Salamishah, Cristina and Raul.
Up next, the parents of Newtown. Six months later, the struggle still
continues. We`re going to be talking to the New York deputy mayor Howard
Wolfson. He`s working with Mayor Bloomberg on building a new gun safety
MELBER: Six months ago yesterday, Adam Lanza entered an elementary school
in Newtown, Connecticut, and opened fire, killing 20 school children and
six educators. The horror galvanized the political debate about guns
unlike any other event in recent history. And some states acted but in
Washington, nothing changed, despite passioned appeals from the White House
and the families of the Newtown victims, efforts in Washington to enact new
stricter gun control measures failed, of course, back in April.
But the very vocal families of Newtown are not giving up and it appears
their determination hasn`t waned one bit. Families took their plea to
President Obama and Vice President Biden on Thursday. They met with
representatives and senators this week, as well, including the two top
Republicans in the House, John Boehner and Eric Cantor, and they demanded
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am here today to remind Congress what happened to
my family, to remind them of what keeps happening in America. Five
thousand more Americans have died due to gun violence since December 14th,
and there still hasn`t been any federal action to protect us from gun
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: She`s right. Not one piece of federal legislation. New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a somewhat controversial plan to change that.
His man, Howard Wolfson, is here to explain. That`s next.
MELBER: A majority of senators voted for stricter background checks in
April. Despite that strong support however, Republicans forced a super
majority requirement and the bill ultimately died. Ninety-one percent of
the Senate Republican caucus opposed the bill, but now, it`s Democrats who
are facing some of the strongest attacks.
This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out with a tough and
somewhat unusual tactic. The billionaire is calling on New York`s
Democratic donors to cut off donations to the four Senate Democrats that
opposed the gun amendment.
Bloomberg says that cutting off their money supply in Gotham will make them
better on gun safety back home. As he told his donor allies on Wednesday,
"The next time these four senators want you to support them with donations
to their campaigns, tell them you cannot."
But why focus so much on Democrats when the numbers do show that Republican
senators were the biggest obstacle to reform? Is this three dimensional
chess or is it another case of elitist false equivalence?
We invited the senior member of the Bloomberg administration to walk
through the thinking, along with some other experts. Howard Wolfson is
deputy mayor of New York City and a former campaign aide to Hillary
Clinton. Errol Louis is a host of inside city hall and expert on New York
politic. Blake Zeff is news editor at "Salon", and a former aide to Barack
Obama and Hillary Clinton.
And it`s my honor to welcome Jackie Rowe-Adams to this conversation. She
founded Harlem Mothers Save after losing two of her sons to gun violence.
Thank you all for being here.
I want to start with you, Howard, because as we`ve said, it`s a very
important issue. Mayor Bloomberg has led on it for a while but as you know
he upset a lot of people this week, the first question being, in your view
and the mayor`s view, what percent of the problem is attributable to
Republicans in the gun safety debate in Washington?
HOWARD WOLFSON, NY DEPUTY MAYOR: Well, look, there`s no question the
Republicans bear significant responsibility for our failure to pass gun
laws. Having said that, it`s the Senate Democrats in charge of the Senate,
and we want to make sure that we hold every member accountable who casts
the wrong vote. Now, we have run ads against Republicans. Since the vote
we have run ads against two Republicans. We have run ads against a
And in New York where Democrats from around the country raise a very large
sum of their campaign money, we are urging donors not to give to those
Democrats until they switch their votes and do the right thing.
We are very much working towards another vote in the Senate. We believe
that is a real possibility. There was an article in "The Times" I think
yesterday or the day before, there are quiet conversations occurring
between the senators who voted the wrong way. Perhaps they`re going to
modify the bill somewhat. We haven`t seen what it would exactly look like.
But there`s a real possibility and a real hope for some progress here, and
we`re going to keep some people`s feet to the fire and hope they change
their votes and listen to their --
MELBER: I don`t think anyone is it against feet to the fire. I think
they`re talking about whether the fire is apportioned correctly or if you
and the mayor have your heart in the right place, whether you`re doing this
false equivalence thing and saying 91 percent of Republicans are
filibustering this, basically using the super majority to basically prevent
action. I want to put something up about what you said about this issue
You basically said in a "New Republic" article that got a lot of attention,
"The fact that a Republican would get elected is irrelevant to our cause.
On this issue a Republican would not be worse." I think that`s in spirit
with what you said today.
Let me put one other thing on the screen which is some criticism you got
from a progressive blog Daily Kos. We can put that up. What you`ll see
and you know Daily Kos, you remember them from the campaign.
WOLFSON: I do.
MELBER: "Given Republicans want even looser gun laws, Wolfson`s assessment
seems well off the mark." And this writer went on to say, basically, that
your strategy, Mayor Bloomberg`s strategy, is loser strategy. What do you
say to that?
WOLFSON: Well, when someone like Mark Pryor votes the wrong way on to
issue, I would say this to my friends on the left, what`s their measure of
accountability for them, continue to give them money, continue to give them
support, continue to basically hold them harmless and say it`s totally OK
if you vote the wrong way, there is no accountability?
Politics and elections are about accountability. If we can change some
votes, if can we persuade some people who voted the wrong way to vote the
right way -- Republicans and Democrats, let`s be clear, we`ve probably
spent more money running ads against Republicans and Democrats, but we`re
not going to walk away from holding Democrats accountable either.
MELBER: I want to bring in (INAUDIBLE). You say probably. Do you have
the numbers? It`s Republican more than Democrat. I don`t have the exact
figure but yes, we`ve spent more money against Republicans.
MELBER: And Bloomberg personally has donated a lot to Republicans which
confused people again because of the role they played. I want to bring in
Blake who`s written about this.
BLAKE ZEFF, SALON.COM: Sure. You know, look, the first thing I want to
say is that, actually, Mayor Bloomberg deserves to be commended because
he`s been talking about this issue for a long time, before it became cool
after Newtown. I mean, it really has, and he`s been working on this.
So, having said that, I do think this strategy is a bit of a half a loaf,
because, yes, Mark Pryor should pay for his vote, if you believe it`s bad.
He should pay for it. But if you`re not recruiting other candidates who
are better to run against him, you`ll end up with someone worse.
So, for example, Mark Pryor had this bad vote. He`s C minus lifetime from
the NRA. So, he`s usually not in the pockets of the NRA. However,
whichever Republican runs against him had will likely be an A-plus NRA
candidate, all the Republican candidates in Arkansas are.
So, you look at this. You can`t do it in a vacuum. You can`t just look at
Pryor and say, we`re going to show him a lesson. If you end up getting a
Republican who`s worse.
What I would love to see the mayor doing, in addition to going after people
like Pryor, is to get involved in some of this more movement building and
recruit people to run against these types.
MELBER: Let`s listen to Mark Pryor`s response since we`re talking about
this man that you guys are targeting. Let`s play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS: I`m committed to finding real solutions to
gun violence while protecting our Second Amendment rights. I`m Mark Pryor,
and I approve this message because no one from New York or Washington tells
me what to do. I listen to Arkansas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Well, if you listen to Arkansas on the Republican side, as Blake
mentions, the other Republican senator of Arkansas with A-rating has voted
to have national conceal and carry, voted to say these gun manufacturers
shouldn`t face lawsuits. It isn`t necessarily true you can ensure or
guarantee unless you want to guarantee that Mayor Bloomberg knows that the
replacement won`t be worse for the issue.
WOLFSON: I think in Arkansas the replacement might be worse on the issue.
That`s not the point.
The point is we have a senator sitting in the Senate now, he voted the
wrong way, he has the opportunity to take a look at the issue. Maybe
change his vote. Maybe vote differently on another similar bill.
What measures are we going to take to incentivize him to do that? Some of
my friends on the left apparently would say nothing. There are no measures
we can think --
MELBER: I want to bring in Jackie because you`re saying someone will say
nothing. What do you say, Jackie?
JACKIE ROWE-ADAMS, LOST TWO SONDS TO GUN VIOLENCE: What I say is, thank
you, Mayor Bloomberg, from speaking and taking the lead on gun violence.
But clearly this is a no-brainer. You target everyone. I know he`s saying
it`s Democrats. But it was Democrat/Republican.
And we cannot put our children`s lives and say it`s Democrat and
Republican. We are talking about our children lives, our babies. So,
every one of them should not be voted in again. And that`s where money
should be spent.
Harlem Mothers Save is on the phone every week calling these different
senators in the different states saying, do not put them back in office.
And that is key. We cannot allow them to think that they are being
separated from the others and they did a good job because they did not.
We want this bill passed. We want our background checks in place so we can
stop another child from losing their live, another mother from crying. And
not only children -- look, you`re crossing the street. Innocent people are
getting killed. So, we have a lot of work to do here.
ERROL LOUIS, NY1: I think if you`re going to play the NRA`s game, the NRA
is a single issue faction. They`re very good. They`re very organized.
They`re very focused. And so when they come after you with their grades
and their ratings and ads and so forth, they`re not asking about some
larger picture about -- oh, gee, what if a Democrat gets in because we`re
going against a conservative Republican.
They`re not playing that. They`re looking at a single issue. Mayors
Against Illegal Guns is doing the same things.
One thing about Senator Pryor`s ad I that I think is disingenuous that we
should make note of is that -- oh, I just listen to Arkansas. The polls
show he would have gotten more support for supporting background checks,
the bill in question that we`re talking about that he voted against was
very modest, sort of baby steps, included money for mental health. And all
of what he said was a reason he couldn`t do it is really not true. I mean,
something like 64 percent of Arkansas voters have said that they want
background checks. So he went the other way.
So this is New York, it`s money from New York and maybe some voices from
Harlem and voices from Washington saying, do what your constituents want.
And there`s sort of a clear political benefit to it.
MELBER: To what Jackie`s calling for, Blake, do you think is the right
strategy? How would you tweak it to try to put in Washington and spending
the sort of passion and energy that you`re bringing, which is you don`t
want people who are bad on this issue getting reelected.
ZEFF: That`s right. I totally agree. I`m thrilled that Mayor Bloomberg
is engaged in this. What I`m suggesting is, why don`t we go after these
senators and by the way members the House who have taken wrong votes and
recruit better candidates, candidates who are better on this issue so that
you`ll end -- we`ll end up -- this is a consensus we can come to here, is
if we can get rid of the bad senators and bad House members and recruit
better candidates as part of what we`re doing.
Don`t just kick Pryor out and get some who`s worse. That doesn`t help.
MELBER: You`re going to what comes in.
ZEFF: Yes, kick out Pryor and get a primary him or someone better -- a
better Democrat or he can find a Republican that`s better on the issue --
God bless, that`s great, too. But it doesn`t do us a lot of good to
replace Pryor with someone worse, maybe symbolically help legislation.
MELBER: Well, that`s important that also goes to Errol`s point about how
the NRA works. I want Harold`s response and we`ll do that after the break.
Up next, the NRA sets its sights on a former ally.
MELBER: One of the senators who met with Newtown victim families this week
was Senator Joe Manchin. And despite a lifetime "A" rating from the NRA,
which is not easy to get, the group has turned on him for supporting
Here`s their new ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AD NARRATOR: Remember this TV ad?
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I`m Joe Manchin, I approve this ad
because I`ll always defend West Virginia.
As your senator, I`ll protect our Second Amendment rights.
AD NARRATOR: That was Joe Manchin`s commitment. But now, Manchin is
working with President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Concerned? You should be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, first of all, that ad is disgusting because Manchin`s support
for common sense background checks don`t do anything against the Second
Amendment and there`s not a second amendment lawyer in the country who
could honestly claim otherwise.
What`s also interesting politically, Howard, is your boss, you deputy
mayor, the mayor figures into that ad, the backlash against Manchin. Is it
fair what the NRA is doing? And does your work do far enough to match them
as a mirror image, which is part "The New Republic" said you`re trying to
WOLFSON: Well, I think at the end of the day we have more than enough
resources to meet the NRA on the field and match them if not best them. So
I`m not worried about that.
I`m also not worried about Senator Manchin. This guy is a hero. He stood
up, did the right thing. His vote is supported by the majority of his
He is very popular. He`s going to be fine. He`s going to have all the
support that he needs. So, the NRA is going to go after him, but I think
he`s going to be standing tall.
ROWE-ADAMS: He did the right thing. The NRA is thinking in terms of their
guns and money. They`re making money off our kids losing their lives.
The NRA, they just don`t get it. And enough is enough with them. And I`m
proud when I hear Mayor Bloomberg stand up against them. I`m proud when we
all stand up against the NRA. I actually went face-to-face with LaPierre
when I went to St. Louis, Missouri.
And everything that`s on the table now, I said to LaPierre, I talked about
stand your own ground, how that`s not having a gun in your house, stand
your own ground is protecting your home, not being a vigilante. I talked
to him about background checks. I talked to him about micro-stamping. And
then, months later, the Newtown happened. And he still don`t get it.
And you know what he said? Oh, I`m so sorry, I`m going to work with your
organization, I don`t want lives taken.
So he lied. And this is the problem. So only thing I could come up with
is, you`re trying to make money continuously selling your guns and keeping
your name out there saying, don`t take our guns. We need to save lives.
We need to stop this senseless killing. And they need -- and I said to
him, join Mayor Bloomberg, join the president with legislation.
He said, oh, no, Bloomberg lets all the criminals out of jail.
MELBER: Wow, I mean, two thoughts on that. Number one, I would like to
see the footage of you educating him.
ROWE-ADAMS: Oh, yes. "Daily News" have it.
MELBER: And number two, you`re hitting on such an important policy point,
which is the NRA`s big agenda item before Newtown they got through was a
Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which only helped manufacturers avoid being
taken to court. Didn`t do a thing for gun owners.
So, I appreciate you`re raising that.
Errol, to go back to you. The point here isn`t that Bloomberg is bad.
Bloomberg is a net gain. But having said that, this is Mr. Stop and Frisk,
OK? This is a guy who works with Republicans whenever it works for him,
works with tough police practices that many of us feel are unconstitutional
before they`re racially discriminatory.
This is not a guy who we think should get a free pass because he dip noose
the debate. What we`re hearing here, what do you think he could do beyond
simply going on attack?
Blake is talking in our break about what why don`t you record, if you`re
serious about it, why don`t you recruit candidates?
LOUIS: This is a question that has come up with Mayor Bloomberg
repeatedly. He was asked when he ran for reelection in 2005, why are you
giving so much money to the very Republican Party whose members are pushing
in the wrong direction on gun control and a bunch of other issues you care
about? The mayor`s response has also been, I think Howard would agree with
this, is to say, look, if you like them on some issues you have to support
them. If you don`t like on others, you fight them.
MELBER: OK, Howard, I want to get your response.
WOLFSON: With all due respect, he`s given lots of money to Republicans in
the state Senate in Albany who by the way provided the votes to pass
governor Cuomo`s gun bill. So, I`m not sure about the criticism.
We are able to incentivize Republicans in this state to pass gay marriage
and to pass a comprehensive gun bill. If we`re doing that, yes, I plead
guilty to that. Absolutely.
ZEFF: Well, I mean, I will say this. I do think in some ways, Michael
Bloomberg is an ideal person to be behind this fight because he`s got lots
of money. He`s got political will.
He is in some ways imperfect because he`s got other passions. Guns aren`t
the only one. There`s also what he would call education reform, charter
schools. Also I would call it relaxing financial regulation, I don`t know
if Howard would call it that.
But as a result, that leads to endorsing Republicans. So, he endorsed
Scott Brown over Elizabeth Warren, for example. As Errol said, has often
endorsed state Senate Republicans who then blocked the microstamping bill
in the Senate.
So as a result, Bloomberg is a tricky messenger for this because it leads
him to often endorse Republicans. I mean, that does confuse --
MELBER: We`re out of time. We`re going to stay on this debate.
Blake, thank you for that. Jackie, thank you for the work you`re doing and
sharing with us. Howard, I appreciate coming and answering tough question
and we`ll make time again. And Errol, thank you for being here.
Up next, the runner making a difference for young victims of the Boston
bombings. A true foot soldier joins us here when we come back.
MELBER: About 19 years ago, Amy Palmiero-Winters suffers a major
motorcycle accident. She went through 27 surgeries and an amputation below
the knee. That hasn`t stopped Amy. In fact, she set the world record as
the fastest marathon runner with a below the knee amputation. She`s also
the first amputee to compete the 100-mile western state endurance run.
Are you impressed yet? Well, she was the first woman amputee to complete
the bad water ultra marathon. At 135 miles, I`d say that`s a pretty bad
And there`s more, Amy is the program director for a Step Ahead Prosthetics.
And she`s founded Amy`s One Step Ahead Foundation. A nonprofit
organization that serves children with physical disabilities.
Now, Amy is working on behalf of the four children who lost limbs in the
Boston marathon bombings so they can get access to the prosthetics they
need. And for that, Amy is our foot soldier this week. I`m thrilled to
have her in the studio, along with Izzy Botko, who is a below the knee
amputee and as a participant in Amy`s One Step Ahead Foundation.
Thank you both for being here.
AMY PALMIERO-WINTERS, BELOW-THE-KNEE AMPUTEE: Thanks for having us.
MELBER: Absolutely. Amy, tell me about what you`re doing.
PALMIERO-WINTERS: Well, what we`re doing is we`re basically bringing hope
and we`re trying to bring awareness to those who were affected in the
tragedy, just to let them know that nothing can stop you. Any obstacle can
MELBER: And you talked about athletics was important to you in your whole
life and when you dealt with, what was a setback, significant setback, it
didn`t really slow you down.
PALMIERO-WINTERS: Athletics is a huge part of, I know it`s a huge part of
my foundation what and it does is it just builds self-confident. So, when
you something happened in your life, it helps you move on because it gives
you goals to focus on.
And Izzy is prime example. She`s been out there doing her first triathlon,
doing amazing things, and you can see the pride within these athletes and
these young children because of sports.
MELBER: Izzy, what is Amy teaching you?
IZZY BOTKO, BELOW THE KNEE AMPUTEE: She helps me like when I was rashes,
she teaches me what to do, and she helps me with bike riding and running
and swimming and when I did the triathlon, she helped me with that too.
MELBER: Now, I`ve never done a single marathon yet alone the triathlon.
So, what happens? How many different steps are there and what`s your
BOTKO: I like the swimming part. You do swimming, biking and running. My
brother did it with me when I did it, so that was fun.
The swimming part is the most fun because you get to like, I love to swim.
MELBER: That`s great. Yes.
And, Amy, when you saw these images in the Boston attacks you could see
that people would be dealing with this from this terrible accident. What
went through your mind and how did that pull you into helping with the
PALMIERO-WINTERS: What immediately goes through my mind is t promote
awareness and give education. The most amount of education you can get out
there to let those affected know it didn`t have to be that bad.
Losing part of your limb or losing a part of your body is not who you are.
It`s a piece of you.
It`s just like everybody else. You get up in the morning and you put your
honor glasses. Well, we get up in the morning and we put on our
prosthetics. We`re just like everybody else. We just wear prosthetics.
MELBER: There`s another thing you said striking. Forgive me if I
paraphrase it wrong, but something to the effect that you felt when you
were worried about saying, oh, you know, my ankle hurts, but, you know,
other people don`t have an ankle. Tell me about that spirit because that`s
kind of amazing to me.
PALMIERO-WINTERS: Well, it`s the type of situation where you can have
something happen to you and you can feel like it`s the worst thing. But if
you really think about it, there are others who experience so much more
tragic events than something like that.
And so, if you just take a moment, take a step back and realize maybe it`s
not so bad and get up and keep moving forward. I was in race and I was
very early on in the 50 mile race and I twisted my ankle. And my thought
was, you know, there`s a lot of little kids waiting at the finish line for
me and they don`t have ankles so for me to complain about something like
that is nonexistent.
MELBER: Wow. Well, thank you, Amy and Izzy, for spending time with me.
You are out foot soldiers of the week and we are proud of it.
That`s it for our show today. I want to thank you at home for watching.
I`ll see you tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Nerdland regulars
Kenji Yoshino and Jelani Cobb will be here as well, and some other people
that I`m excited about. We`re going to look at Supreme Court issues that
will alter the civil rights laws we have here in America.
Now, it`s time for a preview of "WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT" -- Alex.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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