I’m Ezra Klein and this is “The Ezra Klein Show.” [MUSIC PLAYING]
I’ve got a rule. You always want to read the politicians books. This is actually a rare view. Campaign books are thought to be pablum, where politicians just give you cliches trying to get elected, or trying to get more power. And that’s not wrong. But I actually think it’s valuable. How people want to be seen by the world is an important part of their identity. It’s an important part of what drives them. It helps you understand not just how they think, but how they try to think. Our aspirational selves are also an important part of ourselves. So in preparing for this podcast with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, I picked up his 2007 book “Positively American.” And this is a weird book. It was not as boring as I thought, by the way. He wrote it right after leading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2006, which is the year Democrats took back the Senate. So, he was a hot stock then. He was a Democrat who knew how to win. But then he writes this book where he basically says to the Democratic Party, you don’t know how to win because you don’t know how to talk to Joe and Eileen Bailey, this imaginary middle class couple Chuck Schumer dreamed up, who he spends basically the whole book in conversation with. I’m going to let Senator Schumer explain the politics and the construct of Joe and Eileen Bailey to you. But what I’ll say about them and him is this, today, Schumer is Senate Majority Leader. He’s got 50 votes in the Senate, not a single vote to spare. If he loses Joe Manchin on the right or he loses Bernie Sanders on the left, the bill dies. But so far his caucus has hung together pretty well. Whether that can continue is one challenge. But, then, whether they can avoid what typically happens in the midterms in 2022 and lose a seat, or many seats, is the bigger challenge. They need to keep the majority and they have no margin of error. They actually need to defy history and win seats, or at least hold them, in 2022. And so the case Schumer is making to his members about how he’ll do that, the case you’ll hear him make here, is that he’s got a theory of politics that will work. And that theory of politics is not complicated. It means convincing voters who are open to Democrats, but not supportive of them, that under Democrats, government actually helps them. But what is interesting about this is that, as he imagines these voters, the Baileys for him, today, compared to where they all were 15 years ago, what has changed is that the Democratic Party and politicians like Schumer they really worry that the government will be seen as doing too much, and too much for the wrong people. That was the big concern, the big ideological structure, in which Democrats made policy in 2006. And, today, that is not the concern. The concern is that Democrats will not be seen as doing enough for anyone. And that’s really changed the way they legislate. That is why Schumer and Biden and the 50 Senate Democrats are thinking so big this year. It is not rocket science to say that your political strategy is government should to deliver for your voters. But in the Senate, it’s actually really hard to do because of the filibuster, because of the structure, because of the committees, all of it. So to get 50 votes to change the Senate, or to get your whole caucus to govern in a partisan way, to use budget reconciliation, to stretch the rules, that’s really hard. To get Joe Biden to push his executive authority as far as he can and cancel $50,000 in student debt, which is a cause Schumer has adopted, that is really hard. So, Schumer is now on this campaign, with a pretty powerful platform, to get the Democratic Party to do more, to go bigger, because his argument that is the only way you will keep these voters. You have to convince them, the government is working for them. And to do that government has to actually pass bills. And the center of where it fails to do that is the Senate, the very institution Schumer is leading. So, it’s a complicated position he’s in. And we talk about it here. As always, my email is email@example.com Here’s Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer. [MUSIC PLAYING] Tell me about Joe and Eileen Bailey.
Joe and Eileen Bailey were a fictional couple that I kept in my head pretty much throughout my career. I come from a middle class background, working class, my father was an exterminator at this small, little, unsuccessful business. But I always had empathy for people in the working class. And Joe and Eileen Bailey were sort of a construct to bounce things off of. How would Joe and Eileen feel about this or that. And they were sort of real people to me, when I wrote a book about them. People made fun of me that I had imaginary friends, but they were helpful. I haven’t thought of them that much lately except that the world has changed for them and I’ve thought about that a lot. But he’s an insurance salesman, she worked in a medical office, they had three kids. And they were your typical middle class people and right in the middle of the road. They voted for Clinton. And then they voted for Bush. They’re not a member of one party or another, they’re independent. And, you know, they’re just trying to have a decent life for themselves. And, so, I would ask myself, how would the Baileys feel about this? How would the Baileys feel about that?
Did they vote for Donald Trump?
Both of them did in 2016. Joe Bailey still did in 2020 with misgivings. But she didn’t.
Have their views changed for you, over the past 15 years? And I’m asking this because I want to know how your views of the average voter have changed, over the past 15 years?
Joe and Eileen Bailey in 2000 were pretty optimistic about their future and pretty happy with their lives. And in the last 20 years, Joe and Eileen Bailey worry about many more things. If you ask Joe and Eileen, or the average middle class person, working class person, someone trying to get there, what’s the American Dream? They’d put it in sort of very simple terms. They’d say it means, if I work hard, I’ll be doing better 10 years from now than I’m doing today and my kids will be doing still better than me. That American Dream burns much more brightly back in 2000 than it does today. And that is why they were willing to try a Donald Trump. They had thought that government had failed them and not done — now what has changed? Well, in 2000 they were much less worried about their kids future, paying for college, what kind of job they’d have, what kind of profession they would go into. In 2000, they were much less worried about their parents who weren’t that old and how they were going to take care of them. In 2000, they were less worried about their own job security. The world is changing so fast that they’ve seen lots of their friends laid off, medical office closed, insurance company not doing that well, or there’s a new line of insurance. The sunny American optimism, which the average person has had for centuries in America, was fading. And that is the reason. I mean, I asked myself the question, it was a seminal moment for me, why did the Baileys vote for Donald Trump in 2016? Why did so many Americans vote for Donald Trump in 2016 and even still in 2020? And my answer was sort of simple. And that was that they lost faith that the path that had always been laid forward was there any more. And, so, when people lose that kind of faith, they can turn to a demagogue, they can turn to someone who blames, they can turn to somebody who is just pointing fingers, as opposed to having a constructive solution, because they lost some faith in the constructive solutions.
In your book, the argument you make is that these voters they want help from the government, but they’re socially traditionalist. And they’re pretty open to the idea that government helps everyone but them and that liberals are cultural elites who look down on them. And that politics of cultural resentment has only gotten stronger since then. Is that still something that the Democratic Party struggles with?
Yes, but here’s something that has also changed. They now much more feel they need the government’s help or some help to straighten out their lives. I’ve always believed the strong suit for the Democratic Party has always been what we believe in. We believe government is there to help people, help them economically with their ability to, as I said, believe that 10 years from now they’ll be doing better than they’re doing today, and their kids will do still better than them. That’s our strength. That’s what we have to play to. We’re not very good at the cultural bashing that the Republicans are, but I feel that the Republican path is a diminishing path, particularly in this world of rapid change where people want help.
One of the place Democrats seem to me to have changed, under your leadership partly, is that there used to be a real fear that they would turn off voters like that through the politics of big price tags, that there was a fear of being seen as fiscally irresponsible, that meant that bills got cut down and then you didn’t help these voters, who maybe made $75,000 a year and needed some help but weren’t actually under the poverty line. And now there seems to be much more of a willingness to go big in order to help voters like that because now they’re seen as needing a different kind of aid. Is that a shift you think is fairly put?
Absolutely, and it comes from the fact that the world has changed and the Baileys feel they need more help in so many different ways. For instance, we had a big argument, in our caucus, about the checks. Should they just go to people who made below 30,000? Or they should go well into the middle class? And most of the caucus ended up believing they should go to the middle class, and they’ve been hugely successful at showing the Baileys, at showing the average person that government could actually do something for them. And remember, during COVID they need this help. They have more expenses, even if they kept their jobs, and a lot of people either lost jobs or lost salaries keeping their jobs, but they had more expenses for transportation. They had more expenses for child care. They had more expenses for school. So, the Baileys themselves, these fictional Baileys, are much more willing to accept help, much more feel the need for help. And they feel sort of more adrift and they need something to help them. So they’re much more looking at helping themselves rather than their tax dollars going to somebody else.
How have your political opinions changed in this period? I mean you watch the rise of Donald Trump. You watched him lose. He saw the capital insurrection. What has changed in not Chuck Schumer’s imaginary friends politics, but your politics?
On January 6th, at 4:00 AM, I came to realize we were going to take back the majority. Warnock had been declared the winner and our numbers show that Ossoff would shortly there be. My first reaction, of course, is one of immediate joy. But the second emotion I had crept up on me very quickly and I had to find the right word for it. The word was “awe,” but not “awe” in the sense my daughters would use it, that movie was awesome, “awe” in a sort of biblical sense, the angels, when they looked at the face of God, they trembled in awe. And it hit me hard, how the deep responsibility is on the shoulders of our Democratic majority, however slim. And we had three imperatives, one was substantive, dealing with income, dealing with climate, dealing with college, dealing with jobs, dealing with the future, and make it OK. The second was a political imperative, so many people said, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who I vote for. We had the opportunity to show people that when they voted for us it would make a difference, that we would do the things we promised, most notably checks, vaccines in the arm, opening up schools, opening up businesses. But the third was almost moral, and I felt that, if we didn’t produce the kind of bold progressive change that would turn that pessimism we talked about, that sourness in the land, back to some hope — no one expected us to snap our fingers and make it all better at once, but they expected a real path — that we could either re-elect Donald Trump in 2024 or someone worse, a dictator, somebody who would just manipulate people because they didn’t have some hope for the future. So, those were the three imperatives. And that’s what motivates me. I feel we need big, bold change and 10, 15 years ago I didn’t feel we needed that much change, the society was different. And the people I represented needed less — my job is to help them, they need more help now.
How much does the filibuster and, thus, the difficulty of passing legislation through the Senate, keep those people, the Baileys, their real life counterparts, from feeling, and actually being helped, feeling like government helps them, but actually being helped by government?
I mean, obviously I’ve thought long and hard about this. And let me say a few things about it. First, these things are hard. Passing big comprehensive legislation, whether it be Build Back Better in whatever form, S1 is very comprehensive in broad legislation, is difficult. And, so, there’s no set path. But what’s key, in getting this done, is Democratic unity, us sticking together. And we’ve done that in the past. We had three important challenges in this last 100 days, which we’re concluding this week, which we’ve stuck together on. One, impeachment, every Democrat voted to convict the president. Two, the president’s cabinet, with the unfortunate exception that we didn’t get Neera Tanden, and we got every one of the president’s cabinet people in. And, third, the ARP So, when we have unity and the ARP has helped even foster more of that unity because people go home to their states and everyone is happy with the ARP even Republicans. I go to upstate New York, which is very Republican, and local restaurateurs, I’m a Republican, but thank God you did this. So that’s key. Our caucus is a big, diverse caucus as you know. There are some members of our caucus who really believe fervently in bipartisanship, they believe that bipartisanship must be the way to go. Now, we’d all prefer bipartisanship, but for some of my colleagues it’s a very high value and they want us to make an attempt to even pass big, bold legislation like the American Jobs Plan or American Family Plan or S1 in a bipartisan way.
S1 being the For the People Act.
Yes, S1 is the For the People Act. I named it S1, just like HR1, because it’s so damn important. So, take S1, I will put that on the floor and we will see where our Republican colleagues come down. And in the meantime, we’ll mark it up in committee, will see if any Republicans are willing to engage in constructive changes, not just to destroy it, but to make constructive change — I’ve encouraged many of our more moderate members to go talk to Republicans — and, then, see if they will go with us. If they don’t, our caucus will have to come together. And the caucus is an amazing thing. I have a leadership team of 12 Democrats. We meet every Monday night, that we discussed the whole week and where to go. Who’s on that team? Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Joe Manchin and Mark Warner. And I ask three things of that team, as I asked for my whole caucus. One, we treat each other with respect, we don’t castigate motivation’s, oh, you’re doing this because you are a coward, or, oh, you’re doing this because you’re bored off. Two, we walk in the other person’s shoes, West Virginia is not New York. And, three, we realize at the end of the day we’re nothing without our unity and that will happen if S1— let’s just use that as an example, very important — doesn’t get Republican votes. And the caucus is sort of an organic process. I cannot predict to you today this person will say this and that person will react that way etc. It’s an organic, almost mystical, process and every time we’ve had that caucus, so far, we’ve produced unity. Are there guarantees, no. But am I hopeful and optimistic that we will produce the right solution, yes.
So, there are two levels of unity you’re talking about here. And let’s hold on For the People Act for a minute. One is do Democrats support the For the People Act, with some possible changes that come through markup? And the second, if things go as I think virtually everybody expects they will, that you cannot find 10 Republican votes for the For the People Act whether or not there would either be some change made to the filibuster or an exemption made for democracy-promoting bills in the filibuster that could allow it to go forward. And the first kind of unity, unity on SR1, seems pretty likely to me as an observer. And, then, some of your members, like Manchin, have been very — and Senator Sinema — have been very, very outspoken, they will not make an alteration to the filibuster for anything. So where does that leave you?
Well, they want us to work in a bipartisan way. Well, what happens when the bipartisan way doesn’t work, if it doesn’t? Then, the choice is starker and we have to see how that evolves, as I said, in the past when that has happened we’ve stuck together and produced a good result. [MUSIC PLAYING]
Let me ask you about the experience of the Senate right now because as somebody who has covered it for, less time than you’ve been in it, but for a minute now, it seems strange. Budget reconciliation is this path by which policies, a tax and spend, can go forward with 51 votes. But other things that don’t have that character to them, immigration reform, gun control, SR1 and the sort of democracy-promoting initiatives in it, can’t. And, so, it seems to me, from the outside, the Senate agenda ends up very tilted towards a certain kind of policy mechanism, taxing and spending, in a way that just obviously is going to pull majorities towards focusing on those issues, but, of course, there are a lot of other issues that need to be focused on. It seems to me like a very strange place for the rules of the Senate to have come to rest. And I’m curious, as you’ve watched it happen, what your reflections are on that?
My reflections are that, yes, you’re right it’s come to a strange place, reconciliation, when it started out, was never intended to be used the way it was but now it is. And, frankly, the kinds of things in the ARP and in the Build Back Better, which are money oriented, are very, very important. Let’s not gainsay and say, they are not. That doesn’t mean it covers everything. But, again, the process that I outlined for S1 is a process that, I think, could very well cause the Senate to evolve. Here’s an interesting point, Ezra, 60% of the Republican voters supported ARP. A large percentage of the Republican voters will support things in the Build Back Better, whether it’s infrastructure, or climate, or health care, or family leave, or child care, or things like that. So, the public is in support. But the Republican senators and the Republican congressmen, there’s a huge dichotomy for two words, the explanations is two words, Donald Trump. He controls the Republican primaries, he controls the media, he controls the money, and he controls the voters because not everyone votes and they tend to be more extreme. I think, as we go through this, that’s going to become apparent. Now, let’s just take Senator X from a reddish, purplish state. He or she goes home and they experience something that’s a little different than maybe I would experience in Brooklyn, New York. Loads of their constituents — but not just constituents — their neighbors, the drugstore owner, the teachers are Republican, they’re not bad people, these are their friends. Why can’t you be bipartisan? Why can’t you work together in a bipartisan way? I hear that all the time when I go outside my own realm of Brooklyn and travel large parts of New York state. These are good people. And, so, there’s a real desire on some of my members to try everything they can to preserve that bipartisanship. They believe it’s very, very important for the future of the country. But, as this dichotomy becomes clearer and clearer and the only way to make it crystal clear is put bills on the floor, I’m going to put not just this one, but I am, for instance, going to put HR8 on the floor— background checks— you know, when El Paso happened, McConnell said, we’ll have a debate and we’ll vote, of course we never did. Now everyone’s going to be forced to debate and vote. Some of these Republican senators may move over on an issue like that because particularly suburban women are very much on the side of the universal background checks, that’s what HR8 is. But even if not, it’s going to show that dichotomy and that may change the way people think.
Let me ask about the role bipartisanship plays because you’ve talked about the degree to which it is a value for your members. And I’ve been think about this because I’ve been talking to your members in preparation to talk to you, and it got me thinking how in parliamentary systems, in other political systems, the idea that the opposition party will oppose is normal. The idea the governing party is not going to have a bunch of votes from the other side is normal, just how the system works, sometimes you get cooperation. But it’s not a problem if what you have is conflict. Politics is supposed to be a debate between competing ideas and then these ideas are reconciled through subsequent elections not through internal legislation and compromise. Do you think there’s anything to recommend that model, that we’ve put too much weight on bipartisanship as an idea in a polarized time?
Well, the polarization in this country has been somewhat more recent. The beginning of it that I really saw in a deep way — it had built up before that, don’t get me wrong — but was in 2010 when the Tea Party became dominant and it stayed that way for a decade. And I am willing to give our system a chance to work and maybe change, as you know I’ve said everything is on the table, I’ve said that repeatedly, in how we operate the Senate. But if it doesn’t, and it gets stuck, and we can’t produce things — I worry about the future of our democracy — but I think more people would entertain that change. I think this is a seminal year. A, we had COVID, which showed the need for bold government action to get us out. The private sector failed, individuals — as much as they wanted to help, and there’s so many valiant stories of individuals helping — but no one could get us out of the ditch but government. And I’ve always believed, Ezra, that the fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans is the view of government. We believe government is a positive force that must do good, now even bigger and bolder than ever is how I feel, in my belly. But always, we believed it was a force for good. And they basically believed, you know, what Ronald Reagan said, government’s not part of the solution, it’s part of the problem. We, now, have a unique moment because of COVID and because of all the changes we have talked about, the technological changes, the globalization changes, where the “Baileys,” quote unquote, want to see a more active government. That’s a test. And that test will then have its warps and weaves, you talked a lot about the filibuster, but the ultimate way we’ll be graded on the test is what we produce, what we produce! And we’ll know a lot more in six months. I can tell you this, I am going to do everything I can to get the biggest, boldest change we can because I think the people I represent depend on it, my party depends on it, but, most of all, the future of my country depends on it.
Let me ask you about the role of democracy and the Republican Party. We’ve talked a bit about polarization. But there’s polarization and there’s radicalization. And one thing that seems true to me is that radicalization in the Republican Party is to a large degree a function of them being insulated from democracy. If the candidate who had won the popular vote in 2016 had won the election, Donald Trump would have lost and Trump’s I think supporters would have been under pressure for losing a winnable election. In the Senate, Republicans have a lot more Senate votes than they have if you were just looking at the Senate popular vote. Does the actual direct promotion of democracy bring things a little bit more in line with popular vote have to be more of a Democratic strategy for preserving the political system?
Well, you know, again, I go back, I guess I’m an economic fundamentalist. I think the best way to preserve this system is give people more hope, in every way, in the future, but particularly economically. I mean, the internet, so much happens and there’s so much information that worries people too. I don’t know the exact solution. I’ve asked many people, everyone wants to change Section 230, but no one has given me a good answer for how to change 230. But we know how to do the economic things. But, what I’d say to you, I read your interview. I forgot her last name. It was a Republican pollster. I think her first name was Kristen.
Kristen Soltis Anderson.
Yeah. And she did talk about the radicalization and the insularity of the Republican Party. But here’s what I think is not part of that and I’m a perpetual optimist. I wouldn’t be in this job, if I didn’t believe in optimism. I wouldn’t be in this job, if I didn’t have faith that somehow justice prevails if you work at it. But, actually, I think politically speaking, there is 10 percent to 15 percent the electorate, the less hard line of the Republicans, who are going to be turned off by all this. They’re going to be turned off and, particularly, if there’s a place to go, which is a Democratic Party that’s unified and that does things for people. But I do think that they’re leaving out a whole lot of people right now by going this way.
For the economic fundamentals argument, there are a lot of policies under consideration that throw the long ball, right? Going to build a battery charging infrastructure for the future, that’s important. You got 2022 coming up, if you lose one vote in the election, you lose the majority. So what policies do you think will change people’s economic circumstances fast enough to help Democrats hold or even gain seats then? What will matter to them by 2022?
Well, first, again, as I said, they don’t expect us to push a button and make all the problems go away. But let me give you an example where I’m at loggerheads with Joe Biden, which reminds me of the checks, which is Elizabeth Warren and I have proposed that $50,000 of student debt be forgiven. There are huge numbers of people this affects. It’s the same argument as the checks. Do you help middle class people who are in this bind? And I say, yes, as well as poor people. It also has a racial equity component because so many African-Americans first time in college got taken advantage of by these despicable for-profit colleges and other people. But that would immediately make a huge difference. It’s like the checks but even bigger and longer. I do think the child care, the EITC and the CTC, and we arranged it so it affected people. One of the great problems in 2009 and 2010 was no one knew what we did. And infrastructure takes a while for it to happen. So, what we decided in the EITC and particularly the child tax credit is give it out every month as a certain amount, rather than it comes at the end of the year in your taxes or whatever. Now, that’ll go a whole year, we’d like to extend it and make it permanently. That’s a huge difference to people. And we should make sure we let people know that. They know we did the checks. They know we did the vaccines. This is going to happen in July and I’m urging the Biden administration and some of our outside folks, we got to make a campaign of this in June. Here’s what’s coming, here’s what Democrats did. And that’s a lot of money. If you’re a Postal worker, making $50,000, a single mom, and you’ll have two kids, that’s a godsend for you. So, that will make a difference. There a good number of programs that can make an immediate difference. If we can help fund child care agencies, again, the world has changed for the Baileys.
I want to zoom in on the student loan debt because that’s a big place where I think the politics, as Democrats envision them around the Baileys, have changed. When I think back the Democratic Party of 20 years ago, of 15 years ago, there was an obsession with the idea that voters were worried about the wrong people being helped, right? You cancel student loan debt, and while I paid for my college, I paid for my student loans, and how dare somebody else get something? And it seems to me there’s actually less of a belief that people’s votes are driven by resentment of what other people get now and it’s more about what can they get and are they actually being helped?
It’s because when you’re hurting more. If you feel you’re OK, don’t take away what I got and give it to someone else. If you feel you’re not OK, or not so OK, help me. I don’t care about everybody else. That’s the bottom line, that’s how people think and operate and there’s nothing wrong with that.
When you tell the Biden administration cancel the debt, what do they tell you?
Well, Elizabeth Warren, who’s my great partner in this, we’ve met with them. And we keep pounding them and they haven’t said no. Now, their first reason was it’s not legally allowed. That’s really not true. If you can forgive interest — remember 93% of them are either federal loans or federally guaranteed loans — so, if you can forgive interest, which we’re doing now, and you could forgive loans to certain people doing public service, you can forgive it for any one you want. It’s the same legal basis, number one. Then, number two, they said, well, it’s not going to really work because when you forgive debt it’s taxed. So, it’s true. You have 20,000 in debt, that’s forgiven and you’re in a 33 percent tax bracket, you’re going to pay $6,333 in taxes. OK, so we wrote in the law — I made sure with Elizabeth and Bob Menendez — to put in this ARP bill that you can’t be taxed on loans that are forgiven. And we’re pushing them. And we’re asking people to write and to call. And we’ve said it, I love Joe Biden. I come from a similar background as his, I’m working class. We think in sort of similar ways. Our politics have moved over to be bigger and bolder sort of in the same way kind of thing. But on this one, I try to be friendly, but I’ve said we’re going to keep hammering away at this. And he says, that’s OK, go ahead, to his credit. So, maybe, they’ll do it.
One of the things that goes on in your discussion of the Bailey is that there is a concern by them at that time about flag burning, about pornography, about cultural issues where they feel the Democratic Party is too permissive. There is a lot of the same debates, but on new issues now. There are also I think pretty important debates about race and racial equity, about gender. Do you think you are able to move people along on those issues or do you think that the majority requires avoiding them?
I think we can move people along on those issues. I am so heartened by the young people. Just look at how the world has changed. I went to James Madison High School, a working class high school, in Southern Brooklyn. You know how many people of color there were in my 5,000 students at James Madison High School? I don’t think any. OK? Even my class at Harvard had very few African-American. My kids, at each of their weddings, my daughter and son-in-law, and then my daughter and daughter-in-law, was like the United Nations, not like a wedding 30 years ago. So, the kids are much more — and I don’t mean just kids, I think 35, 40 — this is a long term benefit of integrating the schools and integrating our society. The old generation didn’t have much contact, so, stereotypes could play much more — and people who preyed on, this like are awful Republican friends, they get me so f-ing mad when they do this racist stuff, it just kills me. But in any case, it doesn’t work with these kids. So, no, I think there’s a certain hardcore we’re not going to win. We can’t cater to those people. But there’s those people in the middle I mentioned, the 10% to 15% that matter. And let’s face it, there have been repeals to racism in the Republican Party, that wonderful George H. W. Bush who everyone says, and I agree, was a nice man, he had Willie Horton. Ronald Reagan had welfare-queens. I think it means much less for two reasons because our society is evolving in a good direction and integration, and affirmative action, and all these things which I support, are changing people’s minds bit by bit. And second, as we go back to the old saw, when you are hurting economically, blaming somebody else means much less to you.
Derek Chauvin was convicted. That mattered. But it’s not a systemic response. Is there legislation here that should be done?
Yes. OK, there is the Justice and Policing Act, in fact, as leader, I was minority leader then but now Majority Leader, I asked Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to put together some really strong legislation. We came up with the Justice and Policing Act, which Ben Crump, the lawyer for George Floyd and for many of these other cases helped advise it. We feel very strongly that should pass and I’ve said, that’s another bill, will put on the floor period. I have the power. McConnell would never dare put these on the floor, but I am. And right as we speak, I just had an hour meeting with him yesterday, Cory Booker is sitting down with Senator Tim Scott to try and get a bipartisan solution. It’s got to be a strong solution. Last year they came up with a bill that was so weak that we all felt it was better to do nothing than let them say they did something, when nothing is being done, as you said it’s systemic bias in law enforcement, is very deep and very real. But they’re making good progress. And we might, underline might, see in a few weeks a bipartisan bill that’s quite strong.
Criminal justice is one of the areas in the Trump organization where there was bipartisan support until the First Step Act. There are some glimmers of it here. Are there some other issues like that? For instance, you’re a sponsor, in fact, on the Endless Frontiers Act which is $100 billion for research and science and does have bipartisan support. Can that pass?
Yes, that will. What I’m trying to do is put on the floor initially the parts of the American Jobs Plan and the American Family Plan that might pass in a bipartisan way. Today, we’re debating the water bill. Now it passed out of that committee unanimously, but it did a lot of good things that the progressive environmental community is supporting because it does a lot of things about lead and things like that. So, I’m going to put that on the floor and it’ll pass. I’m going to put the American Competitiveness Act — and we have to, this is more jobs, this is for the future, this won’t answer your question for immediate return, but we have to think of the longer term, as well as the shorter. But when we stopped investing in science, we’re going to hurt job creation four or five years down the road. So, this is a big investment in science. That has now six Democratic and six Republican sponsors. I’m the lead sponsor of the Democrats, Todd Young, Republican of Indiana. That’s going to pass. We might be able to put some of the traditional infrastructure parts of the bill on the floor. They may not have clean cars, but we would add that, if we had to, in reconciliation. So, I’m trying, in this month and next month, to do two things. Number one, put some bipartisan things on the floor that show the Republicans but my colleagues as well that we mean we’re serious that we want to do bipartisanship when we can. But second, we’re also going to put on the floor some of the things that don’t have bipartisan support. And we’ll see where our Republican colleagues stand. Will we get any of their votes? Will we get some? Will they ask to modify it in a constructive way or will they just do “gotcha” amendments? That’s what we’re trying to do in May and June and then we’ll have to move forward because two of the most important things we have to pass, as you know I’ve said failure is not an option, is S1 and the American Jobs Plan. [MUSIC PLAYING]
You’ve talked about the pretty big leadership team you have, which stretches from Bernie Sanders on the left to Joe Manchin on the right. So, what’s something you’ve learned from Bernie Sanders that have changed the way you think and what’s being learned from Joe Manchin that has changed the way you think?
Bernie and I always got along. We’re both James Madison High School graduates. I tell the story he was president of the track team, they won the city championship. I was on the basketball team, our motto was we may be small, but we’re slow. But in any case, we’ve always believed to be pro government. But I think some of the bigness and boldness — and Bernie, this I learned from Bernie from the checks — Bernie was for the checks. He said, this is going to make a difference in people’s hands, they need the money. And sometimes we get too mired, let’s have a governmental program. But it’s just what you asked before, it’s not money in people’s pockets. So, Bernie has a great feel for working people and what they need and what they want and I spend a lot of time talking to them and working with them. On reconciliation in the ARP we were like this, we were a total team. What I’ve learned from Joe Manchin is that, when people say they want bipartisanship — he comes from a state that’s 70 percent Trump — but it’s not just a fake. I mean, I may disagree with how far it’ll take you, but they really mean it. And you’ve got to respect that and work with it. And that’s what we’re trying to do here.
How do you get more Joe Manchins? Because he’s actually doing something pretty important for the Democratic majority, holding a Democratic seat in West Virginia. There’s been a lot of geographic polarization. How do you get more red state Senate Democrats?
OK, it’s a little different than the question, but how do we get more Democrats from other states that we normally wouldn’t win? Georgia was a real revelation to me. And someone I learned so much from is Stacey Abrams, who by the way I tried to get to run for the Senate and she said to me, I’m not going to run but there’s someone as good as me. I said, who is that? Raphael Warnock and there he is. He is good, he is as good as she is, I think. But in any case, between November, presidential, and the runoff, we did tremendous knocking but we talked about things that matter to people, just what we were saying before, the checks above all, but also the vaccines, and getting rid of COVID. And it wasn’t we who did. Stacey did it, and there’s eight groups out there that were fabulous. We can mobilize our base vote much better than we ever did. And, so, we’ve done it fairly successfully with the Hispanic vote — or it’s been done, I don’t want to take all the credit myself — it’s been done in the West and, if you look at, we now have a majority of states west of the Rockies, of course, it includes the coastal states, where there are two Democrats. But, right now, Arizona has two Democrats, New Mexico has two Democrats, Colorado has two Democrats, Nevada has two Democrats. With the Hispanic vote in those areas we were much more successful than they were in Texas and in Florida. So mobilizing the base on issues that really matter to them and say, we’re going to produce, particularly if we do some producing this time, could pick up some states that we never thought we could win. North Carolina is an obvious one, but South Carolina and, look — I mean, this is maybe not in two years, but who knows. Mississippi, 38% of the vote is African-American, if we could get that vote up a little bit and then Jackson becomes a little more moderate because the people are moving in from tech and other jobs, I wouldn’t cross that off the map. So, I think that we can pick up new seats, but it’s a different model than in the past. And it’s not just TV ads, which are becoming less and less effective, I think.
How is Joe Manchin able to do it, though? I do want to hold on that original question for a minute because he can’t just mobilize the base, he has to get ticket splitters.
Some of the programs in ARP are very good for West Virginia. In fact, statistically West Virginia might benefit more than just about any other state because it has so many poor people. And Joe Manchin really cares about certain things. Rural hospitals, and we put a good amount of rural hospitals, which was the right thing to do. We had a plan, by the way, called a better deal. It was ridiculed because of its name, but it was a trillion infrastructure, monopoly break up the big businesses. We proposed in there every home should get broadband. First, there’s a great coalition, who doesn’t get broadband? Rural and inner city. At the New York Public Library, when they closed at 6 o’clock in the poor neighborhoods, the kids who are almost all people of color, large number of immigrants, they come out of the library and they sit against the walls and on the steps, even in the winter, to get the bleed from the Wi-Fi because they don’t have it at home. And they’re not playing video games. They’re studying. They’re working. So, you have the coalition of the rural people and the inner city people. One of the things we’re proposing, that we proposed in 2017 and now, is that every home get broadband. Franklin Roosevelt said every home should get electricity in the 1930s because it was a necessity, now broadband is a necessity. And that will help win us rural voters, rural hospitals will help us. And, if we do a massive infrastructure bill, you know we’re proposing that about 40% of the jobs, millions of new jobs, go to low wage people, to people who have gotten out of prison, people who were working part time and that’s going to benefit some of these states, particularly where there are a lot of people who, right now, vote Republican. But I think they vote Republican because they think nobody’s helped them and the Democrats haven’t helped them. And we can change that.
Our final question on the show is always what are three books that have influenced you, that you would recommend to the audience. And I’d like to hear that from you.
I’ll give you three books I like, two of which people probably haven’t read. But the first one they have is “Grant.” I love that book, Ulysses Grant, and I got to meet Chernow, the author, he’s from Brooklyn. And I said to him, I never read a book that changed my view of the man as much as this book did. A second book is called “Freedom” by William Safire. And he writes how Abraham Lincoln came to write the Emancipation Proclamation. And it’s historical fiction, in other words, when he says, Lincoln said this to Seward, it’s not exactly documented. But he has something that’s fascinating, called the under-book. And here’s why I said Seward would say this to Lincoln, it’s fascinating. That’s a book that I love. And just because I’m a New Yorker, I just love “The Power Broker” and how Robert Moses assembled all this power and stuff. And I would recommend those books to people because they’re not right on people’s lips — “Grant” is, but the other two were not right on people’s fingertips. “Freedom” is an amazing book and I always wonder why it never got the attention that it did.
Senator Chuck Schumer, thank you very much.
Nice to talk to you. [MUSIC PLAYING]
“The Ezra Klein Show” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It is produced by Roge Karma and Jeff Geld, fact-checked by Michelle Harris, original music by Isaac Jones and mixing by Jeff Geld. [MUSIC PLAYING]