A Conversation With Senator Raphael WarnockThe Daily
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- 31 Mar 2021
Republican-led legislatures are racing to restrict voting rights, in a broad political effort that first began in the state of Georgia. To many Democrats, it’s no coincidence that Georgia — once a Republican stronghold — has just elected its first Black senator: Raphael Warnock. Today, we speak to the senator about his path from pastorship to politics, the fight over voting rights and his faith that the old political order is fading away.Guest: Astead W. Herndon, a national political reporter for The New York Times.Sign up here to get The Daily in your inbox each morning. And for an exclusive look at how the biggest stories on our show come together, subscribe to our newsletter. Background reading: Georgia Republicans passed a sweeping law to restrict voting access in the state, making it the first major battleground to overhaul its election system since the turmoil of the 2020 presidential contest.Last year, Mr. Warnock ran for office in a state where people in predominantly Black neighborhoods waited in disproportionately long lines. Several Black leaders have said Georgia’s new law clearly puts a target on Black and brown voters.For more information on today’s episode, visit nytimes.com/thedaily. Transcripts of each episode will be made available by the next workday.
From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is a daily. As Republicans raced to restrict voting, they began in Georgia, once a Republican stronghold that has just elected its first black senator, Raphael Warnock. To many Democrats, that is no coincidence.
Today, my colleague Usted Herndon speaks to Warner about race, voting rights and his faith that the old political order is fading away. It's Wednesday, March 31st. I said, why did you want to interview Raphael Warnock? So I grew up as a son of a black pastor and, you know, grew up in those churches where the mixture of theology and politics was very normal, but at the same time has seen the ways in which when that moves into a political sphere, it can be cast as radical and as un-American.
You know, I remember back when Barack Obama was running for president and he came under fire for attending church services with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
The government gives them the drugs, build bigger prisons, passes a three strikes law, and then wants us to sing God Bless America. No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America.
Specifically for a sermon which he said the phrase, God damn America. Hi, this is Barack Obama. And it led to a moment where let me say at the outset that I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy.
Barack Obama distanced himself from Jeremiah Wright. That's just how that kind of world has often been portrayed in mainstream politics.
And I was interested in how a figure like Raphael Warnock would navigate that.
Well, good evening. His sermons that I was familiar with, how very clear eyed about America's history of racial injustice in America is post-racial world.
We're still dealing with poverty and we're still dealing with war about the need for kind, of course, correction for democracy.
People like to tell folks to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. That's why Dr. King used to say that it's strange we have Marxism for the rich and rugged, free enterprise for the poor.
I was interested to see if Pastor Warnock would be that kind of familiar figure who speaks directly to America's social ills when he became a candidate or whether by running in a red state or a place that's not traditionally backed Democrats and particularly non-white Democrats, whether he would feel the need to become a different person for the purposes of winning. But also he's now stepping into a role as only the 11th black person to ever be elected to the Senate. How does he see his unique position in navigating that?
And how does he see his own identity is impacting the way that he navigates? That's right.
So that's it. That's all you wanted to talk about? Yes. Small stuff. All right. Are we on?
Hi, Senator. This is a stat hunter from The New York Times. How are you? Good. How are you? I am doing well. I said, where did you start the conversation?
Well, we start by talking about our shared experience in the black church. There is, I think, a tradition that we both know of, black pastors being those type of truth tellers from the outside. When you're getting ready to run and move into a more inside role, did you feel like you needed to shift anything about yourself?
No, I think that. Voters can see phony a mile away. And so I thought that I should lay before Georgia my case, who I am and let the voters decide and thankfully they responded to our message and here I am.
But campaigns are particular and kind of very particular beast. So I want to talk about yours and that race. It felt as if as an observer, as someone who was reporting on it, there was a difference between the kind of early candidate and tone of the race and certainly how it intensified and changed when there was national attention during the runoff.
Raphael Warnock eat pizza with a fork and knife. Raphael Warnock once stepped on a crack in the sidewalk. Raphael Warnock even hates puppies.
Get ready, Georgia. The negative ads are coming.
I think about that advertisement. If you holding a puppy that's kind of become fairly famous now.
Kelly Leffler doesn't want to talk about why she's for getting rid of health care in the middle of a pandemic. So she's going to try and scare you with lies about me. I'm Raphael Warnock and I approve this message because I'm staying focused on what Washington could do for you. And by the way, I love puppies.
Can you tell me about that ad specifically? Well, look, I think that I have been doing this work. For so long in Georgia that Georgians already knew what I'm about, but, you know, in politics, often your adversary tries to distort. I felt that in the middle of a pandemic, the last thing people needed was an onslaught of negative ads. And so we inserted a bit of humor in my campaign the same way I do in my sermons.
Well, I'll tell you why I ask about the ad. You know, it was one that I think stuck out and I think had a lot to say about the way folks run. I tell you, at some points, you know, when I saw, they kind of made me sad to think that, you know, that kind of person who is like known for conviction and kind of truth telling, as you mentioned on the pulpit, it kind of seemed as was showing who candidates had to be in a statewide race, in a race that is kind of looking at black candidates with a specific lens.
Did it feel as if those two people were ever in conflict, the pastor and the statewide candidate in the tough race?
No. If you spend time with my friends, they will tell you that I laugh just as hard as I think. In fact, I think if you listen to my sermons, the same kind of parts of me that you saw in the race, I think is always showing up in my ministry.
Oh, you know, there was a day where I was actually assigned by editors to figure out if that was your puppy and you authentically put the puppy was a volunteer.
I said at some point in the conversation, when you're talking about the puppy and you use the word sad to describe your reaction to that ad, what did you mean by that?
I mean, the ad made me sad because as a black man. Who do you have to be to make yourself appeal to the most people, and I don't want to project my own feelings on Senator Warner. He could feel and he says to me in that interview that he feels as if that was his. So that's, you know, his answer. I can say that as black people, we are tasked with the code switching to navigate this world.
You know you know the kind of ways that people highlight different parts of themselves and you know how you yourself do that as a means of kind of navigating white dominated spaces. Politics is a white dominated space, and black candidates have to learn how to translate those languages and how to speak to different types of communities to be successful at that, you know. And so when I see that and I see another way in which that tradition continues, that tradition that has sometimes pushed black candidates and black people out of the political arena.
And that's what I'm reacting to, not necessarily his own choice and decision, which could be very authentic to himself in that in that same race.
Now, there was a point when the racist seemingly became all about your candidacy.
Rafael Warnock will give the radicals total control.
Your opponents were not mentioning the other Democrat by name. The ads were focusing on you.
Saving the Senate is about saving America from that. I'm Kelly Lefler. I approve this message.
Why do you think it became at some points a war, not a referendum? Do you think that it was tied to your identity as trying to be the first black person elected from Georgia?
Oh, there's no question about that. We can't kid ourselves. The narrative of race plays itself out in the ugly ways and our politics. Again, it wasn't all that subtle. They were trying to remind Georgians of what they already knew, that I'm a black man running for the United States Senate. Did you feel like you could say this is happening because they're trying to remind you, as you say now, that a black man is running in Georgia?
Because I don't think I remember you saying that during the campaign, that I think I did say that my opponent was trying to convince you that I don't love America. But but you're I want to be explicit, you're saying that that is also about blackness. Oh, to be sure. Is there anything lost by not responding to those attacks with kind of an explicit retort that this is trying to demean a black candidate and tying it to racism, is there something that is lost in the public discourse about the race?
Because that is not called out by the person who is the recipient of those attacks?
I, I don't feel like anything was lost in terms of the message that I needed to convey to the people of Georgia about what it would mean to elect me to the United States Senate.
I said when Warnock said that he didn't feel anything was lost in terms of what it would mean to Georgians to elect him to the Senate. What did you understand him to mean there?
What he said is that the goal is to win the election. The goal is to expand policy possibilities for Democrats and that implicitly his arrival in presence there answers that question in itself and that it is a, you know, appealing to the better angels of the electorate to say we all know what's kind of happening here, but that casting the ballot for me is the rejection that I'm asking you to do, not kind of rhetorically rallying around explicit anti-racism.
And I think that that is just a difference of position. You know, this is a part of that transition from outsider to an outsider. Right. Where the goal is goal right now is about legislation, is about representation and those kind of ways that you use your identity to affect a kind of larger mass. What he's able to say now, what he's able to call out now that that megaphone, that bully pulpit is much wider and larger, maybe because of how he conducted himself during the campaign.
This is also someone who is going to have to run a campaign again very soon, and so that also is factored into this equation. He doesn't have a six year break like a lot of those other senators. He'll be up for re-election again in 2020 to. We'll be right back. Ready to find ten million dollars trapped in your business? Every company has untapped potential waiting to be unlocked. Silenus, the leader in process mining, is betting it's execution management system can find ten million dollars worth of capacity hidden in your company's operations.
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One of the things I wanted to talk to the senator about was a sermon he gave on January 10th, whoever. Would have thought. That in the state of Georgia. We will see. The people of Georgia rise up. And send an African-American man. To the United States Senate, if you look with an honors at the history of this country and see this moment, you must know that this is a glimpse. Of God's vision. It was the first Sunday after he was elected and it was the first Sunday after the insurrection at the Capitol, the ugly side of our story, a great and grand American story began to emerge as we saw the crude and the angry and the disrespectful and the violent break their way into the people's house, some carrying Confederate flags.
Signs and symbols. Of an old world order. Passing away. But he says that these rioters, these insurrectionist, are part of a what he calls a waning political order because the old order is slipping away, sometimes it responds violently and desperately.
If you cut the head off of a snake. It shakes and moves violently, not because it is living, but because it is dying. And I wanted to know whether he felt like the actions of the rioters affected, how he was viewing, stepping into his incoming role, and also whether it gave him pause about the progress that he believes his election and Joe Biden's election really signifies. I actually want to go back to the sermon you gave on the.
Can you talk about what you meant when you said that this was a glimpse of God's vision?
Well, I mean, there is always been this tension in the American soul. All of us are descendants of the history that is both beautiful and brutal. And so what I was expressing in that moment was my own deep sense of hope, even in the middle of a hellish situation. That, yes, you see the violence, but it is, in fact, the violent movements of an old order that is passing away. And when I use this, I certainly don't mean people.
I'm talking about systems. And there are people who are responding with a kind of fear. And xenophobia, and they're always demagogues, particularly in the political sphere, who want to whip up those demons for their own political gain. And what I hope to be is a moral voice in the public square and in the United States Senate reminding us that we are better when we stand together.
I said he tells you this story that feels like it kind of perfectly embodies the beautiful side of the beautiful, brutal equation. And it's a story about an encounter that he recently had following his election. Yeah.
He mentions about meeting a neighbor who lights up when they see him. And Baunach mentions about the power of representation, being a kind of driver of this moment and of his own energy.
The other day, I stepped outside of my door for a few minutes and I was walking in the neighborhood and one of my neighbors realized that I was his neighbor. And I saw the light in his eyes when he realized that I was his neighbor and he was about nine years old. And I saw him notice me and I went back inside my house and a few minutes later my doorbell rang and I could see that it was the same kid and his brother.
And he was holding a poster in his hand from the campaign that had my picture on it and with the sweetest voice, he just wanted to meet me and ask me if I would sign his poster. That, for me, makes my race and the work that I'm trying to do. So worth it because this nine year old boy looked up, saw somebody who looked like him and got a glimpse of what's possible for his own future. But there's still this brutal side of the equation to get through this thrashing of the head of a snake and WARNOCK'S words, and that is the widespread attack on voting rights currently underway in the country and nowhere more than in Warnock's, home state of Georgia.
You just had talked to Warnock right before a series of proposals or adopted into law that limit voting. And one way of thinking about those proposals is that they are aimed directly at preventing Warnock from staying in office because he's up for re-election next year in twenty twenty two.
There is no doubt that the election of Warnock and John Osthoff in Georgia that Joe Biden winning Georgia had a direct causal effect in terms of Republicans then passing these voting restrictions that any kind of non-partisan objective framing would say targets those very voters that made that happen in this kind of voting rights discussion with or not. You also see the limits to representation that we've talked about in the same way it inspires, in the same way it is powerful to some, it is threatening to others, and it has caused a backlash that he is contending with and Democrats are contending with across the country.
Do you think that these efforts, if passed, would threaten your reelection?
Listen, when I fight for voting rights, it's clear to me that this really is not about me. Whatever the outcome of my own particular election, we cannot afford to have our democracy hijacked, which is why I will continue to insist within my own Democratic caucus and here in the Senate. That we have to pass voting rights no matter what, the stakes are much higher, much higher than my own election. During our conversation about voting rights, I asked him about H.R. one, the piece of legislation that has been passed by the House is probably democrats' best chance to counteract some of these restrictive voting rights measures that have been passed on the state level.
The bill to target partisan gerrymandering, change the voter registrations and update federal election laws in a way that hasn't been done in a long time. But it's coming up against the realities of a 50 50 split Senate where Republicans are united in their opposition against that bill.
Do you think that Democrats should get rid of the Senate filibuster? The measure that need 60 votes to basically pass legislation in the name of passing a Voting Rights Act like H.R. one? Do you think that that is a worthy effort?
Well, we're clearly going to have a debate in the Senate about the filibuster. But where voting rights is concerned, the question really is not how do people like me feel about the filibuster? The question is, will more of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle support voting rights?
I guess one to be clear, would you support ending the filibuster to pass those bills? You just outlined the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the other voting rights measure?
I think that at the bare minimum, there has to be a carve out for issues that speak to our constitutional rights, whether we get rid of the filibuster or not, we have to pass voting rights. So for me, the question right now is, do we have 60 votes, 60 people in the chamber who believe, as I do, that the four most powerful words ever uttered in a democracy are the people have spoken. Therefore, we have to make sure that the people speak.
And so that is the question that I intend to continue to lay before my colleagues. And the onus is on them to see how they will respond. But we must pass voting rights no matter what. All right, and he seems to suggest that on this kind of question, what he considers to be essential to constitutional rights, that he's open to it, to trying to end the filibuster.
He signals an openness which is consistent with what he said during the campaign, that if Republicans are united in opposition, if it's an issue that's so central to restoring folks rights, that he would do whatever was on the table, including ending the filibuster. I think that this is kind of the consensus of what the majority of the Democratic Party in Congress is, that right now the problem is that they're going to need a universal agreement, including from the president, for this to get done.
There's no margin for error, and that's just currently not where they are. I said, I wonder where you are by the end of this interview with Warnock, because you end on this kind of grim reality that lawmakers in Georgia have just passed restrictions on voting that may hurt the very people who helped get Warnock elected. And any remedy to that. Looks far off in Congress, and so how can Warnock be sure that what he describes in that sermon as a form of violence, the capital riots, this rollback of voting rights, how can he be sure that that is truly.
The end of an old order and not just the way things are and perhaps will remain, that is the question I thought was central, is how does he maintain his faith that what he sees as an arc that leans beautiful and not brutal will continue?
It seems as if your story is one that has a hopeful arc that, as you mentioned, the old order slipping away, the last gasp of that rattlesnake, as you said it. How do you have that confidence? How are you have that hope that this is not a backlash that will be successful, but one that is waning? Oh, let me be very clear.
What you're hearing from me is a is an abiding sense of hope. But I'm clear about the tragic character of all of it, of history that in our own democracy, we go through fits and starts. We have these expansions and then we have these contractions. We take two steps forward. We take one step back, but it's so worth it. And every now and then we get to sit on the step and say, wow. Look what we were able to do, we elected a black senator, we elected a Jewish senator, we passed covid relief for the people, but then new challenges will come and we have to face those challenges together.
I appreciate your time, Senator, and you have a good rest of your day. Thank you so much. Take care. Thank you. I guess the question to me is, is the insurrection was Trump the last gasp of a world order that is waning as he framed in his speech? Or is the aberration this Democratic moment and that his election, Joe Biden's victory and this moment of optimism from liberals in the constituencies that powered them? Is that what is actually an aberration and the Republican long term game to win power through?
That's their core constituencies. That's going to be the thing that last.
Thank you, Ted. We appreciate. Thank you. We'll be right back. Does it ever seem like there's never enough time to get everything done, then Fidelity has some good news. You still have time to make a tax smart move before the 2020 tax year deadline. By opening and contributing to a Fidelity IRA, you could reduce your taxable income, visit Fidelity Dotcom, slash the daily to open an account today. Investing involves risk, including risk of loss.
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He was terrified during the second day in the murder trial of Derek Shoman, the teenager who recorded the now infamous video of George Floyds arrest, Darnell Frazier delivered emotional testimony about the experience.
When I look at George Lloyd, I look at I look at my dad. I look at my brothers.
I look at my cousins, uncles, because they are all black. I have I have a black father, I have a brother, I have black friends. And I look at that and I look at how that could have been one of them.
At one point, Frazier expressed regret for not trying to intervene to help Floyd, but she said that his death was the fault of the Minneapolis police officers at the scene.
Above all, Derek Shogan, it's been nice.
I stayed up apologizing and. Apologies for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life, but the this is not what I have done is what he said. Today's episode was produced by Eric Crunchie, Sydney Harbour, Jessica Chung and Luke van der Flug, it was edited by Larissa Anderson, Lisa Tobin and Paige Kowit and engineered by Dan Powell. That's it for The Daily, I'm Michael Mulbah, see tomorrow. This podcast is supported by the Cornell, SC Johnson College of Business.
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