- Show Notes
On this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “The Opposite of Trump?” host Preet Bharara answers your questions about:
— President Trump’s reported proposal to “nuke” incoming hurricanes
— Why ethics should be taught in school
— Whether the world needs more lawyers
Michael Bennet, senior senator from Colorado and 2020 presidential candidate, joins Preet for a wide-ranging conversation about why Mitch McConnell’s Senate is stuck in a legislative standstill, whether the country is heading into another recession, and what politicians owe to the people who elect them.
Bonus clips from the interview are available for members of the CAFE Insider community
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As always, tweet your questions to @PreetBharara with hashtag #askpreet, email us at [email protected], or call 699-247-7338 to leave a voicemail.
REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS
- “Scoop: Trump suggested nuking hurricanes to stop them from hitting U.S.,” Axios, 8/25/19
- Jonathan Swan’s interview on Stay Tuned, 09/26/19
- Michael Bennet’s book: “The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring American in An Age of Broken Politics”
- Michael Bennet’s tweet: “If you elect me President, I promise you won’t have to think about me for 2 weeks at a time…”
- Dem Sen. Bennet Rips Cruz on Senate Floor: Your ‘Crocodile Tears’ Are ‘Too Hard For Me To Take,’” RealClear Politics, 1/24/19
- “Despite Deficit Worries, Senate Gives Final Approval to Spending Increases,” New York Times, 8/1/19
- “New Election Security Bills Face a One-Man Roadblock: Mitch McConnell,” New York Times, 6/7/19
- “A House Divided,” New Yorker, 12/14/15
- “John Hickenlooper Will Run for Senate in Colorado, a Key Target for Democrats,” New York Times, 8/22/19
- “Ted Cruz And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Team Up To Ban Lawmakers From Lobbying,” National Public Radio, 5/31/19
- “Al Franken: ‘I Hate Ted Cruz,’” Daily Beast, 5/24/17
- 8 U.S. Code § 1325: Improper entry by alien, Legal Information Institute
- “Illegal Entry,” Politico, 8/12/19
- “Immigration Chief: ‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor Who Can Stand On Their Own 2 Feet,’” National Public Radio, 8/13/19
- “The “Hastert Rule,” the reason a DACA deal could fail in the House, explained,” Vox, 1/24/18
- “Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency,” New Yorker, 11/18/16
- Clip: “Why don’t YOU get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” (C-SPAN), 11/5/14
- “Trump Skips Visit To Denmark, Calls Danish Leader ‘Nasty’ For Greenland Sale Rebuff,” National Public Radio, 8/21/19
Preet Bharara: From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.
Michael Bennet: This is the stuff that’s just a waste of our time. We spent seven months consumed by a debate about how Donald Trump was going to pay for $6 billion of this wall. China, in three years in the last decade, poured more concrete than we did in the last 10 years. So we can’t afford Donald Trump. We don’t have time for Donald Trump.
Preet Bharara: That’s Michael Bennet, a senior senator from Colorado. He’s one of the many Democrats currently vying for the party’s nomination for president. Like me, he was born in India. Senator Bennet had some choice words for his colleagues from across the aisle. We discussed the political consequences of the Tea Party Movement, why Obama’s attempt at bipartisanship won’t work today, and how for some representatives, the Federal Government has turned into a platform for social media stardom, but first, let’s get to your questions. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: This fall, Stay Tuned is going back on the road, and we’re headed to three new cities. We’ll be in Denver on October 24th, Detroit on November 12th and Atlanta on December 4th. For tickets and updates, go to cafe.com/tour. Hope to see you there.
Jeremy: Hi, Preet. This is Jeremy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was wondering if President Donald Trump has the legal authority to launch nuclear weapons into the eyes of hurricanes. Dying to know what’s your thoughts on this. Thanks.
Preet Bharara: Hi, Jeremy from Pittsburgh. Thank you for the question. In a vacuum, that question would have made me laugh hysterically because it’s ludicrous. But obviously, you’re not asking it in a vacuum. You’re asking it because of an Axios report that says multiple times, over the first, I think, 14 months of the Trump Administration, President of the United States, Donald Trump, made inquiries about the possibility of breaking up hurricanes as they approached shore. How? By dropping nuclear weapons on them. Seems that Donald Trump is way into nukes.
Preet Bharara: I don’t know a lot about the science of atomic weaponry. I don’t know a ton about weather and storms. But I was not surprised to learn that the overwhelming opinion of science is that dropping nuclear weapons on a storm is a bad idea. Now, as to your legal question, I don’t think that’s something that has been reflected on much. I don’t think it’s the subject of a lot of law review articles, whether the president can launch a nuclear weapon into the eye of a hurricane.
Preet Bharara: I would imagine, actually, the president could. We always talk about the necessity of getting congressional approval before declaring war. But in the scenario of the use of nuclear weapons, particularly in response to another country launching on us, which was the scenario we all thought about and worried about extremely deeply during the Cold War. There’s no time to notify Congress. So there’s a reason why, when people refer to their concern about the President’s temperament, and concern about his intellectual capability, and concern about his emotional state, they often reference this one key fact, that he has access to the nuclear codes and can launch a nuclear attack.
Preet Bharara: So the bad news is, I suppose, in that crazy hypothetical, the president could order such a launch. The good news is, this group of people, who some people derisively refer to as “the deep state,” I have been thinking more fondly of in recent days. It is, in fact, what some might call the deep state that is preventing the president from exercising his discretion to do ridiculous things, like nuke a hurricane, or buy Greenland, or change the libel laws, or any one of a number of other things, many of which we probably don’t know yet. I’m waiting for the next scoops from the next reporters.
Preet Bharara: And by the way, to the extent the President has denied that he ever made inquiries about nuking hurricanes, Axios is, I think, a respected outlet. No outlet is perfect. Jonathan Swan, who’s been a guest on this show, is one of the reporters who broke that story. He stands by it, and he stands by it pretty steadfastly. And it’s also my understanding that the White House was asked for comment before the story ran and did not deny it.
Preet Bharara: So Donald Trump says a lot of things that are false. He’s claimed, most recently, that Melania, the First Lady, has gotten to know Kim Jong-un really well. Well, guess what? They’ve never met. They’ve never been in the same room. Even that lie, the White House finally decided it needed to walk back a little bit. So when you’ve had two and a half years of a presidency in which the Commander in Chief lies again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and suggests totally outlandish things, like a combined cyber force with Vladimir Putin, who is the one who directed the hack on our elections, then you tend to both believe crazy things that he has thought about and also disbelieve his denials.
Kim Godwin: Hi Preet. My name is Kim Godwin and I’m calling from San Diego, California. I just finished the 100th episode with Michael Sandel, but I think it is one of your best. I think I’ve listened to all of yours. Here in San Diego, there’s a big issue in my town about whether or not ethics should be taught in high school. And he mentioned history and philosophy. I’m 55 years old, have my own preconceptions at this time, but I would really, really like future students to be understanding more of our Constitution, our history, Native Americans, African Americans. Thank you so much. Bye-bye.
Preet Bharara: Kim, thanks. Really appreciate the call and the question. It should come as no surprise to you and others that I absolutely do think that ethics and philosophy, to some extent, should be taught as early as possible. Professor Sandel and I discussed that in last week’s show, which I’m glad you enjoyed. You throw in history with those other fields. Presumably, history is being taught. I have three kids who are going through the public school system. They tell me that they have history class, and they tell me they have history tests, and they tell me they do well on those tests.
Preet Bharara: I guess there’s some question about the way in which history can teach us about the future and the method by which it’s taught so that it becomes something of an ethical lesson as well. And I obviously support that too. I think it’s important for people to understand what principles of moral reasoning are. And whatever side of the fence they are on, whatever their ideological proclivity is, it’s good to know what the arguments are. That’s why, as I said last week, I found my education in college, beginning with the class on justice with Michael Sandel, so illuminating.
Preet Bharara: And lots and lots of people get that kind of education don’t agree on things, whether it’s choice, or the death penalty, or economic inequality, because the process of understanding those principles is not to guide to a particular outcome, but to teach critical thinking. I think that’s lacking in a lot of places and in a lot of educational institutions. One place, by the way, that you didn’t mention, that I think it’s especially important, and where it’s lacking in many places, is business school. There are a lot of elite business schools in this country that purport to train the next generation of business leaders in America and the world, and I speak at a lot of them, and they give a little bit of short shrift to ethics.
Preet Bharara: I will go and speak to those students at those schools on a regular basis and still do, and say the problem with that is we have dozens and dozens of examples, just during my tenure as US attorney, of the problem of privileged people in business who never learn the first thing about how to make sure they conduct the business properly, how to make sure that they hire people with integrity and who care about ethics.
Preet Bharara: One of my favorite things to do every year, and I’ve done it most of the last six or seven years, is speak to all the first-year students at Harvard Business School and talk about some of these issues. I do it as part of a program they have that’s specifically about leadership and ethics, which I think is essential training, and essential education, and essential material, for anyone who expects to be a business leader in this country or anywhere else.
Preet Bharara: This next question comes in an email from Dan: “Hi Preet. Big fan of the show. Today I learned the United States has 70% of the world’s lawyers, but only represent 4% of the world population. Do we have too many lawyers or is the rest of the world short-staffed lawyer wise? Thanks.”
Preet Bharara: Well, probably a little bit of both. I think it depends on the country. I also didn’t know this particular stat, so thanks for jarring me. Here’s how I think about it. Yeah, it may be so that we have too many lawyers. A lot of people went to law school who don’t love the practice of law. It’s harder to get a job as a lawyer than it may have been during other recent times. But I say this about lawyers, and scientists, and doctors, and anything else. We don’t have enough great ones. We don’t have enough who are committed to public interest. We don’t have enough who are dedicated to figuring out ways to make their communities and their country better, safer, more fair, more just.
Preet Bharara: I am an advocate of people going to law school, getting their law degree. I think a few weeks ago, a listener asked the question, “Is it too late to go to law school in my 50s and change career?” I said, “No, it is not, depending on what you want to do.” The mass of people who go to law school, that I went to law school with, great, smart people, but the mass of them go into corporate practice, private practice. And it’s great. You make a living, and you provide for your family. And you can do some pro bono work, and that’s terrific and wonderful. But I’d like to see more people do more with their law degree, which is a very powerful tool.
Preet Bharara: I’d say, to graduating law students, the power of your law degree cannot be overestimated. There is an unbelievable authority you have and ability you have to make change for the better if you choose to use it.
Lauren B.: Hi Preet. This is Lauren Bialostock from Toronto, Canada. I was just listening to your show where you spoke to Michael Sandel. And the problem that he opened with, that you said he opened his course with, the famous trolley problem, I just wanted to clarify, that’s attributed to Philippa Foot, a rare woman philosopher from about 50 years ago. Just the way that it was presented, I’m sure most of your listeners would have concluded that Professor Sandel himself came up with that example.
Lauren B.: As formidable as he is, I think we have to be really attentive to giving credit where it’s due, especially because women scholars are so easily forgotten or not cited. In this case, I’m sure it was accidental, but their ideas are sometimes attributed to male philosophers. Just wanted to add that. Thanks for your show. Love it.
Preet Bharara: Thank you, Lauren, for the clarification and the information about the famous trolley problem. I don’t think that Professor Sandel takes credit for the hypothetical, but it’s good to give credit where it’s due. So I thank you for your call. We learn from Stay Tuned listeners every day.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is Michael Bennet, the senior senator from the great state of Colorado and one of the 2020 presidential candidates. He previously served as the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, and before that, worked as the chief of staff to Denver’s then mayor, John Hickenlooper, a 2020 hopeful who recently pivoted his campaign to the other Colorado Senate seat. Senator Bennet was appointed to the seat in 2009, and since then, he’s won two terms to represent his adopted state.
Preet Bharara: In January, he gave an impromptu speech on the floor of the Senate, calling out Ted Cruz for his crocodile tears. Within eight hours, it became the most watched video from the Senate floor in C-SPAN history. The senator and I talked about how Cruz and Mitch McConnell get away with Senate obfuscation, the Republican clown car, the phenomenon of Trump rubbernecking, and what political leaders owe to the people who elect them. That’s coming up. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Senator Michael Bennet, thanks so much for being on the show.
Michael Bennet: Thanks so much for having me.
Preet Bharara: You and I have a couple of things in common. Not a lot of things, but a couple things. One is we are both the same year out of law school, 1993. And you, like me, were born in India. Yet, you can run for president and I can’t. Can you explain that to us?
Michael Bennet: Well, there may be other reasons I shouldn’t be running and there may be other reasons you should. I don’t know the circumstances of your birth, but I can tell you the circumstances of mine. My father and my mother were in New Delhi working for a guy named Chester Bowles, who was our Ambassador to India at the time. I was born while they were there, so I was a US citizen by birth. And I’ll say this. It’s not a particularly useful origin story for my political career, to have been born in New Delhi. But when I am in India, people are extremely excited that I was born there.
Preet Bharara: I would imagine so. You could’ve had an illustrious career as any kind of lawyer you wanted. You went to Yale Law School, some place I don’t know much about.
Michael Bennet: I’m sorry about that for you.
Preet Bharara: You were the president of the Yale Law Journal. What drew you to public service, generally, and then to this, some people would say, dirty business of politics, specifically?
Michael Bennet: I loved law school. I really did. It was the most luxurious three years of my life. I loved the people that I met there and they’re some of my closest friends today. I did not love practicing law, and I had the chance to do it with some really good people at Wilmer Cutler and Pickering in D.C. Then I went to the Justice Department. That’s something we also have in common. I went to the Justice Department to work for Jamie Gorelick, when she was the Deputy Attorney General, and she had this incredible staff of people. Merrick Garland was the lead deputy for her, and people like Seth Waxman, and David Ogden, and Paul Fishman, John Schwartz, Casey Cooper, Amy Jeffress, myself. It was just an amazing collection of people.
Michael Bennet: I still didn’t particularly enjoy the legal parts of it. When I followed my wife, Susan, out to Colorado … She’s been a lawyer for 30 years and enjoyed it. She’s a public interest environmental lawyer. She wanted to take a job at Earthjustice out here, in Denver. I wanted to try something different, so I ended up going into business. Then from there, a series of steps led me back to the public sector, including being superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, which is the job that I had before this job.
Michael Bennet: I would say, on the question of the dirty business of politics, I really have always believed that it’s the duty of every American to make sure we’re leaving more opportunity, not less, to the people that are coming after us. I think everybody can do that, can make a contribution to that in a different way. I think you can do it by being a school teacher. I think you can do it by being a public-spirited business person. I think you can do it through politics. I kind of got here in a very accidental way, but now that I’m here, I feel like it’s a great privilege to have the chance to contribute from this position.
Preet Bharara: What do you think is the most important personal quality for a political leader? Is it intelligence? Is it the ability to compromise? Is it moderation, work ethic? Is it a combination of things? What are those qualities and which of those do you have?
Michael Bennet: I would say all of those are important. I would add to that list curiosity, which I think is fundamentally important because when people approach these jobs as if they have a monopoly on wisdom, I think they’re doomed to fail. I think our system … The founders, part of the genius of what they were after was they believed that in a republic, and as you know, they had no reason to know this because there hadn’t been a successful republic really, but they believed not that we would agree, but that we would disagree. That was a fundamental premise of our founding, was we would have disagreements, and out of those disagreements, we would fashion more durable and more imaginative solutions than any king or tyrant could come up with on his or her own.
Michael Bennet: We have lost our ability to do that in our national politics. That is the genius of our system when it’s working well. I think that if you are somebody who approaches this job believing that you’re the only person that knows the truth, or you’re a person who approaches it without understanding that contending with differences in a democracy is a fundamental aspect of a democracy and not a failure of other people to see the light, you’re going to have difficulties. And for the last 10 years, our country basically has been immobilized by a group of people called the Freedom Caucus and Mitch McConnell, who think there’s only one way of seeing the world.
Preet Bharara: It seems to me like you’re suggesting that political leaders should have humility. On the one hand, I agree that’s an important quality. On the other hand, it does take a kind of self-confidence, bordering on, and perhaps far surpassing, arrogance to decide “I can be the president of the United States. I can be a senator. I can be a governor.” How do you balance those two things?
Michael Bennet: Yeah. It’s very important that you don’t list over into becoming a sociopath, which I think a lot of people in this business become, and maybe some of them start out that way. It’s an ambition that allows them to move forward in the way you need to on a daily basis, but I’m not sure it allows people to actually detect what’s going on in the world around them and to come up with solutions that we really need. So I think you’ve got to have an open mind. You got to have curiosity. You obviously have to have enough self-confidence and ambition to be able to contend with the forces that are in your way on any given day.
Michael Bennet: But I’m often reminded, when I talk about things like this, how much harder the job, for example, of being a teacher in a high-poverty school is then the job of being a senator. I know that because I was superintendent of the Denver Public Schools. That’s not a political trope for me. I know it’s true. So when people, in jobs like mine, complain that they’re hard, I think about jobs like that one.
Preet Bharara: Do you care to name any of the sociopaths who are in politics?
Michael Bennet: I don’t, actually, but I have a list.
Preet Bharara: But you have a list somewhere?
Michael Bennet: I have a list and it’s a serious problem. When you live at a time when, in the Senate anyway, there are basically 100 different ways of being a senator. I wouldn’t have known that before I was in the Senate, but there are 100 senators, 100 different ways of being a senator. You can spend all of your time trying to become a social media star and a cable television star and do it at the cost of the American people. Equities in the system reward that behavior these days, and that’s something I think we have to find a way to overcome because we have to find a way again to make durable solutions.
Michael Bennet: Preet, I’ll give you one example. I’ve been on the campaign trail for months. And everywhere I go, people say, “We need to deal with climate urgently.” I completely agree with that. We need to deal with climate urgently, but we also need to create a durable solution for climate. We need a solution that will last a generation or more, obviously not unchanged, but to build on it. In our political system today, we’ve accepted a world where we get nothing done or if we get something done, it lasts for two years and then it’s ripped out by the other side. Then you put something else in for two years and it’s ripped out by the other side, or four years.
Michael Bennet: I would argue that you can’t solve climate that way. If we accept that that’s where our political system has descended and that’s where it will be forever, I think, unfortunately, one has to accept that we actually won’t ever solve climate change as a democracy. We won’t figure out what we need to do to contend with the fact that we’re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have universal healthcare, who doesn’t have an economy that when it rises benefits everybody, or doesn’t figure out how to end mass incarceration. These are things that have to last over a period of time. That’s where I think our democracy is particularly vulnerable now because the points that politicians put on the scoreboard are so effervescent. They have very little to do with enduring accomplishments and a lot to do with whether you’re creating agitation on the cable.
Preet Bharara: You said something interesting about social media. And it sounded like you were being a little critical of people spending a lot of time trying to build their social media presence. I had a guest on the podcast, Michael Waldman, who you may know, president of Brennan Center for Justice, who likes to quote Lincoln in talking about how public sentiment is everything. Anything can be accomplished through public sentiment. In politics, it seems that messaging is important, and the medium of the day are the various social media platforms. Someone in your party, like AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now has millions of Twitter followers, and there are other people who pursue that strategy of getting the message out, I presume, to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, for the purpose of influencing public sentiment so that things can change. How do you think about those issues?
Michael Bennet: Well, first of all, you came by your Twitter following honestly.
Preet Bharara: [crosstalk 00:22:41].
Michael Bennet: There is a difference between getting it the way you got it, which is getting fired by Donald Trump, and paying $70 to get a dollar donation to get on the debate stage in the Democratic Party. Those are not the same thing. I think one has to, first of all, distinguish between those kinds of things.
Michael Bennet: Second, I agree very much with that sentiment of Lincoln’s. I know that sentiment and I remember it, but it requires politicians, in particular, to be able to distinguish between the content and the meaning of messages that people who are on Twitter and use Twitter to engage with politicians, who those folks are and what they’re doing versus the 320 million other Americans who are living their lives, who are building their businesses, who are raising their children, who are hoping to send their kids to a decent school and do something useful for their community, who are not engaged at all on social media, but I think have a profoundly important role to play in our democracy and who are largely, I would argue, unrepresented in Washington today.
Michael Bennet: I think the people that spend time on the cable television are well represented and the folks that are engaged on social media with politicians are well represented. That sort of world seeks very little, it seems to me, other than more conflict and is not about seeking a set of solutions that can actually be passed through our democratic institutions and endure so that our children and grandchildren can have the benefit of our work. That is the work that that other 320 million people are actually expecting us to do because they still think the government works the way School House Rock told them that it worked.
Preet Bharara: Right, right. You were pretty diplomatic in answering a question I asked a couple of minutes ago, and it occurs to me to ask it more directly. Is Senator Ted Cruz one of the people on your sociopath list?
Michael Bennet: I think he’s on the list of people who have turned the Senate into a platform for Senator Ted Cruz. The reason he and I had an issue on the floor is he was out there pretending that he cared about paying the Coast Guard I think it was when I know that during the last Trump shutdown, when he had shut the government down while Colorado was being flooded … I don’t think anybody should ever shut the government down. That’s my view. They certainly shouldn’t do it for politics. What I accused him of doing was riding that to a second-place finish in Iowa. I have to retract that because I had forgotten that he actually won Iowa, but he did it on the strength of that government shut down.
Michael Bennet: Madam President, I seldom, as you know, rise on this floor to contradict somebody on the other side. I’ve worked very hard over the years to work in a bipartisan way with the presiding officer, with my Republican colleagues, but these crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take. They’re too hard for me to take. When the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded. It was under water. People were killed. People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined forever. Because of the senator from Texas, this government was shut down for politics.
Preet Bharara: I watched that speech a number of times. I’d been following you for a long time. That was not my introduction to Senator Michael Bennet, but it was for a lot of people. For someone who is described often as being moderate and even tempered, mild mannered even, like Clark Kent …
Michael Bennet: Sleepy.
Preet Bharara: What happened? Something set you off and you spoke from the heart. What got you to feel that way and what are the kinds of things that make you angry like that.
Michael Bennet: It was the hypocrisy of what he was doing. It was his manipulation of unpaid Coast Guard employees who shouldn’t have been unpaid because we had shut the government down. Knowing that he had closed the government when Colorado had flooded and our first responders all over the state were trying to do everything they could to dig out families, to patch together communities that had literally lost loved ones who had died, who their houses had been destroyed, businesses had been destroyed. Ted Cruz was oblivious to all of this while he was reading Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor or whatever it was he was doing, making a mockery of the work of our exercise in self government.
Ted Cruz: [inaudible 00:27:36] this page, he’s simply holding green eggs and ham on a fork preparing to bite them. “Say, I like Green Eggs and Ham. I do. I like them, Sam I am. And I would eat them in a boat-
Michael Bennet: That’s what really makes me mad about this is that this is the American people’s exercise in self government. It may be corrupted by all kinds of forces from Citizens United to the Freedom Caucus to Ted Cruz to the Koch Brothers, but we don’t have another exercise in self government. It’s up to all of us, I think, to figure out a way to restore it, to make it better and burnish it for another generation of Americans. I don’t think Ted Cruz is interested in any of that in the least.
Michael Bennet: The lies and the hypocrisy that he was uttering that day just kind of set me off, but it wasn’t just him. It’s 10 years of these guys who surfed in on the strength of the Tea Party movement, including him by the way. One of the reasons he won was that he had a special election in July in Texas. I happen to know that half of Texas is in Colorado in July and they weren’t casting ballots down there, so he had a tiny vote that allowed him to get elected, as many of these people did.
Michael Bennet: When Bob Bennett from Utah lost, he lost on a Saturday morning in a tiny convention hall in Utah. Rand Paul later won under circumstances similar to this. They captured these very small, pretty undemocratic processes and converted that into the Tea Party. Then they came to Washington and called Barack Obama a Bolshevik and a socialist because during the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression, he was trying to pass the stimulus bill.
Michael Bennet: On the basis of arguing for fiscal responsibility over and over again they’ve shut our government down. They’ve immobilized our government. They’ve incapacitated our decision making. For the 10 years that I’ve been there, we have been on what’s called a continuing resolution for 40% of the time because we can’t even pass a real budget.
Michael Bennet: What do they do when they have control of all of it? They have created the biggest deficits that we’ve had outside of an economic collapse or wartime in American history. I think Mitch McConnell probably as a living American is responsible for more debt on the balance sheet of this country than any other politician. Trump and McConnell together have grown government more than Barack Obama did during the first part of his term including the stimulus package. That doesn’t even include the $2 trillion of tax cuts that Trump borrowed from the Chinese just so he could give wealthy people in America tax cuts.
Michael Bennet: This is their main reason for being. This is their claim on why they’re in Washington DC. They have done nothing other than destroy the fiscal condition of this government rather than make it better, and Cruz is in the middle of all of that.
Preet Bharara: I sense you’re getting mad again.
Michael Bennet: I am getting mad again.
Preet Bharara: [inaudible 00:30:45] which is good. I’m confused about something. I think a lot of Americans are confused about something. There are two major political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. You’ve spent some time, I think legitimately and honorably, criticizing Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell. Ted Cruz a little bit personal, you got upset and angry on the floor. He has said obnoxious and mean things about you and other Democrats. How does it actually work then when you’re in the Senate?
Preet Bharara: I think famously of what one of your former colleagues, Al Franken, said, something like, “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my colleagues, and I hate Ted Cruz.” If tomorrow Ted Cruz said, “Hey, Michael, I want to co-sponsor a bill with you on some narrow sliver of something in policy that we agree with,” would you happily do it and stand up at a podium with him and sing each other’s praises to try to get something done?
Preet Bharara: How much does this … I don’t want to say animosity. That’s a strong word, but there’s a little bit of a boiling feeling of let down on the part of your adversaries on the other side of the aisle. How do you break through that? Do you break through that? Is the answer just to win back the Senate? I don’t understand how this is supposed to work.
Michael Bennet: First of all, I think Senator Cruz is a particular case, a special case because of the reason that Al Franken said and you said. I don’t want people to get the sense that that’s typical of people that are there. My answer to your question is yes. If he had a piece of legislation … For example, you mentioned AOC. I have had for years a piece of legislation I couldn’t get almost any co-sponsors on. My view was that if you have had the privilege of serving in the Senate or the House, you should accept a lifetime ban on ever becoming a lobbyist in Washington DC.
Michael Bennet: That may sound terribly political. I actually really believe in it because half the people who leave those jobs in Washington that don’t retire become lobbyists in DC. I think it just is a terrible signal to the American people. Anyway, the other day, AOC and Ted Cruz were tweeting each other on this because AOC said, “We should have a permanent ban on members of Congress becoming a lobbyist,” and Cruz said, “Hey, I’ll do that with you.”
Michael Bennet: On something like that, I’d be delighted to have their help doing it. I think the more important question is how do we overcome the immobilization of our exercise in self government, as I’m describing it. My conclusion on that subject is that McConnell and the Freedom Caucus are immune from compromise. I said to McConnell that I had a book coming out, it’s called the Land of Flickering Lights, and that he wouldn’t like it because it was pretty tough on him. He said, “Well, you’re running for president, and I imagine you have to write something like that.”
Michael Bennet: Then I said, “Come to think of it, Mitch, you’re the only person in the Senate that will actually like my book because I write things in it like, “Mitch McConnell is immune to give and take unless he’s taking, everything, which he almost always is.” He smiled. He literally smiled. Mitch McConnell smiled.
Michael Bennet: My view is that these people cannot be compromised with … Not Republicans generally. I’ve got a bipartisan track record working on immigration and health care and on education and many other things as well, but on the core issues that are most important to the American people, I don’t believe the Freedom Caucus or Mitch McConnell can be compromised with. I think they have to either be beaten or closed over.
Preet Bharara: Have you ever had a drink with Mitch McConnell?
Michael Bennet: No. No.
Preet Bharara: Should you?
Michael Bennet: I wouldn’t say no, but I’m not sure … I know it wouldn’t make a difference. I know it would make no difference.
Preet Bharara: I make a reference to it because I think famously one of the White House Correspondents’ Dinners, President Obama said, “You know, people keep saying bipartisanship is important. Have a drink with Mitch McConnell.”
Barack Obama: “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” they ask. “Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”
Michael Bennet: Right, right. Right. It’s true. Look, he knows what he’s doing. My argument is not that we should be as malevolent or cynical as Mitch McConnell is, but I do believe we need to be as strategic as he is. When you look at what’s happened on the judges, for example, that’s a decade of real strategy on Mitch McConnell’s part and not so much on our part? The American people are paying a very heavy price for that.
Preet Bharara: You’ve mentioned Mitch McConnell a number of times. I get plaintiff questions from people who are good citizens and presumably watch School House Rock. They ask the question, “How can this one dude, Mitch McConnell, block every bill?” that they think makes sense. Suppose you win the nomination and win the presidency, but the Senate remains in Republican control and Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leader, how much of your agenda will be paralyzed?
Michael Bennet: I would approach the work differently than other presidents have. Let’s take three issues that are right in front of us right now. I mentioned one, which is the fiscal imbalance in this country, where McConnell has claimed to be fiscally responsible, but has instead destroyed the prospects of the next generation to be able to make decisions for themselves. Background checks on guns and the election protection legislation that he won’t bring to the floor.
Michael Bennet: These aren’t the biggest things that we’re facing, but we can’t even get these things done. To get these things done as president, I would go to places in America where I will never win more than 30% of the vote and make the case on those three things. Disable McConnell based on the hypocrisy that he has pursued on the fiscal side of this thing. Disable him on the fact that we’ve got bipartisan election protection legislation and all we’re trying to do is protect us from Russian interference in our elections and McConnell for reasons that are completely obscure to me won’t even put that on the floor. What Republican is there that wouldn’t want to vote to defend our democracy? I can’t imagine if that came to a vote on the floor that we wouldn’t have the vast majority of Republicans. There are plenty of places in this country where you could go and make that case.
Michael Bennet: Then on the background checks, the same thing, but what it can’t be is a list of five other things on guns at the same time that you’re trying to do the background checks. What you end up doing is playing into his hands and McConnell never pays a political price for it because he’s never held accountable. It’s always lost in the … After the Sandy Hook massacre, I couldn’t have imagined a worse fact pattern than that. I think we could have gotten background checks done then, but we weren’t focused only on background checks. There were a number of other votes that came to the floor and McConnell hid behind those votes and wasn’t pinned down on the background checks I guess is the point that I want to make.
Michael Bennet: Again, an argument not to be as malevolent as he is, but an argument to be as strategic and as relentless as he is. The great news on guns is now we’ve got this incredible movement. Between the Moms Against Gun Violence and the kids at Parkland, they are doing exactly what we are supposed to do in a democracy. That’s their job to organize, to get people out, to make sure people are voting on this issue.
Michael Bennet: Now, we need a set of politicians in Washington that can respond to that movement with a strategic sense of purpose so we can actually get something done. I want to be really clear about this. I am not blaming us or our side. That’s not what I’m saying. I think McConnell and Trump are responsible for this, but we have to do what is necessary to overcome it. We can’t be naïve about how hard that is.
Preet Bharara: Of course. One of your competitors for the nomination from your own state, someone you used to work for, John Hickenlooper, just in the last day or two has announced he’s stepping down from the presidential race and is likely to run for Senate. Did you have something to do with that?
Michael Bennet: I had a long conversation with him about the merits and not so merits of being in the Senate. I gave him an unvarnished view of that. John once said to me years ago. He said, “I feel so sorry for you guys. It’s like you’ve all made it to the Major Leagues and no one will let you pitch now.” Lamar Alexander, he’s a dear, dear friend of mine and a Republican, a great guy and a tremendous American. His version of that is, “It’s like you’ve sung in every single honky tonk in your state for years and years and years and you finally get to the Grand Ole Opry and they won’t let you sing.”
Michael Bennet: I think it’s important when people are thinking about running to be honest about what that’s like. On the other hand, as I said at the very beginning, it is an incredible privilege to have the opportunity to be there, not because of the marble hallways and not because of the fancy title, but because it puts you in a place to help fix the democracy. It’s broken. Our democracy is broken. The Senate is broken. I think that anybody who has the chance to go there and actually try to fix it rather than make matters worse, which so many people have tried to do, has an obligation to try to do that.
Preet Bharara: You don’t have to convince me? I worked four and a half years for Senator Schumer as his chief counsel and was in the Senate in ’05 and ’06 when it was in Republican hands and then when it switched in ’06 in democratic hands and how much of a difference that made. Are you thinking about having a similar kind of conversation that you had with John Hickenlooper with some other people? For example, somebody whose name might rhyme with Schmeto O’Bourke.
Michael Bennet: Listen, I am the last person who should be giving anybody advice about what they should do in the presidential … I didn’t with John either. I just described it for John.
Preet Bharara: Just described … Just described it.
Michael Bennet: I said to him, “I think the thing that I could do that would be most useful is paint a picture of what life is like there. I don’t want to get into a discussion about what you should do.” That is the discussion that we had.
Preet Bharara: It seems like everybody who is running against Trump on the Democratic side is trying to present themselves as the opposite of Trump. I had a fellow who you’ve seen on the debate stage on the podcast said, “The opposite of Trump is an Asian man who likes math.” You wrote a tweet that I love that I’m sure a lot of people saw, quote, “If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for two weeks at a time. I’ll do my job watching out for North Korea and ending this trade war so you can go raise your kids and live your lives.” God bless you, Michael Bennet.
Michael Bennet: That seems like a fair trade. Look, we spent three days wondering whether or not President Trump wanted to buy Greenland, which it turned out he did want to do. He wanted to buy it so much that he disinvited himself from Denmark because he was mad that they said it was absurd. This is the stuff that’s just a waste of our time. We spent seven months or more consumed by debate on the cable and on the Senate floor about how Donald Trump was going to pay for $6 billion of his wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for while China was building 3,500 miles of fiber optic cable to connect Latin America with Africa and back to China, so it can export its surveillance state.
Michael Bennet: That’s what they’re doing while we’re doing this. China in three years, in the last decade, poured more concrete that we did in the last 10 years. We can’t afford Donald Trump. We don’t have time for Donald Trump. My point about having a president who does their job is it goes back to the observation I was making earlier about those 230 million Americans. When I first ran for the Senate, I had been appointed and I had a 3% name recognition.
Michael Bennet: More outside money was being spent in my race than any other race in the country because I looked like the most vulnerable Democrat and the Koch Brothers understood that. They had been unleashed by Citizens United. I can remember one day sitting there in the Rockies ballpark and doing a little bit of my own math. Andrew Yang would have been proud of me. What I was contemplating was how many people in that ballpark were going to watch cable television at night and the news programs on cable.
Michael Bennet: It was about two sections of that entire ballpark. Everybody else in that ballpark was just living their lives and wanted to live their lives and had a deep expectation about what the future will look like for their kids and their grandkids, which is by the way, they’re getting more worried about that every single day. A very reasonable expectation of what they deserve out of their public servants that they send to Washington DC.
Michael Bennet: I found that comforting in the sense that I just feel like I should do my job faithfully and reflect their view as best as I can ascertain it based on face-to-face meetings in town halls and also knowing what the moms and dads in my old school district, kids that are living in poverty mostly, and how they’re thinking about the world. I’m just going to do my job to try to represent them and not get buffeted around every day by the insanity that we’re going through right now. I think that’s what the American people want.
Michael Bennet: They’re tired of this … Having Donald Trump as president is like having that wreck on the highway that you just can’t look away from. We’ve been consumed by that as if our kids don’t actually need us to fix our immigration system or deal with climate before the planet is incinerated or fix their education system. My God, we’re living in a country right now that has the worst income inequality that we’ve had in 100 years, and we have an education system that’s reinforcing that income inequality, not liberating people from it. It’s not like we have a shortage of stuff to do that. What’s why I said what I said about not wanting to perpetuate this clown car anymore.
Preet Bharara: I believe you’ve said that you are a moderate and you’ve also said that you’re to the left of Barack Obama. What does that mean about where Barack Obama is on the political spectrum and his relevance as still the most beloved and famous member of the party. I point out just one other thing that listeners may not appreciate. After the election in 2016, President Obama mentioned four political stars to be looking out for in one of his exit interviews out of the presidency. One of those four was you. The others were Tim Kaine I believe, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. So you’re moderate and also to the left of Obama. Where’s Obama?
Michael Bennet: Here’s what I would say. First, I don’t tend to call myself moderate. Some other people do. I was recently described in a newspaper as a pragmatic idealist, and I actually would take that pragmatic because I want to make progress … I don’t think you can be progressive without making progress. That’s at least how I’d think about it from the advantage point of the kids I used to work for in the Denver Public Schools … and an idealist because I truly believe in this democracy. I truly believe that self government … We have a role. America has a role to play with respect to humanity. That’s how important it is for us to get this right.
Michael Bennet: Where I would say Barack Obama was and why I say that we’re going to nominate somebody to the left of him … And I think that I’m to the left of him. We have to contend with the fact that we’ve got this huge economic inequality and no economic mobility for nine out of 10 Americans over the last 40 years. I’ll give you one example of a proposal of mine called the American Family Act that would dramatically increase the Child Tax Credit in this country. Some professors at Columbia have looked at this and said, “This bill alone would reduce childhood poverty in America by 40%.
Michael Bennet: It would end $2 a day poverty in America. It would be the most significant anti-poverty measure that we have passed since Medicaid was passed. Barack Obama couldn’t do stuff like that because he was trying to rescue the American economy from the Great Recession. He had his hands full doing that. I think if he were running today, I’m sure he would have been the first co-sponsor on the American Family Act. He was governing at a different time.
Michael Bennet: We also know something else that he didn’t know while he was president. You’ll remember and I can remember when he was running for reelection he said often that when he was reelected, the fever would break, meaning the Freedom Caucus fever, the Tea Party fever would break. We know now that it hasn’t broken, and it still needs to be broken. That requires a different approach I think than the approach that the Obama and Biden administration were contending with. I don’t in any way blame Barack Obama for that. I think he was living through that historical moment, and he was doing the best he could as the most capable and beloved politician of our generation, and he still is and deserves to be thought of that way in my view.
Preet Bharara: Can we talk a little bit about this college, no college divide. I’ve been thinking about it more recently. The way I grew up, immigrant family, the most important goal for my brother and me was to go to college. My oldest child, my daughter is set to go off to college and it’s a moment of great pride in our home. Last week on the podcast, I had a guest, the moral philosopher, Michael Sandel, who has written about this issue on the left. I’m struck by a phrase that he used, and I asked him about it, that in some ways Democrats on the left have valorized the college degree to such an extent that they’re leaving out all these other … You mentioned 70% don’t go.
Michael Bennet: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: It’s leaving out a lot of people and causing some politics of resentment. Do you think that we place too much emphasis on college?
Michael Bennet: Yes and no is my politician answer. I actually say that not as a politician, but a school superintendent. Yes, in the sense that we valorize college, like you said, except it turns out in America, the best predictor of the quality of your education is your parents’ income, not how hard you’re willing to work, not how hard your parents were willing to work, but your parents’ income because the best predictor of whether you’re going to get to college and make it through is where your parents live. That predictor is based on what they earn.
Michael Bennet: What I say is this I want us to live in a country where if a kid decides not to go to college, it is their choice. It’s not the result of a system that is broken that has given them a marginal education and not prepared them to go to college. It’s not because we can’t in America figure out how somebody could go to a college and graduate from college debt free at a minimum. I think we could do all of those things, but today, if you’re born poor in America, your chances of graduating with a college degree are nine in 100. That’s not a reflection on the kids. It’s a terrible reflection on our education system.
Michael Bennet: On the other hand, if you decide you don’t want to go to college, you ought to be able to be educated in a way that will get you paid so you can support yourself and support a family. We’re not doing that either in America, so we’re not doing any of it. The reality is, unfortunately, because of the way this all works together, we have a compounding problem, where the kids of college-educated people tend to go to college and graduate from college and people that don’t don’t.
Michael Bennet: For the people that do make it … This is one thing that’s very important for people to know. For people that do make it from poverty to college, it can change their lives completely. We’ve got problems in every dimension here that are actually I think largely being unaddressed, to be honest with you, by the other candidates in the race, but that we have to address as Americans.
Michael Bennet: For kids, it shouldn’t be an either or question. At the end of high school, you should get to decide, do I want to go to college? If I do, I’ve got the skills and knowledge to do it. If I don’t want to go, I’ve got a different path that’s going to allow me to stay out of poverty and support my family. That’s the way America used to work. I think it could work this way again.
Preet Bharara: You mentioned the minimum wage a few times. You support raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour.
Michael Bennet: No, I support raising it to $15 an hour, but allowing there to be some places in the country where it may not rise that much that quickly. I have in mind, for example, my wife’s home town, which is called, Marianna, Arkansas, which is in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest communities in America. That’s a place where you might discover that having a $15 minimum wage actually was counterproductive because businesses would literally have to close their doors. The area is so impoverished.
Preet Bharara: Are we headed to a recession?
Michael Bennet: I think it’s not unlikely. We’re in the 10th year of an economic recovery and that alone would suggest that we might be headed to a recession and it seems very clear that the tariffs Trump has put on have created a real danger that we’re going to have a recession.
Preet Bharara: You made election security a signature issue. As you mentioned you’ve written a book on the subject. We’ve talked about Mitch McConnell also. As you said, You talk about him in your book. Can you explain to people how he gets away with … Separate from his ability as the majority leader, not to put things on the floor for a vote, but how he just explains in plain terms and looks at people in the eye and doesn’t put up for a vote basic bipartisan measures in support of election security going to 2020?
Michael Bennet: He gets away with not telling the truth about them, which is what he does. On that subject, he’ll say, “This is an infringement on the first-amendment rights of the American people,” which is the same argument that he’s made to destroy any ability to regulate campaign finance in this country. It’s the same argument that the Supreme Court latched onto when they wrote their terrible Citizens United decision. I used to describe that majority opinion as … I said it was like reading a 7th grader’s American government paper.
Michael Bennet: I finally decided that was so unfair to America’s 7th graders that I stopped saying it, but it is the obfuscation … That’s what he does. He’ll say it’s a socialist takeover this or they’re destroying the first-amendment rights. My point is we have to do better. We’ve got to push harder. It’s one of the reasons why if people care to do it, they can go to RussiaHackedOurDemocracy.com, which is a website that I set up. You can download my book, which is a book filled with the propaganda that the Russians poured into our social media platforms in the 2016 election and are still doing it today.
Michael Bennet: If you feel like it, you can also send a book to Mitch. I think we’re up to more than 3,000 books. Calling on him to put on the floor the election security legislation. We need to put the pressure on. There is no good reason. I suppose one reason he’s doing it is because Trump doesn’t want to see it because he thinks that raising this issue somehow raises the question of his legitimacy as president. I think this is about protecting America from the Russians.
Preet Bharara: Not to be pessimistic again, but here we are at the end of the summer of 2019. The president of the United States has no interest in talking about any of this stuff in part because it reminds people of what happened in 2016 and casts some doubt on the legitimacy of his election and what aid he got from a foreign power. What is the hope that before 2020 anything will be done? What will that mean for people’s trust in an election result no matter which way it goes?
Michael Bennet: That’s what’s at risk. That is fundamentally what’s at risk here. I’ll say on the good news … This won’t be a surprise to you because of your former job as US attorney. The men and women that work in our intelligence agencies are doing their jobs and they are doing the hard work of trying to protect us from another attack. We were in better shape in ’18 than we were in ’16 because we learned from ’16.
Michael Bennet: The attack in ’20 won’t look the way that it did in ’18. It won’t look the way that it did in ’16, but I do think those civil servants in our government are doing what they can do within the limits of the current law. The rest of us need to put pressure on McConnell to insist that he put this legislation on the floor. As I’ve said earlier, I can’t imagine a Republican voting against some of these things. The requirements that a campaign report to the FBI if a foreign actor solicits them or tries to interfere, the money that we’d like to spend to harden our county election infrastructure …
Michael Bennet: These are things these small counties can’t do on their own and could really use our help. I have not given up. Nothing comes without forcing it in Washington, and we have to force it. This is a battle I believe we can win. It’s clear to me so far anyway that it’s not because he’s putting background checks on the floor that it’s holding up the work on election protection. You mentioned when you worked in the Senate.
Michael Bennet: We are now literally doing nothing except approving judges. That is all we do in the Senate today, in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. Hopefully, we’ll get back in September and he’ll begin to feel some heat on both these issues, the background check issue and the election protection issue.
Preet Bharara: On immigration, this is a perennial issue. I’ve mentioned on the show a number of times that that’s one of the issues I worked on when I was in the Senate. We thought we had a good shot with George W. Bush in the White House and a Democratic Senate, bipartisan support. President Bush was pretty vocal about wanting comprehensive immigration reform. That was back in 2006 or ’07. That failed. You were part of the Gang of Eight more recently. I think 2013 you tried to get comprehensive immigration reform. That failed too. What needs to happen and what does the political balance need to be or the balance of power need to be for something that’s comprehensive to get passed?
Michael Bennet: That failed for one reason and one reason only. It failed because of the so-called Hastert Rule in the House of Representatives that is named after a guy who’s in prison and that requires a so-called majority of the majority to pass something. In that case, it was the Republicans to have a majority to pass something. I think most of your listeners will understand this, but what that means is as a practical matter, it gives a veto to a minority of the majority.
Michael Bennet: In this case, to the 40 or 50 members of the Freedom Caucus who said, “We are not going to vote for that, and therefore Speaker Boehner and Speaker Ryan, you can’t put it on the floor. Therefore, it’s not going to pass.” That was it. It was tyranny of the minority. You ask where does the political balance need to be struck. The Gang of Eight immigration bill is exactly where the political balance needs to be struck. It got 68 votes in the Senate, very little has changed and that bill had a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people here that are undocumented, the most progressive Dream Act that had ever been conceived, much less put on the floor of the Senate. It had $46 billion of fricking border security in it.
Michael Bennet: By the way, it was 21st century border technology, not Trump’s medieval and ineffective wall. You could see every single inch of the border. We doubled the number of border security agents. Lindsey Graham used to say that there were so many border security agents they could hold hands on the border. We had internal security so that 40% of the people that are here that are undocumented or people that came and overstayed their visas, as a country we have no capacity to figure out who those people are.
Michael Bennet: This idea that Trump is conveying to the American people that Democrats are for open borders is belied completely by the facts. Every single Democrat in the Senate in 2013 voted for 46 billion in border security. Not Donald Trump’s rinky dink $6 billion, and it was border security that would have actually secured the border because we understood that there was a political balance to be struck between getting the pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people and securing our borders.
Michael Bennet: If you look at the polling data, what it shows you is that the elements of the Gang of Eight plan still polled far better than every else including Trump’s wall. I think that’s a great example of where our democracy is broken because even in a place where we struck the political balance, even in a moment where a bill almost became a law based on exactly the way the Senate was supposed to work, group of people with good will meeting together, coming up with solutions, giving it to the judiciary committee, having a massive number of amendments adopted and some defeated that were meant to kill the bill, put it on the floor, an open amendment process.
Michael Bennet: All of that worked. The bill was improved through this pluralistic process that the founders created for us. Then it was destroyed by the tyranny of the Freedom Caucus and the tyranny of the Hastert Rule. That’s the stuff we’re going to have to overcome if we’re going to fix this democracy and deal with immigration. That’s what we’re going to have to do.
Michael Bennet: By the way, like you, my mom was an immigrant to this country. This is personal for me. She was separated from her parents when she was an infant, when she was about three or four years old. They were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust. I think that is where the American people continue to be. Not where Donald Trump is or where he was when he rolled down the escalator and declared that Mexicans in this country were rapists. We somehow lost to him, which we never should have done, but it sure means that we can’t take this election for granted.
Preet Bharara: You talk about open border, that no Democrat supports open borders. Do you think that some of your colleagues hurt themselves when they talk about repealing the statute whose section is 1325 when they want to decriminalize you can say crossing into the country illegally? You opposed the repeal of that statute, right?
Michael Bennet: Yeah. I think that’s a bad mistake. On the merits, I think it’s wrong. I think every single country in the world has the right to secure its borders and that every president in the world or the equivalent has the obligation to secure their borders. That does not mean that we should not be behaving as a wealthy and powerful and humane country and ensuring that kids and their parents are never separated again in the name of the American people. That’s something that should never have happened.
Preet Bharara: What’s wrong with what Julián Castro says, which is it will still be unlawful and you’ll deal with it civilly? Why does it have to be a crime?
Michael Bennet: I’m not sure. First of all, I’m not even sure what it means to deal with it civilly when you’ve got people that can’t either afford to pay a fine, but I would say that President Obama’s Homeland Security secretary made the point that if you decriminalize the border then you create incentives for people to cross the border illegally. We don’t want to create that sort of incentive. I don’t think we want to create that sort of incentive.
Michael Bennet: We also don’t want to make the Democratic Party into a punching bag for Donald Trump’s argument that we’re for open borders. We’re not for open borders. At least the senators that I know that voted for this were for a rational and reasonable approach to border security that came with a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people and the Dream Act. I think that’s where we should be as Democrats.
Preet Bharara: How do you undo the harm … I’m going to assume we agree on this … the harm caused by anti-immigrant rhetoric. We were told at the beginning that this was all about illegal immigration based on the rhetoric and lots of other things that are being proposed and that Stephen Miller seems to be chewing on in the White House. It’s really about reducing immigration generally and casting aspersions on immigrants generally and also reducing them from countries that have more brown people than white people.
Preet Bharara: I was amazed to see Ken Cuccinelli, who’s a high-ranking official at DHS, when asked this question that keeps swirling around about the famous Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty, “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses.” He, in some appearance, rewrote it on the fly to say, “Give us your poor, your tired, who can stand on their own two feet.” I follow a lot of people on social media with whom I don’t agree, and I like to see what other people’s reactions are. A lot of folks on the right, on this question, they responded by saying, “Well, who give a damn about a poem? A poem is not a law. A poem is not in the Constitution.” Do they have a point?
Michael Bennet: I don’t think they have a point. I think it comes out of this same kind of stuff that … This is slightly off topic and I want to come back to your question. Donald Trump got elected in part by attacking John McCain who was a member of the Gang of Eight. I got to know him well doing that. He attacked John McCain and said he wasn’t a hero. He said that he liked heroes that weren’t captured.
Michael Bennet: John McCain spent five years of his life in solitary confinement in Vietnam because he was heroic enough to go to war when Donald Trump was not. Yet, Fox News repeated this attack on John McCain’s character over and over and over again. In a normal conversation among people at a dinner table, if your children said the stuff the Fox News people were repeating that Trump had said about John McCain, you’d wash their mouths out with soap or do whatever it is one does in the 21st century to show that it was wrong.
Michael Bennet: If your parent or grandparent said something like that about John McCain, you’d be ashamed and embarrassed that they said it. It’s the same thing with somebody assaulting the Lazarus poem. It’s this idea that somehow this is all about political correctness and we’re against political correctness no matter where it lies, and we’re going to show how tough we are by not upholding some of the greatest traditions of this country.
Michael Bennet: It is ridiculous, and I would say to my friends who listen to Fox News that I hope that they will contend as we go into this election season with the damage that’s being done to our finest traditions by this group of people that think it’s hilarious to beat up John McCain or turn their back on the Lazarus poem.
Michael Bennet: What you said about immigration was so important a minute ago because you said the harm that had been created. It was created. It was created by Donald Trump from the day that he said that Mexicans were rapists and the day that he said that they don’t send us our best. Then it was underscored every single day, 24 hours a day by Fox News, who reported hour after hour after hour these kind of crime stories about immigrants.
Michael Bennet: Then to their everlasting shame, the Republican national committees then ran TV ads about gangs from El Salvador taking over Montana, North Dakota and Indiana, so that in these states, the number one issue became immigration when it wasn’t close to being the number one issue that people were facing. I really believe, Preet, that there was not this massive latent anti-immigrant view in America, which is not to say that there are not racist people in America, that there are not prejudiced people in America, but I do not believe there was this huge, latent view.
Michael Bennet: I think it’s been manufactured in a media environment and through political spending and by having a president who first sought power and now has sought to retain power by dividing the American people against immigrants, something that historically our presidents don’t do, but it’s not unknown in other countries. That is what we have to overcome.
Michael Bennet: You ask how do we overcome the harm? When Trump was running I said to everybody there’s no way we’re going to elect a president as anti immigrant as Donald Trump. I was wrong about that. I would say, “You’ve got to put your arm around somebody and tell them you’re glad they’re here. You know what they’re doing is important. Mostly people know that the people that are here that are immigrants are striving. They are killing themselves to make their life better and to make their kids’ lives better and to make this country better.
Michael Bennet: I think that’s what most people believed about immigrants before the era of Trump. We all are now going to have to come together and reassert that and the set of values that are in that that Lazarus poem. Man, that is exactly the reason my mother and her grandparents came to this country. I would argue that the country got as much from them as they got from the country. I don’t know anybody more patriotic than my grandparents.
Michael Bennet: They had the strongest accents of anybody I’ve ever known in this country, but they got to New York. My mom enrolled herself in public school, the only person in the family who could speak English. They rebuilt from ashes their lives in the only country in the world where they believed they could do it. That is an America that we have to defend.
Preet Bharara: Senator, thank you for that answer. It leads me to my final question. What does patriotism mean to you? In this time when there’s lots of arguments about that, how do you think of what that means?
Michael Bennet: I think Donald Trump is the most unpatriotic president of my lifetime. If I could prove it sitting here, I would say he’s the most unpatriotic president in American history. What patriotism means to me is securing this democracy for another 230 years, making sure the next generation of Americans has more opportunity, not less, than we had and making sure that we secure America’s role in the world not through our military might, but by presenting to humanity the idea that this exercise in self government is critically important and vital to humanity. That is what it is to be patriotic to me and it is not believing that we ever did it perfectly.
Michael Bennet: We never did it perfectly from the founding forward … In the founding of this country, we instituted human slavery as part of the founding. The worst most egregious thing that anybody could do. It took other Americans, among them Frederick Douglass, who I think of as much of a founder as the guys that wrote the constitution, to end human slavery. Generation after generation and generation of Americans have done what was required to make this country more democratic, more fair and more free.
Michael Bennet: That’s what we have to do as patriots. When I think about what our role is in a democratic republic like the one we live in … What is the role of a citizen? I actually think it is the role of a founder, that we should think of ourselves as founders with that elevated a sense of responsibility and duty before us. I think if we think about it that way and if we make sure that other people in this pluralistic society have the chance to serve that role as a founder, as a citizen of this republic, to make sure we extend opportunity by having quality education and making sure people have the right to vote and can exercise that right to vote, that Donald Trump will be a blip. We will move past it and we will restore the democracy and make it stronger in the 21st century. If we don’t do that, I think our democracy is really at risk.
Preet Bharara: Senator Michael Bennet, thank you for being on the show. Thank you for your service and good luck on the trail.
Michael Bennet: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Preet Bharara: The conversation continues for member of the CAFE Insider Community. In this week’s Stay Tuned bonus, I talk with Michael Bennet about the Republican bulwark against progress, why he doesn’t support free college or student-loan forgiveness, where Joe Biden is wrong and Nascar Jesus. To get the stay tuned bonus and the exclusive weekly CAFE Insider podcast, go to café.com/insider.
Preet Bharara: That’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Senator Michael Bennet. Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Aaron Dalton. The CAFE team is Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, Vinay Basti, and Jeff Eisenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: I’m lucky to have some wonderful guests joining me for the Fall 2019 Stay Tuned Tour, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan and former acting attorney general, Sally Yates. We’ll be in Denver on October 24th, Detroit on November 12th and Atlanta on December 4th. For tickets and updates, go to café.com/tour.