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TRNN speaks with Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings on Day 4 of the Democracy Spring demonstration

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: So, we are here at Democracy Spring. I’m now joined by Congressman Elijah Cummings. He’s the congressman for Baltimore. As you all know, the Real News is based in Baltimore. So, Congressman Cummings, are you standing in solidarity with these protesters today? CUMMINGS: Without a doubt. You know, there are a lot of things that we try to do in Washington to help people live better lives, but what we find is that a lot of times the votes are already bought. In other words, when we’re trying to bring about some type of policies that deal with economic inequality, for example, the policies that we’re trying to enact, a lot of times, are blocked by people who are getting large sums of money from various entities, and Citizens United basically put that type of action on steroids. DESVARIEUX: Can I ask you what specifically? Because folks are, their comeback is always that– CUMMINGS: –There are numerous types of things. For example, when we were dealing with the Consumer Protection Bureau, we were trying to form the Consumer Protection Bureau, and in my committee, Oversight and Government Reform, we may have had maybe five or six hearings, and those on the other side never even mentioned the value of the protection bureau with regard to predatory lenders and protecting their constituents. They concentrated all of their efforts on trying to destroy the effort. THat’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. So a lot of stuff that you never even really hear about, but it makes it very difficult to get anything done. People just assume, for example, the issue with regard to college tuition and our young people unable to pay back student loans, and when we try to put forth policies to address those sort of things, like loan forgiveness and things of that nature, those are the kinds of things that a lot of times get blocked because people are trying to look out and give tax breaks for folks are the richest of the rich and who can afford to buy elections. DESVARIEUX: So are you talking about, like, for-profit colleges who are lobbying against these types of methods? CUMMINGS: Same thing. Same thing. [inaud.] In other words, almost anything that you want to do that’s progressive gets blocked because folks are trying to make sure there’s enough money to give to the richest of the rich, you follow what I’m saying? DESVARIEUX: Well, here’s – CUMMINGS: –The budget can only take so much– DESVARIEUX: –Well, here’s the challenge, though, because you have folks like Hillary Clinton saying that, number one, you cannot directly link the fact that I’m getting donations from these big type of corporations that that will influence my policy, and you also have Congressional Black Caucus PAC, I should be specific, the PAC, supporting folks like Hillary Clinton. So how do we change the system if there are folks who are supposed to be standing up for the little guy, like you– CUMMINGS: –Yes– DESVARIEUX: –And other folks in the Congressional Black Caucus not doing enough to push back and supporting folks like Hillary Clinton? CUMMINGS: Well, you know, the fact is, Hillary Clinton has said, basically, that although she may accept funds from these entities that that doesn’t necessarily influence her decisions. And if you really think about President Obama, he, in order for him to even play in the game of politics, that is to be elected, you’ve got to have funds. So until you can right the Citizens United-type decisions, how do you even be a part of the process to even change it? That’s the problem, you following what I’m saying? DESVARIEUX: I totally am following, but do you think those within this House and Senate are going to change them? Because these rules tend to favor incumbents. CUMMINGS: I think that with protests like this, with 27 thousand people showing up at a Bernie rally just recently, I think the public is making a big statement, and they’re basically saying that we’re frustrated, we understand what money is doing in this society and in this Congress, and we’re going to do something about it. Let me tell you something. You cannot see 27 thousand people, not to come to a rock concert but to come to see a 70-something-year-old man talk about policy. I mean, think about that. And to see that happening all over the country. But here’s also, you know, even when you look at a Trump, there are people that are coming out. Why? Because they are frustrated. And somebody said something a long time ago in the movie “Sicko” by Michael Moore. They were talking to a retired member of the English Parliament and they said, well, why is it that countries like Cuba and France and England can have universal health care but the United States does not? And of course that was a few years ago. He said this. He said, in those countries the people, the government is afraid of the people. He said, but in the United States the people are afraid of the government. There’s a big difference. And I think that the more you have this outside game, and this is an outside game, these protests, and the more people come out, you cannot just, you can’t turn your head to that. And, as a matter of fact, when Hillary Clinton was in Baltimore on Sunday, just recently, I said to her, I think it is very important that we listen very carefully to what Bernie is saying and look at the people who are coming out, because they are coming out out of frustration. DESVARIEUX: What was her response to that? CUMMINGS: She just nodded her head and said, yeah, you’re right. So we’ll see, you know? DESVARIEUX: Is it a we’ll see, though? Because people say look at the record. Look at those examples that Elizabeth Warren gave. CUMMINGS: I just left lunch with Elizabeth Warren 10 minutes ago. We just had lunch. DESVARIEUX: She told you she’s endorsing Bernie? CUMMINGS: No.

[audible laughter]

CUMMINGS: We talked about some of the issues that she and I are working on together. There is a frustration on the part of people like Elizabeth Warren and yours truly, but in the meantime we’ve got to fight, because what we’re seeing, though, is that even with Hillary Clinton there’s a–I mean, as I listened to her on the stage in Baltimore on Sunday one of the things I noticed is that she sounded more and more like Bernie. In other words, adopting some of the things like free college tuition, things of that nature. DESVARIEUX: I think she said affordable. CUMMINGS: Affordable, but– DESVARIEUX: –Okay.– CUMMINGS: –But she has come, before I didn’t hear that. DESVARIEUX: Okay. CUMMINGS: Now I’m hearing more of that, okay? And all I’m saying is, I think that, the reason why I drifted, like I said, I just came from lunch with Elizabeth Warren. The reason why I drifted over here is because I wanted to see what these folks were saying, because they are the ones that’ll make my job easier. They’re the ones. These people right here. And they need to know that what they’re doing is important. DESVARIEUX: I have to say, though, I do not see that many Black people here. And I’m not going to say they aren’t here, but it’s clearly the majority is caucasian here, [and] part of Democracy Spring. CUMMINGS: Yeah. DESVARIEUX: Do you have a message for the African American community [crosstalk] about– CUMMINGS: [interceding]–Yeah, I do. My message is that we need to, the way, and matter of fact I just said this to Elizabeth. The way that we are going to change this world and deal with things like Citizens United, is we’ve got to have a coalition of folks. It was a coalition of Blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians that put Barack Obama in office. It wasn’t just some white people. It just wasn’t some Black people. And so we’ve got to make sure that we be a part of all of this, because it affects us to. As a matter of fact, Citizens United-type policy probably affects us, in some ways, more than other people. DESVARIEUX: What do you mean by that? CUMMINGS: What I mean by that is that, say–give you an example. When we had the recent recession a disproportionate number of African Americans lost their houses, lost their savings, and some of them will never recover in their lifetime. DESVARIEUX: Was that a third of Black wealth was lost? CUMMINGS: Yeah. It was substantial, but it was disproportionate. And these are people that didn’t have much from jump street. So those policies that were put in place, even the settlements that have been made, even after banks admitted that they messed over African American people and others and red-lined and all of this kind of stuff, the settlements in and of themselves did not yield funds to come back to them so that they could straighten out their lives. So, again, you know, it’s hard to pinpoint every little of instance where a Citizens United decision has had an impact, but believe me, Bernie is right. In order for us to do anything we have got to do everything in our power to take money out of politics. DESVARIEUX: All right. You just heard it from Congressman Cummings himself. Thank you so much for taking the time. CUMMINGS: All right, now.


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