Jaisal Noor: Welcome to the Real News, I’m Jaisal Noor. Democrats won the White House and control Congress, defeated the entrenched power of the GOP, and even survived what’s been described as an attempted coup. Now the only thing that stands between the Democrats and their campaign promises is the Democratic party itself. While Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency relief can pass the Senate with a simple majority, Democrats are still somehow conflicted on whether they want to end the filibuster, which Republicans could use to block other legislation by requiring 60 votes. If Democrats fail to end or circumvent the filibuster, a Jim Crow relic that was used to block the Civil Rights legislation, they will likely fail to deliver additionally badly needed stimulus, cancel student debt, reform the Supreme Court, expand voting rights that Republicans are so determined to undermine, or establish statehood for DC, while progressive groups are targeting centrist Democrats who seemingly don’t want their party to win, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema.
Jaisal Noor: We’re now joined by Corbin Trent, a former staffer for AOC. He worked on Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, a co-founder of Justice Democrats and No Excuses PAC, which is putting pressure on conservative Democrats to demand they allow their party to win, to pass legislation that will improve the lives of people across the country. Thanks so much for joining us.
Corbin Trent: Thanks for having me Jaisal. Thanks for having me.
Jaisal Noor: So the country has been watching these impeachment hearings unfold. A majority of Senate Republicans appeared to reject prosecution’s arguments, including harrowing new footage showing senators and staffers narrowly avoiding being attacked during the January 6th attacks, indicating they will likely vote to acquit former President Trump of incitement. So with this in mind, with the last several years of how the Republicans have operated, how Mitch McConnell have operated in the Senate, how should the Democrats respond? Should they respond by nuking the filibuster so they can campaign follow through on some of their campaign promises?
Corbin Trent: Yeah, I think absolutely they should. And the other thing they’ve got to remember, I think, is how we’ve won before, right? As a party, and the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that we had some pretty good majorities in the Senate and the House. And I think the way we do that is by improving the lives of people in the country. And because of the way the system operates, the only way we’re going to be able to do that in the near term is by eliminating the filibuster. I mean, it’s not even like we’ve got this filibuster in place, like the relic that it is, where you see senators standing on the floor doing multi-day speeches to block legislation. This has literally just become a procedural thing that’s as easy as using your debit card. I mean, it’s like you got to have 60 votes to pass anything significant because of the threat of this procedural filibuster. And I think it’s bizarre that we’ve let something so arcane and so pointless just hold this country up and tie our hands and make us unable to act.
Jaisal Noor: So Democrats are now in a position of saying, and I’m talking about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema specifically, they want to preserve norms and leave norms intact. At the same time, Republicans are saying that we will allow attacks on the transfer of power. It’s just, please help us understand why this makes sense.
Corbin Trent: I think one of the things that we’ve got to remember is that most of the folks in the House and the Senate, their number one priority is preserving their own political life, right? Their own political career, their own political future. And I think one of the things that you can see when you’re watching the way this trial is going to unfold, this impeachment trial, is it almost doesn’t matter what the evidence is. What I’m hearing from the media, generally, is that this is a foregone conclusion. That actual phrase: foregone conclusion, to what the results are going to be. Republicans are going to vote to acquit Donald Trump, regardless of the evidence that’s presented. And that’s where we’re at as a country. That’s where the Republicans are as a party.
Corbin Trent: But I think it’s emblematic and it’s a direct result of the narrow focus of most of our politicians, which is how do I protect my political career? They’re not really interested in protecting Donald Trump. I don’t think there’s all that much affinity for Donald Trump in the Republican party in the Senate. I think in fact, there’s disdain and disgust for the guy. I think it’s a different disdain and disgust than a normal person would have. They just feel like, I think, that maybe they’re above him or he’s beneath them or whatever. And some of them were probably offended about his rhetoric and the actions of the 6th and before. But what they’re afraid of is, if they stand up, then their voters in the primaries will fire them. That’s what they’re afraid of. They’re not protecting Donald Trump. So I think what we’ve got to be able to do is convince these electeds that inaction and allowing this sort of status quo to continue and our inability to function as a nation is also going to endanger their jobs. If it makes them afraid for their jobs, then they’ll, I think, take action.
Jaisal Noor: So I want to talk about tactics. You and No Excuses PAC are raising money to run ads against these centrist Democrats. And you’ve said you’re working to potentially recruit primary challengers when they’re up for reelection, I believe in 2024. So some people say, look, that’s crazy.
Corbin Trent: Nate Silver, for example, says that’s crazy.
Jaisal Noor: Yeah, Nate Silver.
Corbin Trent: CNN op-ed recently said that’s crazy. Yes there’s-
Jaisal Noor: So we’re talking about, for example, in West Virginia, in the recent election, 2020, the Republican won by something like 60 points against a progressive Democrat. How do you respond to those critics?
Corbin Trent: The way I respond to those critics is that doing what we’re doing now and what we’ve been doing for the last decade as a party is what I think is the crazy thing. So if you go back just a few cycles, right? I’m not talking about going back to the 1930s, 40s and 50s, when Democrats ruled the roost in Washington DC, I’m talking about going back to 2014, 2012, 2010, right? And looking at the majorities. When President Barack Obama was elected, Democrats in the Senate had a 60 vote majority, right? And they kept somewhere around 58, 59 vote majority for the first part of his term. And then they lost it. And then they lost again in 2014. And then they continually got their asses handed to them electorally because they weren’t delivering for the American people.
Corbin Trent: Then, like now, we were in crisis. That was the housing crisis. And there was an economic crisis that was plaguing Americans and their government was plagued with inaction. They didn’t do enough to help the American people recover from that. And the consequence was the Democratic Party got thrown out of the Senate and then the House and then the White House. And I think it’d be foolhardy to continue that same kind of, head in the sand, let’s just toe this middle of the road approach, we don’t need to go big, slow your roll, kind of attitude. I think that’s what leads to Democrats getting decimated.
Corbin Trent: And as far as Joe Manchin specifically goes, in 2012, he won his election by about 25 points. The last time he was up for election in 2018, he won that election by 3%. That’s a 22% dip. My guess is the next time he runs, first of all, he’ll be 77 years old the next time he runs. He’s not certain that he’s going to run. He’s famously said, well, he doesn’t know if he’s going to run again. My guess is he’s going to lose regardless, whether he runs or doesn’t run. And to not start now recruiting Democrats that can win in West Virginia, to not start now building a party that can actually have a brand strong enough in West Virginia to win, that to me is the crazy thing.
Corbin Trent: And Democrats right now have a majority in the House, a majority in the Senate and the White House. And their actions, as a party and as a government, are going to determine whether or not Democrats win in the next elections. Right now, voters have given us the keys to the government. And what we’ve got to prove over the next two years is that we’re worthy of those keys and they don’t need to take them away. In fact, they need to give us bigger majorities so that we can do more as a government, as a party. But that’s not that’s not where I think Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are taking this. That’s not what they wanted to do.
Corbin Trent: Hopefully now, we have seen, the ads are starting to have an impact in my opinion. We’re seeing Joe Manchin back off a little bit. Something specific, like the $2,000 checks, he was against it. Ads ran. He’s backed off. He’s for it. He was talking about the size of the stimulus package. Now he’s basically accepted that and moved on. Even the $15 minimum wage being attached to the House version, he appears to be accepting and not pushing back on. So yeah, you could say that trying to recruit a primary opponent to Joe Manchin is a bad move. He’s going to leave the party, or nobody else can win, or… There’s all kinds of criticisms of it, but I think sitting in waiting to continue losing House and Senate seats over the next few cycles, I think that’s way crazier.
Jaisal Noor: Another thing, which I personally feel is crazy is that after seeing Republicans use all their power to stack the, for example, stack federal courts across the country, to gerrymander in States across the country, why Democrats aren’t now using this power to structurally change how the government is set up. We know, for example, fundamentally, the Senate is undemocratic. Washington DC doesn’t have representation. Adding two senators to Washington DC would change the political landscape in Washington. It seems like common sense thing. Voting rights, which they’ve already introduced as part of HR1 expanding voting rights, protecting that, is something that’s never going to get 60 votes in the Senate. Talk about, we’re going to play a couple of your ads. Talk about the messaging around these ads and why you think they’re effective.
Corbin Trent: Yeah. So with the first Manchin ad that we put out, what we were trying to really make sure that voters in West Virginia understood is that Senator Manchin was taking a political position. I think very often you see politicians in Washington agreeing. You rarely see President Trump and the Democrats standing together, united on policy. But sending $2,000 relief checks to the American people was one of those rare times. Unfortunately, our Senator Joe Manchin, thinks he knows better than both our President and the Democrats in Congress. I guess Joe just don’t know what it’s been like to live through the pandemic. He was out on a political island and it was clear that the reason for that was to try to take some political power for himself, right?
Corbin Trent: The thing that he was blocking, which at this point was $2,000 checks, was supported by Donald Trump. It was supported by Josh Hawley, Bernie Sanders, Warnock, Ossoff, everybody was basically behind this thing, but he wanted to sort of stand in the way. And obviously his state and the people in that state desperately needed that help. And that’s what we wanted to make sure that people understood with that ad is that your senator is out there blocking this thing that’s going to help the state for no reason other than his own political gain. And that he’s basically standing alone. That was the idea there, what we really wanted to articulate.
Corbin Trent: And then when it comes to Senator Sinema, she’s okay with the gridlock because it protects her. She thinks the filibuster should stay right where it is. She thinks your checks are getting out fast enough, that the tests are happening rapidly enough, and that everything is okay. Countless hours of partisan bickering and back and forth, they don’t prevent one case of COVID. They don’t stop one death. They don’t create one job. It’s time Kyrsten Sinema stood up for the people and stood against the filibuster. The real focus there is around filibuster and this sort of commitment to inaction and commitment to debate, as opposed to doing and creating results of American people, and her sort of desire to stand up strong, stand up very strong to protect her colleagues in the Senate, stand up very strong to prevent to protect these sort of institutional blockades to action.
Corbin Trent: And I think the other thing is to highlight the fact that these folks are saying what the Senate needs to do is have more debate and less action. And I think that there’s very few people among the electorate that would think that’s the case. And the one of the things that you hear a lot about is this sort of unintended consequences, right? What happens when you get rid of the filibuster? Then the Republicans are back in charge, then what? Well, like you were just saying, we already know what the Republicans do when they’re in charge. They don’t even have to have a a filibuster proof majority to shove justices through, to push things through. They use all the mechanisms they have at their disposal, and some that are sort of on the verge of their disposal, to push their agenda through, which ironically is a very unpopular agenda when it comes to most people’s political opinion in the country. But they’re willing to utilize their power to push it through because that’s that’s who they are as a party. And the thing is is that if we can get in there and push and actually push through some of the Democratic agenda, the good thing is A, it’s popular and B, it can improve lives. And it can be something that is directly and nearly immediately impacting the lives of the people that have elected them.
Jaisal Noor: All right. Corbin Trent, thanks so much for joining us and discussing these important stories, which will continue to be something we follow over the next couple of years. Thanks so much.
Corbin Trent: Thanks for having me.
Jaisal Noor: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
From eliminating the filibuster to pushing through much-needed $2k COVID-19 relief checks, conservative and centrist Democrats like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are standing in the way of crucial legislative actions that would allow the party to make good on its campaign promises. Fearing this will result in electoral backlash, progressive groups like No Excuses PAC are working to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire, including running ads and recruiting primary challengers to pressure Sens. Manchin and Sinema.
No Excuses PAC co-founder (and former AOC and Bernie Sanders staffer) Corbin Trent joins Jaisal Noor to talk about how supporting the status quo may cost Democrats the next election.