While the media focuses on the Sanders/Warren spat, Maurice Mitchell of the Working Families Party and Jennifer Epps-Addison of the Center for Popular Democracy Action argue progressives must defeat the forces that gave rise to Trump.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor. The race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is heating up, and the media has highlighted a recent clash between front runners, Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Newscaster: Tempers were hot in the moments after Tuesday’s Democratic Presidential Debate, and so were the mics.
Senator Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV.
Senator Sanders: You think I did what?
Senator Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV.
Senator Sanders: Let’s not do it right now. You want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.
Senator Warren: Any time.
Senator Sanders: You called me a liar. You told me… All right, let’s not do it.
Anderson Cooper: Probably the most talked-about moment at last night’s Democratic Debate.
Candidate: You know, other candidates, particularly the moderate ones, may stand to benefit from the more swiping back and forth that goes on, on the left.
Jaisal Noor: But progressive groups say they want supporters of both candidates to focus on the greater threats like defeating corporate Democrats who oppose policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and taxing the wealthy to pay for it.
Speaker 6: My plan gives everybody access to Medicare. Others say it’s Medicare for All or nothing. I approved this message to say the choice should be yours.
Joe Biden: I believe we have to protect and build on Obamacare. That’s why I proposed adding a public option to Obamacare as the best way to lower costs and cover everyone.
Speaker 7: There’s an America waiting to be rebuilt, where everyone without health insurance is guaranteed to get it, and everyone who likes theirs can go ahead and keep it.
Jaisal Noor: These groups, who have also been fighting the far right policies of Donald Trump, argue either Warren or Sanders would be the party’s best choice to defeat him.
Well, now joining us to discuss this, are two guests. Maurice Mitchell is the National Director of the Working Families Party, a national organization that’s building parties in 15 States. His organization has endorsed Senator Warren. And we have Jennifer Epps Addison, Co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a coalition of groups in 34 states, Puerto Rico, and DC with hundreds of thousands of members. And they have endorsed Senator Sanders. Thank you both for joining us.
I’ve heard a lot of concern recently about whether this recent fight, which the mainstream media has really focused on, between Warren and Sanders could have lasting damage in the progressive movement. Maurice, you coauthored a recent article in Buzzfeed arguing that progressives should focus on defeating corporate Democrats. You’re not saying that progressives shouldn’t argue, but you’re saying let’s stick to policy disagreements and focus on defeating Mayor Pete or Biden or Bloomberg, who’s spent 115 million at least so far on this race. Tell us why you wrote that piece.
Maurice M.: Sure. Well, and also it’s a pleasure to be here. I wrote that piece because it’s pretty clear to us that progressives need to keep our eyes on the prize, that the progressive wind of the electorate is growing, and it’s growing because both Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are in this fight. We think that’s a good thing for our movement. And as somebody who’s building a movement organization that endorses candidates, we put the movement first, and we understand that the movement is what ultimately allows us to have the changes that we’ve seen all throughout the trajectory of this country’s several hundred years. It’s been movements, it’s been people on the ground that have done that.
And presidential candidates have used the opportunity that movements have created in order to do that. Right now we have two movement candidates that are talking about big progressive change, and it only benefits our movements if we focus on the corporate wing of the Democrats, discrediting their failed policies and lift up big progressive change.
Jaisal Noor: So Jen, your colleague coauthored that piece with Maurice. And again, you’re not arguing, let’s not have fights within the progressive movement, let’s not debate, because Sanders and Warren are not the same. To be clear, you’re not saying we shouldn’t have those arguments, and I hope to maybe host a debate with both of you soon to hash that out. But can you elaborate on that? Why is it important that we still have disagreements within the progressive movement?
Jennifer Epps A: Yeah, I mean, first of all, great to be here with my good friend and colleague Maurice, who is the leader of my political home, the Working Families Party.
I think people have to understand what is at stake in this moment. We are not just looking to go back to the status quo that has failed so many people in this country, from the working class to black and brown communities to we’re all in geographically isolated communities. We are looking to build a country in which we all have the freedom to thrive, and we believe that right now there is a moment for the left to ascend to build a country where we don’t put profits of a small handful of individuals and corporations over the health and wellbeing and the lives of our people.
The only candidates who are offering that type of vision for our country are the two Progressive’s that are left in the race. And so we believe that what benefits us all as does the Working Families Party is for those progressive based on our ideals to go out there and build the broadest, biggest coalitions that they can. So when it comes time, we can defeat the corporate Democrats and defeat Trump and Trumpism once and for all.
Jaisal Noor: And so some have argued that there would actually be an upside to having two Progressive’s in the primary, deep into the primary race, which is very different than 2016. Maurice let’s start with you. Because the downsides are easy. To think about the downsides because the downsides are, is that they’re going to keep clashing with each other and they’re going to be going for each other supporters. What’s your response?
Maurice M.: What we know is that there are millions of people who is still trying to make up their mind. In all of the polls that we’ve seen, we’ve seen significant percentages of people that still have yet to make up their mind. That’s still true in the early primary states. And we think it’s important that the Progressives engage those people and bring them onto the Progressive tent before they’re influenced by the Centrist. And so we think there’s a lot of people to pick up and having two candidates running grassroots campaigns that are focusing on organizing allows that to happen.
Both of these candidates are lifting up Progressive values and doing it in different ways and have different appeals. So we feel like that just grows the tent in bigger ways. And they’re building, each of them are building grassroots armies and coalitions that are distinct. And we think that that’s a good thing.
The other thing I will say is that unity does not mean uniformity. And so I think it’s great that we could argue about not whether or not health care is a right or a commodity, but what is the path to Medicare for All. Right? I think it’s great that we’re arguing, not the idea that we need to take corporate money out of politics, but how we do that. And so when you have multiple Progressive’s in the race, we could actually challenge ourselves to achieve the greatest outcomes but actually settled the debate on these fundamental questions about whether or not the economy and the democracy should work for everyday people.
Jaisal Noor: And Jen, I wanted you to respond to that as well.
Jennifer Epps A: Yeah, I mean I think the biggest risk we have in our strategy is that somehow the disagreements and the sort of strategy and policy differences end up poisoning the well for either of our two preferred candidates to move forward. What we are trying to communicate to our membership, to our base in certainly with our presence online is that we cannot do ourselves a disservice here to say that is our candidate or the only candidate. We have to actually see ourselves in struggle and in unity with folks who have made a different strategic choice on which candidates to support in the primary. Because at the end of the day when we get down to those final states, when we get down to convention, we are going to need each other supporters in order to defeat the corporate wing.
And just to be clear, when we say the corporate wing, we are talking about folks who are taking money from pharmaceutical companies and from wall street who crashed our economy. One of the reasons why black wealth has all but disappeared. The limited amount that we had been able to build has all but disappeared in the last decade. And we’re talking about people who are taking money from the fossil fuel industry as well, sitting there and pretending that they value the principles in the Green New Deal.
We must defeat that because, Democrats, we are a big tent coalition in terms of the elected representatives we have, but when you actually poll us on these issues, when you ask folks, do they want to make sure everybody in this country has health care? When you ask folks, do they want a humane immigration system that treats people as people and not as criminals? When you ask people, do they want to reform our criminal justice system? Are they tired of seeing black bodies slain by the police in this country? The answers to those questions are uniformly yes for people who identify as Democrats and then for a lot of people who have been disillusioned in this political process, who people like Senator Warren and Senator Sanders are welcoming back in.
Jaisal Noor: So Hillary Clinton made headlines this week by saying in an interview based on a documentary she’s in, nobody likes him, Bernie Sanders, called him a career politician and also said, she didn’t commit to backing him in the primary, which she later walked back on Twitter, a short time afterwards, but I wanted to use those recent comments to set up a clip of a freshman congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. She was in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, famed author and journalist at Riverside’s Church on Monday. This is a bit of what she said.
Alexandria O.: We don’t have a left party in the United States. Democratic Party is not a left party. The Democratic Party is a center or center conservative party. We do not advocate for, we do not… We can’t even get a floor vote on Medicare for All, not even a floor vote that gets voted down. We can’t even get a vote on it. So this is not a left party. There are left members inside the Democratic Party that are working to try to make that shift happen.
Jaisal Noor: So final question, we’re almost out of time, Maurice. How important is it going to be to wage this fight, not only on the presidential level, but throughout the democratic party and beyond 2020?
Maurice M.: Sure. I mean, that’s why we’re building the Working Families Party. We believe that the way to expand our politics in this rigid two party system is to build independent political power and to join forces with members in Congress, like member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and grassroots leaders up and down the ballot. From municipal races like our recent WFP city council, woman, Kendra Brooks, all the way up and hopefully a Progressive president. You have to create an inside, outside coalition that includes the forces on the left of the democratic party and all of these forces in our grassroots movements and labor organizations to push for these changes. Because we know that just like there’s a left wing of the democratic party, there’s a strong organized capital wing that’ll always drag us to the right.
And so I think that that is spot on. And I also think that what Hillary Clinton had to say was correct. People in Washington are afraid of true Progressive’s like Bernie Sanders. That’s why we endorsed him last cycle. That’s why we are very supportive of his movement this cycle, even though we’ve endorsed, Elizabeth Warren. And that’s the reason why so many people have embraced him at that big bold, progressive change that both him and Elizabeth Warren have been champion.
Jaisal Noor: All right Jen, we’ll give you the last word.
Jennifer Epps A: Well I would just say I like that quote from AOC but I liked the one more where she talks about that the party, we are not dragging the party left. We’re bringing the party home and the reality is the millions and millions of people who make up the voting base of the Democratic Party are with us on the issues are with Senator Warren and Senator Sanders on the issues. What we have to do is actually inspire them to believe that a better world is possible and that they can actually achieve it through their political participation.
And so that’s why we need a candidate who not just represents policies and ideas, but who brings a movement of people willing to put their time, energy, and hard earned dollars on the line to help elect that candidate president. And we don’t see that happening for any of the corporate Democrats. We see it with candidates who are movement candidates like Senator Warren and Senator Sanders.
Jaisal Noor: We want to thank you both for joining us. Jennifer Epps Addison, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action who has endorsed, Senator Sanders. And Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party who have endorsed Senator Warren. Thank you so much for joining us.
Maurice M.: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Jennifer Epps A: Thank you.