Tommy interviews former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro about his 2020 bid. They discuss immigration, Puerto Rico, housing policy, why Democrats have underperformed with Latino voters and how he plans to make the debates and win. On foreign policy, they discuss the rise of white extremists, whether Saudi Arabia is still an ally, China’s muslim reeducation camps, North Korea and Beyonce.
Interview: Julian Castro and Tommy Vietor
Tommy Vietor: [00:00:00] I am honored to have with me in the studio today, a former mayor of San Antonio, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Julian Castro. Thank you so much for joining us.
Julian Castro: [00:00:09] Thanks a lot. Great to be with you.
Vietor: [00:00:12] So it’s been a weird week in the Trump world–I guess we say that every week basically–but I mean he threatened to seal the border with Mexico. He threatened to cut off aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. You rolled out a very very different and far less punitive and cruel immigration policy. You’ve proposed decriminalizing illegal entry into the U.S. and making it a civil infraction more like a speeding ticket than a crime. You want to split up ICE. You’ve proposed a Marshall Plan for Central America. Can you explain your immigration proposals and you know in particular what you can do on your own versus what Congress would have to act on? And talk about why you took such a bold approach.
Castro: [00:00:55] Well I just have a different vision for this from the president. If you’ll remember about a year ago his administration told us basically that if we would just be cruel enough to separate little children from their parents that that would deter more families from coming to the United States. And in fact more families are coming now. And so he wants us to believe that in order to have a secure border we need to choose cruelty. I believe that we have a border that is more secure than it’s ever been. And I’m asking Americans to choose compassion so this people first immigration plan that I rolled out includes rolling back something called Section 13.25 on the Immigration and Nationality Act which as you know was put in place in the late 1920s but until about 2004 these infractions–somebody crossing over the border–was actually treated mostly as a civil matter. It wasn’t treated as a criminal matter. I believe that we should go back to that, that it will help us undo the backlog that exists of people. Folks have been watching these images of people under the bridge in El Paso that are literally fenced in with razor wire. This family detention practice of separating little children from their parents. That’s all part of this incarceration push in our immigration policy. I think that we need to do away with that. I also believe that we need to increase the number of refugees that this country takes in. I think that we need to stop playing games with people who are seeking asylum in this country, stop treating them like criminals and allow them to make their claim. I saw the president today suggest that we should somehow do away with asylum and also do away with immigration judges. Actually, I believe that we should strengthen our immigration judicial system and make it independent and invest in it so that we can actually process these claims. I mean the fact of the matter is we know that many of the people who make an asylum claim in the United States may not get asylum. Also, under my plan of course we maintain the power to deport people but we don’t treat them like criminals and we don’t act like this is just going to go away. I also proposed basically a 21st Century Marshall Plan for Latin America. I know that you can’t compare this the Latin America of today with post-World War two Europe. Right. I mean Europe was coming back after the war. But what I mean is that I believe that we need to make investments in these northern triangle countries in Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala so that people can find safety and opportunity there instead of having to knock on the door of the United States. And so they win and we win.
Vietor: [00:03:47] I love that you are taking a big bold approach on immigration policy. I think that Democrats need to go at Trump hard on immigration because if you look at the facts, he’s a failure, right? He’s failed on enforcement. He’s failed when it comes to living up to our values. He’s not gotten the job done. But I also know, you know just from mostly time in the White House, that some of these policies are tough politically and some of them you’ve proposed like splitting up ICE, decriminalizing illegal entry, the foreign aid– if those require congressional action and in some instances are an unpopular, how do you propose to sell that? I mean how can we get voters to understand that more money for foreign aid is actually going to help them in the long run?
Castro: [00:04:37] Well I mean the fact is that as you know the United States every single year invests in the relationships that we have around the world with aid to many countries. And so I do think that there is a backbone in our history of some built-in support, some realization of that. You’re right. I mean we do have to convince people why it would make sense and I would very much lead that with an explanation of how much we’re going to spend, how much it would cost to build that wall versus to invest less–what would be less dollars in these northern triangle countries–and I think to stem the tide, stem the flow of people coming over here. So just on a numbers basis…
Vietor: [00:05:17] Do you have a ballpark number?
Castro: [00:05:17] No I don’t. But, you know, I anticipate that that would be our approach. And you know during the course of the campaign we look forward to getting specific about that. But the other thing is that, you know, I think that on January 20th 2021 at 12:01p.m, we’re going to have a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic House. And one of the lessons on immigration reform of 2009 and 2010 is ‘don’t wait.’ And so you know, we’re gonna go for that.
Vietor: [00:05:53] A lot of candidates announced that they’re going to run for president and then they catch the first plane to Iowa. You went to Puerto Rico. Why do you do that?
Castro: [00:06:01] I went to Puerto Rico because I wanted them and all Americans to know that if I’m president that everybody counts in this country. This administration has failed the people of Puerto Rico. Just recently he lied that ninety-one-billion dollars had been invested in Puerto Rico to recover from Hurricane Maria. The truth is that that’s just over 11 billion dollars. And I wanted to just tell them, you know, we’re thinking about them. They’re Americans too. And if I’m president I think, frankly if any of the folks that are running for president as Democrats make it, that we’re going to treat them very differently. We’re going to make sure that they count.
Vietor: [00:06:42] Do you the theory for why he is so vicious towards elected officials…any financing going towards Puerto Rico? It’s glaring it’s nasty.
Castro: [00:06:54] It’s insecurity. He recognizes that it’s another example of the administration’s either malice or incompetence. See, I don’t think that his incompetence is given enough credit, a lot of times. It’s an incompetent administration full of people who are C or D level appointees–not all of them but a lot of them–I mean you served in the federal government. You know what I’m talking about. A lot of positions that are unfilled. A lot of decisions that don’t get made because people are afraid to make a decision because there are gaps in the chain of command and political decisions that get made. So he wants people to believe that it was Puerto Rico’s fault from the very beginning when they suggested that somehow you know people were on strike and so they didn’t help deliver supplies on the island. He riles up his base by making them think it’s Puerto Rico’s fault when it wasn’t and shifts the conversation to that instead of the fact that that Harvard study pointed out that about three point three thousand people died and a lot of them [died] after the storm hit because the recovery was not handled the right way.
Vietor: [00:08:03] Yeah. ‘Puerto Ricans are known to create their own hurricanes,’ I think is his take on this. Do you think Puerto Rico should become a state?
Castro: [00:08:11] Well I think that they should, that they should determine that. I know that there have been a couple of votes in years past. I would like to see a process for self-determination. I would be committed to that if I’m president. I think that they should be respected first and foremost and they’ve been completely disrespected by this president. I mean I, I cannot believe how disrespectful this president has been.
Vietor: [00:08:39] Nor can I. So you were President Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017. The financial crisis and a lot of the fallout from it was before your time and in many instances–but there are some Democrats who believe that Obama didn’t do enough to help homeowners hurt by the financial crisis, but he bailed out banks. It’s something you hear a lot. So for example they think we should have let bankruptcy judges modify homeowner mortgages to reduce the terms, reduce the value of the debt, and avoid foreclosure. It’s called a “cramdown” down. It’s one of those awful terms that I will never forget and no one knows what it means. Do you agree with that criticism and if you do, what are the things you think we could have done to help homeowners after the crisis?
Castro: [00:09:23] Well what I believe is that President Obama did a very good job with the circumstances that he inherited. In terms of getting the country back up on its feet–you think about communities like Florida or Nevada that were very hard hit. It was night and day, you know, if you stepped in there in January of 2009 versus January of 2017. At the same time of course there are lessons learned. Hopefully we won’t have to go through that again. Lessons learned in terms of maybe we can be more aggressive and so that more people can keep their homes. But overall I do think that the administration was focused on the concerns of everyday people especially in a way that this president just is not. You folks may remember right after he was elected, you know, somebody caught him I think on tape or a reporter that Trump told his buddies at one of his clubs you know, “I’m going to get you that tax cut. I gonna lower your taxes.” I mean that’s completely different from the the attitude that President Obama had and all of us had which is: we want to do what we can to to improve the lives of everyday Americans that are working hard and have just lost their homes. I think in the future we can look at more aggressive ways to make sure people can keep their homes. Also to add to housing supply that is affordable because we have a rental affordability crisis out there and on the stump these days I talk a lot about that. You know one of the things I talk about is that we need to be the most prosperous nation in this 21st century but it has to mean prosperity for *everybody,* from raising the minimum wage to investing in affordable housing to making sure that of course we focus on the middle class but also that we focus on the poor, too.
Vietor: [00:11:20] Yeah I mean look, I’ve lived recently in D.C., LA, San Francisco– I mean these are cities where rents are just skyrocketing.
Castro: [00:11:27] Man, you really hit the hotspots of expensive places.
Vietor: [00:11:28] Yeah…Not the smartest move on my part. I wasn’t a tech founder. So I mean like these cities I mean their gentrification, people are getting driven out of their homes, what role do you think the federal government can play in helping people afford housing versus state and local government?
Castro: [00:11:47] There are things that we can do. You know at the end of the Obama administration one of the things we did was to release a set of recommendations for local communities on land-use decisions that they could make. Basically to increase the likelihood that affordable housing would be built, that we get greater supply but we can make stronger investments. I would increase the National Housing Trust Fund, increase low income housing tax credits, also traditional tools like community development block grants and home funding and money to combat homelessness because we have, in these cities that you mentioned, right, growing unsheltered homelessness. But we also I think have to restore something called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. It was a blockbuster rule that HUD did during the Obama administration to basically tell communities, “look if you’re going to get federal taxpayer dollars through HUD you have to get more serious about providing equal housing opportunity throughout your jurisdiction.” And that I think will help jurisdictions cities or counties be wiser, be more prudent about things like gentrification and displacement. I have to tell you that I traveled to 100 different communities in thirty-nine states when I was HUD secretary over those two and a half years. And I would not have created a single community with an A when it came to combating displacement because oftentimes what happens is by the time people recognize there’s a problem here, you know, there’s already gone through a tipping point and people can’t afford to live there anymore. Austin is a great example of that. You know the east side of Austin has lost half of its African-American population over the last decade or so. So there is a lot of their investments. But there’s also I think an approach that we can take to help local communities get better about that.
Vietor: [00:13:46] Switching gears a little bit but I guess staying in San Francisco, there’s some polling out today about how unpopular some of the big tech companies are like Facebook, Google, Twitter. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how they should be regulated or maybe even broken up. Do you think it makes sense to break up companies like Facebook or Google? And if yes, I mean, do we need to update our antitrust laws to reflect the reality of business today versus, say, the Standard Oil in the 20s?
Castro: [00:14:13] Oh I think it’s definitely worth taking a look at those laws. I believe that that’s worth a debate, a conversation. I have concerns about for instance companies that have gotten as big as they have with a business model of using consumer information, using the web data cell phone data you know tracking data of ordinary Americans. I do think–I was in Iowa the other day, we did a forum in Storm Lake around rural issues and one of things I said there was, with respect to agribusiness for instance, that I applaud efforts to not just look at consumer price when two companies are trying to merge in agribusiness but also looking at the effect on small business along the chain of production. And I think, you know, analogously that we can say that in the same way about tech or other industries. So yeah I think that that’s worth a debate.
Vietor: [00:15:13] During the campaign President Trump had some donors lobbyists the Federal Society draw up for him a list of potential Supreme Court justices that he could then release to show his conservative bona fides. Do you have a list. And do you want to share any names with us today.
Castro: [00:15:30] I don’t have a list. But let me tell you what I would do: Number one, we need to bring back respected organizations like the American Bar Association to give input and make recommendations and take those recommendations seriously. Secondly, I know the importance of the Supreme Court to fundamental rights like the right to choose and that the future of Roe v. Wade is under threat because of the direction that the court has been going in. And if I’m president I’m going to make sure to appoint very well qualified judges who have a good track record and have embraced progressive values.
Vietor: [00:16:07] I mean so, just this week Mitch McConnell is forcing through a rule change that that reduces the amount of time you have to debate one of these judges and cloture from 30 hours to two. So they are just ramming these–they’re finding like anybody over the age of 13 maybe taking the Lsat…
Castro: [00:16:25] No you’re not kidding in some instances. Yeah.
Vietor: [00:16:28] Unfortunately I’m not. I mean can we fix this? Are they stacking the federal courts to such a degree that the next Democratic president might not be able to unwind the damage?
Castro: [00:16:40] Well I mean there’s gonna be a lot of damage no doubt because they’re appointing ideologues, because some of these ideologues as you suggest are hardly qualified. I mean there are a couple I think that hadn’t even argued a case, had not litigated a case and now they’re gonna be Supreme Court justices that go into the intricacies essentially of the law. So people have discussed different ways that we could look at it. There’s one that I am not too fond of and you know maybe a couple that I would consider. The one that I’m not too fond of is just simply increasing the number of justices on the Supreme Court because if we go from nine justices to eleven tomorrow what’s to say that in a couple of years they don’t come back and put it back in nine or 15? The ones that intrigued me more for instance are term limits on what are now lifetime appointments. If you had a 20 year term limit or something like that or some system that’s akin to how some states do commission redistricting. Right. The Democrats appoint certain people the Republicans appoint a certain number of people and then you have to agree on a certain number of people. So those tend to be more in the middle. I think that that’s worth looking at.
Vietor: [00:17:57] A couple political questions for you. So in the 2018 midterms Democrats obviously had a lot of success. And we made some progress among Latino voters. But I think there’s a lot less than than people at hope especially in places like Florida. Similarly I think you’ve seen general Latino political participation not keep pace with Latino population growth. I’m curious if you have a theory of the case for why that is and thoughts on how Democrats could do a better job of earning the votes of Latinos in the US?
Castro: [00:18:28] Well I mean I think different reasons. What can we do to improve that. It’s going to take an all out three hundred and sixty five day a year effort to invest in registration and in turn out. As you know, I mean campaigns are often focused on the most likely voters because they have limited resources. So this is something that foundations and C-4s and others are gonna have to do a year round not just three months before an election or six months before an election. But if you have a sustained effort to improve turnout, registration and turnout then I do think that you can start seeing those numbers improve. We did see you know from 2014 to 2018 over one hundred and fifty percent increase in Latino participation at least in Texas. So you know there is some reason for hope. I do think that in 2020 we’re going to see an increase. I believe also that you have to continue to recruit good candidates from the local level, the state level, and at the federal level. You know as a candidate I’ve always been mindful that you need to represent everybody when you’re, if you’re in office and as you campaign. But I do believe that my candidacy, as the only Latino that’s running in this race, is going to have special meaning to a lot of Latinos. And I believe that if I’m the Democratic nominee that I can go get the eleven electoral votes of Arizona, the twenty 29 electoral votes of Florida and the 30 electoral votes of Texas.
Tommy: [00:20:01] Something you said reminded me of something that literally keeps me up at night which is that Trump is out there–he’s gonna raise a billion dollars, he’s putting millions of dollars into Facebook ads to scare the shit out of all white people in various places like it every day. And Democrats, we are going to spend a couple hundred million dollars in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire. You know maybe some Super Tuesday states. Does that worry you that we’re not doing this structural investing that you talked about or do you think the DNC is filling that gap?
Castro: [00:20:33] Well I mean I’ll give Tom Bettis some credit. Right. I mean I do think that he has given that thought, in addition to addressing some of the 2016 issues of Bernie/ Hillary stuff, divisions and feelings that we’re still there. But I do think that they’ve taken, a you know, eyes wide open approach now but it’s going to take, you know the Democracy Alliance and others that are interested in long term growth in registration and turnout to make those investments. We can’t take our eye off of that ball. I do agree that, look, the first order of business is to go get Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. I mean we lost those by collectively less than 80,000 votes. And I think that a couple of the trends we saw in 2018 like the suburbs, going over to Democrats and, as you know, President Obama in 2012, there was an African American turnout rate of 66 percent and that fell to fifty-nine and a half percent in 2016. I think that that’s going to go up again. Right. Whether I’m the nominee or there are others that can I think make that go up again. So there’s a lot of promise there. But on top of that the future is to go get Arizona, Texas and Florida. Kirsten Sinema already won in Arizona. Gillum only lost by, in a midterm year, only lost by 33,000 votes.
Vietor: [00:21:57] Heartbreaker.
Castro: [00:21:57] They were but you know I mean a presidential year has got to be better than a midterm year probably for us. But you know Bill Nelson only lost by 10,000 and in Texas you know Betto O’Rourke got within two and a half points of Ted Cruz. So there’s a lot to suggest that that’s fruitful territory for us.
Vietor: [00:22:15] Yeah I mean look Betto turned out a lot of voters but he was also running against like arguably the worst person on the planet. I mean do you think, do you think Texas is gettable in an election year? We’ve been salivating over Texas for a decade, Democrats have.
Castro: [00:22:32] Oh I do it I do. You know a good example of that was that Hillary lost Texas by nine points. Right. She lost Ohio and Iowa by nine points. But for Texas it had gone from a 16 point difference to a nine point difference. And now in the midterms there were a couple of candidates not only Congressman O’Rourke but also the lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Mike Collier who were within three points. So for 2020 I believe with the right candidate that yeah we can get it. I believe that if I’m the nominee that I can get Texas.
Vietor: [00:23:10] Speaking of the nominee so there’s roughly a thousand Democrats running for president. I can’t imagine how difficult–I mean I remember running against Hillary and thinking it was hard to break through–I can’t imagine how it is now especially with, there’s thresholds one has to meet to be invited to the debates. Right. And you, you warned supporters in a fundraising e-mail that the party’s new rules mean you might not make it onto the debate stage. So I guess my question is: What’s your pitch to listeners to say “give me a buck so I can get on that stage” and how do you hope to break through and then, because I love 15 part questions like: Is your path Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada South Carolina, or do you think you might prioritize your time differently?
Vietor: [00:23:47] Well you know I announced on January 12 that unlike some of the candidates I had not run for president before, haddn’t run for Senate. Even though I’ve served as a federal executive, a National Post. So we’re building up our campaign from scratch. Our fundraising has accelerated tremendously. I’m still not at the 65,000 threshold and so we’re taking contributions to get on that debate stage. I have met the polling requirement though. And why? Well number one I’m one of the few candidates in this race that has executive experience. Having served as a cabinet secretary, managed an agency of 48 billion dollar budget, eight thousand employees, 54 field offices across the country, also served as the mayor of San Antonio, the nation’s seventh largest city. So I have a track record of getting things done. And I represent a new generation of leadership and I think that people are looking for a new generation of leadership. I’ve also articulated a strong positive compelling vision for the future that we be in the 21st century the smartest, the healthiest, the fairest, and the most prosperous nation. And in releasing plans on how we get there like we did with this people first immigration plan. So yeah I believe that with the support of the American people that I am going to get on the debate stage and I would encourage folks to give. Once we get on that debate stage I’m confident that I’m going to stand out in terms of my path. I think everybody’s got to compete for Iowa because in such a crowded field you, you know if you get lost in the shuffle, if you don’t do very well there then it’s probably hard to to stick around. So I’m going to compete in Iowa. I also like that we have Nevada as the third state. After those first four states I actually really like the secondary stretch of states on Super Tuesday March 3rd. We have California, we have Texas. We have I believe Colorado as well as the South. Puerto Rico I understand is looking at moving up its primary to Sunday March 8 and then after that within two weeks or so you have Florida and Arizona. And so I feel good very good about that secondary stretch of state.
Vietor: [00:25:59] So let’s fast forward a little bit. You won. Congrats. You walk into the Oval. Put your feet up on the desk. What do you do on day one?
Castro: [00:26:09] Well that moment will be a very special one, I actually look forward to. Let me back up a few hours. I look forward to the moment when it’s traditional for the incoming president to usher out the outgoing president. And you know on the White House lawn Donald Trump and Melania Trump will be ready to go off to New York or to Mar a Lago or somewhere.
Vietor: [00:26:29] Right Moscow.
Castro: [00:26:32] Right before he leaves to go off into the helicopter I’m going to tell him Adios. So when I get into the Oval office, my first executive order will be to recommit the United States to the Paris climate accord so that we can lead on climate change again and also–And I think this reflects the experience that I do have, having served as a cabinet member–as you know this administration has undertaken a number of different rule changes that have undermined civil rights, women’s rights, the environment, health care, education, any number of things. My first order of business will be to have a catalogue of that, an index of that, immediately on the first day and the days following that to instruct, what will at that point be temporary people in charge of the departments, to begin undoing those things that have been done and to go in the right direction on civil rights and education and health care. We got to go back in the direction of expanding opportunity instead of taking away from it.
Vietor: [00:27:37] Yeah agreed. I’ll ask you a couple of national security questions: so there’s been this very frightening increase, globally, in terrorist attacks by white nationalists. Most recently there was a lunatic who shot up two mosques in New Zealand. The New York Times this week published an interesting analysis showing that many of these attacks are actually connected either by direct communication between individuals involved or one was inspired by another. I’m curious what you think about what the U.S. government and also tech companies should do to stop online radicalization and the horrific violence that can come from it.
Castro: [00:28:14] Well we have seen that there’s this underworld out there in the Internet and social media where people are getting radicalized, right. That’s often a word unfortunately that has only been used when we talk about folks in the Middle East. Muslims, people groups, whole groups have been slandered but it is accurate to say that several of these young men who have gone in and shot up whether it’s a church or nightclub or other circumstances here and also in other parts of the world have been radicalized. And so I do think that whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or others that they have to bear some responsibility for cracking down on that. Be more vigilant. And they’ve said that, right. And in some instances they’ve taken steps. But I don’t think that they’ve done enough. I think it was the FBI director that may have testified recently that this White Nationalism is a real threat. And we see that, right. I also, though, I do think that we have to be careful because the president and others would have people almost believe that every time somebody who happens to be Muslim commits a terrorist act that we should view all people in that way. And you know we don’t do that just like if somebody is white and they go and, if you have a white man that goes and shoots up a church or somewhere else, we don’t make those kinds of conclusions. We have to combat these challenges where they are right and do so in a way that separates the actions of one individual from an indictment of entire groups.
Vietor: [00:29:54] Do you think Trump has, I don’t know, inspired these groups or made common cause with some of the fringe-ier nationalist groups out there?
Castro: [00:30:04] Yeah I think it’s fair to say they’ve gotten inspiration from him. Yeah no doubt. And that from what I can tell there have been moments where he seems to either encourage or knowingly does not discourage these beliefs. I’m thinking of after Charlottesville. You know the very fine people. And yeah. He’ll make a comment that this is wrong, it’s the wrong thing, but it’s never as fervent as he does when you know it’s somebody of a different faith.
Vietor: [00:30:38] Yeah. Yeah. A person of color.
Castro: [00:30:41] Or different religion especially incidents in France or Europe or other places where you happen to have had someone who is Muslim commit one of these attacks and he’s all over that. In the strongest terms but we’ll not do that when it’s one of these white nationalists.
Tommy: [00:30:59] Agreed. It’s been about six months I believe since the Saudis brutally executed and dismembered a journalist named Jamal Khashoggi at their consulate in Istanbul. This week Congress voted to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen that has put literally 20 million innocent people at risk of starvation. This week we also learned that the Saudis are about to complete construction on their first nuclear reactor. But they have yet to agree to any international rules that would ensure that that technology is used for civilian purposes and not for weapons. Given the trajectory of the relationship and what we know of Mohammad bin Salman do you think the Saudis are still our ally?
Castro: [00:31:40] That is a very good question and you know frankly I think that the Obama administration began to take a new look at that relationship. It’s also troubling. What we continue to find out about the relationship between the president’s family and the Saudi royal family. And so you know I acknowledge here that I’m not privy to classified information. I don’t know what other information there is or how helpful they may have been. But right now I would say that it certainly raises the question. And it’s alarming that Saudi Arabia would be progressing toward nuclear capacity in this way. And there seems to be little accountability right now.
Vietor: [00:32:29] Yeah I’m just imagining if Iran butchered a journalist who lives in the US and then we found that they were building a nuclear reactor. I think we probably would have invaded five minutes ago. You know, it’s just it’s a remarkable double standard. And there’s just this inertia in Washington I think that keeps us from rethinking these relationships and I’m not totally sure why.
Castro: [00:32:51] Well and that’s why you know you wonder is there something else there that we’re not getting of value. I mean that’s the question that I have as somebody right now that is not privy to that that kind of information. But what I can say is that that there march toward nuclear capacity or capability does trouble me given other circumstances that I’ve seen.
Vietor: [00:33:14] So as we speak the Chinese government is undertaking what is likely the largest mass detention of a racial or religious group since the Holocaust. Experts estimate that at least one million workers who are a Muslim minority group are being held, in I guess you’d call them reeducation camps. They’re forced to renounce their religion, learn Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Some are reportedly being tortured. And I’m just struck by the fact that the world is largely silent on it. And that includes allies of ours like the U.K. I don’t know that there’s an easy answer here but do you have a sense of what the U.S. should do to push them on this massive human rights violation or is it an atrocity in plain sight?
Castro: [00:33:55] Well I think that should be part of any agreements that we forge with China and our continued diplomatic relationship with them. I’m somebody that still believes that the United States has a role to play in leading the world on what we care about: freedom, democracy, opportunity, and that even though this administration has scaled back in a big way on its leadership on human rights abuses we actually need to restore that. So I would find every single way that we can to apply pressure to China on this and not only China but other countries around the world. We just saw what happened with the Sultan of Brunei, for instants right. And you were in Los Angeles today. I mean there’s a boycott of one of his hotels over here. Right. That he has an interest in.
Vietor: [00:34:44] George Clooney writes one op ed and we’re boycott boycotting a bunch of hotels.
Castro: [00:34:47] Yeah. Yeah but I mean the fact is–that ain’t the way it’s supposed to work either right? So one of the things that we need to restore is a strong voice of leadership on human rights abuses.
Vietor: [00:35:03] So President Trump has had this long back and forth with Kim Jong Un in North Korea. He had this summit that he thinks is historic in Singapore where they–you know he came back and told us that there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea and that everything was solved. That’s obviously not true. The negotiations seem to have fallen apart. But as someone who worked in government for a while and the NSC and saw, particularly in the first term, the way inertia in DC conventional wisdom can hamstring a president, I was kind of impressed by Trump saying “fuck you guys I want to meet with him. Who cares. What’s the downside.” I mean I guess I’m just curious what you make of that diplomatic effort. And if you’ve thought about why sometimes in Washington it seems so much harder to make peace and have talks than it is to go to war?
Castro: [00:35:58] I remember you know how much, then candidate Obama got pilloried right for saying that he would speak with people who were our quote unquote enemies without preconditions and so forth and you know what we see here with with Trump may be a kind of a Nixon in China example, a smaller scale of it, where because he’s seen as a tough guy on these issues, in some ways he can get away with war but it shouldn’t be like that. Because the principle of being able to try and negotiate peace should apply no matter who you are because it’s in the nation’s best interest. So yes I do think that that’s an approach that we should take. I also see that frankly, as for me, I’m not part and parcel of Washington. You know I spent two and a half years there. I think sometimes folks that spend more time in Washington, right, the more you’re influenced by the thinking of elite Washington. We shouldn’t let that hamper how we go forward. Of course what we’ve seen unfold in front of our eyes is that it seems like this president got played. In fact misled the American people about what was happening with these talks and maybe most disappointingly you know just from a executive perspective he does not seem to have the discipline or the energy to put the time in to understand the issues well enough to be prepared. One thing that you knew about President Obama is that he studied those books you know and he respected the people that were advising him. This president thinks that he can wing everything and know there’s no doubt of course that he must have some talents. He wouldn’t be where he is without it. But he just seems completely in over his head and because of that now they’re actually going back and probably their breakout capacity is getting smaller and smaller, shorter and shorter. So we’re we’re miss-served by a president that is too busy insulting people on Twitter or playing golf or going to Mar a Lago instead of putting the time in to actually you know get us the kind of deal that we need.
Vietor: [00:38:09] Yeah. Low energy. They probably made a few more nukes on his watch. Final question for you. So whenever someone famous comes into our office and gets asked about Beyonce, it gets picked up literally everywhere. So…
Castro: [00:38:24] Didn’t she like, strike up a deal with Adidas yesterday?
Vietor: [00:38:27] Tell me about it.
Castro: [00:38:28] Yeah well I don’t know a lot about it. I just saw the headlines, right.
Vietor: [00:38:31] She’s a Texan, right?
Castro: [00:38:32] She is, Houston.
Vietor: [00:38:33] She didn’t endorse?
Castro: [00:38:35] I don’t know. Well, if she does, I hope she endorses me.
Vietor: [00:38:37] OK. There we go. Beyoncé might endorse Secretary Castro. That’s your headline out of this. Secratary thank so much for coming in. It’s a pleasure talking to you and good luck.
Castro: [00:38:46] Hey thanks a lot.
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