Running As A Progressive In Texas with Jessica Cisneros | Crooked Media
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March 01, 2022
What A Day
Running As A Progressive In Texas with Jessica Cisneros

In This Episode

  • On Monday, Russian forces made progress in their efforts to encircle Ukraine’s capital Kyiv despite being slowed down by continued resistance from Ukrainian forces. Russia and Ukraine also sent delegations to southeastern Belarus for initial talks amid hopes that the two countries could come to some kind of agreement, but did not come to a resolution.
  • Today, Texas holds the very first primary of the midterms. The elections will tell us a little bit about how strong of a hold former President Trump has on the GOP, and show us if the state is ready to elect more progressive candidates. Jessica Cisneros, a progressive-backed candidate who’s running for Texas’s 28th Congressional District, joins us to discuss how she’s feeling about her race.
  • And in headlines: A new study shows that Pfizer-BioNTech shots offer barely any protection from infection in kids 5 to 11 years old, a new climate change report found that countries are not doing enough to combat global warming, and jury selection began in the first criminal trial related to the January 6th insurrection.


Show Notes:



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Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, March 1st. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, helping you calm your pre-State of the Union nerves if you’re President Joe Biden.


Gideon Resnick: Mr. President, just imagine that everybody is in their underwear. Bernie, he’s in his underwear. Marjorie Taylor Greene, she’s in her underwear.


Josie Duffy Rice: Supreme Court, all of them, in their underwear.


Gideon Resnick: All of them. And that will help you tonight. On today’s show, Texas’s primary is today, and we are going to hear from progressive House candidate Jessica Cisneros. Plus several states announced that soon many students will no longer be required to wear masks in schools.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, an update on Ukraine. As always, the situation there is changing minute to minute, day to day, but here are the crucial updates as we record this on Monday night at 9:30 Eastern. On Monday, Russian forces made progress in their efforts to encircle Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, despite being slowed down by continued resistance from Ukrainian forces. Meanwhile, the country’s second biggest city, Kharkiv, was hit with Russian rockets, including in residential areas. Those rockets possibly included cluster munitions, a form of explosive banned by many countries. Ukrainian officials say at least 11 people died in those strikes, but the final number is not yet clear. The UN’s refugee agency said that at least 500,000 people have fled the country in the last few days. Here in the US, the Biden administration is facing pressure to allow thousands of Ukrainian citizens to remain here rather than forcing them to return home, which seems like what they should do, pretty obviously.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, it does. There were also notably some talks yesterday between Russia and Ukraine. So what can you tell us about how those went?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so Russia and Ukraine sent delegations to southeastern Belarus for initial talks amid hopes that the two countries could come to some kind of agreement. Ukraine officials called for an immediate cease fire and the removal of Russian military forces from Ukraine. Russia was quote, “cagier” according to Reuters, with the Russian government refusing to articulate what they hope to gain from these talks. But as expected, these talks ended without any resolution.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and one of the big ramifications for Russia has been these severe economic sanctions from a number of countries, including the U.S., after the decision to invade Ukraine. We’re starting to see how that is starting to impact. So how are they affecting Russia’s economy?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, they are definitely having an effect. Early yesterday, the value of Russia’s currency began to decline, and within hours the ruble lost around a quarter of its value. The Russian central bank attempted to lessen the impact through a number of measures, including doubling its primary interest rate. And in addition, the stock exchange in Moscow remained closed yesterday because of the quote, “developing situation”. However, the fact that the economy took a hit did not seem to change Russia’s plans to continue their invasion of Ukraine. But, Gideon, the economy’s downward spiral is expected to have a severe impact on average Russian civilians. American economist Carl Weinberg told reporters in a conference call yesterday that quote, “My gut feeling is that the Russian economy could not survive three weeks of this without failing all together.”.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Josie Duffy Rice: And remember that there are many Russians who do not support Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. An independent monitor said the country has detained nearly 6,000 antiwar protesters as of Sunday.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that is pretty amazing. What else are we seeing so far internationally in terms of responses to Russia?


Josie Duffy Rice: Well, the consequences are spreading, and they’re spreading to international sports as well. On Monday, the International Olympic Committee recommended that sports organizations ban Russian athletes from international competitions. And so FIFA, which governs professional soccer, banned Russian club teams from participating in future games indefinitely. It also decided to remove Russia from qualifying for this year’s World Cup. The move comes just weeks before Russia was supposed to compete for one of Europe’s places in the tournament.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Josie Duffy Rice: And elsewhere, the U.S. said yesterday that it would remove 12 Russian diplomats who were in America for a UN mission, claiming that they were actually intelligence operatives who quote, “have abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security.” That seems pretty intense. So that is the update we have on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there will be a lot more to keep talking about in the days ahead. But turning to some domestic news, today is the very first primary of the midterms and it is happening in Texas. So this primary gives Texas an opportunity to, shall we say, show off how awful the state’s new restrictive voting laws really are, and what possible ramifications those could have across the country where Republicans have passed similar legislation. Thousands of absentee ballots have already been rejected, and this has left many voters in the state, including people with disabilities and seniors, unsure of exactly how they’re going to participate here. Plus, today will tell us a little bit about how strong of a hold former President Trump has on the Republican Party, and it will show us if the Lone Star State is ready to elect more progressive candidates as well. Trump has endorsed more candidates in Texas than in any other state, and I am personally curious to see if that helps or hurts them.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, there’s a trio of progressive-backed congressional candidates we’re following pretty closely: Jessica Cisneros, Greg Casar, and Jasmin Crockett. And Gideon, you had the chance to speak with Democratic House candidate Jessica Cisneros. Is that right?


Gideon Resnick: Yes. So she is a 28-year old immigration lawyer. Pretty incredible to be that young, especially in an industry that is quite old. She is running in Texas’ 28th Congressional District, which stretches from just outside San Antonio to the US-Mexico border, to unseat the longtime incumbent Representative Henry Cuellar. And Cueller is a conservative Democrat. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he’s one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. For example, he opposes abortion rights, he has criticized Biden’s immigration policies primarily from the right. And Cisneros first challenged Cueller back in 2020, and she lost by a pretty small margin. There has been quite a bit of momentum. And the other thing that is looming over his reelection now is that the FBI raided his home and campaign office back in January.


Josie Duffy Rice: Never great.


Gideon Resnick: Cueller denies any wrongdoing in that, but the FBI is currently investigating transactions that he and his wife made with business people and foreign officials in Azerbaijan. And that whole story has allowed Cisneros to not only differentiate herself with him on policy, but to strengthen an argument that he is out of touch with the district, and corrupt. Yesterday, I spoke with Cisneros about her race against Cueller, and I started by asking her how she is feeling now that we have finally made it to the primary.


Jessica Cisneros: A lot of adrenaline. My team and I are exhausted, but we’re also really, really excited because I mean, this is what we’ve been working for it, right? And you know, now to go into like these final days with the momentum that we have right now, it’s really special.


Gideon Resnick: And you were sort of talking about a lot of different issues that are coming up in conversations with voters. What are the main ones you’re hearing about—just sort of either things that are on people’s minds because they’re local issues or national issues or some combination of both?


Jessica Cisneros: The top two issues that we hear about all the time are health care and jobs. And it’s no surprise, right? Then those were the same issues this last time around because Texas 28th, for example, my hometown of Laredo, we’ve had about a 30% poverty rate for, you know, decades. We have about one in four people that are not insured—that’s not counting people who are underinsured—and that was before the pandemic. You know, people have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. The issues are still the same from last time around, but I have noticed the urgency that people talk about, you know, why we need solutions to this, why we need to expand health care, why we need to create union jobs in the district or increase the minimum wage. The urgency is a lot. The stakes are a lot higher.


Gideon Resnick: I want to talk for a second about immigration, and specifically your experiences as an immigration lawyer motivating you to run for Congress. How did that lead to this moment? And what has been your response to the way this administration has gone about immigration policy?


Jessica Cisneros: Yeah. So I actually got involved in the immigrants’ rights movement back in 2012. I was very much inspired by my parents’, you know, immigrant story. The fact that I was born and raised here in Laredo, Texas, where it seems like everyone has their own immigration story as well. And my parents were able to become residents and have their shot at the American dream because of a pro bono attorney. So I wanted to be that person.  And then I become an immigration attorney during the Trump administration, and I start representing people during that time, and it was just so incredibly heartbreaking to hear a lot of immigration judges, despite them wanting to do the right thing and keep families together, you know, the law just wasn’t permitting that. And I was, you know, thinking about, like, what else can I do? And there was an effort in my hometown to find someone that was going to challenge Henry Cuellar. And I mean, I was already familiar with Cueller, and it took me having to go to Washington to intern for him back in 2014 to realize like how anti-immigrant, how anti-choice, how anti-labor, like all of these, you know, issues that I knew were important and didn’t align with our South Texas values. And then the fact that he had voted to fund the border wall twice and then also was voting with Donald Trump 70% of the time. So I was asked to run, so that’s why I decided to take that leap of faith. The election happened and President Biden was inaugurated, but we’re still seeing a lot of the relics from the Trump administration enacted, for example, the Title 42 expulsions, and the fact that our asylum process still hasn’t been reopened. So I really do hope that the administration does something about it. I know it’s currently under litigation, but whatever the administration can do to prevent this harm happening from these asylum seekers is really important.


Gideon Resnick: And you obviously have very different sets of policies than representative Cueller. But there’s also a lot of kind of, shall we say, personal stuff that has impacted his perception throughout the course of this. I’m curious, how did the news of the FBI raid impact the perception of him, and perhaps how it may have changed your approach at all?


Jessica Cisneros: It changed the race in the sense that we knew from the very beginning, from day one when we launched that we were going to be the better Democratic candidate to continue holding this district is a blue district. And I think that, you know, we were talking about kind of the corrupting influence of corporations and special interests have had on Cueller and how that’s led to him throwing our community under the bus. And I think with the fact that the FBI raid was an investigation into public corruption, I think that really cemented the idea in a lot of people. And I think it also forced people to start thinking about who they were going to be voting for.


Gideon Resnick: And take a step back and look at things kind of statewide, there are other candidates in this primary that I think would make a meaningful difference in Congress like yourself, if the three of you all won. I’m thinking of Greg Casar and Jasmine Crockett. So what would it mean if candidates like the three of you all won in Texas?


Jessica Cisneros: Well, what I hope a win like this here, especially in a district like ours, which is in South Texas, and I think the conversation around South Texas since the last election has been that, you know, that this community is all of a sudden becoming more conservative. I think it shows more that people are unsatisfied with the status quo and that if we really want to retain, you know, the Democratic Party’s title as the People’s Party, we can absolutely do it. And I really hope that this basically causes a ripple effect.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. I want to shift gears to talking a little bit about how this election is going to be held more broadly. So today’s primary is the first election to be held under Texas’s new elections law. That has obviously made huge changes to voting procedures throughout the state. How has voting changed for you and for constituents that you’ve spoken to?


Jessica Cisneros: I mean, it’s been really difficult. So this terrible voter suppression bill that was enacted by the Texas Legislature recently, it’s caused a lot of chaos and confusion. People aren’t sure where they have to show up to be able to vote. And taking this is like a dry run, I guess, for what to expect in the general election and moving forward, and we’ve been doing everything we can as a team to be able to respond to the questions that the community has. The solution is that Congress needs to act and make sure that we’re overturning all of these voter suppression bills. But in the meantime, I mean, we just have to do whatever we can to help as many folks as possible get to the polls.


Gideon Resnick: So Josie, that was my conversation with progressive House candidate Jessica Cisneros, who is running for Texas’s 28th Congressional District.


Josie Duffy Rice: We’ll have some links in our show notes, if you are a voter in Texas and need some information. And we’ll be back with some results when we have them. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: The only COVID vaccine approved for children, the Pfizer BioNTech shots, offers barely any protection from infection in kids 5 to 11 years old. That is according to a new study from health officials in New York State, who looked at data from when the highly-infectious Omicron variant was surging. However, researchers emphasize that the vaccine still importantly protected against severe illness and hospitalization, and recommended that young children get jabs if they have not yet. Meanwhile, New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, announced that students in her state will no longer be required to wear masks indoors at school beginning tomorrow. California, Oregon, and Washington also jointly announced that they will be rolling back their own mask requirements for students by Saturday, March 12th, a day where children are often in class—that’s a joke. They’re not on Saturdays. All four states cited declining case rates and hospitalizations, but they did add that local communities can opt to keep mask rules in place if they feel that they are still needed. New York City, for example, is going to hold on to its mask requirements in schools just a few days more than the state before reportedly relaxing them this coming Monday.


Josie Duffy Rice: There are three simple words that no world leader wants to hear: climate change study.


Gideon Resnick: Oh, no.


Josie Duffy Rice: A new report released yesterday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that countries are not doing enough to combat global warming and that the consequences will be disastrous. While the impending doom of climate change is nothing new, the report is set to be the most detailed look yet at how the effects of global warming are currently being felt worldwide. Penned by 270 researchers from 67 countries, it cites several recent natural disasters around the globe as examples of how climate change is devastating humanity. The report also finds that investing in short-term solutions like flood barriers is essentially useless because of how fast temperatures are rising. The report concludes that if countries don’t come up with a long-term plan to quickly reduce greenhouse gas and fossil fuel emissions, it could result in people around the world being forced to flee their own homes, leading to dislocation on a global scale.


Gideon Resnick: Well.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: Let’s go on with our mornings.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: An all-access tour of DC’s federal buildings that began last year at the Capitol continued yesterday inside a federal courthouse. Jury selection began in the first criminal trial related to the January 6th insurrection. Guy Reffitt of the far-right militia group, The Three Percenters, is facing five felony charges and is accused of bringing an AR-15 and a pistol onto Capitol grounds, as well as threatening his OWN children if they reported him to the police—all right. In a recorded conversation, he allegedly told his teenage son, who turned him in quote, “traitors get shot.” Whooh. Reffitt, who has been in pretrial detention for over a year now, demanded a trial against the advice of his lawyer. And in a letter that he posted to Telegram on Thursday, he said he was quote, “prepared to stare down the barrel of tyranny and receive the bullet of freedom.” Again, this is not how our justice system works, but it is how they do trials in the world of Pirates of the Caribbean so easy to make the mistake. While there are hundreds of other defendants facing similar charges for their role in the Capitol riots, Reffitt is the only one accused of violating a federal law that prohibits people from transporting firearms for unlawful use in a riot. If he is convicted on any charge, legal experts say it could influence other January 6th defendants awaiting trial to take plea deals rather than go to court.


Josie Duffy Rice: Gideon. Why would you say traitors get shot, when snitches get stitches rhymes? That’s the whole reason.


Gideon Resnick: That phrase is available to you. Yes.


Josie Duffy Rice: And it’s clever, you know?


Gideon Resnick: It is. Well, this gentleman is not the—


Josie Duffy Rice: This shouldn’t be the first thing on his mind, but maybe when all of this calms down, he can think a little bit more about his word choice. A Ukrainian national living outside his country participated in an act of resistance over the weekend while also getting to destroy a luxury vehicle—all of us can only hope—when he partially sunk the eight million dollar yacht of his war profiteering boss at a marina in Majorca.


Gideon Resnick: Hell, yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: The Ukrainian is a sailor, and he came to believe that missiles used in Russian airstrikes had been manufactured by the company of the man whose ship he works on. The Boss in question as Alexander Mikheev, the Russian CEO of a state-owned military weapons supplier. When the sailor connected the dots, he quickly opened a bunch of valves to sink the ship, then told his fellow crewmembers to get off and that he would take responsibility.


Gideon Resnick: Wow.


Josie Duffy Rice: Demonstrating clear workplace communication during a high stress situation—he’s hired. The yacht was damaged, though the extent of the damage is unclear. The Ukrainian sailor was arrested and when brought to court, he said he intended to cause only material damage and added quote, “They were attacking innocents. I don’t regret anything I’ve done, and I would do it again.” No word on what that sailor is being charged with, but after this perfectly executed act of vigilante justice, he has leapfrogged Aquaman to be my number one ocean-based superhero.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, do better, Jason Momoa. Take down a Russian war missile ban and then we’ll talk.


Josie Duffy Rice: Beautiful. Great work.


Gideon Resnick: You know, Jason seems great also. We’re talking specifically about Jason as Aquaman.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, don’t take it personally, Jason.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, don’t take it personally. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: like we said before, the State of the Union is tonight and me and a bunch of the other Crooked people that you love—me, you know, them, you love—will be Slacking our reactions live. You’ll be able to follow along as well. Make sure to join us on Crooked’s YouTube and Twitch channels, all night long, for the rest of your days, until your dying breath, watch us Slack. That is all for today. If you’d like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, re-watch Pirates of the Caribbean BUT remember it is fiction, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just placards during an authorized tour of our nation’s capital like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And don’t forget our advice, Joe Biden.


Gideon Resnick: Joseph Robinette, if you don’t believe in yourself tonight, young man, no one will.


Josie Duffy Rice: I appreciate you for so many reasons, Gideon. Among them is that you always remind me that Joe Biden’s middle name is Robinette.


Gideon Resnick: It’s lovely.


Josie Duffy Rice: Is this lovely.


Gideon Resnick: And that he’s the young man—


Josie Duffy Rice: He is a young man. Thank you for reminding me.


Gideon Resnick: —in this telling of the story.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.