In This Episode
Kevin McCarthy is finally Speaker, and now we get to see what having a Republican House under his nominal stewardship, but really under MAGA control, actually means. We also get to see how Democrats respond and react in order to exploit the GOP’s ineptness, harm, and flat out corruption. Republicans wasted no time this week sabotaging criminal investigations of Donald Trump and of themselves, and McCarthy all too happily promised them a Benghazi style committee that will have authority to access the inner workings of those very criminal investigations. Setting aside how corrosive it is to the rule of law, does the new Democratic leadership see the committee as a political opportunity? Has there been any rethinking on the part of leadership since the midterms of the political value of having opponents who are so corrupt? Will Democrats continue to pass up opportunities to exploit the corruption of their opponents to maximum benefit? Member of the 117th Congress and current member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Mondaire Jones joins to help us sort some of this out and share insight on how this new status quo took shape from the insurrection through the 2022 midterms.
Brian Beutler: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Positively Dreadful with me your host, Brian Beutler. So when we recorded last week’s episode with Greg Sargent, we weren’t actually sure how the Kevin McCarthy shambles in the House of Representatives were going to shake out. It was sort of a look ahead at what to expect out of a MAGA controlled speakership, no matter who ultimately won. On the assumption that the mass of Republicans would never stand up to the Trump wing. That turned out to be a pretty good assumption. Since then, McCarthy locked down the job. He sold whatever was left of his soul for it.
[clip of Kevin McCarthy]: All the different members and hangin with me through all those different votes. But I do want to especially thank President Trump. I don’t think he should anybody should doubt his influence.
Brian Beutler: And so now we get to see what having a Republican House under McCarthy’s nominal stewardship, but really under MAGA control. With five votes to spare actually means. We also get to see how Democrats respond, react, parry in order to exploit the GOP’s ineptness and to protect the country against the harms Republicans are threatening to cause, and also hopefully to make Republicans pay a price for reembracing this MAGA wing after voters just rejected it for the third consecutive election. So that in theory encompasses a lot of stuff. It will mean parliamentary cleverness on the part of Democrats in the House. It’ll mean uniting the Democratic caucus against the Republican agenda in the hopes of dividing them and hopefully figuring out other ways to divide Republicans or else make them keep reaffirming this corrupt bargain they’ve made where they handed control of the House over to people who want to use it for the most blatantly corrupt purposes. And we should be clear eyed about just how corrupt the bargain is. The purpose of the rebellion against McCarthy wasn’t entirely about corruption, but corruption was the centerpiece. And there probably wouldn’t have been a rebellion at all if this group of right wing Republicans wasn’t hell bent on abusing house power to penetrate and sabotage criminal investigations of Donald Trump and of themselves and McCarthy all too happily promised them a Benghazi style committee. And that committee will claim to have authority to access the inner workings of those very criminal investigations. So here’s a big question I have about that. Setting aside how corrosive it is to the rule of law. Does the new Democratic leadership see it as a political opportunity? Has there been any rethinking on the part of leadership since the midterms of the political value of having opponents who are so corrupt? These are the same Democrats who managed to lose a seat at a New York House seat to George Santos. So I think it’s fair to reason that they haven’t always exploited the corruption of their opponents to maximum benefit. But what will they do now? The new Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, is a product of the New York State Democratic Party, and that same party may have single handedly cost national Democrats control of the House. And a lot of what’s to come actually turns on what he specifically thinks about politics. Our guest this week should be able to help us sort some of this out. Mondaire Jones is also a New York Democrat, member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a political commentator. He served in the 17th Congress where he watched this new status quo take shape from the insurrection through the 2022 midterms. And he’s here to share his insights. Thank you so much for being on the show, Congressman.
Mondaire Jones: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Brian Beutler: So to start, I’d love to hear what was going on in your inner monologue last week during the meltdown in the House. Just how did you respond to that?
Mondaire Jones: Boy, it’s been both sad on a personal level, not to be a member of the 118 Congress, because I miss my colleagues and I miss the important work that I was doing. But if there were ever a time to wonder whether the House of Representatives is a place for good, people look no further than what Republicans have done with the place. I mean, they couldn’t even do the first order of business, which was elect a speaker from their own caucus. And I think that bodes very poorly for any legislative progress we might we might want to see over the next two years.
Brian Beutler: So before we get into the next two years, what’s one thing about Republicans in Washington and then secondarily about Democrats in Washington that you didn’t fully appreciate until you were a member serving among them?
Mondaire Jones: When I got sworn in, I didn’t imagine that there would be January 6th. And what we have seen since has been shocking even to me. I was. Unaware of just how low my Republican colleagues would stoop in order to preserve their own reelection. And. To preserve Trumpism. It is really chilling to watch two thirds of your colleagues on the Republican side vote to overturn a free and fair presidential election after nearly dying alongside you hours earlier because of the big lie. And so it’s it’s a it’s an indictment of our present day political system, specifically the Republican Party. And, you know, the role of money in politics and partisan gerrymandering and so many other facets or deficiencies and in the way that we do elections here that allow extremists to continue to get reelected. With respect to my Democratic colleagues. I have been very impressed with our ability to come together to deliver for the American people. I say this as someone who was just part of the most productive Congress in modern American history. And still, I had thought that after the overturning of Roe v Wade, there would be more of an appetite to advance the bold reforms that people like myself had been advocating, not least of which expanding the Supreme Court of the United States, for example, which, because of the work that I and others did, a majority of Americans now agree with. But of course, no one has made the case better than the far right six three majority itself. And yet only a few more people signed on to my bill with Jerry Nadler and Hank Johnson, called the Judiciary Act to add four seats to the Supreme Court. So I am devastated that there is not more of an understanding, even among Democrats, about the urgency for bold relief while we still have the power to do those things.
Brian Beutler: I’m going to I’m going to bracket that answer because I have a question a few down that I want to attach it to. But let’s get into how we got here and and what it means for the next at least two years. After the insurrection, you have the whole hundred 17th Congress, as you said, very productive legislatively. And then you have the Dobbs decision.
[news clip]: A sweeping, deeply consequential decision from the nation’s highest court.
Brian Beutler: And against that backdrop and the backdrop of the work the January 6th committee did, and also against the backdrop of inflation, Democrats overperform in the midterms. They do better than history suggests they should. Better than than the polling averages suggested they would and managed to actually grow their Senate majority by one. They lost a few seats in the House. I think the margin is five, which is the number of seats they lost in New York. Do you think it’s a fair knock on the New York Democratic Party to say the party there cost national Democrats control of the House?
Mondaire Jones: I think that the New York State Democratic. Party bears some responsibility for the loss of the House to Republicans this past election cycle. However, recall that it is the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that has primary responsibility for getting House Democrats elected and reelected in tough seats. So I think more attention should be paid to the failures of the DCCC, even as we call on the New York State Democratic Party to be of some use to both federal and state candidates who struggled when they should not have in the deeply blue state that is New York this past cycle. And the governor was one of those people who whose election was way too close for comfort, I think, given what should have been a much larger margin of victory in the state of New York over Lee Zeldin.
Brian Beutler: So there’s a subtext here obviously, the DCCC chairman last cycle was Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Sean Patrick Maloney, and his machinations contributed heavily to the fact that you’re not serving in 118th Congress. He then, after the redistricting and switching districts, lost his election in New York, Democrats lost disproportionately to other places where they lost last or even even other states where they won. How do you square the critique of the DCCC and Sean Patrick Maloney? That is, you know, like losing his own seat, losing a seat to George Santos in New York with the fact that the party overperformed nationally.
Mondaire Jones: I think it’s telling. That my colleagues in more competitive districts than the one that I was representing, even as it was newly redrawn and the one that Sean decided to run in won their respective elections almost to a person with some exceptions. But meanwhile, in the state of New York, you know, folks couldn’t get it together. I think, you know, we see the failings of the DCCC most acutely in the the non opposition research with respect to George Santos, which would have been an easy get for a Democrat, had half of what he lied about been exposed prior to the November election. Obviously the chair’s own decisions cost us a seat, because I would have won my election in New York 17th Congressional District for a variety of reasons, not least of which I’d already been representing 70% of that district. So those are two seats that we know for sure [laughs] would have been held by Democrats in this 118th Congress, further narrowing the majority that Kevin McCarthy and Republicans have in this Congress. And, you know, yes, there were some issues in New York that were specific to New York. I think bail reform in particular was was a hot topic. But it’s something that Pat Ryan was able to overcome in the district north of my own that is even more competitive than New York’s 17th Congressional District. So I think there’s that’s not much of an excuse.
Brian Beutler: Have you [laughs] replayed what happened last week over in your head, like stipulating that you’re right that at least two of the seats the Democrats lost in New York were winnable to how how the speakership fight would have turned out if the majority had been three votes instead of five?
Mondaire Jones: Absolutely.
Brian Beutler: [laughs] I would McCarthy, could McCarthy have won? I mean, I think he I think he won by a vote. So.
Mondaire Jones: It would have been even tougher. And and who knows at that point, if the majority if the margin is more like one, two or three, whether Hakeem Jeffries would have been able to peel off Republicans like Nancy Mace and Brian Fitzpatrick, who you know, had had enough and were willing to support someone moderate for the role. It’s it’s probably not a very useful exercise to play out, [laughter] other than to the extent that people are finally held accountable in New York. [laughs]
Brian Beutler: I mean, well, also, this is a this is a podcast, we get to we get to navel gaze all we want. [laughter]
Mondaire Jones: So they say.
Brian Beutler: Okay, so walk me through a nickel version of how the New York situation unfolded from redistricting through the election, because my own memory of it is becoming fuzzy. But I recall early in the redistricting cycle, Democrats nationally being really excited about the situation in New York, where the state seemed like it was outwardly saying, look, Democrats want to end partisan gerrymandering, but we’re not going to unilaterally disarm and we’re going to use New York as a as a way to balance out what Republicans are trying to do nationally. And and that was the hope was that New York might end up actually helping to save Democrats from losing the majority or from being wiped out. But then the courts got involved in and then there were, you know, the race by race failing. So what what happened in a sort of sequential way? And then what can Democrats do from the redistricting through things like you were talking about bail reform, to make sure that to get those seats back in the 2024 election?
Mondaire Jones: Well, I think the first thing that happened was a few years ago when Andrew Cuomo, who was then the governor, failed to disburse 20 plus million dollars that had been allocated by the legislature to to get out the census and to make sure that people were completing it. We only lost the seat by 89 census forms. And that is kind of what created a high stakes situation going into the 2022 election cycle, knowing that we would no longer have 27 congressional districts, but rather 26, and trying to figure out how to redraw the map in New York State to account for that loss of the congressional district.
[news clip]: A number of representatives found they no longer live in their districts and others will have to run against each other. CBS News political reporter Marcia Kramer says one consultant calls this the congressional equivalent of The Hunger Games.
Mondaire Jones: The state legislature didn’t get behind its own referendum on the ballot to make it easier for the Independent Redistricting Commission, which is what we have in New York state, to reach consensus. And that’s because the legislature always intended to overrule the independent redistricting commission that got us to a place where the chair of the DCCC and leaders in Albany in the state legislature got way too greedy and drew a map that the New York Court of Appeals said violates the state constitutions, anti gerrymandering provisions. And you had my district that clearly was drawn in a way, as proposed by the state legislature, that that violated the gerry— Gerrymandering prohibition. And you had districts like what they drew for Jerry Nadler, which also looked just unjustifiable on the map that did the same thing. And so New York Court of Appeals struck it down. These were all Democrats, by the way, all judges appointed by Andrew Cuomo. But a majority in the [?] decisions struck down that map anyway, kicked it back to a trial court, which a Republican judge who appointed a moderate Republican special master. According to The New York Times, who just did a profile on this guy. And and this is this is what we got as a result of it. And and the result, by the way, has also been the loss of the majority in the House when New York was supposed to be like the saving grace.
Brian Beutler: So if Democrats are stuck with that map in 2024, beyond the bail reform issue that you alluded to. Well, in addition to the bail reform, what can they do to try to win back the seats that were lost?
Mondaire Jones: I think having good candidates in all of the districts that we are trying to flip, candidates that know the district. Ideally, candidates who are, you know, recognized in the district by the voters and candidates who are going to raise the money required in these extremely expensive races to get their message out and to compete with the deluge of super PAC money that’s going to be spent by the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC that’s aligned with Kevin McCarthy and others. I don’t think that they’ll reform will be as much of an issue. But also we need to talk about how safe the Hudson Valley and Long Island actually are. And and we need to obviously talk about the importance of addressing crime and talk about specifically how Republicans have really abdicated their responsibility to address crime as it has occurred in a variety of contexts over these past two years. This is a Republican Party that is just created a select committee to interfere in the criminal investigations of the FBI and the Department of Justice. And that, you know, has largely not supported any attempt to hold people responsible for the harm that they did to law enforcement on January 6th to say nothing of individual members of Congress like us.
Brian Beutler: Is there a is there a good way to, for like, what’s the right way for Democrats to deal with the crime issue, apart from, you know, you want crime to go down just because, of course, everyone should want crime to go down, but in the context of a campaign where. The you’re sort of shadowboxing less against what the conditions on the ground are than against, like agitprop from the right wing about crime. What’s the what’s a good way for Democrats to compete? On the crime issue without validating what is ultimately an effort to scare and mislead people about the safety of their communities.
Mondaire Jones: I think it’s education about crime and what the actual trends are in the state of New York and elsewhere. It’s also going on offense and making sure that people know that the folks who are driving the rise in crime around the country are Republicans because of their refusal to. Deal with the gun violence epidemic in this country because of their refusal to hold people who would incite political violence accountable within their own party to hold Republicans accountable for their. Enabling of the political prospects of a guy named Donald Trump and and so on and so forth, and not waiting to be attacked for our positions on crime, but rather, you know, making sure that we are leading the conversation as we should be.
Brian Beutler: Right. Less apologizing for a perceived state of affairs that may or may not bear any resemblance to reality. And more like who are you to to criticize us on crime when you’re flooding our streets with guns?
Mondaire Jones: That’s right.
Brian Beutler: Something, something in that neighborhood may be a good way into that discussion is to talk about the George Santos debacle, specifically a sort of segway from New York politics into national politics.
[news clip]: We turn now to Capitol Hill and the growing scandal surrounding newly elected New York Congressman George Santos. The Republican has already admitted to fabricating key details about his background, including where he worked, went to college and even his religion.
Brian Beutler: It seems pretty obvious that if Democrats had made a bigger stink over over the things that they knew at the time, I mean, obviously they’ve learned more about the fraud George Santos has perpetrated since then. It would have doomed him. I mean, the interest in how much lying this guy did has been enormous, the kind of thing that if it had been aired out with an aggressive communications campaign during the campaign would have not just doomed Santos, but maybe had spillover effect within the state. What’s the what’s the lesson there about how Democrats should run against. Compete against be adversarial towards their opponents when they happen to be running against somebody who is part of this corrupt Republican apparatus in a district that they have no business winning?
Mondaire Jones: I think you have to have strong candidates who are not relying on outside organizations to do their work for them. And I’ll add to outside organizations, the media. Right. So if I if I can’t get The New York Times to pick up a relevant story on my opponent, I’m putting that in a TV ad myself and I’m making it newsworthy. And I’m certainly not relying on other organizations to do opposition research for me in a high stakes. Election like what we saw in that district, which is going to impact control of the House of Representatives, I think is making sure that. We are having that we are making personnel decisions and have accountability structures in place to ensure that we have all the information we need to run the best campaign that we can, as and support the best campaigns and in the context of the DCCC structure. And I think it’s also making sure that we are pushing back on this false narrative that somehow Democrats are soft on crime, because as I mentioned earlier, that’s simply not the case.
Brian Beutler: I read the DCCC [?] sheet on George Santos, and it had a lot of the stuff we now know about him in it, but it was sort of buried.
Mondaire Jones: And it didn’t have the most scandalous stuff. I mean, let’s be clear, the the most interesting of the allegations and the most scandalous are that the man lied about where he went to college or having gone to college at all, potentially, that he lied about his job history, that there’s no evidence that he earned the income that he reported, the fact that he created a charity to deal with animals that turned out not to be a charity is not nearly rising to the level of of the other stuff on the list. And the DCCC did not catch those things.
Brian Beutler: The reason it interested me that that even the stuff that the DCCC did unearth was placed on a lower tier in their little like dossier on him than his his positions on Social Security. If you were running against somebody who had standard fare, regressive Republican policy issues on prescription drugs and Social Security but was also like a complete fraud, like from the Catch Me If You Can school of fraud and defrauding people, what would be more central to your pitch to voters not to vote for that guy. Like the criminality or he’s going to be a vote for Kevin McCarthy’s position on on prescription drugs.
Mondaire Jones: So I reject the idea that there has to be a choice as between the two, because in these districts in particular, there are a lot of financial resources. And to the extent that a candidate himself or herself cannot deal with all of this, there are outside groups who are paying attention to the messaging that those candidates are doing. You know, there’s a reason we have red boxes, for example, on on our websites for for third parties to look at what candidates are are trying to convey to the electorate. Look, I mean, as important as it is to educate people around the Republican plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. The stuff that’s going to get people talking at the dinner table.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Mondaire Jones: Is. Is like. Is also like. Can you believe this guy lied about literally everything?
Brian Beutler: Right, right.
Mondaire Jones: [laughs] You know, there there are a number of Americans who understandably, given everything that they struggle with throughout the day, don’t want to talk about politics all day, but are interested in or horrified by people who are just abjectly terrible and who are interesting to talk about.
Brian Beutler: It gets into this question of how sophisticated the average voter is, about how bills become laws and blah, blah, blah. But like a lot of the, I think, typical issue based messaging that happens in election in elections becomes pretty familiar, right? The the promises Democrats make on economic issues or the warnings that they offer about what Republicans will do sound pretty similar from election to election. And. If you know how the whole system works, you can reason that well, like I don’t want. Prescription drugs to get more expensive. But I’m going to vote for the Republican anyway for these reasons, because I happen to know that the president is a Democrat and he’s not going to sign a bill that will make prescription drugs more expensive. And, you know, you can you can sort of reason your way out of an appeal on kitchen table issues on the basis of what’s happening in the rest of the government outside of this one race. But you can’t reason your way out of like one of the candidates is a public servant with a clean record and the other steals from babies. Like when when that’s clear to the electorate in a district. It’s a it’s an ironclad fact for that race that sort of like. You know, a gift to whoever happens to be the non-corrupt candidate. And it just seems to me—
Mondaire Jones: There are a lot of Republicans who are very uncomfortable with George Santos and who would not have voted for him in the 2022 election. And so, you know, these issues of character. You know, as a baseline are still very important to voters. I mean not, not as much as they ought to be because Donald Trump came too close to getting reelected in 2020. But, you know, there’s no evidence that Donald Trump created himself out of thin air. You know, I mean, there are a number of things that he’s lied about, but this is someone who is just being introduced to the electorate, who has lied about every aspect of his life that is of great interest to people who might otherwise be willing to support a Republican. Out in Long Island in November of 2022.
Brian Beutler: All right, let’s transition to the national scene. Hakeem Jeffries. Is he the right man to lead the Democratic Party under divided government in 2023?
Mondaire Jones: Hakeem is enormously talented, specifically as a messenger. He is going to be disciplined in the way that I believe the House Democratic Caucus will be in the minority. I’ve said before that it’s easier to be the leader of the caucus when you’re in the minority, because the contrast especially between this Republican Party and Democrats is a contrast that is easily discernible for the average American who’s paying attention to politics. And there’s going to be more unity because the ideological differences within the House Democratic Caucus don’t matter nearly as much in the minority as they do when you’re actually trying to pass legislation in the majority. Right now, they’re trying to block bad legislation from getting enacted into law, whether it’s a national abortion ban as proposed by the Republican Party or efforts to gut the IRS so that billionaire tax cheats can continue to evade responsibility for, you know, doing their part in the way that working Americans have to.
Brian Beutler: In the in the last Congress. I took note of Jeffries for two reasons. One was as an impeachment manager, where I thought he brought the skills that you just alluded to to bear really well.
[clip of Hakeem Jeffries]: We are here, sir, because President Trump corruptly abused his power and then he tried to cover it up.
Brian Beutler: And then separately, as he struck me as sort of like the the real voice of the leadership’s antipathy toward the progressive wing, or at least elements of the progressive wing. Is that a fair read? Did you feel that or was that just me overreading certain tweets? [laughs]
Mondaire Jones: You know, I think a lot of what you’re alluding to happened in the Congress that preceded mine. Right. So that would have been the 116th when I think, you know, there were some tweets out of the House Democratic Caucus account at certain staffers and about certain elected officials who identify as progressive. You know, look, I think a lot of these issues will become clear if and when Hakeem is the speaker of the House. But, you know, he is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. And he got unanimous support from the House Democratic Caucus on 15 consecutive ballots last week. So I look forward to seeing how he leads these next two years, because I think that will impact what happens in the next Congress as well.
Brian Beutler: So let’s talk about some things he can do to get the better of Republicans as minority leader. So you alluded to this new committee that Republicans set up, which which is sort of designed to subvert criminal investigations, including possibly of members of that actual committee. I heard Dan Goldman, who’s the new congressman from New York, characterize it well on the House floor this week as a committee to obstruct justice.
[clip of Dan Goldman]: My Republican counterparts can dress up the subcommittee with a menacing name, but let’s call it what it really is, the Republican Committee to Obstruct Justice.
Brian Beutler: But beyond using monikers like that regularly to try to keep that facet of the committee in the in the public consciousness. How how should the fact the Republicans actually set up a committee to obstruct justice, affect how Democrats do their opposition politics? What can Democrats do besides pillorying Republicans for creating this committee to make the committee itself a liability for the GOP?
Mondaire Jones: They can start by using the same language that Dan Goldman did to describe it. I have seen five different versions of what the committee ought to be called as described by by Democrats, and none of them are as good as the Committee to Obstruct Justice, which is precisely what this committee is. So I think some messaging discipline around that. I think putting people on this committee who are quick on their feet. Who are effective communicators. And who relish a fight. Is critical to making sure that the opposition party, the minority of Democrats in the Congress, are going to be pulling their weight, I think, on these committees and educating the American people about what a sham it is. That—
Brian Beutler: Is, is there one member that you absolutely would want on there to sort of be the Democrats, Jim Jordan or whatever? Sort of serving as a bulwark against what they’re trying to do to these criminal investigations.
Mondaire Jones: I think someone on the Judiciary Committee who will, I’m sure, someone who has served on the Judiciary Committee, I should say, I mean, it is a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. We, as members of the Judiciary Committee, are familiar with Jim Jordan’s antics. The craziest of the Republicans, with few exceptions, serve on the Judiciary Committee. And I think people who have experience dealing with that level of crazy. Is is really important. We’ve got some great people on the committee and I don’t. You know, there’s no one person who jumps to mind who comes to mind who’s going to be the most effective. I will say Jamie Raskin can’t serve on the Judiciary Committee because he’s the ranking member of the Oversight Committee. So he’s out of the running for that. [laughs] There are some some great folks, you know. I mean, you’ve got David Cicilline. I think, you know, we should be thinking about who the ranking member is going to be, who’s really going to be leading the charge for the Democratic minority on the subcommittee. But but he is someone who comes to mind.
Brian Beutler: I keep thinking, you know, Republicans are have promised to exact revenge for against Democrats for removing Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from their committees for for, you know, for saying racist saying and doing racist things. You know, people who deserve to lose their committee assignments, they’re going to get revenge on Democrats for that by stripping. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the Intelligence Committee on on the basis of completely flimsy pretexts. So I’ve been thinking, like, should Democrats answer that by trying to get those guys onto the Committee to Obstruct Justice to give? Or does that just is that something where Republicans would just turn around and, you know, kick those two off in the same way that, you know, well, not the same way, but in a similar way that Nancy Pelosi refused to put insurrectionists on the January 6th committee.
Mondaire Jones: So I don’t think Adam would want that job. I think Adam’s going to be focused on running for the Senate in California. And, you know, after being the chair of the Intelligence Committee, probably will look at it as a demotion [laughter] to be to be the ranking committee committee ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee. You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eric Swalwell did end up on that subcommittee. He’s got experience as a prosecutor. He served on the Judiciary Committee, and he’s going to be looking, I think, for more to do now that he’s off the Intelligence Committee.
Brian Beutler: And he, like he seems genuinely just out of patience with how Republicans do business. That’s something that I’ve come to appreciate about Hakeem Jeffries since he became minority leader, since, I guess, before he became a leader since the speakership fight. That more than the outgoing leadership team he doesn’t try to conceal.
Mondaire Jones: He doesn’t mince words.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. How beyond the pale he thinks of this behavior, which, you know, I guess you lose the art of subtlety in that. But to me, it’s sort of key to how—
Mondaire Jones: I think it’s a generational thing, right?
Brian Beutler: Yeah. Talk about this because. Because I feel like to me, if you want people to understand that something has gone really wrong, you should just talk about it a lot as opposed to hide behind. I’m very disappointed in blah blah, blah.
Mondaire Jones: [laughs] It it helps to be able to convey that emotion. And I think for the the top three leadership leaders in the in the prior Congress on the Democratic side, you can get to a point where you’ve you’ve been in so many different Congresses that you’re used to. Working with a Republican Party that no longer exists. In in this decade. And so it is refreshing to see that kind of emotion from Hakeem Jeffries and from others. I was one of those people who also often pointed to how certain behavior by my Republican colleagues is beyond the pale. I don’t use the word moderate to describe any of the House Republicans. I think it is more accurate to say that they are lunatics and that they are cowards. And we see that. As recently as a few days ago, when, you know, to a person, the members from districts that Biden carried in 2020 who are Republican voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, who voted to, you know, gut the IRS so that billionaires wouldn’t have to pay taxes. I mean, this is really extreme stuff. And it’s not what they ran on, which was lowering costs for working people. They just added they just tried to add to the deficit. Thank God the Senate is not going to take up that legislation.
Brian Beutler: What about the debt limit? What can Jeffries and the Democrats do now that Kevin McCarthy has made his deal with the far right to. Protect the country from their threat to default on the national debt.
Mondaire Jones: I think it is educating the American people about what is happening and how terrible it would be if America were to default on its obligations and the consequences of that default. You know, some of which are unclear because there’s no precedent for it. But we do know that, you know, there would. Be repercussions for Social Security and Medicare and for other entitlement programs. So, you know, the the minority, the Democratic minority now needs to to build a PR campaign around this to make it really. Difficult for Republicans to to default and to demand crazy things like cuts to Medicare and Social Security and other programs in exchange for just, you know, allowing America to honor its obligations.
Brian Beutler: And is this a campaign that would be mainly directed at the kinds of Republicans who just won in New York, you know, people who maybe want to try to get reelected in 2024 but are cross pressured because the party’s dragging them so far to the right. Or is this sort of like a just a national campaign that just makes sure that, you know, the places where people get their information are talking on a regular basis about how Republicans have promised in September to hurt the country unless Democrats agree to Medicare cuts or whatever.
Mondaire Jones: I think it’s a national campaign that will definitely trickle down into these swing districts that each of us should be focused on making sure that the people who are the electorate in these Biden districts that are currently being represented by Republicans are aware of what is happening and how devastating it would be for our economy and for the lives and livelihoods of of everyday people in this country. And, of course, the Senate the Senate is going to have more to say because there an actual Democratic majority in the Senate and the White House will also have a significant role in this.
Brian Beutler: So earlier I mentioned I would come back to it and you had said that you were disappointed when after Dobbs Democrats didn’t sort of rally around more, more aggressive ideas for for fixing the democracy and for confronting Republicans like expanding the courts, for instance. Here’s a related question Why didn’t Democrats moot the debt limit in the lame duck? Was was that really just a Kyrsten Sinema Joe Manchin thing, or is there more happening in the party to, to inhibit them from doing doing something like that that we’re not seeing?
Mondaire Jones: I had the privilege of being at the leadership table these past two years, and I know that there was an appetite to deal with the debt ceiling among leaders like Nancy Pelosi. Now, I think. At least one person in that leadership structure at the time made a public statement that might be at odds with completely getting rid of the debt ceiling. Certainly, the president did that at a press conference. And what he said still matters to Congress. But, you know, I do think it ultimately came down to some folks in the Senate who would not have been willing to to deal with that. But but Democrats in the House stood ready, as we did on so many other occasions in which we passed legislation through that chamber to deal with this issue as we had with so many others. Only four most, most of it to be blocked in the Senate because of the filibuster and approximately two individuals named Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema who were unwilling to play ball for the American people on a host of important matters.
Brian Beutler: So then last question what can the party do? The leaders, the people who recruit candidates, the whole apparatus do to better constitute itself going forward so that it’s more of a bulwark against this sort of predatory GOP conduct to take over the courts, the debt limit, hostage taking so that so that the party is is better wired to push back against those abuses.
Mondaire Jones: I think a lot of what we are seeing. Is a function of our broken democracy. We need better people in Congress. It is why I’ve been such a proponent of campaign finance reform so that more working class, diverse voices who feel the urgency of an economy that does not work for everyday people, are elected and are not going to allow themselves to become captive to the pharmaceutical industry, for example, in the way that about a dozen of my colleagues did in the fall of 2021 as we were negotiating the provisions of Build Back Better. Folks who are not going to allow, you know, a precedent like the Jim Crow filibuster to deter them from passing voting rights legislation, understanding that that is far more important than some, you know, arcane procedure of accident or origin to to continue to exist. And we, of course, also need to make sure that that we are ending partisan gerrymandering so that we get more moderate voices to Congress rather than extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan, who who coast to victory despite being outside of the mainstream simply because they prevailed in the Republican Party in their Republican primaries. All of these things and more are part of the freedom to vote. John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It should be the first thing the Democrats pass in January 2025, when we hopefully take back the majority in the House and maintain our majority in the Senate and of course, keep a Democrat in the White House.
Brian Beutler: Congressman Mondaire Jones, thank you for spending so much of your time with us.
Mondaire Jones: Thank you for having me. [music break]
Brian Beutler: Two quick notes of appreciation after speaking with Mondaire Jones. First for the candor, which you don’t often get from members of Congress, even former members of Congress, when they’re asked about the inner workings of Capitol Hill and their colleagues. Second, for what he said about why the generational difference between the new House leadership and the previous one matters. Nobody with a healthy psyche should want to be on a war footing all the time. But honestly, just take a look around. It really is one party that threatens to harm the country after it loses the presidency. One party that systematically lies about elections, whether that’s to restrict their opponents from voting in future elections or to attempt coups. It really is one party that’s excited by the idea of purging federal law enforcement and reconstituting it with partisan loyalists that aligns with foreign autocrats and tries to emulate them and encourages them to interfere in our domestic elections. That’s not your imagination. That’s all real. It’s been this way for years now. And it makes sense for the leaders of the other party to want them to pay a price for all of it. And an important step in that direction is not keeping well earned disdain bottled up for appearances sake. [music break] Positively Dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez. Our producer is Olivia Martinez and our associate producer is Emma Illick-Frank. Evan Sutton mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.