The Fight to Build Back Better (with Rep. Ayanna Pressley)

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US Rep. Ayanna Pressley joins Secretary Julián Castro and new co-host Sawyer Hackett for our season two premiere to talk about President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and the power of progressives on the Hill. Julián and Sawyer also discuss the latest judicial back and forth on Texas’s restrictive anti-abortion measure and a new study analyzing voter outreach in the Sun Belt states. And Julián thanks…Elon Musk?

Follow Congresswoman Pressley online at @AyannaPressley.

Keep up with Julián on Twitter at @JulianCastro and Instagram at @JulianCastroTX. Sawyer can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @SawyerHackett. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

‘Our America’ is presented in part by the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

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Ayanna Presley, Julian Castro, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there, I’m Julian Castro, and welcome to a brand new OUR AMERICA. I hope that you’re rejoining us from the first season. Welcome to season two. As you remember, we kicked off the first season of OUR AMERICA about a year ago. And the idea behind OUR AMERICA Season One was that we wanted to focus on some of the most vulnerable communities in our country. And to do it in depth, we brought on policymakers from Senator Bernie Sanders to Senator Elizabeth Warren, newsmakers. And we also put a spotlight on people who are struggling, folks living in a mobile home park in Waukee, Iowa, fighting back against a private equity company that was trying to jack up their rents, folks living in drainage tunnels in Las Vegas who are homeless. People caught up in the foster care system. I’m really proud of the work that we did in season one, I hope you liked it. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I hope that you’ll go back and listen to those episodes. In season two, we’re going to keep that same spirit.

Julian Castro 

But we’re doing something a little bit differently. We’re changing the format up; we’re going to bring on newsmakers and we’re going to focus on the news of the day. Those issues that really affect your community day in and day out, and that in the middle of our new cycle, we’re going to talk to the policymakers, talk to folks who understand these issues and hopefully help translate them for us, for you. And helping me do that is a good friend, somebody that I’ve known for a few years now. Sawyer Hackett, I met Sawyer several years ago when I think he was only like 24 when I was Secretary of HUD, and he was this young comms guru. He worked on my presidential campaign. And today he’s the executive director of People First Future, which is doing good work supporting progressive candidates and causes, and Sawyer, Welcome to season two. Thanks for cohosting with me.

Sawyer Hackett  02:22

It’s good to be with you. Yeah, we spend a lot of time talking about the headlines every day on the phone. And it’s good to be able to talk about them with some newsmakers and journalists and just make sense of all these headlines out there.

Julian Castro 

Well, it’s great to have you with me on season two. But let’s jump right into the headlines. You know, here in Texas, there’s been some back and forth on SB-8, the republican anti-abortion bill. A few days ago, a lower court issued an injunction against the law, only to be overturned about a day later by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And just for a little bit of background on SB 8 on this anti-abortion bill here in Texas, you might want to check out our bonus episode featuring reproductive rights champion, Cecile Richards, we spoke in depth about the law and just how terrible it is. We’re going to be talking about that ruling, as well as a new study by the progressive organization way to win. That’s urging Democrats to invest in the Sunbelt in states like Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, and my home state of Texas, these states that are racially diverse, they’re growing, they’re urbanizing. Younger, and they’re also getting bluer and bluer every year. Can investing in these states help us keep the majority in 2022, and the White House in 24? And later in the show, we’re going to be joined by Congresswoman Ayanna Presley to talk about the ongoing debate in Washington over the President’s agenda, and also her thoughts on the growing political power of progressives in Congress. But first, let’s talk about the latest developments tied to SB 8. Sawyer, what can you tell us?

Sawyer Hackett  03:59

Yeah, so last Wednesday, a federal district court in Texas issued an injunction against SB 8, which is the republican anti-abortion law in Texas, outlawing abortion, and after six weeks, the 113-page ruling came just about a week after arguments from the Department of Justice. And the judge in the lower court ruling said that the law was flagrantly unconstitutional and a violation of the 14th amendment. But you know, just two days later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the lower court’s ruling allowing the law to go back into effect. As many people know this law was crafted specifically to evade court action and succeeded in not being blocked by the Supreme Court initially. The court already you know, is planning to hear another abortion case from Mississippi, another state law restricting abortions after 15 weeks. But with this 63 conservative majority on the court, it’s just not clear. You know whether they would take this up, take up the Texas law. So where does that leave us, you know, abortion groups on the ground in Texas are targeting companies, Texas companies like AT&T that have donated to the bill sponsors, groups on the ground or fundraising to help folks in Texas travel out of the state to get the care that they need. But a lot of this is just being tied up in the courts right now. So, Julian, where do you see this fight going from here? Do you think that there’s, you know, more that we can be doing to fight back in the courts, in public opinion? What can be done in Congress? Tell us what, how you see the lay of the landscape here.

Julian Castro 

The problem is that the path to stop this is not clear whether we’re talking about the courts, a legislative solution, or certainly not an executive solution, right? I mean, usually the answer would be, let’s go to the courts. Roe versus Wade 50 years of established legal precedent. Roe has survived challenges before, throughout the decades, including in Texas. But we got a very, very conservative Supreme Court, Mitch McConnell played his games. He played him successfully over the last several years, blocked Merrick Garland, Trump got his appointments to the Supreme Court. And now there’s a very solid and anti-abortion, Supreme Court majority. And the first evidence of what they might do with this legislation when they consider it in full came a few weeks ago, when they refuse to essentially to, to stop it to enjoin it temporarily. It’s being challenged on a number of grounds. And you know, most recently, as we mentioned, the Fifth Circuit said that it could be enforced. I imagine that’s going to be appealed to the Supreme Court, and we’ll see what happens. But definitely, the courts remain one hope, one way of at least stalling this thing. Right now, that hasn’t been successful.

Julian Castro  06:54

What are the other options? Congress recently, you know, house representative tried to codify put into law, Roe versus Wade, and Democrats have a bare majority in the House. And so I think they’re able to do that. But in the Senate, it’s a totally different story, we run into the same problem that voting rights is running into, and that The Build Back Better Act is running into in a number of things. There aren’t the votes in the Senate to get to 60 unless you’re willing to set aside the filibuster to do it. And so far, there hasn’t been an appetite to do that. So you start to think well, I mean, do we really have a legislative solution to this either. The third option is that you could try and reform the system. People have talked about adding seats to the Supreme Court, and another a number of other major reforms. But again, I mean, ultimately, that requires the ability to get these things passed in the Senate. So I think right now it’s, you know, you’re in this kitchen sink, situation, you got to throw the kitchen sink at it, lawsuits in the courts, the House of Representatives, trying to codify Roe, great job, every single way you can push back and let’s see what sticks.

Sawyer Hackett  08:09

It seems like this is just another issue where, you know, we have some sort of crisis, some sort of attack on, you know, fundamental rights, whether it’s voting rights, abortion rights, whatever it is, that just come up against these institutional flaws, whether it’s a Supreme Court that’s been stacked by Republican judges, or, you know, a 5050 senate where the filibuster stands in the way of actually addressing these issues. I mean, obviously, we’re going to keep fighting the issue in the courts. It seems like we’re it’s a clear issue that we’re winning in terms of public opinion. I mean, the vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of Texans oppose this law. I mean, on abortion, you can’t think of any issue that has been, you know, more debated in the courts debated in public opinion, and affirmed, you know, under law each time, and yet here, we are dealing with a challenge that that’s been designed to sort of carve out this legal remedy for Republicans to attack abortion.

Julian Castro 

You know, I think this is also one of the two provisions in the law that has turned public opinion flagrantly against Republicans. People don’t believe that you should set up this bounty hunter system to allow folks to snitch on each other and be rewarded for that, especially with something so meaningful as their reproductive rights. And then the second aspect of it is there’s no exception for rape or incest. Even people who might agree with restricting when a person can get an abortion, they might take it down in terms of the number of weeks do not agree with the idea that it shouldn’t be available in the case of rape or incest. So both of these elements of this law not only make it outrageous and hopefully unconstitutional when the Supreme Court makes a final decision on it, but also returning public opinion have turned public opinion totally against the law.

Julian Castro  10:15

And a good measure of that was that it is notoriously hard in these some of these Texas cities, including in my hometown of San Antonio, like it’s notoriously hard to get people out, marching in protest. And not this past weekend, the weekend before last, 1000s and 1000s of people showed up in San Antonio and Dallas even more in Austin and other places in the state to show their strong opposition to SB 8. I mean, I hadn’t seen that on a single issue like that in quite a while. And it reminded me of last summer and the protests after the murder of George Floyd. But it’s laser focused on one thing, and all of the disgust and the vitriol that people feel is aimed squarely at Greg Abbott and Republican leadership for passing this law. I think they’re going to feel the effect in 2022. Here in Texas, a backlash for what they’ve done.

Sawyer Hackett 

Right. And I mean, right now, Texans are pissed. Texans are, you know, outraged, they’re energized. But this is not just an issue that’s going to affect Texans, we already see different states, you know, talking about introducing legislation, you know, exactly tailor made to fit this model, that the Texas abortion law, you know, was created for I, you know, I hate talking about this issue in, you know, just electoral terms or public opinion polling. But if there was an issue that was going to galvanize people ahead of the midterms, it would be that 50 years of, you know, a legally a constitutionally protected right to an abortion would be undermined by the Republican Party and the republican party in Congress, the Republican party at the state level, you know, these state legislatures that that, you know, tend to be overwhelmingly Republican. This is an opportunity, I think, for Democrats to make the case not only that, that we stand for Reproductive care for abortion rights, but also look at this, look at how extreme this party has gotten. Look at how absolutely off the rails republican party has gone, and now that they’re weaponizing our laws to be able to punish women who seek abortion care. I mean, it’s just outrageous.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I mean, it really it is, and it’s emblematic of the bigger problem with the Republican Party, nationally, that they are so extreme, they’ve become just a cult of Trump, they, you know, have run so far to the right. I wish this could I could say, you know, like, this is a case like, like Vegas, like, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. And what happens in Texas stays in Texas. But you’re right, it’s not already we see other states trying to copy this legislative blueprint, because they think that it might pass Supreme Court muster. And so, you know, especially in the States, where you have Republican governors thinking about running for president themselves, I it’s not hard to imagine that other states are going to pass this type of legislation. And that’s also why it’s so important for Democrats to do everything that we can in the courts, in Congress, in state legislative chambers to push back and of course at the ballot box to.

Sawyer Hackett 

Right, well, and you know, just on the topic of the ballot box, and where we can compete and how this will energize voters, the progressive donor collaborative way to win, which was founded by our friend Tory DeVito. They released this exhaustive analysis of the electoral landscape for Democrats, sort of looking back at the 20 2020 election, the 2018 election, the 2016 election, looking at where folks turned out to vote in these 11 battleground states. You know, they analyze voting data of nearly 65 million voters across the last three major elections. Folks find the report, in an article from Ron Brownstein at the But looking at the data, you know, they compare our competitiveness in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the Rust Belt, with states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas in the Sunbelt southeast Southwest. Essentially, what the report says is, the majority of new likely Democratic voters live in the south and southwest places that the Democratic establishment have long ignored, but are just now waking up. Of course, folks saw that in Georgia, they saw that in Arizona in the 2020 election, but they argue that our best chance to avoid, you know the usual midterm losses that you would expect after electing a new president. That if we could turn out large numbers of infrequent voters and engineer enthusiasm amongst our base, you know, multiracial coalition that we’ll you know, count on each cycle that we can actually stem that tide in 2022 and then 2024 and beyond. You know, you’ve talked a lot about the party’s investment in the Sunbelt, you’ve talked a lot about obviously investing in your home state of Texas. And the importance of fighting for the Latino vote as well, which this report also dives into. What did you make of the report? And what do you think its implications are for the Democratic Party.

Julian Castro 

It was music to my ears; I was delighted to read it. I mean, there are many in the party, including me that have made similar arguments, I think, to their credit way to win in this research that they did, right, they’ve gone a lot deeper. And it’s more than surface level arguments or theories. They’ve crunched the numbers and looked specifically, as you mentioned at this new coalition that is formed that has helped democrats win in Arizona and Georgia and other places, and specifically was fascinating to see that in the last three elections, the more infrequently, someone had voted in the past in the last three elections, but showed up to vote in 2020, the more infrequently they had voted, the more likely that they were to vote for Joe Biden. So it really is a combination of two things, right? It’s not just that Arizona and Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, are diverse states. And so you’re gonna go for Black and Brown communities that are younger. And you know, we hear that all the time, but it’s also in there.

Julian Castro  16:26

To the extent that you’re able to scoop up these voters that don’t normally vote, your chances of winning, are better, particularly when you go and get folks from these emerging communities. And the place that you find those people in spades are the Sunbelt states. And that’s also why I believe that if we invest the resources, if we do the work, that Texas is ripe to turn blue, there’s also a caveat in there. That’s an important caveat that they, you know, acknowledge, which is that there is reason to be concerned specifically with Latino men. Some that are issue based, others that take a look at people’s education level or income level. But even in this research, they put another reminder forward to the party, that we have to compete for the Latino vote, we can’t take it for granted. You know that we have to invest the resources, 365 days a year, not just a few months before the election, have to be out there organizing, including in places like the Valley of Texas, and building on the great organizing that has happened throughout Arizona, and throughout places like Nevada, that just a few years ago was a swing state in and of itself. But now, you know, it can get within two or three points, but it’s mostly a democratic state.

Sawyer Hackett 

Right. And, you know, just to take this back a little bit, I mean, across the 11 states that they looked at, they calculated that nearly 13,000,020 voters participated in just two of the past three elections. But among those voters, they preferred Biden 52% to 48% for Trump, another 11 million of those voters 2020 voters didn’t vote in 2018 or 2016. And those voters preferred Biden at a rate of 54% to 46%. And the 25 million registered voters in those states that didn’t vote in any of the last three elections preferred democrats in all 11 states was actually incredible. Many states that were Republican states in 2020. The report said that white voters supplied 92% of Trump’s votes across those states, whereas Biden’s coalition was 60%, white and 40%, nonwhite. And so they’re really just talking about that 40% number, how we can bring that boost that coalition continue to drive that coalition home while not also ignoring white voters, there are persuadable voters. They acknowledge that. They’re not giving those votes away.

Julian Castro  19:00

That’s an important point. I mean, it’s not completely an either-or thing, right? I mean, it’s not like people are saying go focus on the Sunbelt and focus on Black and Brown voters to the exclusion of a focus on White voters. Not that at all. You can’t do that for different reasons. But maybe most importantly, you can’t do that because people aren’t evenly spread out regionally, right? And in these States, and under the electoral college system. If we’re talking about a presidential race, you have to go compete in the States as the electoral votes are counted. And White voters, for instance, without a college education are everywhere in our country, right? and others have pointed that out. So it’s important to say this does not mean that you ignore what’s considered part of the traditional base of the Democratic Party. It is to say, though, that you have a real opportunity here, with these emerging communities, and this is good research, compelling research that shows that they help Biden go over the top in Georgia and in Arizona, and that that can happen in the future in North Carolina and Texas and other states, if we make the investments.

Sawyer Hackett  20:20

Right. There’s this perennial debate that happens to the democratic party after every election where it’s always an either or about boosting turnout or going after persuadable voters. And I think traditionally, you know, the Democratic Party has relied pretty heavily on the latter on persuasion. You know, I think the 2020 cycle, you know, we heard the states Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania over and over and over again, from the day Hillary lost until the day Joe Biden was elected, how important those three states were. But we picked up. We picked up Arizona and Georgia in 2020. We took back the senate with those states. I think what this report emphasizes is, you know, the country is getting more and more polarized, that I think they said that only 1 in 7 of the habitual voters, voters who voted in all three of the last president or last three elections might actually be genuinely persuadable. So as the country’s getting more and more polarized. Yes, of course, you still go after those persuadable voters, those 1 in 7 voters. But you can’t ignore that there’s so much potential to turn out voters who are infrequent turnout, non-White voters, turnout younger voters, voters who are reliably democratic when they do show up, and we can do that best in the Sunbelt states.

Julian Castro 

I’ll tell you, Sawyer, who democrats are going to be able to thank soon as a vote getter here in Texas for the Democratic Party, Elon Musk a few days ago, he said a few days ago that he’s moving his Tesla headquarters Austin.

Sawyer Hackett 

How ironic is it that a state with the most unreliable power grid in America is attracting an electric vehicle company? It makes no damn sense.

Julian Castro  22:03

Like, like so like, first of all, these republicans that have controlled Texas government for the last couple of decades, have given away the store giving away the shop to big business after big business. Alright, that’s been like their whole deal. We’re creating opportunity. And hey, look, you know, I won’t deny that there’s been a lot of investment in Texas, a lot of good paying jobs. They’ve been doing these corporate giveaways for a long time now. And so when Elon Musk says we’re moving the Tesla headquarters to Austin, that’s just one more step in the influx of people into this state of Texas, fit politically, are not Republican, right? They’re Democrats, they lean democratic. And so in a few years, you’re gonna be able to say thank you to Elon Musk, and to folks like him, who have made decisions to bring those investments and employees who are going to vote democratic. You know, get rid of these cave men, Texas, GOP, right wing leaders that we’ve had. So, you know, I couldn’t let our conversation about the future of the focus of the Democratic Party go without saying that, you know, thank you, Elon Musk for the investment in Texas but also thank you for helping to turn Texas blue.

Sawyer Hackett

Yeah, I mean, Elon Musk’s politics are impossible to follow. But, you know, he may he may be able to turn a blind eye to this abortion bill to the voting rights bill to, you know, permit less open carry of firearms in the state, he may be able to look away from that, but his employees, people who he’s expecting to move into Texas, to build his cars and you know, sell his cars around the country. Those voters don’t support these bills as voters don’t support this legislation. They’re not cavemen. Like you said.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I mean, a state where Apple is one of the biggest private sector employers and where Tesla has its headquarters and where companies like that are attracting more and more employees. That’s not a state that’s gonna vote Republican. So you mark the calendar for when Elon Musk made his announcement because that was one more nail in the coffin of the Texas GOP.

Sawyer Hackett  24:27

So yeah, you know, we’re going to talk to Congresswoman Ayanna Presley who represents Massachusetts seventh congressional district. She’s a fantastic member of Congress. Fantastic member of the Progressive Caucus. I guess we’re going to talk to her a little bit about you know, the ongoing debate in Washington about the Build Back Better bill, the infrastructure bill where we go with the debt ceiling, the filibuster, and I know that you two have shared a number of conversations about policing, you know, criminal justice as well. So I’m really looking forward to that conversation as well.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I mean, she’s right in the thick of it. And she’s of course, one of the great progressive champions in that Congress. It’s just a powerful voice on so many different issues. And you’ll want to stay tuned for that conversation that we’re about to have. Welcome back to OUR AMERICA. We’re really excited on this first episode of season two, to bring back a good friend who has been a progressive champion in Congress. She represents Massachusetts seventh congressional district. We’re really, really happy to have her here today, Congresswoman Ayanna Presley. Congresswoman, this is the first show of our second season. And you were one of our guests in the first season. Welcome back to OUR AMERICA

Ayanna Presley  26:03

Thank you. And congratulations.

Julian Castro 

Thank you so much for joining us. We were joking a little while ago, you know that I also got out of the closet that I was recording in, and you get a little it’s a little more airy, here, I got a little more room. So you know, a little more relaxed, and we changed the format up a little bit. And this one, you know, we’re going back and forth and doing shorter, but still important interviews. But I want to jump right into it. You know, these days, I’m here in Texas. And everybody keeps asking me like what in the world is going on in Texas. And that’s understandable what we’ve been at the center of so much bad news lately, you know, we’re in the news for all the wrong reasons. But people are also wondering, like what is going on in Washington, DC. Because the House and the Senate have been going back and forth with the infrastructure plan and the build back better plan, the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which would make these transformative investments in our country in everything from child care, to Universal pre-K to housing, to so many other things that would make a difference in the lives of the people that I know you’re fighting for.

Julian Castro 

And a lot of your colleagues are fighting for. Progressives have held the line and they demanded a vote on the bill back better plan. centrists or conservatives or whatever we want to call them. conservative Democrats have said, No, no, this thing has to be trimmed down. They also, you know, wanted certainty on the infrastructure bill. People hear a lot of numbers $3.5 trillion $1.5 trillion, some sort of compromise in between. But I don’t know that we’ve spent enough time really letting the public know about all of the important and impactful things that are included in this investment and how it would make a difference in their lives. Can you just talk to us about why you’re excited about this potential investment? Why you think it would make a difference in people’s lives in how and then what do you see if anything that is actually on the chopping block right now.

Ayanna Presley  28:25

Okay, so first and foremost, you know, as someone who we spoke about this a little bit, the last time I was on, you know, my mother rest in peace and power, you know, she was a tenant’s rights activist and a super voter and a proud Democrat. And so I grew up in an organizing community and mill movement building household, and I just want to acknowledge the victory of the movement. Myself and other progressives could hold the line to ensure that we leave no one behind, because we are emboldened by the sustainability of this movement, a movement that delivered this Democratic majority. And so in that the most marginalized, Black, Brown, AAPI, indigenous disabled, young people, LGBTQ, came together and made this possible for democracy to even breathe another day. And this moment, it’s incumbent upon us to codify budgets, and in laws and investments that are commensurate with the needs of that movement of the most marginalized.

Ayanna Presley 

So we Build Back Better by rejecting a status quo. We have found ourselves in an unprecedented moment of unprecedented hardship, which requires unprecedented leadership, unprecedented legislating, unprecedented investment, and so having served on the municipal level for eight years before I was elected to Congress, I’m now in year three, I’m very used to these unjust binary false choices. I reject them, we’re not going to choose between the laborer who the union worker who builds the road, and the childcare worker taking care of our babies so that that labor can build that road. We need them both, physical infrastructure, you know, highways, roads and bridges, and I would add investment in public transit to and then we need, social, human infrastructure. So what does that mean? It means childcare. You know, Massachusetts represents the second highest cost of childcare in the country, almost $17,000 per child.

Ayanna Presley  30:56

So childcare is as much about the GDP, as it is about our families. So if you’re talking about a recovery from a pandemic induced recession, how do you do that, without childcare? That’s about the stabilization of our families and our workforce, and ensuring that we not neglect the overwhelmingly dominated by women and women of color, who are those childcare providers. And many economists have characterized this pandemic induced recession, Mr. Secretary, as a she session, because of the unprecedented number of women who have had to leave the workforce. Now, I did a lot of work here in Boston, in partnership with advocates to diversify and to get greater gender representation in the trades. But the fact of the matter is, most of those physical infrastructure jobs are not women. Now, when you come to the social infrastructure, side of things, childcare, that’s as much about families or workforce, and about childcare workers, home and community-based services for the disabled, and the elderly. Again, overwhelmingly women represent that workforce. If the pandemic hasn’t shown us that paid leave is essential to infrastructure, that housing is infrastructure, I don’t know when we’re going to get the message. And while we find ourselves in the midst of extreme weather events, sea level rise, flooding of homes and businesses, lives that have been lost.

Ayanna Presley  32:36

Environmental Justice, frontline communities, the same communities that have been hit hardest by this pandemic, how can we even be debating whether or not we should be cutting our emissions, and making those necessary investments that’s about the livability of the planet that’s about our public health. That’s about everything. And so that’s what these investments are about. If we’re going to build back better, we have to leave no one behind. And we have to do more than just recover to a pre COVID unjust status quo normal we have to do once in a lifetime bold things like the child tax credit, which economists have characterized as the biggest piece of anti-poverty legislation, in modern times, in dramatic effect exactly, in cutting child poverty. So you know, this is an unprecedented moment that demands unprecedented leadership, legislating and investment.

Swyer Hackett 

Hey, Congresswoman, this is Sawyer. You know, there’s a debate right now in the caucus about how we would scale back some of these critical programs that are in the Build Back Better agenda. You know, obviously, Senator Manchin has said that, that we need to, you know, take an axe to one of those three or two of those three big social programs, the universal pre-K, universal paid sick leave, and universal childcare. But there’s also talk about potentially means testing these programs or sunsetting them a little bit earlier, where do you come down on that debate? And how do you see progressive sort of drawing the line to make sure that this is still a transformative piece of legislation and not just an investment program.

Ayanna Presley  34:09

You know, we held the line to ensure that we leave no one behind. And so, you know, to me, that means being as bold and as inclusive and ensuring that we’re going as broad and as deep as the herd is. We’ve really only begun negotiations in earnest, you know, recently. So we’re still early in that process, things are fluid. But, you know, again, the pandemic has made playing all these inequities and, and, and exacerbated them. And I don’t know how we find ourselves in a moment like this, where we have been to make the case that housing is infrastructure. It is not only critical to social economic mobility, but it is a critical social determinant of how, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, how can we even be having this debate, one about keeping people safely housed and ensuring that no one is evicted. But we know that we need more affordable housing.

Ayanna Presley 

So when the Financial Services Committee, a shout out to, you know, our incredible unflappable chair, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and just two weeks ago, maybe last week, it’s all a blur now, we were able to secure some $300 billion in investments, for housing trust funds, for vouchers to grow and to preserve our existing affordable housing stuff, and to grow it to my bill, which is to remove lead in mold out of public housing, and my other bill, down payment for equity, which is really critical to closing the racial wealth gap. So out of committee, we were able to advance those $300 billion, and in critical investments. And again, housing is infrastructure for all the reasons that I’ve already enumerated. So, you know, Sawyer, I’m just going to keep fighting, you know, and we’ll see ultimately what Bill lands in front of me, but I’m going to be looking for us, again, to go as bold and as deep as the heart is.

Julian Castro  36:15

When I know, Congresswoman that housing availability, affordability has been one of your passions. I mean, it’s something that you’ve worked on for years, this is nothing new to you, I was so thrilled to see the level of investment in this budget package, over $300 billion, as you said, I mean, that would be more than we’ve invested in decades, when you think about the last 40 years is, you know, we really have not shown a commitment to make sure that everybody can have a safe, decent, affordable place to live. You’re from Massachusetts. I don’t have to tell you. How many people get priced out of the market in terms of homeownership, and also how many people have to double up or even end up homeless because they cannot afford skyrocketing rents. So how do you make that sale? How is that sale going to your colleagues who might be a little bit skeptical that housing is infrastructure, that investing in childcare is infrastructure, that investing and the everything else that you mentioned, is a part of creating American prosperity and this sense, hopefully, after this pandemic, that hey, we’re all in this together.

Ayanna Presley 

Although I have no challenge in projecting my voice, Mr. Secretary, as a child, that was the constant note back on my report card that I struggled to use an inside voice. But the point is that this is not about my raising my voice. This is about my telling the stories and amplifying the voices of the people that we represent. And so when I have that opportunity to get in front of a colleague that may not initially understand this, I talked to them about a grandmother in my district in her 80s living in public housing that has not had any investments or been upgraded since the 1930s. This is someone in their twilight years, who is now on a fixed income, but was an educator for many years. I don’t think simply because people can’t afford it because they can’t afford more that they don’t deserve better. So I have found that a while we’re making the case for housings, infrastructure, when I talk about just how derelict, we have been when it comes to public housing, and I have a very large public housing footprint in my district people to get that. I also remind people that, you know, we spent the last year and a half talking about a reckoning on racial injustice. Well, in my district, from Cambridge to Roxbury, life expectancy drops by 30 years and median household income by $50,000. The wealth of a white Boston family is $247,500. And for a Black Boston family is $8.

Ayanna Presley  39:05

So, you know, housing when you talk about a 30-year life expectancy gap within a three-mile radius that has everything to do with housing, again, critical the German about you talk about a 50, you know, a racial wealth gap is that start is that desperate? That’s what homeownership, that’s when equity. You know, that’s how we close that. So I’m sort of just reminding people, you know, this reckoning on racial injustice, the only receipts that matter are policies and budgets, not hashtags, not plazas, you know, beautifully painted, although I appreciate them I’m very I love you know, I appreciate it. But, you know, we find ourselves in the midst of a culture shift, but that culture shift must result in a policy shift. And that policy shift and that and those budgetary changes are ultimately what will get you, Sawyer using the T word, which is what I’m always team transformation, not team obstruction, team transformation, we held the line to ensure we leave no one behind.

Ayanna Presley  40:10

And finally, I remind them that being in the majority has to mean more than a talking point. You know, we have the house, we have the Senate, we have the White House, and people are just trying to survive. They don’t care about antiquated senate procedures and process. You know, we couldn’t make this happen because of a filibuster or a parliamentarian or because we couldn’t, you know, sway this person they just want results, exactly, they’re counting on us to stand in the in the gap. So when I’m focused on is substance impact, going this far, and as wide and as deep as the hurt is, and I know there is some fear that by going bold, we risk the majority. But how we risk the majority is by playing small. That’s how we risk the majority, you know, the ultimate persuasion tool is impact. So we have to deliver, and we have to keep our word.

Julian Castro 

There’s this sense of growing disillusionment and impatience with the administration on everything from the fact that the George Floyd justice and policing act and police reform hasn’t been accomplished to the continued use of title 42. So far, the fact that, you know, this Build Back Better plan, the full plan hasn’t been put into action. You mentioned delivering results, just talk about the consequences to Democrats in the 22 midterms, and then perhaps to President Biden in 2024. If we don’t deliver those results.

Ayanna Presley 

Again, I think there’s some fear that by going, you know, bold, that we risk the majority, but I think by playing small, we risk the majority, you know, we have to people have to, in tangible ways feel that, by contrast, that their lived experience is better, that it’s improved, that we have in some way. alleviated their suffering, mitigated their hardship, and that we are truly doing the work of building a more just and equitable society going forward. And it is a hard when you see Haitian migrants being whipped at the border, title 42 something that was weaponized under Trump, you know, which we should not have that hold over the George Floyd justice and policing bill, I’m gonna have to say this. It’s hard to be disappointed when you’re not surprised. You know, I’m not a setup. But I think that the GOP have given us more than enough evidence and prove that they are not negotiating in good faith.

Ayanna Presley  42:56

And you know, for some what is a, you know, gamesmanship. We’re talking about people’s lives, […] , given the extremism of the Supreme Court, which is why I do believe we need to expand the court and people think that’s, you know, perhaps marginal or fringe, it is not, Congress has done it seven times, there’s precedent, and we have to do something to balance and restore the balance. The courts are currently very extreme. And they continue to rule against the people, whether you’re talking about housing rights, with the eviction moratorium, or whether you’re talking about voting rights, whether you’re talking about reproductive freedom, you know, so for all of those reasons, and then some, Congress in the Senate and its widest we have to stand in the gap. And we have to lead and this is not charity. This is not benevolence. This is reciprocity. You know, this is making good on our promises. And that’s how I think you combat the fatigue. That’s how you combat the cynicism. That’s how you combat the deficit of trust that people have in government, it’s when they can see and feel tangibly the impact of their government all around. And you know what? Sometimes there are fights that we take on and we lose they just want to know that we’re fighting.

Julian Castro  44:14

Yeah, you need to get caught trying.

Ayanna Presley 

We just won’t take it lying down. So on George Floyd justice and policing, you know, for all of those who have been profiled, surveyed brutalized, lynched, murdered, there can never be justice, because that would mean that would still be with us. But there must be accountability. And a couple of years ago, I did introduce a bill. It’s been introduced twice down to in qualified immunity. And that’s what I’m going to remain focused on Because ultimately, if without accountability, why wouldn’t people continue to operate with callous disregard and reckless impunity with black and brown bodies, when there are no consequences and for as long as that unjust doctrine is the practice, we will continue to see these abuses.

Sawyer Hackett 

I want to just quickly ask you just a political question about all this is, you know, I think a lot of people were surprised to see progressives hold the line so strongly on the Build Back better agenda. You know, there’s been a number of Spats over the years where progressives have held a line and eventually had to give in a little bit. But of course, here, as many people have pointed out, progressives were the ones fighting for the President’s agenda and for the Democratic Party’s agenda that elected us to the majority. Do you see this as a sign that the Progressive Caucus that progressives in Congress have this growing political power in Congress? Or is this just sort of a, you know, flash in the pan sort of event where progressives had to win the standoff?

Ayanna Presley 

Well, first of all, thank you for getting the narrative, correct. We were holding the line to advance the President’s agenda, which is the people’s agenda. Right? You know, again, it is very, you know, it’s par for the course wherever progressives are involved to either discredit, underestimate, or vilify. But you know, this the progressive agenda is not Ayana Presley’s agenda. Pay? It’s not, you know, it’s the agenda of the people. These policies are wildly popular.

Julian Castro  46:21

What Joe Biden has put forward, right? Democratic administration.

Sawyer Hackett 

And the $3.5 trillion, was a compromise to start with which people, you know, forget about the Joe Manchin.

Ayanna Presley 

That’s true. Look, this is the first prochoice majority Congress in the history of Congress. That has to mean something. And it does. That’s why my bill with Congresswoman Judy Chu who’s been a stalwart with that Women’s Health Protection Act since 2013. Knowing the moment like this would come, are being approached twice majority Congress, it means something, and that bill passed the house and now, you know, to codify Roe v Wade, and to ban the introduction of any more harmful bans or things that restrict access to abortion care, which is healthcare, right? Calling on structure would take that bill up and get that to the President’s desk for signature. This is the biggest Congressional Progressive Caucus in the history of Congress. And that has to mean something more than a talking point, right? We have the House, the Senate in the White House, and being in the Democratic majority must mean more than a talking point. So I think in this moment, you know, both met, okay? Democratic majority were in power. This is the President’s agenda. And this is the biggest Congressional Progressive Caucus in the history of Congress. And that must mean something.

Julian Castro 

One final question. What’s giving you hope right now? We’ll keep doing our very little part here with our podcast.

Ayanna Presley  48:07

For me, it’s always gonna be the same answer. And that’s the movement. Mr. Secretary to the point that you were making about folks feeling disillusioned and that kind of thing. I think I mentioned the last time we were together but it’s still as evergreen because I refer to it all the time but the words of Brittany Packnett Cunningham, I choose to practice the discipline of hope over the ease of cynicism, such an important reminder hope is not you know, this organic thing it’s a discipline. It’s a practice, you know, and so I’m going to continue in the midst of unprecedented times to practice unprecedented help and I think the both of you for strengthening me in that resolve.

Julian Castro 

Well, thank you and I know I speak for a lot of people when I say that you give so many of us hope. Keep fighting. We need you there and thanks for joining us.

Ayanna Presley 

You got it; I’ll get to see each other in person one day. But you’re gonna have to have your data so on, you need to represent the three strike for the beam. All right, take care.

Julian Castro 

Take care. Hey, y’all, welcome back. You know, because we spent so much time talking about the headlines and the drama in DC. We want to close out each show by talking about some positive news. And we want to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail sharing the stories you care about the most right now at 833-453-6662 So, Sawyer, you got some positive headlines for us?

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah. So yesterday, the White House Chief Medical adviser, and probably the chief celebrity over at the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He said that, you know, with the higher vaccination rates, declining cases and hospitalizations across the country, these are good signs that we seem to be headed in the right direction on COVID. And that kids should feel free to go trick or treating this year. And you know, every family should consider their own safety precautions, but generally said outdoor activities like trick or treating are considered safe, even without a mask. So I think that was a really positive headline. I think a lot of families really wanted to hear that I’m sure your family is getting ready for Halloween. Do you know what you’re gonna you know, you’re gonna dress up as?

Julian Castro 

I have a six-year-old son, Christiane, and he hasn’t officially declared what he wants to be, but it’s probably either like, a character from Cobra Kai. A Cobra Kai or Spider Man or who knows what. But I have to say like, last year, we were supposed to go trick or treating, you know, we’re gonna try and do it in this COVID safe way and keep our distance. And then he fell asleep by like, he fell asleep by like six o’clock. So we haven’t been trick or treating since 2019. So he’s really looking forward to this one and my daughter Karina, who’s 12. I don’t think she’s going trick or treating. I think she’s going to hang out with her friends. And they’re all dressing. Like, as you know, they’re four of them. One each of the characters from some show that they’re watching right now, and you know, you can tell I’m the dad right now that’s out of the loop. But she showed me the picture of it. And I felt all of my 47 years old not being able to relate to what that was.

Sawyer Hackett  52:04

Yeah, I’ve seen that you, you know, I think he was Cobra Kai or something a couple years ago, maybe and you also dressed up with him, Do you think you’re gonna dress up with them this time.

Julian Castro 

this was this was before he was even into it. You know, I just like, I’m terrible about it. It’s actually one of my favorite holiday. But I’m always terrible about getting a costume. Like I’ll literally go the day, the afternoon before on October 31st to one of those makeshift Halloween stores that they set up, you know, and fish through the aisles and see what’s left.

Sawyer Hackett  

Always like dressing up for Halloween. I remember at HUD like 2014 maybe the first year I was there, like you dressed up as a vampire. And we were like, we were like putting makeup on you.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, we went to go do a like an event at a public housing community with kids there. I remember that because Denis McDonough, who was Obama’s chief of staff came to visit me at HUD that day. And our meeting and I had to tell him Hey, Dennis, I don’t dress up like this every day. You know, I’m just going to a Halloween event because I had like a tuxedo on and then a cape or something for the Draco outfit.

Sawyer Hackett 

Somewhere out there there’s a picture on the Internet of that. And I think our you know, our communications shop at the time made sure that to hide that from the internet. But I think somewhere it’s out there. So I’ll let folks go ahead and vote. Anyway, that’s just wanted to share about you know, amid all the headlines that the kids this year are going to be able to go out and go trick or treating. I’m looking forward to seeing the White House trick or treating you know, each year the kids walk on the South Lawn and say hi to the president First Lady, and there’s always all these crazy costumes. So I’m looking forward to seeing that again. It’s a little bit of, yes, you know, silver lining in the COVID clouds.

Julian Castro 

It’ll be the Obama always did such a wonderful job and the First Lady. And I’m sure that Joe and Joe Biden will do a wonderful job this year. It’ll be nice to have you know the monsters there be the scary thing and not the President himself, like we had with Trump.

Sawyer Hackett  54:11

Hopefully we don’t see any Trump costumes.

Julian Castro 

As always go ahead and follow us on Twitter at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett or at @LemonadaMedia. And also leave us a story about the positive things you see out there. And what’s most important to you right now at 833-453-6662. That’s 833-453-6662 and subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts. Alright, Sawyer, we’ll talk to you soon.


OUR AMERICA is a Lemonada Media Original. Our Producer is Xorje Olivares, with executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer, Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Julian Castro. Mix and scoring by Veronica Rodriguez. Music is by Xander Singh. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @JulianCastro, at @Sawyer Hackett and at @LemonadaMedia. If you want more OUR AMERICA, subscribe to Lemonada Premium, only on Apple podcasts.

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