Who Will Primary Voting Rights Holdout Sinema? (with Mehdi Hasan)

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Julián and Sawyer theorize about Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s political future following her latest efforts to sideswipe President Biden’s overall agenda, including historic voting rights legislation. They also welcome MSNBC and Peacock host Mehdi Hasan to break down Biden’s first full year in office and the media’s responsibility ahead of the midterms.

Follow Mehdi online at @mehdirhasan.

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Julian Castro, Mehdi Hasan, Sawyer Hackett

Julian Castro  00:13

Hey there, I’m Julian Castro.

Sawyer Hackett

And I’m Sawyer Hackett.

Julian Castro 

And welcome to OUR AMERICA. This week we have a lot of news to talk about from the push to reform the filibuster and pass voting rights to the one-year anniversary of the Biden presidency. And the question for Democrats at the moment politically, who’s going to primary Arizona senator Kristen cinema. And later in the show, we’ll be joined by journalist and MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan to break it all down. But first, let’s go over to the latest push on voting rights. Sawyer, where do things stand there?

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, so last week, President Biden, vice-president Harris traveled to Georgia to give a speech urging Congress to pass voting rights legislation. And President Biden followed up his trip with a visit to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats to rally support for the freedom to vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, as well as a reform to the filibuster so that legislation could pass with a simple majority vote. But before he even got to the Hill, Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona gave a you know, widely publicized speech on the Senate floor throwing cold water on the process on any prospect of reform. She spoke at length, invoking bipartisanship and the divisive tone of our politics, arguing that an exception to the filibuster would quote worse than the underlying disease of division vectoring our country. Her speech ignited this firestorm of criticism that likely won’t have any impact on her decision making. But the pack that was created to create a fun for a potential primary challenger, you know, to defeat her in 2024, has raised close to a quarter million dollars, I think, since it launched. And then Congressman Ruben Gallego who is, you know, widely considered to be a potential primary challenger to cinema, also, you know, went down to the House floor to speak and, you know, debunk her remarks. And, you know, there’s another pack called the Rub Ruben Run draft Committee, which has seen a three times fold increase in the number of contributions that had just in the last month. So, you know, a lot of people are really upset with Kyrsten Sinema. Obviously, we can’t leave Joe Manchin off the hook here. He also spoke out against changing the filibuster after President Biden visited the hill. But I think what really rubbed people the wrong way, especially on the Hill was that she, you know, went down there wasn’t even willing to hear Joe Biden speak, wasn’t even willing to hear him out before she, you know, essentially threw cold water on the whole idea of passing voting rights. So it’s got a lot of people frustrated.

Julian Castro  02:42

Yeah, absolutely. And understandably, as well, I mean, we know and we’ve said before, how urgent it is to pass voting rights legislation. You know, I saw that here in Texas the other day, the early voting period for the Texas primaries about to start early voting starts February 14, so people are requesting ballots. And in the course of requesting mail in ballots, just here in my home county, bear County, which includes San Antonio, I mean, this is a big County, you know, overall, it’s about 2 million people they had rejected at that time on the first day, like 80 requests that they’d gotten for mail in ballots think they’d rejected 42. And you can write that story over and over and over again, across counties in Texas because of a new law that the legislature passed in the spring that requires certain information from voters. That’s easy to forget. I think you got to include like your driver’s license and your so secure something, you know, but they’ve made it so procedurally, like putting extra steps in so oh, you missed something. Oh, your mail in ballot request is invalidated? That’s what’s happening across Texas.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, I think what the law said was that you have to have the exact same personal identification number, whether it’s your social security number, or it’s your driver’s license number on your application for your absentee ballot as what the voter file has what the state has on your voter file already. So if those numbers don’t match, and you don’t have both of them in the system, your ballot is tossed.

Julian Castro  04:12

Yeah, we all know how up to date and perfect that the voter data file is.

Sawyer Hackett

I bet you could check like Greg Abbott’s voter file and it’s not up to date, you know?

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I mean, it’s often outdated. That’s just one tiny example here in Texas that we’re seeing, you know, this voter suppression election, subversion. Biden had made this pretty powerful speech the other day where he talked about, you know, it’s not just who gets to vote, but also how the votes are counted, that these Republicans are trying to undermine and control. It was a real slap in the face for Senator Sinema to go on to the Senate floor within an hour of when Joe Biden was to come and speak to the Senate Democratic Caucus and basically say no, I’m not going to go for any of this, I’m not going to change the filibuster at all, not even a carve out to get voting rights done. There are a lot of Democrats out there, especially in her home state of Arizona, who are wondering, okay, when she comes up for reelection in 2024, assuming that she runs again, and assuming that if she runs again, she does try and run as a Democrat, who is going to primary Kyrsten Sinema, so that we can get a Democratic Representative in there who will actually deliver on democratic values, like making sure that everybody has the opportunity, who’s eligible to cast a ballot, and that the votes are counted legitimately. And so actually, you know, there’s been quite a bit of research on this that’s been done already. Back in early October, there was a poll that data for progress did that matched up Sinema against four potential challengers for folks who are fairly high-profile Democrats in Arizona. Just to give a little bit of a lay of the land, right, Arizona has been a growing state, the Sunbelt state. Basically in the Democratic primary there are two counties that count the most in terms of garnering support Pima County, which includes Tucson, and Maricopa County, which is the behemoth, which includes Phoenix and all of those surrounding suburbs.

Julian Castro  06:19

In that poll, they put it up against Ruben Gallego, the congressman from the Phoenix area, he defeats her 62% to 23%, with the rest undecided. Kate Gallego, the mayor of Phoenix, 60% to Sinema’s 25% with 15% undecided. Greg Stanton, the former mayor of Phoenix and our current congressman, from the Phoenix area 59% to Sinema’s 24% with 17% undecided, and a newer face but already growing in popularity in Arizona, Regina Romero who’s the mayor of Tucson down in Pima County and South Arizona 55% to Sinema’s 26% with 19% undecided. That was in early October, in early November, Arizona public opinion polls, did a poll that was conducted by OH predictive insights. And in addition to finding that 72% of primary Democrats in Arizona want somebody other than Kyrsten Sinema, their poll had Gallego up 47 to 24. And Greg Stanton, had a similar margin over Kyrsten Sinema. She also in that first poll had a 70% disapproval rating and a 25% approval rating among Democrats that are likely to vote in a primary. So there you have it. I mean, you have, at least if we believe some of the polling that’s been done so far, a politically perilous situation for Kyrsten Sinema. I think of these four folks that I mentioned, Ruben Gallego has been the most aggressive right after she delivered her speech on the Senate floor. He went on to the House floor and delivered kind of the exact opposite speech about how important voting rights are and how they we need to do anything that we can procedurally to make sure that we pass the pieces of legislation that would protect them. So we have sort of a night and day approach on this issue between the person that’s emerging as a leading Challenger and Ruben Gallego, and the current Senator Kirsten cinema.

Sawyer Hackett  08:32

Yeah, and you and I hosted a Twitter spaces on the night that she gave that speech. And we talked a little bit about this, but she is either living in this delusional world where she can upset a vast majority of her constituents and, and still win in a Democratic primary, which is, you know, as you just demonstrated, not likely to happen, or she’s delusional enough to think she’s gonna run for president, or she’s just going to, you know, leave office after, you know, a brief four year term and cash out with, you know, some of those big corporate donors that she’s collected over the last couple years. But it’s just astounding to me. There was another poll, I think it was another data for progress poll that said that 61% of Arizona and support eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights, that was, I think, probably 4 or 5 months ago, so that number is gonna be up into like, close to the 70s now, I mean, she’s upsetting everybody in her camp, and she can’t come through a primary and even if she gets through in the primary, no Republicans are going to be supportive of her because she bucked the Democrats. I mean, they’re still going to support their Trumpian candidate, whoever they put up against her for general election. So it’s just delusional. And you pointed out, you know, that Texas, you know, is starting to already reject ballots. I just read somewhere that the Brennan Center says that in 2022, there are already 152 restrictive voting bills pending across 18 different states. You know, voter suppression bills, essentially the latest being in Georgia where a state senator has proposed eliminating all of the drop boxes in the entire state, so this is just going to open, you know, she continues to stand in the way of passing voting rights, just going to open the floodgates even more for so many of these bills to pass and for our election system, just completely dismantle.

Julian Castro  10:14

Voters will often give you more latitude as a politician if they think that what you’re doing is based on principle, that it’s not just political convenience. It’s not just cleverness or trickiness on the part of the politician. It’s something you legitimately believe. And hey, I mean, for somebody that says, well, should we give Kirsten cinema the benefit of the doubt here, that this is just a principled stand, and belief in that 60-vote threshold to protect the rights of the minority? You know, you might say that, but then a few years ago, not very long ago, when she was running for office, she said the exact opposite. She said, you know, she criticized folks who clung to that 60-vote threshold, and said that it wasn’t realistic that it should be changed. She came up in politics originally, as a progressive activist that was protesting folks like Senator Joe Lieberman.

Sawyer Hackett  11:09

who stood in the way of passing health care with the filibuster in support of the filibuster stood in the way of Democrats passing healthcare. I mean, literally, it’s like, she’s his contemporary today. It’s wild.

Julian Castro 

You know, I had the opportunity to meet Kyrsten Sinema, you know, very early on, when I was a city councilman in San Antonio, and I think she was coming up in Arizona. I mean, personally, I always found her to be, you know, nice and a decent person. But I don’t know what in the world has happened in terms of her representation of her constituents, and her read on what is going on across the country on things like voting rights, that require an urgency and require action right now, before the very nature of our democracy changes. It’s like, she’s just this huge disconnect. You mentioned. And I think the most fascinating and funny thing that I’ve heard over the last few days, is this idea that she thinks that by taking this stand, that she could launch a 2024 presidential campaign. And my first question was, I mean, as what, not as a Democrat, you know, like, you ain’t gonna get through those Democratic primaries, saying, I’m the one that stood in the way of progress on voting rights, that are so fundamental to people, especially the most vulnerable, I’m the one that stood in the way of Build Back Better investments that would make transformative difference in the lives of people that Democrats are fighting for, people that are often voiceless and don’t have the power of these big lobbyists, and big corporations in Washington. I don’t know how you even get off the ground with that platform. So that sounds like a joke.

Sawyer Hackett  12:54

I mean, one ad of her just on a loop doing that thumbs down for a $15 minimum wage, that tanks her candidacy instantly. I mean, even if she like didn’t care about upsetting her entire constituency, which, you know, that would be ridiculous. But even on the merits, even if she truly believes that the Senate filibuster slows things down, it requires, you know, bipartisanship and working together. It’s just a fallacy. I mean, first of all, the Republican agenda, whether it’s cutting taxes, attacking government programs, or confirming justices, all of that can be accomplished outside of the filibuster process, through reconciliation, or through carve outs, the filibuster, which is how they’ve confirmed three Supreme Court justices, you know, under Trump, and then, you know, the other side of it is they supported a carve out to the filibuster just one month ago to pass the debt ceiling increase. They’re saying a carve out for the filibuster for voting rights would weaken it. So it’s not weakening it to raise the debt ceiling to avoid, you know, an economic collapse. But it’s weakening it for a carve out for voting rights to prevent, you know, a political disaster. I mean, it doesn’t make any sense. They don’t have a logical position. So you have to assume that they’re doing it in bad faith. And politically, it doesn’t make sense either. So like, I think that’s where so much of the confusion and frustration is because they don’t have a coherent ideological opposition to the filibuster, and they don’t have a clear political opposition to the filibuster. It makes no sense.

Julian Castro  14:19

Let’s just hope, though, that the President continues to push. You know, he said as much in his speech after he spoke with the Senate Democratic Caucus, the stakes here are way too high, to leave things be. And you know, I’m glad that he had that tone of defiance and of persistence, when he spoke after that meeting, and hopefully, there’s going to be some sort of breakthrough. I mean, I continue to believe weirder things have happened in Washington DC.

Sawyer Hackett 

Right. But yeah, it’s leaving President Biden’s another big item on President Biden’s agenda, you know, left in the lurch. And we’re coming up on this one-year anniversary of his presidency. So, you know, I think you’re gonna see a lot of stories about what they’ve been able to achieve what’s, you know what’s been left unaddressed, he’s got a lot to tout. I think he’s got a lot to go out there on the trail and push for Democrats in 2022. But there’s still a lot left out that that people are feeling frustrated that we haven’t been able to have any progress on.

Julian Castro

Yeah, I mean, this year, both feels like it went by in a heartbeat. And also, like, it’s been the longest year ever, right? I mean, maybe second longest, the longest was that first COVID year. Right away, Biden set, new tone, beginning with his inaugural address. Remember Trump’s inaugural address, damn dark, and ideological that was, he didn’t really talk about reaching over to the other side, or people that disagreed with him or the usual language about all of us together as Americans. I mean, Biden right away, set a new tone and saying, look, you know, we need to work together when we can to make America stronger, and make it work for everyone. And I think that was a welcome change from Trump a welcome departure from the ferocity of Trump’s self-absorption, and selfishness. Biden, also in this last year, as you mentioned, has a lot of things that the administration could be proud of, infrastructure, the American rescue plan, when you talk to small business owners, when you talk to employees, when you get out there into the community, there’s no question that in many ways, we’re doing better now than we were a year ago, not to mention that this is an administration that actually took COVID seriously, you know, there’s been plenty of pointing out what could have been done better here or there.

Julian Castro  16:49

But when you compare the Biden administration, to the Trump administration, in the seriousness of the effort, and the listening to scientists following the science, and asking Americans to take this seriously, it’s night and day, I mean, Biden has done a much better job. And then in things like judicial appointments, he tied the highest number of federal judges that were ever appointed in the first year of a president’s term tied Reagan with 40 of those, and those are judges that are going to make decisions for the next 20, 30, 40 years, in some cases. So there’s a lot that the administration can tout. And then in a broader sense, and something you know, you always hear in their talking points. The unemployment rate is down to like 3.9%. And the economic recovery has been the fastest economic recovery that we’ve ever had more people going back to work, all of those things have impacted the quality of life of Americans, and they can be proud of those things.

Sawyer Hackett 

Yeah, I think they can be proud of them. And I, you know, one of my biggest criticisms, I think, is, is that they’ve had this inability to have those messages break through. I mean, you’re right, like he entered office with I think it was 6.4% unemployment rate. And now it’s down to 3.9. This has been the biggest job creation year in American history. That’s a huge deal. But nobody knows that, 60% of Americans say they disapprove of his handling of the economy. They’ve gotten 200 million shots in the arms of Americans, yet 55% of Americans, you know, signal disapproval of his handling of the pandemic, which has been one of his high marks throughout his administration. I mean, I think some of it, you know, can be placed on the media, there’s this hyper focus on things like inflation, there’s this constant panicked coverage of COVID and new variants and how things got out there. There’s this get out of jail free card to the GOP on issues like voting rights. But the White House has struggled, I think, and it’s a struggle, I think, to understand the attention economy that drives politics these days, you know, he’s not going out there on the trail and giving a ton of speeches, he’s not doing primetime interviews, they think they can sort of just plug away with the good work and have all these achievements and get the fair treatment by the political media. But I think they haven’t recognized that things have changed since Trump and the way that the media treats achievements is not the same as it was before under Obama. And if you’re not creating news, you’re not driving news. You’re being controlled by the news; you’re being dictated by the news. And that’s where I think his approval has lagged because they do have a lot of achievements. And they should be proud of them. They should be on the trail talking about them, but they’re not.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, those achievements. Look, they’re also I think, in addition to what’s been in the news, for instance, about the lack of enough tests and so forth, there are also some disappointments, especially for progressives, there hasn’t been much movement on immigration reform, for instance, no political capital spent there. There hasn’t been any movement on police reform. There, you know, hasn’t been movement on a higher minimum wage. There are many issues left on the table. Many promises from the campaign trail that have not translated into action yet. And somebody might say, hey, look, this is just the first year of the administration. And I agree with that. It’s just one year out of at least four. And so you can’t judge an administration on these things totally by one year. But you can get a sense of where their priorities are, where their head is at, and especially on an issue like immigration where whoever was going to win the Democratic primary, and then, you know, win the presidency, thankfully, in 2020, made a pledge that look, this time, we really mean it on immigration, we’re going to put everything into actually in that first year, reforming our immigration laws. That just hasn’t been the case. And now we’re hitting a year. And so that substantively, the fact that Title 42 is still in place, that by hook or by crook remain in Mexico is in place, again, that’s affecting people’s lives. And Republicans are going to run with that.

Julian Castro

When they run their Nevada Senate campaign. Their Arizona Senate campaigns, the presidential campaign in 2024. They’re gonna say, look, Democrats keep playing you for full in two administrations now, they’ve said that they’re going to do something to reform immigration, and they haven’t done much or they haven’t done anything. And they’re just taking you for granted. That’s the whole and it’s a disingenuous message, because Republicans are the real bad guys in the sense that they’re trying to make things and have made things worse, right? But it undermines democratic credibility enough to depress turnout in some of these key constituency groups, like Latinos in Arizona and Nevada and other places and other groups. So my hope, going into year two of the administration is that the administration will implement well, what it’s already accomplished, and also get Build Back Better done, improve some of the aspects of the COVID response, like testing where there clearly needs to be improvement, and then get on to accomplishing some of the other things that it promised, like immigration reform and police reform and other issues. I know that depends on Congress. And so Biden is not fully in control of what happens. But at the same time, you got to make the most use of this next year before a new Congress takes over because we may have that Congress or we may not. So yes, to make the most of this next year.

Sawyer Hackett  22:37

Yeah. I mean, just briefly on that immigration point, I saw there was a CNN article this week that said that, you know, that the Republicans are gearing up to run their immigration message in 2022 and 2024, about how Biden has been the open borders president and things are more worse than ever before at the border. I mean, obviously, that’s ridiculous. Biden has expelled twice as many people as Trump under Title 42. He, you know, are refugees. acceptance level is at the lowest level entire American history. I think he’s been disappointing on immigration, but for all the wrong reasons, all the reasons that that they don’t understand why he’s been bad. But yeah, no, I think once we get past this pandemic, and I think, you know, it appears that Omicron may leave as soon as it came, it may be, you know, we may get past it, we may be able to get past it pretty quickly. And you know, more Americans are getting shots, more people are getting vaccinated. If we’re able to get past the pandemic, if we’re able to actually get something done on Build Back Better. And if we’re able to get some sort of substantive thing on voting rights, I think the entire Democratic Party’s message can turn around. I think Joe Biden’s message numbers can turn around. And I think we could head into the midterms with some big achievements under our belt. So at least there’s something, there’s a hope on the horizon, I think for getting some things done in the next few weeks.

Julian Castro

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a good way, I think to wrap up our discussion and say, we’re gonna come back with a conversation with a TV news personality that’s been distinguishing himself over these last couple of years. Mehdi Hasan, who’s on Peacock and MSNBC, you’ve probably seen his clips go viral, and we’re going to have a great conversation with him about all of these things, stick around.

Julian Castro  24:39

Mehdi Hasan joins us on OUR AMERICA. many of y’all have probably seen Mehdi on Peacock and MSNBC. He’s an award-winning journalist and host of the Mehdi Hasan Show. Before his show on Peacock and MSNBC, he worked as a senior columnist and host of the Deconstructed podcasts at the intercept, and was a presenter at Al Jazeera English. Mehdi has made a name for himself for hard hitting one on one interviews that have gone viral. And this no bullshit approach to talking points and spin. I can’t think of somebody who is more direct and precise on the air right now than Mehdi, his shows already become a hit. And we’re happy to have it with us to talk through some of the politics of today and also get a bigger picture view on where we’re going. Mehdi Welcome to OUR AMERICA.

Mehdi Hasan 

Thanks for having me, Julian. I’m slightly concerned now with that introduction that you’re going to be hard hitting with me. Let’s see what happens.

Julian Castro 

Well, I want to start there and asking you, you probably are on cable TV news, the most direct and some might say confrontational host, but also very precise and well researched. Talk to me about that process that you go through. And is that your personality? Does it come to you naturally? And then why in the hell do conservatives keep coming back on your show? After they get spanked so many times?

Mehdi Hasan  26:11

All great questions. Yeah, it is very much part of my personality, I do enjoy the rough and tumble of a good argument, a good debate, getting to the bottom of things, questioning things, not accepting things on face value, which obviously transferred well into my career. And you know, I remember graduating from University in the summer of 2000, and not knowing what the hell I wanted to do with my life. And I kind of fell into journalism, and it worked out well. I always make the kind of the joke, I have very few skills in life. One of them is a big mouth, and I have monetized I can pay the mortgage, which is useful. So I you know, I moved to the US in 2015. I carried on that tradition, as you pointed out, I worked at Al-Jazeera English, where we had a lot of time and resources to do really big picture interviews. We had you on the show, remember a few years ago, back before the last step back before the 2016 election, we did a lot of big interviews, and we spent a lot of time digging into the guests what they said, what they’ve done, what are their arguments, what are they going to say? What are their strong points, their weak point, that is what we try and do. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. And even now, Peacock and MSNBC, it’s a very different format, you know, the time constraints of cable, you are now a regular on MSNBC, you know, it’s in and out, in and out, there’s always an ad break creeping up on you. So it makes it much harder to go as deep as you would like. But we still try and do it. We had Dan Crenshaw on the show last year, and one of the viral moments in 2021 Congressman Dan Crenshaw, and I had a row on Twitter, and he ended up coming on the show.

Mehdi Hasan

And we did immigration, I remember we argued about the kind of border numbers and was Joe Biden to blame. So you can do those things and actually leads me to your last part of your question was, why did conservatives Come on? I think Crenshaw came on because he genuinely likes a […], I don’t know. The problem actually is it is becoming harder to conservatives, not because they’re scared, per se more, it’s more on my side, it’s more a demand problem than a supply problem, in the sense that I’ve told my team, I don’t want to book the Marjorie Taylor Greene’s of this world, because they’re bad faith actors. And because they’re trolls. And there’s really no value in having that exchange. I certainly don’t want to have an election denier on the show, we have a hygiene test on our show. I’m not going to have a conservative or Republican on the show, who says the election was stolen, because just no value in that. And in fact, I asked Dan Crenshaw when he came on the show, do you accept the election Joe Biden won the election? Only when he affirmed that proposition, did we continue with the interview? Because I think we just can’t keep amplifying and platforming, these authoritarian fascistic, big live voices. And the problem is that most Republicans these days, which means it’s harder to get them on the show, because I just don’t want them.

Julian Castro  28:42

When you mentioned, Marjorie, Taylor green, and you know, that ilk of conservatives of Republicans who have taken over the party. And really what that signifies for where we’re at in our country. Now, you also mentioned that you came to the United States in 2015, you were born in England, to Indian parents immigrated to the United States, you became a naturalized citizen in October of 2020. And you tweeted that day, as you were going through your naturalization ceremony, which was wonderful. And one of the things you did was, quote, James Baldwin, who wrote I love America, more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. How do you think America, how do you think our country is doing in this moment?

Mehdi Hasan

It’s a great question. I don’t think we’re doing so well, to be honest, I think we’re retreating from where we should be in terms of debate, scrutiny, honest, good faith criticism, and I would say in two main ways, I mean, there’s many ways but the two main ways I would say right now, number one, there’s the debate of education that we’ve seen become so politicized, where Republicans aided by some I’m sorry, some Democrats and some liberals simply do not want to have any kind of honest discussion, frank discussion about the nature of racism and systemic racism in this country about the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and they hide behind this nonsense about critical race theory, which is, of course, as you know, a law school theoretical course that isn’t taught in K through 12 schools, they’re hiding behind that nonsense, to deflect from the fact that we are at a point where especially post George Floyd, post Brock Obama, in 2022, we can’t have honest conversations about American history, and they’re hiding behind critical race theory, they’re hiding behind patriotism, you know, and that’s where the Baldwin quote comes in this idea that if you criticize our past or history or the founders, this is somehow unpatriotic or anti-American nonsense. And the second point, I would say, is where we’re not being honest enough in our schooling. And I think this applies to some of your listeners, some of my viewers, which is we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the Trump era and the Republican Party, where they turned the president and the presidency into a personality cult, where politics becomes tribal, becomes like supporting a sports team. It’s my team versus your team. And I bet my team blindly. I think that’s a mistake.

Mehdi Hasan

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed having you on my show is that you are very frank, when you disagree with the President, or the vice president or your party, you’ve been on my show and be very frank, about abuses of the border under both party under your former boss, Barack Obama, you and I have talked about that many times. And I think that’s a problem. Now what I’m seeing, especially on social media, is a kind of Biden supporter, who is reminiscent of the Trump supporter revolt, the reply guy who arrives immediately to defend the president blindly, when you or I or anyone else says, Well, this is wrong, what’s happening at the border, or this is wrong, what’s happening in this court case, or this policy is a mistake. I think that’s a real problem. Not only the expectation, you know, it’s bad enough if you yourself, want to be a blind parties, but I’ll never be one of those guys. I’ll never understand those people who just blindly tribally support anyone any politician. But separately, those of us who are in the media, who are journalists, don’t expect us to behave like that, even if your opinion is like, I’m an opinion host, I give my opinion very clearly about the issues of the day. But at the same time, I’m not a party guy, I’m not here to bolster the Democratic Party. And when the Democratic Party does something wrong, I’m going to criticize it. And we should all be big enough to accept that and understand that American democracy cannot work unless we will do that, to take on board your original point about criticizing America and being patriotic. That’s actually your patriotic duty.

Sawyer Hackett  32:31

So Mehdi, I want to ask you a little bit about the media, because I think, you know, I speak for a lot of progressives, when I say there’s a lot of worry that the media and especially I think, you know, the White House press corps is not prepared to cover an anti-Democratic candidate. I mean, obviously, Trump was who he was in 2020, when he ran, but things have gotten so much worse, there has been a violent coup attempt, you know, an attempt to overturn a fair election. What do you think journalists? And in particular, the press corps need to understand about the moment we’re in? Is it just unlearning some of the you know, both sides that was hammered into their brains in school? Or what do you think is, what do you think is not clicking in terms of the seriousness of what we’re going through right now,

Mehdi Hasan 

I never went to journalism school. And I would love to go and be a fly on the wall at some journalism schools in America right now and see what is being taught in terms of has there been a reassessment about the view from nowhere, impartiality, neutrality, both sides, because it was always nonsense, in my view, and it’s certainly nonsense in an era of rising authoritarianism and fascism and gaslighting, the Marjorie Taylor Greene’s of this world. And I think yet it’s very hard for some people in my industry, unfortunately, to unlearn those lessons, whether they were lessons of journalism school, or whether their lessons are simply doing the job, the beat, you know, a lot of White House Correspondents have been around for a long time, and therefore they remember a different time. And they want to return to that time. And that time has gone. Even without Trump in the White House, with you know, we’ve seen gaslighting and The Big Lie, in fact, the entire Republican Party, and therefore you have to be honest about that. And we cannot keep doing this again at the same dance where you think lessons have been learned. But then, you know, I can produce view dozens of headlines or examples of interviews, which are just completely unacceptable in 2022, completely unacceptable a year after a violent insurrection, completely unacceptable.

Mehdi Hasan  34:25

You know, two years after an election campaign in which the sitting President made very clear he wasn’t gonna accept the result. In an age of Fox News, pumping out propaganda as an arm of the Republican Party. You have, for example, Politico Playbook, which, as you know, many people in our industry turn to in the morning in both politics and the media, which does very good work. I’m not going to dispute a lot of the good work that you do. But often you see, it’s often a template. It’s often a classic example of where we’ve gone wrong in our coverage of our current moment. Just the other day Mitch McConnell comes out and says changing the filibuster is the left big lie, voter suppression laws, Republicans passing suppression laws. That’s the left big lie. Politico Playbook ran with that as a quote headline, the left big lie. They then just simply rehearsed Mitch McConnell’s arguments, which is fine if you’re reporting them. I’m not saying don’t report what Mitch McConnell is saying. But there is truth and fact. And you can say as a reporter, it is not biased for you to point out McConnell is wrong. There is a massive attempt by Republicans to change voting laws and deny people voting rights. You know, I’ve said this line before, I’ll say it again, it’s not my line. It’s a famous line, the job of a journalist, if person A says it’s raining outside, and person B says it’s not raining outside, the job of a journalist is not to report the person who says it’s raining. Person B says it’s not raining, the job of a journalist is to open the damn window and check if it’s raining outside.

Julian Castro 

Who are some of the people that you feel are doing the best work that meets this moment? I mean, all of us see these things that you’re talking about. I mean, the shortcomings in print media and TV media, I mean, who’s doing the best work, present company excluded of course.

Mehdi Hasan  36:08

Let me exclude MSNBC and my employers, because that’s just bias. But there are some very good hosts and reporters doing good work there. But I would say for example, a lot of what’s so interesting is a lot of the investigative journalists at the post of the times have led the way through the Trump era in breaking stories about election lies, about conspiracies about crimes, fraud, and yet, they’re often undermined by some of their political colleagues, who both sides everything, they’re undermined by headline writers who neutralize the story. Often headline writers, you know, have to take a lot of the blame the people who write the tweets at the New York Times kill me now. Like just to be you know, there’ll be great stories, you click on the link, the story is great. The tweet is like, what is going on here? So I do think, you know, I would pick one person I would highlight who’s done great work came on the show recently wrote a follow up to his 2020 pieces, Barton Gellman over at The Atlantic, who wrote that fantastic piece ahead of the election, warning of the coup, and he was dismissed by some as being hyperbolic. And he was right about 2020. And now he’s written another recent cover story for The Atlantic, which I urge everyone to read, warning of what is going on right now and what is to come in 2022 and 2024, you need people who are willing to be plain spoken, who are willing to call out what is going on, because we cannot sit on the sidelines. We are not bystanders, we are not neutral observers, you cannot have a democracy without a free press, the fourth of state is vital to the entire system. We are part of this. So this nonsense about the view from nowhere. No, no, it there’s no democracy, there’s no free press, and therefore we have skin in the game. And we do have a bias. I say this all the time. Every journalists should have a bias towards democracy, towards small D Democrats, not big D Democrats.

Sawyer Hackett

So Mehdi I want to couch this question for our listeners by saying, you know, we’re recording this conversation ahead of President Biden’s big push on voting rights ahead of his speech in Georgia. But, you know, as it stands today, we’ve passed the infrastructure bill, we’ve passed the American rescue plan. But, you know, Build Back Better is significantly stalled in the Senate. You know, that doesn’t seem to be a clear path forward yet on voting rights, and the filibuster issues like minimum wage, police violence, immigration, they’re all sort of left in a lurch. You’ve interviewed a number of Biden officials, including his chief of staff, Ron Klain a number of times, how do you think that they see their political fortunes, you know, looking ahead to the midterms and potentially a re-elect in 2024?

Mehdi Hasan  38:35

I genuinely don’t know; I would love to get into the heads of some of these democrats planning for 2022. And maybe Julian knows more than I do about this, because I don’t get what the game plan is, I don’t get how you hold on to the Congress in midterms, which most part most governing bodies don’t do anyways, in any normal year, let alone an abnormal year, like 2022. I don’t know how you hold on to it when you can’t, you know, what is your record? What are you running up? And we know, you know, we know, in general, common sense tells us Americans tend to have short term memories. They don’t remember everything you did a year or two years later. And actually, the political science data backs that up, a lot of when people make up their mind is in the previous few months, 6 months, especially swing voters, they’re looking at the economy right then and there. There’s no point coming at them and say, well, last year, we did this, don’t you remember the checks we sent you at the beginning of 2020-2021. And I think there’s a real issue where you can’t run on the American rescue plan.

Mehdi Hasan 

You’re not going to run a bipartisan infrastructure bill as much as we’re told that would be the great, you know, silver bullet, and I just wonder what are they actually going to go to the public with in November? What is there going to be the top line, we save democracy? Well, not yet. You know, we passed this massive bill to give you childcare and to fight climate change, and to fix healthcare. Well, hasn’t happened, doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. And I just wonder like what you know, I’ve said this before on my show, you cannot go to the American public and say we wanted to give you immigration reform. But the Senate parliamentarian wouldn’t let us. Nobody knows who that is. Nobody cares. You know, we wanted to pass childcare. But what about the filibuster? The average president doesn’t know what the filibuster isn’t doesn’t care. So this is the problem. You know that of course, there are constraints. I’m not someone who, you know, the Green Lantern theory, like the president can do whatever they want. I get all the institutional constraints and limitations. But A, some of those can be overcome, and B, what is your story going to be? Come November if you haven’t overcome those constraints? And let’s not even start on 2024? I’m just talking midterms right now, what is the plan going to be?

Mehdi Hasan  40:38

And I just wonder, you know, you look at COVID, the Biden team made very clear that they were going to fight COVID, they understood that they want in part, because COVID was so bad, and they had a clear plan, Donald Trump did not. And yet first six months, great vaccinations, and then what, I mean, I was full of praise for the Biden administration to last summer since the summer onwards, it’s been kind of one misstep after another. And I’m using the word misstep very charitably, I mean, the testing debacle. We know from Vanity Fair, that they had the option to ramp up testing in October, and they preferred to just stick with the vaccines. You know, you had Jen Psaki make that, you know, flippant remark about are we supposed to send test every house and now they’re having to send test every house, which the British and the Germans and others were doing months and months ago, as we speak right now, there is still no federal domestic COVID vaccine mandate for air travel. Why have they not done that? I don’t get it. Is it because again, big businesses complaining, it would be an easy win, it would help boost vaccination numbers and make us safe. So on the COVID front, yeah, I just I start 2022, a little bit depressed about where we are. But Biden’s given two very good speeches on the 1/6 anniversary and in Georgia, on the filibuster. Is this a new and improved Biden, maybe but you know, talk is cheap. Let’s see what’s actually achieved in 2022.

Julian Castro 

Many going into 2022. And then 24. I mean, you watch observe American politics as much as anybody else. You think that Donald Trump is going to run again in 24′?

Mehdi Hasan  42:07

So after, after Donald Trump won in 2016, and after Brexit happened, I promised myself I would stop doing predictions because it’s a mug’s game. All my predictions went wrong in 2016. So I retired from the prediction business. Plus anyone who thinks they know what’s going on inside Donald Trump’s head is probably an hour or four. Look, I don’t know what he’s going to do in 2024. If you put a gun to my head today, and said that is Donald Trump going to run today? I would say yes, all indications suggest he’s going to run. And the two main reasons why I think he will end up running unless you know, there’s a health issue or a legal issue for him, is partly the legal situation, you know, he runs again, he solves a lot of his legal problems, and they are mounting. And number two, imagine a scenario where he doesn’t run, what does that look like? I can’t imagine a scenario what that looks like. So what does he say? Why is he not running? If he won the election in 2020. If he’s so popular, and so fit and healthy? Why you not running? And if Ron DeSantis is the candidate, or whoever it is Ted Cruz after his self-flagellation on Fox, what does Donald Trump do? Does he make backseat driving is his thing, the idea that he would allow another Republican to become the center of the party, the leader of the party, the focus of all media attention, it’s just not in his nature to do that. So he either is the candidate or he’s the guy puppeteering the candidate, because there’s no scenario in which the candidate Republicans as well, you know, I’m going to do this on immigration. And Donald Trump doesn’t put out a statement for [..] saying whether he agrees or disagrees with that. So the main reason why I think he will run again, is because I don’t see how he doesn’t run again, if that makes sense.

Sawyer Hackett 

Mehdi, I want to go back to just a question on the media. I mean, I think, you know, you host a show, at least from an outsider’s perspective, that’s been wildly successful on a digital network, that a lot of people are learning more and more about their, you know, buying up these big franchise TV shows and all these things. But you’re really sort of at the vanguard of I think the future of TV media, in this digital platform. How do you feel operating in that space? I mean, obviously, I think a lot of us would like to see you on primetime, like as soon as today. But do you see a lot more growth for other o’s for the network in that type of platform, that type of approach to media?

Mehdi Hasan  44:19

I mean, look, it sounds cliched, but the reality is, that is the future because people are not watching cable in the same numbers they watched before. And you look at you know, I remember when I went to Al Jazeera, I had a very young team, and I just remember one day it was 2016 or 2017, whatever it was, and I said, I said who he has cable, and nobody but that was me and one other guy who had cable, who had cable subscription and it’s like, wow, A, I’m old. And B, what does this mean for the future of TV news and future TV in general? And I think, you know, the pandemic I think is only exacerbated that we’ve all you know, got onto more and more streaming platforms, more and more binge watching of TV while we’ve been stuck at home. And I think NBC was very smart to push Peacock, I remember when NBC rang me up and said you want to be noticed on Peacock and I said, What’s peacock was my first response.

Sawyer Hackett 

That was that was Julian’s response when you guys were asking him to come on.

Mehdi Hasan 

I always say I say completely fairly, I would look, no one’s pretending otherwise I don’t think my boss is a peacock would mind me saying this at all, which is when you were trying to you know, we were very proud of the growth we’ve done as a network. And I’d say a couple of things. Number one, we started out very ambitiously, Julio mentioned beginning, how do you get people to come on the show, we got John Bolton to come on the show in the very first month on a platform he’d clearly never heard of with a host who he should have Googled beforehand. And it was a very fun exchange. Not fun for John, but it was fun for me. But you know, so we started very ambitious, and we got big guests from the get go, we continued to get big guests, which is great, as you say, for a new platform where you know, people like yourself who are saying, well, should my colleague or my boss go on the show, and we’re very proud of that. And I’ve obviously taken it to MSNBC as well. quick plug, it’s on Sunday night 8PM Live. On MSNBC as well, Mondays to Thursdays on Peacock. But what I would say is what fills me with such pride is, you know, people’s digital streaming, the kids Tiktok, it’s all fleeting and short, that’s BS, right? The idea that young people don’t want don’t want to watch in depth stuff is nonsense. The idea that there’s not an audience for in depth stuff, or foreign policy is nonsense. I think a lot of people of my generation, a lot of journalists of my generation, they hide behind kind of arguments about cable and digital and streaming as an excuse for not doing more a lot of front as well. People won’t watch it. Well, young people. No, that’s not true. That’s not been my experience from pickup. That’s not been my experience on Twitter. It’s not been my experience with our content on YouTube actually makes that’s one of the things that actually does fill me with some optimism is that there isn’t we do really substantive stuff. And we get an audience for it. And when people say, well, there’s an audience, I say, well, actually, I’m living proof that there is.

Julian Castro  46:54

We appreciate the hard-hitting journalism that you’re bringing, especially during these times where our democracy can use it. Thanks for joining us.

Mehdi Hasan 

Appreciate it, Julian. Thank you so much.

Julian Castro

See you sometime soon.

Sawyer Hackett

So early on, on Monday, we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and popped up on my Facebook timeline. And you know, it gives you that sort of anniversary of events, things you posted on Martin Luther King Day, and it popped up that you gave a speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, I remember that speech sitting in that beautiful historic church and talking about voting rights. And we’re still talking about voting rights today. I just thought that was interesting I want to share that?

Julian Castro 

Yeah, I can’t believe I think that was 2016 can believe that was six years ago, it was that was the honor of a lifetime, to get to tour, the MLK center and that neighborhood that is so historic, especially not only in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. But in the battle for civil rights and progress in our country. And then to deliver a message on behalf of the President, President Obama, about the need to continue the fight. I think that message of continuing the fight and honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is so relevant today, as we see the need to protect the progress that he helped make so impossible in the 1950s and 60s, and that so many people like Congressman John Lewis that worked alongside him and were inspired by him, continued to make into the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s. Now, it’s important for this generation of leadership and of Americans generally, to make sure that we continue that push. One of the things that MLK reminded us of and many others have reminded us of is that that progress is not assured that you have to work for that progress, fight for that progress and preserve that progress all the time. And that’s the calling of us today is to preserve that progress. And so I hope for folks that are listening out there in any way that you can even whether it’s just sending off an email to your member of Congress or making a phone call, or volunteering to register voters, or running for office yourself at the local level or state or even the federal level. Find a way in your own life. If you can make some time to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, by getting into the fight or if you’re already in it by pushing as hard as you can redoubling your efforts to make sure that we get closer to that Beloved Community that he spoke of, and that day in our country where people truly are treated equally, no matter who you are.

Sawyer Hackett  50:08

Yeah. And I saw that the surviving members of King’s family came out with a statement, I think, you know, on Friday ahead of the Monday celebration, essentially saying, you know, if you’re a politician and you plan on putting out a statement about Martin Luther King about. Dr. King and everything he fought for, it better be met with action to you can’t just say the word you can’t just put a quote and a picture of our dad on Twitter, you actually have meet it with action. And I saw there were some protesters in West Virginia, some clergy members in front of Manchin’s office pushing for voting rights. So it’s good that people are taking up that mantle and I hope that it does inspire action on this issue, because it was one of his signature issues, and we’re still fighting, you know, fighting over it decades later.

Julian Castro 

Yeah, you know, we’d love to hear how you’re in the fight. Or another positive story that you’d like to share with us that you care about most right now. Leave us a voicemail at 833-453-6662. That’s 833-453-6662. And don’t forget to subscribe to Lemonada premium on Apple podcasts.

Sawyer Hackett 

See y’all next week.


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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