Episode 12: Off-Kilter Broadcasts from the Ideas Conference
Dispatch from the 2017 Ideas Conference. Subscribe to Off-Kilter on iTunes.
Last week, the Center for American Progress hosted its Ideas Conference, where progressive thought leaders put forth a bold agenda that looks beyond the current administration, with its policies that set us back decades. Host Rebecca Vallas sat down with grass-roots resistance leaders, like DeRay Mckesson and Indivisible’s Leah Greenberg, and those leading the charge from Capitol Hill, including Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Maxine Waters, and more.
This week’s guests:
- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)
- Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee
- Leah Greenberg, Indivisible
- DeRay Mckesson, organizer
- Markos Moulitsas, The Daily Kos
- Neera Tanden, Center for American Progress
- Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)
For more on this week’s topics:
- Give the progressive agenda behind the Ideas Conference a gander, and read a hot take from David Leonhardt.
This program was released on May 19, 2017.
REBECCA VALLAS: You’re listening to Off-Kilter, I’m Rebecca Vallas. This week, Off-Kilter broadcasts live from the Center for American Progress’s Ideas Conference, hosted in Washington D.C. While there, I sat down with a range of policy makers, influencers and elected officials and leaders of the resistance to hear how we need to not just be pushing back on the Trump administration and Republicans in congress but also continuing to move forward with progressive ideas. I spoke Neera Tanden, DeRay, Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters and more. But first Jeremy Slevin and I kicked off the conference with what it was all about. Let’s take a listen.
It’s been a heck of a first 100 plus days of the Trump administration and we’ve discussed a lot about resistance on this show, CAP has been in many ways, part of the epicenter for the resistance. But today is about a lot more. Today is about continued progressive momentum for policies that will actually help workers and families. The kinds of policies that Trump promised people who ended up voting for him back in November, but that he has ended up betraying them on on multiple fronts at this point. Healthcare being one of those, taxes being another, infrastructure, I could go on. But Jeremy what are your takeaways from what we’ve seen today so far.
JEREMY SLEVIN: So I think the big news out of this conference so far is that CAP, where we work, the Center for American Progress is putting forward a big, what we’re calling ‘A New Marshall Plan’ for the country, which includes a jobs guarantee. A federal jobs guarantee backstop and a massive infrastructure investment, which is really exciting to me because I think if we’re going to resist Trump, it can’t just be ‘no’ at every step. I think we need to regain the trust of voters. And the way you do that isn’t just by saying no, it’s by putting forward bold ideas and really having the conversation on your turf rather than just Trump’s terf.
VALLAS: We opened the day with an economic policy panel. It included Senator Jeff Merkley, as well as a range of other thinkers; Austin Goolsbee, and others. And there was a lot of discussion of this idea of a jobs guarantee and there was really broad embrace that we need to not just keep talking about creating jobs, that we need policies that are job creating policies. It was, no, you know what, the federal government has a role to play in this, what we need to do is actually guarantee every worker who is able to work and wants to work a job. A big deal to sort of hear that as a broad embrace.
SLEVIN: And this is probably the, if enacted, would probably be the biggest jobs investment since the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal. And I think it shows that most people don’t want small tinkering around the edges right now. People are hurting, the economy is not working for the vast majority of Americans. And instead of saying, no to Trump, you know, just responding to him. We should say, hey, here is our big idea and here is what we can do.
VALLAS: Well, I think that’s the thing right. I mean, of all the lessons to take away from the election in November, Americans were not voting for Trump because they wanted tax cuts for the wealthy, because they wanted their health care stripped away, because they wanted corporations to benefit even more from the labor of workers who aren’t sharing in the prosperity. Voters in November were placing their bets on Trump, that he was going to keep his promises. That he wasn’t going to cut Social Security, that he wasn’t going to cut Medicare, that he wasn’t going to decimated Medicaid, but that actually what he was going to do was bring back and to create jobs for people who really are feeling incredibly economically anxious. And that’s not what we’ve seen from him but as you said, Democrats are really uniting and saying, you know what, it’s not just that we’re against what the Republicans and what Trump are pushing out, hateful and reactionary as so much as it is. We’re actually for this whole agenda of things that happens to be what people are screaming for. And we need to make sure that we’re continuing to talk about that instead of just being on defense.
SLEVIN: And I think what’s exciting about the day is that you have a whole host of leading progressive thought leaders and political leaders here —
VALLAS: I’m pulling up the list because there’s so many I can’t even remember.
SLEVIN: Endorsing these ideas. I think you’re seeing a big shift in the Democratic party where we’re not afraid to go on offense. I mean Kamala Harris is speaking momentarily on criminal justice reform. You had Jeff Merkley as you said, Keith Ellison is going to be here, Cory Booker is going to be here. You’re seeing across the party, whether it’s progressives on the further left or in the center, saying like, let’s having a bold proactive agenda.
VALLAS: And a lot of what we’re hearing, I mean I think we really can’t overemphasize how bold a lot of it has already been and what we’re expecting to be later in the day. How bold that is. We heard from Jeff Merkley this morning on the economic policy panel, health care is a fundamental human right. It wasn’t just about, oh we need to make sure, oh we need to make sure more people have access to health care. He said some of the boldest and most progressive words that you can hear from Democrats in congress at this point, fundamental human right, that’s really important language. We’re expecting to hear from Kamala Harris, a speech focusing on criminal justice reform and really making some important and some ways controversial points about how differently our public policy infrastructure has treated white people vs black people when it comes to substance abuse and addiction problems. It’s a public health crisis if you’re white, it’s a criminal justice problem if you’re black. Really really important things to hear from her later in the day as well.
SLEVIN: And I think that’s actually an important political point as well. I think so much of the election post mortem is oh, Trump won by turning out these working class white voters.
VALLAS: That’s right.
SLEVIN: And the assumption of that statement is that Democrats need to somehow abandon our supporters and our values to be honest, to chase these mythical voters. By the way, we’ve since learned that a lot of Trump’s voters tended to be wealthier. They weren’t all working class. And among lower income voters Democrats still do better and I think what’s exciting about these ideas and Kamala Harris’s speech speaks to this in particular, is that we can have a proactive agenda that reaches people and speaks to their economic concerns without pointing the finger at immigrant communities or people of color or foreign competition. I think those —
VALLAS: Or the person one rung down the economic ladder who in many cases, we’ve heard from Republicans like Paul Ryan and President Trump embracing this kind of rhetoric as well that we need to somehow blame and scapegoat people who need to turn to public assistance to make ends meet because they’ve lost a job. Because their wages aren’t enough. There was so much divide and concur that happened during that campaign and the rhetoric that’s followed. I think it’s often forgotten, it’s not just immigrants that he has villainized. It’s also people who are struggling, despite the fact that many of them did support him in the polls.
SLEVIN: It’s interesting that Trump’s ethnic scapegoating is kind of the mirror image of Paul Ryan’s class scapegoating.
VALLAS: That’s really well put. Well, excited to hear from Elizabeth Warren later today as well. She’ll probably touch on policies like expanding Social Security as well as debt free college. A lot of different priorities that I think we can expect to hear throughout the day but I’m excited to be here. Slevs, I know you’re excited to be here. You look excited. So we’ll be back with you throughout the day, bringing on experts and policymakers and newsmakers to talk about all of these, and more, ideas. Stay tuned.
VALLAS: Rebecca Vallas for Off-Kilter, broadcasting live from the Center for American Progress’s ideas conference in Washington D.C. and I’m pleased to be joined by CAP’s CEO and president. Or is it president and CEO? It’s both of them.
NEERA TANDEN: Either one.
VALLAS: Neera Tanden, the woman behind today’s whole set of ideas. So Neera, thanks so much for joining us.
TANDEN: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.
VALLAS: Of course. We’d love to hear from you a little bit about what you’re taking away from today? What are some of the ideas that folks are voicing? You spoke in your opening remarks about how it’s really important that we not just be on defense, we also needs to be on offense. Resistance isn’t enough. What are some of those big ideas coming out of today’s conference?
TANDEN: Yeah, I’m really thrilled that we have a new generation of leaders who are also talking about a new generation of ideas. And our focus has been you know, no one believes in resisting Donald Trump more than me, and that is absolutely critical at this moment. Particularly with what we’ve heard with Russia about, it’s critical for really protecting our democracy. But people also have to hear us focused on their lives and what’s happening in their lives. And how many people are struggling still in today’s economy and how many people have, are really deeply anxious about their kids struggling, even more than they are. So, I’ve been really optimistic about a lot of the ideas that have been discussed today. Kamala Harris talking about the opioid abuse challenge and how that’s something that’s hitting rural communities. It also really links them to the criminal justice issues that I know you worked on and others about the criminal justice ideas are really critical to ensure that we have fairness in our economy for all incomes. We’ve really focused on how many people who are low income, who are poor, because they’ve been in jail, and that link. So I think it’s a critical component to addressing some of the inequality we see.
We also had Senator Warren talk about the connection between, kind of, political corruption and economic inequality, and we have to take on those challenges. Very concrete ideas, not just about campaign finance reform or things we’ve talked about, but how we actually make Washington really work for people. Lower than lobbyists, and increase the voice of the public. And how that really connects to inequality I think was an important contribution. And of course, we ourselves are really focused on people white, black, Latino, who haven’t gone to college and we proposed some ideas today, we call ‘a Marshall Plan’, that’s really focused on providing jobs to those people. There’s an incredible dignity to work, we can’t, you know, trends are hitting us. We had a discussion today about technology and globalization, but we can’t be fatalistic. We have to actually take action. So those are a few of the ideas that we’re really thrilled about. And we believe you have to walk and chew gum. People are defending our democracy by taking on Donald Trump, but they also have to provide an alternate vision so when, not if, when they take back power they have something that they can really do and change people’s lives for the better.
VALLAS: You mentioned that big proposal that CAP actually published just today, timed with this conference, which; we’re billing a ‘Marshall Plan for America’. And you mentioned that is has a connection to jobs. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit more about it. Because it actually has some really bold ideas in it. Going so far as to say, you know what, we need a job guarantee in this country.
TANDEN: Absolutely. You know we look at what’s happening in this economy and CAP has been focused on rising inequality for many years. But I think what we saw, we’ve seen in the sort of, political disruption in the United States but also in other countries is that there’s deep chasm between people who haven’t gone to college and people who have. Not only in the economic experience of their lives but in their sense of pessimism versus optimism. And you know, they’re retreating; they have a distrust in political institutions in part because those institutions have failed them for not a few years or a decade but decades. And so we think it’s time for bold thinking and we’ve proposed a jobs guarantee which would create over 4 million jobs for people, get people participating in the economy at the rate they did, you know, fifteen, twenty years ago. And the important thing is, we have a lot of problems we need to solve in this country. But the market doesn’t solve for those problems right now. We have big challenges in education. We have kids who can’t even find childcare centers in rural parts of the country because there is no child care center. And so we have a health care system where we need more personnel. And our idea is let’s match the problems we have with people who want to work. It’s an idea that came out of the New Deal, but it’s also modernized for the 21st century. And it allows us to focus like a laser beam on the people who’ve been really struggling.
And the truth is that Donald Trump promised these people that he would be their champion and policy after policy after policy he has proposed is meant to basically cut the legs out from under them. We can’t just criticize that. We have to provide an alternative and so we think his tax plan and his budget plan thhat really destroys the economic security these folks rely on. Our plan looks pretty good in comparison. And so that’s one of the reasons why we put it out and it’s not going to happen tomorrow but like health care, we can build around it over years and hopefully when take power they’ll implement it. And actually, most differently, make a difference in people’s lives. That’s why people should be seeking power, is actually to make a difference in people’s lives.
VALLAS: So I heard you say earlier and I actually heard this again from Dave Weigel when I was speaking with him a little bit ago that it’s not a 24 hour news cycle anymore, it’s a 24 second news cycle and that’s sort of what we’re living through with President Trump right now.
VALLAS: And that’s made it difficult for things that are maybe real ideas or real policy debates to really breakthrough. But it also has meant that in a lot of ways people aren’t as educated as they could be or should be about what he’s actually trying to do to those people. You ask people out there, including his voters, they don’t feel like he’s a regular Republican. They feel like he’s something special or different. And you know, while he’s leaking classified information and releasing budgets that are taking a machine gun to every program that people rely on to put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads, what do you think it’s going to take for the American people, including Trump voters, who might actually be movable? I’m thinking in particular about the Obama/Trump voters, to actually start to experience buyer’s remorse in a real way that could mean good gains for Democrats in 2018 and 2020?
TANDEN: You know, you’re raising an excellent point which is, you know, so much of the media is running after the latest crazy. Because, like we have a lot of crazy. So it’s not illegitimate to cover firing the FBI director or handing over allies’ secrets to foreign adversaries. That is newsworthy and should be covered. But the truth is that Donald Trump has put forward an agenda, both on taxes and budget, that is the most radical right agenda, not of my lifetime, but like over the last 100 years. I mean we have to go to the robber baron age to have anyone talk about shifting the government so much, from the poor and helping the poor, and people who are trying, struggling to get into the middle class. Shifting it to people who are wealthy and well connected, billionaires. This is like a billionaire welfare plan that he’s put forward. So, you know, what I think, that puts more focus on institutions like CAP and our excellent poverty team and others, to really tell people what’s happening in Washington. And we have to innovate in the ways we’re communicating. Now, the truth is, I think people are actually hungry for information. They want to know what he’s doing. They can’t really tell in the blur of the cable news cycle, they want information. You know, one of the things we’ve been doing is providing information to the new grassroots groups about what’s happening in Washington. And they’re hungry for it. Who is voting for the health care bill? What is in the health care bill? And truly, the level of knowledge on the heath care bill, the fact that 24 million people would be shut of health care, cut off from health care and that they went after pre-existing conditions. That bill was basically around 2 weeks and millions of people know that because they want to know.
And that’s why I think there is more of a premium on institutions like CAP. But other advocacy groups, to get information directly out to members, to people on social media, about what Trump is doing. I have to say, sometimes it’s so outrageous, what he’s doing on you know, on health care and the entire network of programs that are designed to give people some semblance of opportunity, that people don’t even believe it, because it sounds so crazy. Why would you campaign, you’re saying you’re going to do something and then do the exact opposite? But with Trump, that’s why we need to keep repeating and keep repeating and keep repeating and really focus on the facts. You know, I often get the question, do facts matter anymore? Because you know, we’re feeling like a crazy person, and I had a moment of too, existential dread after the election. I work at a think tank and we focus on ideas. Now it turns out we’ve learned some things. And one thing is, Donald Trump is impervious to facts, but 535 members of congress are not. You know, CBO, Congressional Budget Office said 24 million people would lose coverage, millions of people know that 24 million people would lose coverage from the Republican health care bill, and they’re holding their folks accountable for it. So, facts matter. The truth matters. Policy still matters and it’s really up to us to fight harder for people to hear what we’re saying.
VALLAS: In the last minute or so that I have with you, and then I’ll let you get back to talking to everyone at this conference. Where do we go from here? It’s particularly, significant, I think, that one of the panels was actually focused on exactly what you were just talking about which is resistance and connecting with that grassroots, kind of, momentum. Whether it’s Indivisible, whether it’s folks like Deray who have a huge bully pulpit that they’ve created themselves. Whether it’s folks like Markos at the DailyKos, where do we go from here to turn what’s being discussed today at this conference that are, sort of, ideas and concepts now, into what could actually fuel Democrats taking back control of Congress in 2018 or 2020?
TANDEN: Yeah, well I think we really need to talk and chew gum. So, you know, these groups like DailyKos which has been around for a long time but now are doing incredible work to essentially find House seats that should really not even be, they should not even be in competition but they are because of the Trump era. Indivisible which has been doing incredible work to connect people to the health care battle and the hopefully, the budget battles and even the discussion about Russia. What we’re seeing in the country is that people are engaged. What they want is information. So what we’re hoping happens in this conference is we have a lot of leaders of these new online groups here. And then, the leaders of existing institutions here. And our hope, our deep hope is that we can build more support for that grassroots activism. We have to fight Trump’s agenda, that’s first and foremost. We’re still in the first 200 days. But as we shift later into the fall, we hope that these ideas we talk about today will be ones that candidates run on, that we provide an alternative. So people come to the voting booth, voting against Trump which I hope they do in 2018. But also voting for things and will improve their lives. I think what happened a little bit in 2016 is everything became ugly and messy and people thought nobody does anything for me anyway. And what I hope they’ll say, and that’s up to candidates but it’s also up to activists to demand it. Here’s an agenda that will actually make our lives better and you need to lead it. And that’s how we’ll get real progressive change in the future.
VALLAS: Neera Tanden is the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress and the woman behind today’s ideas conference. Neera, thanks so much for taking the time for today’s discussion.
TANDEN: And thanks for having me on.
VALLAS: Don’t go away, lots more of today’s ideas conference on today’s Off-Kilter.
VALLAS: Rebecca Vallas broadcasting live for Off-Kilter at the CAP ideas conference in Washington D.C. I’m excited to be joined by DeRay. DeRay’s thanks so much for coming on and sharing some thoughts.
DERAY MCKESSON: Good to be here.
VALLAS: So what are you doing here? What brings you to the ideas conference?
MCKESSON: Yeah, so, so much of the work of resistance is not only about opposition but it is about putting forth a set of imaginative ideas about what the future can be. And I was excited to be here today because I’m hoping to be around people that understand that opposition is not, or resistance is not solely opposition but it is about an affirmative vision as well.
VALLAS: So, we just heard from Elizabeth Warren, she was speaking directly to Trump in a lot of ways, saying nobody is above the law, not even the President of the United States. It was a speech about resistance but as you said, a lot of support today for progressive ideas, raising wages, creating jobs. We actually heard this morning about CAP and a whole slew of economic thinkers and policy makers calling for a job guarantee. I’m curious to hear if you’re excited about what you’re hearing today. Do you feel like these ideas are going far enough?
MCKESSON: What we know to be true is the idea that’s beaten into people’s head over and over, the idea that people can repeat at the dinner table is the idea that actually wins. I think this is what the right does so well. So, on the left to me it’s less about the core of the idea, right? People believe in inclusive communities, people believe that we should take care of the people in the most marginalized spaces. We believe those things. They get translated into these like, 3,000 word tones like, people can’t even digest and understand. That to me is where the work is, around sort of, translating the ideas. If anything about the left, I worry that this conversation about economic anxiety or like, the white middle class is just dishonest. It’s a foil for people not wanting to deal with the hard work around race and economics.
VALLAS: Well you raise one of the sort of firebrand issues that’s been a landmine for the folks on the left. I think really culminating with this past election. Do you feel like what you’re hearing today and I guess I’m also asking a little bit about what you might be sharing on the panel you’re about to go join on resistance. Do you feel that the left has learned the lessons that we need to from this past election in a way that we can actually channel this momentum into 2018 and 2020?
MCKESSON: I think the left is still learning. There are people who those that an opposition only message was going to be strong enough and it’s not. I also know that we’re in the early stages of the pushback to Trump. I think when we started being in the street three years ago at this point, the first 100 days were very different than the last, you know, just like night and day. So I’m interested to see what 200 days looks like, what 300 days looks like. Because I remember when we were in the street and it was like, we passed the first season and the second season and the third season. Like, who understood this [INAUDIBLE] change, the intensity change, the up and down, and the way thought about solutions changed.
VALLAS: In the last minute I have with you before we let you go onstage and actually say what I’m about to ask you about, what’s your message for this crowd, what do you hope people hear about how folks in the establishment like an organization like the Center for American Progress and a lot of the democratic leaders that we’ve been hearing from today, how do they need to be working with resistors and with folks on the ground? What’s your message to them?
MCKESSON: Yeah, there’s no sexy message here. If anything, it is about translating into solutions. You think about the number of meetings you go to that focus on what the problem is, right? You’ve gone to 15 conferences, 30,000 meetings that are like the world’s not good, let’s explain it to you. You’ve probably gone to very few things that just talk about what solutions could be in an imaginative way, right. So who’s doing the most aggressive work around closing the [INAUDIBLE] welfare gap. Who is dealing with the fact that welfare, the dollar amount, hasn’t changed since the ’90s welfare reform. What are the imaginative solutions that are happening at the local level and state level that people can see? Because what I would say about people who are resisting is that some people have lost hope. Because they’ve never seen what it’s like to win. Some people just don’t even know what the problem is. So they don’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, no fault of their own. And the third is that people have not seen that people across the country are doing imaginative work, they’ve been doing it. And it’s stuff that we can learn and replicate. That’s what I hope happens after this.
VALLAS: DeRay, thank you so much for joining me for Off-Kilter, broadcasting live from CAP’s ideas conference in Washington D.C. Don’t go away, lots more Facebook live with folks who are speaking today coming up.
MCKESSON: Good to be here.
VALLAS: Rebecca Vallas for Off-Kilter, still broadcasting live from the Center for American Progress ideas conference in Washington D.C. I’m now sitting down with Leah Greenberg, she is the Chief Strategy Officer at Indivisible, the project taking the nation by storm and that we’ve been excited to speak with every week for our resistance works segment on Off-Kilter. Leah, thanks so much for joining the show.
LEAH GREENBERG: Thanks, it’s great to be here.
VALLAS: So you literally just came off the stage, just were part of a panel on resistance and kind of, grassroots engagement. What was the discussion as part of that panel?
GREENBERG: So, we were talking about all of the different places that the, the sheer diversity of the resistance at this point. From the women’s march to our indivisible groups to the organizing that is going on to protect immigrants and people of color all around the country. It is really just a symphony of activity and organizing.
VALLAS: So what was your message to the audience here? It’s sort of a crowd of Democratic establishment leaders, folks who are inside congress, folks who are influencers and folks like people who actually work for the Center for American Progress like me. What’s your message to these folks as someone who is very connected with what’s going on on the ground?
GREENBERG: I think that it’s a combination of things. I think that first the grassroots continues to expect that their representatives are going to represent where they are. And that means resisting intensely and understanding what we tell them everyday which is that this is not a normal president, what he’s doing is not normal and it demands a response that is above and beyond the normal response.
VALLAS: So we’ve been talking throughout the day with a number of folks, Neera Tanden, our President and CEO at CAP actually termed it a 24 second news cycle. It’s not a 24 hour news cycle anymore, it’s 24 seconds. Referring to kind of, the world we’re living in and the way that Trump behaves but also the way that the media covers Trump and his ongoing parade of oddities and unprecedented behavior. But this has been something that Indivisible has actually also been very successful at which is creating news. Not just waiting for a news cycle but making your own news. I’m curious to hear you reflect on the last several months since Indivisible went from a guide to actually a movement that now has multiple chapters in every congressional district.
GREENBERG: Absolutely, and I would say that the news is created by thousands of people who are organizing in their local communities and part of what we’ve been so privileged to do over the last several months is to evolve in partnership with those folks who are organizing and who are doing incredibly creative work. Bringing their own communities to bring pressure to their own representatives on the ground. And so over the last several months we’ve gone from being a volunteer driven entity to a staff based entity and that we can answer emails from 9 to 5 and really provide people with more support but everything we do is really about being in service to the people who are organizing around the country.
VALLAS: A lot of what we’ve heard today is that we need to not just be resisting and not just be against things but that we as progressive also need to be on offense. We need to be walking and chewing gum at the same time. How do you view indivisible and also kind of, grassroots activists across the country, how do you view your role and the role of the folks who are actually on the ground, doing this work, in not just resisting, but also being on offense?
GREENBERG: Well I think that there are a lot of different ways to go on offense. And part of that right now is thinking about you know, so the federal level, there’s not a lot of possibility for positive change in the immediate future but at the state and local level there certainly is. And so, part of it is thinking, in addition to congressional advocacy, where in your community can you have a positive impact? And then part of it is also looking to, looking to see what kinds of ideas come out of the Democratic party and what kinds of ideas come out of the progressive left. Because we do have to build the kind of agenda that gives people trust in us again.
VALLAS: Last question for you because I know that you’ve got other places to be and this is a busy day. But one of the things that has been most notably watching over the course of the last several months with Indivisible growing into such a vibrant movement is that it’s not just been influence around specific policy debate like the health care debate, there actually have been districts that swung from deeply and safely red to actually being in play in special elections. Is this something that you think portends optimism for Democrats looking ahead to 2018?
GREENBERG: Oh absolutely. I think if you look at the swings that you’re seeing in recent elections, if you were to apply the 6 point swing that we saw in Georgia 6th district to the House Republicans, you would have a massive congressional wave. You’d have something like 60 seats that would be lost by the Republicans, including Paul Ryan’s seat. So, we’re talking about potentially extraordinary electoral consequences. If we can stay organized and stay passionate.
VALLAS: Where do we go from here so that we don’t lose the momentum and the, sort of, discussion of ideas as well the glue that is cementing through today’s discussions. Folks who are in Washington, in kind of, think tanks spaces and also congressional and other establishment spaces with the work that is being done on the ground?
GREENBERG: I think that really, the energy right now and the place to be is investing in local power. I think that what the Indivisible groups are doing all around the country is they are building, they’re building the kind of infrastructure that can do policy advocacy and it can also do electoral advocacy. And so it’s really important to continue to focus on that core strength and be in it for the long haul.
VALLAS: Leah Greenberg is the chief strategy officer at Indivisible and a friend of the show. We love you guys every week, thank you so much for what you’re doing. Stay tuned for more from the ideas conference hosted by the Center for American Progress. We’ll be back with more on Facebook live.
VALLAS: Rebecca Vallas for Off-Kilter, we’re broadcasting from the Center for American Progress ideas conference in Washington D.C. and I’m talking with Adam Green, he is the co-founder, are you? Of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, did I get all that right?
ADAM GREEN: Nailed it.
VALLAS: You have one ‘P’ and a lot of ‘C’s.
VALLAS: And I never get it right, but I just got it right!
GREEN: You nailed it.
VALLAS: So what do I get for that?
GREEN: You are so on message.
VALLAS: So on message!
GREEN: If this were a tournament, I would promote through the tournament.
GREEN: That was so good. That was so good.
VALLAS: I love inside jokes. Especially when no one watching gets them, except for some people. Maybe some. So Adam, what are we hearing today? Are you feeling like what you’re hearing from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, are these the big ideas that progressives need to be championing?
GREEN: So a couple of pieces of good news I’m detecting today. One is that Democrats, progressives, seem to be marching in the right direction, towards bolder economic populism, towards being more [INAUDIBLE] and sticking up for the little guy against the big guy. Elizabeth Warren, of course, in my mind is the North Star towards which the Democratic party is marching or should be marching. Everybody seems to be going in the same direction. And the second is we’re not just playing defense. It’s not just Trump bashing up there, although that’s fine to Trump bash. The thing, you know, Elizabeth Warren talking about anti-trust law, the need to break up monopolies to have more competition in the market place, better prices and quality of goods and jobs for people is great. And it affects so many industries, from airlines, which drive people crazy to even tech companies. So that’s great. I think the mayor of Los Angeles was talking about massive infrastructure investment, also, you know, the idea of Democrats creating millions of jobs in this country.
VALLAS: And actually calling for a job guarantee.
GREEN: Job guarantee is another one that is an upcoming bubbling issue. So it’s nice to, moving in the right direction, and thinking about offense a little bit.
VALLAS: Do you think that today, bringing together, in many ways, kind of multiple wings of the Democratic party and hearing some of the same themes from people who might be viewed as leadership or establishment as well as people like Elizabeth Warren, who have been maybe pulling people a little bit to the left. Hearing similar themes from those folks and seeing them all on stage together, one after the other at event like this. Does that say anything to you about where Democrats and where progressives are following the election last fall which in a lot of ways was viewed as very divisive?
GREEN: Yeah, I think it’s actually an extension of something that we began saying before the election, which is Democrats marching in the same direction and arguing over a matter of scope, or having differences of opinion on a matter of scope, as opposed to pulling in two opposite directions, A.K.A Joe Lieberman. So during the 2016 election, you know, Bernie Sanders support a robust version of expanding Social Security benefits, Hillary Clinton supported a different version of expanding Social Security benefits. Nobody was talking about cutting Social Security benefits.
VALLAS: We’re all talking about how much do we expand.
GREEN: Yes. That’s a great debate to have. Do we want debt-free college or free tuition? That’s a great debate to have. So, you know, how big and robust should a massive job creation infrastructure bill be? A great debate to have, right? Where should we start first on anti-trust laws, break up monopolies, great debate to have. So again, that’s the good news. There are still differences. I do think that as we think about a big tent party, we can’t have it so big that certainly a racist David Duke shouldn’t be involved in it. Neither should someone who is going to bat for corporate America and Wall St. at the expense of the little guy. Everyone needs to be singing the same tune in terms of, you can talk about it differently. But we are the party of working people and so far people on that stage have been singing that tune.
VALLAS: We are all bracing for President Trump’s so called full budget, expected out next Tuesday May 23rd.
GREEN: I’m sure it’s going to be great.
VALLAS: Going to be great if you’re really wealthy, if you’re a really wealthy corporation, if you’re somebody who’s the wealthiest. .002 percent of the country and therefore you actually might be subject to the estate tax. Sorry for my sarcasm, but all of those things are actually accurate. But we’re expect it to be more of the same; more of what we saw in his so called skinny budget released in March. Meanwhile, getting a lot less attention and I think something that should be much more in the headlines if we didn’t have this 24 second news cycle as Dave Weigel called it earlier. It is the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s budget, which is really what they call a people’s budget. What was in that and does that square with where you think the party should be headed?
GREEN: Yeah, I give Keith Ellison, Raúl Grijalva, Mark Pocan, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Barbra Lee and other members of the progressive caucus a ton of credit for really spearheading a lot of big ideas, and getting a lot of their colleagues on the record. I think that last year there were about 90 votes or so for the people’s budget, which was huge. I think there were almost half of the entire Democratic caucus for really big ideas. This one, for the first time, will have a two trillion dollar investment in creating millions of jobs all across this country. That’s good for lifting people out of poverty, it’s good for repair bridges, roads, schools across America and it’s good for looking forward to 21st century projects like high speed internet in rural America. High speed rail, clean energy jobs, not just fossil fuels. Getting Democrats to say together, we’re going on the record for this kind of priority. We’re not just saying no to Trump. We have an aspirational vision that create so many jobs and improve so many lives. It’s a beautiful thing. It also includes thinks like debt-free college and expanding Social Security. So we hope that we see more visionary leadership like that in the future.
VALLAS: Thanks so much for joining the show.
GREEN: Thank you so much.
VALLAS: While we’re broadcasting live from the Center for American Progress ideas conference in Washington. Don’t go away, lots more on Facebook live covering this conference today.
VALLAS: Broadcasting live from the Center for American Progress ideas conference, for Off-Kilter, I’m seated here with Markos Moulitsas, Markos thanks so much for joining.
MOULITSAS: Pleasure, thanks so much.
VALLAS: So you literally just got off the stage talking about resistance and activism and what the grassroots are doing that is now really very much in sync with what folks in Washington on the left are doing when it comes to resistance. We’d love to hear a little bit about the message that you just shared for the audience.
MOULITSAS: Yeah I wouldn’t even say that we’re in sync with Washington. I guess it depends on what part of Washington we’re talking about. But, the, what’s incredible, I’m sort of a grand-daddy of the resistance. I feel like sort of a geriatric patron, godfather. Everybody deferred to me on stage when they asked a question because I’m old and, [INAUDIBLE] years old in about two weeks.
VALLAS: I was going to say, godfather is code for being old. And the grey in your hair is lovely.
MOULITSAS: Thank you. [LAUGHTER] So yeah, I have grey hair now, and glasses. I didn’t have glasses before.
VALLAS: And glasses!
MOULITSAS: So, the, when I came out of the [INAUDIBLE]. I mean I was around before Dean, but that was one of the first big catapults into DailyKos’s success. And that the time, most of the organization that came out of that were really focused on fighting the war and fighting Bush on policy terms, mainly Social Security. So there was an electoral component. And I’m not saying we were the only ones because Democracy for America was very electoral focused, so it was more. But it was more geared towards, sort of, a holistic battle for liberal ideas. And there was nothing wrong with that, those organizations are going strong today and they’re allies, right, so I’m not cast shade. But it was a missing piece in sort of this, infrastructure the right has built focused on winning elections. And so we have been focused on winning elections, trying to get people to care about down ballot races, all the while most liberals were sitting there complaining about whether Obama was liberal enough, whether he’s not liberal and oh, his health care was a giveaway to corporate interests. And then that sort of transformed into the Hillary versus Bernie B.S. And all that while when Obama took power in ’08, we had a dramatic majority of state legislatures, governorships, the house, we had a supermajority, not a supermajority, a big majority in the house. Supermajority in the senate, and that all went away almost overnight. And over the 8 years we lost over 900 state legislative seats, we lost control of most governorships, we lost control of the redistricting process which meant that we lost the house through this entire decade. And there was mass decimation and we couldn’t get anybody to care about. I had my audience, we had several million people, they cared, but in the broader scheme of things we were a tiny little voice in the face of people really not focusing on what’s important.
So when I look at this new opposition, it is almost entirely electorally focused. It’s pretty amazing. I mean, not only do we have Indivisible and Swing Left which are, Indivisible is just general organizing in general. Swing Left focused on the house. But Sister District has over one hundred chapters and they’re focused on state legislative races. I mean this is something that nobody would care about. So the fact that we have this sort of movement, that is really geared towards winning elections is a dramatic change and I think it’s sort of almost a final piece in a broader progressive movement. If we can help nurture and build these organizations and keep them healthy, if the funders come through, people come through and help fund. And we institutionalize them, right now they’re all startups. And they look like startups. So if we institutionalize that, then we have a really critical missing piece that we’ve been lacking.
VALLAS: Markos MOULITSAS is the founder of DailyKos and was speaking today at the Center for American Progress ideas conference on the panel about resistance and activism. Thanks so much for joining the show, appreciate it.
MOULITSAS: Thank you so much.
VALLAS: Tune in later today for more from the CAP ideas conference, I’m Rebecca Vallas for Off-Kilter.
VALLAS: Rebecca Vallas broadcasting live from the Center for American Progress ideas conference in Washington D.C. for Off-Kilter. And I’m excited to be joined by Congressman Keith Ellison.
KEITH ELLISON: How are you doing?
VALLAS: From the great state of Minnesota.
ELLISON: That’s the one.
VALLAS: How are you doing congressman?
VALLAS: We also had to invite the Slevs to join because he used to work for you.
JEREMY SLEVIN: True.
ELLISON: We call him the ‘Slevenator’. [LAUGHTER] Can I just say –
ELLISON: — that Auntie Maxine has just stepped up on the scene.
VALLAS: Oh! Come on in, come on it.
ELLISON: Yeah, Maxine Waters is here with us, everybody.
VALLAS: Broadcasting live on Facebook for Off-Kilter and we would love to have you as part of this conversation.
MAXINE WATERS: OK, for a little while.
ELLISION: Well let me just say –
VALLAS: As long as you want to be here.
ELLISON: Maxine Waters, Representative Maxine Waters has been on the forefront of justice issues forever. Justice on the international front, justice on the police accountability front, justice on rebuilding communities blasted and disaffected. But now she is fighting for financial justice in our country and is the ranking member the financial services committee at a time when the CHOICE Act, which is, what did we call it?
WATERS: It’s called the ‘Wrong’ CHOICE Act.
ELLISON: The ‘wrong’ CHOICE Act is trying to gut and undermine the financial future of America. You want to talk about it just for a second.
WATERS: Yes, for a second. Well, first of all, let me thank you, because Mr. Ellison, who serves on that committee is a leader in helping us to implement Dodd-Frank reform. And this is, this is the work that we have to do in order to reign in Wall Street. And all of those who caused us to go into a recession in 2008.
ELLISON: That’s right.
WATERS: And so we worked to get Dodd-Frank reforms but of course the Republicans have been working hard to undo Dodd-Frank reform. The centerpiece of that, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is so important to us, and we’ve worked so hard to support Mr. Cordray, who’s done a wonderful job and to make sure that he’s able to give the kind of protection to consumers that they did not have prior to us creating this Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And so it our work. It is very important to us that we do this public policy work. It’s going to be hard, impossible to do it with this president and his cabinet. And as a matter of fact, the treasury secretary was one of the foreclosure kings.
ELLISON: That’s right, Mnuchin.
WATERS: He foreclosed on 36,000 homes in Southern California.
WATERS: And so they have no intention of protecting consumers. They want to do away with all regulations, is that right?
ELLISON: That’s right. So Congresswoman Waters let me just ask you this. So if Consumer Financial Protection Bureau returned $11.5 billions dollars back to consumers, back to veterans, back to seniors, back to people of color, back to you know, rural citizens, what is all that money, what does that mean? Does that manifest itself in the budgets, the family budgets of people when they get that money back?
WATERS: Absolutely. As you know, many middle class families are still living paycheck to paycheck.
ELLISON: Oh yeah.
VALLAS: 1 in 3 Americans. It’s a lot of folks.
WATERS: Housing costs are going up, everything is increasing and so every dollar that’s been ripped off from them, that’s returned goes back into that family’s budget. So that they can try and have a decent quality of life.
ELLISON: C’mon now.
WATERS: And so for every dollar that’s ripped off, it means you diminish their ability to have the kind of food and clothing and transportation that they need for their family. So the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is extremely important. We fight everyday to save it, to protect it. We have to get rid of this president and his cabinet and we’re not going to put up with him for four years. I am out to impeach him.
VALLAS: I appreciate so much of what you’re saying congresswoman.
ELLISON: Well, you’re not backing down.
VALLAS: Well, because President Trump, when he on the campaign trail, he pledged over and over to fight for the so-called forgotten man and forgotten woman.
WATERS: Oh yes, oh yes.
VALLAS: He talked about shared prosperity coming back to this country. He talked about making sure that the power imbalance was restored and that the average, everyday American was going to have a fighting chance. And what we’ve seen every single hour and every single day and every single tweet from this president since he took office is the exact opposite you just described one of the most important things that I think is getting the least attention, which is the dismantlement of Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
WATERS: Well I took an offer to talk about it today.
WATERS: And that’s why I kind of –
ELLISON: Lifting it up.
WATERS: We got to talk about where I serve as a ranking member on an important public policy that I don’t want to get lost. If we are to correct everything that was done that diminished the quality of life for people in this country, we have got to get rid of those who don’t believe in it. Who are out to rip off every dollar they can get, they’re only focused on the profits and so that’s what Ellison and I do. This is what we work on. This is our top agenda in all of the work that we do.
ELLISON: That’s right.
WATERS: And so we’re looking to give ourselves an opportunity to get this done by getting rid of those people who don’t believe in it.
VALLAS: That’s what today is all about.
ELLISON: So Max, is there something you want to tell people before you go? Should they stay something?
WATERS: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, what he’s referring to is the fact that I’ve been adopted by millenials and they’re teaching me new language and I’m connecting. They taught me what shade is.
WATERS: And they let me know when I’m throwing shade. [LAUGHTER]
VALLAS: Because you do it a lot.
WATERS: I’ve been doing it a lot.
ELLISON: To the people who’ve got it coming.
WATERS: And we have to remind people, stay woke.
VALLAS: That’s right.
ELLISON: Stay woke, y’all. Auntie Max says stay woke.
VALLAS: Drop the mic, congresswoman.
SLEVIN: Mic drop!
WATERS: I’m going to leave it to Ellison.
VALLAS: Thank you so much for joining us.
SLEVIN: Thank you congresswoman.
VALLAS: Congresswoman Maxine Waters for a little drive by there here at the ideas conference. Congressman Ellison, Slevs, take your seat back. [CROSSTALK] [LAUGHTER] There’s no point in trying, there’s no point in trying, because she’s going to look over here and throw some shade. [LAUGHTER] But so congressman, we were about to start talking before Auntie Max came over about some of what the Progressive Caucus has been up to, because it could not be a more dire contrast with what we’re seeing from Trump and from his colleagues in Congress. So tell us a little bit about the Progressive Caucus’s people’s budget and some of what you guys are pushing for.
ELLISON: Let me just say this about the Progressive Caucus. When you see Maxine Waters fighting for accountability in this president, when you see Barbra Lee fighting for the environment, for justice, for peace. When you see Jan Schakowsky fighting for seniors, when you see Jerry Nadler fighting for the rule of law. When you see Ro Khanna standing u for net neutrality, you’re seeing the Progressive Caucus. You know, you see Raúl Grijalva talking about unaccompanied minors and justice for immigration reform and Mark Pocan standing up for small businesspeople who actually have high road business practices. That’s the Progressive Caucus. We are 74 members in the Democratic caucus who believe that we make no apologies for standing up for what’s right for people. We are all for women’s rights, we are all for equality for everybody, we’re all for $15 dollar minimum wage. Now, the Progressive Caucus puts out something every year called the People’s Budget. You can go online and check out the People’s Budget. We want you to see the People’s Budget. And the People’s Budget is a document, which lays out our values. We believe the budget is a moral document and if the moral document does not reflect lifting up humanity, health care, education, good jobs, investment in our nation’s infrastructure, then you know, then you’re not talking a progressive vision.
So that’s what it is. I mean would just want to urge people to know that the People’s Budget, we publish it and get at least 100 votes on it every year. But we publish it because we want America to know that as Trump is doing what he’s doing, as the Republicans in the house are doing what they’re doing, that there are people who believe in them, care about them. We don’t want people to believe, oh, nobody cares about the regular people in congress. Nope. The Progressive Caucus absolutely does. We believe in the right to organize a labor union. That’s why Progressive Caucus members were at Yale fighting for grad students just the other day. We were up in New Haven you know about this thing here? So the grad students at New Haven won an NLRB election, National Labor Relations Board, they won it, and now Yale, which has a $25 billion dollar endowment doesn’t even want to negotiate with them. They just want basic freedoms for people on pay and working conditions. But here’s another thing they want. They did a survey, found out that a majority of the grad students, female grad students, had been sexually harassed. So they want a grievance procedure so that people can complain about abuses that their supervisors engage in.
VALLAS: Not much to ask for.
ELLISON: Right. But the Progressive Caucus just doesn’t say and do the right thing, like published a document of the People’s Budget. We are on the picket lines, man. The fight for $15, we’re on the picket lines. We’re marching with the striking workers. We’re marching with the folks who have to earn a living everyday. We’re fighting for striking students, workers, people who work for federal contractors. Because this is what we believe in; we believe that over the last 40 years, this economy has tilted dramatically against working people and we are here for real balance.
VALLAS: Go ahead, Slevs.
ELLISON: And by the way, Slev helped shape the Progressive Caucus on a staff level, he was awesome.
VALLAS: He’s getting all the compliments today.
SLEVIN: So a lot of Trump’s core argument in the election was I’m going to bring back jobs. He didn’t say how he was going to do it or what he was going to do. And the budget is really his first big opportunity.
ELLISON: He did say to trust him, didn’t he?
SLEVIN: He said trust me. Yeah.
VALLAS: He said a lot of things.
SLEVIN: We’re going to be tired of winning. Believe me. So the budget’s the first real opportunity to show how you’re going to invest in jobs. And the People’s Budget is one way to do that. How, what would it look like for Trump to actually invest in jobs? Like, what can he learn from you guys?
ELLISON: Well, what he can learn is that if you want to have an infrastructure bill, you borrow money at the lowest interest rates in decades and you build, you know, fiber optic cable. Smart grid. Roads, bridges, of course but also transit, housing, waste water treatment systems, we’ve got a serious water problem in this America of ours which is really rich in water but can’t drink it if you live somewhere like Flint.
VALLAS: And it’s not just Flint, just the tip of the iceberg.
ELLISON: Thank you for pointing that out. That’s the thing. What he could learn about jobs is real investments. We need to invest in, you know, we have seen a massive drop off of public sector employees. People who teach our schools, patrol our streets, people who work in the lunchroom at schools, people who really, you know, make sure that we have a solid functioning of our government. We’ve seen that sector drop off dramatically. He can basically staff the federal government and state governments in a way that makes sure that people can get good service. Trump’s so called skinny budget really cuts everything except military, homeland security, and veterans. In fact, he has prioritized war over human need. He cuts Meals on Wheels, he cuts the Appalachian Regional Commission. He cuts things like, the National Endowment for the Arts, he cuts public broadcast, Big Bird. He cuts stuff that people really do rely on and need quite a bit. TRIO, stuff like that.
VALLAS: He even cuts job training after talking as much as he did about creating jobs and helping people connect with jobs, and you know, to your point about infrastructure. As much as he talked a good game about how that was going to be a first hundred days priority, which we have not seen in his first hundred days, he actually cuts key infrastructure investments in his skinny budget, something we expect him to do in his full budget coming out next week. So, a lot of hypocrisy there, I guess I don’t believe him when he says believe me anymore.
ELLISON: Right. Well you know, I just want to say Jeremy, were you trying to jump in here?
SLEVIN: No, no, go for it.
VALLAS: He’s always trying to jump in. Don’t mind him.
ELLISON: A lot of people say speak truth to power. And I believe in speaking truth to power by all means. But we need to speak truth to each other too. We have a lot of folks who are working class folks who thinks that you know, my life has been not going as well as I expected, maybe Trump can do something different. Well he’s done something different for the worse. I mean you know, when you’re not doing that good, the last thing you want is to get even worse. But this is what Trump has delivered to the American people. I believe that we need a massive resurgence of civil engagement. We need to prioritize health care for all. And I’m talking about Medicare for all, single payer. That’s what we should be going for. We gotta pass $15 minimum wage. We gotta pass the right to organize a labor union, make it easier, card check, you know, stuff like that.
VALLAS: Expand Social Security.
ELLISON: Expand Society Security. This is what we envision for our country. And we gotta bring it to Appalachia, we’ve gotta bring it to inner city of Detroit, we’ve gotta bring it to the suburbs, we’ve gotta bring it all over this country. We’ve got to go to rural America and I’m gonna tell ya. Progressives gotta be in the rural parts of our country. I mean, no doubt about it. I mean rural folks, they have pre-existing conditions. They get lifetime limits on cancer treatment. They have been in foreclosure. They’re fighting opiate addictions and need health care to be able to get through that problem. So I mean it’s not like they don’t share the same kind of issues that everybody else does and so progressive gotta say look, we gotta get out of the city, out of the suburb, go to the rural parts of this country, make friends, build alliances and we will and we will establish our progressive vision for this country.
VALLAS: Great message to end this day on. Congressman Keith Ellison from the great state of Minnesota. From whom we stole the Slevs and thank you for letting us have him. Always a pleasure to have you on the show.
ELLISON: You’ve been treating the Slevenator right?
VALLAS: Ask him!
ELLISON: Are they treating you good?
SLEVIN: I’m good.
VALLAS: And we’ll leave it there.
ELLISON: Thanks again. And you’re doing awesome.
VALLAS: Always great to see you and make sure to catch this guy’s podcast as well.
ELLISON: We the podcast, get us on iTunes. Alright now.
VALLAS: Very worth listening to. Thank you for joining us at the ideas conference. I’m Rebecca Vallas for Off-Kilter, you can find us anywhere that podcasts can be found. Thanks for listening.
And that does it for this week’s episode of Off-Kilter, powered by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. I’m your host, Rebecca Vallas. The show is produced each week by Eliza Schultz. Find us on Facebook and Twitter @OffKilterShow. And you can find us on the airwaves on the Progressive Voices Network and the We Act Radio network, or anytime as a podcast on iTunes. See you next week.