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Barbershop: Democratic Strategy


Now it's time for The Barbershop. That's where we talk to interesting people about what's in the news and what's on their minds. And this week what's on our minds is the big surprises - a huge primary upset on the Democratic side. A top Democrat, Joe Crowley, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, considered a leading contender to replace Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader some day, lost his primary race to a new face, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old community organizer. In Maryland, former NAACP chief Ben Jealous, in his first run for elected office, beat out an experienced county executive among others in a crowded field to win the Democratic nomination for governor. And we learned of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, which has a lot of people wondering about the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

We had an interesting conversation about that with a lifelong Republican activist who says she is leaving her party over that very issue. We'll have that in a few minutes. But first, we wanted to ask, what's up with the Democrats? After a week that some are calling the most consequential for President Trump and the Republicans in years, why are they saying that? They're saying that because Justice Kennedy's retirement vindicates Republican strategy of focusing on state legislatures, so they can shape favorable districts of blocking former President Obama's judicial nominees, especially his last for the Supreme Court. So the question is what do the Democrats do now?

We're asking Julian Ivey. He's here with us in our studios in Washington, D.C. He's 22 years old. He's running for state delegate in Maryland's District 47A, part of that new generation we hear so much about. He's already a councilman in the town of Cheverly, Md.

Welcome. Thank you for coming.

JULIAN IVEY: Thank you so much for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: In Phoenix, Ariz., we're joined once again by Representative Ruben Gallego. He's a vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Congressman, welcome to you. Thank you so much for joining us once again.

RUBEN GALLEGO: Thank you again for having me.

MARTIN: And joining us from Berkeley, Calif., former United States Senator Barbara Boxer. She served for more than 30 years in the United States Senate - in Congress also. Senator, thank you so much for joining us once again.


MARTIN: So I'm going to do the very thing that some critics are saying is the problem, which is going with seniority. Senator Boxer, I'm going to go with you first. And I'm going to ask do the Democrats have a problem? Some people think that, well, it's great that the progressives are electing folks that they consider exciting. Some people say that this portends problems in the general election.

So do you think the Democrats have a problem or not?

BOXER: I'm very optimistic because I believe in unity. And we have some real stars coming from the progressive wing. We have some stars in the moderate wing. And you know, all politics is local, as I learned as a candidate myself in the House. And I could tell you that these candidates that are winning in some of these surprise races are fabulous. And the people want change, and the main thing is for Democrats to be unified. We can't have a circular firing squad. And I thought one great thing that happened in the Joe Crowley race is that he was so gracious about it and he actually sang a song to the winner, this fabulous 28-year-old teacher. And so I'm optimistic we learned our lessons about when we fight among ourselves. We need to be a big tent and welcome everybody into it.

MARTIN: So, Congressman Gallego, have the Democrats kind of learned their lesson?

GALLEGO: I mean, for me, what it looks like is they were actually trying to bottle the excitement. We've seen this growing excitement from across the Democratic Party base. Women, working-class women, people of color really want to take charge of their future. They don't just want to continue to vote for, you know, people that they don't represent them. They're actually running for office, and they're being successful. And I think we should be really happy about that. We should be happy that we're being challenged - that we are being challenged to answer to our constituents and that especially younger generations of Democrats are coming to takeover. And I'm happy to have a contest of ideas because at the end the day, the Democratic party is stronger and the country is stronger.

MARTIN: So, Julian Ivey, one of the reasons we called you is that you were a delegate for Bernie Sanders in 2016. And this was a fight between the Sanders wing - so-called - and the Clinton wing - so-called - that some considered so divisive that some see it still playing out. Do you see it that way?

IVEY: In certain instances, certainly. And I think that it is imperative that we all form a united front and stand up to this bully who is in the White House right now.

MARTIN: Yeah, but how - what does that look like? I mean, one of the arguments that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had against Joe Crowley is that he was taking money from groups like the Blackstone Group. And her argument is that that's just wrong, that if you represent the people as it were that you can't be taking money from these sort of big Democratic groups - these big sort of funders no matter how sympathetic they may be.

IVEY: And I completely agree with that sentiment. And she also made a point that in districts that are heavily Democratic that we should be pushing to move those districts further to the left because we have the opportunity to. But she also said that she understood that in some more moderate districts that the messaging has to look different. And I agree with the senator that we have to have a large tent as the Democratic Party.

MARTIN: And what about this whole question of the leadership. Representative Gallego, I'll go to you on this. In an op-ed published today, the Times editorial board took some pretty serious shots at the Democratic leadership in Congress. It says that, quote, "Representative Crowley's loss has thrown House leadership into chaos. He said - they say that "for too long this regime has clung to power at the expense of future leaders and says the caucus leadership has gone from stale to downright ossified," unquote.

Ouch. So editorial comment - mine - ouch. So, Representative Gallego, do you think that that's true?

GALLEGO: I think that what - And I've said this before, and I oppose leader Pelosi's comeback for leadership this - after this election. So just to be out there and to be clear. But the one thing I told her - and I told everyone else that's running for leadership - is that you are accountable to the caucus and to the Democrats in general in this whole country. And you may have been a great leader at some point. But every time, you have to come and represent and give us reasons why you're going to do a good job and help us take back the House - and of course, also take back the White House. So the most important thing that I tell anybody that wants to be in leadership - you have to come forward with a plan. I don't care how old you are. I don't care how long you've been there, but you better have a good plan about how we're going to take back the House, protect Americans and make sure that we stop this, you know, dictator in Donald Trump.

MARTIN: Well, Julian, when I read those lines, you gave a thumbs-up there. So what do you want to say about that?

IVEY: Yeah, we certainly need to form a united front. I heard the representative call for new leadership, and I was cheering him on because he's correct. We need to embrace this new generation, this progressive movement. And I'm quite all right with keeping people in place as long as they have new ideas for us to be able to take back the White House and take back both chambers immediately.

MARTIN: So, Senator Boxer, what should the party's strategy be for bringing people together at this point?

BOXER: You know, I think we are drawn together - all of us - you've got a big age disparity right on your show now, and we're basically saying the same things with respect. This is critical. We are at a point in our country where if we don't unify and we turn on each other because maybe, out of 10 issues, we don't agree on one or two, we're going to lose. And I think we all understand that, wherever we're from. I'm from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, OK? But I also understand there are some districts where the progressive might not make it OK because the district doesn't reflect, you know, the progressive movement. In other places, a moderate will be knocked out. It's all fine.

What we can't do is lose sight of where we're at. We have got a Republican Congress right now, which I think will all agree - those of us on your show - that they're cowards, that they're enablers, that they sit back when we see crisis after crisis from, you know, a country - our country ripping children out of the arms of their parents, and then saying, well, we're still having zero tolerance, so we're going to jail them and put them in prisons on military bases. Where are we? We have a gun violence epidemic. But my point is this is what unites us. What divides us - that's less important. But the last point I would make is you said clinging to power - you know, leaders who cling to power. I want to make a point. There are elections...

MARTIN: That was The New York Times, but - just being clear on that.

BOXER: Oh, no, no, no. That's fine. Then I'll say it to The New York Times. People clinging to power - what does that mean? They get elected, and when you have a House - and I served in the house for 10 years. Believe me. And it's a raucous body. I love it. I thought it was great. A little bit different than the Senate. And you know, we just said to our leaders, we demand this, this, this and this. Are you going to deliver it? If you can do that, fine. They had elections. They won them. And so I think it's the same situation here. It's a - it's democracy. And I do agree that regardless of age of leaders - I say this as someone at a point in my life where I've seen it all - some people are old at 45, and some people are young at 75. It depends on the person.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we have to leave it there for now because time is the one thing that they're not making more of. So that's Senator Barbara Boxer, former senator from California. She's with us from Berkeley. Congressman Gallego represents Arizona's 7th District - with us from Phoenix. Julian Ivey joins us in studio - town councilman for the town of Cheverly in Maryland, running to represent his district in the statehouse.

Everybody, thank you so much for joining us.

GALLEGO: Thank you.

IVEY: Thank you.

BOXER: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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