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Political strategist and commentator Donna Brazile has about as impressive a political resume as one could imagine.
She was the first Black woman to run a major presidential campaign, heading up Al Gore’s operation in 2000. She also worked on presidential pushes for Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, Dick Gephardt and Michael Dukakis.
Brazile is also a bestselling author and television commentator, currently working for ABC News.
She is scheduled to speak in Salt Lake City on Nov. 3 at The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Top Workplaces 2021″ event at the Little America Hotel.
She spoke to The Tribune ahead of her visit about several issues making headlines, including the fight in Washington over infrastructure spending and investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Her remarks have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Are Democrats hurting themselves politically with all of the infighting surrounding the two massive spending bills under consideration?
Following the enactment of the American Rescue Plan in March, I think the Biden team decided that they had to begin to focus on the next two or three packages, and they put these packages into what I call three large boxes.
The first box, as you well know, was the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Had that bill been passed in August, when we had 19 Republicans on board, I think Joe Biden’s poll numbers would look a little different than they look today. All of the sausage-making, all of this legislating by conversation on cable TV, has not really helped the Democrats explain what they’re trying to do to help the American people.
If you pare back the labels and look at the size and scope of the program, we’re looking at a very sizable chunk of the bill being focused on creating jobs of the future. And that, of course, has to do with ensuring that we have a future-ready workforce. At some point, the United States must decide if we’re going to have a future-ready workforce, or we continue to just kick the can down the road.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill in that bucket is a good policy. Who will argue against roads and bridges and mass transit systems and making sure that our power grids are able to endure the type of extreme climate conditions that we’ve witnessed, not just this year, but in previous years and years to come?
Now it’s a little bit more difficult on the bigger package. It’s an investment for this country, for the future. People call it “human infrastructure.”
We’re having a labor shortage today. Why? Because most people don’t want to go back to the $7.50 jobs that they hate. They don’t want to go back to a job when they still don’t have an answer to, “Well, who’s going to take care of my kids when I go back to work?”
So we have a crisis in this country, whether we acknowledge it or not, and we need to fix it. We need to make sure that people are ready to go back to work, that they, their kids are ready to go back to school. And that’s been a challenge.
The problem is not just the size and scope, it’s Democrats also said that they will pay for it. It’s not like the Trump tax cuts. It’s not like the Trump economic plan even over the last year, where there was no money to pay for it. Democrats believe that the resources should be there to pay for it. And therein lies why you have seen the big debate.
Because it’s the only ballgame in town, it’s the only ballgame that the president talked about. Republicans are missing in action on the human infrastructure. They’re MIA when it comes to having a conversation about everything from elder care to child care? And why should our seniors pay more money out of their pockets?
It’s been difficult to pull this proposal together, but it’s coming together. The plane is about to land, and one reason why the plane is landing is that they’ve pared it down. As you know, early on, [Vermont] Senator Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democrats, said $6 trillion, and [West Virginia Sen.] Joe Manchin said, “Oh, hell no.” Then it came down to $3.5 trillion, and [Arizona Sen.] Kyrsten Sinema said, “Oh, hell no.” And now I think it’s going to be pared down to between $1.5 trillion and $1.9 trillion.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing about the multitrillion price tag for the two proposals. Are fears the Democrats are spending too much warranted?
If you look at these two bills together, there’s still a significant investment over 10 years. The military budget this year increased by $25 billion. They just found the money and said, “We’re going to put an extra $25 billion into the defense appropriation.” No one argued about how we pay for it. No one argued about whether or not America needed new submarines or aircraft.
Over one year, we’re going to increase the defense budget. But at the same time, we’re not looking at how do we increase the education budget? Who’s going to fly these sophisticated aircraft? Who’s going to navigate these submarines?
It’s not just the problem of messaging, it’s a problem with telling the American people we’re not just focused on today, we’ll focus on the long term and hopefully that will work.
I try to tell people that when you look at legislation in Washington, people often look at it from the perspective of Democrats versus Republicans or left versus right. I look at it in terms of the future of the country.
Is Congress doing enough to address climate change?
In 2005, my family had to scramble, but they had 48 hours to scramble when they learned that Hurricane Katrina went into the Gulf of Mexico. This year, when Hurricane Ida left Cuba, she was a Category 1 storm. Once she got into the gulf, almost overnight she became a Category 4 storm.
I have a house in Louisiana, where I’m from. My brother sent me pictures after that storm, and I said “What happened?” He said it was 145 mile-per-hour winds. This house wasn’t built until 2008. By 2010, we knew how to build back better and stronger to make everything more resilient.
But you know what we didn’t anticipate? We didn’t anticipate that we would have two Category 4 storms back to back. We don’t have the ability to have electrical power withstand that type of wind.
When the storm hit the gulf, all of a sudden, we had a counterflow. The Mississippi River started flowing the wrong direction. When the river didn’t flow into the gulf and was flowing upstream, right where my house is located became waterfront property. That’s climate change. That’s not Donna Brazile being wealthy.
That’s the reality we all face, whether it’s the fires in the West or the flooding in the South.
What are your thoughts about the investigation into the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6? Do you think the House select committee is going to get to the bottom of what happened before and after the attack on the U.S. Capitol?
I was Al Gore’s campaign manager. That election went into overtime. The 2020 election did not go into overtime. We had recounts immediately after the 2000 election.
If we’re going to question every election from now until the end of time, then we can just write off our democracy.
We need to investigate January 6. I’m proud of the fact that [Wyoming Republican Rep.] Liz Cheney and [Illinois Republican Rep.] Adam Kinzinger are members of the select committee. I hope they get to the bottom of it.
I don’t know if you read the report from the Senate Judiciary Committee recently. It was bone-chilling. The pressure that was put on the Department of Justice by the White House, the fact that [former President Donald Trump’s associates] had a war room set up in advance. They knew this was going to happen. They understood what they were trying to do. And these are not just political operatives. These are government officials. We need to hold these people accountable.
There was violence on the streets of Washington, D.C. Some 140 police officers, many of them Metropolitan Police officers, responded to their colleagues, go up to the hill to protect our democracy. Yet, there are people across this country who thought that was a patriotic act to attack a police officer protecting the Capitol.
I’m still outraged by what happened, but, more importantly, I’m still afraid that it can happen again.
I’ll never forget, Al Gore said, “Shut it down.” I was the campaign manager, and Al Gore told me to shut it down the night the Supreme Court issued its verdict in Bush v. Gore. He said we had run the course. We know what happened soon thereafter. The then-vice president called then-Governor [George W.] Bush. They met in Washington, D.C., and there was a peaceful transfer of power. Former President Trump has indicated he will never concede, and there will never be another peaceful transfer of power as long as there is some illegitimate election fraud argument he can continue to drum up.
It’s a chilling, chilling day when facts are no longer relevant.