With help from Rishika Dugyala and Teresa Wiltz
What up, Recast family! Biden’s agenda takes another massive hit as the Supreme Court blocks vaccine mandates for large businesses and the showdown vote on election reform is postponed, because, as Daveed Diggs raps in “Hamilton,” “You don’t have the votes.” We kick things off with a focus on Arizona, the current epicenter of the political universe.
Former President Donald Trump is slated to hold a rally outside of Phoenix Saturday. Among the speakers expected to join him include Arizona politicos who fanned his falsehoods about a stolen election.
Some 80 miles away, voting rights activists will demonstrate, increasing pressure on Arizona’s Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who refuses to join her party (along with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin) to change the chamber’s filibuster rules to pass federal election reform.
As my colleague Stephanie Murray points out, it’s no coincidence that Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a Marine Corps vet who served in Iraq, called out Sinema by name in his own speech Thursday, setting up a likely primary challenge between the two … in 2024.
“We won’t shrink from protecting our democracy and the voting rights of all Americans,” Gallego, the son of immigrants, a Colombian mother and a Mexican father, said on the House floor. “It’s past time for the U.S. Senate and Sen. Sinema to do the same.”
We chop it up with the four-term congressman about federal voting rights legislation — and why he thinks the head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals needs to be fired, stat.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THE RECAST: The House passed voting rights legislation to kick-start this showdown in the Senate. President Biden this week laid out in stark terms the choices, saying you’re on the side of history, or you’re not. Do you feel like that is the best approach to lure Senate Democrats who are holding out?
REP. GALLEGO: Well, I certainly think that it is the best approach, because you’re not dealing with opposition from the public. You’re not dealing [with] opposition from a massive amount of Democrats. You’re dealing with two groups of opposition right, No. 1, the Republican Party and No. 2, two [Democratic] senators.
I think it’s important that we talk in that manner. We have to talk in that manner because it is a very stark problem right now.
Since Jan. 6, we’ve continued to see a slow moving coup, where Trump and his allies have figured out that [they’re] gonna have to be smarter about how to win. Manipulating who can vote and how the vote is counted is their next goal. And they’re going to be successful at some point, if we don’t have laws that protect us from them.
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THE RECAST: Build Back Better is a major part of the president’s agenda. That’s in the hands of the Senate and it’s now stalled. Now, there’s this push on voting rights, which many advocates say is too little, too late. Is this just a sign that not much legislation is going to be passed in 2022, so the administration might as well focus on the uphill battle that is election reform?
REP. GALLEGO: I see it as the president and the vice president realizing that their private conversations with people, kind of, hit the proverbial wall and they needed to make a move, or lose the effort altogether. It’s an effort that needs to happen again to safeguard democracy.
I still think we can go back to Build Back Better. I don’t think this is one where we’re somehow going to fail on the Voting Rights Act and therefore the Building Back Better also fails — that’s not at all what I think is gonna happen. But it doesn’t help obviously, if [voting rights] fails, either.
THE RECAST: Well, let’s talk about the two Democratic senators from Arizona: Kyrsten Sinema who certainly gets a lot of headlines because of her position on not wanting to change the filibuster rule. But also, Sen. Mark Kelly who said this week he’s undecided on whether he’s going to back the filibuster rules change.
What do you make of Arizona having this sort of outsize power with the president’s future agenda plans?
REP. GALLEGO: I think having Sen. Kelly at least having conversations about this is very important. And he has given some indication that, given the choice between getting this done or [not] letting voting rights pass, then he would probably side with, obviously, getting voting rights passed.
I think it’s more deeply disappointing that Sen. Sinema closed the option to having a discussion, even prior to the president coming down to the Senate to speak to them.
THE RECAST: Former President Trump is coming to Arizona, right outside your district. A bunch of the people he’s invited to speak are folks that fanned his false election claims that the election was rigged.
Why do you think some Arizona residents and elected officials are receptive to that kind of message? How can Democrats play in that kind of environment?
REP. GALLEGO: The way that we play [is] as if we have fair voting laws. We win ideas and we defeat these people at the ballot box.
And they’re even more scared now because [Democrats] nearly took back the House and the Senate in Arizona — missed it by a couple of thousand votes [Arizona’s GOP holds narrow margins in the state Senate 16 to 14 and in the state House, 31-29.]
When it comes to the political environment — I wouldn’t say it’s a blue state, but it’s certainly a moderate state. And it’s trending that way. And the type of candidates that the Republicans are picking do not help them win the future. So they have to rig the future.
And for someone like Trump, who’s kind of an egotistical person, he takes it personally that he is the first Republican to lose this [state] in quite a while. So I think that’s what this is all about.
THE RECAST: On the flip side of that rally, there’s also going to be demonstrations by liberal activists calling for a change to the filibuster rule. It’s going to be this strange juxtaposition in the Phoenix area on Saturday.
REP. GALLEGO: Well, you East Coast people … Florence [the site of the Trump rally] is about 80 miles away … so hopefully we’re not going to see them (chuckles).
But more to the point about who’s going to be there, I would rather find myself at a rally with the family of Martin Luther Kin, Jr. and the leaders of the Arizona civil rights movement, than be in the company of the former president and his anti-Democratic allies.
I think that’s a great juxtaposition.
THE RECAST: Correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I feel like you have certainly found your voice within the last couple of years or so.
One example is you’ve been critical of this current Justice Department and how it’s been tackling the investigation into the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Talk to me about your process and kind of offering public critiques, even if it’s about members of your own party.
REP. GALLEGO: Your first term, you have to get your sea legs under you. That’s what we say in the Marine Corps. And I think it’s been really helpful for me to kind of grow into this office. And also, you learn to understand your role as a member of Congress more.
As much as I am a good Democrat, my most important job is to serve my constituents, and you know, serve the citizens of Arizona. And sometimes that means I have to speak against my own party or even my Democratic president.
If I don’t hesitate to criticize a Republican president, then I should never hesitate to criticize a Democrat.
THE RECAST: Merrick Garland, the attorney general, last week gave this forceful defense of where things stood with the Jan. 6 investigation. He says it’s ongoing, reminding the public more than 700 people have been charged and roughly 300 of them with felonies.
What specifically would you like to see with the investigation?
REP. GALLEGO: Well, it’s great that [DOJ is] getting all the foot soldiers. I want to get the financiers, the organizers of this campaign.
If you let the people that actually plan this, get away with it, that means they’re going to be around to do it again.
THE RECAST: The attorney general said the investigation is a systematic process, right? You start with charges that are the low hanging fruit and work up to more serious charges.
REP. GALLEGO: We don’t need lectures from the attorney general about how this works. It’s not just me; you know you have [California Democratic Rep.] Adam Schiff, who is a former prosecutor himself and many other prosecutors that are wondering where is the urgency?
I know how you put an investigation together. My problem is that you’re not putting the investigation together fast enough.
And so my biggest issue is that we know that the Trump playbook is always to run out the clock. And it works. And it especially works when we have people that are more focused on norms than they are on the protection of democracy.
[Editor’s note: As we were speaking, the court unsealed an indictment accusing Stewart Rhodes, the national leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia and 10 others of seditious conspiracy among other charges connected to Jan. 6 insurrection.]
THE RECAST: On Monday, there’s an NFL playoff game with the Arizona Cardinals taking on the Los Angeles Rams. Early on in the season, the Cardinals were doing really well, but they have sputtered. Give your thoughts on how deep of a playoff run the team can make and if you think a Super Bowl can be brought to Glendale [where the Cardinals play].
REP. GALLEGO: Well, first of all, the Super Bowl is coming to Glendale next year because we won the bid. Now, your question is, will the Cardinals actually make it to the Super Bowl?
Honestly, I think we have the talent. But, our coach [Kliff Kingsbury] has just been abysmal. We started with such a strong season, he’s just made some very questionable calls that have really cost us some close [games]. And I think in order for us to be ready to make it to the Super Bowl next year, I think we’re gonna have to have a coaching change.
THE RECAST: Whoa.
REP. GALLEGO: Hey, I ain’t afraid.
OK fam! Enjoy the long Martin Luther King weekend. While Monday marks the 36th year the nation has observed the day honoring the civil rights icon, don’t forget that Congress debated creating the holiday for 16 years.
Here’s a look back at how the first MLK day was observed in Atlanta in 1986.
Now to quick pop news items.
Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) made history when he became the first Black chair of the House Agriculture Committee. POLITICO’s Meredith Lee reports on rumblings the 76-year-old is slowing down, fueling talks of a leadership change.
Marijuana cultivation has been legal in Oregon for nearly a decade. But that hasn’t snuffed out black market weed. POLITICO’s Natalie Fertig reports on one town’s influx of outlaw farmers, adding: “Residents have become accustomed to hearing Bulgarian, Chinese, Russian and even Hebrew spoken at the grocery store.”
Kansas City’s first-term mayor Quinton Lucas (D) has survived numerous recall attempts. POLITICO’s Shia Kapos writes he is “among a group of Democratic mayors across conservative states that seem to be managing Covid-19 as much as they’re jousting with Republican officials.”
We chopped it up with Ariz. Rep. Gallego about his Cardinals. Check out this interesting piece on why the NFL home-field advantage is “almost extinct.”
Culture writer Jamilah Lemieux takes on comedian Dave Chappelle and calls him out for “the Black Ass Lie” in Vanity Fair.
There’s a new/old collection of essays by the Zora Neale Hurston, “You Don’t Know Us Negros,” in which she takes on everything from hoodoo to HBCUs to the slave trade.
In this NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, Chilean vocalist Mon Laferte literally takes us to church. Uber pregnant and decked in cowboy boots and a wedding dress, she belts out tunes in a colonial chapel, backed by a mini-orchestra. (Tuba included.)
TikTok of the Day: A Lauryn Hill appreciation post.