Barbershop: Democratic Debates NPR's Sarah McCammon speaks to Democratic political strategists China Dickerson and A'shanti Gholar about the party's division on impeachment and what to expect at the upcoming debates.
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Barbershop: Democratic Debates

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Barbershop: Democratic Debates

Barbershop: Democratic Debates

Barbershop: Democratic Debates

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NPR's Sarah McCammon speaks to Democratic political strategists China Dickerson and A'shanti Gholar about the party's division on impeachment and what to expect at the upcoming debates.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Now we're going to spend some time focusing on dynamics within the Democratic Party and how they might affect the presidential race going forward. Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it clear she wants to focus on congressional investigations over an impeachment inquiry.

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NANCY PELOSI: We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed - not one day sooner. And everybody has the liberty and the luxury to espouse their own position and to criticize me for trying to go down the path in the most determined positive way.

MCCAMMON: Not long after, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler had a less cautious tone.

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JERRY NADLER: The House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article 1 powers, including a constitutional duty - power of the utmost gravity - recommendation of articles of impeachment.

MCCAMMON: While no official impeachment inquiry has begun, the division is likely to persist among Democrats. So this got us thinking about divisions in the party and how they might affect the 2020 race. We decided to take this to the Barbershop. That's where we talk to interesting people about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Joining me today - China Dickerson, national political director for Forward Majority, which is a group looking to get more Democrats elected in state legislatures. She's with me here in our Washington, D.C., studio.

Nice to have you back.

CHINA DICKERSON: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Also with us is A'shanti Gholar. She's the political director for Emerge America, a nonprofit that recruits and helps women run for elected office throughout the country.

Welcome back.

A'SHANTI GHOLAR: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: OK. A'shanti, I want to start with you. In an op-ed in The Atlantic yesterday, a group of House Democrats doubled down, stating that an impeachment investigation is necessary because the president has not complied with the rule of law. What are your thoughts on an impeachment inquiry - proceed with caution or don't proceed at all?

GHOLAR: So I really do agree with what Speaker Pelosi is saying and with what Congressman Nadler is saying. Both of them are saying we need receipts. We need to make sure that we are doing this properly. That's why they're having the hearings. That's why they're doing the subpoenas - because they do know with this president, you have to have everything together. If it doesn't come out of his mouth, if he doesn't agree with it, it's fake news. So they need to make sure that they have all the proper information documentation.

I think the other end of that, too, is they need public support. Most people haven't read the Mueller report, so they don't know what's in it. They keep hearing all this impeachment talk. So they do need more Americans understanding what is happening, why it's happening. But then we also do not need more Democrats coming to the table saying, OK. We do need to go in this direction because I have more information so I'm on board with this. And we're actually seeing more Democratic members calling for it because their constituents are becoming more aware of what has happened, and they're saying this is what we need for you to do.

So gathering all the information, I think it is smart so we can proceed in a very smart way because this is very different than what we saw under Clinton. We're living in a different political time. So they definitely do need to make sure that they are going to do this right if they're going to do it.

MCCAMMON: Do it right, but you think they should do it.

GHOLAR: If the information is there, absolutely. Do it.

MCCAMMON: And, China, I believe you have a slightly different approach. You think Democrats should put all their efforts into concentrating on 2020 and winning the White House.

DICKERSON: Yeah. I mean, I think it's OK to have the impeachment inquiry. I understand why that is something that has to happen - because for all intents and purposes, he is a criminal. Mueller even said when Congressman Ted Lieu asked him, would he be indicted if he were - would you indict him if he were not president? And Mueller responded affirmatively. And so I understand the need for the investment inquiry. However, I do not want it to become a distraction or prioritized over state legislative races, flipping the U.S. Senate and then the U.S. - the House, I'm sorry - the U.S. House, and then the presidency, and I think in that order.

We have the census coming up and redistricting in 2020. And if we don't have these state legislative houses on our side with Democrats, then that kills us for the next 10 years. Also, these - some of these abortion laws that we've seen being rolled back across the country - that is all state legislative chambers. So I just think - I just don't want it to dominate the conversation going into 2020.

MCCAMMON: Do you think Democrats can do both, though? I mean, it seems like you're identifying a lot of fires to put out. But can you make the argument you have to think about all of it?

DICKERSON: Sure. I think, though, we have to all be on the same page (laughter) about the priorities. Right now, to your point, we see a little fraction happening where there are some folks - to me, at least, some Democrats who have prioritized this. This is what they think about night and day. So I think if we can get on the same page and, you know, have one big meeting and say here are our priorities, then sure.

MCCAMMON: Could this become a new fault line in the party - something that sort of becomes a litmus test, especially as the sort of - you know, heading into the 2020 primary, you see these intraparty battles you always see about where the party's going to go. Is this a dividing line?

GHOLAR: I don't think so because in 2020, like China said, there is so much to focus on. We will be focusing on the presidential election. We will be focusing on Congress. And it's important for people to see their member of Congress doing their constitutional duty, which is what they are doing right now. You're going to have the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee continuing to kill it under the leadership of Jessica Post. So you also have the groups that we work with who are committed to making sure that we get more Democrats in office.

So while I think it will be a topic of conversation, at the end the day, as Democrats, we know that this has to be about us getting the presidency back, keeping control of Congress, getting ready for redistricting - because we know gerrymandering is just another form of voter suppression that impacts young people, people of color, the elderly. We do know what our priorities are, and we can keep all the balls in the air at the same time to get done what we need to get done.

DICKERSON: I do think, though, that media - because we saw this in the midterms - that the question around Pelosi staying in leadership, will you vote for Pelosi? So I do think this D.C.-New York type media will ask all of the candidates the question of impeachment. I just don't think folks on the ground - you know, regular, everyday John and Jane - are as interested as we are (laughter) as politicos.

MCCAMMON: And speaking of the candidates and asking them questions, we're looking ahead to the Democratic primary debates next week - lots of anticipation about what might happen. I want to ask each of you what specifically you're looking forward to seeing.

DICKERSON: I'm looking forward to the candidates being more relatable. Regardless of what we think here in D.C. and these larger metropolitan cities about the support for Trump, the reality of the situation is a lot of folks see him as no different than other politicians as it relates to being on Twitter and saying crazy things, right? We as politicos might see it as more crazy, but the fact is, everyday Americans see all of us in D.C. the same.

And so I think, for the debate, those folks need to, first of all, be relatable, distinguish themselves at someone who understands and can relate to what everyday Americans need. And then sort of distinguish themselves from the others because a lot of them are talking about the same thing - you know, removing student loan debt, housing, etc. So they really need to start distinguishing themselves.

MCCAMMON: And, A'shanti, what will you be following next week?

GHOLAR: A lot of the same. But I'm really looking forward to them talking more about these great policies that they have rolled out. You just had Julian Castro roll out the first policy for the Indigenous community, which is groundbreaking. You're going to have Senator Warren and Senator Sanders on the same stage, and a lot of people consider them to be in the same camp. So I'm looking forward to them talking about how they are different from one another.

But at the end of the day, I just really am excited about them talking about how they're going to get our country back on track and so that we have good leadership. We don't have people living in fear, waking up with anxiety about, what is he going to tweet today? Are we going to be at war with Australia...

DICKERSON: (Laughter).

GHOLAR: ...Just really letting people know that there are better days ahead of us.

MCCAMMON: That's A'shanti Gholar, political director for Emerge America, and China Dickerson, national political director for Forward Majority.

Thank you both so much.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

GHOLAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "THE PLUG (QUANTIC MIX)")

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