First Gen Z Candidates Run For The House; Many Can't Get Ballots In Their Language : The NPR Politics Podcast The young candidates say they hope to fix broken institutions that they feel have let their generation down. And a quirk in how a half-century old voting rights provision is written means many Americans have trouble getting ballots in languages like Arabic and Haitian Creole.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional reporter Claudia Grisales, political reporter Elena Moore, political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben, and voting correspondent Hansi Lo Wang.

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First Gen Z Candidates Run For The House; Many Can't Get Ballots In Their Language

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CAROL: Hi. This is Carol (ph) in Milan, Italy.

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

Wow.

CAROL: We were supposed to leave...

KEITH: Nice.

CAROL: ...Ten days ago, but we got stopped at the airport because of positive COVID tests.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Oh.

CAROL: So my 26-year-old daughter and I spent nine days sharing a room...

KEITH: Oh.

CAROL: ...And a bed and...

KEITH: Oh.

CAROL: ...Only had one small disagreement for about 10 minutes. Now, that's amazing.

KEITH: Yeah.

CAROL: This podcast was recorded at...

KEITH: 12:11 p.m. on Friday, the 15 of July.

CAROL: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but hopefully we'll be on our flight home finally.

KEITH: Oh, my God.

CAROL: OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

GRISALES: I don't know if I would have made it.

KEITH: Well, I respect you choosing not to just lie and get on the plane...

GRISALES: (Laughter).

KEITH: ...Because wow.

GRISALES: Wow. What a survival trip there. Oh, my gosh.

KEITH: Though, tough having to stay in Milan. Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

KEITH: And, Claudia, we've got you here today to do sort of a lightning-fast...

GRISALES: Yes.

KEITH: ...Update on the January 6 investigation. A witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, a couple of weeks ago now claimed that she heard a story that President Trump physically lashed out at a Secret Service agent who refused to take him to the Capitol along with the protesters on January 6. She said that she heard the story in the presence of the agent it happened to along with the deputy chief of staff who also was part of the Secret Service, and that she heard it shortly after the incident occurred. Now, a news story first reported by The Intercept and confirmed by you - the Secret Service deleted text messages from January 5 and 6 after they were requested by the agency's watchdog. So there are text messages from these relevant days that have gone poof.

GRISALES: Exactly - poof. At least that's what this watchdog is claiming. This is the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes Secret Service. They sent this letter to the Homeland Security committees here for the House and the Senate side, explaining that these text messages were requested by this watchdog, and they were deleted afterwards. And so that's the alarm this inspector general was setting with these members of these committees. And, of course, now we're hearing the Secret Service is trying to dispute some details here.

KEITH: Yeah. So just to be clear, this is not the January 6 investigation. This is an entirely...

GRISALES: Exactly.

KEITH: ...Different inspector general investigation, though this is not the only inspector general looking at the events around the election and January 6.

GRISALES: Right. It's a reminder that there are multiple investigations going around here at the Capitol with inspectors general for various agencies. And so this has come up for - here on the Hill for a couple of different committees, not the House Select January 6 committee. So it's a reminder of all of the looks that are happening simultaneously into the attack on the Capitol.

KEITH: Inspectors general hard at work but mostly behind the scenes. We don't hear much from them. But we did hear from the inspector general looking at the Secret Service. How has the Secret Service responded to these allegations?

GRISALES: Well, they've issued a pretty strongly worded statement. They said that none of these messages were erased with malicious intent. And what they're saying is that they were doing a months-long migration. And I talked to the spokesman for the Secret Service to follow up a little bit more on what that means. And he was telling me that means that they were upgrading, if you will, like when we upgrade our iPhones to a new iOS version. That was ongoing. And he says that this inspector general - this is Joseph Cuffari - asked for these messages for an initial 20 individuals and that those individuals had not migrated. Those messages were turned over. Meanwhile, that request grew. By the time the inspector general asked for these messages for more individuals, they had migrated. So those messages were indeed lost. And I should note this spokesman also said that, culturally, the Secret Service does not text a lot. They're even prohibited in some cases. So in terms of what was lost, it's not going to be a lot of extensive messages. At least that's what he's arguing.

KEITH: And this all comes with the backdrop of any number of controversies that have affected the Secret Service over the last several years, including some controversies that involved - I don't know - being less than forthcoming, at least initially, about some things that happened.

GRISALES: Right.

KEITH: Claudia, we are going to let you go and move on with the rest of the pod, but thank you for dropping in to get us up to date.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

KEITH: And we are joined now by Danielle Kurtzleben...

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hello. Hello.

KEITH: ...And Elena Moore. Elena, I feel like you need a special introduction because this is your first time on the pod, but it is not your first time involved with the pod. You are one of our, like, super-producers behind the scenes.

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: Oh, my gosh. I'm so happy to be here, you guys.

KEITH: Elena, you are here because you did this story that took the internet by storm. And we want to talk about it. You've been reporting on the first candidates from Gen Z who are running for federal office. Now, why are they just now running for federal office? Because you have to be at least 25 to serve in the House of Representatives. So this is really the first election cycle that this generation is eligible to run. I assume that the candidates are not a monolith, but how would you say that the candidates you spoke to define their politics?

MOORE: Yeah. So, well, first things first, the amount of Gen Z candidates actually running is still pretty small. Only about a handful or so are really known right now. But they are running and, you know, in different spots all around the country. And on opposite ends of the political spectrum; from the very progressive, you know, farther left side of the Democratic Party to the right and fiercely conservative, pro-Trump, aligning with Trump and more conservative ideals. And, you know, again, there aren't a lot of candidates running yet, but so far no one is really a moderate. And despite their policy differences, the one thing these candidates really do have in common is they are all extremely passionate and very unwavering in their goals. And also, you know, frankly, quite proud to be Gen Z and to be 25 or turning 25 by Inauguration Day.

One of the candidates I spoke with was Karoline Leavitt. She is a fierce conservative running in New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District, which is a pretty competitive district. It's currently held by a vulnerable Democrat, Representative Chris Pappas. And she is very closely aligned with Trump. She supports his lie that the 2020 election was stolen. And she's already been a pretty vetted GOP staffer. And she's hoping her candidacy will energize young conservatives and steer voters away from progressive ideas she argues are too extreme.

KAROLINE LEAVITT: It's a very one-sided culture that we live in. How do we break through that mold? It's by electing young people to office that can resonate with these voters, have a platform at the national stage that can show them ideas, policies, values that they're not hearing elsewhere at all.

KEITH: Elena, I'm wondering, you talked to both Republicans and Democrats, are there differences between how the candidates you talked to see their parties? Like, for example, if they're willing to buck party orthodoxy or if they are largely falling in line with party orthodoxy.

MOORE: It's really interesting you ask it that way because both sides of the political spectrum candidates I spoke to have role models and people that they've looked up to. So obviously they are learning from these parties, and they've been influenced by them. But candidates on both sides of the spectrum have started to make a name for themselves and kind of go about this campaign in a new way.

You know, another candidate I spoke to was Maxwell Alejandro Frost. He's a progressive candidate running in Florida's 10th Congressional District, which is a solidly blue seat containing parts of Orlando. And it's currently held by Val Demings, who's running for Senate. Frost is a progressive activist and organizer, and he's been doing this work for a decade, really, since the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., 10 years ago.

MAXWELL ALEJANDRO FROST: This campaign also plays a symbolic role in our country in showing that, yes, we march, yes, we engage in mutual aid, yes, we engage on social media, and now we're running for office because we believe that we are prepared to be in the rooms, to be the voice for our communities. And we can do that. And young people should be allowed.

KEITH: You know, this makes me think about the, you know, middle 1970s and the so-called Watergate babies who were these young, idealistic candidates who ran for Congress after Watergate, came en masse and served for a very long time. Or you have someone like Joe Biden, who was sworn into the Senate almost 50 years ago now at the age of 30, which is the youngest you could be. It's possible that we're going to be hearing from these candidates or those in their generation if they get elected or if they get elected in the next election for a very long time.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, that's totally true. And one thing that I couldn't help but think about, a person who is very much in my head as I was reading Elena's story, is Elise Stefanik, one of the House Republicans from New York who started out being known as this young - at one point, she was the youngest House...

KEITH: I did a story about her running as the youngest - to be the youngest woman in the House.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes. And this was a big deal. And she was also known, which you might not know now, as a moderate. And this was part of her being, you know, this young...

KEITH: Yup.

KURTZLEBEN: ...Republican. And she very much is not a moderate now. She has gone on to, I suppose, as you might say, team MAGA. And so one thing that I kept thinking about, and this is looking into the future ahead of Elena's story, is right now, you know, people enter in as young idealists looking ahead to the future, ready to break molds and so on. You wonder, like, how do you - how do these people eventually age into whatever power they get? I mean, Joe Biden may have been young and idealistic at one point and now is considered, you know, super moderate and stodgy by many in the party, quite frankly. And so it's just sort of the circle of political life, is what I'm saying.

MOORE: Right. And two things off that. Karoline Leavitt, who's running in New Hampshire, is directly, some could argue, a byproduct of Stefanik. Leavitt, as I said, already has a pretty big resume. She was assistant press secretary in the Trump administration, and then she went on to work as the spokeswoman for Stefanik. She's been around. Stefanik has endorsed her, and she told me that she thinks of Stefanik as a mentor. So this this pipeline is already happening.

But, Danielle, what you said about you come into Congress fresh-faced and ready to work with others, you know, I've talked to strategists who say that could look different for Gen Zers. I talked to conservative pollster and strategist Kristen Soltis Anderson about this, who's a millennial herself, and she compared the Gen Z path or the potential Gen Z path to that of the millennials 10 years ago. And she said, basically, you know, when you look at the Obama-era millennial, you see somebody who wanted to bring a new generation to Congress and wanted to bring fresh faces and new voices but also talked about working across the aisle and making progress that way. And Anderson told me that is not what we are seeing from Gen Zers so far.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: The frame has shifted from, I'm going to bring about that change by being someone who looks for opportunities to work across the aisle, and more, I'm going to disrupt the institutions and systems that are allowing the other side to continue to prevail.

KEITH: Well, and, you know, there's this argument that millennials who were elected several years ago, probably thought that they would be sort of coming in and taking over the leadership of their party or having a huge influence. And at least on the Democratic side, the sun is being blocked by septuagenarian and octogenarian leaders who are...

MOORE: Yeah.

KEITH: ...Still the party leaders. And Danielle, it - you know, like, it seems inevitable that there will at some point be a transition of power. And it'll be interesting to see which generation takes charge.

KURTZLEBEN: The criticisms of these folks of there being all of these older folks in leadership is not necessarily about their capabilities or how they do their jobs. Plenty of people respect Pelosi and McConnell for keeping their parties in line, getting votes when they need them...

KEITH: ...Yielding power, as they do.

KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah. And lord knows they've had plenty of practice. But, you know, there's a question of, OK, well, when most of your leadership is pretty old, who's next on the bench? One other thing is it raises the question of if there are generational differences in how people might handle things, how younger people would eventually handle things - I mean, this is just one example, and it may simply fall under the heading of anecdata. But, for example, House leadership recently backed Henry Cuellar in Texas. Henry Cuellar is the last House Democrat who opposes abortion rights. And you've had some young progressives - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of course - her name had to come up in this conversation - she very much opposed House leadership for that. And so you wonder once you get fresher blood, younger blood in leadership, do they make different decisions about power in politics than older people do?

MOORE: And you could argue it's already - you know, if we aren't sure how it's going to play out on the Democratic side, it's arguably starting on the Republican side. Stefanik is now in House leadership. She brings the GOP House leadership average age - I'm not one with numbers, but this is accurate - down to 55. And on the Democratic side, the average leadership age is 71. So the Republicans are starting it, which just kind of adds to the list of uphill battles for Democrats going into the midterms.

KEITH: Well, we are going to take a quick break. Elena, we will be bringing you back for Can't Let It Go. So please do not go too far away. And when we get back, how ballots can make it harder to vote.

And we're back with Hansi Lo Wang. Hello, my friend.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hey, Tam.

KEITH: Hey, hey. So about 50 years ago, Congress expanded the Voting Rights Act to try to get rid of barriers preventing lots of people from voting in lots of different ways. But one way was preventing "citizens of language minorities" - that's a quote - from voting. Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act has required certain states and local governments to provide voting ballots, registration forms and other election materials in more than just English. But Hansi, not all languages are covered by these Section 203 protections. You've been reporting on this, obviously. That's why you're here. But how does the determination get made about which languages are required and where?

WANG: Well, every five years, the Census Bureau comes up with a list of states, counties. There are places where ballots and other election information materials have to be produced in multiple languages. And the bureau uses complicated formulas that factor in - English proficiency rates, educational attainment rates and data about race and ethnicity.

KEITH: As you have reported, there is a big hole in this law that has left some language speakers out. Tell us about it.

WANG: Well, section 203 of the Voting Rights Act specifically protects persons who are American Indian, Asian American, Alaskan Natives or of Spanish heritage. So that leaves out a lot of different languages spoken by growing African immigrant communities, for example. It leaves out speakers of Haitian Creole, which the Census Bureau categorizes as an Indo European language. And it leaves out speakers of Arabic, which - you know, some scholars classify Arabic as an Afro Asiatic language group. So you could make an argument that could fall under the Asian languages covered by these protections. But the Census Bureau says it's using race and ethnicity data as this proxy to identify these protected language groups. So people who speak Arabic - the Census Bureau classifies them by their race. And according to the federal government's standards, people with origins in the Middle East or North Africa are officially categorized as white.

KURTZLEBEN: Hansi, this really fascinates me because I know you've reported before on how the census counts Middle Eastern and North African people as whites and how people just feel that they would like to be categorized as the race they feel they are, and many of those people aren't. But this story really shows us some of the practical effects of what happens when you categorize someone by a particular race, right?

WANG: Yeah. This is kind of a consequence of these federal standards that most people don't know about, but they set these very official definitions of racial categories that - like you said, some people of Middle Eastern, North African descent do identify themselves as white. Many people do not. And there is that tension. But here, you know, regardless of that tension, the Voting Rights Act, Section 203, Arabic is not included partly as a result of this definition.

KEITH: I think we've pretty clearly outlined the challenge here, that there are people who cannot get ballots in a language that they speak. Is there a solution that anyone's talking about?

WANG: Well, the challenge here is that there are no federal mandates for ballots to be translated into certain languages. And so there are these efforts made at this local level, where local governments are going beyond what the federal government requires and trying to meet the needs of voters in their communities.

And, you know, for example, in Florida's Miami-Dade County, home to the largest population of immigrants from Haiti in the U.S, precincts with certain shares of Haitian Americans are required to provide ballots in Creole, as well as English and Spanish. And this year, two suburbs of Detroit, Dearborn and Hamtramck, Mich., their city councils passed resolutions to require election materials in Arabic and English. And these are some of the largest Arab American communities in the country. So this is a result of a very long push by community groups to see ballots in Arabic.

KURTZLEBEN: You know, Hansi, voting rights, ballot access are, of course, really big topics that have been on the minds of Democrats in recent years. And they have tried to, at the congressional level, pass measures to expand and protect ballot access. Was this issue of language access for these groups on their minds when they did that?

WANG: Well, neither of the bills that were being considered earlier this year, neither included any provisions that would have expanded federally protected language minority groups to include Arabic or Haitian Creole speakers or really any other language. It did have a proposal to make sure that there is oral assistance in non-written American Indian, Alaska Native languages. But of course, like the rest of those bills, they did not get passed. But so this is really, at this point, a lot of local governments could pick up the ball and try to pass some resolutions and take kind of a local approach to this.

But the Voting Rights Act is also up for renewal in a few years. So when that is the case, lawmakers could then consider expanding it. But it is a big question whether or not that will happen because there have been multiple opportunities since these provisions were put into the Voting Rights Act in 1975.

KEITH: Wow. Fascinating. Well, thank you, Hansi, so much for bringing your reporting on to the pod.

WANG: You're welcome. Thanks for having me back.

KEITH: And when the rest of us get back, it's time for Can't Let It Go.

And we're back. And hello again, Elena.

MOORE: Hello.

KEITH: It is time to end the show the way we do every week, with Can't Let It Go. We really are giving you the full pod experience.

MOORE: Somehow I'm starstruck.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZLEBEN: This is the part of the show where we talk about the things from the week that we just can't stop talking about, politics or otherwise. Elena, go first.

MOORE: Oh, my God. OK. Well, hello, world. I have so many things I can't let go of. And I have been producing this podcast for a year now. And I've always had something, a Can't Let It Go every week. But this week, I thought I would do something that the Washington desk team knows I'm very passionate about. And that is a rescue dog story.

You might have seen this week that there was a breeding and research facility in Cumberland, Va. After all of these inspections, it was released that their beagles that they use to test their pharmaceutical research on were being really mistreated and abused. And it's really sad. But now, 4,000 beagles are being taken from this facility and brought to shelters around the country.

KEITH: Wow.

MOORE: And it's literally just given me life all week thinking about, like, 4,000 beagles, like, trotting out of this facility and being like, someone give me pets. And I'm obsessed with dogs. I have been - I've fostered puppies before during, like, the early years of the pandemic - (laughter) the early years. And I am just, like, so excited for these beagles to have homes. And the actual shelter that I fostered from is taking a bunch of the beagles. And I'm still on the Listserv for, like, every foster dog that comes in. And they're like, the beagles are coming. And it's just like - it's really exciting for me.

KEITH: This was very on brand, Elena. I really appreciate this.

MOORE: I just, like - I hope that there are people out there who adopt these beagles.

KURTZLEBEN: Listeners, if you adopt a beagle...

MOORE: Send us pics.

KURTZLEBEN: ...from this beagle bonanza, please send us a picture. Or send us a time stamp with your new beagle.

KEITH: Yes.

MOORE: Oh, my God. Yeah.

KEITH: All right, Danielle. What can't you let go of?

KURTZLEBEN: I can't let go of a - one of those long, epic Twitter threads that I saw this week. This one is about either the worst or most epic sandwich in history. You be the judge.

KEITH: Oh, God. I know this. I saw you retweeted it, and I haven't recovered.

KURTZLEBEN: Apparently, the writer hasn't either. So this is from - I don't know her real name, but her handle is @pb_and_garlic. And she apparently worked at Subway in her early 20s.

KEITH: Which means she was a sandwich artist.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, a sandwich artist, a lunch consultant. And she had a group of high schoolers come in at one point, and one of the people in the group asked for a very odd sandwich. I'll just read one of these early tweets. I served the second girl in the group. She wanted a foot long on white bread, cool. Double provolone and double American cheese. I can respect that. Does she want it toasted? No. Veggies? No. Sauce? Yes. Ranch, please. And this sandwich artist proceeds to dump more and more ranch onto the sandwich while the girl's like yes, more, please. Sandwich artist empties one bottle and the girl's like please add more. So she continues to douse the sandwich in ranch dressing.

KEITH: Was this girl an Iowan?

KURTZLEBEN: You know, that is exactly what I asked. My teenage years of waiting tables were filled with people asking me for a cup of ranch, please. And so I honestly figured this was Iowa. It is not. It is West Texas. So the love of ranch knows no geography. I just want this ranch sandwich eater to please step forward. I want an investigative reporter to find her and ask her how and why and if she's OK.

KEITH: Please also do a time stamp. Please.

KURTZLEBEN: Oh, my God, a ranch timestamp. God, you're full of great ideas, Tam. Good job.

MOORE: This is like a nightmare for me. As somebody who, like, dreams about a good sandwich, I can picture her just demanding more and more ranch. And I just can't. I feel for this girl. I feel like we should send her, like, a box of cookies.

KURTZLEBEN: We've offended Elena's religion of sandwiches.

MOORE: Yeah. I think I need to, like, take a walk outside after hearing that. But before I do that, Tam, what can't you let go of?

KEITH: So I swear, this is not going in a fully sad direction, but it is starting sad, which is that Ivana Trump passed away yesterday at the age of 73 - you know, tabloid darling, really, like, a Kardashian before there were Kardashians, famous for being famous, famous for being married to Donald Trump - the first wife. But what I can't let go of is that after the divorce, after the Pizza Hut commercial she did after the divorce with Donald Trump, where they joked about you can only get half of the slice - after that, she had a line of couture that included jewelry and cosmetics. And she marketed these things by going to malls and other things. But also, she made appearances on the Canadian Shopping Channel.

MOORE: As one does.

KEITH: Like QVC, but for Canada - and she starts out by, like, describing these earrings. They were modeled after something that her daughter Ivanka made. But her daughter had them with diamonds, and she made them much more affordably with silver and not diamonds - but still a lot of bling, as she described it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IVANA TRUMP: And it's all in the silver tone. Beautiful, really a statement.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

TRUMP: I mean, you have to be dead drunk to miss these earrings.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Dead drunk - you have to be dead drunk to miss these earrings.

KURTZLEBEN: So we're saying that, like her ex-husband, she - subtlety is not the name of the game here.

KEITH: Yes. She was all about the bling as well. She - in the early days of the, you know, the building of the Trump Hotel empire, she was in charge of interior design. So you can thank her, at least in part, for all of that gaudy decor that has become a trademark of the Trump brand.

MOORE: I think we should adopt that phrase like, you have to get drunk to miss this fit. Like, that's pretty amazing.

KEITH: All right. That is a wrap for today and on a very long week. Until next week. Send us your time stamps for the top of the show, ideally with a beagle. Just record yourself and the dog on your phone and send the file to nprpolitics@npr.org. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Our editors are Eric McDaniel and Krishnadev Calamur. Our producers are Casey Morell, Elena Moore, and Lexie Schapitl. Our intern is Maya Rosenberg. Thanks to Brandon Carter. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

MOORE: I'm Elena Moore. I cover politics and produce this podcast.

KURTZLEBEN: And I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I only cover politics.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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