Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger.
Colin Seeberger: And I’m Colin Seeberger. Happy New Year, Daniella.
Gibbs Léger: Thanks, Colin. Happy New Year to you.
Seeberger: Fresh back from the Caribbean.
Gibbs Léger: Yes.
Seeberger: You’re sunkissed.
Gibbs Léger: Thank you.
Seeberger: And looking very refreshed.
Gibbs Léger: It was wonderful to be away. Sorry for everyone who stayed here. Apparently, it rained a lot.
Seeberger: I don’t know. I was in Texas most of the time. And it was quite lovely, 60 degrees or so on Christmas Day, I think.
Gibbs Léger: Oh, that’s nice.
Seeberger: Yeah, it was great. But I will say, 2024 kind of crept up on me and was not quite ready for the new year nor coming back to the office the day after my college football team played in the college football playoff. Yes, they did not pull it off.
Gibbs Léger: Sorry for your loss.
Seeberger: But it was a heck of a way to start off the new year.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, I can’t believe it’s already 2024. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit later about some reality show stuff. But my biggest shock today was finding out that Rachel Lindsay, and Brian—I can’t remember his last name—are divorcing. I was like, what?
Seeberger: So sad. So sad.
Gibbs Léger: It’s so sad.
Seeberger: It is going to be a big year for sure. And I also heard that you kicked it off this week by chatting with one of our colleagues at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Gibbs Léger: I did. I spoke with Mike Sozan, who is a senior fellow for democracy policy at CAP Action, about what’s at stake in 2024 for our democracy—no small topic. We discussed Trump’s legal turmoil, the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, and the policies we need to ensure free and fair elections in November and beyond.
Seeberger: You could say it’s kind of the topic of the moment. But before we dive into all that, we do we have to get to some news.
Gibbs Léger: We do. New year, same MAGA stuff. Unfortunately, thanks to MAGA extremists in the House, we’re still talking about some big headlines from last year, namely, House Republicans yet again threatening to shut down the government and a supplemental request from the White House for aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. Look, it is mind boggling to me that MAGA Republicans continue to play these political games with our government. This all began months ago when they decided that rather than fund the government, one of their basic responsibilities, they wanted to hold it hostage in order to extract extreme cuts to investments in the American people—things like funding for public schools, child care, and violence prevention. The list goes on and on. When Congress passed one of several temporary funding mechanisms last year to keep the government open, Republicans created two deadlines to try and increase their leverage in negotiations—one on January 19, and the other on February 2. That first deadline is now almost two weeks away. Will they make it? Who knows?
Seeberger: I wouldn’t put my money on it.
Gibbs Léger: Exactly. You know what? It’s wild to me that Republicans are still trying to use a threat of a shutdown to enact radical policies, like making it easier for wealthy tax cheats to avoid paying their fair share. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, MAGA Republicans also couldn’t get it together to pass urgently needed aide for allies like Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. The White House requested the aid last year along with $14 billion with a B in funding for border assistance. That’s right, MAGA Republicans are weaponizing defense assistance to our allies to serve their own extremist agenda and saying “no thanks” to funding that would enhance security at our southern border. That $14 billion I mentioned would enhance hiring and processing capacity for the Department of Homeland Security and immigration courts, improve technology to stop the flow of deadly fentanyl, and increase enforcement and detention capabilities at the border. But somehow, it’s still not enough for MAGA extremists. And as House Republicans continue dragging their feet on this, there will be real consequences at home and abroad, namely for Ukraine since they’ve been relying on U.S. aid in the war against Russia.
Seeberger: It’s really true, and we’re already seeing Ukraine’s counteroffensive starting to stall as aid has slowed down. Just as a reminder, the war in Ukraine is about so much more than just two countries fighting. It’s about the global struggle between democracy and autocracy and the dangerous influence of dictators like Vladimir Putin. As the war drags on, this coming year really is going to be critical for Ukraine. Allowing Russia the upper hand may threaten not only Ukraine’s sovereignty, but the security of the United States, Europe, and the rest of the Western world. Those who want to cut off assistance to Ukraine are really just giving Vladimir Putin a green light to continue his march into Eastern Europe. If one of our NATO allies, let’s say, is attacked there, we’re obligated under the NATO charter to respond, which means that more American resources, including our own troops, could be rushed to the front lines of war. That’s just something the American people do not want. And it’s also all the more concerning when we’re seeing this week new Russian aerial assaults on Ukraine, including missile and drone strikes on two of the nation’s biggest cities. The need for aid just could not be more clear. And it really shows where MAGA Republicans stand on the global fight for democracy against autocracy. We hear a lot about how much they want to be tough on China. Well, this has given them, saying, “We’ll give you a free pass if you want to invade Taiwan,” if this is how they’re going to be standing up to Russian aggression from Vladimir Putin.
Gibbs Léger: It really makes me mad, Colin, so let’s turn to a topic that can lift our spirits a little bit. It is a new year, which means new policies and programs are going into effect, thanks in large part to the Biden administration and progressive governors across the country. There is a lot to be excited about. New laws in several states are going into effect this week that will help Americans afford a better quality of life and protect their rights and safety from extreme MAGA attacks. Twenty-two states are raising their minimum wages this year. These increases will benefit at least 10 million workers, contributing to President Biden’s ongoing efforts to grow the middle class. Minnesota’s new sick leave program also went into effect this week, giving workers access to paid time off to those experiencing illness or domestic abuse. Minnesota also has a new red flag law that will allow courts to temporarily take away firearms from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. These kinds of red flag laws, already on the books in 19 states, are evidence-backed strategies that save lives. And one more state-level policy I’m really encouraged by is Illinois’ new prohibition on book bans. As of January 1, libraries across the state will be required to reject book bans if they want to receive state grant money. It’s an important safeguard against MAGA extremist culture wars, which fending off is crucial both for the education of our kids, but also strengthening democracy here at home.
I also want to mention all the progressive policy that was enacted in the state of Michigan, after Democrats secured a governing trifecta in the state during the 2022 elections for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Seeberger: That’s a long time.
Gibbs Léger: It is a long time. Let’s tick through all the great stuff they’ve done. They’ve protected labor rights and reproductive rights, passed a huge clean energy law. They expanded voting rights, enshrined protections for LGBTQI+ Michiganders from MAGA Republican attacks, and enacted gun reforms to keep their community safe. I have to tell you, Colin, all that “big Gretch,” the governor of Michigan, got done last year, it was really impressive.
Seeberger: It sure, sure is, Daniella, and honestly, it really goes to show that when you have people who believe that government can be a force for good, not just a vehicle for getting booked on Fox News, it can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. It can lift people into America’s middle class. It can make sure that people can live in safe communities. So, yes, state legislators and governors clearly were busy in 2023. And the payoffs are apparent. But we’re also gearing up for some really important changes at the federal level, too. Key elements of President Biden’s signature economic bills, including the Inflation Reduction Act, are taking effect this year. First of all, Americans on Medicare who hit the catastrophic coverage threshold will now have their out-of-pocket expenses effectively capped, meaning they won’t have to pay 5 percent of their drug costs anymore. This will be a huge relief for all Americans on Medicare Part D who have to pay for life-saving medications. And it’s part of President Biden’s commitment to bring down costs, particularly for necessities like prescription drugs. Just one example: Gene Feltus. He’s a New Hampshire senior who works with our colleagues at CAP Action and relies on dozens of prescriptions in order to stay alive. He told us that he actually is going to see his annual drug spending fall almost in half because of this new policy from $7,000 a year to $3,250 a year. That’s nearly $4000 more he’s going to have in 2024 because of the bill Democrats passed. And that’s going to go even higher next year when the $2,000 out-of-pocket cap goes into effect.
But the Inflation Reduction Act, it’s not only helping lower costs, it’s also reducing carbon emissions and speeding up progress toward fighting climate change. In 2023, the law made electric vehicle tax credits available to buyers—that’s $7,500 worth of them—and starting this week, it’s even easier for buyers to claim that money. If you buy an electric car this year, you can now get that money up front as a rebate. So, instead of waiting for when you file your tax return the next year, you can actually get that cash in advance or have it taken off the total purchase price of your vehicle. And of course, throughout 2024, we’re going to continue to see investments from the president’s signature economic bills bring new manufacturing projects and jobs to communities all across the country. So, I look forward to more ribbons being cut, more shovels going in the ground, and more people getting to enjoy the benefits of really good-paying jobs.
Gibbs Léger: I’m really excited to see what these new changes and continued progress can do for people.
Seeberger: Me too. Well, with that, that’s all the time we have for today. If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod.
Gibbs Léger: And stick around for my interview with Mike Sozan in just a beat.
Gibbs Léger: Mike Sozan is a senior fellow for democracy policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. He previously served as chief of staff to former U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), legislative director for former Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), and counsel for former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). He has also worked as an attorney for the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission. Mike, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”
Mike Sozan: Thank you for having me, happy to be here.
Gibbs Léger: So, it feels like threats to democracy have been growing for the past several years. And we’ll get to January 6 in a moment, but last year, Paul Pelosi, the husband of Nancy Pelosi, was brutally attacked. And just this morning, six statehouse buildings were evacuated because of bomb threats. Why is all this happening in your opinion, and how do we make it stop?
Sozan: It’s really sad to see this rise of extremism in the country over the past many years. I think, of course, sadly, a lot of it is tied to extremism that we’ve seen amongst conservatives, amongst the far right. And I think it’s been given a permission structure by Donald Trump. And sadly, more and more people in our country feel comfortable using extreme language, resorting to violence. And they hear the dog whistles of political leaders. And sadly, they’re acting on it. And it is a dangerous time for the country. And there are no easy answers. We want to, of course, try to summon our better angels. We want to try to work across the ideological spectrum and pull people back from the brink and show them that this is a democracy worth fighting for. But these last few years have been very challenging.
Gibbs Léger: That is definitely an understatement. It was three years ago this week that we saw an unprecedented insurrection and attack on our nation’s Capitol to try and stop the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Can you talk to our listeners about the legacy of January 6 and the impact it continues to have on our democracy?
Sozan: It’s a really sad chapter in our country’s history. And I don’t think the chapter has been fully written yet. The insurrection and everything that led up to it—which was really a president who was trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power, to thwart the will of the people, which is one of the strongest foundations of a democracy—that was a whole incident that is still looming over us. Donald Trump and others are still talking about how the election was stolen, how the next election is going to be stolen. They’re still using, as we just said, lots of violent and extreme language. So the problem is still very much with us. And it’s not just a problem of Donald Trump. It’s really a problem of a big swath of our fellow Americans.
And so it’s a time of danger, but it’s a time where if we stay vigilant, hopefully we can turn the corner on this. And hopefully, places like the Center for American Progress and others continue to offer a positive vision of what democracy can look like, what a multiracial, multiethnic democracy that truly represents all people can look like. Because I feel like, of course, a lot of Americans are angry about the system. Maybe they think it’s corrupted. They think it’s not working for them. And they need a positive vision, again, to pull them back from the brink and saying, “Hey, maybe a dictatorship won’t be so bad. Maybe it’d be better than what we have right now.” And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to continue every day to show people why democracy, although imperfect, is the best system out there.
Gibbs Léger: We’re now seeing multiple states move to block former President Trump from their primary ballots, citing the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which says no one who tries to overthrow the government can run it. Seems like a simple concept there. Maine recently removed Trump from their ballot after Colorado took him off theirs a few weeks ago. Will these challenges work? And if they make their way to the Supreme Court, what are we likely to see happen?
Sozan: It remains to be seen whether these will work or not. I mean, these are pretty historic cases. As you said, there’s the clause in the 14th Amendment, Section 3, that very plainly says that if you helped engage in insurrection, then you shouldn’t be helping to lead the country after that. It’s written right there. And it’s always ironic. We have a lot of people on the Supreme Court, justices, who have always talked about how important it is to follow the plain language of the Constitution and the amendments as written. And there it is right in the Constitution plainly written for everybody to see that nobody who was involved in insurrection should help lead the country. And so, Colorado and Maine have followed that constitutional provision so far. A few other states have not reached the same result, but not necessarily because of that. There’s some finer details there. But at least two states have said, “You know what, this is a pretty painful decision to have to make, but we have to uphold the U.S. Constitution.” And therefore, they have decided to remove Trump from the primary ballot in those two states. Donald Trump has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. And I would be very surprised if the U.S. Supreme Court does not decide to review this case. This is a case of momentous national importance. And I don’t think the Supreme Court will want to duck it. I don’t know, they’ve done some strange things. Maybe they’ll find a way to duck it, but I don’t know why they would. And there are lots of various reasons that the extreme conservative members of the Supreme Court could decide to reverse the decisions of Colorado and Maine, and therefore restore Trump onto the ballot.
Gibbs Léger: So, Trump is busy. He’s on trial for his alleged role in the events on January 6, and his lawyers have invoked this argument of presidential immunity, which is being debated in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals right now. Can you explain what their argument is, and why it’s so dangerous?
Sozan: Sure. It’s a pretty sweeping argument. And it’s one that’s been rejected by other courts already in various contexts. But what essentially Trump and his lawyers are trying to argue is that when he was contesting the election and making plans to figure out how to get into voting machines or examine the voting processes and get to the bottom of it, that he was doing that in his official capacity as president. It wasn’t in his capacity as a candidate. It was because he was trying to be a good president for the country and make sure that our election was run appropriately. And I just think—and many courts, more importantly than what I think—many judges have already said that they find that far-fetched. And if the Supreme Court were to accept that argument, it would basically allow presidents to do almost anything that they want, and just be able to claim that they were trying to make sure the system was working correctly. It would really be a sweeping new conclusion if the U.S. Supreme Court goes that far. So I think most experts don’t think the Supreme Court will go that far. But again, this particular Supreme Court has surprised us over and over again, and not in good ways. And they’ve found ways to reverse precedent or just to ignore precedent. So this will be really important over the next few weeks to see what the U.S. Supreme Court does with this. Because if for some reason they do side with Trump, that could really limit the prosecutions that he’s facing.
Gibbs Léger: And not just limit the prosecutions, but what message does that send for the next would-be dictator who perhaps is a little more polished and nuanced than Trump?
Sozan: It sends a really dangerous message. And I’m glad you raised that point because that point is also true of the 14th Amendment, Section 3 cases. The more that there’s no accountability for Donald Trump and his top allies for what they did before and on January 6, the more dangerous it becomes because it essentially is giving permission to the next generation of insurrectionists to do the same thing. Or it gives Donald Trump the permission to do the same thing again, as well. And we are supposed to be a nation of laws. No one is supposed to be above the law, not even a former president. So that’s why this is such a stress test right now for our democracy, specifically for the courts and the criminal justice system right now, is for exactly the reason you mentioned.
Gibbs Léger: So I do try to end these interviews on a note of positivity whenever possible. So here’s my attempt. As we enter this important election year, there are policies that could be implemented to help safeguard our democratic systems. Michigan has been a leader in this, passing key voting and representation reforms. So what are some of the policies you’re seeing that might help us maintain free and fair elections in 2024?
Sozan: You’re right that there are so many important structural reforms out there that would essentially modernize our ailing democracy. And you’re also right to point to Michigan, which has enacted a lot of these, and it shows that when a state like Michigan elects progressives to its legislature and its governor, that they take people-powered moves forward to help fortify democracy. And so some of the things that should be done on both a local and state level, but also a federal level, are just expanding the right to vote, making it easier for people to vote. And yes, we want people to vote securely. We want to know that we can trust our elections. But let more people vote by mail. Let more people vote early. Expand voting hours. That has been shown to favor neither political party necessarily. It just brings more voters in, and we want more people voting, no matter which party they may be voting for. Some of the other bigger structural reforms that I think people clamor for, that they’re happy about, that they think are good when they learn more about them, are, for example, stopping partisan gerrymandering. Make sure that districts are drawn fairly so that voters are choosing their politicians instead of politicians choosing their voters. If we had more fairly drawn districts that would help elect candidates who are more in the mainstream, it would incentivize better behavior. That would reduce extremism. It would reduce the dog whistles and therefore the violence that we’re seeing. That would be one really big reform. And that’s something Michigan did, for example. They started an independent redistricting commission. And so we see how in many states recently, people rose up, they banded together, they forced ballot initiatives in their states, for example, where they put this on the ballot directly. And in almost every instance, people said, “Yeah, we think we should get rid of partisan gerrymandering.”
And then I would say, also, just to pick one example on the federal level, in the U.S. Senate, we see how the filibuster rule has been used to block popular legislation over and over again because under the filibuster rule that generally requires 60 senators instead of 50 Senators to pass legislation, it’s no longer majority rule. This is a way of political minority rule. And that’s not fair to people who want to see progress in this country. I mean, yeah, we believe in robust debate. We believe that the minority viewpoint should be heard, but at some point, there should be an up or down majority vote. And we don’t see that in the Senate. And so the Senate is a graveyard where so much legislation goes to die. So I would encourage people to learn more about the filibuster rule, demand that their senators reform or just get rid of the filibuster. And then at the federal level, I think we’d see a lot more people-powered progress and strengthened democracy.
Gibbs Léger: Well, that is a future that I can get behind, so from your lips to the American people. Mike Sozan, I want to thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”
Sozan: Thanks, Daniella.
Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. Before we go, Colin, we have to talk about.
Seeberger: Well. Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Gibbs Léger: No, no, go ahead. You go first.
Seeberger: I mean, I assume that you’re going to talk about the golden wedding that’s happening this week for all of our “Golden Bachelor” viewer listeners. But late-breaking news for “Tent” listeners, on Tuesday, I guess it was, we did get the season finale of “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” and Daniella, it blew my mind.
Gibbs Léger: Sometimes these shows, when they do their previews, and it’s like, “Oh, something very dramatic is going to happen,” they’re blowing it out of proportion. I was not ready for it.
Gibbs Léger: I was floored. I was glued to my television. I could not believe. And the editing? Can we just give props to the editing people?
Seeberger: They killed it.
Gibbs Léger: Oh, they crushed it yesterday.
Seeberger: With the storm clouds and everything.
Gibbs Léger: The music.
Gibbs Léger: The flashbacks and all the things that Monica had said in the past, helping us put the puzzle pieces together.
Seeberger: Totally, and the Bermuda Triangle-themed dinner. Absolutely incredible. I thought it was perhaps one of the best season finales of one of the Real Housewives franchises, at least since Jen Shah got arrested by the FBI, but perhaps all the way back to the intervention with Danielle Staub in the Real Housewives of New Jersey way, way, way, way back. But we not just got to see Monica get called out for all of her antics, but we also got a multiseason bombshell revealed. And of course, I’m talking about black eye gate.
Gibbs Léger: I think my mouth was on the floor when she said that because we went through a reunion. She did a whole book tour where she kept saying she did not know what happened. She did not know how she got her black eye. And then she said it was Jen Shah.
Seeberger: It was Jen Shah.
Gibbs Léger: Like, what?
Seeberger: It’s wild. I saw some people were speculating that she may have been trying to play it off until Jen got her sentencing, but that is nuts. I mean, it’s totally expected, and if you go back, they played kind of a flashback clip for when it happened. And it seemed clear as day that Jen’s reaction, Heather’s reaction was very off.
Gibbs Léger: It was, and Jen, looking at her face, she looked like she knew.
Seeberger: She knew exactly what she had done.
Gibbs Léger: She knew what she did. Yes, exactly.
Gibbs Léger: It was just such a remarkable episode. And even how, at the end of the season when they talk about what the people are doing now, and even just the way that was edited. It was so perfect.
Seeberger: So good.
Gibbs Léger: So good. Three-part reunion, we are blessed. I cannot wait. Monica has a burn book. You see the previews?
Seeberger: Yeah, that she may want to sell. I don’t know. She’s not ‘that Mormon’ like Heather Gay, but ‘that Latina?’ I don’t know.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, I don’t know what she’s going to do. And then, I always thought Monica’s introduction into this group was sketchy given that she was Jen Shah’s assistant.
Seeberger: So weird.
Gibbs Léger: And it was just weird. She didn’t seem like the prototypical housewife that you see.
Gibbs Léger: But I was like, they booked her for drama. If they knew this, the producers need a raise as well.
Seeberger: They’re genius.
Gibbs Léger: Genius!
Seeberger: Except for, speaking of the reunion, that set looks like Gilligan’s Island. What are we doing here?
Gibbs Léger: I don’t understand that at all. I’m sure there’ll be an explanation. Andy will set us straight.
Gibbs Léger: But the one thing that was—I’m an island girl, as we know—and when they were in Bermuda, she kept talking about how it’s so great to see how her family basically helped build the island. And so I was like, I said to the team, I was like, “Oh, were your parents colonizers? Are we proud of this now? Is this?
Seeberger: Is this what we’re doing here?
Gibbs Léger: Is this what we’re doing? The self-awareness was just not there.
Gibbs Léger: Very, very shocking. Anyway, it was great reality television.
Seeberger: So fun.
Gibbs Léger: I cannot wait for the reunion.
Seeberger: Yeah, it’s going to be great.
Gibbs Léger: It really is. And since you haven’t mentioned it, I’ll just bring up the fact that the Cowboys are probably going to win the division, and that makes me really mad. So, congrats, I guess, whatever.
Seeberger: Well, we still have to beat the Washington Commanders.
Gibbs Léger: Ooh, that’s going to be so tough, Colin.
Seeberger: Well, it is going to be raining, sleeting, snowing, whatever this weekend in D.C., and you never know what happens in that kind of environment. I can tell you this, it does not happen at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Seeberger: So, will have us on our toes. But if your team wants to take care of business against the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend, I’d be just fine with that. And take the pressure off our backs? We good. We good.
Gibbs Léger: As a Giants fan, I’m so conflicted because on the one hand, a win against the Eagles does nothing for us. We’re not going anywhere. And we’re just playing spoiler at that point. But I generally believe that you should play to win every single week because that’s what you do. However, does that outweigh my desire to not see the Cowboys win a division? I don’t know, Collin. This is going to be a gametime decision for me.
Seeberger: I mean.
Gibbs Léger: Listen, I’m petty. That’s how I operate with sports.
Seeberger: I mean, look, I understand that people need to feel some sympathy for the Eagles this year because it’s been a rough past six weeks or so. You could say even longer than that. But yeah, it’s kind of crazy. This is the last week of the season before the playoffs. And Super Bowl [is] going to be here before we know it.
Gibbs Léger: I know. Well, I am excited about that. And hopefully the Dolphins win so my husband is in a better mood than he was last week. Alright, that’s all we got for today. As always, take care of yourselves. If you’ve been paying attention to the news, the COVID rates are going up pretty much everywhere. So, pull out that mask, get a new one, and stay safe. And we will talk to you next week.
Gibbs Léger: “The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me Daniella Gibbs Léger and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. And Em Espey is our booking producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.