Former Sen. Doug Jones on Justice and the January 6 Investigation
Part of a Series
This week, former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) joins Daniella to discuss justice in the United States—from the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, to the ongoing investigation of the January 6 insurrection, to his recent work as the Senate “sherpa” for the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Daniella also goes in-depth on abortion rights and what comes next if Roe is overturned.
Learn more about the podcast here.
Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger. We are excited to have [former] Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) back on the pod with us today, fresh off the heels of his stint in the White House helping guide the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. We’ll be discussing legislative paths to protect abortion rights, the progress of the January 6 committee, including the upcoming public hearings, and of course, his work with KBJ.
But first, let’s talk about abortion. What a time for me to go away on vacation, people. If you were like me last week and away, or somehow haven’t caught up on the news as of yet, let me give you a quick recap. Last week, Politico obtained a draft majority Supreme Court decision written by [Associate] Justice Samuel Alito on the highly anticipated Mississippi abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The draft decision, which the Supreme Court confirmed was real, would overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion rights in the hands of the states.
So, what does this mean? Well, I can tell you right now: It’s not some far-off looming storm cloud. The draft decision is a real and immediate threat to women’s health and safety, to our economy, and to our freedom as Americans. 13 states have what are called “trigger laws” on the books right now, which means that in states from Michigan to Mississippi, abortion will be illegal just 30 days after Roe is overturned, which could happen in the next several weeks. Now, while I want to emphasize that abortion nationwide is still legal at the moment, I highly recommend you look up your state’s laws so you and your loved ones are prepared. While abortions will still be legal in many states, rest assured these extreme MAGA Republican legislators are chomping at the bit to pass restrictive bans wherever they can, including making it illegal to cross state lines to obtain an abortion.
I will never understand why MAGA Republicans feel it’s within their rights and responsibilities to control people’s bodies like this, especially when it’s one of their most politically unpopular stances. An ABC News and Washington Post poll from last week found that 7 in 10 Americans think the decision about whether or not someone can have an abortion should be left up to them and their doctor. But despite the overwhelming opinions of their constituents, MAGA Republicans in red states continue to push through some of the cruelest, most archaic legislation I have seen, making no exceptions for rape, incest, or life-threatening health complications.
And let’s be clear: Rolling back abortion rights will not affect everyone equally. Here’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who spoke on this at a CAP event last week, a mere 48 hours after the decision leaked.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, audio clip from a CAP event: We all have to center who’s going to really pay the price for this: not well-to-do women. No, who this falls on are the people who are least able to carry the burden. So, it will fall on Black women who will be told once again how their bodies must be controlled by others. It will fall on poor women who will be told “This is all that’s available to you.” It will fall on girls who have been molested. It will fall on mamas who are already working two jobs trying to support the children they have. It will be families turned upside down. And all of this—all of this—is because of an extremist court.
Gibbs Léger: But as heartbreaking and terrifying as this all is, it’s not shocking. MAGA Republicans have been loud and proud about their desire to overturn Roe for decades. They’ve spent years packing the Supreme Court with right-wing extremists preparing for this moment. Remember how they blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland and then rushed [Associate Justice] Amy Coney Barrett through at record speed? They knew what they were doing the whole time: putting together a force of extremist MAGA Republicans who are chipping away at women’s bodily autonomy and countless other human rights many of us take for granted.
Because Roe is just the beginning. The Dobbs decision, as written in the draft, paves the way for the right-wing extremist court to dismantle rights such as access to contraception, gay marriage and intimacy, and interracial marriage. Yes, you heard me correctly. If you haven’t already, go back and listen to our episode with NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray a few weeks back. She broke this down for us.
Professor Melissa Murray, audio clip from a previous episode of “The Tent”: Everything is on the table, all of these rights that I think we really take for granted that are the scaffolding of our intimate lives, our private lives. They are very much signaling they’re on the table. And what was interesting to me about Judge Jackson’s hearings is that many of the senators, in questioning her, emphasized this juxtaposition of unenumerated rights and text-based rights, which they equated with religious liberty and gun rights, like text-based rights deserve primacy and can be prioritized, whereas unenumerated rights—because they are implicit in the Constitution, but not explicit in its text—they don’t deserve any deference or respect and can be reconsidered and, indeed, overruled. And, you know, we had Sen. [Marsha] Blackburn (R) from Tennessee suggesting that Griswold v. Connecticut, the contraception case, can and should be overruled. We had Sen. Cornyn (R), the senior senator from Texas, saying that Obergefell v. Hodges, decided in 2015, should be reconsidered and overruled because it’s not rightly decided, because it’s rooted in an unenumerated right to marry. So yes, if you think that this is going to end with abortion, you are deluding yourselves, and you’re in for a really rude awakening, because everything is on the table.
Gibbs Léger: If this Dobbs decision is any indication, MAGA Republicans will not stop until they’ve stripped away abortion rights, enacted a national ban on abortion—which they’ve already publicly announced they’re looking into—and launched a total assault on many of the personal liberties guaranteed under our Constitution. Ironic for the party that claims to be so enamored with the Constitution and limited government, huh? They also don’t care that revisiting 50-year-old settled precedent undermines the legitimacy of the Supreme Court and the strength of its decisions.
So, we have a big fight ahead of us. And I know this moment feels really scary for a lot of people, as it should. But we have to take this moment to organize and mobilize. We need leaders who will fight for us, who will pass the laws we need to protect our rights from extremists in courts and legislatures across the country. We need our current local, state, and federal legislators to begin to safeguard our personal autonomy and decision-making right now. And if they don’t, well let’s make sure that come November, they’re reminded that the majority of Americans see abortion for what it truly is: not a political bargaining chip, but a personal medical decision, and a constitutionally protected right.
If there’s anything else you’d like for us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod. And please let us know what you think of the show. You can rate and review us wherever you’re streaming from, and we really appreciate your feedback. Stick around for our interview with Sen. Doug Jones in just a beat.
Gibbs Léger: Sen. Doug Jones served as a U.S. senator from Alabama from 2018 to 2021. He’s a celebrated prosecutor who brought long overdue justice to the victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. In 2017, he won the first Democratic Senate seat in Alabama in 25 years. He passed more than two dozen bipartisan bills into law in his three years on Capitol Hill. Recently, Sen. Jones spent several months helping guide the successful Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. He is also a distinguished senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, working on racial justice and equity, voting rights, and law enforcement reform.
Sen. Jones, thanks so much for joining us again on “The Tent.”
Sen. Doug Jones: Oh, it is always a pleasure to be with you guys, appreciate it very much.
Gibbs Léger: Thank you. So, we’re gonna dive into all things January 6 in just a moment, but first, you know, I think the leak of Justice Alito’s draft decision on Dobbs, and the potential that, in the next month, we could see Roe v. Wade overturned is top of mind for a lot of our listeners right now. We spent some time speaking at the top of the episode about the decision and its implications. But as a very effective former legislator, I want to ask you: What comes next? You know, we’re of course speaking on the day that the Senate is voting on a bill to codify Roe v. Wade that, by the time this airs, will have likely failed. How do you think we can best protect abortion rights and other unenumerated rights like gay marriage in the wake of this potential decision?
Sen. Jones: Vote—get out and organize and vote. We are in this position because we let our guard down, and we did not get out and vote in critical races. We’ve lost too many over the last 20 years. And that’s the only way I see a path forward, is organizing at the local level. Because what comes next, in my view, is going to be somewhat chaos. It is going to filter down to the local level, the state level. You’re going to see red states that are likely to shore up, and the Democrats and progressives are going to try to organize to get some things changed, like in Alabama. But in those states—traditional blue states—you’re going to see the right organizing a lot and getting ready to try to move into this. So, this is all going to filter down, I believe. Unfortunately, it does not appear that we will get federal legislation. So, it’s going to filter down to the local level, and I think people have to be prepared for that and get out there, organize, and vote.
Gibbs Léger: Right, well that answered the second part of my question, which was, you know: How do you think this decision will impact the upcoming midterm races this fall?
Sen. Jones: Well, it could have a huge impact. The thing that I think that people have to remember, though, as we’re trying to move forward: This truly is an assault on women and women’s rights. There is no question about that. But I think Democrats sometimes have a tendency to overplay their hand, and they need to make sure they go where people are. Not everyone in America is as far progressive as a lot of Democrats would like to think that they are, but they do want to see Roe v. Wade intact. They don’t want to see it overturned—that and [Planned Parenthood v.] Casey. But we have to kind of understand and know that not everybody is on the same page with what exactly that means. And I think if Democrats can play to trying to make sure that Roe and Casey are codified, and not take too much and not go too many steps too far, then I think that there’s a really good chance that you can bring over a lot of people who are just all of a sudden waking up to the concern that something that they thought would always be there is no longer there.
And I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about: Two years ago, after George Floyd’s death, there was a lot of effort, a lot of momentum in the country, to do law enforcement reform. But I think Democrats overplayed their hand a little bit, didn’t try to get bills on the floor that they could talk about and debate, whether it’s [Sen.] Tim Scott’s (R-SC) bill or the one that I was a part of, which was [Sen.] Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) and [Vice President] Kamala Harris’ bill. And they got to a point—they were very good bills that Cory and Kamala did, that I was a co-sponsor—but they didn’t want to see anything else on the floor. And here we are two years later, we don’t have any law enforcement reform. I think we have to go where people are. And I hope Democrats will do that. If we do that, I think that’s gonna be a huge issue in the midterms.
Gibbs Léger: I want to pivot a little bit and talk about the ongoing January 6 investigation. To start, can you share your thoughts on what we’ve learned so far from the committee about what happened that day?
Sen. Jones: Well, we’ve learned that there was an incredible effort to try to undermine the 2020 election, an incredible effort to overturn the election—some of which we have seen that folks were looking at from a legal perspective, trying to find evidence of fraud—perfectly legitimate. I think anybody would say if there was evidence of fraud, that it should have been put out there and questioned. And what we now know is that there was none of that. So, what we’ve also seen are these crazy theories from different people—high-up people, including some members of Congress that were buying into these crazy theories—to literally try to overturn a legitimate election, one that there was no fraud, trying to undermine the will of the people. That is a frightening prospect.
And so, I think the January 6 committee has done a really great job of getting that information out there efficiently. I think the next step is obviously some public hearings. And the more they get out there, the more that we see that this was not just an insurrection, this was not just the “Proud Boys” and others breaking into the Capitol and doing violence to try to stop the peaceful transition of power. This was an effort that started before January 6 to try to undermine the entire election process and institutions of government. And I think they’re getting to the bottom of it. And I think these public hearings are going to be very important going forward. We’re also seeing, by the way, how certain leaders in Congress, who were just appalled and felt like that [former] President [Donald] Trump was so engaged in this and that he had crossed the line, how they have completely backtracked now—what they said at the time versus what they’re saying now. It’s really a stunning revelation of what we’re seeing.
Gibbs Léger: And one central feature of this process has been a lack of Republican cooperation. You know, from the MAGA lawmakers refusing to acknowledge even the need for an investigation, to Republican representatives pulling out of committee participation, to certain key figures failing to cooperate with probes and subpoenas. Do you think this lack of cooperation actually helps the committee’s case? You know, like, what impact does it have on the investigation overall?
Sen. Jones: Well, it’s clearly allowed the investigation to move more efficiently. You don’t have any obstructionists there that are trying to chase rabbits down empty rabbit holes. And so, it’s allowed the committee to move efficiently. They’ve all been on basically the same page. And the message that they’ve gotten is that look, we need to find out what happened. We need to get to the bottom of this and we need to put the facts out for the American people. And it’s unfortunate that given the insurrection that we saw, given the violence that we saw, given that now the planning that we were leading up there, that we don’t have any bipartisan support on this, except for the few couple of Republicans that are on there. That’s very unfortunate, because this is an American issue. This is about democracy. This is not about Republicans or Democrats. But now, as we see more and more coming out about what was said at the time—the text messages, the emails, statements being made at the time—I guess you can understand why, that they didn’t want to share that spotlight because it is not a pretty picture.
Gibbs Léger: So, let’s talk a little bit more about these public hearings that are coming up, I believe in June. You know, do you expect that the public hearings will change the conversation around January 6? You know, like you said, it’s more than just an insurrection that happened.
Sen. Jones: You know, I hope they will. It’s going to be hard to say. I think the committee—this is just Doug Jones’ view, this is not necessarily the view of so many—but it is my view that the committee needs to be very careful. They need to make this public hearing about democracy, and the attack on democracy, and the attempt to overturn an election. There is going to be a tendency, both at the committee and in the media, to make this all about Donald Trump. And if this is just simply the focus about Donald Trump and any malfeasance that may have occurred by him, then you’re going to tune out close to half the country. They’re immediately going to go to their corners and just tune out the committee and the committee’s hearings.
If, however, this is about democracy, if this is about saving this country, about the electoral process and making sure that we have peaceful transitions of power going forward, I think they can make a big difference. I think we have seen with some of the Ukraine issues that when you start talking about democracy, and you start talking about where we are as a country and the institutions of government, people tend to look at that and they are concerned. But when you start putting the personalities involved, that’s when people go to their political corners. So, I think they’ve got to walk a fine line. And it’s going to be really difficult to do, because clearly the former president was engaged in so many activities. He’s kind of front and center on this. So, they’re gonna have to be very careful.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, I believe that it’s a careful Kabuki dance that they’re going to have to do. So, we like to end our interviews on a positive note whenever possible. So, speaking of courts and politics, you know, I want to talk about the role that you played with soon-to-be Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and her successful confirmation process through the Senate. For folks who don’t know, we—I believe we call that term—you were her “sherpa.” Can you tell our listeners a little more like about that? And, you know, in particular, I’d love to hear from you like a) what the experience was like, but b) you know, why you think her seat on the bench is so important?
Sen. Jones: Well, it was a phenomenal experience. I got a call, right within about a day after the official announcement that [Associate] Justice [Stephen] Breyer was resigning, to help guide [Associate] Justice—or Judge—Jackson through the confirmation process. Obviously, I am not long out of the Senate. I’ve got friends on both sides of the aisle and know a lot of the people up there. And it was really—initially for me—it was helping the president and White House Counsel vet the shortlist of potential nominees. Ultimately, this was the president’s call. We had several meetings with the president to go over the pros and cons of everyone. And there were phenomenal folks on that list, by the way, just absolutely incredible folks, but at the end of the day, this was the president’s call. He made a wonderful call in Judge Jackson.
And at that point, my role was to help White House Counsel prep her for both her hearings as well as her Senate meetings. We focused a lot on getting meetings with senators on the Judiciary Committee initially, but then we started branching out. Ultimately, she met with 97 United States senators, most of whom I had served with, so there were issues that we could talk about, we knew where people were going to be most interested. And it was a just an incredible time for me to be back on the Hill with my friends and colleagues, but to be there with her. I give a lot of credit to Dana Remus, White House Counsel, and how she put this team together in the White House, but you had Louisa Terrell and Reema Dodin, who all put this—you know, did the legislative part of this. You had Paige Herwig that was working to try to help prep the judge. We would go literally from Capitol Hill prep to confirmation hearing prep, and it was pretty intense. This moved pretty quickly.
But I will tell you it was just—for me was just—an incredible experience to get to know her, to be able to help this historic nomination. And one of the things that I saw, and I’m getting asked all this time: What was the most surprising thing? I knew that this was going to be historic. I knew it was going to be an inspirational nomination. What I think surprised me was: I didn’t know Judge Jackson ahead of time. And she became such an inspirational figure. She—she, herself, an incredible jurist—became an inspirational figure to so many millions of people across this country. Her grace, her poise, her intellect: It was just an just an experience I will always cherish.
Gibbs Léger: Well, you can’t see me, but I am just grinning from ear to ear hearing you talk about this process, giving us a little bit of an insider’s view into it, you know, as we all sat and watched this process unfold in front of us. So, congratulations, and thank you for all of your work there. Sen. Jones, it’s always great to talk to you. Thank you so much for coming on today.
Sen. Jones: It’s my pleasure, Daniella, anytime. I love to do this. And thanks to CAP for all that CAP is doing.
Gibbs Léger: Thank you. Thanks again for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. I got a couple things I want to talk about as we close this episode out. Let’s start from heavy to less heavy. First, we’ve got to talk about a really grim milestone that we’ve hit: 1 million COVID deaths in this country. And despite what it may feel like or seem like, people are still dying every day of COVID. So, this is just a reminder again, that if you’re not boosted, you should get boosted. If you’re eligible for a second booster, please get it. If you know you’re going to be around people who are immunocompromised or young kids who still can’t get vaccinated, or their parents, maybe mask up. Let’s remember that there’s still a large vulnerable population among us who aren’t protected against this deadly disease.
Moving into the slightly less heavy thing: Elon Musk. So, this person said that he’s going to reinstate Trump on Twitter if the deal goes through. Elon Musk is a bad man. I just don’t know any other way how to say it. He’s just not a good person. And his reasonings for putting Trump back on Twitter just don’t hold water with me. Trump frequently, you know, traffics in disinformation. And let’s not forget the role that he played in inciting the January 6 riot. I think that is more than enough of a reason to keep him off Twitter. And it’s been so less of a hellscape since he’s been there. It’s still a little bit of a hellscape, but not quite so hellish. So that’s disappointing, but not surprising, because again, Elon Musk is a garbage person.
The final thing I want to talk about is—it happened a little bit ago and this is totally like frivolous—the Met Gala. Look, I love fashion. Obviously, you know my reality TV-watching habits. So, of course I’m like very interested in what’s happening at the Met Gala. I have to say, and we say this every year—by we, I mean the people who follow the Met Gala, mostly on Twitter—people just don’t follow the assignment. Like, some people do, and some people are like, “Ooh, it’s a fancy-dress party. I’m just going to put on a cocktail gown.” No! I want to see outrageous, outlandish things that go with—I think it was—a gilded age theme. Like the people who were over the top: yes, you get it. This is what we want. This is what we come to Twitter to look at—the huge, poofy, can’t-walk-in-them, many-layered dresses worn by men and women. Like, give it to me, all of it. But everybody, you know, looked very pretty, regardless of what they were wearing. And it is for a good cause. It does raise money for … of course now I’m gonna forget exactly what it raises money for. You can look it up, but it is a charitable event. But I’m always looking forward to the next one to see who actually understands the assignment and follows the assignment, versus who’s just excited to go to a fancy-dress party. Anyway, wherever you stand on the Met Gala, I hope that you are taking care of yourselves, and we will talk to you next week.
“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. Tricia Woodcome is our booking producer. And Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts
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Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.