Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger. Our guest today hails from the podcasting world as well. We have one of the hosts of the “Majority 54” podcast, Ravi Gupta, with us today. He has an incredible background in politics and campaigns. So, we’re gonna get deep into the weeds on the upcoming Congress, MAGA Republican dysfunction, and 2024 messaging. But first, you know it—we’ve got to get to some news.
So, over the past few weeks, we’ve learned that President Biden’s lawyers have discovered a handful of classified documents at his home and private office. These are documents from his time as vice president that he and his lawyers have repeatedly said ended up in these places by mistake. His lawyers immediately contacted the National Archives, turned over the documents, and have been cooperating with the federal government. Of course, though, MAGA Republicans are having a field day with this. On the House side, Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy (R-CA) and his MAGA majority leaders will no doubt use this to fuel partisan investigations into President Biden based on little to no evidence. And some, like [Rep.] Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), have already started throwing around the word “impeachment” over this. Many are even calling for the FBI to search Biden’s home, just like they did Donald Trump’s last year.
Despite what you may hear in the press, I just have to set the record straight on a few things here because there’s been a ton of speculation and false equivalency drawn between these cases. These situations are vastly different—so different, in fact, they reveal stark divides between Democrats and MAGA extremists. Let’s look for a moment at what their fearless leader Donald Trump did. While still a sitting president, he knowingly took hundreds of classified documents down to his golf resort at Mar-a-Lago, which were later found after the federal government tried to get the documents back, couldn’t, and then had to bring in the FBI when every other option failed. So, what did Trump do when these documents were discovered? Did he cooperate? No. He still obstructed their return and the investigation into how they got there. In fact, I expect special prosecutor Jack Smith is right now considering whether to charge Trump with obstruction of justice, since we know he instructed a Mar-a-Lago staffer to move boxes of classified documents after receiving a subpoena last May.
The difference here is that President Biden respects the rule of law and law enforcement, while Donald Trump has been trying to skirt the legal process at every single turn. It’s like Joe Biden realizing he has a taillight out and immediately pulling over to right a mistake, versus Donald Trump fleeing the cops after they try to pull him over, getting caught going 100 miles an hour, and putting countless lives in danger. It’s not even apples and oranges. It’s like comparing apples and steak.
We should also be clear that the MAGA Republicans salivating over this on Capitol Hill have no credibility. Take House Oversight Chair Jim Comer (R-KY). When former President Trump hid classified documents this summer, Comer said the matter wasn’t a, quote, “priority” at the time, but now he’s planning to hold hearings on Biden. Here’s what I’d like to ask Comer and his MAGA buddies: If this case involving President Biden is so serious, then why wouldn’t all of Donald Trump’s absurd actions to obstruct a Department of Justice investigation and mishandle classified documents be just as serious? Wouldn’t that warrant further investigations, too, by the same logic? Look, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: MAGA Republicans don’t care about solving problems for the American people. All they care about is political retribution, holding on to power, and launching partisan investigations that won’t do anything to help the American public.
So, I applaud Merrick Garland for his quick appointment of a special counsel in this matter. And I’m encouraged to see the president’s team cooperating so thoroughly to make sure that this information is protected, that these documents end up in the right hands, and that any potential damage from their misplacement is investigated. It is night and day from the former guy, and it’s much less dramatic and much more nuanced than the media is making it out to be.
Next, I want to talk about what’s going on in California—just devastating extreme weather out there. For more than two weeks, the state has seen historic rain and flooding. All the storms have caused downed trees and power lines, more than 500 landslides. Eight million people have been under flood watch in the region. Thousands have been evacuated, and 19 people have sadly lost their lives. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with the terrible damage these natural disasters have wrought to their homes, their communities, and to the lives of their loved ones.
We should be clear: The impacts of climate change have been causing worsening storms and natural disasters like these all over the country and the world. And climate change means that extreme weather events like these storms will occur in the future with greater strength and frequency.
We need to use this moment as a clarion call for climate action. The Inflation Reduction Act passed last year by Democrats in Congress is an important first step, and it is the most significant set of climate investments in our history. It will put us on the right track to hit key emissions reduction goals, limiting the carbon we put into our atmosphere and, in turn, the damage that carbon does to our climate. But we know we can’t stop here and need to do more to tackle the real and present danger of climate change.
So, to end this on a positive note, change is on the horizon. It looks like a respite from rain for Californians is in the future. It’s supposed to get much drier across large swaths of the state beginning this week. While some things, like the lives lost, will never be recovered, hopefully some people can begin to recover their homes and businesses as the weather dries out.
If there’s anything else you’d like 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 Ravi Gupta in just a beat.
Gibbs Léger: Ravi Gupta is a host of the “Majority 54” podcast as well as a podcast called “Lost Debate.” He’s the founder of Arena, an organization that trains and supports candidates and political campaign staff. He also co-founded Second Chance Studios, a media company that exclusively employs the formerly incarcerated. He held a number of roles in former President Obama’s first campaign and first term, including assistant to David Axelrod and Susan Rice.
Ravi, thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent” today.
Ravi Gupta: Happy to be here.
Gibbs Léger: So, we’re a few weeks into the new year and the new Congress. I want to start and ask you: What are you looking forward to from this upcoming Congress? Is there anything you think this particular Congress can get done with MAGA Republicans and Kevin McCarthy in charge of the House?
Gupta: I mean, the unfortunate answer is the outlook is pretty bleak right now because of the nature of this Congress. It’s not just that Republicans took over, but that a particularly weak speaker with some pretty fringe characters in leadership have ascended on the scene. So, obviously, the starting point is—the expectations are pretty low coming in. And the good news is that the past two years have been pretty fruitful. Like, the lists of legislation that Biden, and the Democrats, and the Senate, and the House passed are tremendous—even some stuff that we don’t really talk a lot about, like the CHIPS Act for instance, the semiconductor bill. There’s just so much that Biden can take credit for, and that’s typical of presidents. That’s why we have this sort of cliche around the first 100 days, which I think has become the first 200 days or whatever. Biden has been very productive. So, he has a lot to run on. He made a lot of progress.
So, where can we look for possible areas where we can actually pass anything? Well, obviously we need to get this debt ceiling figured out. And all signs are that McCarthy is going to be very difficult to deal with on that, but my hope and expectation is we’ve got to solve that or the U.S. defaults. And so, it’s going to be a lot of pressure on McCarthy to solve that. And I think that the pressure within his caucus—this isn’t a bill to pass, but one thing I’m looking forward to is that his leadership will unravel if he really pushes too hard on the debt ceiling because he does have—I wouldn’t use the term “moderate,” but—the Nancy-Mace-style Republicans who are already getting really frustrated by the concessions that McCarthy made. I think if he pushes the U.S. to the brink of default, you could see those less-fringe characters in the GOP turn on him. So, that’s one thing I’m looking forward to.
Two is that there are these areas where the people who fashion themselves as populists in the Republican Party, like [Sen.] Josh Hawley (MO), who—I say “fashion themselves as populists,” I wouldn’t give them the credit as being populists—there’s areas where there could be some legislation that holds corporations accountable. I’m not holding my breath, but that’s where I would be putting my energy. Can we revise the copyright laws? Can we strengthen antitrust? Can we support Lina Khan in her efforts to ban noncompete agreements? These are some of the things that are less in the news, but I think, given the weird nature of Trump-y Republicans and how they at least claim that they want to stand up to corporate America, let’s see if they’re serious about that.
Gibbs Léger: So, I want to touch on something you mentioned in terms of what Biden and the Democrats did in the last two years. So, you mentioned the CHIPS and Science Act, which—you’re right—people don’t talk about that enough; the Inflation Reduction Act; infrastructure; and more. So, to your point, how do Democrats in Congress and the administration make sure that Americans receive the benefits and that they’re aware of where they came from? Because you already see a lot of folks who “voted no, are taking the dough”—Republicans, I mean. How do Democrats ensure that the American people actually feel the things that have happened in the last two years and then understand where they came from?
Gupta: Yeah, I think part of it is sequencing. There’s very little that Biden can do now to impact what voters remember when they go to the ballot box. So, some of it is just gearing up to have the arsenal to tell the right story when we do have to close as we get to the elections and really testing out messages and all that. He’s doing the right things, though. He’s traveling the country. For instance, when the CHIPS Act was signed, he did the whole big thing in Arizona in opening the new Taiwan Semiconductor plant. And he’s taking credit for what he needs to take credit for, but it’s complicated, because if you were to tally up all the things that people say Biden should talk about, obviously, it’s a list of over 100 things. He needs to talk more about Roe and Dobbs, and he needs to talk more about Afghanistan. He needs to talk more about inflation, and he needs to talk more about this, this, this, and this. And they’re all really sound points, and at the end, you’re like, well, he’s got such a limited amount of time. And then he’s now got to talk about record keeping.
So, my sense is: Do the local events. Make it real for people. Point to the actual building down the street. When [Rep.] Elise Stefanik (R-NY) or whoever starts taking credit for something that they didn’t vote for or whatever, poke fun at them as is done, and then have Ron Klain make the call over to whichever entity controls spending and be like, alright, just be ready to make that point and call out her hypocrisy. A lot of that is just more what the Democratic machinery should be doing than Biden himself, given the limited bandwidth he has to make a case to the American people. But I think I would say we need to stitch all this together into a story. Because that’s how people will remember it, as not any one thing, but can you situate what Biden is doing in a larger context? And if I were Biden’s team, I would be starting to play around with, well, we’re the team of adults, the kind of people who are solving problems and making government work, whereas my opponents are the nihilists, the people who want to burn things down and can’t even get their act together to pick a speaker or to honor the full faith and credit of the U.S. government and its treasury. They’re toddlers and we’re the adults making the hard decisions and solving one problem at a time. And I think that could be powerful, and it’s in part what Biden was elected on. It was that people were saying, “Alright, let’s get an adult in the room.” And I think that could be a sober case to the American people.
Gibbs Léger: So, you basically answered my next question, which was about how Democrats and Biden need to draw the clear comparison between what they’re doing versus the chaos that’s happening over on the Republican side. But I also want to talk about what the chaos agents are doing around these investigations. Specifically, these Republican wild goose chases over Hunter Biden’s emails, for example, and possible impeachment. Do you think—I know why they’re doing that for their base. I get it—but their base doesn’t make up the majority of the electorate. But do you think this will hurt them politically, especially—not just members of Congress, of the House who may be in gerrymandered districts, but—folks up for Senate, for example?
Gupta: Yeah, it’s amazing to me in looking at the committee assignments—to talk about something just super technical—but Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, being named to the Homeland Security Committee, or [Rep. Paul] Gosar (R-AZ) on the National Resources Committee, who’s a climate denier. It’s just laughable. There was this narrative out there that it was McCarthy with the moderates, and he was going up against the fringe. I mean, there was fringe on both sides of that equation. People forget that Marjorie Taylor Greene was with him every step of the way.
So, I think that it’s going to be like Benghazi on steroids. You know, I used to work for Susan Rice, and the Benghazi stuff was just such a joke. But what we learned from that is it can have lasting effects, like it prevented her from becoming secretary of state. And the residue of that, combined with a whole bunch of other things that made Hillary Clinton’s candidacy more difficult and may have helped elect Trump. So, I take these investigations seriously. And the Hunter Biden stuff is such a mess. And one thing we know for sure is that there’s not going to be a smoking gun—unless there’s something I’m just totally missing about the story—that’s going to lead back to Joe Biden. I think what’s going to happen is they’re going to keep expanding out, expanding out, and expanding out and hope they can catch something unrelated to Hunter. These things just keep expanding out, and they’re going to investigate everything they possibly can. And I think what Democrats need to do is lawyer up. Biden needs to lawyer up, and he needs to fight every misuse of power that the Republicans inevitably will partake in and hope that he can run out the clock and that we win back the House. That’s what he probably will do. And there isn’t that much time. Two years is a pretty short period of time, especially since a lot of the presidential campaign is gonna happen, the House is gonna have to be in electoral mode. So, they do have to prioritize, and there are a lot of things they’re claiming Biden has done. And they also want to throw [Dr. Anthony] Fauci in jail, and all this kind of stuff. You can only investigate so many things.
Gibbs Léger: Right, exactly. It’s like, which ridiculous witch hunt are you going to prioritize? Personally, I hope they do—I don’t hope they go after Fauci, but I hope they call him, and he skewers them like we know that he can do with his smarts.
Gupta: I also think it’s a misreading of the American people, by the way. I think the American people are over that theater around the pandemic. I’m just not sure who’s persuaded by that anymore.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, I totally agree with that, in the way that it feels like people have sort of moved on from the pandemic, even though we’re still in one. I think you’re right about the theater around that as well. I want to talk about 2024 since you did bring it up. And obviously it’s a presidential race that’s happening, but there’s a lot of really important races happening in Congress, particularly for the Senate. So, I was curious if you’re seeing any early organizing and campaign action happening on that side, and what kind of messages have you seen from Democratic hopefuls? What do you think will resonate with the American public as 2024 approaches, with the understanding that it’s two years away, but that’s also not very far and the presidential is going to start picking up in a couple of months anyway?
Gupta: Well, I think at a macro level, there are certain reasons to be alarmed and then certain reasons to be incredibly optimistic. So, I think on the alarm front, Biden’s still a fairly unpopular president. We just have to acknowledge that. He also will be older than anybody who’s ever successfully run for president before, and Americans care about that stuff. And I think we’ve got to take that seriously. It’s not the end of the story, but it’s just something that he and we as people who support him need to make sure that we don’t just skirt past that conversation with the American people and that we show that he’s vigorous and competent and can do the job. I think that’s going to be a critical conversation, and I think one that, if mishandled, we will come to regret.
I think on the positive side of things, though, there’s this sense, this narrative out there that Democrats are in disarray, always. But that’s the opposite of what’s happening now. [Rep.] Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) consistently got all the votes from his caucus. Biden, they’re sniping at him from the left at times and sometimes from the center depending on what he’s trying to do. The immigration stuff from last week is a good example of it, where people who disagree with them on the left are gonna call them out and all that. But people are generally falling behind. You don’t hear too much chatter of primary challenges to him or anything like that. The Democrats are pretty unified. And that’s across the board, to the institutions that support Democratic candidates, like the legacy institutions like the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and stuff like that, but the new institutions like Courier News[room] and Good Information, and all these new PACs that have come about. There is more discipline across the board in Democratic ranks than I’ve ever seen. So, that’s huge. And I think Hakeem’s ascendance is major, because—we could talk forever about how [Rep. Nancy] Pelosi’s (D-CA) perceived and all this kind of stuff, but she certainly had her baggage given how long she’d served in leadership, and Hakeem is a new face who has an opportunity to, I think, present a fresh narrative about the Democratic Party even as we have a very established figure in the White House.
So, I think that’s all good, and at the same time as all that’s happening, you have Republicans turning on each other. Both this McCarthy vote is a huge example of that, but then you have the looming primary where [Gov. Ron] DeSantis (R-FL) and Trump were fighting, almost in some cases explicitly— like Trump calling out DeSantis and DeSantis’ forces fighting back. And behind the scenes, you have the Daily Wire-type publications and the National Reviews closing ranks behind DeSantis. And then the [Stephen] Bannon-type institutions closing ranks behind Trump. And that fight is going to weaken whoever comes out of it. Never mind [Gov.] Kristi Noem (R-SD) and some of these other figures who are coming up behind, who are now criticizing DeSantis. So, that infighting could be very helpful to Democrats—if it’s a true primary. If Trump basically steps on the scene and runs away with it, that’s not great for Democrats. But even if he wins the primary, but if there’s a major battle between him and DeSantis, where DeSantis really goes at it with him, that’s great for Democrats. So, I’m optimistic that they’re gonna have to go through a gauntlet primary. And that could help us if we handle it right.
Gibbs Léger: So, I like to end our interviews on a positive note. So, I want to ask: When things look politically bleak, as they often do these days, what gives you hope—broadly speaking, but particularly about our democratic process, if you will? And how do you translate that hope to your audience when you’re reporting on politics and the news that just feels so doom and gloom?
Gupta: Yes. Well, I have a lot of reasons for hope. This midterm election’s results, although not perfect, were better than most people expected—certainly better than I expected, better than a president and a party in a similar situation has done in a very long time, probably since [George W.] Bush in 2002 after 9/11. And we didn’t have a 9/11, we had January 6. I think January 6—and we had Dobbs, and you put these things together—the American people, we knew Dobbs was gonna have a big effect, but I think there was this debate around whether January 6 truly was going to move people at the ballot box, and I was incredibly moved by the fact that people—it wasn’t a ton, but it was enough to make a difference. There were split-ticket voters who were like, “You know what, I may be conservative, but I believe in our democracy, and I just can’t vote for an election denier for secretary of state.” In critical races, our secretary of state candidates did so well. We didn’t win them all, but we won most of them that we needed to win. And that’s a hugely positive trend, and it was really important for voters to send that message.
And then if you combine that with what’s happening globally: [former Brazilian President Jair] Bolsonaro losing, you have [Prime Minister] Xi [Jinping] in trouble in China, you have the Iranian people standing up to their regime. None of these are open and shut, like obviously Brazil is a good example of where they had their own January 6 shortly after that. So, the story is never over. The “big bad” always appears again. But I feel good about what happened last year, and I feel good about our opportunities ahead. We have to seize them, but I do think we have a stronger hand than I thought we would have in the sort of darkest days of 2021.
Gibbs Léger: Alright, I will take that, and I second that. And you know, it’s going to be a really, really interesting next couple of years. And I look forward to following along just like you will be.
Gibbs Léger: And talking about it.
Gupta: Well, thank you for having me.
Gibbs Léger: Well, Ravi, thank you so much for joining us. Take care.
Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. Before we go, two quick things: One, you know I had to talk about the New York football Giants, right? Our improbable season is continuing after “Danny Dimes” pulled out an upset win over the Minnesota Vikings. I just want to say publicly that I take back every bad thing that I’ve ever said about Daniel Jones either on this podcast or on Twitter. Danny, if you’re listening—and I’m sure you are—I’m sorry, OK? What you needed was good coaching—clearly—and a healthy team around you. Even if we don’t beat the Eagles this week, which is probably not going to happen because they’re really good, I’m super proud of you and everything that this team has accomplished—so thanks.
The last thing I want to talk about is Prince Harry. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that he just released his memoir called Spare—excellent title. The old colloquialism is that the princess or queen’s job is to produce an heir and a spare—so horrible. So Harry, being the second born of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, was known as the spare. This book, I mean, the tea spilled with each chapter, the nuggets of dysfunction. Listen, “The Crown” may not be a documentary, but they certainly got a lot of stuff right, I’m just gonna say. If you are like me and you are mildly obsessed or very obsessed with the royal family for whatever reason—I really can’t explain why I am, I guess I just like gossip and mess—I highly recommend getting the audiobook, because he narrates it himself. So, it just feels like Prince Harry is telling me a story as I listen to it, a very sad and dysfunctional story as I work my way through it. It’s really interesting, and it’s given me some new sympathies for Prince Harry. You can say what you want about the monarchy—whether it should be abolished or whatever. I have lots of complicated thoughts about that, seeing as how half of my family is from a Commonwealth country in the Caribbean. Prince Harry didn’t ask to be born into the monarchy. He just was. So, I cut him a whole lot of slack, given all the trauma he’s faced, given his mother’s death. But also, he didn’t ask to be put in this situation. He just was. That’s my quick take about that.
I hope you all are having a good 2023 so far. I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves. We’re in a quad-demic now. There’s COVID, flu, RSV, and a mystery virus that a bunch of my friends are getting. Look, if you’re going to be in public, wear a mask. Alright? That’s the best way to protect yourself and to keep you and your family safe, which is all that we hope for you all. So, take care, 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, and Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.