2. Rebuilding America from the Ground Up

on the issues

With Guests:

  • Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, where she served from 1993 to 1999. Subsequently, she was appointed and confirmed an ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.
  • Rep. Katie Porter, law professor, attorney and politician serving as the U.S. Representative for California’s 45th congressional district since 2019.
Listen on:

In this Episode:

On today’s show, we focus on rebuilding America from the ground up.   What will it take?  What issues should we be concerned about, which are not making the news?  For example, despite what appear to be recent triumphs at the Supreme Court with regard to LGBTQ equality, reproductive rights and DACA, many argue those victories are thin and fragile. Beyond that, as we know, underlying challenges persist, including pay inequality between men and women; Americans living beneath the poverty line without a living wage; lack of access to affordable health care; and a warming planet.  Most painfully, our democracy is at stake—clearly evidenced by voter suppression.

Transcript:

Michele Goodwin  00:03

Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel, and tell it like it is. Now on this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show, history matters, so we examine the past as we pivot to the future. Now on today’s show, we focus on rebuilding America from the ground up.

The United States has been wracked by the coronavirus, which reveals and has also exacerbated underlying institutional and infrastructural inequalities, affecting vulnerable communities in unique and also devastating ways. For example, on Native American reservations–where access to water was already a challenge–under COVID-19, it has been horrific, with no reasonable means to follow the CDC or World Health Organization guidelines for handwashing when houses are not plumbed for water. We’ve also seen the disparate the death tolls associated with COVID, particularly among Black and Latino communities in the United States, with death rates that far exceed their populations state-by-state.

In Wisconsin, for example, although Blacks in that state account for just 6% of the population, they also account for 29% of the probable deaths. Now, this is an improvement over April data, which showed that African Americans in Wisconsin accounted for 42% of the COVID deaths in that state. Similar patterns have emerged throughout the United States among Latino communities that bear unique burdens of providing essential care in many different categories.

But it’s not just COVID-19 for which my guests today are concerned. This Supreme Court term has been a roller coaster, leaving many to wonder about the Court’s commitment to equality, inclusion and non-discrimination, despite decisions that appear to be victories for vulnerable communities.

For example, we’ve seen victories in very important areas– LGBTQ rights, DACA and even abortion rights. But on close examination, many of these victories are so thin as to be fragile. Even while it is illegal to discriminate against Americans who identify as transgender or gay in employment, the Trump Administration has rolled back protections put in place by the Obama administration. So now denying care to LGBTQ Americans is also fully in force.

Thus, despite recent triumphs in the Supreme Court, many underlying challenges persist, including pay inequality between men and women, Americans living beneath the poverty line without a living wage, lack of access to affordable health care and a warming planet. Most painfully, the awful, tumorous racial scars and cancers that persist in our society are now further evident not only by the tragic murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, but also by voter suppression.

Helping us to sort out how we rebuild America and should think about these important issues, and more, are two very special guests. Now joining me today are Congresswoman Katie Porter. She represents California’s 45th congressional district, which includes Orange County. She is an expert in business and consumer law and a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, prior to taking her congressional seat. I also have with me today Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun. She is the first African American woman to be elected to the United States Senate, where she served from 1993 to 1999. Subsequently, she was appointed and confirmed an Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. It is a pleasure to have my guests with me.

I am so pleased to have you both on the show and really honored to welcome you, Representative Porter and Ambassador Moseley Braun, to the show.

Carol Moseley Braun 03:45

My pleasure, thank you for having me.

Katie Porter 03:47

I’m delighted to be here.

Michele Goodwin 03:50

Ambassador, I want to begin with you. In 1993, as a new senator, you took on a politically charged issue which sadly, it appears, the root of which we are still dealing with. That is Confederate monuments and memorials, which serve as symbolic shrines to the Confederacy, white supremacy and racism. Ambassador, may I play a clip for you?

Carol Moseley Braun 04:17

Certainly. 

Clip of Braun speaking on the Senate floor in 1993

Carol Moseley Braun 04:19

This flag is the real flag of the Confederacy. And if there’s anybody in this chamber– indeed, anybody in this world– that has a doubt that the Confederate effort was around preserving the institution of slavery, then I am prepared– and I believe history is prepared– to dispute them to the end. There’s no question. But that battle was fought to try to preserve our nation, to keep the states from separating themselves over the issue of whether or not my ancestors could be held as property, as chattel, as objects of commerce and trade in this country. And people died. More Americans died in the Civil War than any war we’ve gone through since. People died over the proposition that, indeed, these United States stood for the proper proposition that every person was created equal without regard to race, that we were all American citizens. I’m sorry, Mrs. President [of the Senate], I will lower my voice. I am getting excited, because quite frankly, that is the very issue. The issue is whether or not Americans, such as myself, who believe in the promise of this country, who feel strongly and who are patriots in this country will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again, that at one point in this country’s history, we were human chattel. We were property; we could be traded, bought, and sold. Now, to talk about– to suggest as a matter of revisionist history, that this flag is not about slavery flies in the face of history, Madam President.

Michele Goodwin 05:52

Ambassador Moseley Braun, what was going on there?

Carol Moseley Braun 05:57

Well, there are a lot of things going on. The backstory on that floor speech was that I thought I had already won this battle in committee. I was on the Judiciary Committee. And we had killed– it [the amendment].  It started out with an amendment to a bill about an artificial sweetener, whether or not to be a renewal of the patent on the Confederate flag on behalf of the Daughters, United Daughters of the Confederacy. And when it came up– and part of my normal, just kind of due diligence over the bills– I’m looking at this bill for Olestra, which was the sweetener…and I saw the part [amendment to the bill] about the Confederate flag, I said, “Oh, this is not this is not going to happen.”

So, I went to the chairman of the committee at the time, who was Joe Biden, frankly, at the time and said to him, “This is terrible. You can’t renew this patent again. Why are you doing this? This is, you know, we have to get this out of the bill.” So, he then was actually very helpful in getting the members of the committee to side with me. I thought that the issue was done. I thought we had won on committee vote, we had killed it in committee… because the [UDC’s Confederate flag] patent been renewed like four times already just kind of automatically. And this time, I thought, you know, “You got a Black member of the United States Senate, why would I stand by just let this happen as a matter of course?”

And so I opposed it [the patent renewal] and I was able to kill it in the committee and then on the day that the speech you just broadcast happened, I was sitting in committee having yet another fight– not this time of a race, but over gender– because one of the committee members suggested that abortion was like slavery. So, I was about to have a heart attack there and I thought that I had calmed down. And my staffer came in and said, “Oh, no, Jesse Helms has just taken to the floor to revive the Confederate flag issue,” and so I had to get from my seated committee, run across campus, run over to the Capitol itself and then take on the debate that you just heard. So, it was really not a good day for me.

Michele Goodwin 07:57

Well, what was so stunning about that is– and how brave–this was your first year in the Senate. And it’s worth our listeners knowing that there were only two African Americans who served in the entire 20th century in the Senate, which in and of itself is incredibly stunning. You were so incredibly brave.

Why was this such an important issue for you, especially as others might have simply been quiet about it, right? Because there hadn’t been many women in the Senate. You were the first woman elected from Illinois. This was a time in which women couldn’t even wear pants in the Senate. So why was this such an important issue for you?

Carol Moseley Braun 08:42

Well, again…providence had put me in that place in that time to do a job. I was just doing my job. I can’t imagine someone being in that position and not standing up for the ideals that this country really was about, all people being created equal and we had one flag. It was just incomprehensible to me. So, the fact is that, that Jesse Helms and others felt otherwise and wanted to glorify a fiction about the Confederate flag, that it was about heritage and whatever and heritage and tradition are about the noble Old South, as opposed to slavery. You know, it’s just abhorrent to me and I couldn’t just stand there and stand by without raising objection. And that’s what I did. I was just doing my job.

Michele Goodwin 09:29

We’re going to listen to one more clip from that which is really important as you talk about doing your job and defending our country.

Clip of Moseley Braun speaking on the Senate floor in 1993

            Carol Moseley Braun 09:45

You’re absolutely correct. I am prepared to do whatever is necessary. I will defend this [American] flag against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I will do everything I can to see to it, that this body does not disgrace itself by giving its imprimatur to a symbol of the flag that was defeated in the Civil War between the states.

Michele Goodwin 10:01

I just get chills actually listening to that. And it’s stunning that we’re looking at–see, that’s 27 years ago– and these challenges are still with us. So, I want to ask you, what do you see in that battle for which you were successful? And also, what persists in America today?

I mean, if you look at Congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said we need to take down the Confederate monuments that are now gracing the esteemed halls of Congress and there are more monuments and statues honoring Confederates who were traitors than there are of African Americans. In fact, there are only two African American statues that happened to be in the congressional honorary hall and four in the entire congressional complex. We’ve got more Confederate monuments and memorials than we have of African Americans by almost, you know, three times as many. So, what do you see as the remaining battle in this regard?

Carol Moseley Braun 11:12

Well, I have to tell you something. I wind up being actually shocked that, these many years later, that the white supremacy has not been put to bed in sufficient ways… that this would still be controversial. It just is shocking to me. I don’t feel 27 years older, but the reality is, it has been a long time. And you would have thought that this debate would have been concluded or was over, but it really is not.

And what I think is unfortunate is that we are revisiting– or fortunate, actually– that we are revisiting this at a time when the American people seem to have made a turn on this issue and seem to be ready to say the Civil War really is over. We have moved forward as one nation under God, etcetera, and we are going to be one people. We’re not going to allow race and racism to divide us. And slavery is a dead issue. I mean, that’s the inspiration I get from watching these young people marching and protesting and saying that they’re just not going to have these symbols of the Confederacy around anymore. That’s the inspiration I get from Nancy Pelosi and the position that she’s taken on this.

The reality is that we have to come together as a nation, if we’re going to deal with all the other issues that we have. We have everything from a pandemic to address to the “Cold Cold Wars,” what I call it, the new version of the Cold War. We’ve got a lot of things going on in the world, and a lot of things touching on America and Americans today, that we cannot just continue to roll around with these issues that should have been settled over 150 years ago.

Michele Goodwin 12:48

Oh, you are so, so right about that. And in fact, we are also joined by Congresswoman Katie Porter. And in doing our research for the show, we learned that women across the country consider you a rock star– not a usual title that comes to mind for a member of Congress, especially one who’s significantly about the numbers.

So, Congresswoman Katie Porter, fandom aside– and you have fans on our show– you have also shown incredible courage and indefatigability in taking on the big banks. So, I want to know why, you know, why do this in your first term? I think about Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun taking on Confederate symbols her first year, and then there you are doing the same [taking on big issues] in your first term. So why has this been so important to you?

Katie Porter 13:46

You know, it was so interesting listening to the ambassador talk. And one of the things she said really stuck with me, which is she said, “I was doing my job.” I just had to do my job. I could not allow this injustice to stand when I had the power and the ability to speak up. And was powerful just now to hear her describe that because that is exactly how I feel about some of this. You know, if you have the power and the ability to lift up voices, to raise problems, to try to solve problems, then you also have the responsibility to do it. And so, I’ve been trying to take advantage of those opportunities and bring some of my unique perspective to Congress.

Michele Goodwin 14:32

So, here’s one of the things that many of our listeners want to know– that I’m personally intrigued by– I want to know what keeps you up at night. You know, what are the concerns, the issues, that we’re now facing as a country that has concerned you most since representing us in Washington, D.C.?

Katie Porter 14:53

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot the last month–and I have a feeling it’s going to trouble me going forward– is the way in which the pandemic has highlighted our lack of investment in education and in schools. And when I see and think about and talk to business owners and other government leaders and all the effort that we’ve put in to getting restaurants open and bars open, and yet we have done nothing to get public schools open, nothing to recognize that without those schools, we are crippling the women particularly, but parents generally in our workforce, and we are leaving kids behind.

And so, as the only single parent of young kids in Congress, this obviously falls heavily on me personally. But I am conscious of all of the single parents out there, many who don’t have flexible hours, who don’t have some of the control over their schedule, whose children are younger than mine, who may be living in neighborhoods that are not as safe as mine, and what it means in this pandemic that we have put education at the bottom of the priority pile. And that really concerns me.

Michele Goodwin 16:08

You know, and one really sees how the coronavirus has revealed and also exacerbated underlying institutional and infrastructural problems. You know, just as you were saying that it brings to mind so many families are homeless. You know the New York Times did a piece, a video montage, about homeless children during COVID while still in school, and single moms having to use up their wireless cell phone plans in order to link their kids to the internet in order for them to go to school. And so, your point is well taken.

I actually want to play a clip for you that centers on the connected–to the connected nature of that, both schooling and also housing.

Clip of Katie Porter questioning Dr. Benjamin Carson, United States Housing and Urban Development Secretary

Katie Porter 16:57

[I] also [would] like you to get back to me, if you don’t mind, to explain the disparity in REO rates. Do you know what an REO is?

Ben Carson 17:07

An Oreo?

Katie Porter 17:08

R–no, not an Oreo–an REO. REO.

Ben Carson 17:13

Yeah, real estate.

Katie Porter 17:15

What’s the O stand for?

Ben Carson 17:17

The organization.

Katie Porter 17:18

Owned. Real estate owned. That’s what happens when a property goes to foreclosure. We call it an REO.

Michele Goodwin 17:25

So, there you’re questioning the HUD Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, about does he know what an REO is. And clearly, you were not talking about milk and cookies. Can you tell us what that was all about?

Katie Porter 17:40

What was so interesting is the preparation for those questions. I spent my career before running for Congress working on consumer law issues, and had the ability– the honor–at the request of then Attorney General Kamala Harris, to help families who are facing foreclosure and help them try to save their homes by holding the banks to the promises that they made in this mortgage settlement. And so, I knew a lot about some of the problems with FHA (Federal Housing Administration) and how some of their procedures were creating blight and blighted properties, particularly in lower-income communities and communities of color. This is something I’d worked on a few years before and I thought, you know, I’m in Congress now, I’m going to get an answer. I’m going to try to solve this problem that I saw hurting people years and years and years.

And so, I wrote the questions myself on my iPhone on the way to D.C. I sent them to my staffer to get their feedback. And my staffer wrote back, “these are dope,” which I took to mean “good.” Staffers are very young. And so, I really went into it expecting him to know about this problem, maybe to have some excuses, but I was not prepared for him to simply not be able to engage in the conversation because he lacked a fundamental understanding of the basic terms. So that moment with the REO was me, as you know– we, you and I, know each other from being at UC Irvine, Michele– you back the questioning down to the level of where the student is so that you can begin a productive conversation. And that was really what I was trying to do in that moment: was get us on the same page, so that we could talk about it.

What was most disappointing wasn’t even the answers in the hearing. It was what happened afterward.

Michele Goodwin 19:30

What happened afterward, give us–

Katie Porter 19:32

Back, I had a couple of things to go do. I had to go vote. I had other meetings. I got back to my office in the middle of the afternoon. And there are boxes of Oreos sitting in our entryway and our–

Michele Goodwin 19:42

No stop, stop right there. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Congresswoman. There were boxes of Oreos?!

Katie Porter 19:48

Yes, boxes of Oreos. And, on the one hand, staffers had been buying them from around the Hill and bringing them to us as a way of saying: “We saw that, we see you, we appreciate what you’re doing.” But then there was this one box of Oreos on my desk, and it had a note from Dr. Ben Carson. He had hand-delivered to my office a package of Oreos as if this was a joke. As if people living in blighted homes and kids’ lives being put at risk from blighted homes, as if what goes on in that low income and Black and brown communities of colors’ housing, realities, is a joke. And it was fascinating. Staffers are always hungry–they ate all the cookies, except nobody would even touch the cookies from Dr. Carson. We had to throw them away.

Michele Goodwin 20:40

It is stunning and insulting; insulting not only to your intelligence and role as a member of Congress, but to the American public and those who have no other means but to live in government-subsidized housing.

You know, it reminds me of many years ago, my daughter and I had just come off of the highway driving through a blighted area in Milwaukee. And she said to me–she was only three years old at the time, she’s quite precocious. And she said, “Mommy, these people are lost.” There were a number of people who were standing in front of boarded-up homes. And I wondered what could have been on the mind of this three-year-old. So, I asked, “What do you mean?” And she said, “When people don’t have land, they’re lost.” Now, if we were to take wisdom from a three-year-old, you know, certainly what was represented in those boarded-up homes, was a sense of a social failure, a political failure, something–a cultural failure to respond to joblessness, and to layoffs. And these are some of the things that that you’re talking about.

You know, as we think about rebuilding America, how do working-class families fit in? This is a question for both of you– you know, how do single parents, single moms fit in? And I’m going to start with you first, Ambassador Moseley Braun. How do we think about rebuilding America when the backdrop is just what Congresswoman Katie Porter mentioned? And, of course, what you know through your experience in the Senate and in political life since then.

Carol Moseley Braun 22:20

Well, I think we have to, again, look at the issues in context. And the context here is that women– and particularly women who don’t have money, poor women– have always been relegated to the sidelines in American history. And so, we have–part of the story of our country has been the struggle to expand the blessings of liberty to the entire population. And that is what we– that’s our foundational belief, that this country works for everybody. It’s government, by the people, for the people and of the people. And as you define the people to mean everybody, and not just rich white men, you take in the specific experiences of women who are single, women who don’t have money, women who have children and childhood, and I call the “sandwich responsibilities” [caring] for their parents as well as their children. And so, we’ve got a whole set of populations out there that need to be addressed. And I think we need to have their concerns thrust at the forefront of our conversation in our debates.

The congresswoman did the exact right thing at prodding the HUD Secretary. How you get to be HUD Secretary and don’t know what those terms mean is a mystery to me. But it just says to me that this administration has not focused in on competence. It’s all been about loyalty and his [Donald Trump’s] friends. And that’s just not, that’s not a good thing. I mean, there’s no question that Ben Carson is a brilliant surgeon, but whether or not he has the capacity to run HUD is an open question. And frankly, if he doesn’t know the basic terms about the real estate industry and how it works, then I think it’s suspect that he does know what he’s doing in that particular job.

So, having said that, again, back to your question about poor women; the fact is that poor women have be heard. That’s why opening up representation in the Congress is so important because it expands the voices and it expands the perspectives and the policy positions and the experiences brought to bear on decision making. I mean, if decision making is only made by a narrow band of people, then small wonder that the outcomes of those decisions will benefit that narrow band of people. And that’s what’s been happening and that’s what we are looking to fix.

I think the fact that you have not had a lot of working-class women in the Congress, in House or Senate over time– I mean, you mentioned my own situation, I was the first Black woman ever to serve the United States Senate. Now, that’s not a credit to me. If anything, that’s a reflection of the fact that it took the United States that long to get around to finding a Black woman that could serve in the Senate. And I’m grateful to people of Illinois for giving me the opportunity, because it really was a tremendous opportunity to actually have, add my voice to the conversations. That’s how the Confederate flag issue came about.

And that’s how any number of issues came about. Because when your voices– when the voices of working people get heard, then you get more decisions that are more likely to address their lives and their concerns and their policy issues. And when they’re not heard, then what you have are situations such as we have faced.

Michele Goodwin 25:42

And on that note, you know, Congresswoman Katie Porter, I want to turn to you also to address that and just keeping in mind the backdrop for our listeners.

So, the gender wage gap is incredibly significant for all women when compared to men, [especially] white men, and it’s particularly acute when we’re looking at women of color. So 2018 figures that are derived from census data, we’re looking at white women making 79 cents on the dollar that white men make; Black women making 62 cents on the dollar that white men make; for Latinas, it’s 54 cents on the dollar that white men make; and for Indigenous women, 57 cents on the dollar.

And I know that you’ve been deeply concerned about working moms, working families. So, Congresswoman Katie Porter, what do you think of when you hear data like that?

Katie Porter 26:46

Well to me, it reflects the fact that these things are not occurring because of the work ethic or the abilities of any particular worker. They are structural inequities. And, when you have a structural problem that has gone on for generations and generations, you need to bring a structural solution. And so, you know, I’m very aware of women [that] are entering the workforce that they are, they are asking to be promoted, they’re working hard, they’re graduating from college, they are doing their part. But then there are these structural barriers and we see them in the– highlighted in the pandemic.

So, during the pandemic, we know that there’s been a lot of job loss. But women have disproportionately lost jobs and single mothers, even more so. So, the number of single moms with jobs is currently 22% lower than it was a year ago. Compare that to other families with children. So, these are also people who have children: a 9% decline in employment. And so, what you see is that, in part because of the fact that they are mothers as well as women, that is where a lot of these wage gaps begin and stay. And it’s a lack of investment in childcare, and the lack of childcare options.

And I think, you know, one of the things that I focus on a lot is trying to explain or highlight to men and women–but usually it’s men, because that’s who has a lot of the power in our economy at the very top–that when women and mothers and parents cannot work, when they cannot focus on their job, because they are forced to stay home–for example, with the pandemic, because there are no camps or there is no childcare, they’re risk of infection–that is a huge economic problem.

So as much as we talk, for instance, about technology being a driver of our growth in GDP, the single biggest driver of our country’s increase in GDP in the last two generations is women in the workforce and women beginning to have opportunities opened up to them to earn more. So, it’s not just a matter of individual equality and freedom– although boy, do I feel that, and will I fight for that. It is also about how we become and stay a global superpower. It’s about how we create a more stable and fair economy.

Michele Goodwin 29:19

Well, on that note, if we were to look at the data that I just shared, and to think about how that balloons over the course of 40 years, here’s what we know: which is that those pay gaps mean that over the course of 40 years for white women, they have lost over $527,000 [of pay]; for Black women, it’s nearly a million dollars– $941,000; for Latina women, it’s over $1,100,000 and, you know, we could go on from there. So, these gaps materialize in significant ways over one’s lifetime, those dramatic disparities.

Now, Congresswoman Katie Porter, I want to turn to an issue with the vote with the Heroes Act, because you’ve mentioned COVID and COVID has revealed to us, right, these incredible institutional infrastructural problems in our society. And you voted for the Heroes Act, which addresses an important slice of the problem, but I wanted to know, does it go far enough? And are there drawbacks? Can you tell us anything about it?

Katie Porter 30:32

Yeah, so the Heroes Act is unusual when you look at what Congress has done with response to COVID in that it was not a bipartisan negotiation from the beginning. And so the first bill we voted on, which a lot of people forget about, was actually probably one of the most important things we did and we should have gotten bigger if we knew what we did now, which was supplemental appropriations to try to provide more resources for public health and for testing. The Cares Act–a lot of these bills were bipartisan. They were negotiated at the time with Senator McConnell and with the White House.

The Heroes Act was different; Heroes was the House Democrats coming up with what they– kind of making, laying their stake in the ground saying, “This is the direction we need to move.” And that has pros and cons. And the con, I think, is obvious as we sit here today, which is that the Senate has not taken up the legislation. And some of the really important things that we put into the Heroes Act are not getting done. First and foremost, at the top of my list is a lack of funding for state and local governments, because that includes things like services for seniors, support for schools, parks and recreation, public health; again, all things that are top priorities for me as a mom. The flip side is there is also a need to recognize that the pandemic is an opportunity to make some investments that we have failed, decade after decade, to make. And so, there’s that part of the Heroes Act too, well, which we do not have bipartisan agreement. And so, as we sit here, you know, I voted for the Heroes Act– the state and local funding for me was paramount. I know what that means. I hear from teachers, I hear from school administrators, parents, that we need that money at the state and local levels. At the same time, the Senate’s obstinance means that as we approach school opening dates, we have not acted. There has not been the delivery of help to families, as we promised in the Heroes Act. So, I think there’s certainly more to be done.

But this is not an uncommon place for us to find ourselves right now. This particular Senate, you know, 200+ bipartisan– and I want to say that again, bipartisan– bills that the House has passed, but the Senate has refused to even vote on. And so, unfortunately, I think the Heroes Act is going to be in that category.

But will you see it having an effect as we speak? I mean, my kids go to year-round public school here in Irvine. We were told a week and a half ago school would be starting on July 15. A few days later, we were told, never mind, school is not starting. You need to find childcare for another six weeks.

And, you know, I don’t think there’s enough focus on what these kinds of decisions and realities mean to American families because, frankly, as the Ambassador said, our Congress–while it’s made so much progress since she was there, in terms of diversifying–we are woefully, woefully short of what true representational parity would look like.

Michele Goodwin 33:49

Well, that’s right. I mean, if you look at data from the World Economic Forum, the United States ranks something around 75th in the world in terms of women’s representation in the highest electoral bodies in a nation. We’re woefully behind. And we can’t be satisfied with where we are. Fortunately, in 2018, there were so many more women who were elected to Congress, but it’s still a fight. And it’s not just there [in Congress], but it’s in our courts. And this, of course, relates to everything that you and the ambassador are talking about. And as you mentioned, single moms and childcare.

You know, I was very recently having dinner–well not too recently, but a few months ago– with a law professor, his wife is a doctor, and he was sharing with me, they live in the Bay Area, and he was sharing with me that they are not having kids because they can’t afford to have kids. Now, most people would say, “Well, he’s a lawyer, she’s a doctor, how come they can’t afford to have kids?” And he said it’s childcare. They simply cannot afford childcare. So that is a significant problem in the United States, and I want to play one final clip that relates to something that you were talking about in terms of the challenges that single moms face.

Clip of Katie Porter questioning Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase CEO

Katie Porter 35:08

That’s why the American public is having trouble trusting Wells Fargo. She [single mom working at Wells Fargo] has $2,425 a month. She rents a one-bedroom apartment; she and her daughter sleep together in the same room in Irvine, California. That average one-bedroom apartment is going to be $1600. She spends $100 on utilities, take away the [$] 1700 and she has net $725. She’s like me, she has a 2008 minivan, and has gas– $400 for car expenses and gas. Net [$]325. The Department of Agriculture says a low-cost food budget– that is ramen noodles–a low food budget is $400. That leaves her $77 in the red. She has a Cricket cellphone, the cheapest cellphone she can get  for $40. She’s in the red $117 a month. She has after school childcare because the bank is open during normal business hours. That’s [$]450 a month. That takes her down to negative $567 per month. My question for you, Mr. Dimon, is how should she manage this budget shortfall while she’s working full time at your bank?

Jamie Dimon 36:12

I don’t know. I’d have to think about that.

Katie Porter 36:14

Would you recommend that she take out a JPMorgan Chase credit card and run a deficit?

Jamie Dimon 36:19

 I don’t know. I’d have to think about it.

Katie Porter 36:21

Would you recommend that she overdraft at your bank and be charged overdraft fees?

Jamie Dimon 36:27

I don’t know. I’d have to think about it.

Katie Porter 36:29

So, I know you have a lot of–

Jamie Dimon 36:31

I’d love to call her up and have a conversation about her financial affairs and see if we can be helpful.

Katie Porter 36:35

See if you can find a way for her to live on less than the minimum that I’ve described.

Michele Goodwin 36:40

Now, that was a pretty powerful questioning that you did, and I know that you’ve got to get off the line soon to do more. But you were questioning Jamie Dimon, who’s a CEO of JPMorgan. Were you satisfied with Mr. Dimon’s answer?

Katie Porter 36:58

No, I wasn’t. But I am moderately, modestly hopeful. You know, he said repeatedly, and we just heard him say, “I’d have to think about it.” There’s sort of two things to point out there. One is that he apparently hadn’t thought about it before. “How do my employees make ends meet?” Which I think is a question that every CEO in this country– of businesses large and small– needs to be asking themselves. And so, I hope he is thinking about it. He is the head of the Business Roundtable, which is the group that is the sort of trade association for our nation’s largest corporations. And he could be a powerful voice for good if he does, in fact, reflect on what it is like for American workers today in his company and so many other companies.

The other thing about just listening to that that I wanted to share with people is, you know, that moment got a lot of attention, a lot of people saw it, and a lot of my colleagues– and I’d be curious whether the Ambassador [Moseley Braun] has ever had this experience– but, a lot of my colleagues came up to me and said, “That was really [good], you know, your questioning with Jamie Dimon. How did you ever think of that question?” And I was, I have trouble responding to that. Because: How can I not be thinking each and every day about the real experiences of my constituents? I mean, the Starbucks I go to has a Chase Bank right next to it. I see those workers every day. Of course, I think about them and how they have trouble making ends meet. And, of course, my background before I got to Congress was studying families in bankruptcy, families dealing with predatory loans.

So, I think, you know, one of the things that as we talked about the need to diversify Congress, by gender, by race, the class component here is incredibly important. And I’ve passed a bill out of the house and had bipartisan support that would help get at this– it’s called the Help America Run Act. And what it would do is allow candidates for federal office to use, if they chose, campaign funds to pay for the cost of health care premiums and childcare. And under current law, you can clearly use your campaign funds to buy wine and cheese for rich donors. And yet it has been controversial to use campaign funds to pay for childcare costs and healthcare costs. But if we don’t have a rule like that, we will never have a Congress that reflects the wide range of economic circumstances that our American economy creates.

Michele Goodwin 39:34

Well, you know, it’s interesting that you should say that, and I want to be respectful of your time, but I think about just what presence you bring, and the Ambassador brought to the Senate. You know, the challenge of being able to wear pants– I think many people today would probably laugh at that say, “That wasn’t the case! Surely women could wear pants in the 1990s in the Senate.” But not–not so, right, rules having to be changed. And it’s these subtle things that actually make a huge difference.

So, before you go, I want to ask you: What silver lining do you see? What’s the hopeful point that we can point to? Because certainly, there’s a lot of rebuilding that we’re going to have to do. And we have shows lined up where we’re specifically just talking about rebuilding. But what do you see as the silver lining?

Katie Porter 40:30

I think the group of people that we elected in 2018.  You know, one of the things about us, in addition to our diversity as a group, is that most of us didn’t come from the traditional.  We didn’t work our way up the traditional methods of getting to the Senate or the House, which were really were absolute requirements, particularly if you are a woman or a person of color. We’re a group of people who, despite our diversity, came to Congress from all different walks of life as nurses, as professors, as teachers, as business owners, as national security professionals, and I think that brings a kind of, sort of directness and that sort of willingness to say, “But why do we do it that way? Like, I understand this is how we do it. But why?”

And I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had like that. And you know, often the answer is, you know, well, you’re the only–they always say, “Your circumstances are so unique, Katie,” when I say, “Well, this doesn’t work for me, as a single parent, this system of doing things. Why do we have to do it this way?” [The response back] “Well, your circumstances are so unique.” They [my circumstances] may be unique in the United States Congress, but being a single mom is so common in our country. And I’m proud of the family that I’ve built. And I don’t see it as an obstacle to overcome but as a joy to embrace, and the fact that that is used to kind of silence my questioning: Why do we do it this way? I am sure the Ambassador had similar experiences in her groundbreaking role.

But I think it’s really important that we keep asking that. And I think the fact that this class is asking those questions over and over and over again and taking on fights and giving voice to issues that have not had voice is really a cause for optimism.

Michele Goodwin 42:24

Well, on that note, I want to pivot to the Ambassador and, given your experience in local government, national leadership, and international leadership, where are we most hard hit, or where would you prioritize in rebuilding America? And then I want to ask you about silver linings too.

Carol Moseley Braun 42:45

Well, let me say this, Michele, I think that– and this kind of response, this response in part to what Congresswoman had to say– we are still in the process of perfecting this democracy. The whole idea of a democracy is a government by the people– that the government functions, get legitimacy, from input from the people who are being governed. That’s so fundamental. And it’s something that this country has struggled with since its founding. And we fought a civil war over it. We still haven’t exactly gotten there–we go forward three steps, backward two.

And so, I’m optimistic.  The silver lining for me is that people are still pushing on it and the conversation around the value of diversity has really continued and that people are beginning to see that we’re all better off if we have more voices, more experiences, more perspectives to bear on policymaking for our government than if we don’t. And so— and that’s why the value of having single moms and having people from the inner city and having people from the working class and having people from the farms and people from different walks of life involved in the Congress–that’s why it’s so important. Not just for them, it’s not a matter of elevating them. It’s a matter of bringing their perspective and bringing their voices to bear on the different policy issues that come up. And they come up unexpectedly from all kinds of places.

I mean one of the things about the pandemic that strikes me is the fact that we are still battling over federalism, which was a battle that I thought had gotten solved in some way. It was one of the things that the Civil War was about, remember, states’ rights. And so the idea that the United States government as a country would not take the leadership in providing guidance for the state, for providing a platform so the states could access PPEs and access medical equipment and access information, that the national government is not doing that borders on criminal. We’ve got, what, 160,000 Americans dead now as a result of it. It’s just, it makes no sense at all. And, frankly, if we focus in on the fact that we really do have a federal problem to deal with, this is national, you can’t separate the states out from each other on something like this. You know, we’re all one country, and this should have been solved with the Civil War. It wasn’t. So, we’re revisiting that issue. We’re revisiting the issue [of] whether or not women should be heard in the churches or should be heard and in the halls of Congress.

And I think for me and the good news here is that there are so many young people who have decided that diversity is a strength, it’s not a weakness; who’ve decided that they are prepared to fight for the kind of America that they want to be part of; that they are prepared to march in to be heard about these issues; and that we’re not going to go backwards this time, we actually are going to go forward and actually have the progress that I think we all had kind of assumed had always already happened. That it didn’t is lamentable, but it’s times like these that wake us up and remind us of our responsibilities to continue to push forward and to continue to make the case that we really have to make this democracy, right?

We have perfect our democracy, we have to continue moving in the direction of the vision of the founding, of the framers of the Constitution. You know, even if it was if it wasn’t their reality, we have to move in that direction. If we’re ever going to be comfortable and be honest when we say the Pledge of Allegiance. I mean that all– that how long we’re going to be hypocrites is the question.

Michele Goodwin 46:36

Well, it makes me think about people like Fannie Lou Hamer who helped make that vision of the Constitution alive, right. You know, it’s, it’s interesting.

So, both of you spent considerable time working on COVID. And let me just say, I am so grateful to you, Congresswoman Katie Porter for staying on [the call] just a little bit longer. We really appreciate it. So, I do want to turn to COVID. And what we’ve seen is extraordinary deaths that were avoidable. There was a pandemic team that had been established during the Obama Administration. And that pandemic team was disassembled. And that during Obama’s administration, you know, they had to deal with Ebola and Zika and other global pandemics. And that preparedness certainly made a difference in terms of Americans’ lives. And it’s very clear that there was a lack of preparation and what seems to be ongoing lack of preparation, and what this has meant on the ground has been chilling.

So for example, in Michigan, as of just a month ago, Black Americans accounted for 33% of the COVID infections and 40% of the deaths in that state, even though they only make up 14% of the population.  In South Carolina, equally, the deaths in South Carolina due to COVID– 46% of them African Americans.  In Louisiana, 53% of the COVID deaths are African Americans, though they account for only 32% of the population.  In Alabama, 44.6% of the deaths [are] African Americans though they count for only 26% of the Alabama state population. And we’ve seen similar challenges across the country involving Latinos and Latinas in a variety of spaces. We’ve seen that [high infection rates] with people who work in meatpacking industries, we’ve seen this with essential workers.

The shame is that although we call the individuals– who pick the food, and may work in these meatpacking industries, and deliver food, and serve as cashiers, and work in hospitals as orderlies and so forth– they’re essential but they’re also invisible. You seem expendable and fungible in our society.

And so, I wanted to get your opinion on this, Congresswoman, you know, you’ve articulated to your constituents in the nation that you plan to track closely the Paycheck Protection Program–the PPP is what many people have been hearing it as– for fear that there is not sufficient transparency. And I want to know, and why else are you tracking it?

Katie Porter 49:21

You know, the Paycheck Protection Program, the transparency matters for a couple of reasons. One is that all Americans deserve the confidence that the government is doing what it says it’s going to do. And as someone who represents a historically, still today, Republican area–I mean, when I got elected in 2018, I became the first Democrat to represent this patch of land in 75 years. So, I think a lot about: What is it that we as Americans have in common that we want from our government? I think one thing is we want, as the ambassador admitted, we don’t want hypocrisy. And so, if the government says this is what a program is going to do, we ought to be making sure that it, in fact, is doing that.

And there is some reason to be concerned about the PPP, the Paycheck Protection Program, the amount that banks made its fees. But the fact that the program was set up with banks as intermediaries have effects and it had disproportionately harmful effects on our smallest businesses; our micro-businesses; on places like in-home childcare, which are disproportionately again, a job that is done by single parents and people of color; landscaping companies; all of these smaller mom and pop; or solo businesses had a harder time.

So, we just got the data yesterday from Secretary Mnuchin. It took a lot of pressure to get the data and even now we don’t have everything. And so, you know, what we’re trying to do is say, “Look, all taxpayers are going to bear the cost of this relief, but did it really help every American equally? Did everybody have a fair and equal shot at getting help?” And the answers clearly, I think, “no.”  Some of what Congress did–when we went back to the PPP-we added more funding. But we also set aside a chunk of the money for our credit unions, our minority development financial institutions, our community development financial institutions. And I have heard from a lot of constituents, that they were getting nowhere with their large bank or with one of the nation’s largest lenders, but then someone connected them to a credit union or an organization and they were a smaller organization that focuses on the community and they were able to get help.

But we need that full transparency. This is the largest small business support in our country’s history; it is $650 billion. And we need to know who’s getting help, and whether that help is making a difference in achieving the goal of the program, which is to keep people employed. And that is where I think there are a lot of unanswered questions. Even if we know this person’s company got a loan, this company didn’t get a loan. And there’s a lot of, you know, highlighting in the media of who got help. And I think that’s important.

There’s this underlying question, which is: Did they keep people on the payroll? And that’s the goal of the program. That’s why it’s called the Paycheck Protection Program. It isn’t called the “Business Investment at Zero Percent Interest Program.” It’s called the Paycheck Program. And so, our workers getting their paychecks–that’s what we need that transparency for.

Michele Goodwin 49:35

It’s so important. I wish that we had more time. I wish we could just stay on for so much longer. I know you both have important business to do. But I want to thank you both, Congresswoman Katie Porter and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, for being with us on today’s show.

Now, I also want to thank our listeners for being part of this critical and insightful conversation. I thank you for tuning in. We hope that you join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is, with special guests Yamani Hernandez, Nancy Northrup, Mary Ziegler and Kathaleen Pittman, tackling issues addressing June Medical v. Russo and the future of abortion rights in the United States. It will be an episode you will not want to miss.

Now for more information on what we discussed today, please head to msmagazine.com. And for our guests–if listeners want to connect with you through social media, where might they be able to find you? Congresswoman Katie Porter?

Katie Porter 52:30

You can follow us on social at @repkatieporter [on Instagram]. Katie Porter. So, it’s at R-E-P K-A-T-I-E, P-O-R-T-E-R. At Rep. Katie Porter. (Find her @katieporteroc on Twitter)

Michele Goodwin 53:46

Thank you so much and thank you so much for being on the show. I really, really appreciate it. And also, for you, Ambassador, where might our listeners be able to find you?

Carol Moseley Braun 54:00

I hate to tell you this, but, I’m a private citizen now, so I don’t have a social media presence at all. Haha! If there’s an account with my name on it, it’s not mine.

Michele Goodwin 54:12

There you go, there you go! You earned it. But I want to thank you both for being with us today. I know it means so much to so many people, not only in the United States, but throughout the world, your leadership shines so brightly.

And so, for our listeners, if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed, and reclaiming our time are important—then be sure to visit us at Apple Podcasts. Look for us at msmagazine.com for new content and special episode updates. Rate and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. Let us know what you think about our show.

This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are your executive producers. Our producers are Maddy Pontz and Roxy Szal. Our assistant producer is Rina Wakefield and LaTiara Rashid, Zoe Larkin and Sarah Montgomery are our research assistants. The creative vision behind our work includes art design by Brandi Phipps, editing, and engineering by Will Alvarez and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.