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tv   Sen. Durbin on the Senate Democratic Agenda  CSPAN  February 5, 2019 1:07pm-2:01pm EST

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and architecture that pervade the senate space and offers information about the senate's rich history. to order your high quality paper back quality of "the senate" for $19.95 plus shipping visit c-span.or dwfment slash senate book. >> senator particular durbin talked about the senate democratic agenda through 2020. and the recent government shutdown. he spoke at georgetown university institute of politics and public service. >> thank you for coming to this event. georgetown university is committed to standards promoting speech and expression that foster the exchange of ideas and opinions. while it is recognized not everyone may sure the same views as the speaker, it is expected that everyone in attendance at this event respect the right of the
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speaker and the organizing student group to share their perspective by not causing a disruption to the event's activities. at the conclusion of the event, there will be a question and answer session during which you may ask questions and engage in dialogue. please be sure to phrase your comments in the form of a question. in the meantime, in the -- in the interest of time we ask each student be concise and ask only one question. thank you very much. [applause] >> good evening, everyone. my name is juan martinez and i am a junior in the school of foreign service, studying politics and arabic. i am a residents of la casa latina and student body president here at georgetown. i would first like to thank the institute of politics and public service and other policy for putting it together this event.
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i would like to thank senator durbin for spending this evening with us. senator durbin is a democrat from springfield, and the 47th u.s. senator from the state of illinois. he serves as a democratic whip, the second highest ranking position among senate democrats and has been elected by his democratic colleagues every two years since 2005. he sits on the senate judiciary appropriations and rules committees. he is the ranking member of the judiciary committee subcommittee on immigration and the appropriate committee's defense subcommittee. he is one of my personal heroes. a as a dreamer and a daca recipient, i appreciate all the work the senator has done for my community. in 2001, he was inspired by the story of an undocumented teenager from illinois, who was at risk of deportation to brazil. after understanding the difficult situation in which she found herself, senator
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dushyib proposed the dream act. he created a path to citizenship for immigrants who came here as children and lived without authorization ever since. since then, he has been an advocate of our community, going so far as to routinely share the stories of dozens and dozens of dreamers on the floor of congress. among which, my own story can be found. it is due to the senator's work that i can probably call myself a dreamer today without fearing that i will be reduced to a criminal. moderating tonight's event is the center's executive director. before launching the institute in 2015, he spent two decades as one of the top strategists in the democratic party. most recently, as director and chief spokesman of the democratic national committee. to follow along on social media, please follow the #durbinatgu.
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stay connected through the @gupolitics charges. thank you, senator durbin, i'll turn it over to mo. [applause] mr. elleithee: thank you for your leadership and the warm welcome. i assure you my name has butchered far worse over the years. elcome back to the hill top. senator durbin: i actually know what that means. >>we are thrilled to have you back here on campus, senator. the conversation tonight is branded as the senate democratic agenda and i want to get into what senate democrats have in store. i want to take a step back and o globally for a second. last year, you are across the pond at oxford giving a speech on the state of american politics and the rise of uthoritarianism.
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talking about how it is something we are seeing across the globe. i am wondering if maybe you could set the stage by telling us a little bit of your thoughts on what are the dynamics that are leading to this rise of authoritarianism globally. sen. durbin: let me say first it is good to be back. my path to georgetown university and the school of foreign service is nothing short of bizarre. transferring from st. lucia university to come out to a city i never visited, to a campus i had never been at, and didn't know anyone who attended. somehow, i got here and somehow they accepted me. it was my good fortune and your good fortune, too, if you're a part of this great university. i would not be where i'm sitting today if it were not for a georgetown education and some struggles i had trying to understand things which were totally foreign to me. coirs, that's why i was in
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the school of foreign service. to understand things like that. said -- i remember a jesuit priest i sat down with and he said a degree in foreign service is good in almost everything. coirs, that's why i the it is a terrific education. there is only one thing you shouldn't do, go to law school. so naturally, i applied to law school and it turns out the ombination of law school and foreign service prepared me for what i do for a living. i couldn't think of a better background for what i have done with my life in congress in the house and senate. mo asked about speech i gave at the oxford union. they were kind enough to ask me to speak and i asked my wife to join me on the trip over there, never having been to oxford university. we did some research ahead of time and found out they invite a person every year to come and speak and the list included
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princes, kings, prime ministers, mahatma gandhi, einstein, mother teresa, stephen hawking, on and on, and i was getting pretty full of myself, thinking this kid from east st. louis and georgetown was going to speak to the oxford union when she happened upon another fact which i mentioned when i got there. i told them as humbled as i i was to be invited to the oxford union, i did notice that last year's speaker was anthony scaramucci. you may remember him. his career as communications director for donald trump lasted six days. six days and they invited him to speak. so i'm sure his perspective on public service was unique, but i was asked to follow him. that humbled me. let's step back to the question. the substance of the question. what is going on in the world? in the last 30 years, we have
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seen the growth of democracy in so many parts of the world, why are we now seeing the growth of authoritarianism in some of the established democracies of europe, for example, or turkey, or you name it? it is hard to put your finger on, other than if you have the good fortune to have sat down with madeleine albright, who wrote a book on the subject. called "fascism." if you read that book, the history of fascism in our country and in the world, you -- she lived a big part of it, you understand that there are always elements there that are moving toward authoritarian responses to problems of the day. we are going through that period right now. what are those problems that have led people to this point? it is pretty easy to catalog. i will tell you the economic ones first, because they are the easiest to understand. ehrenreich said,
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why am i not making as much as y parents? what's wrong with this? secondly, why are the politicians spending all the time yelling at one another instead of solving the problems that face this world and my generation. finally, the unfairness of the world. the system doesn't seem fair to many people. it is stacked against them. that kind of frustration leads them to look for simple answers. some come up with challenging answers, such as may be democracy doesn't work and maybe we need a simpler solution. they be we need someone to help make these decisions who has power and authority. go back to the origins of the second world war and you will see those figures emerging in italy, germany, and other places. i think it is always slightly below the surface in this
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world. there are lots of paths to it, but the authoritarian answer is what people turn to in frustration. that's kind of a round about answer to where you're going. but i bet you have another question. mr. elleithee: i do. i want to pick up on this. in your oxford union speech -- i will read a couple sentences --you said, one writer apt will i described the appeal of donald trump to many americans. they may not have agreed with or known his position on many issues. on some matters, they may have disagreed. but they voted for him because they believe he would, quote, shake things up. as one writer put it, he he was their own personal molotov cocktail aimed at a system they believe is stacked against them. he talked about why people believe it is stacked against them. as we begin transition -- as we begin to transition to the main theme of the night, that's the senate democratic agenda, i'm curious your thoughts on why do
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people feel that the system is rigged against them? sen. durbin: it is interesting. we tend to -- this is part of the curriculum of the school of foreign service -- is match up politics with economics. we can give some good economic answers here. as of 1970, if you chart the -- charted the growth of income and productivity in america, they ran parallel. as workers were more productive, making more profits for those they worked for, they got a higher paycheck. in 1970, it started dividing. now, the growth in wages is not keeping up with productivity. how frustrating would that be if you are putting in good hours at work, maybe with new technology, and you are pretty good at it and making $1000 -- ,000 widgets instead of 500, and you know the people in the front office are doing quite well and nothing is happening to your paycheck. that is what leads people to the frustration of deciding,
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that's it, i need change. one of the premier agents of change in 2008 was a fellow named barack obama. if you remember. i remember quite well. he was preaching change and people were buying in. it is time for change in this country. then came the obama administration, which i am proud of what they achieved, but a lot of people said at the end, is that it? is that as good as it gets? eight years of obama and my life is still a mess. along comes donald trump and he says no i have real change. i will make america great again. about 25% of those who voted for obama turned around and voted for donald trump. what? how in the world did they do that? they believe that he came in with the molotov cocktail, not with strong medicine, but he was going to blow the place up. i still have people -- a guy comes up in the airport
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at o'hare just last week and says i need to talk to you. he said, what have you got against trump? i said, how much time do we have? mr. elleithee: i've got a flight to catch. sen. durbin: he says, he is not a politician and he's crude. he does things that infuriate me, but he is changing things, he is challenging china, he has thrown out nafta. he is a real change agent. i thought, that is how you turn out to be a trump voter. you looking for that kind of dynamic coming out of the trump administration. there is one thing i want to add, because i prefaced it by saying politics and economics run in parallel. i want to add something else we should never overlook. there is a fellow, a pollster here in washington, i have given him a lot of money for my campaigns because i think he's the best. he went for the exit poll in
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2016 to ask voters why did you do this? why did you cast your vote? he went through all the obvious questions, economic questions, then he came to the last question. this was the one that puzzled him, as he described his findings to us. still, i think it drives us beyond the economic issue into something that is much more challenging. he question he asked was, do you believe that improving the opportunities for women, minorities, lgbtq people of different sexual orientation is good for america or not? people voted for trump said no. people who voted for hillary clinton said yes. he said, there is no way to square this. this is not a matter of
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compromising what a minimum wage increase looks like. this gets down to cultural fundamentals about this country and the future and if you look at the map of support for president trump, you find it in downstate illinois where i'm from. rural, small-town areas, which were part of a cultural value set that believes some of this social change, which is an important part of the democratic party, is threatening to them. not just in terms of religion or even culture, but sometimes economics. the liberation of women, the liberation of african americans in the workplace, becomes competition. for their job. they are not happy about that, because their job is not producing what they want anyway. hen we look at what led to trump, i think there was an economic agenda that were personalities involved, but do
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not ignore the cultural agenda. i still think it is at the heart of our political differences. mr. elleithee: i want to ask one more question that is systemic, then get into what you are doing on the hill. you referenced this earlier about how around the world there are people beginning to question democracy. authoritarianism can then swoop in. you talked in your speech about those who wonder if democracy is even equipped to solve the crises of our time. it got me to thinking about a couple of data points. you talked about 35% of american workers who said they would give up their right to vote in elections for the rest of their life in exchange for a 10% increase in pay. sen. durbin: it is an incredible statistic. mr. elleithee: there was a ecent survey of young people who were asked about which they felt is the more important norm -- the right to protect free speech or the right to fight
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against hate speech? for the first time since the question was asked, young people said by the narrowest of margins, the right to protect against hate speech was more important than the right to protect free speech. there is a growing number of people in the democratic party who are openly questioning whether capitalism can solve our problems. if it is working the way it should be. there are large groups of americans who question the role of the free press and even how we cast our vote. there are fundamental democratic norms we are now debating. things that you and i have taken for granted our whole lives. it raises the question, are we at an inflection point where we are and should be questioning these norms and seeing if they need to be changed? sen. durbin:sen. durbin: i think definitely, yes. if you look at the trump message has been, you can't trust the feeda a. fake news. you can't trust courts and judges. they don't understand how the world works. and the list goes on.
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of all a the institutions which are really central to democracy. why did the washington post spent a bunch of money at the two-minute warning of the game yesterday to talk about democracy dies in darkness? wow, of all a the super bowl ads i have ever seen, that was one of the more serious ads going to some fundamental questions about america watching this football game. as to whether or not we can trust the media and whether there role in our future is critically important, which i think it is. i think most people believe it is. people are asking these questions because they think the system is rigged and not working for them. what evidence could they possibly have? how about taking a look at how we finance our political campaigns. does that look like a grassroots democratic effort or does it look like a bidding war by special interests to see which candidate they can put in office? if you're on the outside looking in, it looks at a bidding war.
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the average person is losing. they are skeptical of the process they are supposed to be part of with their votes and as a result, it puts in place someone who will literally make a difference that is good for them and their family. that skepticism has been built by a number of things. i think when you look at the way we finance campaigns, that's at the heart of it. mr. elleithee: given everything we've had talked about -- we -- the economic factors, the cultural factors, the questioning of our fundamental democratic norms, tomorrow the president will give the state of the union address, which is typically the time a a president lays out his or her agenda for the next year. their vision of what america should look like. i am wondering what senate democrats who have lost a few seats this last cycle -- what do senate democrats -- what is your answer to addressing these questions?
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what are you offering the american people and how are you approaching it? senator durbin: first, let me go to the cultural issue. that is one i want to take head-on. we can't back off who we are as democrats when it comes to equality and opportunity. we can't sell our soul to win an election. we have got to basically -- as we did during the civil rights movement and other times during history -- confront this head on. to work on educating people who feel frightened by the woman getting an opportunity for a job she never had before in previous generations. the african-american, and the immigrant. that is part of this debate, too. the fallback position historically around the world, if things are going on it's because of those people, for god's sake. what are he they doing in our country? they don't speak our language. they go to some building and worship something that doesn't sound like anything i've ever
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heard of and i can't stand their food. they want to go to school with our kids? that has been going on a long time. my mother was an immigrant and i'm sure when she came down in baltimore in 1911 carried by her mom at age two, there were people saying, not more of those people. so this fallback position of being anti-women's opportunity, ti-striking down racism, anti-immigrant and all this, first stop for the democratic party, we don't compromise on that. that's who we're and that's what we believe in. from my point of view, it's part of the reason why i spend the time i do in public life. if i didn't think that this party that i belong to and a the people who support me in this party were moving us forward in those fields, then i would be selling insurance in chicago. the other part i'll mention in
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terms of this is we have to come up with a a mention that resonates with people on an economic level. i'm not dismissing economics. i'm just telling you i think culture is a part of it as well. equal part of it. on the economic side, guess what we discovered in the last election campaign? two words -- pre-existing condition. we discovered that those words were killer words when it came to the republican position on the affordable care act. because there is hardly a person alive that doesn't know someone with a a pre-existing condition. they are usually in their family. and a the notion that they would be tossed into a marketplace, an unfore --unforgiving marketplace, that was the issue we stuck through thick or thin. we were mocked because it worked. it was more than just an economic issue, it was an issue of justice and fairness. democrats can't leave that. we shouldn't leave that. we ought to stick with the affordable care act because health insurance and our health is critically important to every single person. we're ought to be dealing as
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well with improving the wages of american workers, got ideas on that, minimum wage is a start, but only a start. we have to be talking as well about education and opportunities. i just think it is scandalous the kind of tuition and debt that students run into. i can't imagine this anymore. and i hope that each of you have found some way around it, but if you haven't, it's going to make some decisions in life for you. as to what you can do next and where you can go. all of this, i think, blends together into a message which is positive on the economic front and on the cultural front. mr. ellethere: let me ask you a process related question. a lot of the conversation right now is framed as the president versus the new democratic majority in the house. so what are senate democrats' role in this national conversation? senator durbin: first, the conversation about whether
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nancy pelosi was up for the job, i haven't heard a lot about it lately. and the reason is that she is definitely up for the job. she's an extraordinary person. she went to trinity here in washington, d.c. her husband, paul, georgetown. and on the board of the trutsees, i -- trustees, i believe, for the university. her father was the mayor of baltimore. d'alesandro was a a family name. she grew up in a political scene. and i was in the house of representatives when she was first elected from san francisco. and came in, and waited her time impatiently to move up within the ranks. she's an extraordinary person and exceptional woman. one of our best leaders, political leaders. she is total aly self-sacrificing. taking back-to-back red eye flights is not uncommon for nancy pelosi. i have to be home for my family, i got to be back in washington for the fundraiser.
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back home for this. i think how does she do this? but she does. and so at this point she is leading a house of representatives where we have this majority, praise the lord, and we have managed to bring a lot of very fascinating people. what i like about the cast of new characters among the democratic caucus in the house is the diversity and variety. i mean, we've got them all. we have everything. start to finish. i could go through the long litany. that diversity to me sends a a message out that this democratic party is open for business no matter what you look like. what your background is. what your personal or religious beliefs might be. we're open to sit down and talk and make you part of who we're. she has them organized now for the time being. it's still early. she has them organized in confronting the president on a shutdown and on speaking to the issues you that brought many of them to office.
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mo asked what's the senate role? unfortunately, we're in a 53-47 senate, but we live in a senate where 60 votes are needed for most important and controversial things. ultimately the republicans need seven of ours to make things work and they do their darnedest to find them. so far, thanks to schumer a's leadership, we have not had anyish -- schumer's leadership, we have not had any issues where we lost our majority standing together. it may come. i know as a whip it may come. we're cellulosic ethanol lid in stopping the 60 votes -- we're solid in stopping when it comes to 60 moats. they have been able to move judicial candidates, supreme court justices through so quickly. mr. ellethee: one of the big issues, all of it is taking police against the backdrop of an emerging presidential race. one of the issues starting to emerge in that race on the
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democratic side is the notion of medicare for all. and how do we move forward on health care? i'm wondering where senate democrats are on that? senator durbin: the right question, mo. last week they did polling and found out that 54% or 56% of americans say i will never vote for trump ever. i will vote for whoever is running against him. i'll never vote for him. another 34% said i'll never vote for anybody other than trump. 54-34. remember those numbers. roughly. we asked the american people, what do you think of medicare for all? oh, what a gift from god that would be. medicare for everybody? we know medicare works. it's popular. it's the kind of thing a a lot of people wait from date they turn 65 to be eligible for it for fear they are going to lose their life savings because of an illness in their family.
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it's a system that is there. it's reliable for 50-plus years it's been there. so they say, almost at 70% they say, this is a great idea. medicare for all. next question -- are you prepared to give up your health insurance today for this experiment to move to medicare? whoa, slow down here. are you talking about weather i can go to the doctor that i like in my hometown and the hospital which i think is the best one in my city? i can can do that now. i don't like this health insurance plan, but i can do that now. if you're going to change it, senator, how is it going to work? you go from 70% down to 35% who start saying a little nervous about this whole transition. which is our challenge. that's the challenge of the politicians. the challenge is first to convince them that we have some form of the hypocratic oath. first do no harm. so if you're going to change the system to wherever you're headed, medicare, whatever it
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is, you have to make sure that in the process people feel that they are not being hurt. they are not being forced into decisions about their medical care that they don't want to make and don't want to get caught up in. we have a problem when we passed the affordable care act we said if you like your health insurance plan you can keep it. whoops, turns out that wasn't true. it turns out that the marketplace was going to change those plans regularly whether we liked them or not. and they would move you from one place to another. so the first thing we have to do is convince people as we move forward a model which has universal and affordable health care that we're not going to hurt them and their family in their medical care choices. the second thing we need is third party validation. we need people who will stand up and say medicare for all is a good idea. and who would do that? well, for those of you from chicago, i know a few are, the chicago medical society is the largest organization of doctors in the chicagoland region. they took a poll last year, year before, and over 70% of
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them were for medicare for all. single payer. over 70% of the doctors. there is a good start for third party validation. when we went through the affordable care act, do you know who turned out to be the most credible medical care providers in america? nurses. people trust nurses. even more than doctors. certainly more than politicians. because when somebody's sick in the hospital, it's the nurse, nurse, the doctor left, he's not feeling well, could you take care of him? people trust them. bringing the nurses along in this conversation is important as well. third, we have to be patient. you can't change a massive system like we have with 60% of the people getting their health insurance through their private employers to a system that is all government run overnight. it just won't work well. and you have to be careful you do it in a fashion that people find is credible. so many i for health care for all? do i think it is a right? absolutely. do i believe medicare for all is a worthy goal?
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yes, i do. i want to add to you, find a transition where you keep people's confidence. let me give you one since i'm just tossing some ideas out. what the house is proposing is medicare eligibility at age 50 on a voluntary basis. you can decide at age 50 if you want to buy something that looks like a medicare protection, medicare advantage plan protection, and you'll pay the premium, make sure you are covered can. it's your choice. you're not forced into it. so if you are nervous about making the change, you make that decision. whether it's right for you or not. i think some kind of transition like that, that proves up medicare's viability for people under the age of 65 is an important first step. . mr. ellethee: i want to touch on a couple of issues. there is no question that we're incredibly polarized in our politics right now. and this town is very polarized. and there may be no bigger example of that in recent months than the issue of
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immigration and how it led to a government shutdown. we're now on the precipice of potentially another shut down next week? hopefully, you can tell us that will not happen, but we can be there again and it could be over again the way the debate is being framed now. my question is, how do we avoid that? how do we avoid a shutdown over the immigration issue, and is there more broadly a place for compromise and common ground on immigration? senator durbin: the only way to avoid another shutdown is it -- if republican senators will join democratic senators and say we're not going to go through this again. i think we're close to that. i think there are enough of guys who are just fed up with it. we need 60. 47 -- we need 13 of that. at a high watermark, we had nine. before the last shutdown was lifted. i think it will be hard as heck for the president to keep his ranks solid among senate
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republicans if he tries to go for another shutdown. i got my fingers crossed that that will avoid the possibility. with votes in the senate and house, we can fund the government, maybe even over his veto. takes 67 in the senate for that. maybe even over his veto if it reaches that point. the question is, what did the shutdown teach us? it taught us we ought to do away with shutdowns once and for all. the breaking point i saw on the 35th day, i believe this, the breaking point was when they announced that they were going to slow down air operations on the east coast. heard it? all of us did. wait a minute -- what is that about? this is what it is about -- among the 800,000 employees were air traffic controllers. air traffic controllers in the united states work 10-hour shifts. think about that. looking at those screens with your headphones on and you are in communication with these
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pilots, trying to make sure there is a suitable interval between them that they are landing and taking off safely. imagine doing that 10 hours a day. imagine doing that six days week. that is how our air traffic controllers work. six days a week, 10 hours a day. now imagine doing this and wondering, how am i going to make this mortgage payment? i have not had a paycheck and 35 days? what they said to me was we're going to slow things down to keep them safe. we not going to shut down anything. just slow than that, and you have to understand, senator, that it has reached a point we have to do this. one controller i met in st. louis, she told me one of her fellow employees was not getting a paycheck, was driving a long distance for his job. he needed gas for his car and was selling plasma to do it. elling his plaza to do it. -- plasma to do it.
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i mean, to think he had reached that point. could that have any effect on him as an air traffic controller looking at that screen for 10 hours? i think that is what finally broke the dam and where the president had to back up. there are lots of other theories. the super bowl was one of the theories. senator isakson from georgia said we can't get ready for the super bowl if we're shutting down the government. whatever the reasons are, i think the sentiment for going back to a government shut down s lower than ever. and i hope we never return to it. mr. elleithee: on issue of immigration from is there a way to find common ground? senator durbin: there is, but i do not know if we can find common ground with his president. i think the american people are looking for solutions. i think there are certain things that they would accept as a premise for the debate, as juan mentioned earlier, i have been at this for a while. here's what i think they are looking for. they want all the politicians in the conversation to accept the premise that we need border security in america. i think so. we cannot have an open border. there were people who want to
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come to our country than we can absorb in a reasonable and thoughtful way. secondly,they want to make sure that bad people who want to come to the country are stopped. we use all the resources we have to stop them from coming in. i will sign up for that. if you're in the country and undocumented and you are a bad person, sorry, it is on acceptable. once you get past those premises, the third piece of this is you say to people, now, do you accept the fact that our immigration system is broken? uh-huh. been broken for a long time? yes. should we do a comprehensive fix? yes. we took the time to do that with senator mccain and myself and a few others, our gang of eight back a few years ago, produced a bill that had 14 republican votes on the floor. was never taken up on the house. i think there's room for compromise onboarder security and immigration once we believe people are coming to this with good will. currently some of the
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statements made by the president during his campaign leave many people in the community where he weather he will ever reach an agreement, and i am one of them. mr. elleithee: a lot of attention is paid to all a the different ways washington isn't working well. we have talked about some of that tonight. let's flip the script and talk about an example of where it did work well. and pretty groundbreaking legislation that was passed by both houses and signed by the president, the first step act. criminal justice reform. i'm curious for your thoughts on why, why that issue, why hat now, how is it able we are -- how is it we were able to find common ground on that? senator durbin: you will not hear many politicians start by comment on this. that me tell you about the worst vote i ever cast as a member covers. it was about 25 years ago, and we were told there was a new narcotic on the street. it is called crack cocaine. it was a form of cocaine that was dirt cheap, cost five bucks.
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highly addictive and very disruptive to the individual, but certainly to pregnant women. it had a terrible impact on the fetus but the woman may carry. we got into a debate about how to stop this damn thing, and the thing is you should never touch it or you will pay a heavier price than we ever imagined. so we passed a measure in the house and the senate which says the sentencing of powdered cocaine versus crack cocaine would be changed. the penalty for crack cocaine would be 100 to one over powdered cocaine -- 100 to one. that little speck of crack cocaine in your hand would be treated like 100 times that amount in sentencing for powdered cocaine crimes. well, it turned out to be one of the worst decisions we ever made. let me tell you what happened.
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as a result of that, we started arresting people right and left, primarily african-americans, for the sale of powdered -- of crack cocaine and sentencing them to long and longer sentences. and god forbid they hit the three strikes you're out. get caught three times selling t. they could go away for life. life in prison for selling which you you could hold in the palm of your hand being caught the third time. we filled the prisons. 700% increase, mostly african-americans. guess what happened to the war on drugs? it got worse. there were more drugs on the street. cocaine prices were going down instead of up. it did not work. it was a complete failure. i remembered that and thought, you voted for that. at the same time, this is a piece of history which is important in congress, and some of you may have read about it, at the same time this debate was going on there was a
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superstar basketball player at the university of maryland named len bias. he was destined for the nba. len bias overdosed and died during the course of this debate. it had nothing to do with crack cocaine, but we got to move fast. we did. 100 to 1, 25 years passed, and the results i mentioned earlier. i went to the senate and thought, that was a big mistake. how do we undo this mistake? i introduced a fair sentencing act 10 years ago, saying that if you have been convicted on a 100 to one ratio, you can appeal your sentence on an individual basis. we passed it. the fellow i had to work with was jeff sessions. he was opposing it. we agreed it would not be 100 to one, it would be 18 to one, but in my business, you take what you can. we duesing it by 82-1, wyche it.
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-- reducing it by 8 -1, take it. and we passed it. then i thought we got to take the next that not only to make sure those who are sentenced under the old standard had their chance to get out, but also to end mandatory minimums. it used to be in the courtroom a judge's hands were tied. this pent -- penalty goes with this crime, no questions asked. they were terrible penalties. they went all the way from minimum of five years up to life in prison. introduced the first step act. my ally was mike lee he. mike lee of utah. go figure. he is the most serve serve senator in the united states senate. but he had been a u.s. attorney and had been forced to put a guy in prison for 20 years plus and he thought it was unfair, just unfair, so he joined me. we put in the bill, ran into opposition from sessions again, and then chuck grassley. chuck grassley was destined to be chairman of the senate judiciary committee. i am thinking, i cannot get this bill through without
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grassley? i said, chuck, you hate this bill. he said i hate this bill. would you sit down and have your staff talk to my staff to see if there's anything we can agree on? sure, i will do that. we worked for a year, all of a sudden became the grassley-durbin bill. he liked it. and then came jared kushner who comes to town. five minutes after you meet him, he is likely to tell you the story of his father who spent over a year in federal prison and how he'd come back and said i want to change the way we treat prisoners. he wanted a prison reform bill. he wanted a sentencing reform bill. we eventually convinced him he wouldn't get his unless he joined us. so he did. we put together an incredible coalition, democrats and republicans. i do not think you will find another bill in my lifetime that had to support of the fraternal order of police, the criminal prosecutors
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association, and the aclu. they did. we got it done. the president came out for it, signed at december 22. people are being released every day across america because of the first step act. now we are working on the second step. mr. elleithee: i am glad we are ending the conversation on an optimistic note about what we can get done in washington. i have more questions, but let's get to the good and smart questions from the students in the audience. jenny is in the back holding a microphone. raise your hand. she will bring it to you. when you stand up, tell us who you are, where you're from, where you are here in georgetown, and ask a question. >> thanks so much for being here. i'm a sophomore in college, computer science. i am from maryland. nigh question is back to foreign pol -- my question is back to foreign policy. there was a twitter exchange a a few weeks ago between you and
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congressman ro khanna about the situation in venezuela where you expressed support for opposition to maduro's regime and the support for his opposition. and ro khanna expressed the sentiment that is held by many on the more progressive side of the democratic party that the u.s. shouldn't be in the business of intervening in latin america, period. could you comment on that and why it just about this division of the democratic party in general. senator durbin: thanks. i'm glad you asked that part. ast year my staffer said i i think we should go to caracas and i think would give you a visa. there is a long story about why. but they did. so we ended with these is going to caracas in venezuela in april of last year. first stop, meet maduro, the president of venezuela. we sat down with him and his wife, always by his side, and we talked about things. i do not speak spanish.
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i studied french, but do not ask me to say much in french. but when you come to the irport in caracas, the first thing you see is this big colored portrait of chavez. -- i will mess it up. it says, aqui, no se habla mal de chavez. does that sound like spanish? and i took it to mean, here we do not speak badly of chavez. that's what you're greeted with at the airport. maduro is like the heir to chavez. you know all the controversy associated with his life and politics. maduro takes over. he was a member of the political organization. he drove a bus in caracas and now he's president. i met with him and said to him, if you do not have an election that is credible, people are not going to accept the
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results. so you just cannot keep putting your opponents in jail and removing them from the ballot. a fellow named leopoldo, once the leader of the opposition party there, had been in house arrest for over year so he could not be on the ballot. every time maduro would see a credible challenger he would treat him harshly. i said if you do that, you will not have recognition of the results. no one will accept the results. i didn't convince him. i spent the rest of my time there doing two things -- first trying to absorb in matter of two or three days what had happened to that country. it is ghastly. children are fainting in schools is of malnutrition. major diseases are returning. with a vengeance. i went to a hospital in caracas where they said, we have nothing. we need antibiotics. we need cancer drugs. we have nothing.
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it is a horrible situation from start to finish. people are also suffering from malnutrition, not just children, but obviously children. only a third of the country is eating three meals a day. the average weight of the country was going down each year. and there is an evacuation of anybody who is able to go to get up and go. so much corruption going on. they had more generals than they could shake a stick at, but every one of them had their own private corruption scandal. i sat down with five members of the national assembly. the national assembly had an election and ended up electing an anti-maduro majority. owe said we're not recognizing them under the constitution. i said that with five of them, one woman, four men. we had dinner in an a upstairs darkened room over a restaurant. they picked it because they did not want to be seen together with me, and we talked for a while. i will never forget one
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point of the evening one of them said, senator, if you come back here in 2019, out of the five of us, two will be in prison, two will be exiled, and one will have disappeared. that is what happens. one person sitting at the table and i struggle to pronounce his name -- guaido is the man who stepped up 10 days ago and said i want to be the president. i have been elected president of the national assembly and i want a free and credible election. that is why i want to be president. you see the demonstrations taking place in the street. how is this working in terms of american politics? i think some people are little confused. who is backing maduro? putin, the chinese, the syrians, the iranians, the cubans, the bolivians, and the nicaraguans.
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that is primarily the support. who is backing the other? united states, canada, the united kingdom, european parliament, the organization of american states, virtually every country in central and south america right and left is backing this man who is calling for a new election in his country. i think what happened with -- ro khanna and others, they took a look and said, wait a minute, trump is for this fellow, and the cubans are for maduro. we're sticking with the cubans. historically i have been on that side. i thought president obama was right in trying to open up cuba, but i think it was a quick and not well thought out reaction. i think many of them are now having second thoughts as they looked at what has happened. i do not know if this man will survive. he is 35, a and whether he can make it without being arrested.
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when they tried a coup to overtake chavez, i have forgotten the year, it took four months and chavez was restored. even generals who came out against him. it is not an easy task, but i hope he wins in terms of an lection. >> hello, i am a junior here in the school of foreign service, with a concentration on immigration. originally from mexico. i grew up in austin. senator durbin: how is my spanish? was it close? > it worked. you have done a lot of work around immigration. however, it has come to my attention that your campaign from around 2007 to 2018 have taken money from pacs and
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groups -- senator durbin: which groups? >> n.g.o., privates prison corporations, detention centers. where my father was detained in an immigration detention center a couple years ago. i am wondering how you can continue to be championing immigration as an issue however at the same time taking money from these political roups? sen. durbin: thank you for the question. i don't doubt what you said is true, except that as a premise, i had no knowledge of that. it may be hard to believe that someone could give you $1000, i don't know the amount, and you don't know what, expect when you are running campaigns that spend millions and have thousands of contributors. ou try to keep up. the obvious people who will not vet as they say in the business, but in terms of screening every contribution, no. there are certain categories i
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don't accept money from. this one if you found evidence of it, i'm not karling with you. doesn't change the way i think or vote. i think using private corporations for detention centers is a mistake. i think what we are seeing with them is in human treatment of people. we need to bring this to an end. that's the way i vote, that's the way i feel. they may have written me a check but it doesn't change the way i feel or my position on the issue. we are going through this period now debating whether or not there is an immigration crisis on our southern border. interestingly enough, when we had our intelligence community make a presentation to congress two weeks ago, not one of them identified the southern border as a security issue for the united states. >> we're going to leave the last few minutes of this discussion, you can can watch this and and all of our grams online at the u.s. house of representatives is about to gavel back in. and a reminder the president will be delivering his state of
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the union speech tonight to a joint session of congress at 9:00 p.m. eastern. our coverage starts at 8:00. take you live now to the floor of the house. the speaker pro tempore: the house will be in order. the prayer will be offered by our chaplain, father conroy. chaplain conroy: let us pray. loving god, thank you for giving us another day. the people's house prepares to welcome the president of the united states this day, and other governmental, judicial, and military leadership of our nation. the world watches as america's great experiment in civilian self-government is in high relief. may all who populate these hallways this day be possessed of good will and a sheared commitment to guarantee the freedoms and responsibilities inspired by the soaring


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