tv Washington Journal Steve Berg CSPAN December 18, 2021 11:05am-11:53am EST
new generation." >> on this episode of booknotes+ which is available on the c-span now apps or wherever you get your podcasts. >> sunday, january 2 on in-depth allen joins us to talk about the early intellectual history of the united states. the civil war, and the reconstruction era. his book titles include " redeeming the great emancipator," "gettysburg," and "robert e. lee: a life." join with your phone calls, facebook comments, and your tweets, sunday, january 2 at noon eastern on in-depth. >> "washington journal" continues. host: we are back with steve
berg, vice president for programs and policy of the national alliance to end homelessness, and he is here to discuss homelessness here in the united states and how we can combat it. good morning. guest: thank you for having me. host: let me's -- let us start with basic information, how many people are homeless in the united states right now? guest: so, there is around half a million more between 500000 and 600,000 people on any given night who are sleeping on the streets or in homeless shelters or other programs. probably another hundreds of thousands more, an unknown number who are moving from place to place, spending a couple of nights on a friend's couch and a couple nights here or there, and then really millions more who is housing is so unstable, that they could end up homeless at any moment. host: i am glad you brought that
up because i was going to ask you to define homelessness for us in the united states. are we talking about people who are only sleeping on the street? about people who are moving from couch to couch? define what homelessness is in the united states. guest: different people have different ideas about this. everybody when they think of a homeless person includes people sleeping on the streets. there are a couple of hundred thousand people around the country who are what you would call unsheltered, who have no home to go to, no place inside to sleep, sleep in their cars or in tents. there are hundreds of thousands more sleeping in homeless shelters, and then, i think most people, i believe would think of homelessness including somebody who is moving from place to place, sleeping a few days with friends here and there. people are using the word couch surfing to talk about that, and
it is definitely part of the problem. host: has the coronavirus pandemic made homelessness worse in the united states over the last couple of years? guest: it had a couple of effects. first i would say, when coronavirus started we were very afraid that the effects on people who were homeless would be extremely severe, that i people would die, based -- that a lot of people would die, basically. there has been a lot of work done by people all over the country to keep homeless people safe. so, they have had to allow fewer people into homeless shelters in order to do social distancing, places have gotten hotel rooms that were empty because no one was traveling. and, they use those to keep homeless people safe. it has meant more people on the streets in many places because shelters cannot take as many
people or people do not want to go to the shelters because they are worried about getting coronavirus. so far, the worst kind of effects in terms of deaths and severe illnesses among homeless people have not carried out because of the great work that people have done to keep people safe. host: one of the main causes of homelessness -- what are the main causes of homelessness? guest: for me the main cause is that housing is not available to people. we treat housing as a commodity, something that you go out and pay for if you wanted. people who do not have money cannot pay for it. then, when you go to the question of like if there is not enough housing for everybody, who is it that ends up homeless and then you get to a range of different factors that are associated with homelessness. the number of people with melt -- with mental illness who are homeless are greater than the percentage of people who are not
homeless with mental illness. people who have drug abuse, who leave institutions, people who have been imprisoned and are now out and have been released, the rate of homelessness is very high. people who leave prison become homeless and very often end up going back to prison. it is associated with a lot of other of these kinds of problems. host: is homelessness greater in certain parts of the country than others? is it greater in urban areas than suburban and rural areas? guest: homelessness is everywhere, there is not a community that does not have a problem. that being said, places where housing is expensive have a lot of homelessness, that is really the main association that we can see from the data on this. you know, you think of the big cities that are really expensive, los angeles has high
rates of homelessness, new york has high rates. other expensive cities, that is where homelessness is the greatest because people cannot afford housing. host: is this an issue that affects the young, middle-aged, older americans? where along the timeline do most people face homelessness? guest: homelessness can happen to anybody, but the main effects are seen in sort of the younger people, and older people. i mean, homelessness among older people is a growing problem in the united states, something a lot of people are concerned about. homelessness among families with little kids, the year in which a person's life in which they are most likely to be homeless is age zero to one. families with little kids experience homelessness a lot. but, it can happen to anybody. host: let me remind our viewers that we can take part in this
conversation and we are voting to open up regional lines meaning that if you live in the eastern or central time zones, we want to hear from you at 202-748-8000. if you are in the mountain or pacific time zones, your number is going to be 202-748-8001. keep in mind that you can always text us at 202-748-8003. and, we are always reading on social media on twitter at c-spanwj and at facebook.com/c-span. now, because of the coronavirus pandemic we know that the federal government put up a rent moratorium earlier this year, but it has also expired. has there been an increase in people who are homeless since the last of the federal grants moratorium? guest: we have not seen that yet, part of the reason that even though the federal moratorium expired, many of the
big cities have their own either state law moratoriums or local moratoriums. so, the worst -- everyone believes a lot of people are going to get evicted when they run out, if some of the federal money that has been sent to people stops coming, for example, the bills that have passed congress already provide for families with kids, provide a monthly payment. the child tax credit, it is called. the last payment for that is december 15, a couple of days ago. if congress passes a law of renewing that that and people get another payment on the 15th of january. if that does not get passed, then january 15 payment will not come and the rent will come due the first of february and a lot of people will not be able to pay that.
the worst of the evictions have not hit us yet in the homelessness system, but we believe it is coming. caller: -- host: now the biden administration offered up policies that they say will help combat homelessness and i want to put that on the screen and have you react to it. they are talking about the house america which uses the american rescue plan funds which includes 70,000 emergency housing vouchers, 5 billion dollars in home band -- home grants and 300 $50 billion in treasury department funds to states and localities. do we see this as being enough to combat homelessness in the united states? especially as we get into the winter months. guest: this would be a very positive movement forward. is it enough to end all homelessness in the united states, probably not. it would be an excellent step at this point in dealing with this problem. as i said, the main thing that
causes homelessness is that there is not enough thousand -- housing for people to afford. by putting resources on the table so people can afford housing and targeting those to people with the worst sorts of problems or who have been homeless the long list with mental illness, combining that with health care and other kinds of services, that would have a huge positive impact. host: i asked this question but i think i already know what your answer is going to be. one of our social media followers wants to know "what percentage of people want to be homeless?" and says he knows of one himself. guest: i have worked on this issue since the sort of rise of modern mass homelessness in the early 1980's and i have met thousands of people who are homeless and i said i will -- i have met two people in that time that wanted to be homeless. they were both people who felt like if they were on the streets
helping other people that would be good for them. but the idea that people want to be homeless is a myth that was created a long time ago by politicians who did not want to be blamed for the problem, they wanted to blame someone else for the problem and the people that they chose to blame for people who were homeless who thought could not fight back. it is important for us and everyone to understand that nobody chooses to be homeless. and, anybody who thinks they do should go talk to some homeless people. you might eat one or two, you will not meet men -- very many at all. host: i brought up earlier the winter months coming up soon, it is december and -- as we are doing the show. how do the winter months affects people who are homeless in the united states? guest: it is pretty obvious that if you are living outside in a place where the climate is very cold it is extremely dangerous.
people die on the streets every year, particularly in the winter months in cold climates. a lot of communities go to great lengths to find shelters for people to come inside, and can be pretty persuasive. most people get it is dangerous it is -- that it is cold -- when it is cold. there are shelters that every that in -- that nbc every time they -- the temperatures go beyond -- below a certain basement they open up basement. in other places where the climate is bad in the winter do the same thing. that is a very important response to homelessness. host: let us let some of our viewers join in the conversation. we will start with keith from denver, colorado. caller: yes. thank you for allowing my call.
this issue really tears me apart. i have conflict and feelings about it. here in denver where i live, urban camping is a big problem. just to give you some context, much worse than in much larger cities that i have lived in like chicago and new york. but i live by the state capital, and our civic city park, a beautiful park with all of our you know state buildings surrounding, county buildings and state buildings. that park which is kind of a gateway to downtown denver was closed about two months ago because it was completely taken over by the homeless, and i mean for like a year. they finally came to the conclusion, thank god, that the
park was unsafe at any time of day or night, now imagine central park or millennial park or -- in chicago or any other major park, that is kind of nuts. i spent a lot of time talking to the homeless because they can camp in any public area due to a right to rest law. they set up camps and cannot be moved. they surround neighborhoods with these tents, but to close a park is unsafe. and when i talked to these homeless people, i had a lot of sovereign citizens and a lot of occupy people. i also learned from them that our city, we provide vouchers for them to go to motels that the city has purchased. most decline because of the high use of drugs, which they use
openly, they can use drugs openly. i also found that a vast majority of the urban campers were indeed out-of-state people who came into denver, particularly in colorado because there were liberal criminal drug laws. host: go ahead and respond, he had several questions about the urban camping going on around the united states which he says he -- are people who are homeless. guest: the first time i visited denver was 1975, and i remember getting off the bus and walking to the capitol building and just being astounded by the number of people who were living outside in 1975. this is not a new problem. there are as i said, one of the impacts of covid has been that shelters have had to depopulate and people have been afraid to go to shelters and so they end up on the streets.
there are more people on the streets. this is not good for anybody, but certainly the people who are homeless living in enchantments on the street is not good for them, it is unsafe in all kinds of different ways. the drug problems, yes, a lot of times we see in d.c. the places where homeless people are camped out is where people will come to buy drugs and use drugs because they feel like they can sort of blend in. so, we need a solution, and the solution is obviously you get people into housing. people do not want to go to shelters because of drug use, but people one offered a modest apartment -- when offered a modest apartment with very few exceptions, one or two in my whole career, will always say yes to that, and that is why we
push the idea of it is like we use the slogan housing first. get people into housing, and then deal with their other problems. and, that way the encampments and the people sleeping on the streets, that is the way to reduce that and ultimately get rid of it. it is cheaper then living people on the streets because of all these problems that are created by encampments and up with a lot of people getting arrested -- end up with people getting arrested, spending time in jail and going to hospitals, which is expensive. which is why the solution helps everybody. host: speaking of a solution we have a question from one of our social media followers about what could be a possible solution. "other countries and even -- and even cities within our own country have fought -- thoughts this problem through by just giving the homeless homes and it seems to work. why cant we just do that on the federal level?" guest: that is a good question.
we have worked for that, i have personally worked for that with the u.s. congress for many years and have been somewhat successful, but in the united states, we do not regard housing supports for lower income people as something that we are going to invest into the extent that everyone gets the help that they need. so, why cant they? it is because people has other per people have other priorities, congress has invested in this. president biden proposed in his campaign that we provide housing to everyone who needs it. we believe at the national alliance to end homelessness, we are convinced by data and research that that would be cheaper for taxpayers than leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless. we continue to work on that
every day and we hope to continue making progress. host: as a counterpoint to that, i will bring you a statement from randall of the cato institute who says "the biggest flaw in the biden plan is that it treats housing as a nationwide issue and in fact it is really only an issue on the west coast, east coast states north of virginia, florida, and a couple of interior states, namely colorado and nevada. one problem with treating it as a national issue is that it would spend money in areas where housing prices are excessive. a second problem it assumes that the causes are national such as the pandemic when in reality they are local. do you agree with his statement? guest: to some extent. i am glad that randall was up early on a saturday morning watching me. certainly there are parts of the country where the housing
affordability problem is much worse. as i said before, there are places where housing is a most in -- expensive where you see the most homelessness. but to say it is not a national problem, the places where housing affordability is bad, it is not just a couple places, it is many places where a very large percentage of the u.s. population lives and it is getting worse. you really see that now, places that use to be able to say, we can find affordable housing for people who are homeless, if we give money for a -- for the first and last months rent we can help them move in and find housing that is supportable to them are saying all of that -- all of the affordable housing has been replaced by new developments that are aimed more at people with higher incomes, so the affordability problems are spreading. and, even in the places with the lowest housing costs, those also tend to be places where incomes
are the lowest. and you see people who have a disability, a long-term disability and are on disability benefits still have a problem affording housing. so any solution needs a national solution. it is going to be different in different places, it is going to be implemented differently in different places. but that is the facts of life with housing in the united states. host: let us talk to steve from anaheim, california. good morning. caller: hello. your earlier question or your first tweet that came in that asked if homeless -- if people want to be homeless,, we had ronald reagan, who came up with that slogan.
you really need to get william bishop on this program because he is an advocate of talking about the poverty in america and how much it will cost. now, we have five people a day dying out here of homelessness. and, they have not been able to solve the problem because when they build houses or we pay taxes to build homeless shelters , it is done like the one instance i got where we gave it to some church organization who bought a motel and put like $3 billion in the hole and never got billed. and then you have llc's who are buying up land to build homeless shelters and their idea of affordable housing is $500,000. and then you talk about the homeless shelters, if you are trying to get into a homeless shelter and you are working nights you cannot get in the
shelter because you have to bennett -- be in there at 8:00 and out of there by 5:00. most of these people that are homeless do not -- do not not have jobs, they cannot come up with the money to buy houses. oregon started a program and they turned around they looked at the cost and all of the stuff they have done and they are giving people houses and it is cheaper. that is it for me. thank you. host: go ahead and respond. guest: that is right. the places that have really looked carefully at what the cost of homelessness is realize they have money to deal with this problem, because they are spending lots of money to deal with the problem badly. they are dealing with it badly and it is very expensive and they can deal with it in a way that is much more satisfactory to everyone, people who are homeless and everyone in the community by providing housing,
and many places have started to do that. but, it is -- particularly in places, portland is one example, los angeles is another example, they put money on the table, but they are so far behind in this idea of having housing that everyone in the community will be able to afford that it will take a long time to catch up. but the time to start is now, if they have not started already. host: monica from michigan. good morning. caller: good morning. i actually run a social security disability clinic and homeless shelter in a large city that i live next to, which is lansing. recently we have had issues with our agency that has just dropped all of our supportive housing programs. my disability clinic was dropped.
permanent supportive housing programs were dropped. our rapid rehousing program dropped because the agency decided they were not sustainable. that is part of the problem. once we get solutions we cannot hang onto them. host: go ahead and respond. guest: i am sorry to hear that. one thing i know, and i do not know what exactly the problem was when they say they are not sustainable. be in touch with us at the alliance because we would like to hear more about that and see if there is a way we can help. in the homeless services field right now, as in a lot of fields it is very hard to hire people or to keep people in their jobs. this is very hard work. it is emotionally draining working with people who are homeless. and, we need to have the money to pay people better, we need to work with people to be able to
get fulfillment from the job, but also to deal with the everyday stresses and strains that make it hard for a lot of people to stay in the jobs. a lot of homeless programs around the country are hiring right now, and anybody who is looking for a job that has a lot of fulfillment to it, be in touch with homeless agencies and -- in your local community because they need help. host: brian from minneapolis, minnesota. good morning. caller: hello. we have had problems here for a few years with native americans have congregated in minneapolis. the thing is, we have the money in minnesota to take care of it, $7 billion in surplus, but they need to put the people up and they need to go out there and put the people up that need it in the motel rooms because it gets subzero here and people
start dying. i think one of the problems is if they would have had -- they had bernie sanders and kamala harris had a plan at the beginning of the pandemic where all people below a certain income would get $2000 a month during the pandemic. if the country would have gotten that, except for the population centers like new york or san francisco, that would've been enough to pay for appointments or hotel rooms month by month, and that would've taken care of it because we also have an organization called macv and they put veterans in hotel rooms , and if they need support services they provide them for that, and then they get them into affordable housing. and, if we took that as a
national model, we would clean up the streets a lot. guest: yes. the models exist and they are all over. it has been since the early 1980's that homelessness has been a big problem in the u.s., and we have learned a lot since then. they were all kinds of good programs that work really well. the idea of sort of just giving people money works really well. that has been tested out in a few places, and it shows that if you give homeless people money, they use it to go in get themselves a place to live. that is the number one thing they do with it. one of the problems that we run into is so many people in the policymaking world are so afraid that somebody is going to get some money that they do not really deserved or will not spend it on the right thing, and it ends up spending a lot of money on monitoring and enforcing, and things like that.
you need to realize that homeless people are people and they just need basic needs taken care of. if you trust them to know what they need, and give them the resources they need to get it, they will go in get it. so, lots of good things to do, and we know the answers, it is just a mad -- a matter of doing at the scale that we need. host: the previous caller brought up veterans the united states, tell us about the effect on veterans and how many veterans out there are facing homelessness right now. guest: since the beginning of the sort of modern homelessness epidemic, in the 1980's, veterans have been a big part. they are overrepresented among the homeless population. nobody is exactly sure why. it might be a certain amount of it is, especially with vietnam era veterans with the trauma
that people experienced when they were in the war, same thing with people coming back from the middle east. but it is also the case that people who served in the military and never served in a war zone also have higher rates of homelessness. so, it is hard to say exactly why that is and that is definitely the case that a lot of veterans are homeless. the department -- the u.s. department of veterans affairs, the v.a. has homeless programs that are actually funded better than the general homeless programs at the department of housing and urban development. so the v.a. homeless programs have done a very good job at looking at the data, looking at the research, looking at what we know about programs to work and really design the programs in a good way. so, they have managed to reduce
the number of veterans who are homeless pretty steadily since the w bush administration, which was when i talked about the housing first approach. it was during the bush administration that the federal government got behind that based on the research and data that they were finding. it has been carried on since then. slowly but surely, the number of homeless veterans is going down and there is still a lot of work to do. we are glad to see how many people get behind that as a way and as an important thing that we need to do. host: ramona from georgia. good morning. caller: good morning. i am a senior citizen, and i was homeless. i lived in an f-150 ford truck for two weeks and i know a lot of families who lived in their cars now, and i was wondering
out of the military budget that they just approved, $700 billion, how much of that do you think they could abstract from to cure the homeless problem from the military budget? guest: there is nothing in the military budget that is going to do anything for homelessness. you know, it is interesting. we talk about veterans and homelessness before, and we have brought up during various administrations like tentative -- can the v.a. and military work together to sort of try and deal with trying to figure out why it is that when people leave the military they are more likely to be homeless, maybe have the military deal with that before people leave and nobody in the defense department has been able to figure that out yet.
the amounts of money that are necessary to address the homelessness problem, we talk about it as a lot of money and it is a lot of money based on the budget of the department of housing of housing and urban development. but, compared to the military budget it is like a drop in the bucket would be enough to end homelessness and provide housing for everyone who needs it. so that nobody became homeless anymore. host: in a report to congress, the national alliance to end homelessness said that african-americans make up 13% of the general population more than 40% of the homeless population. similarly american indians, alaska natives, hawaiian natives or pacific islanders or those who have two or more races makeup eight abortionist -- a
disproportionate share of the homeless population. whites and asians are significantly underrepresented. what are causing these differences and the racial breakdown of homelessness? guest: i think you know, one of the things that we first figured out when we started trying to get better data about who is homeless in the united states really a couple of decades ago now is just what we suspected, but did not have the data to show and now we have the data to show it. homelessness hits a lot harder at black people than white people. and, you know one can set that speculate about the reasons, but it is pretty obvious, homelessness is something that happens to people who have a lot of other bad things happen to them. you know, all of the different disparities in income, disparities in spending time in
prison, disparities in what people are paying for rent, all of those sort of add up so that -- and evolve into bad things that happened to black people more than white people. homelessness is the one where the disparity is among the worst. we are trying to deal with that. i think that as that data has shown more clearly that this is the case, i think we have been able to get more local communities to think harder about whether they are contributing to this problem, or whether they are making it better. and i think a lot of people in the homeless services field are really committed to saying that we are going to do our work in a way that resolves this problem rather than makes it worse. so, places all over the country are looking at the data that
they have about who is homeless, and if, as you said, black people or native american people are overrepresented and they need to make sure to reach out to those people and to organizations in the community that have a good record of working with people of color, and making sure that they are part of the solution. host: let us go back to the phone lines and talk to leonard from houston, texas. good morning. caller: good morning. host: go ahead. caller: so much of the discussion today has been about one program after another, government assistance. why don't we take our resources and take the homeless person off of the street and deliver them back to their families? and continue to do that time and time again until the family's realize -- families realize
that the responsibility is theirs, not just for the rest of the citizenry? ultimately there might have to be a financial penalty to the families to force them to take care of them, you know, those that we cannot find their next of kin, then they need to be arrested for vagrancy, and kept in jail and work programs cleaning the streets and the like. these people are the families' problems. the family created these people and whatever issues they have, they have known about, and the rest of the citizenry should not have to pay for this. it does not need a program, what it needs is people to be responsible, and what resources we have to use should be used to track down the next of kin and deliver these people to them. host: go ahead and respond. guest: i think the role of the
families in this is an interesting discussion, so a couple of things. one, a lot of that is being done already. houston actually has a good one, they have programs where people reach out to homeless people and talk to them about what resources they have in their life that could help get them off of the streets and helping them make use of those resources. people are often finding that they do have family members who are willing to help, but the people have gotten out of touch for one reason or another. and, maybe a little intervention by a social worker or a church worker or something can get them back together and the families are happy to help. there are many people who would be homeless, except that the families are taking care of them. i think many more people in that
situation are then actually does homeless. there are plenty of cases where the family is just -- has just disappeared or disintegrated, people are in jail, people are dead, and there is not anybody there to help. and so, i think that more help from families. i am not sure that there would be much political support for a mandate that families have to help people. when we started to push in that direction, we get a lot of eye rolls, and it is -- it is as i said, everyone is heard by homelessness, not just the homeless people. everyone in the community. it costs communities a lot of money. they can take care of the problem and part of the problem that the family is not taking care of, people can take care of that and save money, and it is something to feel good about. people should do it, and people
all over the country are doing it. houston is a good example of a place that has had an effective response to homelessness over the last few years. host: david from los angeles, california. good morning. caller: good morning. yes. you know, los angeles is the mecca for homeless, over 66,000 homeless people. you mentioned earlier in one of the statements that you made was that you only met one or two that did not want housing. i take issue with that. here is the reason why. and many of the previous callers eluded to this fact already and i am going to try to highlight it for you so you understand. as soon as you offer many of these people housing, and you attach social responsibility to it, they decline. they have already proven this in
venice beach. they were offering people housing. about 30 to 40% of them wanted the housing, but were reluctant. the others who were either mentally ill, or were drug addicts do not want responsibility, so they chose not to take the housing. so, i think we need to be focused more on a few other things, mental illness, drug rehabilitation, and trying to reintegrate these people into society and get them to accept some of the responsibilities and as the previous caller mentioned, and you seems to ignore that. i think that is the core of the problem is many of these people do not want to accept responsibility in society. host: go ahead and respond. guest: this idea that homeless people need to in one way or another straighten up and then they will get help is -- was a
major part of the response to homelessness from the early 1980's up through as i said the w bush administration. and it did not work. a lot of people want to believe that is right, wants to believe that the problem is the individual responsibility, but the fact is that people -- a lot of people on the street have mental illness and one of the symptoms of that disability is that people are unable to make really good decisions. people are worried about, and you say in terms of people need to be responsible, but people are concerned about that if they take on the obligation to pay rent every month, are they going to be able to maintain it? that is a good question. people are not sure of that. what we have found from actual
experience of people over and over if you give people housing, things get better. they do better, the community is better off. sometimes people's initial response is not great. it depends on who is delivering the message. they will be fine if a police officer says i will come and arrest you but you can go to this housing and if you want. that is not a way to build a trusting response. sometimes the work has to be done by skilled people who understand how to communicate with people with mental illness, communicate with people who have been through a lot of bad things and have had the sort of establishment do bad things to them. when people with that training and skill approach people with the offer of housing, and with answers to their questions and concerns, then people take it, people with mental illness take it.
people with addictions take it. once they are in that housing, then many times people start dealing with the other problems in their life that is just impossible to deal with if they are living on the street. it is like, it may not fit with everyone's idea of what the sort of american way is, but it is like the approach of getting homeless people into housing first, and then dealing with their other issues. that just works and the other thing does not work. if you do not want living -- people living on the streets, adopt housing first. host: we would like to thank steve berg, the vice president of programs and policy for the national alliance to end homelessness for talking us through homelessness in the united states. thank you so much. guest: thank you and thank you to everybody who was listening. host: coming up, we will move to the open forum meaning that you can call in and talk about the most important political story
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