Conversations

Sen. Tina Smith (center) sits down for a conversation with Insight News founder and editor-in-chief, Al McFarlane (left), and managing editor, Harry Colbert, Jr., Jan. 21 at Insight's office in North Minneapolis 

Democracy has not been hijacked, but it has taken a “very frightening detour.”  

As the country is in the midst of the longest government shutdown in history, that was Sen. Tina Smith’s answer to the pointed question regarding President Donald Trump, who has been named in court documents as an unindicted co-conspirator as a result of an investigation into if Russia interfered with U.S. elections. The shutdown, which is due to Trump’s insistence that Congress fund a border wall to the tune of $5-plus billion to keep people from Mexico and Central America from crossing into the U.S., has left more than 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck. Smith (D-MN) called the shutdown “un-American” and called on Trump and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to end the shutdown and restore wages to federal employees and contractors.

“When you think about the ripple effects of the shutdown, it’s not just the federal workers, it’s our grandparents and our children who rely on government assistance for their medicine and food, but can’t get that assistance; the farmers who can’t cash their checks because the Department of Agriculture is closed … and all of this because of a battle over a political symbol that is designed from the beginning to divide us,” said Smith, speaking Jan. 21 to Insight News editor-in-chief Al McFarlane and managing editor, Harry Colbert, Jr. during a Facebook Live broadcast from the offices of Insight News in North Minneapolis.

Smith said the power to open the government lies not solely with the president, but at the feet of McConnell. She said several Senate bills that would open the government are sitting on the leader’s desk waiting for him to bring to the floor for a vote.

“These are not Democratic bills that Republicans wouldn’t support, these are Republican bills that passed almost unanimously barely a month ago,” said Smith, referring to funding bills approved by both the House and Senate, but Trump first agreed to, then refused to sign into law. “Mitch McConnell needs to realize he can’t outsource the business of the Senate to the president and bring those bills up again and I suspect they’d pass almost unanimously again. Then if the president decides he’s going to veto those bills; then we should override him. That is our job in the Senate.”

Trump, this past Saturday (Jan. 19), proposed what he called a compromise, saying if Congress funds the $5-plus billion southern boarder wall he wants, he will offer a temporary three-year protection to “Dreamers,” those who are undocumented teens and young adults who were brought to the U.S. as small children by their parents. Smith said Trump’s proposal was tantamount to a ransom note.

“What the president proposed is a little bit like a person who sets a house on fire then says, ‘give me $5 billion and I’ll put the fire out for you,’” said Smith. “He’s the one who took protections away from Dreamers and other refugees and asylum seekers and now he’s saying I’ll bring those protections back for a short period of time if you allow me to build this wasteful wall.”

The junior senator from Minnesota said her fear is if Democrats pay what she called a “political ransom” it will embolden him the continue to hold other legislation hostage.

Trump, known as “Individual One” in criminal court documents, is facing the prospect of impeachment in the House with recent revelations that Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal attorney and self-proclaimed “fixer,” lied under oath during House testimony regarding his and Trump’s role in trying to get a Trump Tower deal in Moscow. Smith said she wants to wait on the results of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation before weighing in on calling for impeachment, but she said she is concerned by Trump’s pick of William Barr for attorney general. Senate hearings as to if to confirm Barr are underway in the Judiciary Committee. Barr has previously written that he believes the Mueller probe is out of bounds legally.

On the day celebrating the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Smith said Americans need to have honest conversations about race and racism in this country. She said many feel they have “permission” from the White House to openly express hateful views, but she pointed to this past November to demonstrate that the president’s views resonate not with the many, but with the few.

“With this last election many people running against what the president stands for won,” said Smith. “Here in Minnesota, we elected Rep. Ilhan Omar (the first Somali-American legislator in our nation’s history), we elected Keith Ellison as attorney general; the first time an African-American (politician) has been elected statewide. Half of the Minnesota federal delegation are women. It tells us if we use our voices in a democracy it can be powerful.”

The full video of Smith’s conversation is online in the Insight News Facebook page at www.facebook.com/insightnews.

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