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    Political Ploy by Mitch McConnell Blocks Attempt to Stop War With Iran / TheIntercept · Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 20:54 · 5 minutes

Senate Republicans narrowly defeated an amendment Friday that would have limited President Donald Trump’s ability to attack Iran without congressional approval. The 50-40 vote gave the measure a majority of votes cast, but due to parliamentary maneuvering by Senate leadership, it needed 60 votes to pass.

The measure was intended as a rebuke of Trump’s threats and escalatory policy toward Iran and drew four Republican votes. Trump has publicly threatened Iran with “obliteration” and said he doesn’t need congressional approval for military strikes on the country.

The measure was proposed by Sens. Tom Udall, D.-N.M. and Tim Kaine, D-Va., as an amendment to an annual defense funding bill. Udall stated that the bipartisan support for the amendment “sent a powerful and resounding message: Congress is not going to roll over for an unconstitutional war. President Trump and his advisors should heed this significant vote [and] change course from the saber-rattling and reckless escalation.”

The amendment and a related bill proposed by Udall are rare attempts by Congress to use its most significant power — the power of the purse — to prevent the executive branch from waging war with a specific country before that war begins. Even the most significant restriction on presidential war-making since World War II, the 1973 War Powers Act, simply stated that the president “shall terminate” hostilities after 60 days if they have not been authorized by Congress, rather than prohibiting the spending of appropriated funds to wage such wars.

If the amendment had passed, it would have prohibited the Pentagon from using any funding to attack Iran without congressional authorization. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the measure would “hamstring” Trump.

McConnell was largely responsible for the amendment’s defeat. Democratic and Republican Senate aides told The Intercept that under McConnell’s direction, the Senate parliamentarian ruled the measure “not germane” to the substance of the bill, thus requiring it to get 60 votes to pass instead of a simple majority.

Last week, the New York Times reported that Trump’s advisors persuaded him to authorize military strikes on Iran in retaliation for the Iranians shooting down an unmanned American reconnaissance drone, but the strikes were called off at the last minute.

The effort to pass the amendment came amid longstanding concerns that the Trump administration has been trying to lay the legal ground for attacking Iran without congressional authorization, and that such an attack could escalate into a full-scale war before Congress weighed in.

The Times also reported last month that Mike Pompeo, Trump’s hawkish secretary of state, has been trying to convince a skeptical Congress that Iran has ties to Al Qaeda dating back to the days after the 9/11 attacks. Members of Congress have expressed alarm that such a claim could serve as the basis for using the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed three days after the 9/11 attacks, to justify attacking Iran.

The Trump administration’s actions worried Democrats so much that they threatened to block the Pentagon spending package if they didn’t get an up or down vote on the amendment, Democratic and Republican aides told The Intercept. Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Leader McConnell reached a deal to hold a vote Friday in order to give Democratic presidential candidates time to return from the debates.

The amendment was opposed by the Trump administration and most Republicans, who argued that it would limit the administration’s ability to retaliate against potential Iranian provocations in real time.

In a letter sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday and obtained by The Intercept, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood argued that the amendment would “limit the President’s authority in discharging his responsibility as commander in chief” and said that it “could embolden Iran to further provocations.”

Udall and Kaine’s amendment was not the only one offered to address the current situation in the Persian Gulf. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah introduced an amendment earlier this week to counter Udall’s, which clarified that DOD could use funds in the spending package to “defend themselves, and United States citizens, against an attack by the government, military forces, or proxies of a foreign nation or by other hostile forces.”

In a floor speech Thursday, Romney said that his amendment was not intended to authorize military force “against Iran or anyone else” but was instead a “statement of continued commitment to our national defense.” Legal commentators nonetheless wondered if it could be cited as a form of congressional approval for a retaliatory attack.

Senate leadership found Romney’s amendment germane, so it only needed a simple majority and passed by a vote of 90-4. All four nay votes came from Democrats: Vermont’s Pat Leahy, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and New Jersey’s Cory Booker. McConnell’s office did not respond to requests to comment on why Romney’s amendment was found germane while Udall’s was not.

A senior Senate aide told The Intercept that McConnell’s stated justification for ruling Udall’s amendment “not germane” was that it addressed the use of force against a specific country, whereas Romney’s described the use of funds “under this bill.” Typically, resolutions to authorize military force against a specific target move through the Foreign Relations Committee, while defense appropriations bills move through the Armed Services Committee.

Congress has yet to rein in the blanket 2001 measure that authorized force against the 9/11 attackers, their backers, and nations that harbored them, even as that resolution has been used to justify interventions from West Africa to the Philippines. While the House of Representatives recently passed an appropriations bill that included a passage repealing the authorization, the GOP-controlled Senate will almost certainly not approve such language.

Udall and Kaine, together with 24 others senators, have also sponsored a standalone bill that would prohibit the executive branch from using appropriated funds for war with Iran without prior congressional approval.

The post Political Ploy by Mitch McConnell Blocks Attempt to Stop War With Iran appeared first on The Intercept.

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    The Trump Administration Is Planning Mass Video Proceedings for Immigrants in Tents on the Border / TheIntercept · Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 20:37 · 6 minutes

A Trump administration program that banishes asylum-seekers to perilous Mexican border cities could expand exponentially — and disastrously — with a new plan to hold mass video proceedings in tents along the border.

Officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, the Trump program has already pushed over 15,000 migrants seeking asylum out of the U.S. and into areas just across the international line, many of which the State Department advises Americans to limit travel to because they are so crime-ridden. Many immigrant rights advocates call the program the “Migrant Persecution Protocols.”

Until this year, immigrants who requested asylum in the U.S. were either put in immigration detention centers or released to family and friends in the U.S. to pursue their claims. But in late January, the MPP was instituted in three U.S. cities: El Paso, Texas; Calexico, California; and San Diego. People assigned to the MPP in those cities are sent across the border to Juarez, Mexicali, and Tijuana. There they must wait, often for months, to return for their immigration hearings in the U.S. — before being sent back to Mexico to await their next hearing.

In Mexico, few of these immigrants have been able to work legally, and many are homeless. As stateless people with no family or friends in Mexico, they are sitting ducks for severe violence. During five weeks of attending court hearings and interviewing Central American and Cuban immigrants in Juarez, The Intercept heard numerous accounts of adults and children being robbed, kidnapped for ransom, raped, and threatened with murder. Most migrants stuck in Mexico under the MPP say they are deeply fearful about being there.

Yet the Department of Homeland Security appears ready to vastly expand the MPP, not just with more crowded courts, but with mass video hearings held in tents presided over by distant judges.

So far, the MPP has sent immigrants to Mexico but returned them for hearings in traditional brick-and-mortar courtrooms, where immigration judges almost always sit a few feet from the migrants and their lawyers, and journalists and representatives from immigrant advocacy groups observe from benches in the spectator section. But the new plan is to erect giant tents, each one subdivided into several courts, and each court containing migrants but no judges, reporters, or observers.

The scenario was described at an hourlong briefing in early June given by DHS officials to several senior staff on Capitol Hill, according to a person with knowledge of the details of the meeting. Since the meeting took place, Taylor Levy, an immigration lawyer in El Paso, and immigrant rights activists with organizations including Human Rights First have confirmed to The Intercept that at least one government official has talked off the record to activists about the tents.

Some immigrant rights activists believe the government was emboldened to enact the plan after several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged the MPP in federal court in San Francisco in February. They sued DHS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and other federal agencies that deal with immigrants. The plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction in April, but a few days later the court lifted it, and then in May decided that the MPP could remain in place until the lawsuit is resolved. There is no deadline for the ruling.

The Capitol Hill meeting followed the stay, as well as an agreement on immigration that was reached on June 7 by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president, and Donald Trump. That accord came after Trump threatened to impose tariffs unless Mexico took steps to impede immigration into the U.S. from Central America. Mexico agreed to take steps, including accepting vastly more immigrants expelled from the U.S. This week, officials from Mexico’s Secretariat of the Interior announced that the country expects to take an additional 50,000 people expelled under the MPP by the end of August.

The Capitol Hill meeting “was very detailed,” the source said. The tents were dubbed “port courts,” and they were described as a way to supplement traditional, already crowded immigration courts near the border.

The source said that the tents were being considered for Brownsville, Donna, Laredo, Del Rio, and El Paso in Texas; Nogales and Yuma in Arizona; as well as Calexico and San Diego. Of those cities, three or four will be chosen to host courts in tents, the source said.

It’s possible that some of the cities have already been picked. Earlier this week, U.S. media and Mexican media noted that San Luis Río Colorado will soon begin to receive migrants apprehended in Yuma. Reuters and the Associated Press reported that migrants caught in Laredo will be sent to that city’s Mexican twin, Nuevo Laredo. Mexican media also reported that migrants in Eagle Pass, Texas, will be sent across the border to Piedras Negras and to immigrant court in Laredo. It is still not clear if Yuma or Laredo will be chosen for tent courts: Migrants might still be sent to traditional courts elsewhere in Texas and Arizona.

If implemented as described in the Capitol Hill briefing, the mass proceedings will severely undermine civil liberties, not to mention the national immigration court system and asylum in America. Immigrants trying to make their cases will be physically present for their hearings on the border. But the judges presiding by video will be hundreds or thousands of miles away, in cities such as San Francisco, New York, and Chicago.

It is still not clear if immigrants’ lawyers will be allowed in the tents with their clients, said Levy, the El Paso immigration attorney who spoke to a government official about the new plan. She said she has heard that it’s “quite possible” that attorneys will have to commute to the courts of the judges presiding by video.

Information that the activists and policy groups have received indicates that immigration reporters and observers located at the border will also be banned from local proceedings. Instead, they will have to travel to the judges’ far-flung courts in the interior. The task of the public and the media will be further complicated by the fact that asylum cases often change judges and cities on short notice. Immigrants, too, will lose their ability to have family and witnesses attend court with them.  

If all this is not bad enough, the tent scheme would put the entire immigration court system on track to break down. Nationally, the courts employ only about 400 judges. At the Capitol Hill meeting, DHS said that 200 will be reassigned to MPP cases. With only half of the judges left to handle their customary dockets, the average waiting time to resolve immigration cases, which is already two years, will likely increase.

The situation already is “surreal,” according to Levy. “I have never seen so much crying in court,” she said. “People are so afraid to go back to Mexico. Sometimes the proceedings have to stop because the crying is so loud that the recording equipment can’t pick up words.” Levy expects the crying to get worse if the tent plan is implemented — and fears that no one who cares will be inside them to hear it.

The post The Trump Administration Is Planning Mass Video Proceedings for Immigrants in Tents on the Border appeared first on The Intercept.

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    Josh Gottheimer Warned Democratic Leaders He Had Votes to Block Bill Mandating Better Conditions for Children in Detention / TheIntercept · Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 15:58 · 5 minutes

On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, boxed in by the Senate and centrist Democrats in her caucus, caved to Republicans on an emergency border funding bill. The Senate bill was put on the floor after New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat and co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, told House leaders he had the votes to scuttle a House version that mandated improved conditions for detained migrant children.

Gottheimer’s attempted power play was first reported by the Washington Post, and confirmed by The Intercept.

“In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to her colleagues Thursday afternoon. “As we pass the Senate bill, we will do so with a Battle Cry as to how we go forward to protect children in a way that truly honors their dignity and worth.” A spokesperson for Gottheimer didn’t return a request for comment. The caucus had discussed coming out against the House bill at the congressional softball game on Wednesday night, and there was dissent internally, but enough of the so-called Problem Solvers endorsed the strategy to allow it to go forward.

“The children come first,” Pelosi added. “At the end of the day, we have to make sure that the resources needed to protect the children are available. Therefore, we will not engage in the same disrespectful behavior that the Senate did in ignoring our priorities.”

On Wednesday, when asked if House Democrats would take up the Senate version of the legislation, Pelosi said no. Pelosi’s reversal came days after a searing photo, showing the bodies of a migrant father and his young daughter — Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and Angie Valeria — who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande, sparked international outrage.

Ezra Levin, a co-founder of grassroots advocacy group Indivisible, was among the many progressive leaders to slam Democrats for buckling. Despite contentious back-and-forths between the progressive and centrist wings of the party, the House passed the unamended Senate bill on an overwhelming 305-102 vote, with 95 Democrats voting no.

The House amendment would have taken away money from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and increased protections for children, among other oversight provisions. The Senate passed its version of the $4.6 billion emergency bill on Wednesday 84-8. A vote on the House version of the spending bill was beaten in the Senate 55-37, largely along party lines, with the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders missing the vote. The Senate’s vote meant House Democrats would have had to hold out to pressure the upper chamber to accept its version, while Gottheimer’s move sapped the House’s leverage. “The quote-unquote Problem Solvers Caucus, I think, threw us under the bus and undermined our position to actually be able to negotiate,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.

“Since when did the Problem Solvers Caucus become the Child Abuse Caucus?” asked Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Wouldn’t they want to at least fight against contractors who run deplorable facilities? Kids are the only ones who could lose today.”

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar joined Pocan in slamming the move, saying that a vote for Mitch McConnell’s border bill “is a vote to keep kids in cages and terrorize immigrant communities.”

When asked what Gottheimer’s objection to the House border bill was, Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal said it came down to “not giving as much ICE money as the Senate did.” She added that a bigger problem stemmed from the Senate Democrats putting them in a “terrible position” in the first place by voting on a bill that “does nothing to hold a rogue agency accountable for its cruelty,” doesn’t have any provisions to “ensure the money actually goes to the children,” or that “these for-profit agencies are held accountable.” She described herself as a “giant no” on the bill.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also recommended the House vote against the Senate border spending bill, saying the Republicans “cannot force us to accept this bill, which does not provide necessary guardrails” and allows the Trump administration to “continue denying kids basic, humane care and endangering their lives.”

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez noted that the Senate didn’t even bother negotiating with the House. “We have time,” she said in a tweet. “We can stay in town. We can at LEAST add some amendments to this Senate bill. But to pass it completely unamended with no House input? That seems a bridge too far.”

The House failure led to widespread recriminations. Jayapal, Pocan, the CPC, and the CHC were blamed for urging House Democrats to pull out of negotiations with the Senate earlier this spring; Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took heat for agreeing to a weak bill that left children vulnerable to abuse; Pelosi was slammed for caving; and Gottheimer’s Problem Solvers Caucus was widely derided for its unhelpful intervention. “The capitulation by the Problem Solvers and the Blue Dogs gave us no leverage here,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, R-Ariz.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos voted in favor of the bill, while other members of leadership, including Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, and Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, who is running for Senate in New Mexico, voted against it.

“We need a bill that delivers funds to end the humanitarian crisis,” Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib said on Twitter. “Not funds to continue caging children & deny asylum seekers the help they need. Not funds to continue the harmful policies. If you see the Senate bill as an option, then you don’t believe in basic human rights.”

Correction: July 1, 2019

This story originally misidentified the leadership title of Ben Ray Luján. He is assistant speaker.

The post Josh Gottheimer Warned Democratic Leaders He Had Votes to Block Bill Mandating Better Conditions for Children in Detention appeared first on The Intercept.

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    NYPD Added Nearly 2,500 New People to Its Gang Database in the Last Year / TheIntercept · Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 15:15 · 7 minutes

The New York Police Department is still listing children as young as 13 in its secret gang database, police officials told a New York City Council committee yesterday. The database is growing, currently including 18,084 people, up 2 percent from last June, when the NYPD last testified about the database. The increase came despite the removal of some 2,125 names from the registry — because the police added nearly 2,500 people to the database.

Oleg Chernyavsky, head of legislative affairs for the NYPD, told the council members that the database — formally termed the “Criminal Group Database” — is a “precision policing” tool, focused on “finding and arresting the few who weaken the fabric of our neighborhoods through violence and intimidation.”

Activists have long warned that the database is a dangerous form of police overreach, subjecting black and brown New Yorkers to surveillance, harassment, and criminal jeopardy based on factors as innocent as who they walk to school with and what colors they wear. The NYPD won’t disclose who is included in the database, and there is no mechanism for a person to challenge their inclusion.

“I guess the concern would be that certain communities are surveilled more than other communities. Are the Proud Boys in this gang database?”

Council Member Donovan Richards, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, has proposed legislation that would require the NYPD to notify minors of their inclusion in the database and provide a means for them to contest it, but all sides appear to agree that the legislation is a bad idea. The NYPD argues that telling young people they are thought to be affiliated with a gang would hamper investigations. Critics of the database argue that the proposed legislation could entrench the NYPD’s approach to gang policing, when what’s really needed is to abolish the database entirely.

The gang database continues to be composed almost entirely of people of color, according to NYPD testimony. Only 1.1 percent of people on the list are white. Sixty-six percent are black, and 31.7 percent are Latinx. The racial composition of the database reflects patterns of gang membership, not police biases, Chernyavsky testified.

“The NYPD does not control the recruitment of criminal groups,” he said. “If the council member wants to hold a hearing about diversity in recruitment efforts in these groups, we’ll be in the audience taking notes, but realistically we find these groups as they come.”

“I guess the concern would be that certain communities are surveilled more than other communities,” Richards shot back. “Are the Proud Boys in this gang database?” he asked, referring to the far-right, self-declared chauvinist group.

“I’m not 100 percent sure; they very well may be,” answered Assistant Chief James Essig of the NYPD Detective Bureau. “I’m not going say yes or no. But let me double check.” NYPD officials had told a reporter in October that the Proud Boys are not in the database.

The question of what constitutes a “criminal group” for the purposes of the database remains unanswered. Pressed by City Council members, police officials Chernyavsky and Essig did not provide a definition, and the NYPD press office did not respond to multiple requests for clarification.

The NYPD Patrol Guide includes a definition of “gangs” first adopted by the California legislature:

Any ongoing organization, association or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities, the commission of one or more criminal acts (including drug dealing), having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

It’s not clear that this definition is the one the NYPD uses to compile the Criminal Group Database. It’s a definition that would seem to apply to large, predominantly white organized crime outfits like mafias, but Chernyavsky told City Council members that organized crime membership is actually tracked in a different database, because those groups often involve interstate and international criminal activity, and the NYPD polices them in conjunction with the federal government.

Chernyavsky’s distinction is complicated by the fact that some of the NYPD’s most high-profile gang raids in recent years have been made in conjunction with federal authorities and have led to federal prosecutions under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, or RICO, statutes, which concern criminal interference in interstate or international commerce.

At Thursday’s hearing, police officials presented statistics showing that the number of children included in the database has dropped precipitously since it came under scrutiny last year. Last June, 1,460 people under the age of 18 were listed in the database, including 17 13-year-olds, 80 14-year-olds, and 204 15-year-olds. This year, Chernyavsky said, 494 people on the list are younger than 18, including 61 15-year-olds, 19 14-year-olds, and three 13-year-olds.

If the prospect of New Yorkers being put on a secret police gang list with no recourse makes City Council members nervous, it shouldn’t, Chernyavsky argued. Mere inclusion on the list, he said, doesn’t have any concrete consequences: It’s not made public, it doesn’t show up in criminal histories or rap sheets, it’s not shared with public housing or potential employers, it doesn’t lead to sentencing enhancements, and prosecutors don’t have access to the database. “A person’s presence in the NYPD Criminal Group Database simply does not have the collateral consequences seen in other jurisdictions,” Chernyavsky said.

That contention was challenged by other witnesses yesterday. Yung-Mi Lee, a supervising attorney at a public defense group in Brooklyn, testified that any suggestion that gang database information doesn’t find its way into the hands of prosecutors is false. “As a practicing criminal defense attorney, I have seen this information being shared,” Lee said. “It’s in the police reports.” When people included in the gang database find themselves arrested for whatever reason, Lee said, “It’s clearly shared with the prosecutors. It’s in there, the prosecutors use it against our clients.”

City University of New York law professor Babe Howell conducted an investigation of a massive 2016 gang raid in the Bronx, which found that may of those swept up in the raid had no gang connections or history of violent crime. “The notion that this is precision is totally a nonsense label that we do need to resist,” she said.

“The best way to increase gang violence is to do what the NYPD are doing in terms of suppressing gangs. You’re putting out fire with gasoline here.”

The NYPD touts the arrest records of those in the database — 90 percent of them have been arrested on felony charges at least once and the average person in the database has been arrested 11.7 times — as indicators that the people it’s tracking really are serious criminals. But the department wasn’t able to tell the council how many of those arrests led to convictions. Howell argued that the increased police scrutiny brought on by inclusion in the gang database was itself likely to produce arrests, ultimately putting kids in pretrial detention in gang units and pushing them into gangs. “The best way to increase gang violence is to do what the NYPD are doing in terms of suppressing gangs,” Howell said. “You’re putting out fire with gasoline here.”

Howell urged the City Council to hold off on legislation concerning the gang database until it’s better understood. Activists have been urging the NYPD’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate the department’s gang policing practices, and they’re hopeful that a report is forthcoming. Until then, Howell said, “trying to fix this is like doing surgery before getting the MRI results.”

Kraig Lewis, a member of the Bronx 120 whose story was told in The Intercept film “Trouble Finds You,” testified to the committee about his own experience. “I was swept up in a federal gang sweep due to my childhood interactions with my friends,” Lewis said. “My evidence was Facebook posts, music videos, and the government’s interpretation of my wiretap. I had no criminal record and I was in grad school when they came for me. I had one more semester left to becoming someone like you,” he said, addressing Richards. “I spent 22 months in jail, and I don’t believe that me sitting in jail with no criminal record and no evidence of a crime due to a database is right. I shouldn’t be in the same facility as El Chapo. I feel as though my rights were violated.”

Lewis was ultimately sentenced to time served after a judge threw out the plea deal that prosecutors had extracted from him, but his dreams of higher education have been dashed, and he has struggled to find employment.

“What happens to the kid that grows up in that bad neighborhood, gets beat on every day, goes to his brothers for protection” Lewis asked, describing his own situation. “He’s a nerd, and he goes to Catholic school, he doesn’t even curse. He leaves the neighborhood but keeps in contact with the people who protected him his whole life, and then he falls in the gang database, and he gets swept. Now he’s got a felony and he can’t become you.”

Lewis looked at Richards, who grew up in South Jamaica, Queens. “I say ‘you’ because you’re a black man,” Lewis said. “And I wish I could be you, but I can’t now, because of what they did to me.”

The post NYPD Added Nearly 2,500 New People to Its Gang Database in the Last Year appeared first on The Intercept.

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    Who Won the First Democratic Debates? / TheIntercept · Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 10:01 · 38 minutes

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A whopping 20 Democratic presidential candidates met in Miami, Florida this week for the first in what promises to be a very long season of primary debates. Pre-debate buzz centered around frontrunners like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—or Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, who let the fireworks fly on the second night in a heated exchange over the ex-Vice President’s record on school bussing. One surprise standout was former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who made headlines on the first night for his radical immigration proposals and for clashing with fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke. Castro joins Mehdi to talk about his big night, and Intercept DC Bureau Chief Ryan Grim stops by to analyze the debates.

Joe Biden: The fact is that in terms of busing, the busing I never — you would’ve been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council.

Kamala Harris: Vice President Biden, do you agree today, do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America?

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. Twenty candidates. Two nights. Four hours. And Chuck Todd. The first Democratic presidential primary debates of the 2020 election took place this week, God help us, hosted by NBC, in Florida, and featuring everyone from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. Yeah, Marianne Williamson. But it was an opportunity for some candidates, who have struggled to get media attention, but who are serious candidates, to well and truly shine.

Julian Castro: Because my name ID has been lower than a lot of these candidates, I need to make sure that I get enough time and I needed to make sure that when I had that time that I made the best use of it.

MH: That’s my guest today Julian Castro, former housing secretary under Barack Obama, former mayor of San Antonio. He was one of the breakout stars of the Democratic debates this week. I’ll speak to him about his clash with fellow Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke on the debate stage on Wednesday night.

I’ll also talk to my colleague Ryan Grim, The Intercept’s DC bureau chief, about the performances of Bernie, Biden, Warren and the woman who undoubtedly stole the show last night: Senator Kamala Harris.

[Music Interlude.]

On Wednesday night, there was only one real big hitter on the stage, one top tier candidate if you will, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Elizabeth Warren: We need to make structural change in our government, in our economy and in our country.

MH: But last night’s debate, debate two, had four big names on stage together for the first time. Now, I think it’s fair to say that Senator Kamala Harris dominated the debate and all of her nine rivals. She put them in check early on.

KH: Hey guys, you know what, America does not wanna witness a food fight, they wanna know how we’re gonna put food on their table.

MH: Mayor Pete Buttigieg went after the Republicans and their hypocrisy.

Pete Buttigieg: For a party that associates itself with Christianity, to say that it is okay to suggest that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.

MH: Senator Bernie Sanders reminded us of his progressive record.

Bernie Sanders: I helped lead the effort for the first time to utilize the War Powers Act to get the United States out of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which is the most horrific humanitarian disaster on earth.

MH: And former vice president, Joe Biden reminded us of Barack Obama’s progressive record.

JB: He’s the first man to bring together the entire world, 196 nations, to commit to deal with climate change.

MH: So who won these two debates? Can you win debates in which there are a kajillion people on stage all trying to get in and not being able to argue with each other properly? To talk more about this, to discuss the ins and outs of these debates, I’m joined by my friend, colleague, Ryan Grim, The Intercept’s DC bureau chief, author of the new book “We’ve Got People.” Ryan, good evening, good morning, good night. I don’t even know what time it is right now.

Ryan Grim: It doesn’t matter does it. It’s like Vegas.

MH: We’ve got no windows in the studio. We just hear the air being piped in. Ryan, if you were the proverbial martian landing in Florida, turning up at these two debates, watching it in your hotel room on TV — You had no knowledge about any of these people. You don’t know about Bernie Sanders and socialism. You don’t know about Joe Biden and Iraq. You don’t know anything about any of these candidates and you watched these two debates, four hours, twenty people, who do you come away with saying is the best leader? Who do you come away with saying is the person who will beat Donald Trump in 2020?

RG: Probably Warren and Harris, right? You know, they’re the ones that appeared to be presidential because if you’re a martian coming in, you don’t know that this species doesn’t allow women to be president.

MH: The species does. Americans don’t. Plenty of other countries have elected women leaders.

RG: The American species, the variety of the species.

MH: Yes.

RG: And I would also be very surprised to find out that they were competing for one position. Why do they have 20 people up on this stage?

MH: With about four or five who didn’t make the cut.

RG: And why are some of them so much better than some of the others?

MH: So, that for me stood out more than anything else. It was almost like not two tiers, multiple tiers. Some of these people shouldn’t be allowed to run for school board. And yet they’re on stage trying to be president of the United States. The Andrew Yangs, who’s been on the show, we’ll talk more about him. Marianne Williamson, the novelist.

RG: Who did not deliver her best performance either.

MH: I don’t know what her best performance is. John Delaney, the former congressman who was there on night one. Every time we spoke, I wanted to stab my face with a blunt spoon. They were there. We weren’t able to see “the big names,” the serious candidates, the grown-ups, the actual qualified people do their thing. Although on night two, the night we’re sitting and talking afterwards. On the second night, we saw a real moment between two of the big hitters, when Senator Kamala Harris took on, I think that’s the phrase, Vice President, former Vice President Joe Biden.

KH: So on the issue of race, I couldn’t agree more, that this is an issue that is still not being talked about truthfully, and honestly, there is not a black man I know, be he a relative, a friend or a co-worker who has not been the subject of some form of profiling or discrimination. Growing up my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because we were black. And I will say also that that in this campaign, we’ve also heard — and I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden.

I do not believe you are a racist. And I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe and it’s personal, and I was — actually, it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California, who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

MH: Ryan, were you on the edge of your seat when that happened? I’ve gotta admit, I was and I’m no big Kamala Harris fan. We’ve done a whole show on her rather dodgy record as a prosecutor in California. But she was on fire tonight.

RG: It was good stuff. And you could tell something was about to happen when the moderator said “Well, okay, fine. We’ll give you 30 seconds.”

MH: She went for about two minutes.

RG: And yeah, she took a deep breath and burned through like a few seconds of it. They’re like, “Oh, I don’t think she plans on stopping at 30 seconds.” And then with the cadence and with the pace and the emotion, you can tell, okay, she’s looking to create a moment. She’s going somewhere with this and you then you say, “Oh, I see where she’s going with this.”

KH: Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?

JB: No.

KH: Do you agree?

JB: I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.

KH: Well, there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California Public Schools, almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.

JB: Because your city council made that decision.

KH: So, that’s when the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.

MH: And Ryan, is it not amazing to hear Joe Biden, basically, mansplaining and whitesplaining busing and segregation to a black woman?

RG: It’s 2019 and somebody running for the Democratic nomination defended the right of local city councils to pursue segregation policies if they see fit. Harris —

MH: She looks done. She didn’t expect that response. States’ rights!

RG: You expect “I was wrong.”

MH: It was the ’70s. We’ve moved on.

RG: I was trying to do moderate busing and make it better or you know.

MH: But he went with “I was against it. It was the Department of Education, and it’s states’ rights that I was defending.

RG: And she said, you know, and that’s why you need the federal government to step in when states and localities don’t protect civil rights. And the look on her face while she was saying that was like, “Do I really have to stand here and explain this to you in 2019?” States’ rights, there was a civil war fought around the rhetoric of states rights. The entire rhetoric against the Civil Rights Movement was states’ rights. We’re not racist—

MH: But in 2019, Barack Obama’s vice president offers that up as a defense of his awful 1970s busing record. He’s so bad at politics. Aside from the defensiveness of it, he’s bad at politics.

RG: And he was like, “Look, it’s great that you went to an integrated school, but your city council was okay with that.”

MH: Berkeley.

RG: And then Lee Fang pointed this out on Twitter, it’s the first time she’s really acknowledged that she’s from Berkeley and not Oakland. A great catch by Lee. But he literally is saying that the only reason that desegregation was okay is because the Berkeley City Council approved it.

MH: Just to come back to Kamala Harris because the last time we talked about her on the show, we were very negative about her. So, let’s be positive. She clearly is someone who knows how to debate. She knows how to speak. She knows how to argue. You said, create a moment. What’s interesting about creating a moment is lots of people trying to create moments, but they were shit at it, right?

RG: Right.

MH: So, you know, Amy Klobuchar had this really, some line about foam and beers like she thought it was really funny. No one laughed. It was really badly delivered. Eric Swallwell tonight, talked about changing diapers and changing Washington, which from someone else might have been funny. It wasn’t funny from him. And yet, she came along and it was clearly a moment, clearly she’d prepped for it, but delivered it so naturally, powerfully, emotionally, that kind of “That little girl was me.” I mean, Ryan, I teach debate workshops. That’s the kind of thing you say, that is your moment. That is where you walk away with it. It’s mic drop, whatever you want to call it.

RG: I think that one reason that the left kind of came for her as hard as it did, or you know, earlier in the political season, is because the left gets that she has a lot of raw political talent and charisma, and combined with the politics that don’t agree with the left, that’s a real threat. And so, you know, you saw them coming at her early in 2017 and then again, you know, more recently, after she faded, the kind of target has moved to Joe Biden’s back. But yes, like people have —

MH: Not fading now.

RG: People have known that she has political skills. It hasn’t translated well because of the moment you know. Tonight felt real, but her overall persona feels out of time. It feels like that she would be absolutely crushing it in 2008, 2010 even.

MH: She’s Obama-esque and that Obama title’s been given to a lot of people, to the Beto’s, to the Buttigieg’s. She clearly is Obama-esque in the terms of her backstory and her brilliance as an orator.

RG: But Obama was able to bring the left in with his community organizer thing.

MH: To be fair to her, I saw lefties getting very excited when they asked the question, the moderators asked who would give up their private insurance for government-run program? I think she was the only person who put her hand up. Was she — I think she was the only person to put her hand up alongside Bernie Sanders?

RG: That’s the thing that she’s run on a fairly left wing platform.

MH: Yeah.

RG: But she has this long record as not just a prosecutor but a law and order prosecutor. She’s run a lot of campaigns from the right. She’s run them in San Francisco and in California. So —

MH: But if you’re part of the Democratic base that just wants to beat Trump and you don’t care about that kind of stuff, the details, the policy, the ideology, she clearly is someone, you know, coming back to our proverbial martian, you show that alien a clip of Trump and then you show a clip — She can — We saw that in the Kavanaugh hearings. She is very good at this stuff. And it helps when you’re up against someone so bad as Joe Biden. It’s amazing more people didn’t take shots at Joe Biden. On night one, he wasn’t there. So they didn’t take shots at him as much. And on night two, he was there and Bernie Sanders didn’t lay a glove on him. You know, the others Gillibrand, not so much, Michael Bennett tried. I mean, Michael Bennett, why are you on the stage? Some of these people.

Just to come back to the multiple tiers of candidates. Isn’t it really annoying, that we can’t see the people who actually might be president have a proper debate? Because all these fringe characters have somehow managed to get 65,000 individual donors and poll at one percent and thereby get on the stage? I mean, 20 candidates over two nights? Come on.

RG: Republicans faced this problem in 2016 and they did it right. They had a varsity debate with the top contenders and a kiddie table.

MH: But didn’t — The Democrats basically had a kiddie table on Wednesday night. It was Elizabeth Warren plus the kids.

RG: And maybe Beto who probably makes the varsity.

MH: It ended up being someone we’re going to talk to in a few moments who broke through and joined Elizabeth Warren on the top table as it were. I mean, was Elizabeth Warren, you know her well, was she sitting at home tonight watching or sitting in her hotel room in Miami, watching the debate, wishing she was there tonight taking on Joe Biden? Because she has history with Biden.

RG: I don’t think so because there’s often a price to be paid, you know, for launching the attack that both, you know, both people go down. Now, Harris because of the way she delivered it, just asking him a question: are you still for segregation?

MH: But also very personal “I was that kid.”

RG: It would have been much harder for Warren to pull off an attack that wouldn’t have also damaged her a little bit, made her look like she was, you know, coming at him in some type of an aggressive and maybe unfair way.

MH: What happened to Bernie Sanders? A lot of listeners of this podcast, massive fans of Bernie, I’m a great sympathizer with Bernie’s platform and politics. But he was kind of hit and miss tonight.

RG: Well, I think one problem Bernie has is own consistency. He’s been delivering the same message for 30 years and that’s what people absolutely love about the guy.

MH: It’s a good message.

RG: And it’s a good and it’s a popular message. And there have been innovations to it. Free college has been coupled with student loan forgiveness. But he has his moves. And once you’ve seen those moves over and over, it’s difficult for him to have that that kind of moment. He also is never going to kind of rehearse a touching moment, in the way —

MH: — Or an attack line.

RG: Or an attack line.

MH: Remember when they offered him the chance in 2016 to go after Hillary on her emails. And he said, “No, we’ve heard enough about your emails.” And yeah, I can’t see him attacking Biden, a colleague of his, former colleague on the Senate floor of his in the same way that Kamala Harris just went out and did what had to be done.

RG: He’ll certainly hit him as he did on the war. And on things that he’s been wrong about. He’ll hit him on policy. But he’s not like a political knife fighter in the way that some of these other candidates are.

MH: And someone else who did very well, tonight, another former guest on the show, Mayor Pete was quite strong. See the difference between Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden is Pete Buttigieg knows that his record as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, especially in relation to policing and black communities were very upset with him there, is going to come up. He turns up, offers an authentic, moving, personal, seemingly honest answer. Biden can’t do that when it came to busing or Iraq. Buttigieg again, is a solid, whatever you think of his politics, a solid operator.

RG: Right? He’s great at doing job interviews. He’s a hard worker. He’s a smart guy. He’s studies.

MH: Eloquent.

RG: He’s eloquent. He’s articulate. And you’re right. He needed a day or two to come up with some moving thing to say, to respond to his deplorable record, which also raises the question: He’s known he’s going to do this for several years now, probably since he was in high school. So then why don’t you govern? Can you even say governed? Run your city, run your town in a way that doesn’t shame you, embarrass you when you rise to a national platform.

MH: Ryan, you and I’ve been around politicians for what two decades, me, in my case — Amazing how many of these people don’t plan ahead. Even though they’re ludicrously ambitious, they don’t cover their asses. They don’t get their ducks in a row. I mean, Joe Biden, he didn’t sort out all of his stuff with the, with the Clarence Thomas hearings.

RG: Well, he’s just lazy. But Buttigieg —

MH: He didn’t sort out Iraq. He didn’t come up with a clever line tonight to say, “I got it wrong on Iraq.”

RG: Buttigieg doesn’t have that excuse. And so, if you’re mayor of South Bend, and you’re thinking in your mind that you’re a future president, and your black police chief comes to you and says, “I have secretly recorded racists on the police department. We need to root them out because this is a systemic problem,” you don’t fire the police chief for that if you want to be president.


RG: It’s wrong to do it, period. Setting that aside, if you want to be president and win Democratic nomination.

MH: But it hasn’t hurt him so far.

RG: It has. It has. I think this is wounded him and I think —

MH: Even after tonight’s debate where he’s getting lots of love after Kamala. He’s seen as kind of the number two person tonight.

RG: I think the entire thing has made it virtually impossible for him to break out of his kind of professional managerial class bubble that he’s in.

MH: What I found so interesting about the two nights is that the five kind of main contenders according to the polls: Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg were the five who stood out more than any others. Apart from, I’m gonna throw this in here, Julian Castro, former housing secretary under Barack Obama, former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, brother to a member of Congress, Joaquin Castro, who’s been on this show. He’s running for president didn’t have much name recognition, wasn’t polling very high and in the first debate, he started trending because he starts talking about immigration, starts talking about very ambitious, bold plan to decriminalize illegal border crossings. And he gets into a spot with the once golden boy from his state, Beto O’Rourke.

JC: The reason that they’re separating these little children from their families is that they’re using Section 1325 of that act which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents and then separate them. Some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it. Some, like Congressman O’Rourke, have not. And I want to challenge all of the candidate to do that.

Beto O’Rourke: But you’re looking at just one small part of this. I’m talking about a comprehensive rewrite of our immigration laws.

JC: That’s not true.


BO: And if you do that, I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to follow our laws when they come to this country.

JC: That’s actually not true. I’m talking about millions of folks — a lot of folks that are coming are not seeking asylum. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants, right? And you said recently that the reason you didn’t want to repeal Section 1325 was because you were concerned about human trafficking and drug trafficking. But let me tell you what: Section 18, title 18 of the U.S. code, title 21 and title 22, already cover human trafficking.


JC: I think that you should do your homework on this issue. If you did your homework on this issue, you would know that we should repeal this section.

MH: Was that the moment where Julian Castro ended Beto O’Rourke’s presidential bid?

RG: It was probably over already. I mean, I suppose he could have had some breakout moment.

MH: Beto?

RG: Yeah, and revived his candidacy.

MH: He would in Spanish, I’m sure.

RG: But short of that, he had already ended it. The difference between Castro and the other clowns in the backseat of the car that you mentioned, Delaney and the others —

MH: Hickenlooper.

RG: Hickenlooper.

MH: There was a moment where Rachel Maddow said I want to bring in Governor Hickenlooper and I just wanted to scream at the TV. No, don’t bring him in. Why?

RG: Why would you want to? Nobody believes that you want to bring him in?

MH: Sorry, what were you going to say?

RG: The difference is that he has been a national figure, at least in elite circles, he’s been bandied about as vice president in, you know, years past. And people have always seen him as on a glide path toward toward a White House run that, you know, they saw his move from Congress to or his move to the administration.

MH: From the mayor of San Antonio?

RG: Right fro that perspective that “Ok, now he’s —”

MH: And he’s got a great backstory. His grandmother came to the U.S. from Mexico. His mother was a civil rights organizer. He and his brother have both got to kind of national attention.

RG: Now he’s going to do HUD. He’s going to still have an administrative post. He’s building the resume. But then the politics moves past him in the same way that they move past Harris. And so, he also has done a lot of gymnastics ideologically.

MH: Right guy for the wrong year.

RG: Right, right.

MH: So, he’s had to move, but it on immigration, certainly, he’s moved not just to the left, but he’s taken a very bold stance, which even the likes of Elizabeth Warren recently followed him in taking this position where you say, “Let’s decriminalize border crossings. Let’s not treat people who enter the country without the right papers as criminals, civil violations, fine, not put them in court and put them in prison.” A bold move. He got a lot of love on Wednesday night. He took on not just Beto O’Rourke, but Donald Trump, which a lot of people want to see taken on. One thing that bothered me, Ryan, is that you have this white nationalist in the White House, not many democrats want to talk about white nationalism, or fascism or the rise of Nazism, or people shooting up synagogues, a major part of modern America just we breezed past over two nights.

RG: Yeah, I guess the thinking is that there isn’t a lot of gain to be had there since all of the Democrats agree on that point. And that’s the other problem with having 10 people on a stage is that you’re only going to get a short amount of time. So, you need to distinguish yourself. And if you don’t distinguish yourself, and you just say things that everybody else, you know, agrees with and has said before, then people criticize you for wasting your time.

MH: Well, one person who didn’t waste his time, as I mentioned was Julian Castro, who is a prime example of how these debates can really turn around political fortunes. Most people were not talking about him a few days ago, now they are. And Julian Castro joins me now.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Julian Castro, thank you for joining me on Deconstructed.

JC: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

MH: Did you? Did you think you were going to do this with well? Let’s be honest. Right at the beginning, did you think you’d be trending on Wednesday night after the first debate?

JC: Well, I hoped that I would. But no, I didn’t think that I would necessarily. When I got to the debate, what I was thinking was that I needed to make sure because my name ID has been lower than a lot of these candidates that the mainstream media has been focused on, I need to make sure that I get enough time. And that’s, you know, that’s not something that’s guaranteed at all when you have nine other candidates on stage. And I needed to make sure that when I had that time that I made the best use of it. I knew that the issue of immigration was going to come up. And so I wanted to make sure that I was especially on about that issue. And that’s what happened yesterday.

MH: And to be fair to you, you’ve been on that issue for a while now even before, well before these debates came along, well before this week, the border crisis blew up again, you were pushing this issue of decriminalizing illegal border crossings. You talked last night about repealing Section 1325 and you went after Beto O’Rourke, specifically on that issue. Explain to our listeners who maybe weren’t following the debate that close, who may have missed the debate, why is it so important to repeal Section 1325? And why did you go after Beto on that issue?

JC: One of the most cruel policies that this Trump administration has put in place is the policy of separating little children from their parents when migrants come over as families across the border. The reason that they can do that is because Section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act makes it a crime to cross the border. What I’ve argued is that we should make that a civil offense, not a criminal one. And for the longest time from, you know, about 1929 till the early 2000s, even though that section of the law was in place, we used to treat it as a civil offense, not a criminal offense. I say that we need to go back to treating it as a civil offense so that we can guarantee that no future administration will engage in cruel family separation.

And the difference between my immigration plan and Congressman O’Rourke’s is that I call for the repeal of Section 1325 and his doesn’t. I made the point that Senator Warren, Senator Booker, Governor Inslee, and others have joined my call to repeal that section because that’s the only way to guarantee that we’re going to end family separation. And I challenged everybody else to do that.

MH: And by my count in tonight’s debate, the second debate — we’re speaking shortly after it — the majority of people on stage raised their hands and agreed with you that that should be the position. So, you’re clearly leading opinion in your party on this and I’m glad you are. But what do you say to people who say, “Well, you know, Democrats are going to be painted as open borders. Trump is already calling you open borders.” What’s your response to that kind of worried, defensive posture from so many of your colleagues?

JC: Look, Donald Trump is going to call Democrats “open borders,” say, they’re for open borders no matter what. He’s going to say that we want to let anybody in and nobody is talking about open borders. I have pointed out on numerous occasions that we have 664 miles of fencing along the southern border. We have thousands of personnel down there. There are planes. There are helicopters. There are boats. There are security cameras. States like Texas dedicate $800 million of state money to border security. So, you know, there’s no way that anybody can call that an open border. What we’re talking about is the difference between treating somebody who crosses that border, giving them a misdemeanor, or treating it as a civil offense and there’s still a court process. They still have to appear in a hearing. But you can’t separate them from their little children. I want to end family separation.

MH: And a lot of people are saying “Well, you’re from Texas. Beto O’Rourke is from Texas. The Democrats need to win the Senate as well, not just the presidency. John Cornyn, the Republican senator there is in a weaker position,” some might say. Why don’t one of you two run against him? I assume you think Beto O’Rourke should pull out and run against John Cornyn so you can stay in and try and be president?

JC: Well, I supported O’Rourke when he ran against Senator Ted Cruz, and of course, I would be happy to support him against John Cornyn. We also do have a strong candidate, MJ Hegar who has stepped up and said that she’s going to run as a Democrat against John Cornyn. Mehdi, my experience is as a federal executive, I served in the Obama administration as a cabinet member. I have a track record as an executive, and the president is an executive position. So, I’m running for an office that’s consistent with my experience.

MH: What if that track record comes back to bite you in the ass? Because, you know, Obama got a lot of things wrong. I know he’s very popular with Democrats but just in tonight’s debate, Joe Biden was asked about his deporter in chief record. You’re big on this kind of immigration reform policy and yet, Barack Obama, the president you served his cabinet deported, I think, three million people. Those are the kind of things — do you think there needs to be a reckoning with the Obama record by people like yourself if you’re going to go forward and beat Trump in 2020?

JC: Well, I said very clearly that I think what happened in the Obama administration is that if you look at the beginning of it, 2009, versus the end of it in 2016, that the administration did get better on the issue of immigration. I think, especially with DACA and with DAPA and implementing the Family Case Management Program, which said, instead of detaining people, you know, detaining families, we’re going to go ahead and allow them to, you know, not be detained. And instead, keep in touch with them and make sure that they meet their court appearances and was a very successful program. So, I do think that there was improvement. I’ve also made it clear, and people can check the record that, you know, I criticized the Obama administration on immigration when I disagreed with it. And, you know, I’m criticizing the Trump administration, and I have my own plan on immigration for what I would do to fix a broken system, and make sure that we treat people with compassion instead of cruelty.

MH: I know you gotta run. You had a clash with Beto O’Rourke that kind of dominated the debate on Wednesday night. Tonight’s debate, there was this massive clash between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, a lot of us were on the edge of our seat. What did you make of it? Did you think Kamala Harris won the debate tonight, as most people seem to do?

JC: I think she did very well. I think she helped herself tonight. I believe that I helped myself last night. And for a similar reason, which is that, you know, when you go out there, people want to know, look, who’s going to be able to go in there toe to toe and stand up against Donald Trump? What they saw for me last night was that I can handle myself. I can go into that situation and, you know, deliver my message and win the voters over. And that’s what they saw, I think, from Kamala tonight.

MH: Last question based on the exchange between Kamala and Biden, which was about his rather dodgy record on segregation and busing, who would you rather have on your ticket alongside you, Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris?

JC: Right now, I’m focused on winning the nomination. And so if I had my druthers, I would actually have my twin brother as my running mate.

MH: It would be hard to work out which ones which obviously, when it came to the inauguration, but serious question on that substantive disagreement between Biden and Harris, which side do you come down? It was valid criticism of Biden by Harris, I think, what do you think?

JC: On the issue of busing?

MH: Yeah, and his record.

JC: I mean, I think that’s a legitimate issue to bring up. Everybody’s gonna have to answer for their record. And, you know, when you’ve been in politics for over 40 years, there are going to be issues that are recent ones and there are also going to be issues from some time ago that you’re going to have to explain. I do think that he offered an explanation. And I do think that he pointed out some ways that he’s been a champion for civil rights over the years. But there are clearly some positions that he took, that will give Democrats pause.

MH: Julian Castro, thank you so much for taking time out to speak with us. Hope we get to speak to you again for a bit more longer. Go get some sleep, I guess.

JC: Thanks a lot.

MH: That was Julian Castro, former housing secretary under Barack Obama, presidential candidate, one of the people who is widely considered to have “won” the debates this week, if you can win these kind of debates. He said to me very openly that he turned up at the debate knowing he didn’t have as much name recognition as others on that stage, including Beto, but used his time to his advantage.

What amazes me is the number of people who wasted their time who just made bland remarks. I really do wonder how some of these people like the Michael Bennett’s of this world, forget the fact that he’s running for president, how is he a United States Senator? I mean, he’s deeply unimpressive. And then you see people at Andrew Yang, who’s been on the show before. He came on this show impressed a lot of our listeners by talking about his — I remember you messaged me saying you were impressed with him with his freedom dividend, his universal basic income, a radical idea supported by a lot of economists. And yet, when he’s asked about it tonight, he kind of threw away his 60 seconds.

Andrew Yang: We need to put the American people in a position to benefit from all these innovations and other parts of the economy. And if we had a value added tax, even half the European level, it would generate over 800 billion in new revenue.

MH: Imagine being someone like Andrew Yang, or a Marianne Williamson, who manages you know, these people are nobody, no one’s ever heard of them until a few months ago, until tonight, in fact. They managed to get on the debate. This is a big deal, right? Not many human beings get to be in that position. President of the United States, Democratic debate, 20 people, millions of people watching, and you get this time and you just throw it away.

RG: I would suspect that Yang was pretty nervous. You know, he’s a pretty regular guy who just is now on the debate stage.

MH: Standing next to the former vice president of the United States, Bernie Sanders, yeah.

RG: He had the courage not to wear a tie.

MH: Yeah.

RG: I think he just, nerves got a hold of him. I don’t think Marianne Williamson was necessarily — I’ve heard her talk. She’s much better in long form, like her ideas don’t work in 30 seconds. She’s talking about love’s going to beat hate. Like you need a good 5-10 minutes to flesh that out.

MH: You’re right. We’re being, I’m being unfair to people who are not professional politicians. What about the professional politicians, many of whom gave closing statements which, you know, my daughter in elementary school, if she was preparing for a class presentation or debate, I would say, that’s bad, you got to improve. You got to practice more. You got to have some originality. And as I say, only a handful of those, that’s why Kamala Harris was so strong tonight. Because relatively there was so much mediocrity on the stage, and on the stage the night before.

RG: Right, and she only had to shine a couple of times because everybody else is taking up all the time. And right, she’s just so obviously superior to a lot of those also-rans that it really does come through. And then you’re kind of biased in how you’re viewing it because, or I am, at least, when I would see somebody like John Delaney too even when I agreed with everything that he was saying, I would just be so mad.

MH: You’re just using up valuable time where I could hear Beto and Julian Castro have another round about immigration.

RG: It’s late. It’s like, past my bedtime.

MH: I wanted Warren.

RG: Life is far too short for me to listen to anything John Delaney has to say.

MH: The problem is we need to whittle these people down, but they’re not going to get whittled down. Yang’s already qualified for the next set of debates.

RG: A lot of the others won’t, though.

MH: Yeah, we just need to get it down. We just need to be, and Warren needs to be on the same stage as Biden, and Kamala Harris and Bernie so we can have a proper look at who the potential people are. I’m amazed that Biden is the front runner. I’m amazed that he will probably stay the front runner still now. Let’s see for a few weeks unless Kamala has a sudden boost or Bernie does. But what’s interesting is that at every opportunity tonight — So, Zach, our producer of this podcast, and I, no biases, we went through the debate trying to find a good clip of Biden. We wanted to have all the big hitters have good strong clips. We couldn’t find any of Biden tonight. There was no moment tonight where he just knocked one out of the park and the crowd cheered like mad for the former Democratic vice president to Barack Obama. That for me is amazing. Amazing that he couldn’t produce one moment.

RG: Yeah, I was wondering if he was going to be able to, you know, string coherent sentences together, because that’s been a knock on him that, that he’s slipping. He’s old.

MH: Bernie’s old as well but Biden came across —

RG: Differently, right.

MH: And Trump’s old.

RG: Right and Trump can’t string sentences together either.

MH: But Biden, since his vice presidential days, yeah, doesn’t look as — I don’t know if people are going to accuse me being ageist here, but it did, he did come across as if he wasn’t ready for this stuff. He hadn’t prepared. And I think we should end this conversation by giving the last word to Joe Biden.

JB: Anyway, my time’s up. I’m sorry.

MH: It may well be, Joe. It may well be. Ryan, thanks for joining me to talk about this craziness. There’ll be many many more debates ahead. We hope with fewer candidates.

RG: Can’t wait.

MH: I can. But thank you for joining me at this late hour to help us deconstruct all of this. That’s our show! It’s our last show of this season. We’ll be back in September after a summer break. I hope you can survive while we’re gone. Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. You can go back and listen to old shows while we’re gone. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback in the coming weeks of months, email us at Have a great summer. Thanks so much. See you in a couple months!

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    Joe Biden Bragged About Getting Republicans to Raise Taxes in 2012. It Was Actually a Disaster for Democrats. / TheIntercept · Friday, 28 June, 2019 - 04:02 · 3 minutes

It didn’t take long for the political classes to decide that the biggest loser in part two of the first Democratic primary debate was former Vice President Joe Biden. California Sen. Kamala Harris ripped Biden for bragging about maintaining relationships with segregationists, leading Biden to bizarrely defend the right of local governments to pursue segregation as a policy. And the moderators raised his vote for the Iraq War while in the Senate.

The most unlikely Biden callout, though, came in the form of a recent history lesson by longshot candidate Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. Bennet turned one of Biden’s own talking points back on him by pointing out the former vice president’s revisionist version of when he was taken to the cleaners by Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

Biden attempted to defend his acumen for negotiating with Republicans during Thursday night’s debate by citing his ability in late 2012 to convince McConnell to raise taxes. The problem for Biden was that multiple people on stage had witnessed Biden’s effort, and it was an utter catastrophe for Democrats.

Bennet jumped on Biden, laying out the reality of Biden’s faceplant. The episode was the subject of an Intercept article published earlier this week, drawn from my new book, which looked back at the pivotal “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Tax cuts from the George W. Bush era were set to expire, which would have brought $3 trillion in revenue to the federal government over 10 years. Biden settled with McConnell for a mere $600 billion, making the rest of the tax cuts permanent.

“I got Mitch McConnell to raise taxes $600 billion!” Biden said.

Bennet wasn’t having it. “The deal that he talked about with Mitch McConnell was a complete victory for the tea party,” Bennet said. “That was a great deal for Mitch McConnell. It was a terrible deal for Americans.”

Fact check: True.

Biden botched the late 2012 talks badly, but the cascading effects of the deal were even more damaging for Democrats. The deal did not address the debt limit and punted what’s known as the sequester — automatic spending cuts — only to March, rather than eliminating it, as Democrats had been pushing for.

Senate Democrats urged Obama to threaten to veto any spending bill that didn’t fix the sequester, but Obama declined, saying he didn’t want to risk a government shutdown. As Roll Call reported at the time, “By making all of the tax cuts permanent but only avoiding the sequester for two months, the president traded away most of his leverage in return for only half of the revenue he had been seeking — and no clear way to force Republicans to the table for more.”

The Obama administration expected that, by the spring, it would be able to win further concessions from McConnell. It turned out — quite obviously to many observers at the time — that McConnell had no interest in negotiating: He had gotten everything he wanted, and wouldn’t agree to lift the sequester. That meant spending was cut to austerity levels, which slowed economic growth and kept unemployment higher than it otherwise would have been. Obama himself warned the sequester would cost 750,000 jobs and knock half a point off that year’s GDP. “We’re not making that up. That’s not a scare tactic. That’s a fact,” Obama said.

It did indeed take a bite out of the economy, and that slower growth helped Republicans take the Senate in 2014. In 2016, when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace him. But without control of the Senate, Obama couldn’t force a vote. McConnell held the seat open and, after Donald Trump’s election, filled it with Neil Gorsuch.

Correction: June 28, 2019, 11:07 a.m. ET
Due to an incorrect caption from Getty Images, a previous version of this story included a photo of Joe Biden with John Hickenlooper, who was misidentified as Michael Bennet. The photo has been replaced with one of Biden.

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    With Census Decision, Trump’s GOP Falters in March Toward White Minority Rule / TheIntercept · Thursday, 27 June, 2019 - 21:21 · 6 minutes


Illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on Thursday to block the Commerce Department from including a citizenship question on the 2020 census was legally and morally the right thing to do. As is its wont, the court made its decision on narrow procedural grounds, barely stopping to consider the racist underpinnings of the citizenship question — and that should concern us all.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s justification for adding the citizenship question was “contrived,” and remanded the decision back to the lower courts. Roberts, who sided with the liberals as he did in 2015 when the court upheld Obamacare, rejected Ross’s argument that new citizenship data was needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. The “evidence tells a story that does not match the Secretary’s explanation for his decision,” the chief justice wrote.

Myopia is an occupational hazard of serving on the nation’s highest court, but in this case of tremendous import, the justices — even the liberal ones — missed the forest for the trees.

Deciding the case on a narrow reading of the Administrative Procedures Act, none of the justices commented substantively, even in dicta, on the bold-faced subtext of the census dispute: that Trump officials had colluded with right-wing, xenophobic forces to systematically disempower communities of color. Myopia is an occupational hazard of serving on the nation’s highest court, but in this case of tremendous import, the justices — even the liberal ones — missed the forest for the trees. Only Justice Samuel Alito acknowledged the racial subtext of the case, noting that the question has been “attacked as racist,” despite international consensus that asking about citizenship is appropriate. (This is a popular talking point on the right, which ignores the specific context of race and immigration in America.)

The majority’s opinion is consistent with what legal observers have long been saying: The Voting Rights Act rationale was pre-textual, a post-hoc scheme by Trump officials to obscure their real motive: to suppress participation in the census and allow them to gerrymander districts to maintain white minority rule.

“As a practical matter, any observer knows there was never a legitimate reason to do this,” said Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt, a former Justice Department Civil Rights Division lawyer, who noted that citizenship data was not needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act during his tenure as the top enforcer of voting rights law. “That is manifest by the fact that they had to turn to a pretext in the first place, that it took them a year to find a pretext, and that the pretext they landed on was so ludicrous.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, in effect, blocks the citizenship question from appearing on the 2020 census questionnaire — for now. The U.S. Census Bureau is meant to finalize and start printing census questionnaires by June 30, but the bureau recently testified that it could theoretically push back the printing deadline as far as October 31 if “extraordinary resources” were tapped to do so. Presumably those resources would have to come from Congress.

The high court overturned a ruling from a New York district court that Ross’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedures Act and upheld the constitutionality of a citizenship question under the Enumeration Clause of the Constitution. In other words, the court agreed with the government that a citizenship question could be legal, if justified by a legitimate reason.

The court agreed with the government that a citizenship question could be legal, if justified by a legitimate reason.

“The ruling essentially says, ‘You can’t give a fake reason,’” Levitt told The Intercept. “The secretary would now have to give a real reason, but the time window is closing quickly on that.” And if Ross can come up with a justification, derived from a reasonable decision-making process, it would still have to survive the scrutiny of New York City District Judge Jesse Furman, to whom the case has been remanded. And, as Levitt puts it, “Furman has no shortage of skepticism for the secretary.”

Still, if Ross comes up with another rationale, and the lower courts affirm it, a citizenship question could still appear on the census form if the bureau is willing to extend its June 30 deadline.

“I’m relieved,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, former staff director of the House census oversight committee, “and I applaud the Supreme Court for upholding honest and evidence-driven decision-making.” The important thing now, Lowenthal insisted, is that Ross “stands down” and allows the bureau to “proceed with final preparations for the census it had painstakingly developed over the course of the decade.”

The court’s characteristically narrow ruling, however, elides the most important revelation of the census saga: that the Donald Trump administration allied with anti-immigrant demagogues and the architects of Republican gerrymandering in an effort to specifically suppress the political power and participation of immigrants and people of color. Emails released by the Commerce Department during litigation revealed that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, mastermind of nationwide voter suppression efforts, wrote to Ross in July 2017, “at the direction of Steve Bannon,” urging him to add a citizenship question because its absence “leads to the problem that aliens … are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes.”

Then, earlier this month, it was reported that the late Tom Hofeller, a Republican National Committee redistricting expert, had urged the Trump transition team to adopt a citizenship question after determining that it “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” A paragraph drafted by Hofeller and found on his hard drive by his estranged daughter supported the premise that citizenship data would help enforce the Voting Rights Act. That paragraph later appeared word for word in a draft letter from the Justice Department to the Census Bureau requesting the citizenship question.

This accumulation of evidence suggests not just that Ross’s justification — to Congress and the public — was a lie (or, as Roberts would put it, a “contrivance”), but that the real motive was the one suspected by Democrats and civil rights advocates from the outset: to transfer political power from minority communities to white people in red states.

“We know the attempt to add a citizenship question was politically motivated, done to suppress participation among communities traditionally hard to count,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of racial justice group Color of Change. “This is about stealing resources, representation, and political power.”

“This is about stealing resources, representation, and political power.”

Like the widespread state-level gerrymandering designed in part by Hofeller, sabotaging the census is part of the Republican Party’s ongoing quest for white minority rule in America. (In a separate decision, the court on Thursday gave an unabashed green light to political gerrymandering.) The Supreme Court’s ruling, even if it effectively kills the citizenship question until 2030, should not be the end of this story. Rather, the Trump administration must be held accountable for attempting to systematically disempower and disenfranchise a huge swath of Americans.

There’s still a chance that reckoning could happen. In a filing on Monday, Maryland District Court Judge George Hazel said the evidence from Hofeller’s hard drive “potentially connects the dots between a discriminatory purpose — diluting Hispanics’ political power — and Secretary Ross’s decision” to add a citizenship question. In other words, Hazel was prepared to consider whether the Trump administration had violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

Now that the Supreme Court has vacated Ross’s original decision, the proceedings in Maryland will likely stop. “The Secretary’s original decision was vacated [by the Supreme Court], so there’s nothing for Judge Hazel to continue reviewing,” said Levitt, “but if Secretary Ross comes back with a new decision, you can bet that Judge Hazel won’t be the only one watching closely for evidence of unconstitutional motive.”

Trump officials and outside collaborators conspired to undermine representative democracy for the benefit of white Republican voters. Only when they’re held accountable for that will justice have been done.

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    What the Concentration Camps of Bosnia Can Teach Us About the Abuse of Immigrants on the U.S. Border / TheIntercept · Thursday, 27 June, 2019 - 18:13 · 7 minutes

FILE--A Muslim prisoner sits in a sleeping room in the Trnopolje detention camp, near Banjaluka, some 12 miles northwest of Sarajevo, in this Aug. 12, 1992, file photo. Fifty years after the Geneva Conventions outlined the laws of war in the aftermath of World War II, a group of combat correspondents and legal scholars has written a guide to the ways fighting men have broken those codes of conduct.  (AP Photo/Today London, David Cairns, File) UK OUT

Muslim prisoners in a room in the Serb-run detention camp at Trnopolje, northwest of Banja Luka, Bosnia, on Aug. 12, 1992.

Photo: David Cairns/Today London via AP

How do you investigate human rights abuses at detention centers that are off-limits to outsiders?

I am not one of the on-the-ground reporters covering the Trump administration’s abusive treatment of immigrant children on the border with Mexico, but more than 25 years ago I investigated the concentration camps where Serbs tortured and executed Muslims during the Bosnian war. I can’t quite believe that I am writing this line and this story, but much of what I saw at those Balkan camps in the 1990s is relevant to what’s happening now in America.

It appears that due to a burst of media attention, the conditions of the U.S. border camps will likely be improved — there will be soap, toothpaste, and bedding — and journalists are being allowed to visit though in sharply restricted ways. This is a script we have seen before. After the first stories about Serb-run concentration camps were written by Roy Gutman, based on testimony he collected from survivors, the camps were cleaned up a bit and some journalists were allowed inside. I was among the first visitors in the summer of 1992, and what follows is a guide to help journalists understand and thwart the U.S. government’s likely cover-up of abuses that have occurred at its concentration camps. That’s another sentence I can’t believe I am writing today.

Tours of detention camps are public relations tricks; governments do their best to make sure journalists don’t actually visit the exact places where crimes occurred. Here’s an example from Bosnia. One of the worst prison camps was at a ceramics factory known as Keraterm, and I was taken there. Except I wasn’t, really. Keraterm had a lot of buildings, and the group I was with — about a half-dozen journalists — was taken to just one building. Our guide – a brute of a man named Simo Drljaca, who was killed when NATO troops tried to arrest him after the war — walked us into the building, which was mostly empty and had a thin layer of dust on the ground and not a human smudge mark on its floors or walls.

“See, no blood,” Drljaca smiled at us.

His ruse was transparently ridiculous — the building had never held prisoners. We demanded to see the building that we knew had housed prisoners; it was a brick warehouse less than 50 yards from where we stood. Prisoners had been tortured and executed there, and as we later learned, the survivors were moved out shortly before we arrived. No, Drljaca said, it’s a military facility, you can’t go inside or take pictures of it. He instructed us to get back into the minibus we were traveling in. But there were no military vehicles or soldiers in sight. The factory grounds were deserted.

The lesson is quite obvious and simple: You must go to the exact location where abuse has occurred. If you are prevented from going there and seeing what you need to see — a quasi-admission that a forbidden crime scene exists — demand to know why. The lies offered by prison officials can be nearly as revealing as the incriminating evidence kept out of view. Often that’s the only evidence of guilt you might get — the absurdity of the deception.

We were taken to two detention centers that held actual detainees. One of them was called Omarska, which has become infamous over time as the site of the greatest number of killings, and the other was called Trnopolje, which didn’t have as many killings but was nonetheless a location of immense fear and deprivation. Both camps were somewhat cleaned up for our visit, but terror can’t be erased so easily. These visits introduced us to the ethical dilemmas of interviewing detainees who feared repercussions for talking with us, though it also revealed ways to get around those repercussions.

If prisoners are afraid — as all of them were at these camps — you know it instantly. It is in their faces, their voices, their postures, the words they are afraid to speak to you. One of the most chilling moments occurred as I watched a prisoner at Omarska shiver in terror as a television reporter asked, with a camera running, whether he had been abused. The prisoner didn’t know what to do; the truth could’ve gotten him killed by the guards. His inability to say what he wanted to say was a silent form of testimony about crimes that were, at that moment, literally unspeakable.

It’s not a stretch to think that some kids at the camps run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection might be hesitant to complain about abusive conditions, assuming they are even allowed to speak to reporters (so far, apparently not). They might have the same sort of fear as the prisoners in Bosnia — could they be punished for what they say? A workaround to this quandary emerged during my visit to Omarska. One of the prisoners slipped a note to one of the other journalists, who shared it with me. “About 500 people have been killed here with sticks, hammers and knives,” the note said. “Until August 6, there were 2,500 people. We were sleeping on the concrete floor, eating only once a day, in a rush, and we were beaten while we were eating. We have been here for 75 days. Please help us. ”

The lesson from this — beyond the fact, now amply proved by war crimes trials, that Serbs committed genocide in Bosnia — was that it can be far easier for detainees to write something down and surreptitiously hand it to a journalist than to take the more intrusive route of talking to you. I wish I had been armed with pencils and pieces of paper and handed them out, as discreetly as possible, to prisoners who indicated any inclination to write notes, or just left these things in a corner for any prisoner to write a message that might later be given to other sympathetic visitors.

Another suggestion for journalists who might be visiting the CBP camps: Pay close attention to the CBP officials, and not just the polished spokespeople. What is the expression on their faces? Will they answer questions, even banal ones? The pursed lips of guards or supervisors can itself be evocative manifestations of power. They can withhold everything, whether it’s toothpaste, blankets, or words. It’s worth your time to persist with questions until the end. At Omarska, I tried to strike up a conversation with a guard who was nonresponsive until I gave up hope and provocatively blurted out what I wanted to know: “Is it true that you torture the prisoners?

He glanced down at me — he was huge and had pistols on both hips in addition to an AK-47 slung over a shoulder — and his face lurched into a smile that was intentionally and sardonically grim. “Why would we want to beat them?” he said.

Indeed, it appears that U.S. officials are beginning to follow the footsteps of Serb authorities in Bosnia. Just read this chilling story by Simon Romero, who yesterday visited a CPB camp for children in Clint, Texas. The tour for journalists, Romero wrote for the New York Times, was conducted after the number of kids at the facility was greatly reduced. The tour was brief and “highly controlled,” with CPB officials pointing out food and sanitary supplies that they said were being provided to the children — but the journalists were not allowed to enter the cells where the children lived, talk to any of them, or take pictures (their cameras and phones were not allowed inside). When a reporter saw a young girl crying, a CPB agent quickly warned, “Don’t talk to her,” adding, “If you ask her anything you’ll be thrown out.”

A final lesson from Bosnia: The full truth of what happened at the camps did not emerge as a result of journalists visiting them after the worst crimes had been committed. There is a limit to what you can learn at a crime scene that has been cleaned up, and of course there’s a huge limit to what witnesses can tell you in the presence of their tormentors. The truth emerged from later interviews that journalists and investigators conducted with survivors who were able to speak freely in safe locations, usually refugee camps. Tracking down these survivors and taking the time to hear their grim truths was hard work, but it made the difference. Find the families who were kept in abusive conditions at the CBP camps. They know what happened.

I could go on — and it is horrifying that I could go on. How could genocidal events a quarter-century ago have any relevance to America today? That is where we are. That is what we have become.

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