Race And Politics This Week

Aug 3, 2019
Originally published on August 3, 2019 11:49 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

From the Oval Office - or at least the presidential smartphone - to the Democratic debates and in Congress, race continues to drive U.S. politics. This week, the president continued to taunt one of the leading African American Democrats in the House. And the only black Republican in the House announced that he won't run for re-election. All that while the Democrats running for president made many promises to voters of color. We're going to turn for some perspective on this to NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid.

Asma, thanks so much for being with us.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: My pleasure.

SIMON: Will Hurd, lone black Republican in the House, is leaving. That statement alone might make a statement. How big is this development?

KHALID: It is hugely symbolic. Will Hurd is not only the sole black Republican in the House. He's the only Republican to represent a district along the U.S.-Mexico border. You know, he was a rather vocal critic at times of the president at a time when many in the Republican Party had been reticent to criticize him. You know, when the president was very critical recently of freshman members of Congress, a couple of women telling them that they should go back to where they came from, Hurd was one of just four House Republicans who voted for a resolution to condemn the president's comments. So in symbolic terms, I feel like you cannot really overstate how significant this. Is in terms of real power, though, it is a district that Democrats have a good shot at picking up. It's a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and it is majority Hispanic.

SIMON: I want to ask you about the president's tweets about Representative Cummings of Baltimore, Md. President just hasn't let up on that.

KHALID: No, this has been an ongoing attack. It began last weekend, where the president described Baltimore as this rodent, rat-infested mess. And he said that Elijah Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, should really use his committee to start doing more oversight of Baltimore. On Friday morning, the president took to social media, his so favorite social media platform - again, Twitter - and announced the Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad - exclamation mark.

Cummings' home was indeed burglarized. This occurred before the president took to Twitter, but it was - you know, this response from the president - just the latest attack on Cummings. It is worth mentioning that in response to the president's tweet about Cummings' house being robbed, Nikki Haley responded, this is so unnecessary. And she had one of those upside-down questioning face emojis. Haley was Trump's ambassador to the United Nations. She herself is a woman of color - she's Indian American.

SIMON: Are there Republicans who worry about becoming an all-white party while the country's demographics are changing?

KHALID: There are, no doubt, some Republicans who worry about that when they look at the long-term electoral possibilities of the Republican Party. But there's also the sense that it's possible for the Republican Party to squeeze out another presidential election, maybe more with the current demographics. But, you know, as we were talking about Will Hurd, Will Hurd is sort of symbolic of the composition changing within the Republican Party. And it's not so much the Republican Party's demographics have necessarily changed. It's that the country's demographics have changed, and the Republican Party has remained relatively the same. About 30 percent of all voters in the country nowadays are non-white, and you don't really see that represented in the Republican Party.

SIMON: Let me ask about the Democrats because you were at the debates. Democratic presidential candidates - a lot of them were very explicit about race and policies they would like to address - racial justice and inequality. What kind of impact does that seem to have on the campaign trail?

KHALID: I would say it depends on the subset of the Democratic Party that you're speaking to. You know, the flip side of a lot of the changes we've seen in terms of the makeup of the parties has been that as the Republican Party has attracted more and more white, non-college-educated voters, the Democratic Party is pulling in more white, college-educated voters. These are folks who tell me that they even at times self-identify as fiscal conservatives.

They've been disgusted with some of the way that they feel the president has responded on race and immigration issues. But the question is, you know, does that transfer over to, say, how they feel about some of these broad, progressive economic policies that we have some Democrats talking about - say, getting rid of private health insurance?

And I'm not sure that that's the case. So I would say it really depends on the subset of the Democratic Party that we're talking about.

SIMON: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks so much.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.