Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 02/08/15
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: This morning my question, is Iggy Azalea
a hip-hop artist? Plus, the mayor at the center of pointer-gate, comes to
nerd land, and my one on one with Attorney General Eric Holder.
First, responding to the horrors of ISIS.
Good morning, I`m Melissa Harris-Perry. Foreign policy leaders remain
skeptical of ISIS claims, that an American woman held hostage in Syria was
killed in a Jordanian air strike. Friday, the terror group said 26 years
old aid worker Kayla Mueller was buried in the rubble of a building hit by
a Jordanian aircraft. Mueller, who had been working for two aid groups,
helping Syrian refugees, was kidnapped in 2013. Her identity had been kept
private for over a year while negotiations worked behind the scenes to have
her released. U.S. officials say they have no information to confirm the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We do not at the present have
any evidence to corroborate ISIL`s claims.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Without video or any other proof, Mueller`s parents are not
giving up hope. Carl and Marsha Mueller released a statement that reads in
part, “The news leaves us concerned. Yet, we are still hopeful up that
Kayla is still alive.” Mueller is the last remaining American known to be
held hostage by ISIS. Just three days before ISIS said she was killed, this
happened. Tuesday, ISIS released a video of a Jordanian fighter pilot being
burned alive inside a cage. The video prompted a swift response. Jordan
executed two of its prisoners who had been convicted of terrorism. By
Thursday, Jordan had launched an extensive air attack on targets in Syria
and Iraq. The same air campaign that ISIS claims killed Kayla Mueller, but
a Jordanian government spokesman said, “ISIS is being illogical and they`re
While ISIS claims that Mueller was killed in the Syrian City of Raqa, the
U.S. military says no American or Jordanian air strikes happened anywhere
near there. Just last week, another hostage ordeal unfolded when ISIS said
it executed two Japanese hostages. ISIS says it killed the two men, one of
whom was a journalist who traveled to Syria to plead for the release of the
other hostage after Japan refused to pay $200 million in random. It is the
same amount Japan`s prime minister had pledged in nonmilitary aid to
countries involved in the fight against ISIS. The country`s immediate
reaction of horror and grief quickly turned to outrage when Japan`s prime
minister learned of the hostages` death. He vowed to “make the terrorists
pay the price.” It was a bold statement from a pacifist country prompting
some to question whether these beheadings could be a watershed moment for
Japan and the debate over how to confront terrorism. Joining me now Ayman
Mohyeldin, who is NBC News` foreign correspondent, Hillary Mann Leverett,
who will be joining Georgetown University of a visiting scholar, and author
of Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept The Islamic Republic Of Iran.
Nina Khrushcheva who is associate professor of international affairs at the
Milano School. And Clarence Lausanne, professor at the school of
international service at American University. Ayman, I`m wondering if the
response that we are seeing, both from Japan and from Jordan are precisely
what they provocation vises is meant to do.
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS: Well, there`s no doubt that particularly in the
case of Jordan, after one of its pilots was killed, the king came under
pressure and there were a lot of questions as to whether or not Jordan was
going to back down or was going to double down, if you will in the wake of
this tragedy. It seems that by all measures, Jordan is doubling down on the
coalition air strikes. The government has come back and said they will not
be deterred, they are repeating very clearly their message that this is a
fight against them. It is a mortal at threat to Jordan and to Jordanians. I
think if there was any doubt within the kingdom about the resolve of the
king in the past I`d say 72 hours, that has been made clear that the
country is still very much committed to these coalition air strikes.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, I guess part of what I`m wondering, we have seen now
months – years really, but certainly in recent months of the horrors
coming out of ISIS, particularly because with the use of video and social
media, we have literally seen it, why this moment, why this killing
provoking this kind of response?
HILLARY MANN-LEVERETT, AUTHOR: Well, the strategy that the Islamic state
has had has been very clear, instrumental and extraordinarily effective.
Keep in mind when they first took Mosul back in June, they had about 6,000
foot soldiers. Today, they have over 50,000. The support for ISIS or the
Islamic State, though at this point Jordanians want revenge, is still very
deep. It`s not every Jordanian but it`s deep. There are over 2,000
Jordanians that are fighting with the Islamic state so there strategy is
two. One it is to show would be attackers, that if they attack them,
they`re going to be weak because their response is gonna be meaningless and
you get them to overreach. So with the United States, to be seen as the
cool inhumane, bomber murder, and for Jordan, too, to overreach, to show
its population, that this king, for all that he says, he`s just an American
lackey taking orders from the United States. So in the short it were there
will be Jordanian support for the king, but in the long term, as we saw
after the 2005 bombings in Jordan, that`s a very short-term proposition.
The concern in Jordan for American policy – American foreign policy, what
it does in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine is a tool that the
Islamic State uses for surge recruitment very effectively.
HARRIS-PERRY: So this idea that recruitment has grown, and I think for me,
you know clearly, Clarence in Japan this leader had already begun to talk
about removing some of the aspects of the kind of pacifist tradition that
is connected in their current constitution. That said, the idea that these
are horrible killings, but they`re also relatively individuated, and yet
they are having an enormous effect on global foreign strategy.
CLARENCE LAUSANNE, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: The strategy of ISIS, as
Hillary pointed out, is to provoke. It`s working dramatically. They`re
bringing in countries that historically have been somewhat on the
sidelines. Japan is really a case in point. Last year even before the
kidnapping, before these murders, President Abe had already talked about
reinterpreting article 9. Article 9 the part of the Japanese constitution
that says basically it will not go to war. War is outlawed, it can`t
participate, and while it`s difficult to change that…
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to apologize for just one second because even as we
were sort of kind of engaging in this moment, the Japan case and the idea
that it`s instantiated in their current modern constitution, it`s not
entirely about sort of Japan having made this choice. It`s a post World War
II imposed sort of position, at least initially.
LAUSANNE: Right, the U.S. basically wrote that constitution, but the
Japanese people have embraced it, now you have got several generations that
see as their ethos, that they`re a peaceful countries that they don`t
engage in war. As Abe last year teased the population, there was lots of
resistance. I lived in Japan last year, spent a lot of time with human
rights organizations and peace groups, and they were extremely upset that
even this kind of interpretation that Abe was putting out to the public was
taking the countries in a wrong direction. Abe now sees with these two
killings, that this is an opportunity to reintroduce that discussion and to
move towards even changing the constitution, which is a difficult process.
HARRIS-PERRY: So part of what I am interpreting here and I might have this
totally wrong, so I want you to correct me if I am, there`s a kind of
masculinist, epic of foreign policy work here. If I publicly harm the
people who you are meant to be protecting, then I can provoke this
particular response, right? And not your soldiers, but you know an aid
worker, a journalist, right? These folks who are vulnerable, therefore you
have to end up with air strikes and with changing your constitutions,
engage in this type of military process and I wonder, are we allowing, and
I mean we in the broadest sense, allowing ISIS to draw us down a path that
based on almost a kind of evil position rather than a real national
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, MILANO SCHOOL ASSOCIATE DEAN: I actually think that you
are absolutely correct. It does because these people, as they claimed
numerous times, they`re not afraid of death. So for them, the fact that
they`re being bombed is really not such a big deal or so their propaganda
says. A lot of people do subscribe to that propaganda formula. For them,
it`s even a greater message that the west or western countries aligned with
the west can only respond in one way. They can bomb but we can take of
their aid workers, of their journalists. We actually broaden the scope of
people who we consider enemies, because once they serve the American
interests, the western interests and work for that system, and then
everybody is an enemy, and go fight with that kind of propaganda. That is
very, very difficult.
MANN-LEVERETT: There was no Islamic state before we invaded Iraq, before we
destroyed the political order there and completely up-turned the order in
the Middle East. The precursor to the Islamic state was al-Qaeda in Iraq,
which did not exist in contrast to Vice President Chaney`s claims, did not
exist in Iraq. That was created as a response to the U.S. invasion. And
what we minimize in looking at the Islamic state, because we hate their
tactics, is that they have emerged as the strongest, most formidable soon
organizations to protect Sunnis and resist the west and other governments
that align with Iran.
HARRIS-PERRY: So right where you`ve taken us to is where I wanna go after
the break, which is to ask this question about American culpability or at
least the ways in which we are engaged in this in a historic space to the
president got into some trouble in talking about some of this earlier in
One other story, I wanna tell our audience about, Brian Williams is
stepping away temporarily from NBC Nightly News. In a statement, Williams
says it has become apparent, “I am presently too much a part of the news,
surrounding questions about his version of events while covering the Iraq
war invasion in 2003.” Lester Holdt will fill in for Williams.
Coming up, an invitation from the speaker and its impact on potential nukes
Plus, the president has some real talk on religion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: We see faith driving us
to do right, but we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a
wedge, or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Thursday, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington,
President Obama condemned the atrocities committed by ISIS. He spoke of
reconciling realities, the good done by faith communities versus the terror
and sectarian violence. Then the president said something that is rarely
publicly acknowledged by elected leaders in this country. He pointed out
that Islam has no monopoly on using religion to justify horror and
violence. It is an unflattering historical reality for many world faith
traditions, including Christianity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human
history. And unless we get on our high horse and think this is unique to
some other place, remember that during the crusades and inquisitions,
people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So people had all kinds of patently a historical emotion in
relationship to that, but honestly it did feel connected in some ways to
the point you were making about our foreign policy, that as we kind of look
at a world if we always are just standing back as we`re the good guys and
everybody else is the bad guys, we might end up in worse situations.
LEVERETT: Yes and everybody has their critique of what he said, which is
incredibly important that he did it, that he provoked such a debate. But to
me it`s almost the opposite. The White Christians of the time were not the
oppressed of their era, particularly White Christians here in terms of
slavery, or White Christians in terms of South Africa, how they justify the
partite. Whereas here what the Islamic state is trying to represent, as
much as we hate it, and the people that are drawn to it are people who are
in fact the oppressed and people who are marginalized or they people who
have had their entire families wiped out.
HARRIS-PERRY: I hear you. I only want to push back just a little bit. Bill
Moyer draws our attention to the experienced, the lynching of Jessie
Washington in Texas in 1916, and he writes about the fiery cage and the
lynching tree, the way in which right in our own country, a black man was
burned to death while people watched. I get that these people are not
oppressed you but post-confederates often understood themselves as stated
factors who lost the civil war, who had a government imposed upon them and
who were then taking it out on these folks. I feel like is there something
valuable about pausing and actually engaging our history as we move forward
in our foreign policy?
LAUSANNE: I think there certainly is. During slavery and post-slavery, you
have these atrocities that were ongoing. And you had very little response
from the federal government. One of the problems I think with Obama raising
this issue is also facing to this discourse that`s out there that Obama`s
not actually a Christian, that Obama`s actually is too aligned with folks
outside of the U.S., he`s got a Muslim father, so it makes it difficult to
inject what is a really needed discussion where you put on the table we
have to have empathy, we have to put ourselves in the positions of people
who are in marginalized around the world and how that drives people to
extremism, then that gets exploited by groups like ISIS.
HARRIS-PERRY: At the same time that we denounce atrocities, so the part of
it to me is on the one hand saying this is this horror but the very fact
that you have a massive recruitment effort that is working suggests to me,
OK, yes it`s a horror, but clearly other people are not seeing it as a
horror. For me, this is a bit of a tricky one, I just want to show again
that image of the Jessie Washington lynching. Again, this is 1916, but part
of what`s important to me, if you can take your eyes from the charred body,
which is horrifying but to see the faces of the people there who are
watching it. To me, this is the piece that connects back to the ISIS moment
that people are watching it, and they`re not experiencing horror in that
KHRUSHCHEVA: They`re not experiencing horror, because for them these are
the enemies being prosecuted, and as Hillary pointed out, that was done to
them. In the 2000s, the same thing was done to them. So these civilians
were killed. They had people who were doctors who were killed, so their
basically paying the same western bill that they felt that was given to
them by the west, so of course psychologically, they are not, but the
larger problem is it`s wonderful that that line sparked debate or that
conversation is now a conversation is that Barack Obama was trying to
provide context. I think what`s very dangerous is that contextually nothing
is being understood. Suddenly we`re talking about him, as you said, not
being a Christian, but we have to remember that every conversation that
talks about us versus them mentality, religious or not, it always sparks
violence. I think that`s what he was bringing to everybody`s attention, but
we`re so polarized that we`re unwilling to see that, and all we see is that
he`s against Christianity or he is supporting the ISIS. He`s not. He`s
just saying that anything that incites violence, religious our not, is a
HARRIS-PERRY: And yet, he is a president who…
KHRUSHCHEVA: He is not a history teacher.
HARRIS-PERRY: No, I was going to say he is a President who is engaged in
violence around I mean because he`s a president not because he`s one could
argue he`s particularly violent or not but he`s a president, and so he
stands as the representative of American foreign policy which is what you
pointed our Hillary is deeply problematic. So for people around the world
who see us as aggressors, and so, Ayman, part of what I`m wondering then is
how a moment like that is received. For journalists, as we sort of put that
moment out and there and then there`s an internal debate within the U.S.
and these other nations, is it received as he`s trying to contextualize it,
or is it received as he`s weak?
MOHYELDIN: I think those words are probably gonna be lost on a lot of
people in the Middle East. What is gonna resonate loudly are American
drones that are being carried out on a daily basis. That`s a message geared
toward an American audience, understandably so, but at the end of the day,
I think the point a lot of us are trying to make here is that you cannot
remove American foreign policy from the long history of problems that have
led to this point. Does that mean the United States is single handedly
responsible? Absolutely not, but you can`t convince a person in Yemen whose
had his entire family killed in a U.S. drone strike that contextualizing
the president`s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast is going make them
somehow more understanding and more appreciative of what the president is
trying to do. Herein lays really a fundamental problem that has plagued the
United States for many years. The difference between the values it tries to
espouse and the actions it carries out. These things are not lost on
ordinary people in the Middle East. They do not need to be scholars, they
do not to be intellectuals to understand this very basic premise that the
actions of incidents continue to create ripple effects that we are feeling
decade after decade as a result of it.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stick with us, much more. Up next, there is news this morning
on the escalating conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Secretary of State
John Kerry weighs in when we come back.
Plus, my one on one interview with Attorney General Eric Holder.
HARRIS-PERRY: Fighting still rages between Ukrainian government forces and
Russian-backed separatists. Ukraine`s president Petro Poroshenko advocated
for a ceasefire today in a phone call with Russian president Vladimir Putin
and other world leaders. The leaders plan to meet in Wednesday in Minsk to
discuss further, even while a cessation of hostilities, Poroshenko`s still
requesting weapons from the west.
More than 5,000 have been killed since fighting began in April more that
220 civilians have been killed in just the last three weeks. The U.S. has
been sending Ukraine body armor and other supplies. But now officials are
debating whether to help arm Ukraine with lethal weapons. Saturday, Vice
President Joe Biden spoke at the Munich Security Conference, but he did not
address weapons deliveries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA VICE PRESIDENT: So we will continue to
provide Ukraine with security assistance, not to encourage war, but to
allow Ukraine to defend itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: And in the most recent news, it is the Secretary of State
John Kerry who sat down with an exclusive interview with Chuck Todd to
discuss this continuing issue. He said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: How soon will the suns by providing
more security assistance, heavier artillery, to Ukraine?
JOHN KERRY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA SECRETARY OF STATE: I have no doubt
that additional assistance of economic kind and others, other kind will be
going to Ukraine, and we do so understanding that there is no military
solution. The solution is a political diplomatic one, but President Putin
has got to make the decision to take an off-ramp, and we have to make it
clear to him that we are absolutely committed to the sovereignty and
integrity of Ukraine, no matter what.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KHRUSHCHEVA: OK. Well, I`m glad they are going to be committed to make it
absolutely clear to President Putin that they are committed, as if they
haven`t done it in a year. How is it going to happen? It certainly will not
happen to by supplying lethal arms to Ukraine. I don`t know if we`re
planning to talk about but that`s why the French and Germans are shuttling
between Moscow and Kiev and their home countries and talking to John Kerry,
precisely because this is really not a winning scenario, this is the worst-
case scenario they can have. Start a war in Europe.
HARRIS-PERRY: And the Germans are all in though, in the provision of
weapons to Ukraine and supporting that and saying well, we`re going to have
to do what we have to do here in the provisioning.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, they say they`re going to do what they have to do, but
Angela Markel just said there is no even an indication that if Ukraine has
better weapons it`s actually going to win war over Putin because his
weapons are still going be better. I think that`s why diplomacy is the most
important route that they can take, but I really wish that John Kerry,
after a year of talking to his Russian counterparts and around the world,
really have stronger language in a sense, more refined language, how it is
exactly they`re going to make it clear to Vladimir Putin.
HARRIS-PERRY: Also I guess my other question is, why would Putin take the
off-ramp? Just to step back, put myself in that situation, I`m Vladimir
Putin, what is my incentive structure to get out?
LEVERETT: The only thing we know that actually works with Putin, and I
think you know we are at large with other countries is if you rebuild the
relationship, if talk to them, take their interests seriously, you look at
a serious way to go about having a neutral Ukraine. It`s gonna sound
completely counter-intuitive. To say security assistance to Ukraine, no,
it`s war assistance. What would be real security assistance is if we could
rebuild the relationship with Russia, have a much more secure architecture
in Europe that included Russia, that actually would help Ukraine and that
HARRIS-PERRY: But is Putin interested in that?
LAUSANNE: The thing is for a number of years Putin has felt disrespected.
The U.S. and the EUs role is really part of what`s created this mess. In
2013, the European Union with the backing of the U.S. put this proposal
before the former president, which was to woo Ukraine away. Ukraine is the
last apple on the tree from the old Soviet Union. Virtually, every single
war saw pact country is a neighbor of NATO. So Russia has been feeling
this. They did this without even consulting Russia. Russia presented a
counter-offer, which the president backed off, and that`s what led to the
demonstrations in the streets.
And since that point, then you`ve had, within Ukraine, which has already
been divided between the a western part of Ukraine, which is very
nationalistic and eastern part of Ukraine, which always has historically
been pro-Russian, all of that gets set in motion by the machinations coming
from the EU.
HARRIS-PERRY: And then on the question of disrespect, just as we clear that
our government has apparently been watching television and diagnosing
KHRUSHCHEVA: That`s why when you ask what does he want? We`ve been talking
about sanctions on this program and many others. They do work to a degree.
For example, that John Kerry, that Russia has received from credit agency
really bit very, very hard. Now, there`s all the swift codes, bank codes is
going to be even harder. One of the reasons that Putin is willing to sit
down is because, you know, we saw that many, many times.
HARRIS-PERRY: The economic squeeze.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Exactly. He always looks for an opportunity to look good. So
for him now it`s an opportunity. He`s going to save Europe from war. He`s
going to somehow alleviate a bit of a crisis.
HARRIS-PERRY: And keep his last apple.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Right, he`s going to bring everybody into that conversation.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sorry. I`m going to let you back as soon as come back because
coming up the reason why the Israeli prime minister speaks to congress when
that happens or if it happens, many members will not be there to listen and
later the mayor of the center of pointer-gate, I`ll let everybody back in
when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: Vice President Joe Biden is the latest in a growing list of
democrats who plan to skip Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s
address to a joint meeting of congress next month. House speaker John
Boehner`s decision to invite the prime minister without informing the Obama
administration angered the White House, which called the move a breach in
protocol. The speech scheduled for March 3rd is a mere three weeks before
the deadline on negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran. Joining me now
from Washington, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, what is
the reaction in Washington right to what`s happening on this?
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Melissa, this is
becoming a real political firestorm. That list of democrats who say they`re
not going to attend the speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu is growing on
the list. It includes Congressman John Lewis, G.K Butterfield, Congressman
James Clyburn, Congressman Raul Grijalva. Now, it is anticipated that Prime
Minister Netanyahu is going to criticize those negotiations with Iran to
try to get a nuclear deal done in the White House, and some democrats say
that their concern that his remarks could undermine attempts to get that
deal done. They also empathize what you just pointed out, the fact that the
White House sees this as a breach in protocol. Administration officials
continue to fume about this. President Obama has said he`s not going to
meet with the Prime Minister Netanyahu, citing the fact that the Israeli
elections are just a few weeks away as you have pointed out, Vice President
Biden now saying he`s not going to attend the prime minister`s speech.
There are broader concerns here as though well, Melissa, how will it impact
the United States` relationship with Israel, of course a key ally in that
region. And how does it impact President Obama`s relationship with Prime
Minister Netanyahu, a relationship that is already seen as being strained.
There are some rumblings, some speculation that the prime minister might
back out at the last minute because he is seeing this and sees this as
potentially politically toxic as well. Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Kristen Welker in Washington, D.C.
bringing us the latest on that story this morning. So Ayman I wanna come to
you on this, this is a political mess on the inside of both nations.
Clearly there`s a partisan divide, opening up here in the U.S. but this is
also for folks who are not aware, this prime minister is running for
reelection, and, you know, this is in part a question of the politics of
the visuals and his powerful relationship with the U.S. as well.
MOHYELDIN: Yeah, I mean, there are so many occurrences happening here that
are happening at the same time. One of the most important though that
should not be lost, is the big difference between Israel and the United
States when it comes to the Iran question. I`m sure you can speak more to
that, but this is now a major difference between these two countries for
the most part has been locked shoulder to shoulder on many issues,
traditionally in the Middle East. On this issue, we now see a wide schism
(ph), and we see it manifesting itself in these ugly politics where you
have an Israeli prime minister being invited to come here, speak to
congress, violating the protocols of what`s been the norm and more
importantly, and the backlash it`s created within the political leadership
of the democratic party and others, that I think is going to exacerbate
itself for some time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Hillary, how important is this?
LEVERETT: It is really important. I mean one of the things that are
critical is that it shows how close we are to peace with Iran, which would
be as revolutionary and beneficial to the United States as when we
recognize normalized relations with China in the 1970s. Because President
Obama has shown the courage, taking the page from my book, going to Tehran,
showing the courage, gone forward and actually got us close to a deal, that
courage has gotten key people in congress, and here it`s not been mentioned
very much, but especially in the congressional black caucus.
HARRIS-PERRY: When we listed the people who weren`t going, that was CBC.
LEVERETT: They started it. They had the courage to come out first when
nobody would back the president, they came out and backed the president and
said, what`s going on here is the president is doing something right and we
need to defend him against a clear, blatant partisan attack. The Israelis
fed right, they thought they can manipulate congress, and they went right
to the republicans and they tried to make it a partisan game. I think
they`re really gonna suffer when this goes down. We`re looking at
fundamental change in the Middle East. U.S. policy cannot sustain itself
the way it is, and if President Obama can see this through, he will have a
legacy of peace and stability that will be quite remarkable.
LAUSANNE: Yeah, I would agree with all of that. The other point I would
raise republicans should also boycott this speech. This really sets a
dangerous precedent. Can you imagine…
HARRIS-PERRY: For the house speaker to invite a foreign president.
LAUSANNE: Can you imagine the Labor Party in England inviting the president
to come over and give a speech against Cameron? You can`t imagine that at
all. So this is really a break in not just a fraction, this is really a
break in protocol so we probably can shield…
HARRIS-PERRY: Is it a challenge to the notion that the president of the
United States is in fact the head of the U.S.
LAUSANNE: Absolutely. The republicans seem to have forgotten this is
actually the president of the United States` area of expertise. For
Netanyahu, who is already getting much backlash, not only in Israel but
among Jewish groups here in the United States as well, it`s creating an
issue in which it actually harms Israel`s `foreign policy.
MOHYELDIN: To say very briefly, I think asking a world leader to come lobby
in congress on behalf of a policy is very bad optics for the United States
in terms of its standing in the global affairs.
HARRIS-PERRY: It exposes – this is supposed to be – partisanship is
always supposed to stop at the water`s edge, this is the moment when.
Sometimes to bad effect we rally around the flag, but typically that`s what
MOHYELDIN: And the Speaker of the House Boehner has made it clear he was
inviting the prime minister to come and address because he has a certain
degree of expertise on radical Islam, and the threat they were on posing to
global security and that`s certainly his role (inaudible), there`s nothing
wrong with that, but to do it in a public joint address to the congress is
not the same. I mean, King Abdullah of Jordan was just here on Capitol Hill
a few days ago, he was speaking to members of congress and senior members
of the senate about the challenges his country faces. He was not asked to
come and address the joint session of congress in an open speech. So there
is an optics here that I think should not be lost. There`s a reason he was
invited to come and address congress in a public forum as opposed to just
brief congress on his intelligence.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there like a real serious 2016 domestic politics going on
here, the notion there`s been a long historic relationship between American
Jewish communities and the Democratic Party that may get fractured and
ruptured in a moment like this? I would hate to think that. I would hate to
think that part of what`s going on is just an attempt to shift that big
democratic parted coalition, but it feels hard not to think that is part of
what`s going on.
LEVERETT: I think it`s even a bigger picture for 2015 for democrats, and
that`s that we saw, I think, a very important, very smart move by President
Obama, by the Democratic Party that frankly, I haven`t seen in six years,
which was to lead the agenda, to take charge, to actually lead. They came
out hitting in after the loss in the mid term election. As of January 20th,
with the inaugural speech, what they have done in immigration, a whole
range of things, it`s become part and parcel. Let the president lead on
foreign policy, let him succeed, and then the chips will fall where they
may in 2016, and I think the democrats are now quite confident, as they
haven`t been in a few years, that this will come to fruition on a range of
issues for Obama and help surge the democrats to victory in 2016.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Ayman Mohyeldin, and to Hillary Mann Leverett,
also to Clarence Lausanne and to Nina Khrushcheva. Still to come this
morning is my extensive interview with the U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder. But first, a trip down the memory lane of pointer-gate.
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you remember these dangerous criminals from 2014? OK. Let
me rephrase. Do you recall the time of mayor of Minneapolis posed with a
community organizer during a get out the vote drive, and was then accused
of throwing gang signs? That`s right. I`m talking about pointer-gate. The
racially tinged politically motivated completely made-up scandal that
Twitter loved to hate. Here`s the quick recap. During the lead up, to the
November elections, Mayor Betsy Hodges joined a get out the vote drive,
organized by the community group neighborhoods organizing for change.
During an awkward moment seen here she posed for a photo, with the groups`
employee, Navel Gordon, who does have a (inaudible) serving probation.
Local news station, KSTP grew attention to the photo. With one person
interviewed for the story, saying the mayor was, “legitimizing gang
activity by flashing a known gang sign.” The police union chief added the
fuel to the fire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is something that could incite gang violence in the
city, and for as critical as she can be with the cops, is she going to
support gangs in the city or cops?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Local media was quick to point out the underlying story line
here, recent tension between the mayor and the police department. You see
in an open letter posted on her website, the mayor talked about her plans
for improving the department, saying in part, some officers abuse the trust
that is afforded to them and take advantage of their roles to do harm
rather than prevent it. In the meantime, Twitter had a heyday with pointer-
gate, posting photos of both local community groups, and famous faces, all
throwing those alleged gang signs. We spoke with Navel Gordon on this
program and asked him what he was doing in that photograph.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAVEL GORDON: I was blessed to be in the mayor`s presence. I was pointing
at the mayor, I was offered to take her out and canvass and so our
neighborhood organized the change do work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Just pointing. That seems to be the general consensus and the
point of Mayor Hodges herself. She said she was just pointing. That in fact
she points a lot. But we never had a chance to talk to her ourselves until
now. Mayor Betsy Hodges joins me live from Minneapolis, next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Betsy Hodges has now been the mayor of Minneapolis for a
little more than a year. While the pointer-gate firestorm brought her
national attention, she`s focused on substantive local issues affecting the
daily lives of her constituents. Mayor Hodges joins me now from
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mayor Hodges, it`s so nice to have you here. You
know, few issues have captured the attention of the American public more
than recent months than the issues of community relations with police. Can
you talk to me how are you working to addressing that issue in your city?
BETSY HODGES, MINNEAPOLIS MAYOR: Well, you know, Minneapolis, like every
other city in this country has been grappling with these issues. What we
have in our city, though, is a chief and a mayor, both who are committed to
strong community policing, doing what`s need to make sure that the
community and police department are working together on behalf of public
safety. You know, we invited – the chief invited the department of justice
in to do a review. They have recommended an early intervention system. For
example, to make sure that issues get caught before they become problems,
and the community and the union and I and the chief are all working
together to make something like that real, and we`ll be implementing body
cameras as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: So you know Minneapolis, like others is a place where we can
look at numbers, and see for example, African-Americans in Minneapolis are
11.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, 8.9 times
more likely to be arrested for disorderly conduct, but then you also said
in this recent open letter that you want to make sure that the criteria we
use to hire new officers and form community service officers cadet and
police recruit classes reflects the community`s deeply held values around
public safety and respect among others. Talk to me how that works, what
does that look like on the ground?
HODGES: Well, one of the best perhaps we have in Minneapolis, to make sure
we`re continuing to hire officers who represent the community is our
community service officer program. We pay for folks to go through schools
so they`re prepared to train to be police officers, and we give them a job
at the same time. That`s the best ladder into the police department we have
for minority communities, for low-income folks, and we`re having a lot of
success there, especially at a time when we`re hiring a lot given all the
retirements that are happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: I think also, for folks who don`t know Minneapolis, who don`t
know your city, they may not know that it`s an increasingly diverse city,
and that the non-white population in Minneapolis has really grown over the
past decade. Your letter is a stunning document from a mayor, and that you
said very clearly, my vision for Minneapolis is of a city where every
harmful gap in outcomes that worse for people of color than for white
people is eliminated, every one of them. That is a very bold vision. What
actions do you propose to move toward that goal?
HODGES: Well, I mean, Minneapolis does have some of the largest gaps
between white people and people of color in the country on pretty much any
measure that you care to name. So if you come into my office, you will see
three questions on my whiteboard that don`t get erased. One of them is
about how to continue to run the city well. One is how does it move the
dial on growth? And the other is how does it move the dial on equity.
Everything I do gets filtered through those questions. And growth and
equity in the city of Minneapolis are incredibly intertwined, that if we
are leaving genius on the table, if we are not training all of our kids for
the jobs of the future, then we are going to hold ourselves back as a city
and our brightest future. Because you`re right, you know, we`re going to be
a majority minority before folks know it. We need to make sure that
everybody can contribute to our growth and prosperity, everybody can
benefit from it. So I`m looking at our earliest children, I have a cradle
to K said the recommendations that`s out in the community for feedback,
about how we want to work to make sure that earliest gap of brain
development between the ages of 0 and 3, how we close that for, you know,
for children of color, and white children. Anything from that to we just
got a Bloomberg innovation grant, so that we can – Bloomberg philanthropy
Innovation Grant, so that we can examine in the city, are we providing our
services equitably across the entire city? And then, anything from that to
my brother`s keeper - I was an early adopter of the president`s program, My
Brother`s Keeper, to really pull together folks in the community to talk
about how we are serving boys and young men of color, and making sure they
get the best possible outcome so they can contribute as well.
HARRIS-PERRY: Mayor Betsy Hodges, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, it was a real
pleasure to finally get to talk with you. You probably can`t see me through
the camera lens, but I`m pointing at you.
HODGES: Well, thank you very much. Thanks for having me on. It`s great to
Before we go to break, we want to note the passing of a legendary college
basketball coach. Dean Smith, who coached the University of North Carolina
basketball team for 36 years, died last night. During his tenure from 1961
to 1997, Smith led the Tar Heels to 2 national titles, and 11 appearances
in the Final Four. Smith also helped to diversify the UNC basketball team.
In 1967, he became one of the first southern college coaches to offer a
scholarship to a black player. Smith went on to coach several hall of fame
players, including Michael Jordan. Dean Smith was 83.
Coming up next, my one on one interview with Attorney General Eric Holder.
There`s a lot more (inaudible) at the top of that however.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harry-Perry.
In the last week of January, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch responded to
several days of questions by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Despite some
grumblings by a few republican senators, Lynch is expected to be confirmed
within weeks. If she assumes office, she will make history as the first
African-American woman to lead the Department of Justice. Making history
has been a definitive aspect of the tenure of her predecessor, current
Attorney General Eric Holder. He`s the first African-American to hold this
post. After just more than six years in office, he`s among the longest
serving attorneys general in American history. He`s enjoyed unusual reform
with the president he serves and navigated a remarkably unpleasant
relationship with Congress nearing the end of Justice Department
Attorney General Holder sat down with me for a wide ranging Nerdland style
interview. And I asked him whether the journey has been consequential and
whether it was all worked it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It will be for history to decide
whether it`s consequential. It was certainly worth it. The effort was
certainly worth it. I`m proud of the work that we have done in the United
States Department of Justice. And very grateful for the sacrifices that
the men and women in the department made. You know, in 2011, we celebrated
the 50th anniversary Robert Kennedy`s swearing-in as attorney general,
perhaps my most famous predecessor. And I would argue perhaps the greatest
attorney general we`ve ever known. That`s often times of the golden age
for the Justice Department, civil rights – variety of issues that they go
with. Well, I think modestly 50 years from now people will look back at
this Justice Department and say, that was at the Golden Age that they dealt
with a whole range of national security issues, civil rights issues. They
pushed when it came to LBGT, equality, they held people accountable when it
came to financial things, we kept the nation safe in a way that was
consistent with our values, rejected the notion of torture, and I think
people will look back at this Department of Justice and say, you know, they
did a pretty good job.
HARRIS-PERRY: You once said that your worst day in office was the day that
you had to walk through the bloodied aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary in
Newtown. Children were slaughtered in their classrooms, and we have not
made any meaningful progress on changing the access to guns in this
country. Are we a nation of cowards when it comes to guns?
HOLDER: Well, I will say this. It was the worst day I had as attorney
general. It is I think the single failure that I point to in my time as
attorney general that I was not able to, along with other members of the
administration, convince Congress to really follow the will of the American
people, which is to enact meaningful, reasonable gun safety measures the
gun lobby simply won. You know? And I don`t think we are a nation of
cowards, but I think that members of Congress need to have a little more
backbone and stand up to what is a distinct minority, even within, for
instance the NRA and do the kinds of reasonable things that the American
people simply want to have happen. That`s a truth.
HARRIS-PERRY: When Ferguson happened, the position that should have been
filled by the President`s nominee Debo Adegbile was not filled. It`s a
civil rights division. And he was blocked by the U.S. Senate, someone who
many of us think was highly qualified for the position.
HOLDER: I will say that, you know, Debo`s unsuccessful nomination fight is
something that bothered me then and bothers me now. He is a great lawyer,
who should be serving as the assistant attorney general of the civil rights
division. Now, we have Bonita Gupta who will step in to that position,
he`s going to do a great job, but I think he was treated extremely and
fairly, he did what a lawyer is supposed to do, you know, take on tough
cases that are unpopular. And he did so extremely honorably. The fact
that he got penalized for doing that sets, I think I`m a very bad
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Debo had a pretty uncomfortable experience with the U.S.
Congress. That is something you are –
HOLDER: Welcome to my world, okay?
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you hate them all or just some of them?
HOLDER: I don`t hate any of them. But the reality is that, I understand
where some of them are coming from, and I think people have to understand
is that there are a good number of people up there who really is interested
in making, you know, progress. And in spite of the fact that I`ve had an
interesting relationship with many members of Congress, the reality is we
have also achieved a great deal, you know?
HARRIS-PERRY: One of the most fascinating parts of watching you in the
Obama administration has been the relationship that you have with President
Obama, which as far as I can tell tracks most closely with the Kennedy
brothers. Not that you and President Obama are brothers other than in some
interesting way, but I wonder if that proximity, that closeness, that deep
respect made it harder or easier for you to do your job as Attorney
HOLDER: There`s no question that we are close personally. And those who
have said that because we are close personally that has led to a
politicization of the Justice Department, let me just say, that`s just
fundamentally wrong. He is at base a really good lawyer, who understands
the need for an independent Justice Department. And I`m sure there are
going to be things that we will talk about that we have not talked about
once I leave office, once he lived office. I`m sure I`ve done certain
things. He`s wondered, what the heck was Eric doing that for? But he has
never voiced that to me. So –
HARRIS-PERRY: Do you say the things about race that the President wants to
say and can`t?
HOLDER: No, I speak as an individual, as an Attorney General whose dealing
with an specific set of issues. And I think that – that`s been a very
unfair criticism of him, you know, this notion that somehow rather I`m
saying things that he can`t say or that he won`t say. He has said more
things I think in a positive way about civil rights than perhaps any other
president of the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: Have there been moments in this administration when you`ve
had substantive disagreement with the President? Not just basketball. The
things that you actually disagreed with him on? And when you did that, did
you work it out as attorney general and president?
HOLDER: Well, you know these are not things to be worked out. I have
areas of responsibility that are mine. This attorney general of the United
States. I have to make decisions, and when I make those decisions, they
are mine to make. And as president, he simply has to except when it comes
to matters of national security. I mean, he obviously has the last call.
But when it comes to law enforcement matters, those are decisions that an
independent attorney general has to make. When I made the decision not to
defend the constitutionality of DOMA, I went over to tell him that, you
know, almost as a courtesy. He independently had said he had done his own
research. He`s a constitutional lawyer and thought that the decision that
we made was in fact the correct one.
HARRIS-PERRY: Are you still optimistic about the possibility of perfecting
HOLDER: Yes. I am. I think that`s the beauty of this country. You know,
we move in fits and starts. Sometimes we take one steps forward, then a
couple of steps back, but we are always focused on progress and making
things better. Sometimes it takes, you know, a little too long, but I
mean, how can I be anything but optimistic?
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s been a rough six years.
HOLDER: Yes. But, you know, I`m 64-years-old. And I grew up at a time
when my late sister-in-law in 1963 had to have federal troops to enroll in
her State University. And now her brother-in-law since as the Attorney
General of the United States, serving in the administration of the first
African-American president. You know, things are difficult. Things are
hard, but they are way easier than they were in `63 when Vivian had to deal
with George Wallace and then go back beyond that. When I think about the
things that my parents had to deal with, my father, you know, while in
uniform, while in uniform and serving this country in World War II was told
that he couldn`t eat in certain places in Oklahoma, couldn`t do certain
things when he was at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina and then go beyond that,
to think about what African-Americans have had to deal with through
slavery, through segregation. We have made remarkable progress. We`re not
at the place, you know, where we need to be. Simply saying that we made
progress because it`s not enough. You know? Progress is simply an
indication of how you are doing. There are goals that I think we
ultimately have to meet, but I`m optimistic that over time my kids are
going to live in an America that`s more just and more equal than the one
that I am in now.
HARRIS-PERRY: Sixty four is still quite young. So, what is next for Eric
Holder? Where do you go next?
HOLDER: Well, we certainly going to take a little bit of rest. These are
stressful jobs. And I want to take a little bit time off, but I`m
committed to the work. And I`m not sure exactly what form that will take.
I talked about the possibility of getting together some kind of justice and
reconciliation effort, to kind to follow on what I`ve been doing, going
around the country trying to reconcile law enforcement and the communities
that they serve and killing the issues of voting rights. So, you know,
something along those lines. I think that`s what`s going to animate me in
my remaining years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: There`s much more from my interview with Attorney General
Holder to come. We talked voting rights, the Supreme Court, Ferguson and
exactly what he thinks about his Nerdland nickname “the duck.”
But first, an MSNBC original report on why millions of Americans cannot
HARRIS-PERRY: If there`s been one issue that is at the forefront of
Attorney General Eric Holder`s agenda during his time in office, it is to
vote. Perhaps not true for passage of the 1965 voting rights acts itself
has voting in America faced more legislative restrictions than in the past
several years. This past November, 36.3 percent of eligible Americans
voted in the 2014 midterm elections. It was the lowest voter turnout since
the 1942 federal election, but according to the sentencing project,
approximately 5.85 million voting age Americans were not permitted to vote,
because they were previously convicted of felonies. In fact, in 12 states
a fully served sentence does not guarantee that a person with a felony will
have their voting rights restored. Iowa is one of those states.
MSNBC national reporter Zach Roth spoke with an Iowa woman at the center of
an ACLU lawsuit, these extremists store the voting rights, a thousands of
Iowans convicted a felonies, here is that MSNBC original report.
ZACHARY ROTH, MSNBC NATIONAL REPORTER (voice-over): In 2013, Kelli
Griffin, a state at-home mom from Montrose, Iowa went to vote in a local
election. Griffin had been through some hard times. A survivor of
domestic abuse she told us, she suffered from drug addiction, and in 2008,
she was convicted of a drug-related crime and given five years` probation.
But now she was turning her life around. And voting was a rite of passage.
KELLI GRIFFIN, IOWA RESIDENT: I felt, god, I mean it was – it`s one of
the steps to being back into society, to fulfilling that I am just like
everybody else. I mean, I have overcome a lot.
ROTH: She even took her kids to the polls to teach them about the
GRIFFIN: They were running around the building where we were voting, it
was very chaotic, but it was still important.
ROTH: But not long afterwards, Griffin got a phone call from an agent with
Iowa`s division of criminal investigation. He was parked outside her
house, and he said he wanted to verify the signature on her voter
GRIFFIN: I was worked that I had done something wrong. And I was scared
that I didn`t know what was going to happen next.
ROTH (on camera): And what did happen next?
GRIFFIN: I was arrested.
ROTH (voice-over): Griffin had been charged with illegal voting, part of
an aggressive campaign by Iowa`s then secretary of state, republican Matt
Shultz, to raise concern about fraud as he pushed for a voter ID law.
Shultz, who didn`t return our call for comment, wasted no time in blasting
a press release touting the charges against Griffin and eight other former
felons accused of voting illegally.
GRIFFIN: I don`t know why someone would want to spent some $200,000 to
stop someone from voting, especially the small number that they went after.
ROTH: When Griffin began her probation in 2008, she was told by her lawyer
that once she completed it, her right to vote would be restored. That was
accurate at the time, but in 2011, republican Governor Terry Bran stat took
office and quickly changed the rules, requiring former felons to go through
a lengthy application process to regain the franchise.
GRIFFIN: I thought that someone in the Department of Corrections should
have made that clear that I was not allowed to vote.
ROTH: Griffin testified that she wasn`t aware of the rule change. And
last year a jury acquitted her.
GRIFFIN: I was happy that I wasn`t going to leave my children. I didn`t
know how not how I would handle that, but how my children would handle not
having a mother.
ROTH: Griffin would get to stay with her kids, but she was still
disenfranchised. Now she`s the plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU
that aims to restore her voting rights as well as thousands of other Iowans
convicted of felonies. It`s part of an emerging movement to challenge
felons disenfranchise with laws which bar nearly six million Americans from
casting a ballot. In Florida, around seven percent of the adult population
and nearly one in four African-Americans are denied a voice because of past
mistakes. Rita Bettis is a lawyer with the ACLU`s Iowa chapter.
RITA BETTIS, LEGAL DIRECTOR, ACLU OF IOWA: I do think that it`s inherently
striking to folks when they first learn about this. Everyone assumes that
when you completed your sentence, you paid your debt to society, you`ve
rebuilt your life, that you should be able to have a say in who`s on your
kids` school board. That makes sense to people. So I think felony
disenfranchisement doesn`t make sense to people, and so we are starting to
see pushback which is really encouraging.
GRIFFIN: Why shouldn`t we be able to vote for who`s on our school board,
or who is the President of the United States or who is our governor? I
believe that we have as much right as anybody else.
HARRIS-PERRY: MSNBC`s Zach Roth joins me now. So, she almost went to jail
ROTH: That`s right. It`s pretty hard to believe. And, you know, one
thing that shows is, remember, this was part of a push for a strict voter
I.D. law in Iowa. So, this is part of an effort by republicans to gin up
fear about illegal voting and voter fraud and all those kinds of things.
Then the other issue is the confusion issue. When you have this system
where the law is going to change, depending on who is on office, you will
going to have people who think they can vote when they`re not allowed to
vote as in Kelli`s situation. You`ll also going to have people who think
they can`t vote when actually they can vote, so that`s going to lead to a
reduction of people who come out and vote. And that`s part of the problem
HARRIS-PERRY: Even if you don`t have felon disenfranchisement in your
state, impart just because people know that it exists some places they may
not even try to register to vote even if in fact they could.
ROTH: That`s right. And there`s also this bigger issue that, you know,
this really raises pretty fundamental questions about our democracy. First
of all, just because of the scale of the issue, as we said in nearly six
million Americans who can`t vote because of this, and within specific
demographic groups. You know, you have one in four African-Americans in
Florida. But the other issue is, just on principle, you know, we talk a
lot about voter I.D. laws, those laws are as bad as they are, as
discriminatory as they are, they are essentially procedural. Everybody in
theory has to get an I.D. and show it, with this felon, with this
enfranchising laws, that`s a whole class of people that you`re saying
because of something that they`ve done that they now can`t change, they
have put themselves beyond the bounds of our democratic process. And
that`s a pretty fundamental issue with our democracy.
HARRIS-PERRY: Absolutely. And we know, given the size of that scope, you
say one in four in Florida is going to actually impact election outcomes.
Zach Roth, thank you for doing that reporting and reminding us, keeping
this issue of the vote on the table for all of us.
Up next, more of my interviewer with Attorney General Eric Holder, starting
with the ongoing assault on voting rights that we`ve seen during his
HARRIS-PERRY: In my interview this week with outgoing Attorney General
Eric Holder, I asked him to weigh in on policing in America, his visit to
Ferguson and whether he thinks the right to vote in this country is in
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: I think it is under threat. The attempt by various states for, I
think really specious grounds to have people to get i.D.s, to put
restrictions in the way of people exercising of most basic of rights is
something that we have to be in cognizant of. It`s something that we have
fought against as long as I have been attorney general, it something
worries me, a great deal. This is the 50th anniversary of the voting
rights act. And the notion that we are still having these kinds of
discussions, having these kinds of battles 50 years after Lyndon Johnson
signed that, you know, the crown jewel of the civil rights movement is
extremely worrisome to me.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Supreme Court has been busy dismantling a lot of the
accomplishments of the civil rights movement, the legislative
accomplishments. And man, there`s something about watching that happen
during the presidency of the first African-American president, during the
leadership of the Department of Justice by the first African-American
attorney general. In the end, when you walk away, as you`re preparing to
walk away, did you shore it up? Or do you feel like it`s actually weakened
after these six years?
HOLDER: I certainly think there are new challenges that we have to face as
a result of some – I think wrongly decided, frankly, wrongly decided
Supreme Court decisions, especially if you look at what the Supreme Court
did to the voting rights act, essentially gutted it, but by gutting one
section of the voting rights act, we regrouped and said, okay, we`ll use
section two to try to bring cases. And we have been very aggressive in
bringing civil rights cases. You know, what we have to deal with in the
21st Century is what people had to deal with in the 20th Century. And
we`re in a far better position now, both economically, strategically,
politically to deal with these issues than we were back then. So, yes,
they have certainly been hits that the civil rights movement has taken, but
nothing that I think can ultimately be overcome.
HARRIS-PERRY: As bad as the relationship is with Congress, it`s nothing
compared to the relationship that many communities of color have with
police departments. Is that fixable?
HOLDER: Yes, I think it is. I was in Oakland over the last few days as
part of – the last stop I made on a tour, a building community trust tour,
to try to work in ways which we can bring together people in law
enforcement and the communities that they serve. Those relationships have
certainly been frayed in a number of places, but I am really confident,
optimistic that those relationships can be made better. I was in Oakland
yesterday, and in San Francisco yesterday, and then talked to young people
who said, you know, we want to work with the police, we want to know who
they are, we want them to know who we are, and I think that`s really been
one of the values of this tour, bringing people together from law
enforcement from the communities, faith leaders to talk to one another.
It`s hard to demonize somebody who you know. And there has been a barrier
for whatever reason that has existed, I think that we can lower, we bring
people together. I`m really confident over time, things that are long in
the making, there are historical issues that we have to deal with, but I
think we can make things better.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, there are these historical issues, but there`s also a
contemporary one that – militarization of the police, we all saw post-
Ferguson, or in the context of Ferguson, there were actual barriers where
there was riot gear and armored vehicles, and tear gas. Does that need to
change in America`s streets?
HOLDER: Yes. There`s no question about that. I mean, the appearance of
military vehicles on American streets to deal with a civil disturbance was,
from my perspective very troubling. You know, you can use an armored
police vehicle in New York City if you`re dealing with a hostage crisis
that perhaps is terrorism related. On the other hand to deal with a street
issue that we saw in Ferguson, the appearance of that military equipment I
think exacerbated the problem.
HARRIS-PERRY: That August, when the streets first exploded after the
killing of Michael Brown and the response of the Ferguson police, you were
with the President, you were together in the vineyard. And can you take us
into the conversations that you were all having at that moment about how to
respond? On the one hand being so powerful, and yet being so powerless in
HOLDER: Yes. It was an interesting conversation that went on over a few
days. I sat with the President at the place where he was staying. We
tried to determine how is it that we might have a positive impact, lessen
the street unrest that was going on. And we – we started to lock on the
possibility of me going out there. And we understood that this was a high-
risk thing. If the Attorney General of the United States had gone out
there, and if things had not changed or if things had gotten worse, that
would have been seen as not only as a personal failure on my part, but a
failure by the Obama administration, but the President ultimately decided
that it was worst the risk, that he thought I had a certain credibility,
the administration had a certainly credibility, and if we did it right that
we could have a positive impact. And I think that that was actually what
was borne out. You know, all things were not cured, but I think we put a
certain damper on some of the frustrations that people felt. But there are
ongoing issues. I`m not going to ever forget the day that I spent there
interacting with the citizens of Ferguson and the consistency and the
concerns that they expressed and their real desire for change, and for a
desire to be treated simply as American citizens. And that has really
stayed with me. So, my hope is that on my watch, I`ll get to announce what
the Justice Department intends to do.
HARRIS-PERRY: We know we call you the duck in Nerdland because –
HOLDER: The duck?
HARRIS-PERRY: The duck. So in Nerdland we say you have a very sort of
placid and even way of presenting, but you are just working for justice
underneath. Would you quack for us?
HOLDER: I`m not sure I`m going to do that, but I like the analogy.
HARRIS-PERRY: You do like the analogy. Good.
HOLDER: Yes. Because I`d like to think that, you know, I was born and
raised in New York City in the `50s and the `60s, and for an African-
American guy, the thing was to be cool, you know? You`ve got to be cool,
you know, things don`t bother you. So, on the surface I like to think
that`s the way I appear to be, but you`re absolutely right, those duck feet
are moving as fast as they can underneath, and things are going as fast as
they can behind the scenes, and I may have been cool in Congressional
Hearings on the outside, but I was pissed off a lot of the times, too, you
know? And there was a question of trying to rein in those feelings and
make sure that on the outside, I was cool.
HARRIS-PERRY: Attorney General Eric Holder, it`s been a real pleasure.
Thank you for joining us.
HOLDER: Thanks for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to let everyone know that you`ll be able to see even
more of my interview with Attorney General Holder tomorrow on the website
for “Essence” magazine, Essence.com.
Don`t miss what the Attorney General has to say about the women who have
influenced him, the struggle to end domestic violence and what it meant to
lose his mother.
Now for us, that`s the time of the show when we turn to a little bit of
popular culture. The Grammys are happening tonight. I thought we would
ask one far from simple question – who owns hip-hop? That`s next.
HARRIS-PERRY: Okay. If you`re looking for a drinking game to play along
with tonight`s Grammy Award, you will have plenty of reason to recycle the
same one from last year. You remember how it goes. You take a shot
anytime during the show when you see someone on social media mention these
three words, white cultural appropriation. It was the phrased that
launched a thousand, think this is after last year`s Grammy`s when hip-hop
duel Macklemore and Ryan Lewis walked away with the works of the best rap
album. For their joint effort “The Heist.” And beat out albums from Kanye
West, Jay-Z, Drake and Kendrick Lamar whose artistic – and hip-hop
authenticity had many feeling that they were more deserving of the owner
including Macklemore himself. After the awards, he posted to Instagram
this text that he had originally sent to Kendrick Lamar about the sub of
Lamar`s critically acclaimed album “Good Kid Maad City.” “You got robbed.
I wanted you to win. You should have. It`s weird and sucks that I robbed
Now there`s not likely to be any such conciliatory texts sent to any of the
other nominees this year if this year is a great white hope of hip-hops
wins the category. Because Iggy Azalea, who is poised tonight to be the
first solo female artist to win for best rap album will happily accept
whatever the Grammys will give her. And she told the Billboard, “I don`t
care if I get a Grammy for best album our work, a Grammy is a Grammy, baby.
No but he says, what`s your Grammy for? No, this Grammy doesn`t count.
Any Grammy is equally good. I`ll take any Grammy for anything. And the
Grammy you`ve got, send it my way, I will not complain.” But for some
music fans, there is plenty to complain about in the Grammys this year,
particularly in this moment, when activists have been articulating the
clear mantra that black lives matter. Rewarding an artist whose
performance of hip-hop is itself a performance of blackness has left many
questioning whether the Grammys recognize how much black artists matter to
hip-hop. There`s more of that with my table, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: The nomination for tonight`s Grammys has sparked as much
debate about race and music as the Oscar nominations did about race and
film, except with the Grammys, that conversation is about who got left out,
and who was included. First there is the best rap nomination of Iggy
Azalea that has put her in the position to claim a historic first for a
solo female rapper. That has eluded past nominees like Missy Elliott, even
Nicki Minaj. He`ll won but for her work as part of the Fugees no as a solo
artist. Then there are two of the Grammys biggest prizes for best new
artist and record of the year. Both categories in which Iggy Azalea is
nominated. Andin both categories, all of the nominees are white. And it`s
a first for the best new artist since nominees of color were last excluded
from the category in 1995.
Joining me now is Michael Skolnik, editor-and-chief of GlobalGrind.com and
political director for Russell Simmons. Jessica Disu, also known as
humanitarian rap artist FM Supreme. Toure cohost of MSNBC`s “THE CYCLE”
and Jaeki Cho, who is writer and co-producer of the hip-hop documentary
Toure, who owns hip-hop my friend?
TOURE, MSNBC CO-HOST “THE CYCLE”: Well, when I started thinking about the
question, I started thinking about the multinational corporations and their
shareholders and that sort of thing. But of course she meant it in a
cultural statistics –
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean all of that, sure.
TOURE: I mean, look, I think about hip-hop. It`s going back to the `70s
in Le Bronx and it was a multiracial coalition, even before they were
really rappers, it was white, black and brown, mostly black and brown, but
there were also white people there at the beginning making some significant
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. We were talking about Ramone today. We were like,
there`s no – the hip-hop is never all black, I mean –
HARRIS-PERRY: – without Ramone and I mean, there`s no right – culture
that emerges about that.
TOURE: So I don`t want to say like, you know, well, only black and brown
people can be part of this. Right? And black and brown people remain
dominant in this space creatively, aesthetic and culturally if not
economically. Right? So the question is fraught, all questions though on
MHP are all complex and fraught, and thank God for that. But I mean, you
know, I go back to Questlove talked about it. Can Bob wanted world
domination right? That was clearly a part of a DNA from the beginning.
Now, it achieved that, right? At least aesthetically and somewhat
economically. In doing that, did you not think that we would sweep up some
folks and some white people would say, hey, I want to be a part of that, I
want to play in that sandbox.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Right. So, I mean, in a certain way there is one
might see Iggy Azalea as the fulfillment of hip-hop, right? As the global
reality in which this Australian kid connects with this music. But I guess
part of what I want to know then, it`s part of why I really wanted you at
my table, Jessica, is what is at stake here, I mean, part of it is about
the music, but it seems like hip-hop is always been about more than just
JESSICA DISU, FM SUPREME: Absolutely. Hip-hop is a culture. Hip-hop is
the way of life. You know? It transcends cultural barriers. Like I`ve
been blessed to travel all across the world and have seen hip-hop, great
Graffiti, Breakdance, the MC and DJ and Knowledge. All over the map. So,
I just think that Iggy as earlier, I look at her as a vanilla ice of this
generation. And so, you have vanilla ice and you had Eminem. Right? And
so they`re very different. Eminem is a great MC. I don`t think Iggy is as
talented as she is, as Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks, but do I think that
it`s time for her to be nominated for best rap album. It just really
shows, you know, how the Grammys – I mean, does the Grammys even
appreciate the contributions of black artists –
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
TOURE: Can I ask her the question, as an MC, because you said, Nicki is
over here, Nicki is over there as an MC, do you think that Iggy technically
the flow and relationship to beat, don`t you think – I mean, she`s good
within that. She`s not terrible, and what she says is nothing, and I think
Nicki also has flow, and technical and you know, some metaphor problems,
but I mean, don`t you think she`s just technically as an MC good even
though what she`s saying is completely vanilla and nothing?
DISU: No, I think as MC, I think it is wacked, I think that her lyrics are
TOURE: Yes. Her lyrics are corny but the flow –
DISU: The flow – I hear different female here – sometimes when I`m
listening to her, it sounds like I`m hearing Da Brat. When I hear her
emulate another culture –
TOURE: Right. But just –
JAEKI CHO, “BAD RAP”: Sorry to cut you guys off, but I mean, just
technicality wise as a rapper, you don`t agree that she`s actually talented
DISU: I mean, I think she`s decent.
CHO: According to the – you`re saying, is she has influences from
different female artists.
CHO: That came about these year, I mean, isn`t that the same case with a
lot of the young artists now? Like from Kendrick, obviously, you`ll going
to hear influences from Minaj or from Tupac.
DISU: But here`s your sound bite –
MICHAEL SKOLNIK, GLOBALGRIND.COM: Sure. But the issue here is
authenticity. Right? So, you can look at Eminem as a white rapper, and
Iggy as white, you know, female rappers, you know, and came with his own
struggle, and he was talking honestly and truthfully and so black and the
drake cosigned him.
HARRIS-PERRY: But do we know what the Australian struggle is? Because I`m
really not trying to be funny. Part of what happens when we go into this
kind of narrow black/white divide, and we define her as a white girl, okay.
And there`s a way that her physical package provides that for us?
TOURE: Sure about you.
HARRIS-PERRY: But there`s also something about the international conflict.
Your very point, you go everywhere, you hear it, right? I guess part of
what I don`t know whether or not we know is, what it means for her as an
SKOLNIK: But Iggy has never portrayed that. Right? Iggy has never said,
I want to be an American pop star. And she`s become that. And I think the
issue of hip-hop at its core, right? Yes we have the fat boys. Yes, we
have Will Smith and we have party rap, as real, you know, underground
heartfelt hip-hop, but I think now with Iggy is a representation of what
hip-hop is today, so your kids and my kids and your kids will say, Iggy was
HARRIS-PERRY: All right. But let me ask you a quick question. Is it now
the case that to win a Grammy or even be nominated for one, is it an
indication of a lack of authenticity? I guess part of what I`m wondering,
does the Grammy become the anti-hip-hop award? Please, God, let me never
win one. Right?
CHO: I mean, the Grammys right before the taping, a story has mentioned
that Grammy was never really historically a barrier of authenticating what
hip-hop is. I mean, these guys gave – I`m not sure if Colio ever won an
award, I mean, no shot to Colio. I mean, for being nominated.
HARRIS-PERRY: People thought when Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith won, although
like Jeff, I mean, if I got the chance to hear Jeff now, I would go in a
CHO: Totally. But I`m just saying that Grammys was never really the
barrier or the barometer of what real hip-hop is.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. You know, I mean, the whole voting process of what
they go through is basically like you`re at a ballot, and then you
basically don`t know these artists, and you`re voting –
CHO: And the kids say Iggy likes this –
HARRIS-PERRY: So to think about what might be a better barometer of
authenticity, you know, we were looking at Rick Rubin on Genius doing these
annotations, right? And I mean, if you look at Rick Rubin, you know,
that`s what Rick Rubin look like. But there he is on Genius, and he can
tell the story about 99 problems, and about 20 Jay write “The Verse.” And
about 20 minutes and sitting back, and I mean, it`s an amazing story. You
can`t write Rick Rubin out of the history of hip-hop, and look at him.
SKOLNIK: But that`s Toure`s point, right? The Beastie Boys, right? The
Beastie Boys, I mean, he was the fourth member of the Beastie Boys. And
the Beastie Boys, you know, they call him DJ Rick Rubin, right? He was the
DJ of the Beastie Boys.
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
TOURE: L.L. Cool J.
HARRIS-PERRY: I noticed, some of you are saying no women`s names because
that`s the other piece.
DISU: Right. Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, like, in this story, we`re saying where is light and
DISU: Right. Absolutely. I think too is interesting because we`re having
a conversation about women in hip-hop right now, and I`m the only woman in
hip-hop at the table. Right? So, I think that, and I say that, because
Iggy, I think that it`s Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Azealia Banks, they`re
not the only three females. There`s still many that do not write the –
who did not have a platform. Whose platform, you know, they haven`t been
able to speak to a larger audience. I don`t think that Iggy hasn`t worked
hard to get to where she is. Because if you`re going to succeed at
anything, you did take the level of a work ethic, you have to work hard.
But at the same time her lyrics are culturally insensitive. To say you`re
a runaway slave master is not cool.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay with me. More on this and more on the question of the
men who are at the sides of the women in hip-hop. More on all of this when
we get back.
HARRIS-PERRY: If only hip-hop continues to be contested territory, there`s
no doubt that women have long ago stake their claim. But before some of
the (INAUDIBLE) female on the seize could take their rightful place in the
spotlight, it took a cool sign from one of their male counterparts to make
us recognized their talent. Camp, there was Biggie. Eve had DMX.
Jermaine Dupri brought us Da Brat. And of course, Nicki Minaj is the first
lady of Lil` Wayne`s money team. And then there is the introduction of
Iggy Azalea, for whom CI deserves all the credit, or blame. And he has had
to both support and defend her as he did when he weighed in with these
comments in response to rapper Azealia Banks and his scathing twitter
criticism of his artist. If you spend half of your day getting money and
the other half of your day counting money, ain`t got no time in your day to
worry about nobody else. That`s about the cleanest response we could find
to put on TV. So there is a weird thing that starts happening. So, on the
one hand, I don`t want to police the racial authenticity boundaries of hip-
hop. On the other hand when I see the black man capping for the white
woman in a way that is often quite vialed back towards the black woman
artists who is taking this claim, it does give me a little like, oh, I just
have a little emotion about that. Because, I mean, there`s a lot of
problematic gender politics. But then you add the sort of race piece and
it becomes uncomfortable.
SKOLNIK: Yes. I don`t think that we should have, you know, white people,
I hope, right, are included in the conversation hip-hop and have been some
great rappers. I thought, you know, Iggy, when she first came out, I think
she`s talented. I think she can rhyme. I think she`s put her hand
terribly wrong. But I think this idea, it`s, you know, Eminem came to the
game and said, look, I`m a student. I love this culture. I love the
greats. You know, Iggy came to the culture like, I don`t care about Q-tip.
What do you mean you don`t care about Q-tip? How could you dissed one of
the greatest MCs? If you will be part of this culture, if it`s wasn`t by
HARRIS-PERRY: Okay. All right. I hear you and I totally get that, but I
wonder if that`s also gender. Because part of what you have to do to be
the female mc is the full, ain`t nobody better than me, ain`t nobody came
before me. There is no history, I am all. Right?
TOURE: I`m not sure that Lauren and Missy played that game. I don`t feel
like Latifah quite played that game.
HARRIS-PERRY: She was foundational. She was like, no one was before me –
TOURE: She was foundational for females, but not foundation within hip-
hop. There was a period – we call her a pioneer now but there was a
period of time before her that she was able to build on in terms of the
jungle brothers and the rest of the native tongues. But it might have to
do with her not being from America. It might have to do with her being
young, which we quite often align with being dumb.
DISU: I think that, you know, she`s not being from – I think she`s
benefitting from white privilege and white supremacy. And I think that if
she acknowledged her privilege. Like, yes, you may have worked hard. And
maybe, you know, she may not feel like Tia (ph) has made her, but you`re
benefitting from a system that`s built off racism, off classism, off
DISU: So, you`re benefitting from these as this blond, white woman.
Acknowledges your privilege.
TOURE: We are just noting that Macklemore and Eminem noted their privilege
and we appreciate it for that. She doesn`t even notice her privilege, and
we are rightly offended by that.
TOURE: And we`re trying to locate where is that come from? Perhaps that
comes from her being young and not really understanding the game. Perhaps
that comes from her being from somewhere else.
HARRIS-PERRY: I don`t know if you can do hip-hop bad by being young. Hip-
hop is usual.
TOURE: No, I mean, just being young, you quite often say dumb things.
HARRIS-PERRY: Oh, I see.
CHO: Like there`s a lot of black artists out there that obviously probably
doesn`t know who Q-tip is, right? That are probably making a fortune right
now. And by this, by no means I`m giving extra credit to Iggy who were
trying to defend her. There`s no doubt that she basically doesn`t know
history. Like, how can you be authenticated? How can you be real? How
can be accepted by the culture as a whole if you don`t know your –
SKOLNIK: But I would also put hip-hop – as well, they put on the cover of
“XXL,” TI, King of the South, co-signed her. But it was just not her. He
can`t just say, right? Hip-hop is also crown turf as the white savior to
white kids –
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. All right. I think this is so important. I mean, in a
certain way, whatever you`re saying, around this like you need – like
well, of course this is where hip-hop is. Like even just the change in who
constituted an idealization of a female body within hip-hop shifts so
dramatically over the course of its time but to end in this moment with
Iggy Azalea feels like, well, yep, that`s where we were going.
TOURE: Yes, yes, pretty much. I mean, when the audience turned from
primarily black and brown, right? In the early `90s to primarily white
suburban boys, the music changed. Right? We went from nationalistic
Afrocentric to people talking more about drugs. That`s what they wanted.
That`s what they understood. So, yes. And when we start bringing in all
the girls, you know, who want to listen along, yes, eventually you`re going
to get Iggy Azalea.
DISU: I think it`s important to also, to establish the difference between
hip-hop, culture hip-hop and corporate rap. Iggy Azalea is a product of
the corporate rap. So, that`s something completely. So, I think that –
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
SKOLNIK: She`s like a pop star.
DISU: She can be nominated for best rap album, it`s arguable that she`s an
MC, she`s a hip-hop artist and make pop music. I doubt that but because of
Iggy Azaleas privilege, you can nominate for best rap album or best pop
song or what have you.
HARRIS-PERRY: You just said something though that that was interesting to
me. This idea of, you know, okay if this is where corporate rap is, that`s
not where hip-hop is. And there`s a part of me that thinks, why police the
boundaries? Why worry about who owns hip-hop? Because won`t we just make
something new? Isn`t that what black and brown communities in the U.S. who
are living on – don`t we just make something new? We make the blues, we
make jazz, we make hip-hop. And then we get make something new.
(TALKING OVER EACH OTHER)
Oh, yes. We made rock and roll. Right. Right. We make it and then it
goes. Right. We make out. So won`t we just make something new like, all
right, if you all taking that, we`re not going to do this – or is this
something about hip-hop –
DISU: Hip-hop is not only a culture, it`s a way of life, but it`s a
spiritual thing. Like I speak to see young people back home in Chicago, in
the community, my kindergarteners who I work with, they`re rapping, they`re
freestyling. It something that comes from your soul when you, I mean –
TOURE: Absolutely worth keeping, without a doubt. But we`re speaking
generationally because hip-hop is who we are. Our parents would be like,
we`re still jazz to this day. Right? Our grandparents would be like, it`s
all about gospel. So, perhaps part of our generation will be like, well,
you know, there`s this new thing, mom.
HARRIS-PERRY: Parker 13. She loves Iggy Azalea.
Thank you to Michael Skolnik and to Jessica Disu, and to Toure and Jaeki
Cho I`m trying. I hope you will all come back and talk more hip-hop and
culture with me. That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for
Coming up next, “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT.”
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