By Maria Rocha-Buschel
State Senator Brad Hoylman spoke with domestic policy expert Neera Tanden about the state of the Democratic Resistance movement and how New Yorkers can “fight back” in a town hall at CUNY’s Graduate Center last Thursday. Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, previously served as Hillary Clinton’s policy director when she ran for president in 2008 and also served as policy director for President Obama.
Hoylman and Tanden discussed ways in which New Yorkers can get involved, but also covered the Russia investigation and the memo from Congressmember Devin Nunes, which had not been released at the time of the event. The memo, ultimately released on Friday, alleges that FBI officials abused their surveillance powers in investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
At the time of the town hall, Tanden said she worried that releasing the memo would give President Trump a reason to fire Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and clear the way for the president to fire Bob Mueller, special counsel in the Russia investigation. Tanden said that her organization has been working on issues related to the Russia investigation and she was optimistic that government institutions would remain intact, but the Nunes memo caused her to be concerned for the first time that Mueller could be fired.
“Let me just say that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a Democratic-loving, anti-Trump institution,” Tanden said sarcastically. “I know it sounds absurd but we are in the Upside Down. It is so corrupt that the Mueller investigation is corrupted as well. It’s a greater worry today than I’ve ever had before (that Mueller could be fired).”
Tanden encouraged the town hall’s attendees to get involved in the movement even though New York is solidly Democratic.
“We’ve never lived in a time with so little accountability for basically a kleptocracy. My plea is that you engage and call your friends and neighbors living in swing states,” she said. “One thing Donald Trump understood (in the 2016 election) is that an engaged and enraged base is all the difference in politics. The single biggest way for someone to be convinced to vote is someone they know telling them to vote and engaging with them.”
One town hall attendee expressed concern about voter turnout in the state, partially because New York does not allow early voting.
“It’s almost like when they created New York’s voting laws, they didn’t actually want people to vote,” Hoylman quipped, agreeing that the voting laws should be reformed.
“Thirty million Americans voted early in the last election. Not a single New Yorker. That’s why New York is 41st in the nation in voter turnout. In the election before that, we were 46th. We’re the worst.”
Tanden agreed, arguing that changes can and should be made to New York’s voting laws.
“One of the reasons Republican House members in New York vote against the interests of New Yorkers is that they are counting on low voter participation, particularly in a midterm,” she said. “Republican House members have been voting against the interests of New Yorkers but if states like Florida and North Carolina can have early voting, there’s no reason New York can’t.”
Tanden also emphasized that voting is still one of the best ways for New Yorkers to get involved. She noted that she saw a change in the culture and conversation with the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement, partially because it happened during a Democratic administration but also because it was outside the political realm and it encouraged people who previously never engaged in politics to start knocking on doors and voting.
“There is a whole group of people who did not expect Donald Trump to become president and who wake up every day who think, this is not the country I thought it was,” she said. “They are determined to right the ship. The thing that is going to save America is voting. And a wave of people saying: ‘I do not assent to this. I resist and I oppose. And I fight.’”