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Politics live updates: Democrats unveil details of Trump's second impeachment trial; Dems call Trump defense 'wholly without merit' – USA TODAY



Bart Jansen

Christal Hayes

Nicholas Wu

Caren Bohan

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US split as country awaits 2nd Trump impeach trial

As the nation braces for Donald Trump’s 2nd impeachment trial, only half of Americans believe the Senate should vote to convict former president, that’s despite a majority saying he bears at least some blame for the Capitol insurrection Jan. 6. (Feb. 5)


Senate leaders agreed Monday on shaping how former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial will be conducted, with arguments consuming most of this week and a decision about whether to call witnesses days away.

Democrats have been wrestling with whether to push for a quick trial or include witnesses, which could lengthen the proceedings by weeks or months. Some Democrats are eager to call witnesses for an exhaustive review of the Capitol riot Jan. 6. But other Democrats want to move quickly beyond the trial, to confirming President Joe Biden’s nominees and working on spending legislation for COVID-19.

The trial is historic in several ways. Trump was the first president to be impeached twice and will be the first to be tried after leaving office. Senators who will be jurors were also witnesses to the insurrection as they evacuated the chamber, which was occupied by rioters.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., negotiated the bipartisan framework with House managers and Trump’s defense team.

The framework calls for four hours of debate Tuesday about whether the case should be dismissed. Trump’s defense team argues that the trial is unconstitutional because he already left office.

The Senate must still vote on the resolution that Schumer outlined.

But the Senate has already rejected a point of order about whether the trial was unconstitutional, on a 55-45 vote. Congressional Democrats cited precedents about trials of a Cabinet secretary and judges after they left office.

If case isn’t dismissed, the trial continues Wednesday with House prosecutors, who are called managers, and Trump’s defense team each having 16 hours for arguments.

“Each side will have ample time to make their arguments,” Schumer said.

After both sides complete their arguments, House managers could make a contentious request for witnesses. Most Republicans and some Democrats say witnesses would greatly prolong the trial. But some Democrats want a thorough trial.

Schumer said the Senate would honor a request from one of Trump’s lawyers, David Schoen, to avoid working on the Sabbath, so the trial won’t continue after Friday sundown through Saturday. The trial could resume Sunday afternoon, if it lasts that long.

— Bart Jansen

House Democrats replied Monday to former President Donald Trump’s written argument for his Senate impeachment trial by calling it “wholly without merit.”

Trump’s defense team had argued that the trial, with oral arguments beginning Tuesday, was unconstitutional because he is no longer in office. The defense also argued that Trump’s speech Jan. 6 was protected by the First Amendment, despite the House charge that he incited insurrection at the Capitol.

The House reply called Trump’s reliance on the First Amendment “baseless.” The Democrats again cited Trump’s statement to a crowd – “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country any more” – before the mob siege to the Capitol.

Trump’s team said the House’s article of impeachment was flawed because it contained multiple allegations behind a single charge. But House Democrats said they described a “single course of conduct” that constituted incitement.

“There must be no doubt that such conduct is categorically unacceptable,” the House reply said.

— Bart Jansen

Trump’s attorneys attacks Democrats ahead of impeachment trial, call case ‘political theater’

Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys on Monday laid out their defense to the impeachment article charging the former president with inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In the 78-page filing, they argue the case is unconstitutional, would violate Trump’s First Amendment rights, and is based on cherry-picked facts and remarks.

Trump’s legal team also argued the House’s impeachment process was rushed, pointing out the chamber impeached him a week after the attack at the U.S. Capitol and before any investigation had started. The team argued the speed did not allow Trump due process

“This rushed, single article of impeachment ignores the very Constitution from which its power comes and is itself defectively drafted,” the brief states. “The Article of Impeachment presented by the House is unconstitutional for a variety of reasons, any of which alone would be grounds for immediate dismissal. Taken together, they demonstrate conclusively that indulging House Democrats hunger for this political theater is a danger to our Republic democracy and the rights that we hold dear.”

Impeachment stakes: The stakes are high not only for Trump but also for almost everybody else

The brief argues the president did not incite the crowd during his speech the day of the attack, noting law enforcement has said the attack was planned ahead of time. The lawyers argue Trump’s words about “fighting” the election have been used by before and they outline remarks top Democrats have used over the years about protesting and fighting against Trump’s policies.

The brief also lists one new member of Trump’s legal team: Philadelphia attorney Michael T. van der Veen. The attorney, who heads a law firm and specializes in personal injury and criminal defense cases, works with fellow Trump attorney Bruce Castor. The addition marks the third attorney to join Trump’s team, far less than the 10 who represented him during his first impeachment trial last year.

– Christal Hayes

White House: Trump hasn’t requested classified intelligence

The Biden administration hasn’t had to decide whether to bar former President Donald Trump from receiving classified materials because Trump hasn’t asked for an intelligence briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

If Trump does request a briefing, Psaki said, the president will let his intelligence team decide how to proceed.

Biden said Friday that Trump should no longer receive classified intelligence briefings because of his “erratic behavior.”

“There is no need for him to have the intelligence briefings,” Biden said on the CBS Evening News With Norah O’Donnell. “What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?”

Former presidents are frequently given routine intelligence briefings and access to classified materials after they leave office. But some Democratic lawmakers have questioned whether Trump should continue to receive the reports, arguing he could pose a national security risk.

Psaki said Biden was expressing his concern about Trump receiving access to sensitive intelligence, “but he also has deep trust in his own intelligence team to make a determination about how to provide intelligence information, if at any point the former president requests a briefing.”

“So that’s not currently applicable,” she added. “But if he should request a briefing, he leaves it to them to make a determination.”

– Maureen Groppe and Michael Collins

Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby announces retirement in 2022

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., announced Monday he will not be seeking reelection and will be retiring from the Senate in 2022.

“Today I announce that I will not seek a seventh term in the United States Senate in 2022. For everything, there is a season,” Shelby said in a statement. “I am grateful to the people of Alabama who have put their trust in me for more than forty years.”

Shelby, 86, is the Senate’s fourth most senior member. He was elected to the Senate in 1986 and has spent the last two years as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, before Democrats gained control of the chamber in the last election.

“Although I plan to retire, I am not leaving today,” he said in the statement. “I have two good years remaining to continue my work in Washington. I have the vision and the energy to give it my all.”

– Savannah Behrmann

Report: $15 per hour minimum wage would cost 1.4 million jobs

A new government report concludes that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour would cause 1.4 million Americans to lose their jobs but would lift 900,000 people out of poverty.

Higher wages would increase the cost of producing goods and services and cause employers to reduce their workforce, the Congressional Budget Office says in a report that examined the impact of boosting the minimum wage.

By 2025, when the hourly minimum wage would hit $15 under a proposal before Congress, some 1.4 million Americans would be out of work, the report concludes. Young, less educated people would account for a disproportionate share of the job reductions, the report says.

Report: $15 minimum wage would boost pay for millions but would cost 1.4M jobs

President Joe Biden advocated for raising for the minimum wage during his campaign last year and has proposed boosting the hourly rate to $15 as part of his COVID-19 relief package. Congressional Republicans, however, largely object to raising the minimum wage.

Biden conceded last week that the minimum wage proposal is unlikely to survive as part of his COVID-relief bill. “Apparently, that’s not going to occur,” he said in an interview with CBS Evening News With Norah O’Donnell.

Biden told O’Donnell he is prepared to negotiate a separate proposal to boost the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

– Michael Collins

Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, dies after contracting COVID-19

Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, died Sunday, according to a statement released by his campaign, weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 67. 

Wright, a second-term congressman from a district sprawling from Arlington to rural areas south of Dallas, announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 21. He had also been undergoing treatment for lung cancer. Wright is the first sitting member of Congress to die after contracting COVID-19.

“His wife Susan was by his side and he is now in the presence of their Lord and Savior,” his campaign said. He and his wife had been in the hospital for the last two weeks, his campaign said.

Wright has three children and nine grandchildren, according to his official biography.

– Nicholas Wu

Senate to decide contours of Trump impeachment trial

With oral arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump scheduled to start Tuesday, senators face key decisions on how to arrange the trial, including the crucial question of whether to call witnesses.

Witnesses could help House Democrats prosecuting the case chronicle the insurrection Jan. 6 at the Capitol that Trump is charged with inciting. Some Senate Democrats, including Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, who was sworn in after the riot, are eager to hear as much detail as possible.

“I want a clear record for future generations about what happened on Jan. 6,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. “When I read that 40% of Trump’s followers believe that antifa was actually in the group that motivated these people to act in a terrorist way, I’m outraged.”

Extensive reporting by USA TODAY and other media organizations has identified dozens of people who forced their way into the Capitol, all of whom showed a history of being avid Trump supporters. USA TODAY also tracked how the antifa “false flag” conspiracy theory was generated online and quickly spread — even to the floors of Congress.

House Democrats are expected to play videos of Trump’s speech, the mob smashing into the Capitol and rioters occupying the Senate chamber. Police officers could offer harrowing witness testimony. Beyond the events of Jan. 6, the article charged Trump with pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to change overturn the election results in his state based on a recorded phone call. Prosecutors could at least play the recording, but might also want to call him as a witness.

Jurors and witnesses: Senators take on unprecedented role in Trump’s second impeachment trial

House prosecutors, who are called managers, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., asked last week for Trump to testify under oath. He declined, with his lawyers calling the request a publicity stunt.

Witnesses could also prolong a trial that members of both parties want over quickly. Democrats are eager to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees and to adopt legislation dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. All but a handful of Republicans in each chamber opposed even holding a trial.

“I don’t think the country needs a whole lot,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who noted that House Democrats approved the article of impeachment without calling witnesses. “I guess the public record is your television screen, I don’t know.”

The decision on witnesses will be part of the Senate debate on a resolution organizing details about the trial such as how much time each side has for arguments. For Trump’s first trial, the Senate, then led by Republicans, voted to reject calling witnesses. At that time, House Democrats wanted witnesses to explain Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, but Senate Republicans refused.

In addition to the organizing resolution, the Senate is set to receive Monday the most detailed written argument yet from Trump’s defense team responding to a House brief filed last week. Trump’s team has called the trial unconstitutional for pursuing him after he left office. The team also argued that the speech Trump gave Jan. 6 before the mob rampaged through the Capitol was protected by the First Amendment.

– Bart Jansen

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‘Victim Blaming’ and Sex Education in the Boys’ Club of Australian Politics – The New York Times



Scott Morrison’s words, critics said, revealed a disturbing sentiment.

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When Brittany Higgins first alleged earlier this month that she had been raped in a Parliament building, the Australian government’s initial response was silence.

The following day, it went into damage control, announcing a review of support processes and professional behavior among staff. Eventually, after consulting his wife — who he said clarified things by asking him to imagine that his own daughters had been assaulted — the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, apologized.

“There should not be an environment where a young woman can find herself in such a vulnerable situation,” Mr. Morrison said. “Despite what were the genuine good intentions of all those who did try to provide support to Brittany,” he added, “she did not feel that way.”

Critics denounced Mr. Morrison for his response: “Shouldn’t you have thought about it as a human being? What happens if men don’t have a wife and children? Would they reach the same compassionate conclusion?” asked one reporter. A Twitter account satirizing the government posted: “are women people.”

His words, critics said, were reluctant and patronizing. Worse, they revealed a disturbing sentiment: that when a woman is raped, and unable to enlist the support of her colleagues to bring the perpetrator to justice, the blame lies not with the accused, or the victim’s superiors, but with her. As Ms. Higgins herself said in a statement released last week, “The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the Prime Minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors.”

Mr. Morrison and others have not expressly blamed Ms. Higgins for having become too inebriated on the night she says she was raped, or for what she wore that evening — such obvious victim blaming belongs in the past. But they insinuate that the fault lies with her, women’s rights advocates say, by couching her allegations in terms of Ms. Higgins’s perception of the attack and her emotions in response to what followed.

As Jacqueline Maley wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald, “It may not have been deliberate, but the persistent use of Higgins’ first name, and Morrison’s comments about consulting his wife Jenny on how to handle the alleged rape, all gave the impression that this was a matter to do with Women’s Feelings.”

“Women’s Feelings,” she explains, “is a private emotional realm, tricky to navigate and best left to the ladies. It has little to do with male leaders, and nothing to do with important matters of state.” The problem, she adds, with this characterization is that it “minimizes what should be an obvious point: rape is a crime.”

Part of the problem is cultural, experts say. Australia has a dearth of sex education, so it should be no surprise that Mr. Morrison, the leader of among the most male-dominated spaces in the country, can’t fully comprehend issues of consent, or articulate an appropriately condemning response, they add.

“There’s a huge lack of willingness to talk about it,” said Sharna Bremner, an assault survivor and the founder of End Rape on Campus Australia. Australia, she added, is still enmeshed in a “blokey culture” and tends to be significantly behind other countries in addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“The boys’ club of politics is hardly a place that is invested in supporting a culture of enthusiastic consent,” said Rachael Burgin, a lecturer in criminology at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

“Talking about sex education doesn’t win elections,” she added.

So where does this leave us? Women’s rights advocates say Ms. Higgins has provided the country with an opportunity for self-reflection; with an opportunity to strip back a culture that is complicit in crimes of sexual assault and violence.

“If we want to fix misogyny and sexual assault, that’s the conversation we need to have as a country,” said Clare O’Neil, a member of the opposition Labor Party. “If our Parliament can’t do that, then how can we ask Australians to?”

We want to hear what you think: Has the rhetoric from the government around Ms. Higgins’s accusations bothered you? And what kind of sex education have you received in your own experience in Australia? Let us know at

Now, on to the week’s stories:

Cornell Tukiri for The New York Times

Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Last week, we asked how you felt about Facebook’s decision to ban news in Australia, and whether it had changed your social media habits. Here are some reader responses:

In its actions Facebook demonstrated both its arrogance and lies. And hypocrisy. Punishing — in their view — a nation of users because it didn’t like a law shows that Facebook sees itself above the law. I thought that Facebook couldn’t easily monitor content? That’s why they didn’t have to apply decency and fact-checking filters. But now we see that they can block links down to the resolution of individual users. Cognitive dissonance and bullying.

— Jenni L. Evans

Spent the weekend downloading apps for news sites. Who needs Facebook?

— Pamela Bryant

The Facebook news ban was the impetus I needed to finally delete my Facebook account for good.

— Caitlin Clarke

Enjoying the Australia Letter? Sign up here or forward to a friend.

For more Australia coverage and discussion, start your day with your local Morning Briefing and join us in our Facebook group.

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Modi harnesses cricket and politics to remake India – Financial Times



As England’s batsmen succumbed to India’s spin attack on the opening day of their cricket Test match, another Indian loomed even larger over the game, despite not bowling a single ball: Narendra Modi.

Indian politicians have long been deeply involved in cricket, basking in the money, power and glory of the country’s most popular pastime — to the dismay of purists who argue political meddling has held back the sport.

Modi, however, has taken India’s cricket politics to new heights. India and England played in Ahmedabad, his political hometown, at a newly rebuilt cricket stadium — the world’s largest — that was renamed for the prime minister shortly before Wednesday’s match.

To some observers, the grip of Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party over Indian cricket symbolises how they are remaking the country’s political and economic order.

“The stadium itself — the name, the way it has been funded, and the people who run Gujarat cricket as a state body — says a lot about the power structure in contemporary India under the BJP,” said Ronojoy Sen, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore and author of a history of Indian sports.

Narendra Modi’s supporters see world’s biggest cricket stadium as a symbol of India’s ambitions © AFP via Getty Images

The more than 100,000-seat ground was conceived when Modi ran the state-level Gujarat Cricket Association, before his ascent into national politics. His right-hand man Amit Shah, now home minister, became president of the body.

Stands at the ground, built for an estimated Rs8bn ($110m), were named after Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and Gautam Adani’s eponymous group, India’s two most powerful tycoons with deep ties to the prime minister.

Shah’s son Jay is secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the richest and most powerful cricket board in the world, while a father-son duo of Reliance executives has more recently helped lead the Gujarat association.

For Modi’s supporters, the stadium highlights an ambitious leader’s ability to deliver world-class infrastructure that will help India shine globally.

But for his opponents, it encapsulates what they decry as a nexus between the prime minister and his lieutenants and favoured tycoons, whose collective influence over India’s political and economic system has been hotly debated.

“Beautiful how the truth reveals itself,” Rahul Gandhi, a leader of the opposition Congress party, wrote on Twitter. “Narendra Modi stadium/Adani end/Reliance end/With Jay Shah presiding.”

The Motera stadium was renamed after the prime minister hours before the third Test between India and England © Amit Dave/Reuters

Indian leaders long flocked to cricket for its universal appeal — its popularity transcending regional, caste or religious divides — as well as for the ample opportunities for patronage. While early Hindu nationalist ideologues of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent organisation, decried cricket as a colonial import, later generations of leaders such as Modi and Shah have embraced it.

“Cricket is a cocktail of money, power and influence — even Bollywood,” said Mahesh Langa, a journalist for the Hindu newspaper in Ahmedabad.

The persistent involvement of politicians in local and national cricket bodies has stoked allegations of mismanagement and graft. As far back as 1959, legendary batsman Vijay Merchant bemoaned that “there is a lot of politics in our cricket”, according to Ronojoy Sen’s book, Nation at Play.

This has sparked reform drives, with limited success. In 2017, the Supreme Court overhauled the management of the BCCI to impose term limits and bar ministers from holding positions. Some of the reforms are being challenged in court.

Observers have questioned the will of the country’s leaders to maintain distance from the sport, especially with its rapid commercialisation, most notably after the Indian Premier League’s 2008 launch sparked an unprecedented windfall.

“The involvement of politics in cricket is very strong and getting stronger,” said Ayaz Memon, a sports writer and commentator. “It’s an axis into a massive sport which in the last 30 years has become phenomenally rich.”

Vinod Rai, a former auditor-general who was appointed to the BCCI by the Supreme Court to implement its recommendations, said: “It’s very few places where it’s not politicians who are controlling these institutions.”

He added that Modi and Shah, unlike many others, had at least managed to get things done. “A fine international stadium having been constructed is a huge feather in the cap,” he said.

The Motera stadium, as it was commonly known, was originally built in 1983 when the Congress party ruled Gujarat.

In 2009, Modi, then Gujarat’s chief minister, was elected to run the state’s cricket association, wresting control from Congress in a move that foreshadowed his triumph in national polls five years later. 

It was then that he set in motion plans to rebuild the stadium, which reopened to the public last year when former US president Donald Trump visited India. It hosted its first match against England this week.

That Ahmedabad, long-overlooked as a cricketing hub, is now on the global circuit alongside Mumbai, Sydney or London is a testament to what Modi’s supporters maintain is his transformative vision and execution.

Others said it highlighted how the prime minister has concentrated India’s power structures around himself and close allies — from centralised government policymaking to the extensive use of his image to promote welfare schemes or sports.

Sandeep Dwivedi, a columnist for the Indian Express, wrote that the centre of Indian cricket had shifted “from Mumbai to Motera . . . not even a blade of grass got trimmed in Indian cricket without the mandatory call to Ahmedabad”.

For Modi’s loyal base in Gujarat, this shift is long overdue.

Aditya Mehta, a 22-year-old masters student in biotechnology, said outside the ground: “Our prime minister and home minister have built the world’s largest cricket ground, and now every match possible can happen in this stadium.”

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‘I represent more than myself.’ Black politicians reflect on their historic firsts – PBS NewsHour



Black History Month is not only a celebration of past achievements, but also an acknowledgement of the work Black Americans continue to do to help the country realize its promise of democracy and equality.

Black people remain underrepresented across industries, including politics. But as the country’s demographics and priorities shift, recent elections and appointments have ushered in historic numbers of people of color, women and LGBTQ+ individuals into public office at all levels of government, many of whom represent the first person of their background to hold such a position.

During a time of nationwide discussions about racial injustice, diversity and equity, four Black politicians whose elections were historic firsts spoke with the PBS NewsHour to reflect on their time in office and what this moment means to them.

“It’s an honor of a lifetime, but also a tragedy that we’re still talking about firsts in 2018 when I was elected,” Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said. “But as Vice President [Kamala Harris] says, ‘I won’t be the last.’”

The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Can you talk a little about your background and what inspired you to get into politics?

Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis City Council Vice President, first openly transgender Black woman to serve in public office in the U.S. (2018): “My background has been one of service to community and advocacy around LGBT issues, even more specifically, transgender issues. I have been a lifelong activist for Black liberation and Black rights. But trying to figure out how to do that in the context of within the system, I think we need an inside-outside strategy. … We need people who are agitators who bring the issues to the forefront. We also need service providers who help people, like in [Texas] right now, people need water, people need shelter, clothes. And then we need policymakers to make good policy to bring all of those things together. So, having done the service delivery, having done the activist part, I thought maybe I should try the elected part to see if we can make some change happen in that regard.”

Aaron Ford, Nevada’s first Black attorney general (2019): “As a former educator, I thought to myself, ‘What can I do to improve the educational opportunities for people in our state?’ So I decided to run for office. I decided to get involved as opposed to being on the outside, throwing rocks. I want to get in and try to effectuate some real positive change in the educational arena. Since then, I’ve seen that education and the economy are intimately intertwined and that led me to continue pursuing the legislative arena [as a state senator]. But then mid-term, during my second term in office, the idea of running for attorney general was presented to me as a consideration and I viewed it as an opportunity … to help more people quicker and be able to utilize my unique background as a lawyer and an educator and as a former senator.”

READ MORE: Black women were vital to the Black church. Here are 2 stories

Utah state Rep. Sandra Hollins, first Black woman to serve in the Utah state legislature (2015): “My occupation is social work. I’ve worked as a social worker in treatment centers with my primary focus being on those who are in poverty and those who are experiencing homelessness. … I have always been active in my community. I’ve always been active where I live because I feel that that’s what you should do when you move into a community, you should give back to that community. And so when the position came open to run for office, the woman who was in this position, Representative Jennifer Seelig, reached out to me and asked me, have I ever considered running for public office before? And after some consideration, I decided to run for office. I honestly don’t know if I would have ever run for public office if I wasn’t asked to.”

Harry LaRosiliere, first Black mayor of Plano, Texas (2013): “I was born in Haiti. My family immigrated to the States when I was almost four years old, lived off 125th and Broadway [in New York City] most of my life. And in 1994 I came to Texas, and prior to coming to Texas it was in 1992 that I decided I wanted to be mayor. That was kind of my calling. I got interested in politics because David Dinkins was the first African American mayor of New York at the time, and that was it. And so my path just slowly took me there, and eventually I became mayor in 2013.”

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When you reflect on your history-making achievement, how do you feel being a ‘first’?

Jenkins: “It’s enormously, just, mind-blowing, to be quite honest with you. I’ve been doing this work for a long time, so it almost makes it feel like I’m new to the scene and that’s not the reality. I’ve been doing this work for almost 30-plus years. But it makes me feel proud to be a part of the annals of American history. … It’s awe inspiring. It’s a little overwhelming to have your name mentioned with Shirley Chisholm and Kamala Harris and, you know, Rosa Parks. I mean, who wouldn’t be proud? It’s quite, quite something.”

Ford: “It’s an honor of a lifetime, but also a tragedy that we’re still talking about firsts in 2018 when I was elected. I reflect back on my upbringing, and from college on I have been, if not the only certainly one of the only Black Americans in the room — in my law practice, in my educational endeavors. And recognizing that there is a burden, unfair or otherwise, that is placed upon me as a Black American, and on all of us as Black Americans to represent the entirety of your race and understand that what I do is more than just a reflection on me. … Recognizing that I represent more than myself, sitting in this position as a top law enforcement officer and top legal adviser in this state, is an important consideration that I keep in the forefront of my mind at all times. It’s a blessing to be here, but it’s also a travesty that I’m the first to hold this position. But as Vice President [Kamala Harris] says, ‘I won’t be the last.’”

Hollins: “I was quite shocked to learn … when I was asked to run for office that I would be the first Black American woman at the [Utah] Capitol and to hold a state-level position. I feel it comes with a great responsibility, one that I do embrace. I know as a result of me running, I’ve had a number of young Black American and African American women who have expressed interest in politics now and see themselves in this role and one day running for office or they have run for office. And so it comes with a great responsibility that I carry, but one that I carry proudly. And I’m very conscious of how I carry myself with the hope that I’m making my community proud.”

LaRosiliere: “I remember after getting elected, being the first Black mayor of the city, they said, ‘What do you think?’ … I said, ‘Well, we already had a Black president, so it’s not that big of a deal in my mind.’ But it is in a sense, because I realized as I started going to schools and seeing kids, how they looked up to me because I look like them, and I was in a position that they just didn’t imagine. We’re a population of about 8 percent here in Plano of African Americans. And so we’re not a big population of the city, yet I was chosen to be mayor. It’s something to those kids. So it’s meant more to me afterwards than before, for sure.”

You often hear from Black people who are the first to hold a particular position that being a ‘first’ can come with enhanced scrutiny or pressure. How have such challenges influenced your time in office?

Jenkins: “I used to hear a lot of Black politicians say, ‘I represent a certain district, but I get calls from Black people from all over.’ It’s kind of a very similar scenario being a trans person. I hear from trans people from around the country, from around the state, from other parts of the city that I don’t necessarily represent. But there’s this voice and this representation that is in these seats of power and people want to reach out to you. … Because I am, you know, Black and transgender, I think there’s a certain amount of expectations that people place on me from their own experiences, like they want me to be someone that, quite frankly, I’m not. … People project their own ideals onto me and then get upset when I don’t necessarily live up to their ideals. So that presents a little bit of a pressure kind of too.”

Ford: “I’ve been an unabashed advocate for speaking truth to power from a position of power, irrespective of the negative consequences that may arise out of them. … “I’m the attorney general now, but before that I was the Senate majority leader and before that I was a Senate minority leader. And each of those instances I would speak up on the issues that some would say ‘that’s not a good idea if you want to get reelected.’ ‘That’s not an issue that folks want to hear about and so you shouldn’t discuss it.’ And a lot of that related to race-based issues. A lot of that related to discrimination in the voting process, for example, in housing and in education. And so I’ve always viewed it as an ultimate waste if I did not utilize my authority and my position to speak to issues that otherwise may not even get addressed.”

Hollins: “I agree with our Vice President Harris, when she says that she is the first, but definitely not the last. My goal is to always open that door for other women of color to walk through it. … But it hasn’t been without its challenges. For me, I not only represent my district, but I represent the Black community. A lot of times when there are challenges or anything that’s going on in the Black community, then I’m brought into that conversation. I get trusted with all of the stories of discrimination that may be happening to them in this state. I’m the one that they trust with the stories and to work out the issue or to address the issue. … A lot of times when I walk into [the Capitol], I’m the only Black woman. And for some people I’m the only and the first Black woman that they have ever met. And so I know when I walk into that room, I’m representing every Black woman in the state of Utah. And so I’m very conscious of that but I embrace it.”

LaRosiliere: “As someone in a position like this where I’m one of the few [Black people] there already, it’s very obvious. I think you’re watched a bit more, and there’s opportunities, I think, to rise and to also set the tone and the example for others. It sometimes does weigh because you feel there’s a magnification on you. … But we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had a good run as mayor and a lot of good things happen in our city. And because of me being in this position, we’ve been able to do some things that we otherwise might not have simply because I had a different perspective.”

Raphael Warnock made history in January, becoming the first African American elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. In this photo from January, Warnock holds a small rally with young campaign volunteers on election day in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff election. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters.

What keeps you motivated to do this work despite the various challenges you may face?

Jenkins: “It’s a mission, because, quite frankly, it would be really easy to just be like, ‘I’m good. I did my part. Y’all can go fuss with somebody else, because I’m done.’ But, you know, I really believe in the statement that representation matters. And then we need Black voices, we need trans voices, we need people who can relate to the pressures of inner-city life, people that can relate to the challenges that single mothers face, people that can relate to the issues of over policing and all of these things. Because I have long-term experience in this area … I feel like it’s my responsibility to really try to do what I can to move Black liberation forward.”

Ford: “I think back to an ancestor that I just learned about the last couple of years or so: my fourth great grandfather, William. I don’t want to end as he ended, but the story goes this way: He was on the auction block in Fordyce, Arkansas, and he said, ‘I will not be treated like cattle. You will not sell me and separate me from my family.’ So they killed him right there, and then they sold three of his sons to U.S. labor in Texas. One of those sons is my great, great, great grandfather. And the story obviously leads to me, which is the African American attorney general for the state of Nevada. Him standing for his own humanity, irrespective of people trying to treat him as something that he was not, helps to encourage me to continue to stand up, irrespective of what happens to me on Twitter or Facebook or walking in public.”

Hollins I have two things that keep me motivated. Number one is: I know that there’s a number of young women and young Black girls that look up to me. I know that they’re looking to my leadership, and I know that they’re looking to me, as I’m treading this path, to walk behind me. … The next thing is, I tell everybody, when you are doing work around social justice, the best way I can describe it is that there’s just kind of this fire inside of me. And it’s like if I don’t say anything or do anything it’s going to keep burning. And it’s only when I speak up, it’s only when I take action that I could feel that fire subsiding until the next thing comes up. And that’s what keeps me motivated. It keeps me motivated. Something in me won’t let me just sit by and be quiet.”

LaRosiliere: “Being in the position where you can make a difference in direction, tone, policy, allows you to open doors. And so for me one of the things we stress the most is some programs we set up for a summer internship for our high school students, 30 to 40 percent of them first generation college bound. So we provided them skills to connect with businesses and have networking and things like that. So the ability to do those things makes it that much more rewarding in so many ways.”

In recent years we’ve seen a push for diversity and equity that seems to have strengthened in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. What do you make of this moment we’re in?

Jenkins: “It feels like we’re on a precipice of really transformational, systemic change. Yet by the same token, that change is being met with the same resistance that it has always been met with throughout the history of this country, and that is violence and threats and death and all of these machinations behind the scenes to limit people’s access to the ballot box and to, I think, undermine folks’ ability through lack of access to basic necessities. … I’m cautiously, cautiously optimistic, but we’ve been on this battlefield for a very long time and some days it feels like the whole world has shifted and everything has changed, and then some days when especially you look at the statistics … all of these things give you pause and you have to wonder, are things changing? … I think Harriet Tubman had the audacity to hope. I think my grandmama had the audacity to hope and I think we have to maintain that level of hope and action. Because hope without action is just a dream, right? But we have to have hope and we have to act.”

Ford: “I feel like it’s deja vu all over again. To be sure, we are standing with an opportunity to do some things, but we’ve been here before. We’ve seen the aftermath of the killings of unarmed Black people over the course of time. And people have piped up, and they’ve been engaged, and they wanted to see change and then they’ve gotten complacent.” …

“I was glad to see law enforcement and civil rights organizations alike chime in and say this is an opportunity for change. But as I have said, the conversation should be almost over, if not over. The time for conversing should have passed such that we are now seeing actual policies and laws implemented that effectuate real change on these issues. And I’m glad to see that, in fact, that is happening. For example, duty to intervene coming up in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing and the opportunity to have representation at every level.”

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Hollins: “It is pretty exciting to see that we’re not only in this moment, but that we’re in this movement right now and that we have a number of young people who are now stepping up to the plate and who are pushing for these changes in policies and pushing for more diversity and more equity in all industries. They’re out there on the front line and they are demanding change and they’re willing to put in the work to make change in their communities.”

LaRosiliere “I think as more allies awaken to the understanding of what we’ve gone through as a people, and then have the willingness to lend a hand and be partners. I think that’s how we grow. Here in Plano we have an incredible business community that’s reached out in so many meaningful ways. We’re collaborating with them in our schools to provide opportunities. So this is a moment for us, we seize it and we move forward in the most productive way we can.”

What recommendations or thoughts do you have on ways to expand diversity and equity within politics?

Jenkins: “I was so proud to see Cori Bush elected to Congress. You know, she got her start in activism around Ferguson. … This year we we saw record numbers of LGBT and transgender folks and gender nonconforming people elected to public office, and I think we need to continue to see that kind of representation in all areas of elected public life. You need to see people appointed to positions, we need people serving on school boards and library boards … we need to be in those spaces, not just in elected offices, but throughout the process.”

Ford: “Look for diverse talent, expand that applicant pool. Actually go and recruit in places where you can increase the opportunity for minorities to get engaged. Secondly, actually support them once they get engaged. Don’t just think that the task is over once you’ve convinced someone to run. The third piece of advice I offer is to the candidate … you have to be resilient. … You won’t always see success in your efforts. But you have to be resilient. You got to bounce back.”

Hollins: “We’ve got to make a conscious effort. I am the only Black woman up here at this time. But it’s not without me purposely going out and talking to young women and trying to recruit young women to be involved in politics. And let’s not forget, you don’t have to run for office in order to be in politics. There are so many other positions in politics where we can make change, where we don’t have to be running for office because it may not be everybody’s thing. … But yeah, it has to be a conscious effort to get people on the ballot and we have to support Black women in office. It’s one thing to go out and say, ‘We want more diversity in politics. We want to see more Black women in office.’ But yet when they run for office, you’re not volunteering to help them campaign. You’re not putting your money where your mouth is … and you’re not voting for them. And so it takes this concerted effort in order to get Black women in office.”

LaRosiliere: “It really starts by getting involved. You have to be there and you have to do the work, wherever your skills and talents take you and then learn your community so that you can truly serve the people you choose to.”

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