WASHINGTON WATCH: How Hard Should African-Americans Press Pres. Obama On Issues That Are Important To Black America? (VIDEO)

Roland Martin and the Washington Watch roundtable discuss President Obama’s second term agenda and how hard should African-Americans press Pres. Obama on issues that are important to Black America.

This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features Krissah Thompson, national correspondent at “The Washington Post”; Angela Rye, co-founder of IMPACT; Armstrong Williams, host of “The Right Side;” And political journalist, Joseph Williams.

This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features

MR. MARTIN:  I want to pick up on the discussion we just had.

You talk about – Joseph, you said how far will we go, and we’ve discussed that many times on this show.  And other groups – let’s just be clear – they have been using the playbook that black folks have executed for the last 30 years, and that is that inside-outside game.

So, Armstrong, how far should African-Americans go?  Would you say to black folks, “Wait a minute.  If this was a white president, would you press that person as hard as you should President Obama”?

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  Well, you know, I like what Angela said about the cabinets – and not just the symbolism of it.  They have a lot of power in those agencies, where they dole out a lot of –

MR. MARTIN:  Chief[s] of staff.  I mean –


MR. MARTIN:  — you saw this week –


MR. MARTIN:  — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appearing before Congress.


MR. MARTIN:  Who was sitting just over her right shoulder?  Everybody kept tweeting me.  “Who’s that black woman?”  Chief of staff.

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  Her chief of staff.

MS. THOMPSON:  That’s right.

MS. RYE:  [Crosstalk.]

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:    So, Angela makes a good point.

But, yet, the President, in his appointments since being reelected, has just totally ignored that issue.  And I didn’t like the way they tossed Susan Rice under the bus.  I thought there should’ve been more of an outcry about her, and I hope this is not an indication of what’s to come.

But, still, I think, if you really want to empower black people – I don’t think people realize just how funds at historically black colleges and universities are being cut and how [they’re] being pared back.  And the majority of blacks graduate from those historical colleges and universities.  The President’s feet should be held to the fire that you increase funding to these institutions.

MS. RYE:  We saw him also step out in a major way and say that he wasn’t kind of just going to be as calm and as nice and as easy-going as he was the first term.  I think this term he can also use his executive order powers, which he’s done with the gun control issue.  He issued 23 executive actions.  He can do the same thing, just like with the White House Initiative on Excellence in Education for African-Americans to empower and equip us.  Everything that African-Americans need [doesn’t] necessarily cost money, and we can definitely use the executive order process.

MR. MARTIN:  Krissah, go ahead.

MS. THOMPSON:  I think it’s a mistake to not bring to the table this question of what the symbolism of having this president means for African-Americans, and that is the big elephant that’s always in the room.  And in some ways, when you have this president, who’s taken the oath for the second time on King Day, it’s been difficult for African-Americans to find ways to push back.

MR. MARTIN:  No, but here’s the deal.  First of all, I agree, and here’s my position.  I think we’re all clear on the symbolism, but my view is symbolism is great, but you also must take advantage of opportunity.  And when you get 96 percent of the black vote in 2008, 93 percent in 2003 [sic], it’s called “return on investment.”  And what jumps out at me is if you only focus on symbolism, what that says is, “I don’t have to ask for anything.”  So, then at 2016, you’re going to look back and say –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  “What happened?”

MR. MARTIN:  — “What happened?”  Oh, we had great symbols, but –

MS. THOMPSON:  That’s the –

MS. RYE:  [Crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — [crosstalk] – the results?

MS. THOMPSON:  — political challenge.

MS. RYE:  — it’s not the President’s –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk] – responsibility, but –

MS. RYE:  — it’s not the President’s responsibility for us to accept symbolism as enough – right?  I wrote a piece on the seven things he must accomplish this term that all address our issues.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. RYE:  So, some of it is making sure that, again, we’re meeting.  We’re discussing what’s on our agenda.  Of course, we need to figure out how to make it an American agenda, but we need to make sure that we’re on the same page.

MR. MARTIN:  I want to touch on this subject here.  That is you’re seeing Republicans of various states looking at changing the voting rules, and that is the Electoral College.  They’re looking at assigning – Virginia’s looking at this – assigning Electoral College [votes] based upon who wins congressional districts.  Democrats are saying “vote rigging.”  That’s one of the headlines on Huffington Post.

They have this map, and we’re going to show the map right now.  This is the map that, had congressional district apportionment been in place, Mitt Romney would’ve gotten 273 Electoral College votes.  President Obama would’ve gotten 262, and on Monday, we would have seen the inauguration of Mitt Romney.

Now, here’s, I think, a problem that Democrats have with this.  Democrats are saying, “Vote rigging!  This is wrong.”  But the Democratic primary uses the exact


MR. MARTIN:  — same model.


MR. MARTIN:  And, in fact – a lot of folks may not realize that that model was put in place after the 1988 primary, because Ron Brown, Harold Ickes –


MR. MARTIN:  — the late Dr. Ron Walters felt that the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., did not get enough credit in terms of the delegates that he won.  So, they changed the rules to proportional delegation.

So, if this becomes a major piece across the country, this poses a significant problem for Democrats when you see – put the map back up – all of those red congressional districts right there.

MS. RYE:  There’s no question about it.

Krissah, go ahead.

MS. THOMPSON:  I was just going to say let’s just acknowledge that Republicans are having some real soul-searching conversations about what they can do to change the game four years from now, and so I think we’re going to continue to see this kind of thing take place, where they’re –

MR. MARTIN:  But here’s the –

MS. THOMPSON:  — looking at what kind[s] of changes –

MR. MARTIN:  — problem, Krissah.

MS. THOMPSON:  — you can make.

MR. MARTIN:  In the past, some Democrats have sponsored legislation on the state level to do the exact, same thing when they were losing the White House.

MS. RYE:  Here’s the challenge – and I think that we have to be really, really careful with this.  First and foremost, the Republicans – whether on the congressional level or largely with the RNC – have been trying to reflect upon what they can do to win back the attention of the American people.  And the only way they can do that is to change this system to make it look like they’re winning, instead of focusing on the real issue.  And the real issue is that they’re no longer speaking for the American people.  They’re speaking for –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk] –

MS. RYE:  — a very –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — exactly.

MS. RYE:  — very small portion.  And they have to address the issues rather than changing the system.

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  Well, you know –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  See, that’s not –

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  — what?  That –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — going to happen, though.

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  — that point is –


MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  — that point is debatable.  I think Roland Martin really – he took the words out of my mouth.  What is good for the gander is good for the goose, and the Republicans are not introducing anything new.  They’re just taking from the playbook of Democrats in the past –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  But, see, that’s –

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  — and they’re just saying, “Here” –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — that’s stuff.


MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  No, no.  But, see –


MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — the difference is the playbook –

MS. RYE:  I think it’s completely different.

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — was a primary playbook – not a general election playbook.  And you’re talking about a party that has basically lost the last couple of elections [and] is polling really, really badly.  I mean it’s one thing to change the rules when you’re on solid ground, on a level ground; but it’s another thing to change the rules to try to come out ahead –

MR. MARTIN:  I have to –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — and that’s what they’re doing.

MR. MARTIN:  — but again, though –

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  — [crosstalk]- —

MR. MARTIN:  — let me provide some pushback here.  Based upon the facts, this is the fundamental problem….  Most of these changes are being made as a result of the midterm elections in 2010.  Democrats, under Howard Dean as chair – they had a 50-state strategy.  He said, “We cannot be a party focused just on national elections.  We must focus on building our state infrastructure.”

You had Rahm Emanuel, James Carville, Paul Begala, who said, “Are you nuts?  Put that money in national elections.”

They got rid of Howard Dean when President Barack Obama won.  They went back to sort of this national campaign, so what happened? Republicans flipped 16 legislatures in 2010.

MS. RYE:  That’s right.


MR. MARTIN:  Got four –


MR. MARTIN:  — governors.


MR. MARTIN:  And so when we say how the nation is voting, yes, the nation has voted for President Barack Obama; but on the state level –

OFF CAMERA:  Look at where the power is.

MR. MARTIN:  — they are voting for Republicans.


MR. MARTIN:  Democrats – so, by Democrats ignoring local elections, this is the result.  So, if you only focus on the presidency and congressional races, and not state races and gubernatorial races, these things are going to happen –

MS. THOMPSON:  This is –

MR. MARTIN:  — and that’s –

MS. THOMPSON:  — that’s one of the things –

MR. MARTIN:  — how we got voter suppression laws.

MS. THOMPSON:  — that’s one of the things, Martin.  I mean, yeah. You brought up the laws.  The voter suppression laws are laws that had been fought by the DOJ all year came from state legislatures, so you’re seeing a lot of changes there that folks have to watch out for.  And civil rights groups have been raising the alarms, you know, for the last several years.  And that’s going to continue to take place.

MS. RYE:  Well, you –

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk] – I’m thinking –

MS. RYE:  — also have the redistricting challenge, and this is why this is critical.  This is very strategic, so I applaud your party on strategy, but what I’ll say is this.  When you look at the fact that these statehouses that were flipped in 2010 then could draw the redistricting maps – these are gerrymandered, Republican districts.  So, if now the congressional districts are what is utilized to demonstrate who won the popular vote – even though it’s no longer a popular vote – it’s rigged.

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  It’s not true.

MS. RYE:  That is the problem.  It’s not about this Democratic strategy – again, that was used in Democratic primaries.  This is about a larger problem of seats that we no longer hold –

MR. MARTIN:  But –

MS. RYE:  — just based on –

MR. MARTIN:  — for the pur- —

MS. RYE:  — gerrymandering.

MR. MARTIN:  — but – Joe, before I go to you – but for the purpose of the audience, though, the individuals who win state house races and state senate races, they’re the ones who redraw districts.

MS. RYE:  That’s right.


MS. RYE:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  And so what happened was Democrats were not paying attention –

MS. RYE:  That’s right!

MR. MARTIN:  — to those races.  They ignored them, and then all of a sudden when those houses flipped – it used to be you had Republicans maybe controlling one house –

MS. RYE:  That’s right.

MR. MARTIN:  — Democrats controlling the other, or at least the gubernatorial mansion.  By them falling asleep at the wheel, they allowed Republicans to win the house, the senate and the governor’s mansion; and so now they say, “Wait a minute.  We now are in control to flip the maps.”

MS. RYE:  [Crosstalk] – they have –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  [Crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  Joseph.

MS. RYE:  — [crosstalk].

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — but you’re flipping the maps.  And that premise is entirely correct, and it – yeah, shame on Democrats for staying home in 2010.  But the problem is what do you do now?  Where do you go from here?  And what happens when you have Republican state legislatures enacting all these laws that are barely constitutional, questionably constitutional in a lot of cases, and you have states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin enacting these draconian laws that are going up to a Republican-controlled or a Republican-dominated Supreme Court and getting enacted and –

MR. MARTIN:  Final –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — getting solidified?

MR. MARTIN:  — Armstrong, final comment.  Then I’m going to close it out.

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  Listen.  The die is cast.  Virginia is going to vote for it, the governor is going to sign it, and it will sweep the country.  What you’ve got to do is come up –

MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  And it wills sweep the country –


MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS:  — through a – through ALEC, American Legislative – [crosstalk] –

MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  Call it whatever –


MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  — call it whatever you want to –


MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS:  — call it.  The die is cast.

MR. MARTIN:  I want to close out this way.  You have heard me say on this show for the last three years why you cannot focus on national elections.  This is precisely why.  When you ignore governor’s races, state rep races, state senate races and those local races and statewide races, this is the result.  This is why the 50-state strategy Howard Dean talked about – why it was important.  And this is why black folks have got to stop focusing on voting in presidential elections and congressional elections and realize when you ignore state races, these are the results you get when you ignore those races.

And so it’s going to be painful for a lot of people, but they’re going to look back and realize how many missed opportunities were there because they chose to be on a national focus instead of saying “national, state and local.”

  • He has addressed of our issues, i.e. education, etc. He also nne