WASHINGTON WATCH: What Happened To The Discussion On Jobs; Pres. Obama Called Sexist For Comments About Kamala Harris (VIDEO)

Roland Martin and the Washington Watch roundtable discuss the lack of focus on creating jobs in the midst of America’s economic recovery and President Obama takes heat for complimenting California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

This week’s all female panel features Rahiel Tesfamariam, editorial director of UrbanCusp.com; political analyst Zerlina Maxwell; Angela Rye, principal at IMPACT, a political action firm; as well as writer, activist and, of course, diva Michaela Angela Davis.

MR. MARTIN:  Hey, folks.  Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”  We’re here, of course, in New York City.  [We’ve] been here all week at Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network conference.

Of course, we have our roundtable, as usual.  A little bit different this time.  This actually started on Twitter, where several of our guests were all talking back and forth, and I said, “What the heck?  We’re going to do an all-female roundtable.”

And so I doubt you’ll see any other Sunday show that’s actually done this, unless it was Women’s Month or something like that.  That’s how they normally do it.

So, let me introduce our guests right now.  First up, we have Rahiel Tesfamariam, editorial director of UrbanCusp.com; political analyst Zerlina Maxwell; Angela Rye, principal at IMPACT, a political action firm; as well as writer, activist and, of course, diva Michaela Angela Davis.

All right, folks, welcome to “Washington Watch.”



MR. MARTIN:  All right.  Let’s jump right into it.

It’s interesting.  Unemployment numbers came out on Friday, showing unemployment went down to 7.6 percent.  Black unemployment went down to 13.3.  But what’s interesting to me is that you don’t hear any conversation about jobs.  I swear for two years, it was – or, three years, it was “jobs,” “jobs,” “jobs.”  And so it’s been gun control.  It’s been immigration.  It’s been gay marriage.  It’s been every other issue except what is still considered issue number one.

What’s going on?

MS. RAHIEL TESFAMARIAM:  I think there’re a lot of factors.  I think one is that Obama’s probably moving towards a focus on legacy, [on] what can he accomplish in the next two years that makes him feel like he’s literally left a lasting imprint.  But people have lived realities:  jobs that are not being filled, so many unemployment [benefits] applications.  So, the balance between understanding that he doesn’t have much time in office – and there are things he needs to do for legacy, but there are real-time problems, like lack of job[s] and growing unemployment [benefits] applications.

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah, but a real legacy that you don’t want to have is having unemployment continue being 13 percent.

MS. MAXWELL:  Right.

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  Right.  Absolutely.

MS. MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS:  Also, the voices for marriage equality, the voices for these other issues are more organized, and they’re prominent people being advocates.  Who’s the face of jobs?


MS. DAVIS:  Who’s the advocate for that?  So, I think –

MR. MARTIN:  The face of jobs is a person who don’t have one/

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah, but they don’t have –


MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

MS. DAVIS:  — they don’t have the money.  You know –

MS. ANGELA RYE:  They don’t have –

MS. DAVIS:  — what I mean?

MS. RYE:  — a platform.

MS. DAVIS:  You don’t have a platform.

MS. RYE:  But one other thing that I think is important to note is, while unemployment went down, only 88,000 jobs were added this time.  So, what you have now is, I think, a result of sequestration, which is across-the-board cuts.  We’ve talked about it on this show before, but I think it’s really important to note that people have played politics with something that is having a lasting impact on our economy – and potentially the President’s legacy.

MR. MARTIN:  Zerlina, I wrote a co- — go ahead.  I’m sorry.  Go ahead.

MS. MAXWELL:  Just to piggyback off that, also related to sequestration is unemployment.  People that are long-term unemployed, their benefits are going to be cut back as a result of sequestration.  So, maybe jobs will come up as those people stop getting checks.

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah, but you don’t sound too confident – [unintelligible].  You’re like, “Well, maybe it’ll come up.
MS. MAXWELL:  No, no!  It will come up.  I think that – you know, we just don’t know if it’s going to be the top story, or if guns are going to be the top story.

MR. MARTIN:  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece dealing with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and I said, “Look, when this comes around August 28th,” I said, “no disrespect to anybody else.  I don’t want to see a kumbaya Civil Rights Movement.   I don’t want to see where[?] everybody’s all together:  ‘Let’s talk about sort of this broad discussion of civil rights.’”  I said that march was about jobs and freedom.  And I said —

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  — when you look at the unemployment rate today being double for black folks, double what it was 50 years ago, when you look at the wealth gap widening as well, I said that commemoration should be all about black folks and employment and an actual jobs agenda.

MS. DAVIS:  Yeah, it’s conveniently cut out – that part about “jobs and freedom.” Like we didn’t even – [for] most people, it’s just “I Have a Dream.”

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah.

MS. DAVIS:  But we’re dreaming for – [chuckles] – jobs.

MS. RYE:  Right, right.


MR. MARTIN:  First of all, it was in the original speech.

MS. DAVIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  And so the actual speech was about income inequality.

MS. RYE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  It was about jobs.

MS. DAVIS:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  It was about access.  That’s what the speech was actually about.

MS. DAVIS:  Yes.

MS. MAXWELL:  Right.

MS. RYE:  And we still have access problems to this day, particularly when it comes to African-Americans.  When I was still working with the Congressional Black Caucus, we focused the whole summer on a jobs initiative.  The jobs initiative was to be a kick-off.  It was supposed to be a starting point.  And to that, the President proposed the American Jobs Act.  All nine recommendations that the CBC put forth were in that bill, waiting on Congress to even consider it.


OFF CAMERA:  A lot of things that —

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  Sorry.  Michaela’s point about when it’s not a charismatic leader – so, if there’s not someone pushing a particular agenda, how does it still stay at the forefront of the nation’s attention?  So, unless Obama’s talking about it, is the pulse of the country moving in that direction?  ’Cause oftentimes, a charismatic leader is what’s telling us what’s important.

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah, but we literally just had, you know, three years of everybody – whether it was Republicans and Democrats, it seemed you couldn’t get away from a conversation of, “Well, I know these issues are important, but it’s about jobs.”  All of a sudden, the election takes place, and then it becomes, “Oh, no!  It’s everything else.”

And, again, the people who are most impacted are those folks, many of them who voted for this president; but also, if you didn’t vote for this, president and you[’re] broke, especially if you’re white on the GOP side, in Alabama, in West Virginia, in Mississippi and those places, you’re also broke.  And so it’s interesting how jobs somehow just disappeared from the radar.

And to your point, those unemployment benefits, when they expire –

MS. DAVIS:  Right.

MS. MAXWELL:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — you know, you go back to folks saying, “Man, now – [unintelligible] – having lots of pain.”

I want to shift the conversation.  Lots of discussion this week.  President Barack Obama [is] at a fundraiser, and he makes this comment, and folks have gone crazy.  And that is he talked about Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California being the “best-looking” AG in the country.   So, folks:  “Oh, he shouldn’t have said it.  That’s sexist.  That’s wrong.”

Weigh in.

MS. MAXWELL:  He shouldn’t have said it. He shouldn’t have said it because even though he has a close, personal relationship with Kamala Harris, he should be focusing on her credentials, her merits, her accomplishments.  There[’re] plenty of other things to talk about, particularly in a public space, because women are often judged and valued only for their appearances.  Or, that is a very large portion of what we consider valuable.  They’re commodified.  And I just think he should have focused on her credentials.  There[’re] plenty of things to talk about in terms of that. You don’t need to talk about the fact –


MS. MAXWELL:  — that she’s – [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  I read the comment.  Go ahead.  I read the comment.  That wasn’t – but he talked about –


MR. MARTIN:  Go right ahead.

MS. MAXWELL:  Stick to that.  Stick to that.

MS. DAVIS:  But I think that frames us in this sort of way that’s not human and not natural.  I think to add that to one of her many things I don’t feel is – we can’t hide from how we look. We can’t hide from how also pop culture sees people and comments on them.  And –

MR. MARTIN:  In the same –

MS. DAVIS:  — to put beauty – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — week when the First Lady talked about the sexiness of our own president.


MS. DAVIS:  — right.  And the thing is that –


MS. DAVIS:  — also we have to look at who – [crosstalk] –

OFF CAMERA:  Husband – [crosstalk].


MS. DAVIS:  — but who the President is.  The first thing he did was sign an Equal Pay Act for women.


MS. DAVIS:  And he’s – no other president has given their wife such agency and equality.  And that’s really how you can tell. That’s the litmus test for how men treat –

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.

MS. DAVIS:  — feel about women – is how they treat their wife.

MS. RYE:  Well, I think, first and foremost, it’s so insignificant.  And it’s so unfortunate that this is what we’re choosing to focus on – in a day and age where we do have a jobs crisis, an immigration crisis, a gun control problem.  Folks have really made this news.

He was at a fundraiser where he was comfortable.  He’d just talked about the host of the fundraiser having an adorable grandchild. He talked about Mike Honda not being the tallest man in the room.  And then he goes to Kamala Harris, all the things that she’s done, says that she’s the most attractive and then says, “and she’s my good friend” – to qualify the remark.

If the First Lady doesn’t have a problem with it – she knows how much women have, and all of us know how much women have impacted the way in which he views policy –


MS. RYE:  — and supports policy and implements policy.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. RYE:  The first White House Council on Women and Girls.  I don’t think we have anything –

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  I agree.  I –

MS. RYE:  — to talk about.

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  — think the flipside is how it made her feel.

I know I’ve been in those situations when someone who was a person of authority says something like that.  I do think it diminishes power sometimes.  When you’re trying to assert yourself as a powerful woman, to have your beauty highlighted as something that’s important enough to talk about in a public setting sometimes makes you feel that you’re not equalized with the men.  And it’s not a great feeling when you’re that woman put in that place.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, I’ll tell you what.  I’ve been in those situations, and I think – to Angela’s point – when you’re in a relaxed setting; when you, frankly, are among friends; and also when you hear the other comments, whether or not – remember[?] we saw the whole stuff with Congressman Paul Ryan –


MR. MARTIN:  — and the P90 and the workouts – stuff along those lines.  We’ve seen those things actually take place.

And so, yeah.  I think a lot of folks are just taking this thing across –

MS. RYE:  Right.

MR. MARTIN:  — the board.  And guess what?

MS. MAXWELL:  I wasn’t suggesting that we should go march on Washington over this.  I simply said –

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  [Chuckles.]

MS. MAXWELL:  — you know, I wish he hadn’t said it.  And I hold him to a higher standard because of the things that Angela said –


MS. MAXWELL:  — not because I think he’s sexist. He’s not sexist.  He’s done wonderful things for women.  Like she said, [the] Lilly Ledbetter [Fair Pay Act] was the first thing he did.  I hold him to a high standard, which is why I want him to focus on accomplishments first –

MS. RYE:  He did.


MS. MAXWELL:  — and foremost and speak about –

MR. MARTIN:  I gotcha.

MS. MAXWELL:  — he should’ve said “smart, strong, tough” [and] stopped talking.

MR. MARTIN:  Well, she’s smart, strong, tough – and she is good-looking.

All right.  Panel – I said it!  I sure did!  ’Cause you know what?  We’ve had her on the show.  We had a great time.

MS. MAXWELL:  Well, you can tell my parents, because they’re – they did that – not me.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.  Well – [unintelligible] –

MS. MAXWELL:  I’ve done other things.


MR. MARTIN:  I gotcha!


MR. MARTIN:  But you know what?  Guess what?  He said – guess what?  He said, “She’s great,” and he said all of that.  So, guess what?  He gets to say it if the First Lady –

MS. MAXWELL:  And we get to say –

MR. MARTIN:  — says it’s cool.

MS. MAXWELL:  — that we don’t think it’s okay.

MR. MARTIN:  Absolutely!

MS. RYE:  Leader of the free world.

MR. MARTIN:  And then we play Steve Winwood’s “Roll with It.”

All right.


MR. MARTIN:  We certainly appreciate it, folks.  Thanks a lot.  [Chuckles.]  Rahiel, Zerlina –

MS. MAXWELL:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  — Angela, Michaela, thanks a bunch.

MS. DAVIS:  Thanks.

MS. TESFAMARIAM:  Thank you.