Previewing the network’s “Black Agenda” special, MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell dragged out one of the most liberal members of Congress on April 7 to demagogue Republican budget cuts as harmful to poor minority groups.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) turned what was supposed to be a conversation about the consequences of a government shutdown, which most members on both sides of the aisle want to avoid, into a screed against only $60 billion in cuts to non-defense discretionary spending.
“And so people need to know, people are going to bed hungry tonight,” fretted Lee, even though the government was still open yesterday and wouldn't close until at least tomorrow morning. “There will be more people poorer if the budget that the Republicans want passed gets passed.”
The former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus added that she is joining with the SEIU, a labor union that bankrolls many Democratic politicians, in a day of fasting to protest the “extreme budget cuts that the Republicans are trying to enact.”
The $60 billion in cuts to domestic programs that Lee derided as “extreme” and a “disgrace” account for roughly 0.015 percent of the $3.83 trillion federal budget. Moreover, the $60 billion figure has been whittled down to between $33 billion and $40 billion after Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) inched closer to a deal in a midnight meeting at the White House yesterday.
Lee made valid points about disruptions in certain federal services that would occur if the government shut down, but her offensive assertion that Republicans want people to go hungry drew not a whiff of criticism from Mitchell, who could only manage to crack an awkward and insensitive joke about furloughed elevator operators.
“And the senators who get also special perks will have a real problem because they will have to push the elevator buttons themselves, and the elevator operators would be furloughed,” dryly joked the host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
“Well, I think it's a real problem for those elevator operators who won't have a paycheck,” replied Lee, seemingly unmoved by Mitchell’s attempt at deadpan humor.
Mitchell also refused to push back against Lee’s frame that Republican cuts to Planned Parenthood represent a “war on women.”
On Tuesday, interviewing Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), the NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent sang a similar tune, arguing the GOP’s budget “would have a very big impact on particularly poor and minority communities” and suggesting the reason the U.S. intervened in Libya and not in the Ivory Coast “is a matter of color.”
“Black Agenda,” which airs on Sunday, will be hosted by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz.
April 7, 2011
1:33 p.m. EDT
ANDREA MITCHELL: And now our series: Black Agenda, a Stronger America. The impending government shutdown, which would have an even bigger effect on minority communities than other Americans. According to the 2011 state of the Dream Study, black Americans are 70% more likely to work for the federal government. Many of them may simply not get a paycheck if Congress can't come to a compromise on a 2011 budget, and black and minority citizens are more dependent on government services. We're joined now by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Thanks so much for joining us to bring to the fore just who is going to be, who is going to be hurt adversely, most adversely, by a possible shutdown. And what are your concerns for your communities?
Rep. BARBARA LEE (D-Calif.): Andrea, I’m very, very, very concerned about a possible government shutdown and I tell you, it looks like that's what the Republicans want. Let me tell you, as you said earlier, many, many African Americans and people of color work for the federal government. These employees will be furloughed. Anyone who is a beneficiary of a government service will not receive that government service. anyone who really needs the federal government for whatever reason will not be able to receive the types of services that they have been receiving. and so it's a very serious situation. But I have to say to you that I’m glad that the president and the speaker and Senator Reid are talking and negotiating, but we just recently, within the last half hour, tried to pass a continuing resolution, a clean continuing resolution that would keep the government open for the next week. But the Republicans would not support that, they want to keep defense open for a year. They want to start their war on women in this budget and they want to also begin to erode the Environmental Protection Agency, so there are many issues outside that the Republicans want to attach to a continuing resolution. The Democrats have come more than halfway.
MITCHELL: I’m sorry I interrupted you, congresswoman. But you're saying even that one-week extension, you're saying that Planned Parenthood and the EPA and other riders were going to be part of that one-week extension?
LEE: Part of the Republicans's one-week extension, yes. and also funding the defense department for an entire year. I’m very pleased that the president has indicated that he would veto that bill. The Senate will not deal with that. I mean, Andrea, the Democrats have come more than halfway. People deserve to keep, people deserve to have their government function for them. The government should remain open but I’m really quite concerned about what has taken place and so people of color, the African American community, senior citizens, low-income communities, people who are poor, they have a lot at stake and so that's why we're working day and night to try to get this solved.
MITCHELL: Let me ask you a couple of specifics about what would happen if there were a shutdown. What about supports such as food stamps? What about unemployment compensation? How would those checks be handled in terms of the government?
LEE: Well, as I understand it, some of these checks, which are computerized, for example, income tax returns, if you filed electronically, then you should be okay. You should be able to get your refund back. If you filed manually, there's a big question about that. So as I understand it, in many of the electronic types of payments, I think social security recipients will be fine but any kind of paper type of applications would be a problem. Food stamps, again, that's partially state, partially federal but all of the support services for veterans and for low-income individuals for seniors, all of those that require one to go into an office or to have a staff person there, to provide those services, if they're paid by the federal government, they just will not receive those services, because there will be no staff there to provide them.
MITCHELL: And the senators who get also special perks will have a real problem, because they will have to push the elevator buttons themselves, and the elevator operators would be furloughed.
LEE: Well, I worry about the jobs.
MITCHELL: That would be a real problem for the senators.
LEE: Well, I think it's a real problem for those elevator operators who won't have a paycheck. These people deserve to work. They don't make a lot of money. Again, people who are going to lose, they're going to be people who don't make a lot of money. These are going to be people who don't have money in the bank. Many people live from paycheck to paycheck and Andrea, let me just say, I am part now of a fast. This is my first day of fasting, water only for 24 hours. We have joined with Sojourner Movement, with SEIU, and 40 organizations to fast for one day. I have now about 50 members of Congress who are joining 30,000 people to raise awareness about these extreme budget cuts that the Republicans are trying to enact. And it's really a shame and disgrace. And so people need to know, people are going to bed hungry tonight. There will be more people going to bed hungry. There will be more people poorer if the budget that the Republicans want passed gets passed. And so we have to be very concerned about the least of these, and what we have to do here and the impact of our decisions on people who don't have a lot of money – low-income people, the poor, working people.
MITCHELL: Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you very much for your perspective.
--Alex Fitzsimmons is a News Analysis intern at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.