As Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden heads to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to meet with the family of Jacob Blake, we speak with Congressmember Mark Pocan, who was born and raised in Kenosha. “Clearly, what happened — someone shot in the back seven times, close range, in front of their children, by the police — was another example of the policing problem we have in this country,” Pocan says. He also discusses Attorney General Barr’s attacks on mail-in voting, his proposal to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% to make more funds available for COVID-19 and unemployment relief, and calls for those behind the homophobic smear campaign in the Alex Morse primary to be fired.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden heads to Kenosha, Wisconsin, today to meet with the family of Jacob Blake, the African American man left paralyzed after being shot seven times at point-blank range in the back by a Kenosha police officer last month, setting off ongoing protests.
This comes two days after President Trump visited Kenosha, where he met primarily with law enforcement, never said Jacob Blake’s name. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign’s press secretary, Hogan Gidley, appeared to justify the recent fatal shooting of two protesters in Kenosha by a white 17-year-old Trump-supporting vigilante named Kyle Rittenhouse.
For more, we’re joined by Congressmember Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. He was born and raised in Kenosha, his family friends with one of the victims, the Black Lives Matter victims, shot to death during the protests. We thank you so much for being with us. Mark Pocan is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and also the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, joining us from Madison, Wisconsin, where he lives with his husband.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Pocan. Well, can you start off by talking about the significance of Trump’s visit? Even the local businessman whose burned-out business he stood in front of would not meet with him, refused a photo op, said he turns everything into a circus. But can you talk about the killing of the two protesters, one of whom you know — Anthony Huber, you know his family — and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, what you want to see done?
REP. MARK POCAN: Yeah, and thanks so much for having me. And, you know, that’s the part that was completely ignored by the president’s visit, and which is why I think the governor and the mayor didn’t want the president to come, just to fan the flames.
You know, clearly, what happened — someone shot in the back seven times, close range, in front of their children, by the police — was another example of the policing problem we have in this country. And then the protests and some of the violence that came out after that, when the vigilantes came from out of state and out of Kenosha — and, in fact, I think the vast majority of people who were arrested were from outside of Kenosha — so, outside agitators came in, including Kyle Rittenhouse, with — walking down the road with a rifle, given water by the police, not stopped as he’s walking down the road with a rifle, and then he shot two people, including Anthony Huber, who is the grandson of my mother’s best friend.
You know, when those things happened, that’s what you respond to. And, of course, Donald Trump came to say “Attaboy” to the local law enforcement, when that’s not even close to the message that came out of what happened in Kenosha. So, you know, we were very concerned when the president came, because clearly all he cares about is himself, not Kenosha. We wish he would have cared about Kenosha when he came, but he had no messages of unity or reconciliation. And that’s what we’re really hoping for today from Joe Biden.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Pocan, it’s not just Trump’s visit that has been opposed, but even Joe Biden’s, which the mayor of Kenosha has said, in both cases, that it’s too early for them to come. Could you talk about the significance of Wisconsin as a critical state in the upcoming elections? In 2016, of course, Trump won by just a narrow margin in Wisconsin.
REP. MARK POCAN: Yeah. Well, we’re a purple state. You know, we can vote Democratic or Republican statewide. We have really deep blue pockets and really deep red pockets. But in 2016, we had a 200,000 to 250,000 Democratic voter drop-off. So, you know, that won’t happen again. In 2018, we took every constitutional office in Wisconsin — by one point, but they became Democratic. So, yeah, we figured out the voting issue that we had in 2016 by a candidate at the time who never came to Wisconsin and didn’t put many resources here. That’s not the case with Joe Biden.
And I was in Kenosha Tuesday visiting my 91-year-old mother when Donald Trump came. And I can tell you, this is one where, you know, I think the mayor is trying to keep consistent with a message, but there is healing going on. And Jacob Blake’s family wants to meet with Joe Biden. And that’s part of the healing that needs to happen. And I understand politicians want to be consistent, rather than correct, when they say people shouldn’t come, but the healing does need to continue.
I was rather shocked by seeing almost three-quarters of the businesses boarded up, even in areas where no violence happened, because people are nervous. People in Kenosha are good people, and this is something that they don’t expect to happen in their hometown, especially with outside vigilantes roaming the streets. And, you know, I think this is what needs to happen today. If Joe Biden says today what he said on Monday, that’s exactly the message of unity Kenosha needs.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump has defended Kyle Rittenhouse. He is a 17-year-old carrying an AR-15 automatic weapon, a long gun. This is illegal in Wisconsin.
REP. MARK POCAN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: He wasn’t even arrested as he put his hands up and walked over to the police, had been talking with them earlier, as he slung his gun in front of him. He turned himself in.
REP. MARK POCAN: That’s the policing problem that I’m talking about. And for the president to ignore that, instead come and thank the law enforcement — you know, we have to adjust policing in this country. And we passed a major bill in the House to try to do that. But the fact that a law enforcement officer, even after what happened in Minneapolis, even after what’s happened by all the debate across the country, to — close range, seven shots in someone’s back, in front of their children, that just shows we need to seriously reform how we do policing. You know, I’ve been an advocate for having consistent training across the country. We don’t have that right now. I think that’s necessary. There’s a lot of other things that we put in that bill that are necessary.
But for Donald Trump to ignore that and to actually kind of encourage outsiders to come into communities, this is all because Donald Trump is trying to — a last grasp at a message for his campaign of law and order, when all he has done is create chaos and disorder, whether it be around the coronavirus — we have no national plan. We still don’t have testing supplies and PPE equipment in Wisconsin, for example. We’ve had 100,000 small businesses close down because of how COVID has been dealt with. And we have racial tensions because of Donald Trump fanning the flames of hatred for many of his supporters.
So, it’s that chaos, it’s Donald Trump’s America, that’s the problem. In the Republican convention, they kept trying to say it’s Joe Biden’s America. I remember Joe Biden’s America, when Barack Obama and Joe Biden were there. We didn’t have these problems. This is Donald Trump’s — it’s on his hands, what’s happening. And he’s trying to have a new narrative, that’s not working.
AMY GOODMAN: During an interview on CNN yesterday, the U.S. Attorney General William Barr stood by his assertion — this is switching the topic, though he was with President Trump in Kenosha, but started talking about mail-in voting and said that it can be fraudulent. He was much more strong about it.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: This is playing with fire. This is playing with fire. We’re a very closely divided country here. And if people have to have confidence in the results of the election and the legitimacy of the government, and people trying to change the rules to this — to this methodology, which, as a matter of logic, is very open to fraud and coercion, is reckless and dangerous. And people are playing with fire.
AMY GOODMAN: “Playing with fire,” Congressmember Pocan.
REP. MARK POCAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And President Trump yesterday in North Carolina encouraging people to vote twice.
REP. MARK POCAN: Yeah, I mean, these are all outright lies they’re trying to get ready for when they lose. They’re looking at the polls, as well. Donald Trump, with the post office, has tried to create chaos. He wants people to think that their ballots somehow won’t count if they put it in the mail. He’s trying to do everything he can to pick voters, rather than voters picking the next president. And then he’s trying to set up this case that there’s somehow this fraudulent way of voting — that he and his family and many Cabinet members have themselves voted. Members of Congress often vote from home via mail, because we’re not available. So, this is just an outright lie that he’s putting out there, and he’s trying to make a case of this, again, chaos and confusion that he’s putting out there.
And, you know, the reality is, he has created the environment where people don’t want to go and vote on Election Day, because they don’t want to get sick and get their family sick, either. So, this is Donald Trump’s problem. He still won’t address the problem that we have 187,000 deaths in this country because of the way he’s mishandled COVID-19. And now he’s trying to somehow put this onto voting, when the only reason we even have a large amount of people wanting to vote from home is because of COVID-19.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, on another issue regarding the elections, you recently tweeted a letter that you wrote and had 18 other Democratic members of Congress sign into, expressing concern that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has refused in-person briefings to Congress about foreign interference in the upcoming election. So, if you could talk about that letter, and also the proposal you recently put forth to cut the Pentagon budget by 10% so that money could be freed to fight COVID-19 in the state and the country?
REP. MARK POCAN: Sure. Thank you. On the first one, this is a letter that we sent because the one power we do have as Congress is the power of the purse. And if some agency is going to listen to the president, not do their responsibility by keeping Congress informed, we can stop their budget. And we should stop their budget and not fund them, if they’re going to allow the president to manipulate an agency. So that’s what we were asking for. And I think it’s something we should do. And in this month, we have to actually — our fiscal year ends September 30th. We have to deal with this. So I’m hoping that this is something we can make very real, unless they do the right thing and brief Congress.
On the Pentagon budget, you know, this is something that I’ve watched. In the last four years, we have increased defense spending 20%, at a time of relative peace. There’s no excuse for that. And when you look at the cost overruns and the abuse and the fraud, almost every major contractor has been charged with fraud, and yet we continue to put now $740 billion a year into this. We need to start cutting back. And, you know, 10% is a pretty modest cut for them to do. We said not from the troops or their healthcare, but from all the other things, the private contractors, etc., that we could do.
And we were — fortunately, we got over 90 votes for a 10% cut. And only three years ago, Barbara Lee and I did this. Barbara Lee, at the time, had introduced a 1% cut and only got 70-some members. So we increased the number of members by 20 by increasing the cut 10%. And also, the sequester, that’s kind of held nondefense spending and defense spending kind of in line — if you increased one, the other increased, so if you wanted money for education or schools, you had to increase defense spending — that ends as of this year. So, next year, we have a real opportunity to go in and make some serious cuts on defense, so we can trim it and rightsize it. And that’s going to be a major goal of many of us in Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Last 10 seconds. Richard Neal just prevailed, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, over Alex Morse in Western Mass. It was described as a fiercely homophobic campaign. Your thoughts?
REP. MARK POCAN: It was. You know, whoever in their party, the Massachusetts party, convinced college Democrats to try to do a smear campaign should be kicked out of office. There’s no accounting for that in politics. There shouldn’t be for either party, and certainly Democrats should have a higher standard.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Mark Pocan, thanks so much for joining us. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Stay safe.