Barbershop: The State Of Health Care, Police Brutality And Racism In America

May 6, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we sit down with a group of interesting folks to talk about the news of the week and whatever else is on their minds. Joining us for a shape-up this week are Mary Kate Cary. She's a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She's a columnist at U.S. News and World Report and as well she's a senior fellow for presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. She was kind enough to join us in our studios here in Washington, D.C. Welcome back.

MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.

MARTIN: Paul Butler is a professor of law at Georgetown University, a former federal prosecutor. He is with us from our bureau in New York. Paul, welcome back to you.

PAUL BUTLER: What's up, Michel? Woof, woof, woof (ph).

CARY: (Laughter).

MARTIN: OK. Thanks for that. Joining us from Irvine, Calif., is Gustavo Arellano. He's the author of two books and writer of the syndicated column Ask a Mexican. Welcome back to you, Gustavo.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: Hola, Michel.

MARTIN: Thanks for coming. So first I want to start with the big news of the past week where Republicans in the House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. We noted earlier, passed with a pretty slim margin 217 votes to 213. It will - still has ways to go. Obviously it has to get through the Senate, has to get to the president's desk.

But, Mary Kate, I'm going to ask you because you've been - you know, you've been in the room where it happens, you know, seeing how all this stuff comes together. What is - just give us your take on this bill and what makes this different from the bill that failed a couple of weeks ago?

CARY: I think what made this one different is that they were able to negotiate in some free market reforms, and I did think this White House Rose Garden ceremony was a little premature. But I also understand the need to build momentum as they try to get this thing through the Senate. So it is a little unusual taking people by bus load from Capitol Hill to the White House - very unusual. But I did think a lot of people in Washington have started noticing that the Senate team could use a few women on it.

And I think that's a very good suggestion for them to do because obviously men and women have different needs in their health care coverage. And then the biggest thing that struck me was sort of the behind-the-scenes role that Mike Pence played and working the phones as opposed to the first time around. This was much more different. And the fact that the president was working the phones. I hope there's a lot more of that in Washington these days. You can't just give a speech which I realize is odd for speechwriters - but good for them, you know?

MARTIN: Good for them because you think this is good policy? Or good for them because you like the fact that they seem to be making an effort which a lot of people feel strongly about to fulfill a campaign commitment?

CARY: Yeah. I think that's very important. And really this should have happened a long time ago. The Republicans have been saying for seven years they were going to do this, and I don't know what took so long. And I think a lot of people felt like I did. Like, you keep promising you're going to do it - well, time to do it. And so good for them for getting it done.

MARTIN: Paul, what about you? Your thoughts?

BUTLER: So your guest in the earlier segment said that if Marine Le Pen gets 40 percent of the vote, she wins by losing because she's playing the long game. Trump is doing the opposite. He's losing by winning. He's playing a short game game because he wins in the House, but he's going to lose in the Senate. And he puts his Republican majority in Congress in jeopardy in the midterm elections. So Obamacare is going to remain the law of the land, and thank God for that for all the people who would lose quality health care if the Republicans got their way.

MARTIN: OK. Gustavo, what do you think?

ARELLANO: I have to say I usually don't pay attention to anything with health care because I am beyond privileged. I have had health care - private health care my entire life, back when my mom was a teamster and my employees - you know, while I've been an employee. And I have also the best health care of all. I'm two hours away from Tijuana. It is the best health care system in the world. A thousand dollar cleaning for teeth - you get it for 100 bucks there.

Unfortunately, not all of the United States is two hours away from Tijuana, so I'm just hearing nothing but anguish from people who are going to be affected if this passes, and let's hope it doesn't pass the Senate. But if this passes, people are going to say, literally, I will not be able to live anymore. I will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in health premiums for a system that works really well with me.

And for me, I'm just so annoyed at how obsessed Republicans have been with repealing Obamacare for ever since it started - is that - this has been a war that's been going on for eight years. And Trump seems to think that they're going to win and hopefully he doesn't.

MARTIN: OK. Mary Kate is so - frowning so hard...

CARY: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...That I feel like I just have to give her one more bite at this apple, noting that we could have spent the entire hour talking just about this, which we sort of can't do. But, Mary Kate, just because you're frowning so hard, I'm going to give you one more bite at this apple.

CARY: I just had to say that I think as the government grows bigger and bigger, people's trust in government plummets. And the fact that the Republicans are trying to rein in the size of the government and introduce free market reforms is a good thing for our democracy, so I...

ARELLANO: That's what they say...

MARTIN: OK.

ARELLANO: It's going to get bigger - I will stop. I will stop.

MARTIN: OK. OK. Well, we'll come back on this as it progresses because this is obviously going to be interesting. It is interesting to hear people talk about core principles as opposed to just, you know, screaming about how much they hate each other, so that's kind of helpful.

So - but let me turn to this topic that's been in the headlines so often in recent years, I just - we really feel we must talk about it - the police shootings of unarmed black men because there are three different stories in front of us this past week that touched on this topic. Outside of Dallas, an officer was charged with murder and fired this past week for shooting a black teenager who was leaving a party. In Charleston, S.C., an officer pleaded guilty this past week to violating the civil rights of Walter Scott. That's the unarmed black man who was shot after fleeing a traffic stop. That was caught on tape.

But in a different case in Baton Rouge, La., where several officers were involved in shooting a man named Alton Sterling who was selling CDs outside a convenience store, the Department of Justice decided not to bring civil rights charges against those officers. And I'm going to ask you to look at these cases together. I realize that - are all different. But I'm interested in whether you think the outcomes tell us anything at all about how this issue has evolved. And I'm going to go to Paul first, asking you to put your former federal prosecutor hat on.

BUTLER: We would have done the same thing in those cases, so in Alton Sterling - he had a gun on him when the cops shot him. And jurors give the police the benefit of the doubt. They're not so much black men, but the cops. Now that cop in Dallas - I wish I could be the one who was prosecuting that cretin. So this guy shoots at a car that's moving away from him. That's what you learn as a rookie cop on the first day at police academy you don't do. So I would win that case with a quickness. The department knows that, and so that's why they got - they're bringing charges against that guy.

And Walter Scott - same thing, it's like the Dallas case, an unarmed black man gets shot while he's moving away from the police. So that cop pleads guilty in order to avoid getting the death penalty in a state case. So the lesson is that in criminal cases, the Sessions Justice Department - Justice Department is pretty much like the Holder Justice Department, like the Lynch Justice Department under the Obama administration.

Quickly, Michel, the difference is with regard to civil rights investigations of police departments. Sessions says he doesn't like those. He says he didn't even read the Ferguson report. And so he's not going to bring those cases whereas, Holder and Lynch brought many cases in which - and those cases make more of a difference. They have more of an impact on the day to day life of black and Latino people.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, what's your takeaway from this?

CARY: So the thing I noticed about it was that in the Jordan Edmonds (ph) case, which is the one in Dallas, a body cam was involved and - on the police. And that caused the police department to - they didn't release the video, but it had caused them to change their statement about whether the car was coming to or from the cop. In the Alton Sterling and the Walter Scott cases, those were 2015 and 2016, and that involved video from bystanders.

And I think that as the world moves towards more and more body cameras on police, that's a good thing. And the best thing the Sessions Justice Department can do - or one of the best things it could do is to figure out how to make that wealth of information from those body cams be searchable, retrievable. What are going to be the standards for what gets released and what doesn't? There could be a tremendous amount of good that comes from that. And I think the police should probably be in favor of that.

MARTIN: Gustavo, what do you think? What's your takeaway here?

ARELLANO: You know, we talked about this that the only reason all of these cases are even getting any attention is because of social media, is because of people there on the ground, on the scene recording this. Unfortunately, at least for me, it doesn't seem that these officer-involved shootings are slowing down any time soon. You have all this scrutiny - all, you know, possible convictions, possible charges or whatever, and they seem to continue to go again and again and again. There is a problem.

This is not something new by the way. This has been going on for decades. Just, you know - we - thank God we have social media that's finally paying attention. But there has been so many shootings of unarmed black men, Latino men and white men and Asian men and women as well for so long. Police departments and their defenders have to ask themselves what is wrong with police culture that these things keep happening again and again and again? And more importantly - this is what bothers me the most because I'm for law enforcement 100 percent. I have cousins who are an off - you know, sheriff's deputies, I have a cousin in the Border Patrol for crying out loud. And - that's a whole other story - but why, you know - why can't they call out a bad cop when a bad cop does something wrong?

It's that code of silence, and that I think really upsets a lot of people. And I would just hope that good cops can call out the bad cops like what seems to be happening in Dallas and say this is not one of us, and they deserve to have the book thrown at them.

MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. It's obviously a very rich topic, one that people have been thinking a lot about. And I just want to thank you all for bringing something because interestingly enough, we are going to talk later today, Gustavo, with a Border Patrol agent from Tijuana and the San Diego region so stay tuned for that...

ARELLANO: (Laughter) Of course.

MARTIN: ...Gustavo Arellano, is a writer of the syndicated column Ask a Mexican. Paul Butler is a Georgetown law professor, a former federal prosecutor with us from our bureau in New York. And here in Washington, D.C., Mary Kate Cary former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, a columnist at U.S. News and World Report, senior fellow for presidential studies at the University of Virginia Miller Center. Thank you all so much for speaking with us.

CARY: Thank you.

ARELLANO: Gracias.

BUTLER: Woof, woof, woof.

MARTIN: (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.