Faiz Shakir

Recovery for America

Air Date: January 11, 2021

2020 Bernie Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir discusses recovering from the Trump era and the transition to the Biden-Harris administration.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. I’m delighted to welcome our guest today, Faiz Shakir. He was campaign manager for Senator Bernie Sanders. Thanks so much for being on the program today.


SHAKIR: Thank you. Appreciate the invitation.


HEFFNER: I’m really glad to welcome you as we consider this transition. What do you think would be most impactful that the Biden-Harris Administration can do in the early months of their tenure that can provide the kind of systematic relief to people who struggled, not just during this pandemic, but frankly, over the Trump economy, the Obama economy and the Bush economy?


SHAKIR: Right. I appreciate the question because you’re talking about decades long assault on the working class and it would be a travesty I think if we just delivered a vaccine and came out of this recovery with people feeling like, hey, you know, I won’t get COVID. This is an opportunity to think about restructuring our economic system. What COVID has done is revealed for everybody all of the many flaws from healthcare to the economy. I mean, you think about the fact that 9 million people who were supposed to get COVID stimulus checks and didn’t even get them. Isn’t that crazy? I mean, you have a broken unemployment insurance system, you have a broken healthcare system. So, from my perspective, you come out of this and you need to ensure that those systems are addressed. I mean, you start first and foremost, this is crazy to my mind, Alex, you don’t have people talking about healthcare. You know, you’ll hear a lot of proposals around that economy and we need to do this and that. We’re living in a healthcare crisis. So, what are you going to do for tens of millions of people who’ve lost their jobs and their associated healthcare? And, in my mind that is an opportunity to expand government provided health coverage, and we’ll be pushing for it. And in addition to that, I think producing jobs that are affiliated with that. So, you know, you think about rural hospitals, you think about medical supply chains. We don’t have enough personal protective equipment in America. Why don’t we, because we don’t build it here. Why don’t we? I mean, that’s just a strategic decision that the president could make. And so, I would urge them to think that way.

HEFFNER: So, I think you’re suggesting what would likely have to be with a Republican Senate authorizing emergency expenditure that would be jobs, a healthcare mandate connected with those jobs, but jobs that are specifically helping with the recovery and rebuilding the healthcare infrastructure. But assuming the composition of the Senate is what it is today, with the Republicans in charge. What do you think would be the most effective tactics for this incoming administration to take?


SHAKIR: Some of the things that I’ve been discussing with you, Alex, whether we’re going to create jobs out of this healthcare crisis, can be done via executive power. You think about the Defense Production Act. It’s something that Trump has been very hesitant to engage in. But really when you think about what the Defense Production Act was supposed to do, it was supposed to give the president the opportunity to mobilize industry and service of fighting a war. And we are in many ways mobilizing to fight a war against COVID. And the opportunity that the president has is to say, hey, industry, industry all across America, here’s what we as a country need in order to get out of this. And I’m going to take the opportunity through the defense production act to mobilize jobs in service of creating face masks and creating gloves and creating gowns and syringes and vials. And we’re going to build them all across America. We could also create the green spaces that that businesses are going to need, and in schools are going to need in order to reopen. We want to put those, you know, those plastic dividers up, but also create them in energy efficient ways. So those are the kinds of things that just mobilize industry say, hey, I’ve got this unique power, but when you’re talking about, it’s just a mentality of a president who says hey, I don’t have much time to waste. People are hungry for action. I can’t sit around waiting for Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate to agree. I’m going to get stuff done. And you think about even the minimum wage, Alex.




SHAKIR: You know, you could, you could expand the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour, even higher for all federal contractors right away, right off the bat, you know, and then through that.


HEFFNER: You could also attempt to do so for every employee, would probably get to the Supreme Court.

SHAKIR: That’s right. That’s right. But at least you could do it solidly within the purview of federal contractors and then say, hey, I want to do this nationwide. Right. Who’s stopping me. Well, Marco Rubio in Florida, Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, et cetera, et cetera, all of the senators by the way are up in 2022. So, you can, you can play good politics with good policy and fight for an active, disruptive agenda, Alex, I think something that says I’m here in Washington to shake it up.


HEFFNER: So, you allude to one of the two things that seem to be maybe the most strategic and immediate in progressive politics being impactful and employed right away, a $15-dollar minimum wage and canceling student debt. Those two seem to be what the Biden camp is considering as its olive branch, if you will, to the strong Sanders supporters who didn’t sit at home in some respects in 2016 but came out and deployed in a way that they weren’t really deployed in 2016 and helped support Vice President and President-elect Biden’s campaign. So those two issues are most on your mind, but are there others?


SHAKIR: Yeah, for sure, if you think about at the end of this December, we will be hitting a moment in which millions of people could be evicted from their homes because there will be an eviction moratorium being lifted. You think about food assistance all across America, people going hungry throughout this holiday season, should break your heart to think about that concept. And, you know, there’s so much need for the state and local governments, for schools, for shelters to have all of the food that they would need in order to make sure the families get it. I mean, you can just start there at least just providing basic necessities and of course we haven’t even gotten to the health care issue that I mentioned before. Just making sure that people can get free testing treatment. Treatment’s still an issue by the way, Alex, right? Like you might have a vaccine, but right now we’re in a situation where people can’t even get to the hospitals near them. They’re getting overcrowded. Nurses are being stretched. So getting more people hired, and hopefully doing it through the public sector, creating good paying jobs with good benefits through the public sector.


HEFFNER: In terms of systemically democratizing our economy, you know, the canceling of student debt and $15-dollar minimum wage have, they can be game changers even incrementally applied. The other thing that can be a game changer is antitrust. But one thing that’s been on my mind a lot with respect to the antitrust, the kind of modern trust busting that not just Senator Sanders talked about, but Senator Klobuchar, others, as it relates to the tech industry is what do you do with the fact that these decades of consolidation have left people behind? So, I don’t even think trust busting at this point is going to solve the problem. What are systemic ways besides canceling student debt and a $15-dollar minimum wage that that can address that?


SHAKIR: So, when you think about the corporate concentration, you’re referring to is creating million tons of powerful monopolies in America, not only control the economic system, they control the political system. You’re right. That there’s big tech that happens have inordinate influence gets a lot of attention. My mind, you know, some of the worst impacts of, of corporate consolidation are felt by workers all across America. When you think about the fact that these meat packing facilities tend to be centralized, you think of so much of our food production and, and, and millions of small, even like hardware stores, right, increasingly centralized. You know, that means that for the workers perspective, in order to try to clamor and fight for a little bit more of a slice of the pie they aren’t able to do so. You think about like, McDonald’s, making millions of dollars during this pandemic, you know, so many countries sorry, so many companies that are COVID profiteers making millions and billions of dollars.


And yet the workers do not have the opportunity to push an agitate for having one, a bit of that slice of the pie. So, what, what could actually do the trick there? I mean, we’re going to have to raise these corporate accountability campaigns, pushing them, as you mentioned, not only to break them up, but demand that workers have seats on the board and are getting fair shares of the profit. And in my mind, you know, we think about Alex, you know, there’s a lot of things to hate about Donald Trump. One of the things I think, one of the very few things to emulate about him is that the guy was always on the warpath, every day he wakes up with a grievance and he’s swinging, he’s fighting the Defense Secretary, he’s fighting Tony Fauci, he’s fighting you know, or, you know, multinational corporations across the board.


He’s, you know, decrying them on Twitter. And what he’s doing is animating the struggle. He’s animating a fight. And I would ask you Alex, the last time you ever heard a large, you know, a major Democrat criticize a large multinational corporation, you know, outside of Bernie Sanders, right? Like who is criticizing the behavior and the conduct of some of these large multinational corporations? The answer is really nobody. And so now’s the time, I mean, not only should the politicians do it, but citizens should be clamoring, particularly with these COVID profiteers who are making bank during you know, one of the worst assaults on workers across the country.


HEFFNER: I probably could name a number and answer your question on big tech. You know, I mentioned Klobuchar, I think that’s fair. What I, what I think we’re both pointing to is that in trust busting or monopoly combat, there can be systems adopted that are profit sharing that can address the void and the inequity from the worker’s perspective over these decades. Let me segue to ask you an electoral question as the person who managed Sanders’ second presidential campaign you know, there’s, there’s been a lot of analysis of why Biden’s performance was strong and stronger than the coattails that an incumbent or even a challenger would normally have, in the sense that Biden won, with a decisive Electoral College margin adding to the Democratic coalition but what happened in 2016 with Senate seats going down, happened again in ‘20, and now, you know, House seats as well, but I wanted your analysis of why you think Biden succeeded, where down-ballot Dems failed in the House and on the Senate side.


SHAKIR: Well, Biden is somebody who has been in office for close to over 40 years. I believe. I mean, people, the public has a good sense of who he is, his character, his decency. He’s a genuinely nice guy. Have you ever run across him, he’s always you know, got a friendly word and he’ll shake your hand and all those kinds of things that you would expect of a decent person, and that’s come across? It’s not just to me, or like nice niceness to another. But I think that the nation has seen him obviously as vice-president, and particularly when you’re fighting Donald Trump, that desire for really turning the page and he would say return to normalcy or a sense of decency again, had had strong appeal and what you saw. I think in many races across the country is Biden outperformed most Democrats across the board. I mean, he was outperforming them strongly. And I think a lot of that has to do with Joe Biden. I mean, I think people liked him. They saw him in the primary, liked him. They liked him in the general election especially when you posited him up against Donald Trump. The challenge in my view was it wasn’t as if there was an agenda, a specific agenda attached to it. And, you know, we would push and argue for, you know, elevating some of those agenda items, whether it was, as you mentioned, $15 minimum wage, taking on prescription drug prices, expanding that public option, you know, during the, you know, during our Bernie-Biden Task Forces, we asked him to expand Medicare eligibility age down from 65 to 60. He did so but didn’t really talk about it all that much. And I think when you, you know, when you’re trying to generate an agenda and say, hey, this is what I am going to do when I enter office and I’m going to need to do it with a team, right?

I’m going to need Congressional Democrats alongside me so that people can see the picture of what it is that you want to accomplish. I think that that piece I would have accentuated a hell of a lot more, right? Like I need, I not only need to enter office. I need to enter office with a variety of people here who are going to allow me to pass X, Y, and Z. And, you know, my constructive criticism of them is that they didn’t really focus on an agenda, it was far more about Joe Biden as a person.


HEFFNER: It was almost a repeat of the kind of conservatism in the Clinton Campaign, which was an assumption about, they’re likely to be victorious and therefore the coattails may be there, may not be there, but we can expect a solid win. During some of his earlier campaign appearances he talked about the importance of a Democratic Senate, but I think you’re pointing out that he stopped mentioning that…


SHAKIR: But not only the need for a Democratic Senate, but what we are going to do…


HEFFNER: Understood but like you said, it’s startling to realize that he did, he did pause on that, and maybe it was in his attempt to run an apolitical or, or kind of bipartisan campaign in, in the pursuit of the normalcy. But do you think that had he thought and said returning to normalcy is about electing folks who ran in loss like a Greenfield in Iowa or Cunningham in North Carolina. Do you think that it would’ve made a difference, because at the end of the day, Biden lost North Carolina and he lost Iowa, he also lost Montana? Maine may be the only place that it could have really made a difference.


SHAKIR: Yeah, I guess I quibble with the notion of whether, I mean, in my mind that this severe challenge now facing Democrats is we’re losing working class voters across the country and the people making under a hundred thousand dollars, certainly people making under $50,000 dollars, people without a college degree, those are the people we need to win back. And my argument here is to make a pitch. What’s your agenda for a struggling working class and say, Cal Cunningham? I’m going to talk about this. I’m going to need you to talk about this, and we’re going to make this aggressive push together, so it becomes clear a $15-dollar minimum wage is going to benefit you. And I’m going to need him with me. Look, let’s vote together, but it wasn’t necessarily the case. And I took all the ads, quite frankly, and you you’d have a hard time identifying any policy issue that came across in this election, besides I’m going to save the Affordable Aare Act, to build upon the Affordable Care Act, to the extent that there was any substance that was discussed, that was the only one in many ads. Other than that, you heard a lot of decrying of Donald Trump, and a return, obviously to decency.


HEFFNER: I watched it as you probably did a number of those Senate debates, and they were talking about economic fairness. I mean, they were talking about the failure of the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy. They weren’t talking about it in the way that Bernie Sanders talks about it. But when you talk about resonating with blue collar workers, it’s not clear if there was a kind of tribal element in there, some of them sticking around with Trump, but I have a problem with the idea that this tax the wealthy, even though it’s the right thing to do, I have a problem accepting that it can work. I, maybe I’m wrong, but I, you know, that’s, that doesn’t seem to be a motivating force.


SHAKIR: Well, my point here is that when you’re talking about an agenda that helps working people, you have to excite them around it. You have to really discuss it in a way that makes them feel that not only credible and authentic about it, but that it is, you know, you are mission driven about doing something about this matter. And that’s, I think obviously Bernie Sanders gets that across very clearly on the way he talks. And I would urge, you know, more Democrats try to emulate that. On your point of tax fairness, I honestly still believe that, you know, most people understand what Washington DC is having been corrupt and that corporate corruption is a big problem. In the one tells for you on that is the way Donald Trump talks about it, despite the fact that having passed, he passed a corporate tax cut, right, that really benefited the top 1percent, to hear him go out and discuss this issue, or any issue involving large multinational corporations, he makes you feel like he’s taking them all on, that he’s fighting to drain the swamp. He’s beating up on them every single day, right? That’s what he wants you to believe. I’m filing suits against Google. Look at me. I’m so tough. I take all these guys on, despite the fact that by action he’s benefited them. So, my point of this, like the theater of politics, Donald Trump is smart enough to know I’m not going around saying, look, I just, I just threw out billions of dollars to large multinational corporations, and I’m doing such a great job. No he’s telling everybody I’m taking them on, right. Despite the fact that he’s not really, however, that’s the theater that he’s selling.


HEFFNER: Speaking of theater and as someone who also worked at the ACLU, I think another reason that it was surprising that while there was historic Democratic turnout, there still wasn’t a larger margin in many places and that Democrats weren’t competitive in Ohio or Florida, and when I say not competitive, you know, it’s a difference of a few hundred thousand voters in a place where millions of people are voting. So it’s competitive, but just not enough. With Justice Ginsburg’s death and the appointment of Coney Barrett it seems to prove the point that when Democratic strategists say, l nothing will ever change that the Court doesn’t motivate Democrats, like, well, maybe Democrats will be motivated if this Court, you know, if, if this Court makes a contraception illegal, like there may be specific decisions that will motivate liberal voters, but is your sense that those people all came out? So everyone who was appalled by, by Ginsburg being replaced by a reactionary, they all voted or is, is your thought that, that it still didn’t matter to enough people and that the Democratic coalition could have been larger, but it wasn’t?


SHAKIR: No. Well, first of all, Alex you know, Joe Biden, I think at the end of the day, will get 14 million more votes than Hillary Clinton got,




SHAKIR: That’s a substantial jump and obviously a surge. However, Donald Trump will have gotten millions of more votes as well, which is the more surprising element. And in my mind, that’s about the fact that he’s demonstrating to people that he’s the disruptor in Washington, who is getting stuff done, right? I mean, he’s getting actions that I look I’m getting people on my court, and I’m beating up on these corporations on quote, unquote, draining the swamp, on building walls. You know, I’m doing things for my base constituents. And I am in many ways doing it through disruption and people, like, I think that even in the style and the manner in which he’s operating, that he gives us a sense of alpha, right, I’m in charge, I’m in control. I’m taking, I’m shaking this bull by the horns. And I think in that way, obviously generates more excitement, particularly when you think about that working class problem, like, are they, for many working class people, the government has not been a valuable factor in their lives. They don’t see it as being beneficial and it’s distant. And then Donald Trump’s over there in that distant land, you know, shaking stuff up for me, which is in their minds, is a good thing. So I say, you know, with all due respect to your question, I’m like, I think we were building up and have generated increased enthusiasm, excitement around a Democratic agenda. It just hasn’t been enough to peel off his support. And that’s where you have to, I think, look at is as you, as you try to bring more people in the political process, which is project number one of Democrats, creating more, you know, people of color, young people who are not yet voting in historic numbers, if you bring those into the process and then you start to peel off historically Democratic voters, who’ve gone to Trump now, you’re, that’s where I, that’s where my head is at, right? Like we’re, we’re building up a good base of Democrat support for Joe Biden and have it on the presidential ticket. But in order to win these down ticket races, you’re going to have to start to peel, right. That’s what we’re not, we’re not yet there on, on that score.


HEFFNER: Is Georgia the best example of how you can emulate the 50 State Strategy?


SHAKIR: Well, so certainly Georgia, one thing to understand about Georgia and Arizona, two kind of bright lights for Democrats in this cycle and we’ll see how the Senate contests turn out. But Mark Kelly winning obviously in Arizona, Biden carrying state, is that those two states unsurprisingly have had significant grassroots organizing, not just in the last year, but for the last few years. In Arizona, it was largely driven by the efforts to oust Joe Arpaio back in the day and fights against Governor Jan Brewer and the Show Me Your Papers Law got a lot of people engaged, wonderful groups on the ground. LUCHA and others have been organizing. And guess what, while you know, more people show up to the polls and good things happen for Democrats. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams was really the, kind of the instigator inspiration of you know, building, taking a successful gubernatorial run, successful in some respects, obviously she lost, but, you know, was generating enthusiasm, excitement, and then building upon it and getting even more people engaged. And I think Biden had some benefits. So, for many Democrats, that lesson is an important one to take away is that that to you, can’t just show up in the election cycle. Some of that legwork will need to have been done on organizing on the ground for and years in advance and can tip the scales, particularly in these very tight elections.

HEFFNER: And in those states like Ohio and North Carolina, Iowa, Montana, where there may be some room for growth, do you think it’s, it’s the open tent approach or you know, that is open tent to a kind of more social conservatism or is it bringing new voters into the process, or both that would, that would potentially make a state like Montana or Iowa or Ohio winnable for the Democrats in 2024?


SHAKIR: Well, increasingly we are, you know, we’re doing a good job of being a pluralistic party and we’re building our tents and expanding our reach. However, I think sometimes what gets lost is we are supposed to be the fighters for working class in this country. And I don’t think that that piece of the puzzle comes through as starkly and as clearly, and as cleanly as it can, it’s not just mere politics, I mean, you and I were having a policy discussion to start this thing, in policy too, you have to have, you know, origins of ideas…


HEFFNER: Let me ask you that about that to close. Short of being Labor Secretary, your, your old boss, Senator Sanders and Liz Warren to, the extent that they are bedfellows on economic populism and, and fairness, what do you, we talked about the minimum wage, we talked about antitrust, but based on your sense of Senator Sanders and his campaign, what would he feel, you know, was a testament to Biden’s commitment to progressive change after these four years, or over the next three years, that he would really think that that Biden gave it his all to help as much as possible even with the constraint of a Republican Senate? How is he going to assess that you think?


SHAKIR: Well, I mean, certainly progressives helped get Biden into the White House. It was a team effort all across the board. So, I mean, if I made appeals to, you know, put in center right folks, but certainly progressives showed up in a big way, communities of color and obviously young people showing up in larger numbers and so they need to be represented within the government and he needs to also make sure being President-elect Biden, that he is not throwing them the stiff. But they are part of the factors and considerations, we are early going I think that there’s some indications that they are more mindful of trying to reach out to progressives, but we’ll see when, when the, when the deal is cooked at the end of the day, right, and see if like, are progressive’s around them, are they challenging their own bubble thinking of how to best reach out to them, like how to use their powers you and I are discussing, becomes production back, vacancy’s back, however you want to discuss, you know, presidential powers, clemency powers, to legalizing marijuana. etc. Are you thinking big are you thinking bold? Are you saying, hey, I’m not going to do things status quo because I understand that the party is pushing me and the mainstream of the Democratic party is moving in a progressive direction, I think Biden has always been over the course of his entire life is someone wants to see himself as central within the mainstream of the Democratic Party? What happens when that Democratic Party is moving in a progressive direction? Are you centrally moving along with it? That’s the goal. We’re going to see it. I think he will evolve, but we’re going to have to push and challenge every step of the way in order to get them to move you over to the window here.


HEFFNER: Faiz Shakir campaign manager for Senator Sanders this past election cycle. Thank you so much for your insight today.


SHAKIR: Appreciate the invitation. Thank you.


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