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He’s been called a showman, a master political salesman and someone who could go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump.
This week on ‘Firing Line’…
This is great.
The more you yell, the more excited I get, so good to hear you yell.
After 4 decades in politics, Terry McAuliffe isn’t exactly known for being shy.
I’m probably a little bit farther over on the spectrum on fund raising because I will stop at nothing to try and get a check from you.
He’s the money guy who worked for both of the Clintons and was the governor of Virginia when that violent white supremacist rally overwhelmed Charlottesville.
It’s a disgrace, these people today, that these white supremacists and these Nazis would come into our state to hurt our people.
Some say that this business-friendly centrist would have been just the person to take on President Trump.
He is an angry, emotional, unstable man sitting in the White House.
What does Terry McAuliffe say now?
‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by…
Governor Terry McAuliffe, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’
Margaret, great to be back with you.
So you are the former governor of Virginia, the former Democratic National Committee chair, and you’ve been in and out of politics for 40 years.
Most people know you because of your prolific fund-raising capabilities and your closeness with the Clintons, but now that you have been in the seat of governance, which did you like better, raising money or governing?
There is nothing like being governor because you really can get out of bed every single day, and through executive order, you can get a lot of things done.
You can help people’s lives.
As you know, I restored more felon rights than any governor in American history.
I was able, with a swipe of my pen, to give 200,000 people back the right to vote.
And you focus much on racial issues, especially this book that you’ve written, ‘Beyond Charlottesville,’ which is taking a stand against white nationalism, which we’re going to really get into.
But first I want to talk about something that we’re also already in the middle of, which is the 2020 presidential election.
Now you have not declared your support for a candidate, but it is well known that you have for many years been a friend and supporter of Joe Biden’s.
Some even suspect that perhaps the reason you didn’t throw your hat in the ring this time is because of your relationship with Joe Biden.
Is he your candidate?
Listen, he and I have been friends for a very long time.
I support his platform.
I like on health care, fix Obamacare, take it to the next level.
I think that’s the smartest thing for this country.
So you’re not for Medicare for all?
I love the concept, but, you know, the idea that all these people are going to lose their private insurance is just not acceptable to Democrats, but what President Obama did was to get over 20 million people more health care.
Let’s not roll that back.
Let’s go forward.
So you really came to prominence in the Clinton era, and the Clinton era was really marked by the emergence of moderate Democrats running the party and bringing the part back into relevancy, right?
The Democratic Leadership Council, the third-wave Democrats.
The energy in the base of the Democratic party today is very different than in those days in the mid-’90s.
Why do you think the party has swung so far to the left?
Well, and first of all, we’ll see.
Let’s see what the primaries say.
Do you reject the premise that the party has swung to the left?
We’re going to have a vigorous primary.
We’ve already got, you know, 20 plus candidates.
When that’s over, everybody has to come together and unify.
Trump and the GOP are dividing the country, and I talk a lot about it in the book — we have to unify, and that’s what the next president is going to heal our nation, but we’re going to go through these battles and left and… But, you know, at the end of the day, for me, and I’ve been a little disappointed on the debates.
I haven’t, Margaret, heard… Well, because we’re talking about all these, like, shiny objects here, confusing the heck out of the American public.
Medicare for all, Green New Deal, reparations…
A lot of these issues out there where what do people care about today?
They’re sitting at home, ‘Tell me, you know, I’m in a family of four, how are you going to reduce my prescription drug prices?
Where are you on infrastructure?’
I haven’t heard K-12 mentioned.
I haven’t heard cybersecurity mentioned.
I haven’t heard workforce development mentioned, so quit talking about all these things here and talk specifics.
But it seems to me there are two competing ideas amongst Democratic primary political strategists about how to go about winning back the presidency, especially those three states that Donald Trump won…
…Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania.
And one view seems to be to really focus on those voters that Obama won, that Trump won, white, working-class, non-college-educated males specifically.
And then there’s another theory that you can build a totally new coalition by doubling down in urban areas, getting millennial and youth votes, and support policies that frankly might repel those Trump voters who also voted for Obama.
Sounds to me like what you’re saying is the former is the better strategy.
I think it’s very hard for Donald Trump to win reelection because as you say, those three states that we lost by a combined total of 77,000 votes, and yet Margaret, 92 million people did not vote in 2016.
They woke up the next day and said, ‘Holy cow, how did this possibly happen?’
But guess what.
What happened in ’18?
We won the House.
We got seven new governors.
It’s not 92 million, but there is a big percentage of people who stayed home in 2016 that are going to come out in 2020.
I want to talk to you about what happened in 1980 because as you remember, when you were working on President Carter’s reelection campaign, 1980 was the election where Teddy Kennedy challenged the incumbent presidency for his party’s nomination.
Let’s take a look at what happened in that case.
It was pretty ugly at the convention.
It was ugly at the convention, and here’s…
…William F. Buckley in 1980 talking about what happened there.
Let’s take a look.
So will this year be a year where progressives and centrists can call a truce and finally come together?
I certainly hope so because if you watch that tape — and I was on the floor during those battles on the convention floor — it was pretty ugly, and we did not come out as a unified party, and guess what happened.
Ronald Reagan defeated an incumbent Democratic president of the United States of America.
So I do think, Margaret, this time is a little bit different because we’re now going after the incumbent president, who is very unpopular, that we will be unified, but that’s the key.
We have to fight like hell for who we support in the primaries.
So who has the best chance?
I think today that Biden has the best chance.
The polling data…
After Biden, who is the best?
Well, I don’t want to get into… I mean, I love them all.
I was impressed with Elizabeth Warren on the debate stage.
I thought she did a very good job.
I liked Cory Booker on the last debate st– Listen, I like it when, as I say, joyful warriors are out there to motivate people.
I didn’t like the debate where they’re all attacking one another.
I didn’t like it that they went after Joe Biden on President Obama’s policies, who happens to have a 95 percent approval rating in the Democratic Party.
That’s not smart politics to me.
So speaking of happy warriors…
…I understand that at one point you actually wrestled an alligator in order to get a campaign donation, and we have a photograph of that.
Here we go.
Three minutes in the pit, real alligator, full set of teeth, and I got a $15,000 check.
I didn’t get it.
It went to the, you know, went for the Carter campaign.
I enjoy life.
I’ll do anything, Margaret, once.
Not twice. I’ll do it once.
So I mean, you subsequently have, recently, frankly, as you were considering whether this would be the moment for you to throw your hat in the ring for the presidency, tweeted out a photo, another photo, of an alligator with a crab on top.
Now, Terry McAuliffe, Donald Trump, and it said…
You’ve got to have some fun.
As I say, you know, too many lemon-suckers in politics.
Especially going up against this president, right?
Isn’t it going to take a certain kind of buoyancy against this president to get knocked down and get back up again?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
You know, Margaret, I really wanted to run, to be honest with you.
I thought the message, a Southern Democrat who took over a state that was red and now blue when I left office, you know, record investment of 20 billion, hundreds of thousands of new jobs, very pr– I thought that was a great message.
Though I think insiders would suspect that it was out of deference to Biden…
But I like Joe.
I mean, I like him.
I’ve known him, as I say, for a very, very long time.
We’re in similar space, and listen, to get in and probably have to raise $80 million to try and get around and, you know, with my message, and to run against 25 other people?
Now, I love a good fight.
I love a good battle.
I think Terry McAuliffe would be just fine.
I would have had more fun.
I think the most disappointed probably were the journalists that I didn’t get in because I would have been the first up and I would have closed the bar every night, 2:00 or 3:00, and I would have been back up again.
Donald Trump would never tweet that you were Sleepy Joe or Sleepy Terry?
That would never… No, no, no, no, no.
I mean, you have the opportunity to run for governor again, and frankly, your platter would be dry for the next presidential election.
You’re assuming we don’t win in 2020?
I think it’s anybody’s election.
Who knows what will happen?
Listen, I…you know, I’d like to be pope.
You know, I’d like to be Tom Brady’s backup quarterback.
I don’t take anything… That’s not happening.
I just don’t take anything off the table.
Listen, I’m a kid who grew up Syracuse, New York, started my first business when I was 14 in order to pay for college.
I’ve started 30 different businesses.
I’ve seen ups.
I’ve seen downs.
I love life with gusto.
I just do it.
I don’t plan too far ahead because who knows what could happen?
Well, that’s a very reasonable way to live.
Let me ask you, just as a former Democratic National chair, there are some rules that are different in this presidential nominating cycle from any of the previous ones, and I wanted to get your take on it because in order for all of these candidates to qualify for the debates, they have to hit a certain threshold of donors from multiple states in order to demonstrate that they have widespread appeal.
Yeah. Right. That’s right.
And in order to get that $1, $2, $3 donation in order to get on the debate stage, many of the candidates are having to plead for small donations.
For a dollar.
I want you to take a look at this.
Send us $5 or $10.
Give another dollar or two if you can.
Chip in 5 or 10 bucks.
5, 10, $15.
It keeps us on the road.
For every donation I receive today, I’ll eat one cookie.
recently reported that it costs up to $70 per $1 donation, and that means that these candidates, even though they’re trying to juice their grassroots donors, they’re actually relying on big donors as much as ever, but isn’t the point of this to try to diminish the influence of big-dollar donations, and hasn’t it in fact done the opposite?
I don’t think so.
The goal is, at some point, if you can’t show you have 2 percent polling data and you can’t get 130,000 donors, how can you possibly go up against Donald Trump, who has a tremendous amount of money?
But you know, some of them, like Elizabeth Warren, she doesn’t do any fund-raising events.
Hers is solely online.
Well, she has a national network already.
Other candidates, like Julián Castro, don’t have a national network.
You go out and buy donors.
I mean, has there been some unintended consequences in these low-dollar thresholds in the Democratic primary race?
I think it’s been a good thing.
It’s forced people to go out and get 130,000 very small donors.
But they need the big donors in order to buy them.
Well, some do and some don’t.
I mean, some don’t have big donors at all.
I mean, Elizabeth Warren does take maximum checks.
She just doesn’t do events.
I mean, that’s the difference, but…
So I guess the question is can you actually ever really get money out of politics?
Well, you have to agree to only spend ‘X’ amount.
Nobody is doing that.
I mean, these campaigns are so expensive.
I want to play you a clip that Mike Bloomberg said just a few weeks ago to Elizabeth Warren at the Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa.
Let’s listen to Mayer Bloomberg.
I just said to Senator Warren on the way out, ‘Senator, congratulations.
It was a nice talk, but just to remind you, if my company hadn’t been successful, we wouldn’t be here today, so enough with this stuff.’
In other words, Mayor Bloomberg, in the wake of El Paso and in the wake of these horrific incidents of gun violence in this country, is financing a forum to talk about gun restrictions.
The point he’s making now is that the Democratic Party is unfairly demonizing corporations.
Do you agree with that?
Some corporations should be demonized.
I mean, some corporations that don’t pay any taxes.
I think…I do think… I agree with Elizabeth Warren.
I think there ought to be a minimum for every company.
Someone should pay some taxes.
They shouldn’t be able to use offshore loopholes, but I don’t like demonizing.
Not all companies are bad.
When you hear Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren railing against corporations…
…does it give you pause?
Well, they shouldn’t rail against all corporations.
I mean, there are many folks like Michael Bloomberg and others who do great civic deeds, and you know, that’s my message.
I’ve been very straight on that.
I could be the most progressive person in the world, but if I don’t have the resources to invest, none of this matters.
It’s all talk.
See, I’m not big on… I like action.
Well, speaking of action, I’d like to talk about the biggest crisis of your governorship…
…which was the incident In Charlottesville almost 2 years ago, which was marked by the convergence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists on Charlottesville in the Unite the Right rally.
And you wrote a book called ‘Beyond Charlottesville’ that talked about what happened that day.
It resulted in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and Virginia state troopers Lieutenant Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who were also killed responding to the crisis.
Why did you write the book?
I wanted to have a full discussion.
What I saw was a dangerous trend in our country on the rise, white nationalism and neo-Nazis.
I mean, to think I’m even saying this in 2019.
Virginia is a great state of 8 1/2 million people.
America is 335 million people.
We can’t let a thousand of these knuckleheads, who came to Virginia from 39 states spewing the hatred, telling members of the Jewish faith, ‘We’re going to burn you and burn you like we burned you in Auschwitz.’
I never in my life have heard the language I heard.
As bad, Margaret, as Charlottesville was, it ripped the scab off of racism.
I think for far too long, people felt in this country that we had dealt with the issues of racism.
It’s not a comfortable topic for white people to talk about, but it ripped it off, and I make the point in the book, until we deal with inequities in school, in housing, in health care and sentencing, our criminal justice system, we’re going to have racism in this country.
So you wanted to write the book because there’s this emergence of white nationalism and neo-Nazism gaining steam.
Why do you think it’s gaining steam right now?
Well I write in the book, I think when President Obama got elected, I think for some people in this country, the idea that we had a black president of the United States of America was highly offensive to them.
Now, they didn’t really act on it.
I make the point in the book…
Why do you think they’re acting now?
Why do you think they’re acting now?
I was just about to say, because then comes along Donald J. Trump, who, birther movement and all the insanity that he had to create these issues with President Obama.
Then obviously, you know, running for president, he’s retweeting neo-Nazi, white supremacists.
He says we’re going to ban all Muslims in this country.
All Mexicans are, you know, rapists and criminals and murderers.
Do you think he’s put wind in the sails of white supremacists?
That’s exactly right.
What he did, Margaret, was for people, ‘If the president or presidential candidate and then president can say this, wow — I can, too.’
And that’s what happened in Charlottesville.
They didn’t come about the Robert E. Lee statue.
They didn’t even know who the hell Robert E. Lee was.
They came because it was an opportunity to show their allegiance to Trump, their allegiance to racism, and I quote people in the book.
I quote David Duke, you know, ‘We’re here for Donald Trump to fulfill it.’
And what happened in El Paso when this killer, a manifesto where he basically, you know, quotes Donald Trump’s tweets, ‘white identity, we’re going to make this a white country again.’
It’s a dangerous time, so the benefit of the book, and I had no idea when I was writing it that we’d be in the place we’re in today, it’s a discussion that we need to have, and it needs to be up front.
When you look back at the events of that day, do you think personally as governor there is more or something different that you could have done to prevent the sequence of events that led to the death of Heather Heyer?
The big issue, and I talk about this in the book, was the location where the permit was granted at the Emancipation Park where the Robert E. Lee statue was.
Margaret, this was no bigger than a couple people’s backyards if you put them together.
A thousand neo-Nazis, white supremacists, 2,000 counter-protestors all converging in one tiny park.
The city filed a permit to move it up to McIntire Park.
The key to controlling a protest is to keep the two sides separated.
Virtually impossible in that small… where the Lee statue… impossible.
Well, they tried to move the protest, and the ACLU challenged it in court and ultimately won.
I’m a big supporter of the First Amendment, and as you know, as I tell in the book, members of the ACLU National Board resigned, said, ‘We’re not here to protect First Amendment rights of neo-Nazis.’
If the city is saying, ‘We can’t keep you safe,’ that’s not, to me, an infringement on First Amendment.
If we cannot keep you safe, which there is no possibility in this small park, then, you know, that’s… They should have moved it, but…
There was an independent review initiated by the mayor of Charlottesville about what happened.
What do you say to those who say the state didn’t take enough responsibility for the failure of coordination with local authorities?
Well, as I say in the book, we did a lot of coordination, the memo, the actual memo, the calls I made to the mayor.
We sent the state police down, and people can all, you know, go back and forth.
The folks to blame are the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists.
Let us be very clear.
Heather Heyer was killed by a 32-year-old by the name of James Fields who weaponized his car and injured 35 people.
You know, I mean, this… The book is about dealing with nationalism, Trump, racism, not about pointing fingers.
We can all learn.
And it’s my perspective, sitting in the governor’s chair of how I dealt with it.
Other books have come out, and everybody is entitled to do it.
So on August 3rd, this country experienced the deadliest white supremacy attack in the last half century.
Twenty-two people were gunned down at the hands of a man who ranted and raved about ‘the Hispanic invasion.’
And he himself, as you have mentioned, repeated the language that President Trump used, and at least eight of the presidential candidates have declared the president of the United States, as a result, to be a white supremacist.
Joe Biden has stopped short of calling him a white supremacist.
Let’s look at what Joe Biden is saying.
I believe everything the president says and has done encourages white supremacists, and I’m not sure there’s much of a distinction.
As a matter of fact, it may be even worse.
In fact, if you’re out there trying to, in fact, curry the favor of white supremacists or any group that in fact is anathema to everything we believe…
So he is saying he encourages white supremacy, but you have no qualms about calling President Trump a white supremacist in your book.
I state in the book, August 12th, in my mind, is when he came out as a full-fledged racist and white supremacist.
And on August 12th is the day that President Trump came out, and he condemned the violence ‘on many sides.’
I talked to him earlier in that day, and I explained to him what was going on in Charlottesville, explained these horrible people, what they were saying, what they were doing.
They were there to hurt people, and at one point in the call, I said, ‘You’ve got to stop the hate speech.
You really have to stop.
You’re dividing the country, and you’re hurting us,’ and he said, ‘You know, Terry.
I want to work with you on this.’
I felt very good at the end of the call.
He said he was going to do his press conference.
And then, Margaret, fascinating, I hung up.
I was going to wait to say anything, of course, until the president spoke.
Several hours went by, couldn’t figure out what happened.
Half hour, hour, hour and a half, two hours, and you know what happens.
You know, people in the White House, Bannon or Miller, whoever got to him and said, ‘No, Mr. President.
First, you will not use the words ‘neo-Nazi.’ Now, remember, Margaret, they are marching down the streets of Charlottesville with shields with swastikas, Adolf Hitler ideology.
These are the folks who exterminated 6 million members of the Jewish faith, and I explained all this to the president, and they said, ‘You’re not going to say ‘neo-Nazi,’ and you’re not going ‘white supremacist,’ and he came out, and the first part of the speech was fine.
You just imagine that they said that to him.
You don’t know for a fact that they said that.
I have no… Somebody got to him.
Why would he change from when I talked to him?
Somebody changed his mind.
And he came out and said there were good people on both sides.
There weren’t good people on both sides.
There were not good people in the neo-Nazi and the white supremacists.
They were there to hate, and that was his lowest point of his presidency.
On the notion of white supremacy, right, I mean, you call him a white supremacist.
Eight candidates have called him a white supremacist.
Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, there are some who are equivocating from calling him a white supremacist, saying he’s supporting white supremacists but that he is not necessarily a white supremacist.
Why do you think they’re doing that?
I mean, is there…and I guess what I’m getting at here is, is there a risk that calling the president of the United States a white supremacist becomes the new ‘deplorables,’ right?
Remember in September of 2016…
…Hillary Clinton referred to the supporters of Donald Trump as deplorables, and this became a rallying cry.
It was just a wide… This was… Let’s be clear here.
Come on, Margaret.
We’re dealing with a very specific group of individuals who hate blacks, hate Jews, hate any person of color.
They say this every single day.
Trump talks in their language.
He incites them to take action.
Now, I disagree with Vice President Biden.
If you… And he is the president, with the biggest bully pulpit of anybody.
So if he’s inciting people like this killer in El Paso, I mean, come on.
So I don’t know why anyone is quibbling about it.
He says and does things that promote a white America and to bring discord and racial divide to our country.
Ultimately, though, the Trump campaign is delighted that candidates are calling him a white supremacist because they know that they can rally their base and say, ‘They’re calling you white supremacists.’
But I think people are very smart to understand that’s not what people are saying.
We are talking about the people whom you saw in Charlottesville.
We’re talking about the people who, like the killer in El Paso and the individual, the killer that we had up in Pittsburgh, that’s who we’re talking about.
He can play all his games he wants, you know, but every day… It’s Elijah Cummings that Baltimore is rat-infested.
It’s going after the squad, telling them to go home.
Well, three of them were born in this country.
This is their home.
And this whole idea, I mean, unless you’re Native American, Margaret, you came from somewhere.
And white supremacy is actually built on the systemic injustices and this inequality in funding, frankly, to minority communities in Virginia, which you spent some time working on.
What did you do?
Listen, we… I could spend all day on dealing with the things that I dealt with, but to me, the most important thing, Margaret, is education.
If you have two different school systems and you have a young African American kid going to a school without the same quality teacher, not the same quality supplies, that, to me, is racism.
But the criminal justice reform system… I reformed our whole system.
I’m very proud of the work we did.
I had a young man I pardoned walking out the door, Margaret, Lenny Singleton, he committed five robberies.
He was a drug addict.
He was trying to steal for his habit.
Five robberies, the most he stole combined was $535, and nobody was ever injured.
For $535, what do you think Lenny Singleton’s sentence was that I pardoned him for?
Just take a guess.
Two life sentences, plus 130 years.
That’s my point.
We’ve got to lean in.
Quit talking — do something.
This is a really important conversation that I regret will continue to be relevant and pertinent to the headlines and to this program, and so I hope that you will come back and keep talking to us about this.
Love to. Thank you.
Thanks, Margaret. Appreciate it.
Thank you so much, Governor McAuliffe, for being here.
Thank you. Thank you.
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