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Georgia Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock on leading in a divided nation

As protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol Wednesday, the newest senator-elect was watching from his home in Georgia, just hours after being declared the winner in Tuesday's runoff election. Raphael Warnock is also the pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his victory.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As some of President Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol today, the newest senator-elect was watching from his home in Georgia, just hours after being declared the winner in yesterday's run-off election.

    Raphael Warnock is also the pastor that the Ebenezer — historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.

    And we welcome you now, senator-elect Warnock.

    And congratulations on this win. Has it sunk in? And how are you feeling about it at this moment?

  • Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock:

    Thank you so very much. It's wonderful to be here with you.

    And I'm deeply honored to have been chosen by the people of Georgia to represent them in the United States Senate. I was born and raised in this state, child of Savannah, Georgia, grew up in public housing.

    I'm one of 12 children in my family. I'm number 11, the first college graduate. I know personally the impact of good public policy. We have been moving all across this state talking about the importance of leadership in this moral moment in our country.

    And as someone who served the last 15 years as pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. King preached and where John Lewis worshiped, I can think of no more critical time right now for moral leadership than this moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No question.

    And, Pastor Warnock, I have to ask you about events on this day. The day you — a day after you're declared the winner in that run-off, you see what's happened at the U.S. Capitol today. What does that say to you about the institution where you're about to serve and represent the state of Georgia?

  • Raphael Warnock:

    Well, what we need in this moment is folks who are committed, leaders who are committed to the people.

    This is what happens when you have leaders who don't have a moral compass, who are willing to do anything to stay in power. And this is the extreme expression of that.

    But for too long in Washington, we have had politicians who are so focused on the next election that they're not thinking about the next generation. And this is the kind of craven act that we are witnessing right now, for the sake of positioning oneself for a presidential election four years from now, is shameful.

    It's way beyond the pale. And the folks who have participated in this today, who have aided and abetted this kind of action will be remembered by history. This is a terrible moment in the life of our country. It's a dark moment.

    But even in the midst of that darkness, there are glimpses of light, and I'm very proud of the people of Georgia. They elected an African American pastor of Dr. King's church, the first Black senator from Georgia, and a young Jewish man, the son of an immigrant, a mentee of John Lewis, in this defining moment of our story, reminding us of the covenant that we have with one another as an American people.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you about that.

    But I first want to ask you. We assume that people who are responsible for some of the things that happened at the Capitol today, there are going to be prosecutions. Do you think anything should happen to President Trump? Should there be some sort of either prosecution? Or what do you think should happen?

    Because I think many people agree President Trump encouraging people to come to Washington in support of his belief that he was cheated out of his election — of this election led to what happened at the Capitol.

  • Raphael Warnock:

    Well, there will be time to think about that.

    And, look, I think it's a mistake for us as a country, when we take stock of what's happened over the last few years, if we extract Donald Trump from that equation, I think we miss an important moment for the country.

    We can't talk about him without regard to what gave birth to him. If we removed him from the equation, the toxic nature of what's occurred over the last several years, aided and abetted by people who are supposed to be serving, even my opponent, who agreed to be a part of that challenge today of the Electoral College, that's what has to be addressed.

    Otherwise, the country is still in a place that leaves all of us in peril. We have got big problems in our country. We're faced with a global pandemic, the likes of which we haven't seen in a century, an economic turndown. People in my state and all across the country are suffering.

    And we're not seeing the response from our government that we need, and that, in and of itself, is its own — is its own shame.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But how do you go about addressing that?

    And, by the way, Senator Loeffler is saying that she's not ready to concede. She's going to continue to contest this.

    I mean, how do you go about both dealing with the wrongs that have been done and trying to bring people together at the same time? I mean, you have a very divided state of Georgia right now, just as you have a very divided United States.

  • Raphael Warnock:

    Well, we are a nation of laws. And I think we have to be reminded of that. Laws have to be enforced. And there will be time to talk about that and to work through that.

    But, as I have been moving across our state as a candidate over the last several weeks, I have had the privilege of talking to Georgians. And they're wondering, when are they going to get some real relief?

    I mean, since the Senate was meeting today, we should have been voting on the $2,000 stimulus check. There are folks who haven't seen relief in months and are literally barely keeping their heads above water. And then they turn on their television, and we have seen such a violent and awful display today.

    But it is a part of an ongoing kind of circus atmosphere that we have seen far too long in Washington, a big disconnect between what's happening in D.C. and where people actually live.

    The politicians have made the politics all that themselves, and, today, we have seen just the worst expression of what happens when that goes unchecked.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And do you have a tangible sense right now of how you work across the aisle?

    I realize your election just took place a few hours ago. But are you able to think at this point about how you work with the other party to get anything done in a very — in a 50/50 Senate?

  • Raphael Warnock:

    Well, we have no other choice.

    And I think the words of Dr. King are particularly relevant in this moment. He said, either we will learn to live together as sisters and brothers, or we will perish as fools.

    And we cannot allow the covenant that we have with one another as an American people to be tattered by this — the worst demons in our nature, this kind of bigotry, old tribalisms and racial resentments that rise up and demand the — that center the conversation in ways that are not helpful.

    And so I think, in this moment, we need folks who understand that, at the end of the day, all we have is one another. And I was saying that during the course of my campaign, that we have got these conversations around public policy that need to happen around health care, around voting rights, around livable wage, around our national security, all of these issues.

    But, at root, there's a more fundamental question about the soul of the nation, the character of the country. And I think that the fundamental question before America in this moment — and we're seeing it play out literally on our television set — is, do we want to become a more divided nation, increasingly hostile, everyone in their own silos, whether those are partisan silos or ethnic and racial and religious silos, everyone armed and afraid of one another, or do we want to build what Dr. King called the beloved community?

    Many of us have visited countries where there are a few people who have all the things that they need, and then some, and then there are the masses of folk who are suffering, increasing wealth inequality, a disconnect.

    That's not America. This is not who we are at our best. And in this moment, we somehow have to summon the best in the American spirit, and to remind each other and ourselves that, at the end of the day, we are all we have got, Democrat and Republican, red, yellow, brown, Black and white. We are all we have got.

    And, in some ways, I think this deadly pandemic has reminded us of that. We should have known before the pandemic that we need to have each other's back.

    But, all of a sudden, we're dealing with an airborne deadly disease. My neighbor coughs. They might be sick today, but, because they're my neighbor and they coughed, I might be imperiled. That doesn't make my neighbor my enemy. That means that I have got to have my neighbor's back, that, if they are uncovered, perhaps I'm unprotected.

    I should want them to have health care. I should want their children to have access to a quality education. I should want them to be able to work with dignity and earn a livable wage and to retire. I should want for them equal protection under the law.

    And, tonight, as we watch these rioters storm our Capitol without — and we watched the response of law enforcement, and juxtapose that to what happens when Black and brown people, whether they're in Ferguson or Baltimore and other places, have risen up nonviolently to give voice to their concerns, it's a marked study in contrasts that's hard to ignore.

    And I think it calls us in this moment to build the kind of multiracial coalition of conscience that I think we saw this summer. In light of the tragic flash points of George Floyd and others, we saw Americans of all colors, multigenerationally march out into the streets, masked up against one virus, COVID-19, in order to wage war against the virus of bigotry and racism and xenophobia.

    We need that kind of spirit. And we need it now more than ever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Reverend Raphael Warnock, who made history today by becoming the first Black American elected United States senator from the state of Georgia.

    Congratulations, Senator, on your hard-fought win. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • Raphael Warnock:

    Thank you so much.

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