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The Trump administration’s views on police reform, race in the pandemic and ACA

Protests against racial injustice and police violence have dominated the American national conversation in recent weeks, but there are also major concerns about racial disparities in the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. For the White House view on these topics, Yamiche Alcindor turns to Ja’Ron Smith, deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of American Innovation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We turn now to the Trump administration's posture on protests around racial injustice, on police reform, and on the coronavirus.

    Yamiche Alcindor has a conversation recorded earlier this evening.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We get the White House's view on all this with Ja'Ron Smith. He is deputy assistant to President Trump and the deputy director of the Office of American Innovation. He is also one of the senior-most African American officials in the Trump administration.

    Thanks so much for being here, Ja'Ron.

    Democrats successfully blocked Senator Tim Scott's policing bill from advancing in the Senate, but they were able to pass the Democratic version of the House bill.

    What's the plan now to get policing reform? And are — is the White House open to compromise it through the Democratic bill?

  • Ja’Ron Smith:

    I think what we all want to do is find common ground.

    I hate to use the word compromise, but I think the Senate and the White House have always been willing to work bipartisan. I think that what we should have done and what the Democrats should have done is work from a bipartisan position from the beginning, because bipartisanship is what's needed to get this done.

    And we are certainly willing to do that, but it looks like the Democrats don't, because they'd rather play a little politics with the policy. And we're really focused on getting outcomes going. And I don't think the people have time for the politics.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    So, is it fair to say that the White House will at some point be willing to work with the Democratic bill, as that's the one — since that's the one that went through the House?

  • Ja’Ron Smith:

    No, I think it's more fair to say that, like, we need to start in a bipartisan manner.

    You can't work with a bill that has no bipartisanship with it. There's a lot of different issues that need to be fleshed out. And the thing is, there are stakeholders on both sides that want to work through these issues.

    We have always had an open process and willing to work with everybody. And that's what you saw in the executive order, us working with police departments, and also working with the families. And I think that's how you thread the needle, because there's some commonsense ways that we can go about doing this that actually gets the reform that everyone wants.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Now, despite making up only 13 percent of the population, African Americans are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by the police than white Americans.

    Does President Trump believe that there's systemic racism in the United States, including in policing?

  • Ja’Ron Smith:

    I think that the president believes that our overall system has been broken, and it needs reform.

    And that system has created disparities, not only for African Americans, but many vulnerable populations. But we especially know that the African American population has had some historic disparities that need to be fixed.

    And so this first step of an E.O. that we put together helps deal with that, because the real issue goes back to police and community relations. And the direction that the Democrats took is increasing that relationship in the wrong way.

    And I will tell you how, because, if we have less police incentivized to be police, you have less opportunities for the people who represent the community to be a part of the police department. And that creates some distrust.

    We want to do the opposite. We want to create better police-community relationships, and invest in those police departments, so that they recruit from the neighborhoods and create that relational aspect that can quell some of the distrust.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Why hasn't the administration put out a larger plan to address systemic racism and racial injustice in this country?

  • Ja’Ron Smith:

    Well, we actually have put out a larger plan.

    If people would have covered what the president announced in Dallas, they would have saw that the president put out a plan on access to capital, put out a plan on access to education, put out a plan on access to health care, and, more importantly, put out a plan on police and community relations.

    We have always taken a holistic approach. In fact, before we even had these disasters and issues that shined a spotlight on it, the president hired me to work on revitalization policy. And we set up the White House Opportunity Revitalization Council.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We're seeing coronavirus spikes across the country and in states like Texas and Florida. But still about half of the coronavirus cases in this country don't have racial data attached to it.

    Why hasn't the administration done more to get the data on who is being impacted, especially when we know that Black and brown communities are being impacted disproportionately by the coronavirus?

  • Ja’Ron Smith:

    The CDC is actually doing that work.

    And just this week, we just invested $40 million into Morehouse Medical School to do more analysis on these disparities. And so the investment is there.

    But, as you can imagine, with this type of research and getting real-time data, that does take some time. But this administration has a commitment there. And the vice president made that commitment about two months ago, when we talked to half-a-million African American stakeholders.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And I want to turn quickly to health care.

    The Trump administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court wanting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Why is it appropriate and necessary during a pandemic, when people need health insurance, why is the administration pushing to end the Affordable Care Act?

  • Ja’Ron Smith:

    Well, look, let me tell you about the Affordable Care Act.

    My father has had insurance all of his life. And then, as soon as we had that legislation, he lost the insurance he had. And then, also, the premiums for the — for my mother also went up. So, I think we have always realized there needs to be real fixes to that.

    But, more importantly, we're making historic investments into federally qualified health centers and community health centers around the country through the CARES Act. And so the resources there for telehealth, telemedicine, and also mobile health clinics is there to deal with these disparities.

    But we're continuing to do more, because closing that gap for these individual communities is something that's very important to the administration.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, thank you so much, Ja'Ron Smith, deputy assistant to President Trump.

  • Ja’Ron Smith:

    Thanks so much, Yamiche.

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