GWEN IFILL: A still-fresh wound is reopened in Baltimore over police violence and government responsibility. Plus, gay marriage debated at the Supreme Court and populism on the campaign trail, tonight on Washington Week.
BALTIMORE MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE (D): (From video.) I was sickened and heartbroken by the statement of charges that we heard today, because no one in our city it above the law.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) What I think the people of Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth.
MS. IFILL: Another city, another tragedy, another opportunity for self-examination.
BALTIMORE STATE’S ATTORNEY MARILYN MOSBY: (From video.) I heard your call for no justice, no peace. Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.
MS. IFILL: The Baltimore factor: How will a nation act? And –
PROTESTERS: (From video.) Two-four-six-eight, marriage equality can’t wait!
MS. IFILL: – the Supreme Court tackles gay marriage.
JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY: (From audiotape.) This definition has been with us for millennia, and it’s very difficult for the Court to say: Oh well, we know – we know better.
MS. IFILL: What can states ban?
Plus, on the 2016 campaign trail, the subject turns to inequality –
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets.
MS. IFILL: – as Hillary Clinton gets another Democratic challenger.
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) How does it happen that the top 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent?
MS. IFILL: Covering the week, Michael Fletcher, national economics reporter for The Washington Post; Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for RealClearPolitics; Joan Biskupic, legal affairs editor for Reuters; and Janet Hook, political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. It’s beginning to seem like we’ve seen it all before: questionable confrontations resulting in the deaths of young men at the hands of police. But Baltimore today seemed different. Charges were swiftly brought against the six officers involved in the detention and the death of Freddie Gray.
MS. MOSBY: (From video.) The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide, which we received today, has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.
MS. IFILL: Street unrest promptly turned to street celebration. But as this latest story has played out, the debate has spread from the local police and state’s attorney to Congress, to the Justice Department, the White House, and to the 2016 campaign trail.
MS. CLINTON: (From video.) What we have seen in Baltimore should – indeed, I think does – tear at our soul.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) I think there are police departments that have to do some soul-searching. I think there are some communities that have to so some soul-searching. But I think we as a country have to do some soul-searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades.
MS. IFILL: And Republicans like South Carolina’s Tim Scott are joining the Department of Justice in calling for police body cameras.
SENATOR TIM SCOTT (R-SC): Part of preparation is understanding, how do you avoid circumstances that we’re seeing unfold? That’s why the body cameras are important, from my perspective. It prepares us in advance of a crisis.
MS. IFILL: It is a broad debate encompassing specific questions about justice and opportunity in one city and across the country.
But let’s start with that one city, Baltimore, and its underlying problems. Mike Fletcher has been writing about that. Michael, tell us about your experience and what you’ve been telling us.
MICHAEL FLETCHER: In Baltimore, I think it’s sort of the classic case of two cities in one. There are two Baltimores – one that’s relatively prosperous, where people are getting along fine, but broad swaths of the city are just disconnected from sort of the life of the other Baltimore. And in that Baltimore – Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray is from, is one of the poorest neighborhoods really in the country. And there are other neighborhoods like it in Baltimore, but there every socioeconomic indicator is down, you know.
MS. IFILL: I should say that you’ve lived there for 30 years.
MR. FLETCHER: Yes. Mmm hmm.
MS. IFILL: You and I used to cover Baltimore together. But now, when you look at it, you – what you wrote in your piece this week was this is something that was going to happen, this was going to explode.
MR. FLETCHER: Right, right, because you had these two worlds that bumped up against one another only on occasion, and whenever that happened it was – it was kind of an ugly scene. You’d have fights at the Inner Harbor. You have the drug scene in the poor communities. And the police, the role they play in neighborhoods like Sandtown was to kind of come in, clear everybody out, arrest people, not sort of be part of the community, so you always had this tension. And there was a lot of police interaction, so you could just feel this coming.
JOAN BISKUPIC: Michael, was this different, then, from what we saw in Ferguson or North Charleston? Is there something that’s unique about this situation?
MR. FLETCHER: I think it was – it was similar, but different in that the racial dynamic, I think, is a little different. You know, Baltimore has a police force that’s half black, and a lot of people who have sort of had this antipathy toward the police, it’s not white police officers necessarily, it’s the police, black and white. So you have that racial factor there and you have the black political leadership in Baltimore, which feels – which has tried to be responsive to that community. So it created a different dynamic, but it was still – you know, it was equally tense for people.
MS. IFILL: So let’s talk about the dynamic at the White House, because we started the week with the president saying this is a local issue over there, even though he has spoken in each of these cases that we’ve seen this year and last year. But then he spoke a lot more. What changed?
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: You know, earlier in the week, of course, after the funeral and the violence erupted, the White House was going to some pains to talk about this as a Baltimore issue. But we knew that – you know, we reporters who cover the White House, we knew that the president was going to be ready and was going to be asked about Baltimore. And he was – at a joint news conference with the prime minister of Japan, as it happened. The president was incredibly prepared to get the question. The White House wanted him to get the question. And he started off – as you know, he spoke for something like 14 minutes and had a six-point, without-text, any-kind-of-prepared-remarks discussion of what he thought was important to think about. And what was interesting about it is that while the White House was pointing to Baltimore, the president opened the aperture up very widely. And by the time he got to the end of the six points, we were talking about fundamental problems in the United States of America.
And you used the sound bite where he’s saying it’s not new, but what was interesting is he said what he hoped, and what he hoped his agenda was also fostering, was a newfound appreciation, examination. He talked about the agenda items that he feels passionately about that would be helpful. He was – a little bit of a slap at Congress because he said he didn’t think Congress would support initiatives to help in urban environments, as much as he wished that they would. But he was talking very much about all the dynamics that we all think about: education, families, poverty, the idea of leadership, and the trust between the community and the police – that’s where he started out.
JANET HOOK: Well, and it did seem it was Obama stepping out, not just compared – more aggressively compared to earlier in the week, but previous episodes like Ferguson, he was very cautious. And this really seems to have opened him up. You know, he just got – you know, Loretta Lynch was just confirmed and she has a rather heavy new job.
MS. IFILL: In fact, was just sworn in Monday.
MS. HOOK: Just sworn in Monday, and her first meeting with the president was about Baltimore.
So I’m just wondering, where does Obama take it from here? Does he – does he just do his thing and move on?
MS. SIMENDINGER: The president has some ideas in mind about what the federal role is. And that is a key question for him: What is the federal role? And he’s trying to be very cautious about describing what is the role of the Baltimore law enforcement and prosecution and what is the role of the federal government.
What he’s talking about is, for instance, he’s early next week going to be in The Bronx and he has got an event planned for My Brother’s Keeper. Turning that, which is a program he established in 2014 to help young African-American boys and men to succeed, to get the kind of attention, to prosper in all sorts of ways – and he wants to build that into an alliance, a nonprofit to take that so that it will live outside of the administration.
MS. IFILL: OK, so here’s my question for both of you, which is, how – what is the proper role, according to these elected officials especially we’ve been hearing, these leaders we’ve been hearing talking about it this week, for government at any level in this? When you write about the two Baltimores, when you write – talk about the difficult situation for young black men, not all young black men; there are two different kinds of outcomes here.
MR. FLETCHER: I think this is a really difficult thing for government. In Sandtown-Winchester, for example, 20 years ago the Enterprise Foundation under James Rouse got together with then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke and they invested $100 million in Sandtown. They build a thousand new – and renovated a thousand new housing units. They had social workers going door to door offering health screenings. They had people working with the schools. When students were truant, they would go knock on doors and ask – you know, try to figure out if there’s a reason for that and try to fix that. And that was incredibly expensive. It lasted – the social service part lasted four or five years, and the social indicators barely moved. It’s such a tough lift. And that’s why it’s hard to be that optimistic. I mean, relations with the police now will change, but to get at those underlying poverty issues, it is such a difficult thing. It feels like a moment in a different context, much like after Katrina, where people talked about poverty but then they couldn’t move the ball.
MS. SIMENDINGER: One of the other things I want to add is that, you know, in Michael’s piece, he talked about it’s only a matter of time. And if you look back at the president’s task force, which just had an interim report in March on 21st-century policing, who is quoted at length in there? The Baltimore police commissioner, who describes the work that they have done in Baltimore understand – trying to understand, he claims, during the testimony for this task force – if you look back at the Baltimore Sun, a terrific newspaper, what kind of report did they do last September? It was an expose of all of these cases. There are many more Freddie Grays whose families received payouts from the city, very expensive payouts.
MS. IFILL: Six million dollars.
MS. SIMENDINGER: Exactly. So you know, when you talk about the intractable problems, when the president talks about it, when we write about it, you know, it really is a conundrum.
MS. BISKUPIC: Do you think that was one of the reasons that we saw the charges, the response by the state’s attorney so quickly today, that kind of backdrop of all the issues that had come before? She clearly had done her own investigation before getting the report.
MR. FLETCHER: I think that was part of it. And I think a lot of it, quite frankly, was the unrest we saw. People are really on edge. There was a lot of anxiety about no transparency in the investigation, and people were worried that if you go through the weekend and get into next week, you know, who knows what would erupt. So I think the state’s attorney – and plus, she’s newly elected. She wanted to move quickly, and I think she won some political points for that.
MS. HOOK: Do you think that it’ll have that effect? I mean, do you think that the disturbances are over? Is there going to be ongoing anxieties?
MR. FLETCHER: Well, you know, this is – this is just the beginning of the legal process, you know. That’s I’ve been telling people about this. Who knows? We have charges. Who knows how they’ll play? Who knows how that’ll hold up? What kind of testimony will we hear in a trial? And I’m afraid that if, say, if there are acquittals, you know, if things –
MS. IFILL: What happens then?
MR. FLETCHER: Yeah, exactly.
MS. IFILL: You know, there’s – one thing everybody seems to agree about. We heard Hillary Clinton talk about it. You just heard Tim Scott talk about it. The president’s Justice Department talked about it today, putting out a lot of money for body cameras. Now, in every case that wouldn’t be the panacea, but there seem to be some areas of agreement about things that can at least, whether you’re addressing the underlying problems of the economic issues or you’re addressing the police behavior problems, this is every – one thing everybody agrees on.
MS. SIMENDINGER: We have seen the Justice Department do the first pilot program. They very much backed what other communities have experimented with on body cameras, this idea that there are statistics that show that the behavior of both the public and police is improved with the body cameras. We saw Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton embrace that all – she said all, that’s a matter of resources; that’s an enormous cost – and embrace this idea that would be improved. And we’ve seen other candidates on the trail talking, you know, in some effective and some not so effective ways about this.
MS. IFILL: Maybe they agree on this because everything else is so complicated and this is a reasonably straightforward – something that government can do.
MR. FLETCHER: Exactly.
MS. IFILL: OK. Thank you both very much.
One of the most consequential arguments of the year played out this week at the Supreme Court, where justices were asked to decide once and perhaps for all whether states can be allowed to ban same-sex marriage. The issue has been percolating up to the high court for some time, even as public opinion has swung wildly in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry. By the time it got to the Court, all eyes were on one man, Justice Anthony Kennedy, which seems to often be the case. But in this case, Joan, he was really central.
MS. BISKUPIC: It’s so true, and he is our decider on the Supreme Court in so many issues. But this is an area that he has owned for almost two decades, tracing to 1996 when he wrote his first opinion backing gay rights. There’s been a progression of decisions where he’s not only been a key vote, he has actually been the author of the opinion. And if you step back and think of Anthony Kennedy – a Ronald Reagan appointee, took office in February of 1988 – he has become the progressive in this area. So when we all went into the courtroom on Tuesday morning, we wanted to hear what he was going to say. His most recent opinion, just to remind everyone of kind of how we got here and why it’s Justice Kennedy, in 2013, he was the author of the Windsor decision that struck down a portion of federal law that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman for purposes of federal benefits. And that’s the decision that so many lower court judges had run with to strike down other state laws on same – to say that you cannot ban same-sex marriage.
So here we were at the Supreme Court, as Gwen said, maybe once and for all will the justices legalize it nationwide, and he gave off a couple different signals. You played the clip about him saying, you know, the definition of marriage for the millennia has been a certain way. But I think, all told, Justice Kennedy will continue on the path he’s been on and likely vote with the four liberal members of the Court to strike down same-sex marriage bans nationwide and create this new right.
MS. IFILL: It sounded – you were there, I wasn’t, but it sounded almost like he was setting up a strawman to knock down when he talked about, I know you’re going to say that gay marriage has always been this way, and then there’s a “but.”
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, that’s the thing. You know, it’s – the way it works at the Supreme Court is they’re naturally going to be challenging to both sides, and a lot of his more challenging questions, exactly as you addressed, came to the woman who was defending the couples who were saying we want this right to gay marriage. So it was sort of natural that he would take that tack with them, but then what he did, Gwen, is that he talked so much about the dignity of gay couples, using a lot of the language he had used in prior decisions, and he also talked about children. That has been a big issue for him, the idea of whether restrictions on gay couples, either in the Defense of Marriage Act or now in state bans on gay marriage, if they stigmatize children. And at one point the lawyer for the states defending these bans said something about the bonds that heterosexual couples would have with their children, and Justice Kennedy jumped in and said, you know, are you suggesting that same-sex couples wouldn’t have similar bonds with the children that they’re raising.
MS. HOOK: So did you – did you hear from either Justice Kennedy or the other justices any hint that this’ll be a – there would be a compromise, or will it be a straight up-or-down supporting gay marriage? I mean, I’m wondering in particular about Chief Justice Roberts. He occasionally surprises us. Or is he pretty much with the conservative side of the Court?
MS. BISKUPIC: I actually thought in this that he would stick with the conservatives.
Now, as we all know, he surprised us on President Obama’s health care law back in 2012. This week he voted on a – to uphold a campaign finance regulation. That was a bit of a surprise. He was voting with the liberals. But everything he said – virtually everything he said about traditional marriage and changing the definition of traditional marriage – those are his words – would lead me to suggest that he will stay where he was in 2013, with the conservatives.
Now, a lot could go on behind the scenes. On Friday morning they voted in their private conference. That was a preliminary vote. And now they’re going to see what writes from both sides. But I think that we will not see too much compromise here.
MR. FLETCHER: Joan, what practical impact will there be if gay marriage bans are struck down? I mean, many states, you know, obviously allow it now. Is this something that will really be a big impact, or is it, you know –
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, first of all, I think it’ll be huge in terms of civil rights and a constitutional right for the Supreme Court to say, once and for all, that same-sex couples have the ability to marry, just as opposite-sex couples. But you’re right about the consequence. We already have 37 states where it effectively is legal. Alabama is a little bit on the border line because the feds have said yes and the state judges have said no, but essentially 37 states it’s legal, and so it would just mean a difference in 13 states. But it would also mean that not just those states would then have to allow it, but now everyone could move all over, you know, and be recognized state to state.
MS. IFILL: OK.
Well, let’s move on to a little bit of politics. Hillary Clinton got some company on the 2016 campaign trail this week, as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced he’s in the race, running as hard as he can to her left.
SEN. SANDERS: (From video.) We can’t continue having a nation in which we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major nation on Earth.
SEN. SANDERS: (From video.) So that’s the major issue. The major issue is, how do we create an economy that works for all of our people rather than a small number of billionaires?
MS. IFILL: But Mrs. Clinton is by no means ceding the inequality argument to Sanders.
MS. CLINTON: (From video.) There is something wrong when more than one out of every three young black men in Baltimore cannot find a job.
MS. CLINTON: (From video.) We all share a responsibility to help re-stitch the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities. We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets.
MS. IFILL: Add to that mix the bubbling debate on Capitol Hill about the merits of a new Asian trade deal and inequality is turning out to be a key issue in this race. So does Senator Sanders see himself, Janet, as kind of the engine of that debate?
MS. HOOK: I think so. I think that’s exactly it.
I mean, he may not be able to beat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, but I think he does think that he can shape the debate within the party and bring up issues that Hillary Clinton will have to address on the way to the nomination. And he – unlike many politicians, he states his agenda clearly. We heard some of it in the tape. But you know, it’s income inequality, it’s corporate greed, it’s the role of big money in politics. These are all issues that are very dear to the liberal – the progressive populist wing of the Democratic Party.
MS. IFILL: Who raised a million-and-a-half dollars for him overnight, so there’s some – it’s ringing a – it’s hitting a chord somewhere.
MS. HOOK: Right. And these are the people who are not so enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, or at least her just sort of waltzing to the nomination. These are the people who really wanted Elizabeth Warren to run, but she’s not running.
Now, Bernie Sanders, as a primary challenger to Hillary Clinton, is no Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth Warren has a kind of a natural standing and fundraising reach that is quite impressive. But he does have one thing going for him. I mean, he had the guts to step up and he will be walking onto the debate stage with Hillary Clinton. So –
MS. SIMENDINGER: Janet, can I ask you something about the 73-year-old who has always said, as a socialist-turned-independent, that he would not want to be seen or thought of as a Democrat. Is he saying anything that we should pay attention to by saying he wants to be a candidate in the Democratic Party, the idea that the – maybe the ideas are catching up with the party? What is this –
MS. IFILL: Or that he just wants to be part of the party, just – (laughter) –
MS. HOOK: Yeah, I think he just – he’s actually trying to be effective. This is a sign that he really does want his ideas out there, because if he were an independent he wouldn’t be in a debate. And it’s a lot more complicated to get on state ballots. I mean, this is Bernie Sanders the pragmatist, you know?
MS. IFILL: At the practical – impractical.
MR. FLETCHER: Yeah.
MS. BISKUPIC: Well, in terms of that, then, it’s him being effective, but it could it – could it effectively also help Hillary Clinton in terms of getting some of those ideas out there that she could – she could actually walk up to them more than she has before?
MS. HOOK: Well, there are a couple ways that you could look at this. On the one hand, he could also be this good foil for her, that she’s speaking to the centrist Democratic voters and saying, I may be liberal, but I’m not a socialist; or, you know, it gives her kind of a sparring partner. Some people worry that without any kind of primary opposition she’ll – you know, she won’t be able to hone her debate skills. I think – and I do think that all politicians thrive on being able to engage in a debate. She may not like all of the issues that he’s pushing her on, I mean, and that’s the risk for her.
MR. FLETCHER: Is there any risk, also, that she could get pulled too far to the left in a way that could hurt her in the general election campaign?
MS. HOOK: I mean, that is the risk. I don’t think Bernie Sanders has the power to do that. I do think that Elizabeth Warren nipping at her heels really has kind of – I don’t know how much she’s changed her positions, but you sure can hear those Elizabeth Warren tunes in some of her speeches.
MS. IFILL: But the other thing is, when you hear Hillary Clinton talking about income inequality and the difficulty in the economy, she’s basically repudiating the ‘90s, when her husband was actually president, which she’s always claimed is such a successful time. Does that make a very difficult tread for her to walk?
MS. HOOK: Well, you know, her relationship with Bill Clinton is almost as complicated as her relationship with Barack Obama. I mean, she has –
MS. IFILL: Or with us, actually, yeah.
MS. HOOK: Yeah, yeah. Right, right. I mean, both of the parties right now are engaging in nomination fights that are defining their party, and among Republicans you see lots of different versions of what kind of a party we want to be. Among Democrats, we just have Hillary Clinton. And so she’s trying to figure out what kind of Democrat she’s going to be, and I think that she has this tendency to embrace the parts of the Clinton era that everybody likes and likes to remember, like peace and prosperity. But you know, I think that – I think on –
MS. BISKUPIC (?): NAFTA?
MS. HOOK: NAFTA, right. Well, OK, so now there’s –
MS. IFILL: We don’t have time for it, though.
MS. HOOK: Yeah, OK. Well, that is one issue where Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton differ, which is on trade policy.
MS. IFILL: And you know what? We can talk about that in the webcast because we have to go now. There is more, but we’ll have to get to it then and online, and that’s where you’ll find our Washington Week Webcast Extra. We’ll preview next week’s presidential announcements and talk a little bit more about trade, as promised. You can watch it later tonight and all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. Keep up with developments with me and Judy Woodruff at the PBS NewsHour, and we’ll see you here next week on Washington Week. Good night.