Alcindor: Meanwhile, on Thursday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made history when she became the first Black woman ever confirmed to the Supreme Court. Today, at the White House, Judge Jackson alongside the president and vice president celebrated the moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court Justice-In-Waiting: It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it. In the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelo, I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: A powerful moment.
Earlier this week, I talked to a number of Judge Jackson’s closest friends. Here is what two of them had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Antoinette Coakley, Friend of Judge Jackson: It feels like, ahh! That’s my emotional response, but it does feel like it is a coming full circle. This is what we recognized so many years ago.
Nina Simmons, Friend of Judge Jackson: During the hearings watching her, I felt her pain to see what she went through, to see that she persevered. It really speaks not only to black women, but women everywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: Nia, what is the significance of this moment?
Henderson: You know, this is a huge, huge moment. You saw that she was so moved in that ceremony today, and millions and millions of Americans all across the country are moved too, not just Black Americans, but white Americans too, to come to this moment.
So often if you think about the civil rights struggle and Black freedom struggle in general it has been about prevailing on the courts to recognize the humanity of African-Americans, the full humanity, the equal humanity of African-Americans. And we know that has not been the case in previous centuries with judging how African-Americans fit into this country.
Now you fast-forward to this day and think about people like Thurgood Marshall, you think about people like Constance Baker Motley, who was a clerk of Thurgood Marshall as well as a hero to Ketanji Brown Jackson, she stands on their shoulders. She talked about them in her speech.
And in that moment where she said, wave all made it. And, Yamiche, when I got on here with you, I said that to you. I think that might become a sort of catchphrase among African-American women who haven’t seen themselves in these positions of power. Not because they are not qualified, not because they are not smart enough, because they were quite frankly barred from holding positions like this.
You saw today in Joe Biden -- I mean, he was happier than I think we have seen him in quite some time.
Alcindor: Well, he was actually -- he was so happy at the White House. I want to also ask you one other thing, she said she was the inheritor of justice for all and the promise of America. But some of her friends told me in this representation they also see there are limits, that this country has so much more to do and just having a black woman on the Supreme Court or even black woman vice president is not enough.
Talk about that, too.
Henderson: No. I think that’s exactly right now and we sort of went through this discussion as well a few years ago when Obama was elevated to being the first black president. That was obviously a watershed moment, but still so much work to be done in terms of breaking down barriers for African-American women of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
On the one hand, I do -- you know, I sort of smiled when she said we made it, but I kind of said, well, have we all really made it? Because we know there are still barriers based on racism, based on sexism as well that we saw on display quite frankly with the hearings and the way she was treated and the racial undertones and overtones quite frankly in the way she was treated with disrespect even after she was confirmed with that 53 vote margin.
It was a remarkable moment to see Vice President Harris, the first African-American woman to be vice president, to read that into the record and make history, that was quite a moment. But it was also a moment where you saw some Republicans essentially just walk out and show such disrespect for that moment.
Alcindor: And Nia -- what he is talking about, Jeff, is the sort of partisanship, the politics of this. What do you hear from the White House about what this moment means to them? But also, I want to -- if I could scoot in a second question here, which is that Mitch McConnell has said he’s not sure he will let another nominee through if Joe Biden gets a second chance at this.
Mason: Yeah. A couple things. One, I think, in terms of how the White House is reacting, it was -- it was just a joyful day at the White House. You saw Jen Psaki afterwards in her briefing try not to tear up because of the emotion of the moment for her and for everyone at the White House.
You know, politically, Yamiche, its important to mention, this is a pretty concrete example of President Biden making good on a campaign promise. Presidents don’t always get to do that.
He had this opportunity and he fulfilled it by nominating Judge Brown Jackson, and now with her confirmation he can say, I did not just promise to do that, I fulfilled it. It comes politically at a time when he is not doing super well in the polls. Only months still until the November elections, but this could be a positive jolt in the arm for Democrats, for progressives, for black women and men who are an important part of the Democratic constituency that President Biden needs.
To your question about Mitch McConnell, surely, that also is part of the overall political picture here. If indeed Republicans end up gaining control of the Senate and perhaps the House as well after November, and should there be another Supreme Court opening, Mitch McConnell has said very clearly that he would follow the same playbook as he did at the end of the Obama administration, which is not let it happen.
And, you know, Democrats don’t always vote about the Supreme Court. Republicans are much more effective at getting there voters out to vote in favor of a candidate because of what is at stake in the Supreme Court. I will be curious to see if that changes now. Not that there is any openings expected anytime soon on the Supreme Court, but you never know. We saw at the end of president Obama’s presidency that an opening can come up unexpectedly.
Alcindor: Yeah, well, the way -- in some ways, the White House really has to calibrate that. They do have other challenges.
Jeff, I want to --
Mason: For sure.
Alcindor: -- in a minute and a half that we have here left ask you about COVID, because it is the reason why unfortunately we are remote tonight. It is the reason that so many people in D.C. are wondering how to navigate through this. There are a number high-profile people like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the attorney general that now have tested positive this week.
How concerned is the White House about a spike in COVID cases and specifically also about the president’s health?
Mason: Yeah. It’s also the reason I have a husky voice. I apologize to your viewers for that.
As far as the White House is concerned, what was interesting to me today is their strategy seemed to shift early this morning to preparing the country and world and the media for the possibility that President Biden might get COVID. They have been saying they are taking precautions, and they have. Yet he was certainly very close, perhaps not under the CDC definition of a close contact to Speaker Pelosi earlier this week, but very close. And, of course, he has been around Vice President Harris as well, who has been exposed.
I think they are worried but I think they’re trying hard not to project that, and yet also giving a since, or giving a heads up that if he does, they are ready for it and they think -- and they say he will still be able to govern.
Alcindor: And, Nia, last 30 seconds to you. There was this $10 billion COVID relief package that was blocked by Republicans over immigration. If you could in the last, now I’m told, 15 seconds, can you explain the politics of that?
Henderson: You know, listen, we’ll see if it happens. I mean, you have Republicans not wanting to spend as much money. You have them tying it to immigration reform.
For now, the Senate is out, you know, for recess for two weeks. We’ll see when we come back whether or not they want to take up this $10 billion which would be for COVID planning in the future in case there is another surge going forward.
Alcindor: Certainly, well, the White House is saying they definitely need that money. Thank you so much to Nia and to Jeff for joining us and for sharing your reporting.