Hello, readers. What an awful week. I wish I could say I’m looking forward to taking a break from the news this long weekend, but that doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. I keep thinking about a line from an article in Texas Monthly: “The children who died in Uvalde lived the last quarter of their lives during a global pandemic.” The fact that we can divide their lives into fractions because we know where they begin and end, and the fact that the past few years — the ones that seemed to pass me by in a blur — were the most significant years for them … it all just hit me at once.
Thanks to Maya Parthasarathy for your help putting the newsletter together.
Six and a half years ago, I edited a piece by former Texas state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis that has stuck with me ever since. She wrote about what it’s really like to consider staking out a pro-gun-control position in a deep-red state like Texas. Spoiler alert: It’s hard. There are voices everywhere telling you you’re ending your political career. You’re worried that this single position will take attention away from everything else you want to accomplish. In the piece, she wrote that she ended up deciding to support the open carry of handguns in her state as a result of that kind of pressure.
There were plenty of people who didn’t like the article when it was published; many found it cowardly. But it was honest. And if you’re looking for a read on how we got here — an endless cycle of deadly shootings followed by conversations about policy solutions that go nowhere in Congress and state houses — Davis’ article is still a good place to start.
I was curious to hear what she had to say now, after the Uvalde, Texas, shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead earlier this week. She was angry, but she thinks there have been changes in the past several years — and she’s hopeful more are on the horizon. A shorter version of that full interview is below; read the full piece here.
Katelyn Fossett: Since you wrote that last article, do you think it’s gotten harder or easier to stake out positions in favor of gun control in Texas?
Wendy Davis: I think it’s gotten easier and sadly, it took repeated tragedies to make that the case. But I think the sentiment in this country has shifted because there is such an epidemic of mass shootings and we are waking up to the reality that we must do something to address it.
Fossett: Easier for politicians, too?
Davis: I didn’t say politicians. Because clearly Republican politicians … though they understand in their hearts that something needs to be done, they do not have the political courage to do it. I think what shifted is the sentiment of the majority of Americans. And I’ll describe to you why that is.
Let’s just take, for example, what happened last night. … I’m just going to pick a congressional district: Texas’ congressional district 30. There was a runoff in a Democratic primary. This is Democratic, but it’s reflective of what happens. There are, you know, 850,000 people in that district — I don’t know what the exact number is — do you know how many people voted in that Democratic primary runoff?
Fossett: How many?
Davis: Less than 10,000 people. Less than 10,000 people decide who the congressperson will be. That same thing happens in Republican primaries. And typically, the people who are coming out to vote in those are people who are on the edges of either party. The more extreme people, the more politically motivated people.
What’s happened in Texas is because we’ve had three redistricting cycles in the past two decades. … Our state has become more and more gerrymandered, and we now have a number of Republican districts that are actually not reflective of the percentage of people who identify as Republican. In those districts, only the primary matters. And in those primaries, only the extreme voter matters. That means that those politicians feel like that’s the voter they are going to be held accountable to. And that’s who they talk to. That’s who they develop their policies for. That’s why what they do doesn’t match who we really are, whether we’re talking gun control or abortion rights or, you know, support for public education and so on and so forth. It doesn’t match the reality of who we are.
Fossett: I was actually going to ask you about this. There is an article that was published in Texas Tribune very recently that showed that as support for gun control measures have increased in Texas, usually in the aftermath of mass shootings, gun restrictions have just continued to relax.
Davis: That’s right. In this last legislative session after we had the horrific mass shooting in El Paso, we actually loosened gun laws even more. That is sickening and infuriating. And I think there are so many people across our state and across our country who are so angry about the fact that political, quote-unquote, leaders are not in step with our values and our concerns. And unfortunately, what that causes is an even greater withdrawal of participation in the democratic process, because it just reinforces to people over and over and over again that their voices don’t matter. Their votes don’t matter because the people who are in elected office are not reflecting their concerns.
Fossett: There might be people who say that this shooter acquired his weapon illegally, so what effect would these restrictions have? What would you say in response to that?
Davis: There are so many layers where we do not capture and prevent someone from buying a gun. One of those, of course, showed up in Buffalo, where we had a person who had demonstrated a propensity for that kind of violence; it was widely understood he had those proclivities. And yet, there was no red flag instituted against him. We don’t have a red flag law in Texas.
And of course, where the governor and lieutenant governor went today was, “Well, this is a mental illness problem. It’s not a gun safety problem.” It’s both. It’s always both. If a mentally ill person has the capacity to purchase a weapon … we’ve got to create systems that capture that person in a net.. …
We can’t point to these limited instances where this person didn’t get caught in a trap, when we didn’t set the trap. We’re so far from setting the trap.
Fossett: Do you think this can be a hinge moment? Can it be a moment that spurs politicians to act differently or are they still under these same pressures you talked about in your article?
Davis: I think this can be a hinge moment for a couple of reasons. This came on the heels of two other tragic mass shootings. And it comes at a time when candidates more and more are staking out a moral and conscionable claim about our duty to do something about it. The fact that this most recent one involved these precious babies that all of us can imagine our own children and grandchildren, and that we have politicians who are unafraid to talk about it and to invite us to participate in a solution … It can be a hinge moment. It truly can be. And I certainly hope that it will.
Fossett: What do you want to say to Republican politicians in Texas?
Davis: I would repeat what Beto [O’Rourke] said today: “This is on you.” Governor Abbott, right after the shooting yesterday, said “This is horrific and incomprehensible.” I’ve never tweeted a tweet with, like, all caps, shouting and an F-bomb before, but I did in response to that. Because it is absolutely comprehensible. We can comprehend it because it’s happened over and over and over again. So yes, it’s comprehensible. We need to do something in the face of it. It’s incomprehensible to me that Republican politicians can continue to pretend as though this is not a problem that demands a solution. And it’s incomprehensible to me that they believe that holding office, for their ego and their desire for power, is more important than a child. I think it’s as if, given a choice — someone says to them: “You get to be governor again or I’m going to shoot this child,” they say, “I want to be governor again.” It’s literally that clear.
“I’m Black. I Thought White Feminism Would Keep Abortion Safe,” by Erin Aubry Kaplan in Politico Magazine: “When I was in my 20s, I had an abortion. Actually, I had more than one. It’s taken me more than a month even to write those sentences — a single, simple truth I had to break into two parts to make palatable. The impending official demise of Roe v. Wade has forced me to look at the depth of my reticence about this. …
“I’m willing to admit only now, as we stand on the brink of Roe’s total collapse, the two main reasons for my avoidance. One, the stories behind my abortion experience — i.e., bad relationships — were nothing I was burning to tell. Two, and perhaps more important, I was never compelled to write about abortion because, even up through this year, I refused to believe it was in any real danger of going away. It just didn’t compute. In the ’60s and early ’70s, the feminist movement fought hard to secure the constitutional guarantee of abortion rights. After 1973 the notion of professional, middle-class women going back to coat hangers, closeted medical procedures and trips out of the country seemed unthinkable, downright ridiculous. It would be like Black people after the ’60s agreeing to live under explicit Jim Crow laws again.
“Admittedly, I thought of abortion rights as being even more ironclad than civil rights because it had been advanced by so many white women, and therefore had to be taken seriously by the political establishment. True, it had taken a very long time to get to Roe v. Wade — too long. But once there, I assumed the fight was done, and could not be undone. In the ’80s and ’90s I was grateful to be a beneficiary of a struggle that may not have been fought with me in mind, but that shaped the trajectory of my life. Exercising such a right felt like democracy at its most functional.”
“State Democrats, abortion-rights activists ‘incredibly frustrated’ with federal inaction,” by Megan Messerly and Alice Miranda Ollstein for POLITICO: “State-level Democratic officials and abortion-rights advocates are discouraged by how little their allies in Congress and the White House have done since a draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade became public.
“Instead of executive actions that could increase access to abortion pills or help protect people’s medical information, national Democrats have largely highlighted what they can’t do in the Senate and focused on fueling midterm-election turnout, angering state and local leaders who feel the burden to protect and expand access is falling almost entirely on their shoulders.
“‘I’m incredibly frustrated with the Biden administration in particular for not doing more on this issue,’ said Mallory Schwarz, executive director of Pro-Choice Missouri, whose state is poised to ban all abortions as soon as Roe is overturned. ‘The idea that the federal government — when they have majorities — is waiting for an election in order to take action is cowardice.’
“Democratic inaction at the federal level could complicate the party’s efforts to run this fall as champions of reproductive rights, and the internal strife comes at a moment when party strategists are hoping to gin up enthusiasm for congressional candidates.”
“Yellen, Biden’s not-so-secret weapon, sees clout diminished,” by Kate Davidson and Victoria Guida for POLITICO: “When Janet Yellen was tapped to join the Biden administration as Treasury secretary, she came with celebrity status — one of the world’s preeminent economists and the first woman to have led the Federal Reserve.
“More than a year later, as Democrats are grappling with decades-high inflation, stock market turmoil and rising recession fears, Yellen is rarely on center stage. She has surprised supporters by wielding less influence in the West Wing than her recent predecessors did in the job, which is often considered an administration’s chief economic policymaking post, say people familiar with the matter.
“Yellen was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate, then was instrumental in pushing Congress to approve $1.9 trillion in Covid relief spending, on top of the historic $4 trillion the government had already authorized.
“But in key areas where the Treasury Department typically drives decisions — domestic tax policy, financial appointments, the debt ceiling, China — Yellen and Treasury have often taken a back seat to the National Economic Council or been overruled by the White House, according to nearly two dozen people, including current and former administration officials, those close to the White House and others who know her.”
“Why the Cuellar-Cisneros race is far from over,” by Sabrina Rodriguez for POLITICO
“Psaki’s MSNBC streaming show will launch next year,” by Kelly Hooper for POLITICO
Read more here.
“My Life Revolves Around Breastfeeding,” by Jen Wieczner for The Cut: “About 90 minutes into jury duty in March, I began to wish I hadn’t shown up. I was only a couple of weeks back from maternity leave, and I fully expected to be excused shortly after telling the court officer I’d need to step out every couple of hours, for about 30 minutes each time, to pump milk for my 4-month-old. ‘Don’t worry,’ the officer told me instead, ushering me officially into the jury pool. ‘We’ll accommodate you.’
“But the same officer looked irritated when I soon asked to be accommodated. She brushed me aside to a court administrator, who led me to a shabby waiting room adjoining the main jury hall; it had two non-locking doors, so she jammed a chair behind the knob before letting herself out. There, several times that day, I would prop the chair behind me, hike my shirt up to my collarbone, hook my breasts up to bottles and wires, and eke out a few ounces of milk in earshot of my fellow jurors — one of whom repeatedly banged on the door, apparently looking for her scarf. The court administrator seemed as baffled as I was that I had made it this far into jury duty at all, though for a different reason: ‘Do you work outside the home?’ she asked me through squinted eyes.
“The answer to that question is both yes (figuratively speaking) and no. Literally, most of the time, I work from home while my daughter is at day care. But I pump just as much at home as I would at the office (currently five times per day). While working remotely cuts out some of the friction of pumping — instead of lugging the equipment to the office, I keep it on my desk and pump in front of my laptop — as I increasingly venture out for meetings and professional events, I smack right up against the incongruity of pumping and everything else I want to do in my life. I also feel I can’t stop, at least not anytime soon: Until my baby is a year old, her main source of nutrition must be breast milk or formula, 40 percent of which is now completely out of stock across the country.”
“What abortion looks like in every state — right now,” by Jasmine Mithani, Shefali Luthra and Abby Johnston for The 19th
“They survived the Dallas hair salon shooting. Here’s their message,” by Soo Youn for the Washington Post
– Erin Aubry Kaplan
Read more here.
“Sandstorm,” a film by Seemab Gul (more from Naib Mian for the New Yorker) … “All the Lovers in the Night” by Mieko Kawakami (more from Idra Novey for the Atlantic)
Rebecca Tan will be WaPo’s new Southeast Asia bureau chief. … Thilee Yost is now scheduling coordinator in the Office of the Vice President. She most recently was deputy director of scheduling for Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). (h/t Playbook) …
Betty Cremmins is now director for sustainable supply chains in the Office of the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She most recently was at the World Economic Forum. … Shannon Myricks is now White House liaison at the Department of Education. She most recently was deputy White House liaison at the Department of Health and Human Services. (h/t Playbook) …
Paola Arellano is now scheduler for Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.). She most recently was an intern at the Home Depot government relations office through the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute Global Leaders program. … Amy Conry is now head of international government affairs at Shell U.S.A. She most recently was international government affairs manager for Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East at Chevron. (h/t Playbook)