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Congressman Adam Schiff Says Democrats Still 'Have A Lot Of Work To Do' Post-Election

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) looks on during a press conference on Capitol Hill on June 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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Well, it's been five days since the Democrats won a huge victory in the 2020 presidential election, but needless to say, it was a tight race. And the sitting President still hasn't conceded.

Meanwhile, across the United States, and right here in California, Democrats lost a lot more Congressional seats than they expected, including some of the many they worked so hard to flip in 2018.

LAist/KPCC's A Martinez spoke to Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents California's 28th District, encompassing Burbank, West Hollywood, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Los Feliz, and parts of Glendale & Pasadena.

Here's what he had to say about the future of the Democratic Party.

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Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

A Martinez: Now, here we are more than a week after the ballots were cast and President Trump and several in the Republican Party have not accepted the results that Joe Biden is indeed the winner. What's your understanding, Congressman, of what the Democratic party can do if Trump stonewalls the transition of power process?

Adam Schiff: He can only do that for so long. He's losing every court case he brings -- and they're frivolous cases. And, you know, tragically, what is enabling the President to do this, is the fact that the Republican leadership in Congress, as well as most of the membership, will not speak out.

It is, I think, utterly shameless. While I understand the Republican's political needs, it does not excuse the damage they're doing to the country, the damage to our democracy, the damage to our reputation around the world.

If he decides to not go (from office) or not allow this process to happen, can the Biden administration use the legal route against President Trump?

You know, there's no way the President can simply refuse to leave the Oval Office. The election results will be certified. The Congress will meet in joint session on January 6, to receive those electors. And that will be the end of it.

So he doesn't have much say in the matter, but the fact that he is continuing to put out these blatant falsehoods, and that the Republican Party is going along with it, will be a stain on this Congress and another stain on this Presidency.

Well, looking at the results from Election Day, millions more Americans voted for President Trump in this election than in 2016. And the Democrats and really a lot of Americans, I think really did not see that coming. So I'm wondering how the Democratic Party underestimated the level of support that Trump obviously knew was there?

Everyone's polling was wrong, we still don't know exactly why. And so we were all taken by surprise, by the result, by the fact that it was this close, by the fact that we lost seats in the House of Representatives and didn't gain more in the Senate.

So one thing is diagnostic. Why didn't we see it coming? Why were were so many of the polls wrong? Another is -- why did people vote the way they did? And that is -- why did almost half of the country, seeing what this President represents, seeing how fundamentally dishonest he is, how, you know, immoral, he is, and nonetheless choose to put the country in his hands for another four years.

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I have to say, for people in my party, that's a very hard thing to understand. But, we're going to have to try to study what issues motivated people and we are going to do a very thorough postmortem to figure out exactly why people voted the way they did.

Congressman, to me, that sounds as if the Democratic Party is almost just putting it off of themselves. In other words, 'well, we don't know and we've got to figure it out, as opposed to 'Is there anything internally within our party that we didn't catch, or any connection that we didn't make with the electorate?'

Well, clearly we didn't make the compelling case we needed to, in order to grow our majority in the House and take over the Senate. At one level, we have to continually run against the kind of stacked decks that you get with gerrymandering in many of these states.

But still, this was a nationalized election from top to bottom. And, you know, frankly, the only people that were able to survive, were those that had experience in office and could make the case to their constituents why they should split the ticket. But those challengers who are not as well known to the constituents got swept aside in a nationalized election that was so much of a referendum on Donald Trump.

What do you make of some of the seats in California that flipped back to red? I'm talking about the 48th,Michelle Steel beats Harley Rouda. In the 39th, right now Young Kim leads Cisneros by 4000 votes. In the 25th on Mike Garcia leads Christie Smith by a slim margin of only 59 votes. But the point is, these seats that went from red to blue just two years ago, now could be all flipping back to red.

So individual candidates, and individual campaigns do make a difference. And we're going to need to study what went right with Katie Porter's win and what went wrong with Harley Rouda's loss.

So we're gonna have to understand that part of that is issues, part of that is campaigns. Orange County itself is a pretty good laboratory to try to figure out nationally, what resonated with people what didn't ... and and how we can go about expanding our majority two years from now.

To paraphrase a New York Times op-ed last week from Jamel Bouie, a lot of Americans expected a repudiation of Donald Trump that did wind up happening. Can you explain why?

The biggest challenge that we face is that people simply get their information now from very different places. Most Americans get their information on social media, which has really divided and vulcanized us, such that the algorithms show us just what we want to see. And if you're conservative, you see conservative things. And those algorithms cater to that, to keep you on those platforms. And that divides us. And it also makes it very difficult to talk with each other. And to break through that.

We are also dealing with the media environment on cable news, where people choose the news they want to hear. And you know, I can tell you from firsthand experience, being portrayed as such a villain on Fox primetime, for four years in a row, you know, it's hard to overcome that.

And we're gonna have to be much more discerning consumers of information if we're gonna bring the country back together.

But is it too simplistic to say that 73 million people just disagree because they get their facts somewhere else? Is there an argument to be made that some of these 73 million people made an intellectual choice that they thought about and said, 'you know, what, I'm going with Donald Trump?'

Oh, without a doubt. I don't agree with that choice. I think that there are people who have, you know, worked their hardest, struggled to get by, played by the rules, and they still feel like the system isn't working for them. They still respond to the idea of an outsider like Donald Trump, who promises to break everything.

That is something that we are going to have to address, as Democrats. I think Joe Biden made a lot of strides in that area, which is why he picked up many of those counties in the Midwest that we lost four years ago, but he didn't pick up all of them. So it shows that we still have a lot of work to do.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks as vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris listens at The Queen theater on Nov. 5, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Last week, you wrote an op-ed, simply titled 'Biden has his work cut out for him.' So let's go through some of that work, starting with this seeming disconnect between the Democrats' message and what many Americans seem to want. So what's the first step that Biden and his Vice President Elect Kamala Harris need to do to help bridge that divide?

We need to defeat the pandemic, to get this terrible plague over. That's the way we bring back our economy.

And there's lots of room for common ground on this right now, frankly. Even before he takes office, we need to get a relief package done. So that we can get help to businesses that are at risk of closing their doors for good, and people whose unemployment is running out for good, people who need emergency help right now. We can't wait until January. So that's priority number one.

But whatever we do in this lame duck session is not going to be enough. I can guarantee you that.

And I think that economic health should be a bipartisan priority when he takes office.

How are you going to get that bipartisan partnership?

Members of both parties understand the imperative of replenishing the PPP program for small businesses -- most of the members, certainly a majority of the members, recognize the need to extend unemployment compensation.

There's a lot of support in our caucus for helping the states avoid bankruptcy and helping cities. And I think that that's a priority that we can get some bipartisan support for. We'll have differences over the amounts of these things, but we should be able to get to yes.

Speaking of coronavirus, California is on track to hit the 1 million mark of COVID-19 cases. Can you talk a little bit about how your district, the 28th, has been impacted by this pandemic physically, emotionally and financially?

It's been a terrible trauma. Everyone knows someone who has died from the virus and everyone is struggling. Not everyone is struggling financially, but so many families are struggling financially.

You see local businesses with their doors closed -- out of business. You see others where there's no one patronizing them and you wonder how much longer can they hold on.

So it's been a terrible trauma. You it reflected in things like long lines at the local gun store. People are quite devastated and hungering for a return to the normalcy that we enjoyed pre-pandemic.

I do see in my district, frankly, a lot better adherence to the requirement of wearing masks and social distancing (than in other parts of the country). People in my district have taken that seriously, which I'm appreciative of. That's not universal, obviously.

But it's a trauma like none other that we've been through. I have every confidence we will survive it, but we have some hard days ahead of us before we can truly turn the corner.

What can you do, though, Congressman? Especially now, with a different administration to bring some of that help and bring some of that support back to California?

I recognize, for example, that a lot of my constituents don't have traditional employment. They're freelancers and contract workers, they're gig workers. And I worked to organize the effort in the house, in the Cares Act, to cover people with unemployment compensation, who ordinarily wouldn't get it because they don't have traditional W2 income. And we were successful, and I was able to help all those constituents.

Right now I'm working on a further improvement to unemployment compensation for those with mixed income, those who have some W2 income and some independent contractor income, to get them the help they need.

And I'm working with small businesses, and have for months with the PPP program and the Small Business Administration. And once we put more funds into that, I'll continue working with the businesses in my district to make sure they can get access to these funds, and help individual families in any way that I can that are struggling right now.

I'm obviously going to continue within our leadership in Congress to try to play a constructive role in getting to 'yes' on an overall package as well. But it's also important what's in that package.

One more thing, Congressmen, when it comes to the incoming administration, what can Joe Biden and Kamala Harris do to unify this country as best as possible, especially with this, as you said, being ia stage in our country's history where we are as divided as we've ever been?

I think they've made a good start already. Joe Biden campaigned on being the President for all Americans, saying that he would work as hard for those who supported him as those who did not. And since becoming the President Elect, he has repeated that message. I think he's really quite determined to live up to it.

That's a big change from the last four years. Donald Trump never made an effort to expand his support beyond those who supported him four years earlier. He wasn't interested in, you know, states like California or the national problem with climate change and how it manifests itself with the fires burning through our state.

That's going to be a completely different situation with Joe Biden. If he's smart, and he is, he will make an extra effort to reach out to people who didn't support him in parts of the country that didn't support him. My feeling is when it comes to the economy, and everything else, frankly, you leave no community behind. When Katrina hit Louisiana in Texas, I didn't ask where they were red or blue states and said I was only going to support them if they were blue. They were American states. And I was going to help them and I voted for relief for those states.

That's the approach I think that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take. And I think it will help us to heal.

Now, the last thing I'll say on that point is he can't do it on his own. There's going to have to be some reciprocity. And I don't know if he's going to get it. When Barak Obama was President, the Republicans in Congress tried to make him a failed president.

I hope they don't take the same approach with Joe Biden. I hope they give him a chance to succeed. And I hope that that they will meet him halfway.