'This country really is headed for this perfect storm of misery'June 25, 2020
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and dropped out in January. He’s since joined Voto Latino, a group that seeks to organize young Latinos politically, as a senior adviser and launched his own PAC to aid progressive candidates.
In an interview with POLITICO this week, Castro talked about the protests against police violence, the 2020 election, the response to coronavirus and immigration. The following is condensed and edited for clarity.
Do you think there should be a statewide mandate to wear masks in Texas?
I think that we should do a statewide mandate. And I say that because for rural communities, even though it's true that the density, of course, is less and you see a lower infection rate, they also have a lot less hospital capacity. So in many ways, these rural communities have to be even more careful because you get people out there who are an hour or more away from any real health care provider.
The pandemic has led to millions of unemployment claims and struggles to pay rent. We're approaching a moratorium deadline where there could be mass eviction notices sent to people. What actions are you pushing to address that?
This country really is headed for this perfect storm of misery in the next few weeks. All of the job losses, the health impact of Covid-19, the country grappling with the continuing legacy of discrimination following the tragic murder of George Floyd. And now the federal protection on some evictions runs out in late July. And unemployment benefits are going to run out.
What we have to do about it is, No. 1, pass the Heroes Act, which has $100 billion in direct rental assistance. We also should do another stimulus to help people to get by and also extend unemployment benefits for folks.
The attitudes of the American electorate have shifted really dramatically in the span of the last month in terms of systemic racism. Seventy-six percent of Americans now say that racial and ethnic discrimination is a big problem.. What is Joe Biden's role, as the Democratic nominee, in this moment?
As President Obama pointed out yesterday, I don't think there's anybody better to try and heal the country right now than Joe Biden. He has both a wealth of experience in policymaking, but also more importantly, in life. Compared to Donald Trump, Joe Biden is going to try and bring this country together.
He has announced a series of reforms that represent a down payment, as President Obama described it yesterday, on the changes that we need to make to this system — from banning chokeholds and stranglehold, to a national use of force standard, to better transparency and accountability [for police]. So this is going down the road that we need to go down to make real progress.
One of the reforms in Biden’s package is a proposal he made during the primary: to allocate some $300 million to the community policing, the COPS program. Do you think that's the right direction to take?
When I was a city councilman and mayor, I had the opportunity to work with folks that were doing community policing. I certainly believe that that is a better model than what a lot of local communities have in place — I'm thinking specifically about the militarization of our police. Joe Biden has called for an end to this program that gives these weapons of war to police departments, these combat vehicles that you see rolling down the street dealing with protesters, which just has no place there.
If we're going to transition and we're going to reimagine law enforcement, then I believe that a good step is to move away from the militarization of police and to support policing that actually engages community.
What do you think of when you hear "defund the police"?
I get what activists are saying. Look, the fact is that I don't think anybody is calling for or believes that tomorrow we're not going to have any money that we give to police departments in this country. You're at a time when you still need traditional policing. But what it says is it's an aspiration. In the short term, it means, "Hey, if you're a mayor or city council out there, realize that we over-police today. Why do you need to send an armed cop when two people have a fender bender?"
So reimagine public safety. Take some of that money and put it into mental health care, into housing opportunity, into literacy, realize the opportunity costs of spending so much on armed police officers when you don't need to.
When you were running against Joe Biden in the primary, you put out a very aggressive police reform plan. Have you been advising him on this issue at all? And is there one element of that plan that you would hope he would adopt?
He and I have not spoken about it, but our teams have spoken. Look, I think he's on the right track. He's already talked about a national use of force standard, he's talked about demilitarizing the police, he's talked about banning chokeholds and strangleholds and increasing accountability. All of these things are important. It's also important to — and I believe he will — support local communities who are going to engage in that reimagination of what public safety looks like.
A few days ago, Sen. Klobuchar bowed out of VP contention and said she thought Biden should select a woman of color as his running mate. Do you agree with that?
I think that would be fantastic. But that's a decision that the vice president himself is going to make.
You endorsed Elizabeth Warren after you dropped out. Do you think that she should be selected?
It would be tremendous. I mean, she would be a spectacular vice president if she were selected. Again, I'm not going to get in the middle of that selection process, except to say that Joe Biden has so many great options to choose from.
Biden's been criticized a bit for his Latino outreach. Does he need Latinos to win? And is he doing enough to motivate them to come to the polls in November?
In order to win, Vice President Biden is going to [need to] energize a broad based coalition of people that absolutely includes, must include the Latino community. There is a growing Latino community in Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And of course, Florida is one of the most Latino states in the United States. So no matter how you slice up that electoral map, appealing to the Latino community is absolutely essential. The vice president's campaign gets that — they're making big investments in Latino outreach in both English and Spanish, and they've brought on more Latinas and Latinos on the staff.
What are your thoughts on that DACA ruling by the conservative court?
My first emotion was I was breathing a sigh of relief for more than 7,000 dreamers out there that have been on pins and needles waiting to see what happens. This is the only country most of them have known as their own.
But now what we're left with is a temporary solution.
In the primary, you called on your fellow Democrats to support decriminalization of border crossings. Would you like Biden to endorse that proposal?
Vice President Biden has his own immigration plan. And he and I agree on 99 percent of it. And I think that the immigration plan that he has, if he can put it in place, is going to make a huge world of difference. What you have in Donald Trump is somebody with a dark heart toward immigrants and somebody who has been treating migrants cruelly, trying in every way that he can to rid — and I use that verb intentionally; I think that's how at least some people in his administration see it — rid this country of the Latino community, Latino immigrants.