Q&A: Stacey Abrams is ready to serve but not on top court
ATLANTA – Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams says she's ready to serve presidential candidate Joe Biden in whatever capacity he needs, as long as he doesn't want to put her on the Supreme Court.
A 46-year-old lawyer and former state lawmaker who in 2018 narrowly missed becoming the first black female governor in U.S. history, Abrams has emerged as a leading voting rights advocate and a frequently mentioned prospect for Biden's running mate.
Abrams sat Thursday for a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press. The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length. AP: The pandemic has elevated calls for mail voting. Can states make the changes necessary for that by November?
ABRAMS: No-excuse absentee balloting has to become the law of the land. It’s so critical that the next (pandemic response bill from Congress) include the $4 billion or $3.6 billion to help every state scale (up their absentee mail balloting.) The reality is we cannot afford not to do this. We have no excuse not to comply and not to meet our responsibilities for democracy, and it’s absolutely possible if we scale it up.
AP: The president said recently that people “cheat” by mail voting. How do you compete with that given his platform?
ABRAMS: I would ask journalists to tell the truth, which is that voter fraud is almost nonexistent. Donald Trump voted by mail. It is actually the safest and most accessible way of voting. In 2017, Donald Trump convened a voter fraud task force. It was so impossible to prove rampant voter fraud that they disbanded the committee before they had to issue a report.
AP: Shifting to the campaign, polls show a competitive presidential race. Does Joe Biden have the organization in place to generate the enthusiasm, the turnout required to win?
ABRAMS: He’s got a very smart team around him. He is using technology in a way to ensure that his name is out there and his plans are getting out there. But, of course, there’s a megaphone that you have with the presidency. I would say that one of the best weapons for Vice President Biden is President Trump. Every time he goes on television and lies, every time he dissembles, every time he gives bad information or essentially lacks the courage of his convictions, there’s a strong contrast to be drawn between President Trump and soon-to-be President Biden.
AP: Is it essential that Mr. Biden pick a woman of color for his running mate?
ABRAMS: I do I think that a woman of color can be a strong signal and strong partner. However, I know that Vice President Biden doesn’t take any community for granted. Communities of color most importantly want a leader who believes in them, who sees them, who doesn’t demonize them simply because he’s unhappy with his poll numbers, which is what we’ve seen happen with Donald Trump.
AP: So he can win if he picks a white running mate?
ABRAMS: The name on the top of the ballot is Vice President Joe Biden. He is going to be the candidate, and he is going to make a decision that reflects his needs not only to win the election but to govern.
AP: If you are not his choice, would you serve in another capacity? He’s said his first Supreme Court nominee would be a black woman. Would you accept a nomination?
ABRAMS: I have no interest in serving as a judge in any capacity at any point. … (Beyond that) I’m prepared to serve. I look forward to the opportunities to continue the work that I do on voting rights, on making sure that every under-served community is seen and that we can recover from this pandemic by fixing the structural inequities that have ravaged communities of color and poor communities in our country.
AP: Vice President Biden has said he wants a running mate who’s ready to be president on “Day One.” You haven’t yet been a statewide executive. Do you feel like you’d meet that standard?
ABRAMS: Let’s be clear: Joe Biden will be president on Day One. The issue of being able to serve as lieutenant and possibly to step in is a question of competence, (and) I would put my resume against anyone else’s.
I have a combination of political skills, business skills and the work I’ve done with nonprofit organizations. I represented the state of Georgia in Korea and Taiwan and Israel, vital strategic interests and partners to the United States. I’ve done work to understand how our world operates. … It’s, again, going to be the choice of the vice president, but I have no (reservations) about my ability to do the job.
AP: Biden issued a forceful denial of Tara Reade’s account that he sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. Is that matter settled for you?
ABRAMS: There’s never going to be a settling of the matter of survivor justice until we have a process to address it. I am pleased that Joe Biden very forcefully denied the allegations ... but one piece that I think was missing in the coverage is that he also acknowledges that there has to be a process, there has to be a safe space for these conversations. These are going to constantly be difficult conversations, and we owe it to survivors and to those who raise accusations to give them the safe space and a process to be heard.
AP: Can you talk about black identity politics and what might seem to be a more accepting environment for “blackness” in politics today?
ABRAMS: Writ large, identity politics simply means I can see you, and I understand that there are barriers to your ability to access what is considered a general good.
I enter this space as a black woman with natural hair, who does not look like everyone else. That doesn’t diminish my capacity to be effective, but it heightens my responsibility to be vocal.
Going back to COVID-19, black people are dying at a higher rate here in Georgia: 32% of the population, 54% of the deaths. That’s directly tied to identity, and if we do not acknowledge it, we are never going to find the solutions to address it. And so I think identity politics is a necessary part of our politics, but it’s also not new.
This nation began with identity politics. White men who owned land were allowed to vote and no one else was. That is the most strident degree of identity politics I think you can imagine, and what makes America such an important country is that we evolve, we continue to expand who is a part of our narrative and who has access to leadership (and) access to opportunity.
AP: The bottom line for November – do you believe that 50 states will be able to put together a fair election, an accurate count of the public will?
ABRAMS: Yes, we can have a free and fair election if, one, we have federal investment in those state elections now. Because this is a matter not simply of will, but of capacity. What I want everyone to pay attention to is that as Democrats work to expand access to the right to vote for all Americans, Republicans are doing their level best to limit that access. Why would we want to limit access to our democracy? That should be a question every person asks.
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