Program: Al Punto with Jorge Ramos
Content: Interview with Martin O’Malley, 61 st Governor of Maryland and Democratic Presidential Candidate
Air Date: Sunday, December 6, 2015
JR: Jorge Ramos
MO: Martin O’Malley
JR: Governor thanks so much for being here with us.
MO: Thank you for having me.
JR: So let me start with what happened in San Bernardino. What’s your explanation? What happened?
MO: Well, it would appear from the early reports that there’s two things going on here. I mean, of course, another mass shooting, and in this case, it looks like it has some terrorist overtones possibly. And related to that, of course, is how little we do as a nation when it comes to comprehensive gun safety legislation. I mean, the very fact that anyone on a ‘No Fly’ list can still buy a combat assault weapon in our country is pretty outrageous. So as a nation we need to do a couple of things, one, because of the changing nature of conflict, we need to continue to improve our information sharing, our intelligence gathering, connecting the dots. I mean here’s a person who had traveled from Saudi Arabia, who owned more than one combat assault weapon, and how do we better connect those dots? You saw the heart-wrenching – a statement by a family member. Family members are the front lines for us in this sort of battle. But second to that is also this issue of gun safety legislation. We’ve now had more mass shooting than we’ve had days in this year, and perhaps this is the incident that tips the balance and we finally do this.
JR: But do you really think so? Because I’ve covered these incidents over and over again – nothing changes. And it seems to be an ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans.
MO: This one might change it. I mean, we’ve had, since the attacks of September 11, we’ve had over 400,000 people killed in the United States by guns and the vast majority of them are guns in the hands of other native born Americans. Perhaps this is that incident where we see that there’s actually a connection here, that it’s not safe, it’s not right. It’s not responsible for us to allow people to buy combat weapons, combat assault weapons, so readily in our country. We’re the only developed nation on the planet that allows that.
JR: But how are you going to convince Republicans just to give up their arms?
MO: Sure. Look, it’s not about giving up arms. In my own state we passed comprehensive gun safety legislation. It was hard every single day. I had opposition in my own party. But—
JR: How did you do it?
MO: —we kept bringing people back to the essential truth, which is that we have a huge public health problem with the number of people who die from gun violence. When the NRA wrote to all their members in Maryland, I wrote to everybody with a hunting permit in our state and said, look, they’re lying to you about the things they’re telling you about our legislation. In other words, I was a leader. I didn’t wait until the polls said it was popular. I went out there and I forged a new conversation, built a bigger consensus so they couldn’t even challenge it at the polls.
JR: Do you own a gun?
MO: I do not own a gun. But I have lots of friends who—
JR: But don’t you go hunting every once in a while?
MO: I don’t. I’m more of a fishing guy, but I have a lot of good friends who are hunters and go regularly. And we can – not a single person in Maryland, Jorge, lost their hunting privileges because of the comprehensive gun legislation we passed in our state.
JR: I was checking a poll; many Americans are concerned with a terrorist attack here in the United States as the one in Paris. I just came back from Paris a couple of weeks ago. Do you think it could happen here in the United States? Or it’s happening already here in the United States?
MO: Well, it could well be, if that’s what happened in San Bernardino. I mean, once the investigation is done, and that could well be. I’ve – I have been elected every year after the September 11 attacks – the Mayors of the United States of America, Democrats and Republicans, and same with the Governors – always elected me one of their two leaders on Homeland Security and Preparedness. I have understood ever since those attacks, given the proximity of Maryland to Washington, that the likelihood of this sort of attack happening again is extremely, extremely high. So we have to improve our information sharing, our intelligence gathering. An immune system is strong not because it outnumbers the bad germs in this world but because it’s better connected, it’s more intelligent, and it’s able to anticipate threats. This case in San Bernardino will raise a lot of very practical and urgent questions about whether or not we should have done a better job of connecting the dots.
JR: Now in terms of your image, does this affect you in the sense that maybe some Republicans might be seen as stronger as President in front of terrorism than you?
MO: I don’t believe that that’s so – look, two former Governors led us victoriously through two world wars in our country, and as the leader of the National Governors Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Homeland Security and Preparedness, having to turn around the most violent city in America – I wasn’t able to make her immune from setback but we were able to tackle these issues – so I have what it takes, actually, to understand that this is a new era of conflict. In fact, I’ve been at the forefront of improving Homeland Security and Preparedness in my own state and with my fellow mayors. When people dial 911 when these horrible incidents happen, the people that respond are your local police and it’s your mayors. I have that understanding, but none of the other candidates in this race have.
JR: Governor, let’s talk about the polls. The last ones I’ve seen you’re polling at five percent nationwide—
MO: —which is a five hundred percent improvement from where it was before the debate started.
JR: So what’s been the problem, Governor? Very honestly, when you counter those numbers with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, you’re way, way back.
MO: Yeah look, this is the way – this is actually the norm. If you look at past candidates that actually came out of the Iowa caucuses successfully, whether it was John Kerry or whether it was Gary Hart or whether it was Bill Clinton or others, many of them found themselves at the same place in the polls as I am. So this is what I intend to do, I intend to make my case to the people of Iowa that go to their caucuses and I intend to emerge as the candidate that beats expectations.
JR: But you haven’t done it yet, right?
MO: No, I haven’t, but the voters haven’t voted yet.
JR: But what’s been the problem so far? What’s been your mistake?
MO: There’s been no problem so far. I mean, this is the way it happens. Jimmy Carter and many others were at the same place I am in the polls, but come caucus night – in other words Jorge, there has never been a time when the result on caucus night looked anything like the polls right now; so a lot of these national polls don’t mean a lot. Having said that, I have an opportunity that none of the other candidates have had, which is to be in a debate where there are only three of us. And the differences between my positions on important issues like comprehensive immigration reform and Senator Sanders, who sometimes still says that immigrants take our jobs, or Senator Clinton, who speaks out of both sides of her mouth on this issue – it’s going to become clearer and clearer with every passing debate and every passing day in the approach to Iowa.
JR: So now that you’re talking about immigration. Do you think that Latinos do understand the differences between your plan and Hillary’s plan and Bernie Sanders’s plan?
MO: Not yet. But in those early states—
JR: Why not yet?
MO: In those early states where we actually are campaigning, they are coming to understand the difference. Look, I passed, as governor, comprehensive – I passed the Dream Act, I passed driver licenses for new American immigrants, and for fifteen years as mayor and as governor, I have always used the term new American immigrants. Senator Sanders and Hillary Clinton are part of that old thinking on immigration that’s kept it from getting it done. What am I talking about? I’m talking about Senator Sanders actually voting against comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, and Secretary Clinton, true to form, voted both ways on it while she voted for the ultimate bill. She voted for the poison pill – the Dorgan Amendment – that even Senator Kennedy said would kill the chances of passage. So I don’t speak out of both sides of my mouth. I get things done as a leader, and I’ve learned how to do that by being clear about the beliefs that unite us, so—
JR: But some Latinos when they see the plans, they see a lot of similarities. Tell me the big difference on immigration between you and Hillary Clinton.
MO: The big difference between me and Hillary Clinton on immigration is that I don’t shift in the wind like a weather vane. You’ve seen Hillary Clinton go back and forth on these things. I am clear about what I’ve set out to do and I’ve always demonstrated the capacity to follow through and to be relentless. Senator Clinton – here’s one, the Central American kids, the refugees coming from Central America – I said we should accommodate these kids, we should actually protect them in foster homes. Secretary Clinton said, “Send them back. Send them back right now.” I want to see us do away with for profit prisons. I don’t know what her position is on this, and the fact of the matter is, Jorge, neither do you. Secretary Clinton has not put out a comprehensive immigration reform plan, and I don’t know if she plans to or not, but I’m certainly going to lead with this, because it’s important for our country and important for economy.
JR: Is it important for you to criticize directly Donald Trump? You are the only candidate who called his remarks on Mexican immigrants racist.
MO: It’s very important that all of us push back on Donald Trump’s remarks. I mean the greatest – look, democracies are very, very susceptible to these sort of scapegoating appeals, these racist appeals, especially after an attack or in times of economic downturn or stagnant wages, and that’s where we are right now. So when Donald Trump says these things, all of us have an obligation to punch back. I’m certainly going to do it. These are the sort of appeals that history has taught us oftentimes precede fascism, or worse, or just as bad, the plunging of a Republic into a security state. We all need to push back on Donald Trump’s hateful language and racist language.
JR: And we just finished talking about Latin America. The candidates, I get the feeling that Latin America doesn’t exist neither for Republicans nor for Democrats. However, we have elections this coming Sunday in Venezuela. What are your expectations? Do you think that Nicolas Maduro is going to stay in power?
MO: Well, I certainly hope not, that’s up to the people of Venezuela. For my part, when I got into this race about three months ago, I gave a foreign policy speech wherein I said, three months ago, that we need a new alliance for progress of much more consistent engagement here in the Americas. Whereas my friend Manny Diaz, former mayor of Miami, points out – you know, he’s probably met with more heads of state from Central America and South America than the past Secretary of State did. So we need to realize that it’s not about pivoting from crisis to crisis, not about pivoting from east to west. We need to realize what we have here, north to south. So where Venezuela is concerned I’ve also signed letters protesting, you know, the incarceration and the political crackdowns, the jailing of mayors like Leopoldo—
JR: Leopoldo Lopez.
MO: Leopoldo Lopez and others there. I mean hopefully the people of Venezuela will turn out in record numbers. And we need to be prepared to put sanctions in place if Maduro tries to, you know, do away with the election results. I’m glad to see the head of the OAS speaking out. The more international attention we have on this – I think we were kind of late actually putting sanctions in place against leaders of Venezuela and members of the government, given the sort of oppression, the pulling the plug on free speech and their television stations, and jailing of mayors. This is happening in our own American hemisphere. We need to pay closer attention.
JR: Governor O’Malley you’re here in Miami because of money, right? You need money?
MO: Well, I’m always contacting voters and also raising money.
JR: You’re heading out to Chicago in just a few minutes because you need money.
MO: That’s right, and Arkansas, and then I’m going to South Carolina, and then back to Iowa or New Hampshire.
JR: So money is a big issue?
MO: It is, but it’s not as big an issue as it could be given the fact that those two early states are such small places. So you’re able to actually meet the voters, actually able to have a conversation, and I’m the only one of the three of us in the Democratic Party that’s doing that, jumping up on the chair, giving the talk and searching for answers with my neighbors.
JR: Can you beat Hillary Clinton?
MO: Yes, I can beat Hillary Clinton and this is why: people in both parties in our country are looking for a new leader, someone that will fight for them, someone that’s willing to take on the big banks. Look, you talk about money, I am not the candidate of Wall Street and the big banks; Hillary Clinton is. People need a president who’s on their side, to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, to fight for an economy that works for us and to fight for the more secure America that all of us want for our kids. I’ve shown the ability to do that time and time again; either standing up to the big mortgage companies, standing up to the NRA, and actually getting things done. And that’s what the people of our country are looking for.
JR: Governor thanks so much.
MO: Thank you.