this is bbc news. we'll have the headlines and all the main news stories for you at the top of the hour, as newsday continues straight after hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur, and today i'm in the south bronx, the poorest part of new york city, and by many measures, the poorest district in the whole of the united states. it is in places like this thatjoe biden�*s promise to build america back better will bejudged.
my guest today is the young democratic party congressman who represents this place, ritchie torres. now he's a rising young star of his party, but right now, he faces a troubling question — are the democrats bungling their opportunity to put america on a new course? congressman richard torres, welcome to hardtalk. it's a pleasure to be here. it's great to see you, congressman. i'm tempted to begin by saying a year is an awful long time in politics. if we cast our minds back to january of this year, the democrats were euphoric. you were taking control of both chambers of the us congress. joe biden was moving into the white house. that euphoria has well and truly disappeared. what's gone wrong?
well, we were never euphoric. i was cautiously optimistic and keep in mind that we were well aware of the congressional losses in the 2020 election cycle. we were cautiously optimistic that we could be to the 21st century what fdr was to the 20th century, that we could harness the power of this fdr moment to create a 21st—century social safety net, to modernise american infrastructure. you know, the totality of the president's agenda includes the bipartisan infrastructure investment and jobs act and the build back better act, and we've passed part one of his agenda — the bipartisan infrastructure investment represents the largest federal investment in passenger rail since the creation of amtrak, the largest investment in roads and bridges since the creation of the interstate highway system, the largest investment in public transit and rail and clean energy and clean water and internet access, so the bill will do an enormous amount of good for an enormous number of americans.
but i think it's fair to say that right now, the american people do not feel they are witnessing a 21st—century fdr new deal moment. it just doesn't feel like that. well, we only passed the legislation a few days ago and... and you've only, if i may interrupt, you've only passed sort of half of it because you've got the infrastructure bill through, but you guys in the democratic party are still fighting and disputing amongst yourselves about precisely how to get the social spending and climate element of the massive spending programme through both houses of congress. well, it's true that we've only passed one part of the president's agenda, but that one part is larger than anything that's been done in recent historical memory in the united states. i mean, it's billions of dollars, a trillion dollars in new funding for roads and bridges, highways and waterways, ports and airports, rail and transit, clean energy, clean water and
that's a genuine achievement. we're sitting here in a community centre in the heart of your district. yeah. it's in the south bronx, which all of the headlines tell us is the poorest congressional district in all of the united states. when you go outside this building and meet the people of your district on the streets, how can you convince them that this massive spending programme you're talking about is actually, here and now, going to transform their lives? well, at the very beginning of the biden presidency, you know, we passed the american rescue plan, and the centrepiece of the american rescue plan was the child tax credit. before the american rescue plan, the structure of the child tax credit was so regressive that it left behind a third of american children, the poorest children in america, and no community was more left behind than the south bronx, where two thirds of children were excluded from the full benefit of the child tax credit. as a result of the american
rescue plan, we expanded the child tax credit and we cut child poverty by 50%, not only here in the south bronx, but across the country and families who are receiving up to $300 per child every month have more money to put food on the table and pay their rent and keep their families afloat. that's a material improvement in the lived experience of every day people in the bronx. why, if the ambition is so great and the delivery is actually happening, why is it that if you look at the opinion polls, there's a consistent message joe biden is now, at best, around 40% approval. his figures for this time in his presidency much worse than barack 0bama's the last time a democrat was in the white house. and if we look at the recent races, that is the virginia governorship, also in newjersey, the democrats performed much worse than was expected. what's going on? the presidential approval
ratings are like the stock market, subject to volatility, and i would be careful not to overinterpret day—to—day fluctuations. but frankly, they're not that volatile. there's only one trajectory for biden, and that's downward. look, we've become much more polarised and in a hyper polarised political culture, there's a ceiling on how high a president can rise in approval ratings. you know, as for the gubernatorial election in virginia, the election was largely determined by local concerns about education rather than national concerns. it appears to me that the central issue in that race was education, whether it be the school closings during covid—i9 or the teaching of critical race theory. those were concerns specific to virginia and less about what's going on in washington, dc. i just want to quote to you words written recently by mark penn, who knows plenty about winning elections because he was key adviser to bill clinton during his very successful time running and winning power. and mark penn fears that
your party, his party, is right now too ideological, too quote—unquote socialist and progressive for the american people. he says, "if democrats remain on this current course, keep coddling and catering to progressives, we're going to lose as many as 50 seats and control of the house in 2022." well, we might be in danger of losing as many as 50 seats, largely because of gerrymandering. instead of voters choosing their elected officials, you have elected officials, republican state legislatures choosing their voters. so we are at a structural disadvantage when it comes to the 2022 midterms, for reasons unrelated to ideology. what about his point that, right now, the us public sees a democratic party that is too locked into an ideology, too progressive, too concerned with this ideological purity? the reality is more complicated
than the fox news caricature. well, mark penn isn't a fox news peddler of caricature. he's echoing a sentiment that is often heard on fox news. and keep in mind that the democratic party's an ideologically varied coalition that ranges from bernie sanders tojoe manchin. and despite the ideological diversity of our coalition, the vast majority of democrats support both the bipartisan infrastructure framework and the build back better act. your own story is pretty remarkable, given where you came from, the disadvantages that you and your family have had to overcome.
look, i reflect the sensibilities of the people of the south bronx. the people of the south bronx are practical, not ideological. we care first and foremost about bread and butter concerns like health and safety, schools and jobs. you know, when i won my primary injune of 2020, i publicly said that i would not be here were it not for my mother who struggled and sacrificed and suffered so that i could have a better life. she raised you as a single mom in substandard public housing, which frankly made you ill because there was so much mould and damp. you had two brothers who were imprisoned. you had friends who lost their lives to drugs. you came out as a teenager as gay in a community which didn't accept the idea that you could be or should be gay. i'm just wondering at what point in that very difficult upbringing you decided, "hey, i want to be a politician." well, the formative experience of my life was growing up in public housing. and in new york city, public housing is the greatest safety net of affordable housing that we have. the new york city housing authority, commonly known as nycha, which manages public housing here in new york, houses a population of about a half a million new yorkers, a half a million americans. if nycha were a city unto
itself, it would be the largest city of low—income black and brown americans in the united states, and advocating for the people of public housing has been the central mission of my life. it's been so savagely starved of funding that it has a capital need of $40 billion and counting. so there are children in public housing who have been poisoned by lead in their own homes because of federal disinvestment. there are senior citizens... in this, the richest city on earth. in the wealthiest city on earth, yes. city on earth, we have turned a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that has taken hold in public housing. there are senior citizens who during the cold of winter are freezing in their homes, with their boilers breaking down. there are disabled residents who are prisoners in their own homes, stranded in their top floor apartments, with their elevators breaking down. the conditions of public housing represent a humanitarian crisis, and the build back better act will include $69 billion in funding for public housing so that we can end
the humanitarian crisis once and for all. is anger fuelling you, congressman? given your background, given your knowledge of the reality of how so many people still in the south bronx today are living in grinding poverty with unacceptable conditions, particularly of housing? well, there's. .. i think a wise person once said that there are... there are crude emotions and refined emotions, right? lust is a crude emotion, but love is a refined emotion. and so i do have anger, but it's not anger in the form of blind rage. it's anger in the form of moral indignation. but more than anger, what defines me is optimism. i'm optimistic about the capacity of government to lift people out of poverty and give them a fighting chance at a decent life. and that's why i'm in public service. if i thought otherwise, if i thought i was too powerless to change the trajectory of the south bronx, then i would have no
business being a public servant. you have also been very candid in public about your own struggles with mental health issues. and i guess given your background, given the various challenges you have had to overcome, it's understandable that in your youth you found life very, very difficult. but i get the impression you don't... that sort of struggle for mental health for you is not over. i take an antidepressant every day. but... ..i see myself as living testament to the power of mental health care and psychiatry. were it not for mental health treatment, i would not be alive, let alone a member of the united states congress. you know, about... what do you mean by that? well, 15 years ago, i had dropped out of college after struggling with depression. i was abusing substances. i even lost my best friend to a fatal opioid overdose. there were moments when i thought of taking my own life because i felt as if the world around me had collapsed.
and after receiving treatment, seven years later, i became the youngest elected official in america's largest city. and today i'm a united states congressman. i often tell people that my story, in many ways, is the story of the bronx, it's a story of struggle, but it's also one of overcoming. the bronx has overcome so much. we've gone from arson and abandonment in the 1970s to the crack epidemic in the 1980s to the crimewave of the 1990s. i just wonder, now that you're on a national political stage, you've moved from new york politics to national politics in the us congress, whether your rootedness in this particular community, which is, as we've discussed, kind of unique in some of the deep challenges and problems it faces, whether you find it easy to translate your political passions and commitments in this place to a national stage where some of the requirements and the challenges
are very different. i do. you know, we're on the verge of making history. we're on the verge of going from fdr new deal to lbj's great society tojoe biden�*s build back better. and if we can build back better in the south bronx and the poorest congressional district in america, then we can build back better anywhere. in this interview, you've made a point of talking about practical difference that policies, particularly joe biden�*s policies right now, can make. the republicans, it seems to me, are taking a different approach to politics at the moment, less focused on specific policies, more on values, more on a culture, a feeling about what america is and where it should be going. do you think the democrats are at risk of losing to those arguments? well, you have a much more generous interpretation of the republican party than i do. the republican party that
i have seen has become little more than a cult of personality around donald trump. and the republican party that i have seen fundamentally rejects the truth about the 2020 election and the peaceful transfer of power. half of the republican caucus in the house voted to decertify the election, to overturn the results of the electoral college, so a party that rejects both the truth and the peaceful transfer of power has nothing resembling a commitment to liberal democracy. that's interesting that you point straight away to donald trump and tie him to the current republican agenda. but... but hang on... imean... we already discussed the governor's race in virginia, where the successful republican candidate, glenn youngkin, he didn't even want trump in virginia, and he won by talking repeatedly about values and particular about education and about the way in which he said the democrats want to run the school system against the interests
of parents. in fact, they don't want parents to have a say in the way their kids are educated, and that message resonated. yeah, i reject... ..the arbitrary and artificial distinction between practical concerns and values. practical issues are deeply informed by moral values like the concern about the digital divide is not only practical, it's profoundly moral and take the issue of education, and this, i think, a commonality between urban and rural america. but during covid—i9, when we made the transition from in—person instruction to remote learning, it became painfully obvious that not every child had access to the internet, not every child had an electronic device at home. we saw the digital divide during covid—i9 deprive children of their fundamental right to an education.
what about specifics — the republicans trying to tie the democrats to so—called critical race theory, the idea that, as republicans put it, that too many kids are being made to feel shame for being white and being made to feel that they bear some sort of personal responsibility for the systemic racism that america has grappled with for decades, centuries? do you recognise that characterisation of what is going on in america's schools today? i mean, i've seen no teaching of critical race theory in the south bronx. i cannot speak to what's happening elsewhere in the country. it seems to me critical race theory has become a rorschach test on which you project your own ideological biases. i suspect if you were to ask 100 people to define critical race theory, you would either elicit no answers or 100 distinct answers. here's my view on it — it is fair game to teach about events that actually
happened, whether it be slavery orjim crow or the tulsa race massacre, or the discrimination against african—americans in the post—war era. that strikes me as fair game. that's historical instruction. it's fair game to point out that historical discrimination, like the exclusion of african—americans from homeownership and higher education, has consequences that remain with us in our own time. that, to me, is fair game. so you can teach those events and you can teach the consequences of those events without shaming anyone. do you think there are instances where, and we used the phrase before and discussed it, progressives in your party have gone too far? now i'm thinking of a separate issue, that of policing, and the response to some of the terrible systemic racism we've seen in police forces across the country. it obviously produced the black lives matter
movement, but it also in cities like minneapolis led some democrats and progressives to call for the dismantling of the police, the creation of a new sort of public... ..peace force rather than police force to replace the police. and that actually was on the ballot in the recent minneapolis elections, roundly rejected by the people of that city. are some democrats overreaching, making mistakes on some of these issues? look, every party has excesses, and as a pragmatic democrat myself, i would love nothing more than to expunge from the national discourse words like defund police or socialism. but the vast majority of democrats... whoa — can ijust stop you there? sure. so you totally disavow and disassociate yourself from the word socialism? yes. because you know that some of the most influential young progressives in the congress, colleagues of yours, like alexandria 0casio—cortez,
they are happy to be described as socialists. it's a free country. everyone has the right to self—definition. but my point is that that aoc, as i'm going to call her, you know, she is perhaps the most influential young democrat in the nation today. she is what the republicans want to define as the archetypal young democrat. i suspect that those who call themselves socialists in the united states draw inspiration from social democracies in western europe, in scandinavia, but those countries think of themselves as fundamentally capitalists, not socialists. the difference between those countries and us is that we are exceptionally cruel to our own people. we're the only country in the industrialised world that has no comprehensive social safety net and we should
create one for our people. and that, to me, would strengthen american capitalism. but your disassociation from the notion of socialism and indeed frankly from the squad, as they call themselves, the group of very vocal young representatives in the house around aoc and a group of other people, it's interesting to me. i mean, do you think that that style of progressive politics is actually hampering the democratic party connecting with the us public right now? it depends on the issue. you have to give congressmember 0casio—cortez enormous credit for raising awareness about catastrophic climate change, which is one of the greatest challenges confronting not only the united states but also the planet. she has been instrumental in creating grassroots energy around the need to combat catastrophic climate change and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. so i would consider
that a net benefit to the democratic party. i just want to end this thought with words from a guy called kevin drum, who is a sort of leftist journalist and commentator and writer. and he says, considering where the democrats are today, he says, "we've ended up in a situation where white liberals are often more left wing than black and hispanic democrats on pretty much every issue — taxes, health care, policing, even on some racial issues." is there some truth in that? there is truth. weird, isn't it? it is certainly true that the progressive activists, the white progressive activists who have agenda—setting power in the democratic party are often unrepresentative not only of swing voters, but also rank and file democrats of colour. some people listening to this, i dare say some self—styled progressives in the united states who are big fans of aoc
and the squad, they might say, "i'm really disappointed with ritchie torres. he just sounds like another mainstream centrist democrat who is going to let us down when it comes to fighting for radical change in america." well, look, i'm... the central cause of my life is to secure tens of billions of dollars for public housing, which is owned and operated by the government. so if that is centrism, then... call it what you wish, but i have no pathological need to be loved. i simply do what i think is right. in this moment in america, when we outsiders see a deeply polarised society, we see donald trump still on the scene, we see a country which could, you know, as of lastjanuary 6th and everything that happened then, could still see political violence spill over from the polarisation, do you think even in this america, you with your back story could one day be
a candidate for president? i cannot predict the future. all i can tell you is that in the present, i'm going to work my heart out for the people of the south bronx. always have and always will. look, i'm enormously grateful. in the history of the united states congress, there have only been about 130 latino members and 160 black members, and none of them were openly lgbtq until i was sworn in onjanuary 3rd. so every time i set foot on the house floor, the one time i met with the president in the oval office, i cannot help but feel the weight of history on my shoulders. congressman ritchie torres, it has been a pleasure to have you on hardtalk. thank you very much. it's an honour to be here. thank you.
hello. with low pressure moving right across the uk, the week is coming to a windy end and there's the chance of rain as well. there will be some heavier bursts of rain, especially in scotland. and around this area of low pressure, plenty of mild air moving in on quite a strong wind, it has to be said, particularly across coastal parts of the north and west. here comes the low pressure, the centre of which will move across scotland as we go on through friday. it's in scotland we're going to see the heaviest rain. now, these are the temperatures to begin the day, so already very mild — 11 degrees in belfast and manchester, for example. the heaviest rain will be in scotland, a couple of pulses of that working on through, but heaviest and most persistent in hills
in the west. and very wet for a time across much of northwest england. showery bursts of rain for northern ireland, for wales, across the rest of england. certainly not raining all the time. there will even be a few brighter breaks here and there as well, but it is going to be blustery. these are average wind speeds. around the coasts of northern and western scotland, northern ireland, through the irish sea, may get some gusts around 40—50 mph, so there will be some gales in places here. we know it's a mild start. temperatures will edge up a little bit further. we're talking highs of around 1a, 15 degrees for many places. it will be turning drier in scotland going into the evening. and overnight, there will be some clear spells and fog patches. wales and england keeping a lot of cloud here and still some showery rain around, mostly across eastern parts of england going into saturday morning. and the winds gradually easing, though staying quite windy along that north sea coast. and it's another mild night and start to saturday. into the weekend, the area of low pressure's moving away, this little ridge of high pressure is moving in, although there are weather fronts in the atlantic not too far away. that said, much of the weekend will be dry. some fog patches in scotland on saturday morning, some sunny spells, though, to follow.
plenty of cloud around elsewhere. still a few showers, mainly towards the eastern side of england. still breezy along that north sea coast. may see a bit of patchy rain moving towards northern ireland later in the day. again, it's mild. temperatures for the most part in double figures. some fog patches around as we go on into sunday, a lot of cloud, a few bright or sunny breaks here and there, the chance for thicker cloud across western areas and some mostly light and patchy rain. some heavier bursts of rain, though, moving towards the northern and western isles, the far northwest of scotland, on what will be another mild day.
welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore, i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines: is a deal on climate change in sight? negotiators at the glasgow summit have just 2a hours to get a result that will limit global temperature rises. we are urging ambition and i have been told by groups, individual parties, that they want to see ambition in the outcome of cop 26. western powers at the un security council condemn the actions of belarus in the crisis over its border with poland. fw de klerk, the man who released nelson mandela from prison and ended white rule in south africa,