Valerie Jarrett on Impeachment…And the Next 100 Days

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Hey, y’all…It’s Brittany. So a racist insurgency, coupled with a perpetually blazing pandemic is not the 2021 I had hoped for. But it is the 2021 we got. And someone said that 2021 is just like 2020 with bangs. And I don’t know if I’ve ever agreed with something so much in my entire life. Like, yeah, girl, we know it’s you, we can see you under there. 

Look, y’all, going forward that slimy myth of American exceptionalism, it has got to be in our rear view. It is over. Done. America has to move forward with a big slice of humble pie washed down with a massive glass of Black-women-tried-to-tell-you, you cannot be the world’s so-called “greatest democracy” when your white supremacy is so damn unrepentant.

You and I are going to have to do the hard work of holding two things up at the same time. Progress and accountability is not just about consequences it is also about prevention. Let’s get one thing straight—you cannot defeat fascism by just giving it a tighter hug. You want to be united, then join with us against the white supremacist patriarchy that stormed the Capitol building; against the domestic terror that has D.C. residents, and BIPAC folks, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, Muslims, Jewish people, and women of color all over this country living in even more fear than usual. So impeach the occupant, expel every last one of the seditionists, suspend the social media accounts that spew hate, end the political donations that help dismantle democracy, because not only does Trump need to be stopped, we have to be decisive about sealing all the cracks in our foundation that emit this bile.

So, no, we will not just “move on,” Josh Hawley. No, we can’t just “heal,” Lindsey Graham. Healing doesn’t just happen. It comes when we extinguish the flames of hatred, uproot white supremacy and hold their carriers accountable. We are UNDISTRACTED. 

On the show today…Valerie Jarrett. I will be talking to the former Obama Senior Advisor about the current unrest, the upcoming Biden/Harris administration, and what it will take to build this country anew. 

Valerie Jarrett What is life like for women who have no safety-net who are one paycheck away from eviction, who don’t have parents who are able to pick up the slack when the babysitter doesn’t show up.

That’s coming up. But first it’s your “UNtrending News.”


Brittany Okay, so let’s get to some of this…shall we call it “insurrection fallout news?” There has been a lot of straight-up clownery happening, okay? There was a gathering of Trump supporters last Wednesday night outside of the Capitol who were vibing to Bob Marley’s “One Love” and singing “Three Little Birds,” what?


Brittany What in the world…?

Brittany But here’s what really took the cake…After one of these rioters, Ashley Babbitt, was killed by law enforcement, some Trump supporters started co-opting the phrase “Say Her Name” in their social posts referring to Babbitt’s death. Um…it is the height of caucacity to pervert something created by and to shine light on the unjust killings of Black women by police and apply it to THIS. Black women face far higher rates of police violence than white women and there has been a disgraceful lack of accountability one need look no further than Breonna Taylor just last year. I don’t want the police killing anybody, but “Say Her Name” is not for white women. In an effort to take back the phrase, Black activists and scholars, including professor Kimberlé Crenshaw who created the campaign, they have been listing the countless names of Black women killed and victimized by police violence: Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Margaret Mitchell, Kayla Moore, Tarika Wilson—just to name a few.

Now in aftermath of the attack, it’s also been reported that most of the furniture that insurgents broke or stole in the Capitol will most likely be rebuilt by federally incarcerated people. That’s right—in a building erected by slave labor, it is an understatement to call this adding insult to injury. Apparently federal agencies have a contractual obligation to buy furniture and other services from Federal Prison Industries Inc., also known as UNICOR, which pays anywhere between 23 cents and a $1.15 per hour. I was already incensed by the images of Black custodial staff having to clean up broken glass and human excrement left by white supremacists.

The indignities never cease. Jails and prisons don’t keep anybody safer and they undermine the humanity of the people we stuff in them and throw away. They shouldn’t be in there at all—certainly not making anybody’s furniture, let alone for the very institution that oppressed them while they make penny wages. Abolition. Period.


Brittany Finally, there were a lot of—let’s call them “characters”—who took part in the Capitol riots. For example, there was a man wearing fur hat with horns who pretty inappropriately calls himself a shaman, even though apparently he’s a failed actor who lives with his mother. When it comes down to it, though, this is what makes these pro-white supremacy insurrectionists so dangerous. There’s no pinning them down. There was a son of a Brooklyn judge who was charged in federal court for his role in the riots who wore a deeply offensive and antisemitic sweatshirt. There’s the American Klete Keller, who won two Olympic gold medals as a relay teammate of Michael Phelps, and he too was identified as being among the insurgents inside the Capitol.

[NEWS REPORTER] Former swimmer Klete Keller even wore his team USA jacket to the riot. 

Brittany There was also a Cleveland school therapist who just resigned from her job after her alleged involvement in the riots. The pervasiveness of white supremacy is real, y’all. And this myth about “hillbillies,” honestly, it’s offensive to rural people and it excuses all of the white well-mannered racists.

You know, the ones in good suits and nice shoes. White supremacy is everywhere, y’all. That’s why we’ve got to uproot it everywhere it exists. 

Coming up…I’ll be talking to White House insider Valerie Jarrett about what the Biden’s administration needs to prioritize in the first 100 days, right after this short break.


Brittany Well, after a wild week like this, it surely does feel like everything is being torn down for better or for worse—often worse. But one thing that’s for sure is that the upcoming administration is going to have its work cut out for them to build this country, as they say, back better and forge a truly new way forward.

My guest today knows what that will take. Valerie Jarrett was co-chair of the 2008 Obama/Biden transition team and a close advisor to both throughout Obama’s two terms. She’s now the co-chair of the gender equity organization the United State of Women and the interim head of the Obama Foundation, among her many jobs. And I’ll tell you the first time I met her, I was very well-prepared to speak to the president, President Obama, to be incredibly serious and forthright, but before that meeting, she came into the West Wing lobby and all I could think to say was: “You were really good on the ‘Good Wife’ last week.” Yeah. I don’t know how she puts up with me, but I’m glad she does.

And these days in her, I guess, spare time, she’s also been consulting for Biden’s current transition team. So what does the Biden administration have to get done on its first 100 days? And how do we hold them accountable to it? Let’s hear from the wise and level-headed advisor herself. 

Brittany Hey, Valerie. Thank you so, so much for being here.

Valerie Jarrett Oh, it’s a pleasure, Brittany, you know how much I enjoy chatting with you.

Brittany Always, always! It has been quite a week. And before we get into the new administration, I want to get a sense from you about how you’re thinking about this moment, specifically, whether or not Trump should be impeached for a second time.

Valerie Jarrett Well, of course he should. I mean, what he did last week was encourage people to attempt to overthrow our government. If that’s not an impeachable offense, I don’t know what would be. People died as a direct result of his encouragement and you can’t back away from that in any way now and you can’t blame it on anybody else because everybody saw it with our own eyes. 

Brittany Right. What about those hundred plus members of Congress who continue to feed into this lie that the election was rigged and helped seed the ground for this insurrection? 

Valerie Jarrett Well, they contributed to this as well. And so I think there should be a thorough investigation of—on a case-by-case basis—the language that they used, the tone that they set, and not only will that be investigated by the appropriate law enforcement agencies but I do think that Congress has a responsibility of patrolling itself. Ultimately, the voters have to hold members accountable, but they have to also hold each other accountable. 

Brittany Absolutely. And we know that people like Cori Bush have drawn up resolutions to not just impeach the president, but also to hold those members of Congress accountable. What do you think about those who argue that it would just be wiser to let Trump kind of drift off into exile and not stoke any kind of grievance among his base? 

Valerie Jarrett I think folks who have that position should be students of history. Around the world, when you let this kind of behavior continue without holding people accountable, it gives license to people to behave even worse. And in fact, that’s what we’ve observed over the last four years where the Republicans had an option of holding him accountable the first time he was impeached and they chose not to. And what happened, his behavior became more outrageous. 

Brittany And of course the frightening thing is that the threat is not over. The FBI is warning of armed rallies being planned in all 50 state capitals and in Washington D.C. surrounding inauguration day—Joe Biden and Kamala Harris of course will be formally inaugurated,—but it is still a very scary time. What are you making of all of this unrest? 

Valerie Jarrett Well, I do think that one of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris’s top priorities, as they have communicated, are to try to figure out ways of de-escalating the tension in our country, bringing people together. The theme of the inauguration is one of unity. What would be helpful in this equation is if President Trump and his supporters in the House and Senate, and around the country would call for the same thing. Am I hopeful about that happening? Probably not. But it would certainly help. I don’t know any American who could look at what we saw on television last week, a mob riot, trying to take over Congress. And what were they going to do if they actually captured the members? What would have happened to them? We averted a horrendous situation and it wasn’t even very well handled. 

Brittany I want to talk about the police response for a second. How the Capitol police could be this completely unprepared: endangering the lives of members of Congress, of police officers themselves, and most certainly very different than from the responses that we’ve seen by police when protestors are Black. 

Valerie Jarrett You’re absolutely right. We would have seen a very different reaction. If Black people have been engaged in a mob riot, a lot more people would be dead today. We know that for a fact. And so I leave it to the law enforcement experts who inevitably are doing after-action to figure out what went wrong here, but they were caught flat-footed and even more egregious we’re beginning to learn that there were examples of members of the Capitol police who were complicit—wearing like Make America Great Again hats and kind of in taking selfies. 

Brittany That’s right. 

Valerie Jarrett And so it was a complete breakdown and the world is scratching their head looking at the United States and saying, Oh my gosh. And so I think we all do some soul-searching here and figure out how do we take the temperature down and how do we begin to heal this country? Look, we can’t like take to arms when we are unhappy about the outcome of an election. Until the riot, nobody had died as a result of the election. In contrast to the Black Lives Matter movement, you obviously were instrumental in Ferguson, which was because somebody died. Many people died. 

Brittany It bears repeating why those things are not comparable and just how hypocritical the response is. And on top of it, we have to make sure that the conversation continuously expands to a proper contextualizing and understanding of just how deep the roots of white supremacy run in America, that this is about history. 

Valerie Jarrett It is. And, you know, I would remind your listeners, Brittany, that when the director of the FBI testified before Congress, not that long ago, he said the biggest threat to our homeland was not international threats of terrorism, it’s homegrown terrorists, white supremacists. This is President Trump’s FBI director. And we should not only take note of that, but we should be acting accordingly in response to them. And if we had, then they would have been better prepared for what came upon Congress last week, right? 

Brittany Right, right. Okay. So I want to look ahead and you—as I like to say—are not new to this, you are true to this. What should have been getting done during these two month period between election day and inauguration day and, you know, what are really the consequences of a lack of a peaceful transition of power?

Valerie Jarrett Well, here’s the good news—President-elect Biden has selected a tremendous team. Many of them were a part of the Obama/Biden transition and administration, so they know the government, they know its functions. And what they’ve been about—without any cooperation initially from the Trump administration—is ensuring that they had a clear idea of what they want to accomplish in the short, medium, and long-term, because you can’t get everything done on day one. What you can do on day one though, or sign a slew of executive orders that reflect your values—reverse some of the damage that has been done during the four years of the Trump administration. So for example, the president-elect committed to rejoin the World Health Organization in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s pretty outrageous that we weren’t a part of that. He wanted to ensure that the Dreamers had certainty, ensuring that the COVID task force was working smoothly. So there’s a lot of work that can happen. But best it happens with the co-operation of the administration. So we did lose precious time in that maybe two or three week period where a president would not allow his administration to co-operate. And that makes us vulnerable. And we heard that the Defense Department—one of the most important agencies that we have—wasn’t co-operating, the national security space has to be a top priority.

And so when there is a reluctance or unwillingness to co-operate fully and thoroughly, our enemies around the world are watching. And they see that as a vulnerability. And I will say this, and I’ve said this often before, I’ll say it again: President George Bush and his administration could not have been more supportive of us beginning the day after the election. And that’s a credit to them and it’s a credit to the country because that’s the way it’s supposed to go. 

Brittany We clearly haven’t had this go the way that it was supposed to go. And inauguration day cannot come soon enough. I don’t know about you, but it feels like an advent calendar. Like I’m crossing out the days and try to look for joy on every day, leading up to it. But after the pomp and circumstance, that will look of course different this year, what do you think should be the day one priorities for this administration? You’ve talked about the World Health Organization and rejoining that, what else needs to be at the top of the agenda? 

Valerie Jarrett Well, Brittany, I think what we’re all experiencing now is that the Trump administration did not in any way fulfill its commitments to get this vaccine out the door and into people’s arms. It’s one thing to have a vaccine, it’s another thing to vaccinate people and they fell woefully short of the 20 million that they expected to have by the end of the year. Now, look, it’s a complicated logistical challenge, but that’s what government is supposed to be able to do well. And so I am confident that President Biden is going to take a hard look at what have been the roadblocks to this smooth transition of the vaccine around the country.

One easy step I’m sure they’ll rectify is that the Trump administration said to the governor is, Hey, here, here you go. You’re on your own. Well, we saw what happened when they did that. When there wasn’t enough PPE early on in this pandemic, you can’t leave the governors on their own, you have to give them the resources and the strategic advice for how they can administer this important program. So I know there’ll be a lot of focus on that. 

We have to figure out how to rebuild the economy. The president-elect has said that the stimulus package that was passed was really just like to get us so that people are not in lines looking for food and being evicted from their homes and businesses weren’t shuttering immediately. That’s not a medium-term solution to jumpstart our economy. So a new stimulus package, as opposed to just the band-aids that were passed has to happen pretty quickly as well. We are establishing our reputation around the world. The big challenges that we have, I mean, another one obviously is climate change and he will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord on day one. We have to rebuild our reputation with our allies. They have been quite stunned by our behavior, pulling out of the Iran deal, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, pulling out of the World Health Organization, treating our enemies better than we treat our allies. And so that reputational damage has to be repaired. 

And I’m also hopeful that he will take on the issues of criminal justice reform, but racial injustice more broadly. This isn’t just an issue between law enforcement and the Black community. There is systemic racism in our country that has to be tackled. 

Brittany Absolutely. And I mean, it’s a massive undertaking for any president. It is made more massive by what we’ve been dealing with over the last four plus years. How does an administration build momentum to accomplish that? How did it work in 2008? 

Valerie Jarrett Well, first of all, you have to be very well-organized. And I am confident that the Biden/Harris administration will be as organized because Biden was there during all eight years and he knows having that stream of work and processes in place that require discipline and structure, as opposed to, you know, whoever happens to walk into the oval office, shooting off the idea that the president of that embraces that doesn’t work. That’s not how government functions optimally. 

Brittany So I wanna transition and talking about you for a minute. Like I said, your career has been incredible and expansive. And one of the things you built at the White House was The United State of Women, right? So now it is its own organization—you co-chair it—but it was built out of the Obama administration’s Council on Women and Girls, which you also chaired. What have really been the most pressing issues you’ve worked on with regards to women and girls and our futures.

Valerie Jarrett Well look, one thing we all know is that we are not one issue folks. You can’t just simply address our healthcare needs without addressing our education and job opportunities; you can’t address education and job opportunities without making sure that we’re all safe. We’re the only developed country in the world that doesn’t have a national paid leave policy. That’s a huge problem. 

Equal pay for women is extraordinarily important. And we still have a wage gap of about 20 cents on the dollar and far greater for women of color—Latina and Black women earn far less. So I think part of what the COVID-19 has exposed to us is, which we already knew, but then now everybody sees it as a, the disparities—and women are disproportionately the ones that are bearing the responsibilities for their children, trying to homeschool your children while you’re at the same time trying to perform a job is really challenging. And many women have lost jobs because of the fragility of our place in the job market. And so what the United State of Women has tried to continue the work of the council to ensure that we are both putting policies and programs in place that help close the gender gap, but also importantly, changing our culture.

And I think as a result of the events of this past summer, the business community is taking a hard look at what can they do to create a more inclusive, diverse, and inclusive workplace. And I say, look, diversity as a goal, inclusion is about culture. 

Brittany You advocate for this though, out of, I know really personal reasons. I mean, in your book “Finding My Voice,” you talked about your own personal challenges, right? You were a young single mother, divorced, you were raising Laura, and you were balancing this kind of professional and family life. You wrote before: “As a single working mom, I felt I had to separate my professional and personal life out of fear that the men with whom I worked would not take me seriously.” How has your own experience really pushed you and propelled you in this advocacy space? 

Valerie Jarrett It’s such a good question. I mean, I look back now and I realize my goodness I thought I had to do everything on a very uneven playing field and I was afraid about complaining because I thought it would diminish me and I never talked about even being pregnant, even when I was like six or seven months pregnant—and it was obvious I was pregnant—because I was afraid the guys wouldn’t take me as seriously. I tolerated insulting jokes and I just tried to be like one of the fellows and that was stupid. And I think what I realized slowly over the course of my thirties is how important it is to find our own voices.

And if we’re in a position to speak up, we have to do so. I mean, there was a time, Brittany, when I thought, well, gosh, if I were just smarter, if I were more organized, more disciplined, if I slept fewer hours, maybe this wouldn’t be hard. And I never talked about how hard it was. And then when I began to open up with my friends and my family, I realized, Oh my gosh, this is hard for everybody. It’s not because I’m incompetent. It’s because the system is working against us. And it’s when I made a commitment that if I was ever in a position of authority, I would create the kind of culture where people—not just women—but people could bring their full selves to work. And so ever since then, I have really made it a priority, both in my work and in the policy work that I did in the White House to look at it through the lens of my experience, because I felt how hard it was for me, but Brittany, I had a good paying job, I had health insurance, I had a family that lived near me. My dad took my daughter to school every day and picked her up. I had one caregiver from the time Laura was three months old until we packed her off to college and then she took care of me. I mean, I had everything going for a me and I’m holding on by my fingertips. The question I asked myself 30 years ago is, well, what is life like for women who have no safety-net, right? Who are one paycheck away from eviction who don’t have parents who are able to pick up the slack when the babysitter doesn’t show up, right? Who are worried about paying their bills and putting food on the table. And that’s really where my commitment to gender equity came from is those life experiences. 

Brittany I think about the progress that you talk about and just how much of it has been eroded under this administration. We’ve seen aggressive rollbacks of women’s rights and gender non-conforming people’s rights. And then of course, the pandemic has been particularly horrible for women and people who are raising children and caring for their elders. What should women and girls be demanding of the Biden/Harris administration? 

Valerie Jarrett Well, it turns on being a good partner. And the good news again is because we know so many of the folks who will be in the administration, who we know care about these issues and it’s our job to push them. And you’re right. The last four years, Brittany, have been very challenging, but I would also hasten to add that one of the things I learned from the United State of Women is how much good work is going on around the country at the local level and at the state level. We have a lot of rebuilding to do from the White House, you betcha, but there has been a laboratory for change that never stopped. And then the final point I would make is that I also think that women, and we’ve seen this both in the midterms and in this last election have to run for office. Maybe we have to have a seat at that table, the political table, the governance table. And now we have more women of color—more women—and more women of color in Congress than ever before. And that’s another way to ensure our voices are heard. I remember years ago when the Republicans were trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, then majority leader, no longer, Mitch McConnell—thank goodness—headed a subcommittee in the Senate. And it was like 19 men to decide the Affordable Care Act’s future. Well, you know what, when we’re talking about preventive care, that’s available for women, I want somebody who looks like me sitting at the table participating in those decisions. And so I’m heartened by the fact that the Biden administration has included so many women—including women of color—in the administration. And we need to have counterparts to that for women who are running for office.

Brittany So before I let you go, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you what’s next for you? There are lots of women in the Biden/Harris administration. Of course, Kamala Harris being one of them. You’ve already said that you don’t see yourself joining the administration again, right? So I’d love to know what your priorities are now.

Valerie Jarrett Well, I believe what President Obama said in his last big speech before he left office, Brittany. And that is “the most important office is the office of citizen” and I’m enjoying that office. And so I’m here to be helpful to the Biden administration in any way that I can from the outside, I’ll continue to chair the United State of Women, which is under the umbrella group of Civic Nation that houses a lot of the progressive priorities of the Obama administration. I chair that board as well. And I’m interested in criminal justice reform. I sit on the Innocence Project here in New York, and I’m still at the University of Chicago Law School. I did a class not last night on their criminal justice clinic and they’re just the super smart young people—all wanna-be public defenders or go into academia. And so there’s a lot of work. One can do outside of government and still try to be a force for good. And then, you know, my number one priority is being the best grandmother in the world. 

Brittany I know. I love it. Valerie, I so appreciate your time. Thank you for giving us so much to think about and some clear actions we can take. 

Valerie Jarrett Well, Brittany, it is always a pleasure. Thank you. Be well, stay safe. 

Brittany Thank you.


Brittany Valerie Jarrett was the senior advisor to President Obama and is presently a consultant for Biden’s transition team and co-chair of the gender equity organization The United State of Women.

It has been a tough week. I’m not gonna lie to you all about that. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described how she thought she was going to die during an incident in the hours when the Capitol was overrun by these MAGA rioters and Congresswoman Jayapal and Congresswoman Watson—both women of color—have now caught COVID from colleagues who were unwilling to wear their masks in a safe room.

On top of that, the execution of Lisa Montgomery occurred this week too. The first woman to be executed by the federal government in many, many years. It might defy convention, but my faith has actually grown stronger through all of this chaos. There is nothing quite like a pandemic and an insurrection to make you get centered.

The same thing happened to me during the Ferguson uprising. A constant tear-gassing and assault made me go back to the basics. I was raised doing a lot of interfaith work and justice work with people of all backgrounds, religious or not. But especially as the anger, I keep feeling in each moment threatens to exhaust me there is one scripture in particular, I keep coming back to. It says: “Let us not be weary in well-doing for in due season, we shall reap if we faint not.” In the New Testament, that phrase comes after the four books of the gospel and gospel just means good news. And no matter what you believe: karma, physics, Newton, God, all of the above, it is indeed good news to know that when we sow in well-doing, we can reap good things. We’ll get out of this what we put in. 

Cori Bush has only been in Congress for five minutes and she’s already leading the way to hold Republican lawmakers accountable. Ayanna Pressley had the panic buttons ripped out of her office and she is still fighting for Americans struggling economically, so we can thrive and not just survive. And we marginalized people, we have always been sowing imagination. If we can envision the future we want, we can make it reality. We won Georgia and we can and will win again. No matter what it looks like right now, I believe that justice is divine and that it’s our due season.

So let’s keep calling out the evils of our time as we see them—with no shame and without apology. And keep planting the seeds of justice we deserve.  

That’s it for today… but never for tomorrow!


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our Lead Producer is Rachel Matlow.

Our Associate Producer is Taylor Hosking. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen, and Hannis Brown. 

Our Executive Producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself. 

And our Executive Producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media, and our team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED—and rate us!—on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you check out your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.