Aspen Ideas: John Kerry says ‘stop bloviating’ over Trump

Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry speaking at the afternoon of conversation event for the Aspen Ideas Festival on Wednesday afternoon in the Benedict Music Tent. Kerry was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

John Kerry didn’t spend much time discussing Wednesday’s announcement that Anthony Kennedy is retiring from the Supreme Court, but the former secretary of state said it’s likely the president won’t nominate a like-minded justice as his replacement.

“The loss of Justice Kennedy is enormous obviously, not just because of his experience, but also because of his balance, because he was thoughtful and he was prepared to stand up and take a 5-4 (vote on the court) the other way rather than just have the court in its perennial 5-4 situation,” Kerry said. “That is going to change as far as I am concerned, unless some Republican is prepared to go the other way. And given the current trend, I would be very doubtful about that,” Kerry told interviewer Andrea Mitchell at the Benedict Music Tent in a discussion held as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Kennedy is regarded as a moderate justice and the high court’s swing vote among the other eight justices, an even mix of conservatives and liberals.

Kerry, U.S. senator from 1985 to 2013 representing Massachusetts and President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from 2013 to 2017, focused more of his energy on imploring Americans to show up at the polls — not in the 2020 presidential election, but in the upcoming November midterms.

“We are costing ourselves our own democracy because we’re not holding ourselves accountable,” the 74-year-old Democrat said, basing his thoughts on the 54.2 percent voter turnout in the 2016 presidential contest in the U.S., in contrast to significantly higher turnouts in Kenya and Sudan, for example.

“That’s an astonishing figure,” he said of the 2016 turnout in the U.S.

Mitchell pressed Kerry for his thoughts on who could surface to contest President Donald Trump in 2020. He wouldn’t go there.

“I don’t think 2020 matters today,” he said. “There’s one thing that matters today … control of Congress … that’s what matters.”

While the GOP has control of the three branches of government, Kerry struck a chord that has been heard a few times this week at the Ideas Fest: Stop getting caught up in the day-to-day frenzies over Trump, Trump’s tweets and Trump’s rhetoric.

“I really don’t spend much time on the president,” he said. “I think it’s a waste of time.”

Kerry called on Americans, at least those dissatisfied with Trump, to “stop bloviating” about the president’s tweets and start talking about “how we’re going to help improve lives.”

Yet Kerry said Trump’s rhetoric — Mitchell cited his employment of words such as “infest” and “invade” regarding border immigrants — serves to divide the country.

“You cannot build the consensus you need in our country,” he said. “The increased polarization obviously increases populism, nationalism.”

Kerry also offered sharp criticism of the president’s policy- and decision-making, including pulling out of the Paris Agreement climate-change pact, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, meeting North Korea leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, a policy separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border (the policy was later reversed), or the travel ban on seven countries, which the Supreme Court upheld this week.

The ban applies to Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Venezuela.

“I don’t think, if I’m correct, I don’t believe one American has been killed in an act of terrorism by anyone from one of those countries,” he said. “It really doesn’t make America great again, and it also doesn’t solve the problem.”

By associating the MS-13 gang’s violence in America with immigration, Trump has misled the American public, Kerry said.

“He is distorting the truth when he says MS-13 is coming over here when in fact, people are coming here to run away from MS-13,” Kerry said, adding the U.S. is failing to step up to help such afflicted Central American countries as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Yet Kerry, noting there are 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., said Trump is “absolutely correct when he says this (the immigration problem) didn’t happen on his watch.”

Kerry, who lost the 2004 presidential election to George W. Bush, will teach at his alma mater, Yale, starting the next academic year.

The Ideas Festival runs through Sunday.


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