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‘Our country is at a crossroad’: Reggie Greer to LGBTQ voters on 2020 election

‘Out for Biden’ steering committee to assist in building support

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Reggie Greer is LGBTQ+ vote director for the Biden campaign. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

As LGBTQ+ vote director for Joseph Biden’s presidential campaign, Reggie Greer has his work cut out for him.

After all, he’s charged with marshaling LGBTQ support for the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate amid a deadly coronavirus pandemic and tremendous unrest over racism and police brutality.

In an interview with the Washington Blade on Monday, Greer said he relies heavily on his upbringing and passionate belief in inclusion in confronting the challenges he faces in the 2020 election.

“I am a gay Black man who grew up in the South and has been lucky and fortunate to have been impacted and influenced by many LGBTQ leaders and my parents and teachers, who really instilled in me that kindness and inclusion and the power of your own voices is something that you ought to cherish,” Greer said. “And I think every day in this role, given that this campaign cycle has been so unique, I’ve leaned in on that.”

Greer, who’s 33 and remains a D.C. resident, is charged with serving as liaison between the Biden campaign and the LGBTQ community — a role that involves conference calls and highlighting issues important to LGBTQ people, such as passing into law long-awaited federal LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in the form of the Equality Act.

In a prior role, Greer was director of community engagement for the LGBTQ Victory Institute, where he served as point person for the nation’s more than 850 openly LGBTQ public officials.

Although Greer declined to say whether Biden would name his Cabinet members before Election Day, including any LGBTQ appointments, Greer pledged Biden “will prioritize the appointments of LGBTQ people in an administration.”

Bolstering Greer’s work is “Out for Biden,” a newly created steering committee in the Biden campaign that seeks to motivate the estimated 11 million LGBTQ adults to vote for Biden.

Among the goals for “Out for Biden” is strengthening collaboration across intersectional lines, honing communications for a cohesive movement and providing unprecedented access to our country’s most prominent LGBTQ+ leaders.

High-profile LGBTQ members of “Out for Biden” include Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.); Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David; Mara Keisling, executive director, National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund; and Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims.

Greer said the LGBTQ steering committee would be welcome to undertake campaign efforts to motivate LGBTQ voters in the 2020 election.

“Through ‘Out for Biden,’ which we launched today, we’ve been working to increase our efforts to collaborate with LGBTQ organizations and leaders at the local, statewide, federal level, to ensure that voters have the tools they need to be a part of the process, and also improve the communication between all these different entities that are doing really important work to register voters, get information to them about mail-in voting, to get them involved in some of the local races and statewide races and that also are important to ensuring that we have a pro-equality government up and down the ticket,” Greer said.

Read the full interview with Greer:

Washington Blade: Let me start off with a very basic, but important question: Who is Reggie Greer?

Reggie Greer: Who is Reggie Greer? That’s a very good question. I’m glad that you started off there. I am someone who is deeply passionate about the future LGBTQ Americans have — and I want to be part of a growing movement of people trying to ensure that —

[Phone line disconnects, but Biden campaign calls again shortly after.]

Greer: As I was saying, I am deeply passionate about the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ issues, LGBTQ voices and want to be part of a growing movement that includes us in the increasingly diverse American electorate.

Vice President Biden has made it clear that LGBTQ people are a big part of his coalition and as someone that really values engagement, I’m really excited to bring this approach to this work.

I am a gay Black man who grew up in the South and has been lucky and fortunate to have been impacted and influenced by many LGBTQ leaders and my parents and teachers, who really instilled in me that kindness and inclusion and the power of your own voices is something that you ought to cherish.

And I think every day in this role, given that this campaign cycle has been so unique, I’ve leaned in on that. I leaned in on the idea that every person has a voice, and if any of us can fight to ensure those voices are heard, that’s what we ought to be doing.

Blade: Tell me about some of the specific goals you have as LGBTQ+ vote director for the Biden campaign.

Greer: Absolutely. I think, given the fact that our country is at a crossroad right now, and we have COVID-19 impacting our communities in so many ways, and this election season is so unique, the main goal is clear that LGBTQ people, no matter where they live, no matter their background, and pro-equality voters are able to not only interact with this campaign, but able to be a part of the electoral process in a way that’s substantive.

So, through “Out for Biden,” which we launched today, we’ve been working to increase our efforts to collaborate with LGBTQ organizations and leaders at the local, statewide, federal level, to ensure that voters have the tools they need to be a part of the process, and also improve the communication between all these different entities that are doing really important work to register voters, get information to them about mail-in voting, to get them involved in some of the local races and statewide races and that also are important to ensuring that we have a pro-equality government up and down the ticket. So, that’s the main goal is really to give voters the tools they need to be a part of this process.

Blade: I think many Americans, including LGBTQ people are increasingly concerned about racism and police brutality. How do you see that playing out in your role?

Greer: Absolutely. Systemic injustice, and racism are issues that we’re going to have to address head on, and we’re going to have to do it through leadership. Vice President Biden has spent his whole life fighting against systemic issues, and working to change the system in ways that benefit and work for everyone, and has shown this kind of leadership that we need to actually get things done.

Right now, as we speak, the vice president is down with the family of George Floyd, paying tribute to his life and really bringing comfort to a nation that can’t understand why we don’t have leadership now willing to address these issues head on.

When we look at COVID-19, which is another problem that is complex enough, not to be solved by through rhetoric and bluster, but really requires someone to understand how government works, requires that you need experts at the table to get things done. Vice President Biden has really leaned in on ensuring that he’s surrounded himself with the people who know how to get things done.

And I think for me, personally, again, as someone who’s Black, gay, has a disability, I know full well how important it is to have a government that values and includes diverse voices, appoints people to important positions within the government that can bring those lived experiences to these very tough issues. And the promise really of a Biden presidency is something that we’re working on now, as a campaign which is including as many voices from around the country as possible, so that we can have a government that that sees us, that includes us, and fully represents us.

Blade: How has the coronavirus hampered your work personally?

Greer: So, the campaign has completely shifted digital, and even through the launch of “Out for Biden,” we are empowering LGBTQ people and those who support our campaign to engage virtually.

For now, because this is the main priority is ensuring that people remain safe and keep their attention on caring for those around them. Of course, organizing virtually has been challenging but it’s certainly opened up the campaign in a way that has allowed us to reach across the country faster and people, the kinds of conversations that we’re having around all the issues that we care about.

In this time, I feel like we’ve been able to raise raise awareness faster through some of the roundtables that we’ve hosted. The last national call that we did was on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ people. And the people who watched were from all across the country, and after the call, and after any of the virtual events that we’ve done, I’ve gotten messages from all across the country talking about how they’ve shared that with their networks and with their friends and their neighbors and their family members.

So, this is a very interesting time to do electoral organizing virtually, but certainly you know we’re leaning in on trying to get the vice president’s message out there as far and as wide as possible.

Because I do think LGBTQ people know what’s at stake. There are 11 million eligible LGBTQ voters around the country, there are millions more pro-equality voters, and they see this administration for what it is. They understand that this government has intentionally attacked transgender Americans, has rolled back protections for LGBTQ youth, has diminished our standing in the world on LGBTQ equality, and they are also leading and responding to the call to get out the message of not only our campaign but for everyone really fighting for LGBTQ equality.

That’s part of the reason why I’m hopeful, I think LGBTQ people because we are in every other community, quite literally understand how to build coalitions better than any other community and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Blade: Four years ago, Hillary Clinton was the first presidential candidate to march in a Pride parade. Of course, Biden won’t have the same opportunity. What has been under discussion about ways Biden could recognize Pride?

Greer: That is good you asked that. Obviously, given the moment that we’re in, we’ve been really respectful of things that we’re rolling out, but please stay tuned. We have a lot of exciting Pride initiatives coming up. Today, the launch of “Out for Biden” being the start of that.

I think we’re trying to ensure with all plans the rolling out from Capitol Hill and from the campaign around racial equity, around the economy, plans around how to continue to address the impact of COVID-19, we certainly have been working with each other to figure out when best to roll everything out, but please stay tuned, we’re going to have some pretty fun announcements about how we’re going to mark Pride Month.

Because, again, the vice president has spent his entire career fighting for LGBTQ people, and he was the highest-ranking official to come out in favor of marriage equality when he did in 2012 and as a private citizen has made LGBTQ equality, a priority through making it one of his hallmark pillars at the Biden Foundation and starting initiatives like “As You Are.” And even on this campaign, the plan that he rolled out, the plan to advance equality is comprehensive and really will push the well-being and equality forward if we can get Joe Biden elected as president. So stay tuned for some announcements, I promise you they’ll be great.

Blade: Can you give us a flavor of what they’ll be?

Greer: I can’t right now. I would love to, but I can say that we’re thinking about what I was talking about earlier, the intersection of our community, and the diversity within our community, uplifting the voices of lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, folks of color, youth and veterans and people who are small business owners, artists, advocates, activists. We’re really now as a program thinking through how to do that effectively, but throughout Pride Month, we’re certainly going to be featuring all of our community.

Blade: You’re pretty close to Biden. Do you have a favorite memory of an interaction with him or anecdote along those lines?

Greer: I do, I do. The vice president has a level of empathy and has the amazing ability to care for people. His ability to empathize with people I think this is — it can’t be matched by very many other people, and it’s something I really value about him as a person, and as a leader.

And I was talking to him about LGBTQ equality, just as in preparation for an event and he stopped me and he said this is something I really want to do. This is something — this is what I want to make the hallmark of my administration. And I think that shows that he has a level of commitment to LGBTQ equality, that is paramount.

Also, thinking about the recent passing of Aimee Stevens. In some of the folks that whenever he was asked about it, whenever he was attending an event, he had attempted to call her, but unfortunately she passed earlier in the day and you could tell that her death has impacted him, but he really took time to talk through her legacy and why her passion and her commitment to fighting that should be something that all of us should be inspired by, something that deeply touched me because it demonstrated not only who he is as a person, but that he has always been a leader and who he will be as president.

Blade: Any day now the Supreme Court is going to rule on LGBTQ rights. Is the Biden campaign doing any contingency planning for possible outcomes in that decision?

Greer: We are actively monitoring the Title VII rulings, and as with any decision that the Trump administration may be coming coming down with. Specifically for Title VII, we have been very grateful to be working with LGBTQ movement leaders to understand the scope and impact of those rulings potentially and will be ready on decision day to inform and to help be a part of talking about what we need to do moving forward after the decision.

I think more than anything, the vice president believes in respect and dignity for all people, including LGBTQ workers, and I think for all of us, we ought to be thinking about the kind of country that comes after the Title VII rulings because really the decision is in our hands. The ultimate decision is in our hands. And this is why this election is so important in fighting to create an America that’s inclusive and includes everyone, and the vice president’s made passing the Equality Act, and advancing LGBTQ legislative priorities central pieces of his plan to advance equality.

In doing so, we have the beginning of what will be our response, not only as a campaign, but hopefully as an administration. And, we will most certainly be ready whenever the Supreme Court rules and we are monitoring this very, very closely.

Blade: Can you divulge the details about the talks you’ve had with advocacy groups about the decision like, who was involved and what possible things were considered?

Greer: I think that very generally, it’s just informative, getting information from movement leaders who can help us shape the outcome but until the decision comes down I wouldn’t want to say.

Blade: Let’s talk about appointments. Is the campaign considering a unity Cabinet, or naming a diverse set of Cabinet members ahead of the election?

Greer: The way I would answer it is the president has to make 4,100 appointments. Going back to my time at the Victory Institute, federal appointments has been something I’ve been passionate about for a very, very long time, and Vice President Biden’s made a commitment to ensuring that this administration reflects the diversity of America that’s including making LGBTQ appointments. Under the Obama-Biden administration, 330 LGBTQ people were appointed to positions throughout the federal government, which accounts for around eight percent of all appointments, which may be higher than the population share, which demonstrated even then their commitment to ensuring that LGBTQ people have very important decision-making roles throughout the administration.

So, you know, while it’s too early to talk about Cabinet appointments, you can rest assured that Vice President Biden will prioritize the appointments of LGBTQ people in an administration.

Blade: Let’s talk a little bit about the Trump administration, which has built a significant anti-LGBTQ record? Which one of his anti-LGBTQ policies bothers you the most?

Greer: Where do we start? So, in thinking about the way the Trump administration has treated LGBTQ people. I always start with the appointees that President Trump has named. His government as taking an intentional approach toward protections for LGBTQ Americans and attacking LGBTQ people for the sake of doing it.

And thinking about restoring the soul of our country, really is prioritizing restoring a government that doesn’t do that, that sees people, that seeks to represent people, it doesn’t deceive people. So that that’s where I would start.

But I think what’s really troubling, for me, is the protection that the Trump administration has rolled back for trans Americans, thinking about access to health care, thinking about trans people serving in the military, and so forth and so on.

This administration has been willing to single out transgender Americans in a way that has been very troubling and personally upsetting to me, which is why in summarizing the Vice President’s plan, which is protecting LGBT youth, passing the Equality Act, making the U.S. a leader again on equality around the world. The summary of that plan, which is advancing, protecting and restoring protections for trans Americans is something I’m really excited about because we need to get our government back to a place where are fighting for all of us, especially our transgender siblings.

And then the second part is the attacks on LGBTQ youth, the disregard to the lived experiences, the bullying, the harassment that LGBTQ youth face, and this administration’s willingness to — everything from having the Education Department turn a blind eye to it, to ignoring it, not supporting bills that would ban conversion therapy. LGBTQ youth are completely ignored by this administration. I also think that is very troubling.

Blade: Well speaking of appointments, there is one in particular I want to ask you about, Richard Grenell, who was until recently the acting director of national intelligence. Trump reportedly told him that his appointment as acting DNI was important because he was the first openly gay Cabinet member. Do you think Richard Grenell’s appointment was important?

Greer: Here’s how I’d answer that question, Chris, I think that if you have spent your life prioritizing the well being of LGBTQ people and thought to honestly fight for and advance LGBTQ equality, that makes anyone’s appointment a big deal and even think about history or even thinking about people serving in key appointments, the real power comes when they prioritize and they embrace grace and what it means to really fight for members of our community.

Biden National Press Secretary Jamal Brown: We have time for one more question, just so you know.

Greer: So, I think that Vice President Biden will appoint LGBTQ people into positions that will not only be there. You will find people that will fight for LGBTQ people period.

Blade: Right, since I got one final question I’ll just smush two together here. What would be your message to disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters who are not inclined to vote for Biden, in terms of what is at risk for LGBTQ Americans if the vice president doesn’t win in November?

Greer: The way I’d answer it: I think LGBTQ people understand what’s at stake in this election, and they want to see a country that really includes LGBTQ people and gets us to a place where our people are reflected in the laws that are coming out of Washington.

And so, I think that they’re getting involved, and this campaign is going to continue to work as it has from day one, to include all voices, every LGBTQ voice matters. And I’m looking forward to the next five months and getting out there, certainly virtually but in any capacity party to include LGBTQ voices of all backgrounds.

[Brown later told the Blade he had signaled time for one last question because the two had an imminent next appointment.]

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Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman, named president of Human Rights Campaign

Progressive activist a veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund

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Kelley Robinson (Screen capture via HRC YouTube)

Kelley Robinson, a Black, queer woman and veteran of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, is to become the next president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading LGBTQ group announced on Tuesday.

Robinson is set to become the ninth president of the Human Rights Campaign after having served as executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund and more than 12 years of experience as a leader in the progressive movement. She’ll be the first Black, queer woman to serve in that role.

“I’m honored and ready to lead HRC — and our more than three million member-advocates — as we continue working to achieve equality and liberation for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people,” Robinson said. “This is a pivotal moment in our movement for equality for LGBTQ+ people. We, particularly our trans and BIPOC communities, are quite literally in the fight for our lives and facing unprecedented threats that seek to destroy us.”

Kelley Robinson IS NAMED as The next human rights Campaign president

The next Human Rights Campaign president is named as Democrats are performing well in polls in the mid-term elections after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving an opening for the LGBTQ group to play a key role amid fears LGBTQ rights are next on the chopping block.

“The overturning of Roe v. Wade reminds us we are just one Supreme Court decision away from losing fundamental freedoms including the freedom to marry, voting rights, and privacy,” Robinson said. “We are facing a generational opportunity to rise to these challenges and create real, sustainable change. I believe that working together this change is possible right now. This next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign is about getting to freedom and liberation without any exceptions — and today I am making a promise and commitment to carry this work forward.”

The Human Rights Campaign announces its next president after a nearly year-long search process after the board of directors terminated its former president Alphonso David when he was ensnared in the sexual misconduct scandal that led former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign. David has denied wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against the LGBTQ group alleging racial discrimination.

Kelley Robinson, Planned Parenthood, Cathy Chu, SMYAL, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, Amy Nelson, Whitman-Walker Health, Sheroes of the Movement, Mayor's office of GLBT Affairs, gay news, Washington Blade
Kelley Robinson, seen here with Cathy Chu of SMYAL and Amy Nelson of Whitman-Walker Health, is the next Human Rights Campaign president. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Former Ambassador Daniel Baer explains it all on Ukraine crisis

Expert downplays strategic thinking behind Putin’s move

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Daniel Baer, United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, gay news, Washington Blade
Daniel Baer served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Daniel Baer, who worked on LGBTQ human rights and transatlantic issues as one of several openly gay U.S. ambassadors during the Obama administration, answered questions from the Washington Blade on Ukraine as the international crisis continues to unfold.

Topics during the interview, which took place weeks ago on Jan. 27, included Putin’s motivation for Russian incursions, the risk of outright war, predictions for Russia after Putin and how the crisis would affect LGBTQ people in Ukraine.

Baer was deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Security & Cooperation in Europe.

The full interview follows:

Washington Blade: What’s your level of engagement with this affair? Are you doing any consulting work? Is the administration reaching out to you at all?

Daniel Baer: I actually think the White House is doing a pretty good job of recognizing that they need to not only have press conferences, but also talk to other people who are trying to figure out how to be constructive critics, idea generators from the outside.

Blade: OK, so you’re being solicited and engaging on this issue. My next question for you is why do you think Putin is doing this at this time?

Baer: So, I guess taking a step back from the whole thing, one of the things about a problem like this is that everybody is searching for the right answer assuming that there is a like comfortable or compelling or intellectually accurate answer, and I actually think we’re just in a really hard moment.

I don’t know why he’s doing it now. And in fact, I think that one of the puzzles that we haven’t solved yet is that all the things that he says are the reasons that he’s doing it — that he feels encirclement by NATO, … or that the situation in Ukraine is untenable — none of those things have changed. Setting aside the fact that they’re spurious, it’s not like there’s been some new move in the last 12 months that has precipitated [a reaction] on any of those fronts that you can say, “Oh, well, he’s responding to the recent meeting where Ukraine was offered membership in NATO, or he’s responding to a change in government in Ukraine that it’s clearly anti-Russia, or any other move that we’ve done.” The explanation just doesn’t hold water, and so I think we need to look for alternative ones.

The best I can come up with is actually just a broad — it doesn’t actually explain this particular moment, but I think you could look at the timing of his life. He has, I don’t know, 10 years left. And during those 10 years, it’s unlikely that Russia is going to grow more powerful; it’s much more likely that it’s going to become at least relatively and probably nominally less powerful. And so, if you’re unhappy with the status quo, and you feel like you’re a declining power, and you don’t have endless time, there’s no time like the present. And you’ll make up whatever reasons you need to in order to justify it.

I also think there’s a tendency on our part to attribute far more “strategery” to Putin than there necessarily is. I mean, he’s a bully and a thug. I think the whole Putin’s playing chess and we’re playing checkers is actually completely inverted. We’re in our own heads that there’s some kind of nuanced position that would mollify him. He’s just a gangster and he’s taking a punch because he has one. And I don’t think it gets much more complicated than that. And so, I guess the answer to why he’s doing this now, because the international conditions are such that he feels like the United States is focused domestically, the Ukrainians are not moving forward with succeeding to build — they’re kind of in stasis on building a European state— and he has, you know, he has the space to take a punch, so he’s contemplating doing it, or he’s already decided to do it. And he’s just extracting as much as possible before he takes it.

Blade: That leads me to my next question: What is your judgement of the risk of out and out war?

Baer: I don’t know because I have two hypotheses that cut both ways. One is that I think Putin is vastly underestimating the degree of resistance. On the other hand, I think that nothing short of domination is satisfactory. And so, I don’t know. I guess I think there’s a 90 percent chance that he does something, and I think there’s a 75 percent chance that what he does is not an all out invasion or ground invasion, at least not at first, but rather something that is aimed at confusing us. So some sort of hybrid or staged or false flag kind of attack in tandem with a political coup in Kiev, where he works to install a more Russia-loyal leader.

The thing with the ground invasion is that Russian soldiers’ moms are one of the only, like, powerful political forces in civil society in Russia. I just don’t see any way that a ground invasion doesn’t involve massive Russian casualties, even if they will be dominant. The people who are going to impose the consequences on him will be the Ukrainians, not the rest of us, and he should not invade, and if he does, we should, frankly, work hard to make it as painful and difficult for him as possible.

Blade: What will that look like?

Baer: I think we should at that point continue — we shouldn’t pause, we should continue to send the defensive equipment and backfill as much as possible their ability from an equipment basis to resist.

Blade: So if we were to look at a model for past U.S. engagements. I’m thinking Greece under President Truman, which was so successful that nobody really knows about it, I don’t think. Is there any model we should be looking toward, or not looking toward?

Baer: No, I guess. I’m not sure there’s any good historical model because obviously, any of them you can pick apart. I do think that one thing that has gotten lost in a lot of the analysis — and this goes back to Putin being a gangster thug, and not being such a genius — is there’s a moral difference between us. The reason why Putin gets to control the dialogue is because he’s willing to do things that we aren’t willing to do — as gangsters are, as hostage-takers are — and so yes, they get to set the terms of what we discussed, because we’re not holding hostages. We’re trying to get hostages released. And the hostage-taker has an upper hand and asymmetry because they are willing to do something that is wrong.

We shouldn’t lose the kind of moral difference there. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Ukraine is being menaced. And I’m not saying it’s our obligation [to intervene militarily], certainly not our obligation. They aren’t a treaty ally. We have neither a political obligation nor a moral one to necessarily risk our own lives, our own soldiers in defense of Ukraine. But if Ukraine wants to defend themselves, there’s a strong moral case to be made that anything, short of risking our own lives, is something that is morally good. We generally believe that self-defense from lethal threat is a reasonable moral cause and assisting others in defending themselves is too — I think there’s a lot of back and forth that get glossed over whether that’s a provocation or whatever, and I want to say to people stand back, look at this: we’ve got one party that is attacking another. And the question is, does the other have a right to defend itself? Yes. And if they have a right to defend themselves, and they also have a right to have whatever assistance people will offer them in defending themselves.

That doesn’t mean that they get to demand that we show up and fight in the trenches with them, of course, and I don’t think there’s any serious people who are recommending that but it’s a good thing to help them. It’s not like a technical thing. It’s a good thing to help

Blade: Getting into that moral background, one thing I want to ask you was about the significance of what would happen in this concept of democracy versus autocracy. First of all, how much is Ukraine a functional democracy, in the sense that if we’re defending Ukraine, we are defending a democracy, and what signal do you think it would send if that Ukrainian government fell to Russian autocracy?

Baer: I think the institutions of government that the Ukrainian people have are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment …

They are not worthy of the Ukrainian people’s own demonstrated commitment to the idea of democratic institutions. So the answer is today’s Ukrainian government is a mixed bag and it’s very hard to build, on the rot of a Russian fiefdom, a functioning democracy, so I think it’s a mixed bag. I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing [the changes], or that they’ve completely bungled an easy project. It was always going to be a hard project, and it was never going to be linear.

But I think that what we’ve seen from the Ukrainian people — by which I mean not Ukrainian people, but people of Ukraine — is that there is a broad part of society that a) does not want to live under a Russian thumb and b) sees its future in kind of European style democracy. And so I think that if there was, there’s no question that the Russian attack would be in part about subjugating the people of Ukraine and forcing them to live under some sort of new Russian satellite. And I think that there’s little space for serious argument that that’s something that the people of the country wish to have.

Blade: But I’m just kind of getting at — you’re kind of minimizing that this is a strategic move by Putin, but if he were to successfully dominant Ukraine it becomes a Russian satellite isn’t that saying like, “Well, ha ha West, you thought the Cold War was over and there’s going to be just be a unipolar world in the future but no, we’re gonna we have this we’re back and we’re gonna create a multipolar world for the future.”

Baer: Yeah, I mean, my answer to the Russians who always raise the multipolar world to me is, “Fine, it’s going to be a multipolar world. What makes you think that Russia is one of the poles?” Poles by definition draw people to them, they are compelling and a pole attracts, magnetically or otherwise, and there is nothing attractive about the model that Russia is pursuing. And if the only way that you can be a pole is by subjugating, to force your neighbors, you are proving that you are not one.

I think the benefits for Russia are far smaller than Putin thinks and I think the consequences for the rest of the world of allowing a violation of international order to go forward are much larger than many people recognize.

Blade: But that was their approach when they were the Soviet Union. They were subjugating the Eastern Bloc through Russian force. They did have, in theory, the concept of their worldview of you know, of socialism, or whatever you want to put it charitably, was going to be the right way to go. Is there really that much of a difference?

Baer: Yeah, however disingenuous it was, they did have an ideology . So you’re right, that was a key distinction. The other thing is that the Soviet Union in relative size — its economy and population etc. — was much larger than Russia is today. And Russia is shrinking, and its economy is less diverse than the Communist one was. I think it’s a delusion to think that they’re going to kind of rebuild an empire, even if yes, because of their willingness to do awful things, they could potentially for a time politically control through violence, their neighbors. I just don’t — in a multipolar world, I don’t see Russia being one of the poles, at least not on its current path.

Blade: How would you evaluate the U.S. diplomatic approach to this issue?

Baer: There’s been very clear over-the-top effort to include the Europeans at every step — meetings with them before each meeting and after each meeting, to force conversations into fora that are more inclusive and stuff like that. And I think that Secretary Blinken is rightly recognizing the need to kind of play a role of kind of keeping everybody on the side while we test whether diplomacy whether there’s anything to do, whether there’s any promise with diplomacy.

I think there’s kind of, sometimes kind of, two camps in U.S. foreign policy circles. One is like: We should give the Russians what they want because it just doesn’t matter that much. War is much worse than anything that we would give them. And another is that we can’t give them an inch and we have to punch them in the face whenever we can. And I think both of those are kind of knee-jerk positions that have become a bit religious for people and neither of them is paying attention to the practical challenge that’s in front of the administration, which is like this guy’s threatening to invade and we need to identify whether there’s any opportunity for a functional off ramp, and that doesn’t mean we do that in a vacuum and ignore the long-term consequences, but our problem is not a religious one, it’s a practical one. And I think they’re doing a pretty good job of threading the needle on that and being not too far forward and not too far back.

Blade: Do you see any significant daylight between the United States and Europe?

Baer: No, I mean, no more than the minimum that is possible. There’s a lot of talk about Germany these days. Look, I think some of the things they say are not particularly helpful, but I don’t actually think that in the long run, if Putin invaded, I don’t think that they would hold up sanctions or anything like that. So I think they’re on our side, even if they’re talking out of both sides, in some cases.

Blade: I am wise to the fact that this is a nuclear power. It might be a little old school, but could escalation get that far?

Baer: There can’t be war. There can’t be war between NATO and Russia. It should be avoided. Obviously, there can be, but it should be avoided.

Blade: How committed do you think President Biden is to protecting Ukraine?

Baer: Reasonably so. I think he’s enough of an old school trans-Atlantist that he understands that this isn’t just about Ukraine.

Blade: I was wondering because he had those comments from his press conference about “minor incursion” and I’m just wondering if you’re reading anything into that or not.

Baer: No, I think that was that was a — I think broadly speaking, everything he says is in line with the kind of view that you would expect. And of course, one sentence can catch [attention]. That wasn’t what he meant. What he meant was that he didn’t want to draw a “red line” that would prejudge policy in response to something short of the most extreme scenario.

I think it is a good caution to not obsess over a single sentence and to look at the broad considered policy statements.

Blade: What do you think if you were looking for developments, like what would you be looking out for is significant in terms of where we are going to be going in the near future? This is one thing to keep an eye out for but is there anything else that you are kind of looking out for in terms of the near future?

Baer: I guess I would look out for whether or not the United States joins meetings of the so-called Normandy Format, which is the France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia grouping, which has so far been unsuccessful, but I think can only be successful as the United States joins it, but the Russians, I think have misgivings with the idea of our joining it.

Blade: I’m not at all familiar with that. What makes this forum particularly so —

Baer: So it was started in the summer in like June of 2015, on the margins of some meeting between Merkel and Hollande. The French and the Germans are very committed to the idea that they might be able to mediate peace between Ukraine and Russia. It was supposed to implement the Minsk Agreement, and it just hasn’t been productive so far. I don’t think that the Russians will do anything — I don’t think the Ukrainians feel comfortable negotiating anything without the Americans at the table. And I don’t think the Russians feel like anything is guaranteed without the Americans at the table. So I just, I’m fine with France and Germany taking the lead, but I think the U.S. has to be there.

And there was a meeting of this group in Paris yesterday, and which the U.S. was supportive of, and so I’m watching to see whether or not the United States gets added in some ad hoc way, whether there are future meetings. I guess the reason I would watch it, if the U.S. were to join future meetings that would signal to me that it’s actually there’s some diplomacy happening there.

That’s meant to be focusing mainly on the existing Russian invasion, the occupation of the Donbas, so that’s not about the threat of the new invasion, but it would be interesting to me if there was forward movement on other parts of Ukraine. The announcement of the American ambassador is one. I think that last week movement of troops into Belarus was a game changer for the U.S., because there are all kinds of new implications if you’re using a third country as your launchpad for war, and so it complicates things and it also looks more serious if you’re starting to deploy to third countries and stuff like that. So I think that was that last week, you noticed a difference in the U.S. tone and tenor in response to that.

So things like that. But in general, like what I would do and I don’t think people always catch this is because there’s a boiling frog aspect to it. There are statements coming out from the White House or State Department. Almost every day on stuff related to this and like last week, there was a noticeable change in the tenor as the U.S. became less, I think more pessimistic about the prospects of diplomacy and those I don’t have anything better to look for in those statements as tea leaves, in terms of what the U.S. assessment is of the prospects of the escalation are, so it’s bad.

Blade: Right. That’s very sobering.

There’s a lot of talk, and I’ve just been seeing some like about in terms of, there’s like comparisons to Afghanistan and making sure that all Americans are able to get out of Ukraine. Is that comparing apples to oranges?

Baer: Yes.

Blade: And could you unpack that a little bit? I mean, I can kind of guess the reasons why. How is that apples to oranges?

Blade: Well, the level of development in Ukraine in terms of infrastructure and transport and stuff like that is not comparable to Afghanistan. I think it would be– if there were a Russian invasion–you would definitely want to, obviously, for safety reasons, it’s not safe to be in a war zone, so you would want people to be able to evacuate and you’d have to plan for that.

A major concern [in Afghanistan] was also that there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of locals who had worked for the Americans. The Americans that are in Ukraine are not a departing occupying power. There’s just not the same footprint there — the Americans are in Ukraine or there as business people or young [people working on] democracy assistance or whatever. And it’s just it’s a different context.

Blade: Why do you think the Russians put up with Putin? I mean, this is a country that was a world power and I would think has some economic potential just given its sheer size, first of all, and they do have oil to offer people. So why aren’t the Russians like angry at him for obstructing their participation in the global order as opposed to just putting up with him for years and years and years.

Baer: Successful instrumentalisation of cynicism. The lack of a belief in an alternative will keep you from fighting for it.

Blade: That’s pretty succinct.

Baer: I mean, I don’t think there’s any question that the people of Russia could be better off or different in terms of kitchen table issues, and ease of navigating the world, prospects for their future for their children’s future. The amount of money that Putin has invested into military modernization that Russia can ill afford, while he’s cut pensions and social services and health care. It’s just it’s objectively true that the average Russian person would be better served by a different leader. But he’s done a very good job of effectively selling off the country for profit and persuading people through repression and propaganda that there is no alternative.

Blade: And Putin won’t be around forever. Once he finally goes, is an alternative going to emerge, or will it be the next guy in Putin’s mold?

Baer: I think it’s far from clear that what comes after Putin isn’t worse and bloody. Regimes like this don’t reliably have stable transitions.

Blade: Wow, okay.

Baer: Yeah, we shouldn’t… we should be careful about wishing… wishing for his demise.

Blade: That’s good to know. It’s kind of a frightful note for me to end my questions. But actually before I sign off, there’s one more thing too because I do kind of want to talk about the intersection about your old job in democracy and human rights and then a Venn diagram of that with your experience in Eastern Europe in particular. Do you have a sense of what’s at stake for LGBTQ people in Ukraine or if they’re in more danger right now than they would be otherwise?

Baer: That’s a good question. I mean, my knee jerk reaction is yes. That — as mixed of a picture as Ukraine has been in the last seven years, or eight years — there have been meaningful steps forward, and certainly, in terms of visibility.

I guess, in the sense that Ukraine is better than Russia today, if you’re gay, if Russia is going to occupy or control Ukraine we can expect that it will get worse because it will become more like Russia.

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Trump ribbed Pence for thinking ‘it’s a crime to be gay,’ new book says

Former president openly wanted gay Fox News analyst for Supreme Court

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Donald Trump (left) ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence (center) in a meeting with Andrew Napolitano for thinking "it's a crime to be gay." (Blade photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pence by Michael Key; screen capture of Andrew Napolitano via Fox News YouTube)

Donald Trump, in the days before he took office after the 2016 election, openly contemplated naming an openly gay Fox News contributor to the U.S. Supreme Court amid concerns from social conservatives about his potential choices and ribbed former Vice President Mike Pence for thinking “it’s a crime to be gay,” according to the new book “Insurgency” detailing the former president’s path to the White House.

The key moment between Trump, Judge Andrew Napolitano and Pence took place during the transition period after the 2016 election when Trump invited the other two for a meeting at Trump Tower.  That’s when Trump reportedly took the jab at Pence.

“During their meeting, for part of which Mike Pence was present, Trump ribbed Pence for his anti-gay rights views,” the book says. “Addressing Napolitano, Trump gestured toward the archconservative vice-president-elect and said, ‘You’d better be careful because this guy thinks it’s a crime to be gay. Right, Mike?’ When Pence didn’t answer, Trump repeated himself, ‘Right, Mike?’ Pence remained silent.”

The potential choice of Andrew Napolitano, who was fired last year from Fox News amid recently dropped allegations of sexual harassment from male co-workers, as well as other TV personalities Trump floated for the Supreme Court, as detailed in the book, were among the many reasons conservatives feared he wouldn’t be reliable upon taking the presidency. Ironically, Trump would have been responsible for making a historic choice for diversity if he chose a gay man like Napolitano for the Supreme Court, beating President Biden to the punch as the nation awaits his selection of the first-ever Black woman for the bench.

The new book — fully titled “Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted” and written by New York Times political reporter Jeremy Peters, who is also gay — identifies Trump’s potential picks for the judiciary as a source of significant concern for conservatives as the “Never Trump” movement was beginning to form and expectations were the next president would be able to name as many as four choices for the Supreme Court. Among the wide ranges of possible choices he floated during the campaign were often “not lawyers or judges he admired for their legal philosophies or interpretations of the Constitution,” but personalities he saw on TV.

Among this group of TV personalities, the books says, were people like Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, whom Trump “regularly watched and occasionally planned his flight schedule around, directing his personal pilot to adjust the route accordingly so the satellite signal wouldn’t fade.” Trump told friends Pirro “would make a fine justice,” the books says.

Trump potentially making good of his talk about naming Napolitano as one of his choices for the Supreme Court “would have been doubly unacceptable to many on the religious right,” the book says. Napolitano, a former New Jersey Superior Court judge, was friendly with Maryanne Trump Barry, Trump’s sister and a federal judge with a reputation for liberal views, such as a ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion, and is also gay, both of which are identified in the book as potential concerns by the religious right.

Napolitano and Trump were close, the book claims. Napolitano, as the book describes, had a habit of telling a story to friends about Trump confiding to him the future president’s knowledge of the law was based on Napolitano’s TV appearances. Trump told Napolitano: “Everything I know about the Constitution I learned from you on Fox & Friends,” the book says.

The book says the meeting with Trump, Pence and Napolitano when the former president took a jab at Pence in and of itself suggested Trump “was indeed serious about giving the judge some kind of position in the government.” Napolitano, known for making outlandish claims as a Fox News contributor —such as the British government wiretapped Trump Tower — never took a post in the Trump administration.

The new book isn’t the only record of Trump ribbing Pence for his anti-LGBTQ reputation. A New Yorker profile in 2017 depicted a similar infamous meeting with Trump and Pence in which the former president joked about his No. 2’s conservative views. Per the New Yorker article: “When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy— he wants to hang them all!'”The incident described in “Insurgency” was similar to the meeting detailed in the New Yorker profile.

Trump ended up making a list of names he pledged he’d limit himself to in the event he was in the position to make a selection to the Supreme Court and made good on that promise based on his selection. By the end of his presidency, Trump made three picks to the bench who were each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. 

But Trump limiting his options to the list of potential plans was not a fool proof plan for conservatives. To the surprise of many, Gorsuch ended up in 2020 writing the majority opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, a major LGBTQ rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and illegal under federal civil rights law.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with Trump’s office seeking comment on the meeting with Pence and Napolitano as described in “Insurgency.” Napolitano couldn’t be reached for comment.

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