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DecodeDC

A reliable, honest and entertaining podcast about Washington D.C’s people, culture and politics.

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

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129: Superdelegates, WTF

Superdelegates. Maybe you’ve heard something about them, but might not know how they came to be, how they work, who they are and why they matter. But if you want to make sense of the delegate math in this year’s Democratic contest, you need to understand what a superdelegate is.Bob Shrum was there when superdelegates were created. The long time Democratic operative says if you trace the origins of this uniquely Democratic Party invention, you’ll see a battle between the people and their party where the power to select the nominee for president has swung back and forth and sort of back again.The idea behind the superdelegates is that "they would provide a balancing force in case the voters went off the rails in Democratic primaries and chose somebody the party establishment didn’t like,” Shrum says.On the latest DecodeDC podcast, host Jimmy Williams talks to Shrum about the secret world of super delegates and their potential to cause a train wreck in the Democratic Party.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

20mins

3 Mar 2016

Rank #1

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80: U.S., Russia and Ukraine: A web of complexity

It isn’t every day that Democrats and Republicans are on the same side of anything, so it may come as a surprise that the nation of Ukraine has not only brought them together, but brought them together in opposition to the White House.Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feel the United States should send lethal weapons to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia. The White House does not.Only minutes before the 113th Congress was about to adjourn in December, the Ukraine Freedom Support Act passed unanimously. Four days later President Barack Obama signed it into law, authorizing $350 million in lethal and nonlethal military assistance to Ukraine. But while the bill allowed the United States to send weapons to Ukraine, it didn’t force the administration to send them – and it hasn’t. Ukraine is still waiting.The U.S.-Russian relationship is complicated – real complicated. On the one hand, there are disagreements and clashes between the two countries over Ukraine’s sovereignty. On the other hand, they need to work together on things such as a nuclear deal with Iran. And that may mean that even though Congress has overcome its usual gridlock on this one issue, the former member of the Soviet bloc may never get its weapons.On this week’s podcast, guest host Todd Zwillich decodes the web of foreign policy issues around sending – or not sending – weapons to Ukraine. It’s a story that reaches from Washington to Moscow to Berlin to Tehran.Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

23mins

19 Mar 2015

Rank #2

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161: Hillbilly Elegy explained — The forgotten Americans

In his new book “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”, author J.D. Vance recounts his experience of growing up poor in the white working class communities of Appalachia. It’s not just a personal story but an examination of the culture from where he comes from, as Vance tries to understand why so today feel disillusioned and disconnected with American politics.This week on the podcast, Jimmy sits down with J.D. for a personal conversation about his family, community, and the state of American politics.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

30mins

22 Sep 2016

Rank #3

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164: Trump Foundation 101 -- Funny Money

Donald Trump hasn’t given any money to the foundation that bears his name since 2008, and that’s just the beginning of the oddities surrounding Trump’s charitable giving. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold has been digging into it, and you might by shocked by what he’s found.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

32mins

13 Oct 2016

Rank #4

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72: The politics of love

Picture this: Girl agrees to go on date with boy. Girl and boy are having a great time together. But girl has a really bad feeling about boy.Girl thinks boy is a Republican. Date comes to a screeching halt.No, this is not some weird political romance novel. It’s the true story of Jessica’s first date with her now-husband, Ross. (Side note, he’s not a Republican.)“I sort of stopped and was like, can we set the record straight on this, like are you a Republican or not? Because if you are, like we could just end this date right now,” said Jessica Morales Rocketto.It may sound a little dramatic—refusing to date someone based on political ideology. But on this week’s podcast, host Andrea Seabrook and producer Rachel Quester explore the wonky world of how much politics actually affect our romantic relationships.For liberals and conservatives, compatibility on political ideology is more important when picking a spouse than personality or physical characteristics. That’s according to John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University.Alford says that our biology predisposes us toward one ideology or the other—that the brains of liberals and conservatives are just wired differently. And that, he says, is why it’s really difficult to marry across the aisle.“One of the nicest views about the United States is this idea of the United States as a melting pot where over generations, differences disappear…. because we’re mating disproportionately with people of like-political views, there is no melting pot,” Alford said.Now for those who haven’t already picked their mate, there is hope for the politically minded single.Two dating sites, Red State Date and Blue State Date, match people based on compatible political ideologies. Alex Fondrier, the founder of both sites, said the purpose of the dating service is to help people passionate about politics find others who share that same passion.Listen to this week’s podcast for political dating advice, and why you should start every date with this question: What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone says Hillary Clinton?Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

24mins

12 Feb 2015

Rank #5

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69: Obama's Legacy on Race

So, here’s a question. When is it too early to assess a president’s legacy? How about two years before his term ends?Not for David Haskell, an editor at New York magazine, who polled 53 historians and asked them how they thought we’d remember President Obama 20 years from now.On this week’s DecodeDC podcast, we talk with Haskell about his piece and what he learned. When asked what the president's legacy might be, the overwhelming response, according to those Haskell spoke with: Obama’s status as the first African-American president will be the defining aspect of his legacy.Yet they didn’t always agree on how race would affect the way we will remember Obama. Some pointed to the effect his race had on the opposition. These historians said what contemporary pundits won’t: that the rise of the Tea Party had something to do with Obama’s race.“Seeing a black family in the White House reminds us that this isn’t a white nation,” wrote historian Annette Gordon Reed.That simple fact, said the historians Haskell interviewed, riled up the opposition in a way that we wouldn’t have seen if he hadn’t been black.In fact, when Haskell asked historians what they thought the most enduring image of Obama’s presidency would be, one recalled the moment during the 2009 State of the Union address when Republican Joe Wilson shouted, “You lie!”As for Obama’s biggest disappointment, Haskell said he mentioned it himself in Tuesday’s speech. He came into the office with a desire to unify, but even he admits he’s fallen short.Obama said he still believes we can overcome partisanship and gridlock -- but the historians overwhelmingly told Haskell he probably can’t -- and they don’t fault him for it.They don’t believe Washington can be a more civil, less polarized place. In the words of historian Paul Kahn, the Obama presidency will be remembered as “...the moment at which gridlock became institutionalized.”Want to keep up with all the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletterSee omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

14mins

22 Jan 2015

Rank #6

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162: Politicians really suck at immigration

How do you run a business when Congress keeps getting in the way? That’s what farmers in Washington State are grappling with as Congress keeps punting on immigration reform.They are faced with a big labor shortage. That means crops—and profits—are left sitting in the fields. On the latest podcast, reporter Miranda Green explains to host Jimmy Williams how livelihoods are being affected on a daily basis by congressional inaction.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

34mins

29 Sep 2016

Rank #7

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158: The biases that keep Native Americans from the polls

When the two U.S. Senate candidates went to bed on election night 2002 in South Dakota, it looked like the Republican would be the winner. But then late results came in from two Native American reservations, and Democrat Tim Johnson won re-election.It’s this potential power of the Native American vote to swing local and state elections that voting rights activists in South Dakota are trying to unlock. And they argue the state has spent decades trying to block that power.In part two of our investigation into voting rights for Native Americans, we go to South Dakota, where access to the ballot box is crucial for solving issues of poverty and suicides on reservations. We take you to the second oldest powwow in the nation, where deep racial and cultural tensions between Native Americans and non-natives create a different type of barrier to voting.This report is part of a project on voting rights in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. Make sure to check out News21’s full story here.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

31mins

1 Sep 2016

Rank #8

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93: LBJ and the racial divide, 50 years later

It isn’t often that the president of the United States opens up about America’s history of racism or about how African Americans have suffered because of it - or about how white America must accept responsibility for these wrongs.But that is exactly what happened 50 years ago this month when President Lyndon Johnson delivered the commencement address at Howard University in Washington, D.C. And those who were in the crowd June 4, 1965, say what they heard on still feels relevant today.“I think anyone could give that speech today, and with few exceptions, not recognize that it was something that was related to a 50-year-old occasion,” said Judith Winston, a Howard student at the time who was there. “It’s a speech that in many sad ways has the same resonance today that it had 50 years ago.”Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a voting rights bill that was on its way to getting passed, Johnson told the crowd of mostly African-Americans gathered in the quadrangle that those laws were not enough.“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want and do as you desire, and choose your leaders please,” he said. It was time for the next and the “more profound stage of the battle for civil rights…”The speech is known as the intellectual framework for affirmative action. Johnson spoke of a widening gulf between blacks and whites in unemployment, infant mortality and economic opportunity. “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates,” he said.“It was good to hear him speak of those things and to realize that he really understood, and not only understood but really wanted to do something about it,” said Pricilla Harris Wallace, graduate of Howard’s School of Social Work. Half a century later, Wallace says she is still waiting for things to change, “We’ve made progress along the way, but when you look at things and where we should be as far as race is concerned, economics and other things of that nature, I feel that we’ve gone backwards.”See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

19mins

18 Jun 2015

Rank #9

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94: The $140 Billion Investment No One Is Tracking

Every year, we spend $140 billion on grants and loans for college students. How's that investment doing? Well, we really don't know, and to find out, it turns out we'd have to break the law.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

24mins

25 Jun 2015

Rank #10

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77: Inside House of Cards 5

We are only hours away from the release of season three of House of Cards, the dark, cynical world of Washington politics as ruled by Francis Underwood.It’s a world that series showrunner Beau Willimon is well familiar with. As a playwright, he tackled similar themes with Farragut North, later adapted into the film Ides of March, starring George Clooney. And it’s a world Willimon has also lived as a former campaign staffer during several elections.In the final installment of our special series of podcasts, “Inside House of Cards,” Willimon tells us that working on the series and working on a campaign are not that different.“You have a big team of people who are all trying to accomplish the same goal. In the case of the campaign, it’s to get someone elected on a certain date. On a TV show, its to have 13 hours of content produced and ready to be delivered by a certain date and then on that date you see what the world thinks.”Frank Underwood, a ruthless and conniving congressman maneuvers his way to the Oval office through all means necessary – regardless of the legality or the body count. But Willimon says it’s not a show about politics.“What the show is really about is power,” he says. “It’s about how we navigate power not just in D.C. but with our spouses, our lovers, our friends, our colleagues … and that’s what makes it universal.”In this final installment of “Inside House of Cards," go inside the show with the man who invented Frank, Claire, Zoe, Remy and the world they occupy.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

28mins

27 Feb 2015

Rank #11

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Episode 33: Future Congress

We have always been innovators. It is in our nature as Americans. Heck, democracy itself was born here, as part of what the 19th century French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville called the Great American Experiment.But with the average age in Congress at around 60, plus a legislative process that has come to a grinding halt in the past several years, could the United States be losing its experimental edge?Sure, it may feel like our civic lives are advancing with the Internet age, what with the massive proliferation of ways you can contact your representatives in Washington -- email, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. The problem is, the people on the receiving end of those messages -- Congress -- hasn’t really put in place ways to deal with the modern onslaught of messages.In fact, unless you take great pains to be clear that you live in the district of the lawmaker you’re contacting, the truth is, by and large, members of Congress ignore your messages.By contrast, consider Finland. There, lawmakers are experimenting with a bold new way of reforming a law: crowdsourcing -- meaning turning the legislative process over to the people.Or consider Brazil, where there is now an experimental computer lab smack in the middle of the Parliament’s committee rooms. There, official staff hackers throw together apps and games and data visualizations to help Brazilians -- and the members of Parliament -- understand the legislative process.Today on the DecodeDC weekly podcast, we explore these forward-looking examples of legislative innovation, and ask the question of our own lawmakers here in Washington, DC: What’s the future of Congress?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

22mins

8 May 2014

Rank #12

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169: What can President Trump do Day 1?

When Donald Trump is sworn in as President of the United States on January 20, 2017, the clock starts ticking on his political agenda. Trump's goals for his first 100 days in office include repealing and replacing Obamacare, deporting criminal undocumented immigrants and banning people from terror-prone countries from entering the U.S.Can he really do all these things? On the latest DecodeDC podcast we try to answer that question, and figure out what President Trump can do on his own and what he'll need help with.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

36mins

17 Nov 2016

Rank #13

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96: Revisiting Populism's Popularity

The number keeps growing but at the moment there are 22 noble or nutty (you pick) souls running for president – and the election is still 16 months away.One of them, Bernie Sanders, says he is a socialist, whatever that means in 2015 America. Sanders certainly does, however, fit in to the great American populist tradition, so we thought this would be the perfect time to rerun our podcast on the origins of populism.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

17mins

9 Jul 2015

Rank #14

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Andrea Seabrook is a 2012 SoundCloud Fellow

A short introduction to my project!See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

23 Aug 2012

Rank #15

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203: What you should know about Trump's voter fraud commission

President Trump believes he would have won the popular vote -- if it weren't for the 3 million people that voted illegally. Even though there's no evidence to support his claim, he put together a commission to look into the issue, and their first meeting is today. They've already been pretty active, asking for voter data from all 50 states. But what exactly is going on with this commission, and what can we expect?See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

30mins

19 Jul 2017

Rank #16

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73: Inside House of Cards 1

February has been a brutal month for most of us – snow and cold and ice and kids home from school and trips cancelled. Perhaps the only thing that redeems this month is the release of season three of “House of Cards” on Feb. 27.Perhaps it is our fascination with the dysfunction of Washington that makes the Netflix drama so irresistible. Perhaps it’s the fact that the series takes you where no journalist is allowed to go - into the fantastical and not so fantastical political wheeling and dealing going on all around us – with a large dose of dramatic license.Where exactly is that line between truth, fiction and Washington politics? That’s the question we try to answer with a special series of podcasts – that’s right, it is “House of Cards” week on DecodeDC. Whether you are a series fan or just want to get the inside scoop on the dirtiest deeds of politicians, journalists and the political operatives that occupy Washington, you will definitely want to listen.Spoiler alert – we’re going to talk about things that happened in seasons one and two.In case you missed the first two seasons – here are the essentials.Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, has wheedled and schemed his way from Congress to the vice presidency to the Oval Office. Together with his equally conniving wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright, they knock down every conceivable barrier, using any means necessary, in their quest for power. Along the way there’s murder, blackmail, a risque assortment of sexual forays, a crazy trade deal with China, a lot of seduction and deception. Those on the Underwoods’ side are rewarded, those obstructing their path are mowed down. Where do these people come up with these plots? We go to the sources for the answer.In episode one of “Inside House of Cards,” we take you into the writers room. Staff writer Bill Kennedy explains the narrative and the relationships and the key scenes that define seasons one and two.Journalism takes a shellacking in the series and in our second episode, we speak with Matt Bai, formally a political reporter at The New York Times Magazine. Bai plays a political reporter for The New York Times in season two and says the series gets at some essential truths about Washington and journalism.In episode three, we enter the world of Capitol-Hill-staffer-turned-lobbyist. Jimmy Williams has led the real life of one of the fictional characters in the series, Remy Danton. Williams says the life of a lobbyist is about one thing, raising money for members of Congress.House of Cards has a lot of nasty people, but some of the nastiest are female reporters. In episode four, we talk to two real-life women journalists who cover Washington -- Pam Kirkland of the Washington Post, the paper fictionalized in "House of Cards", and Carrie Wells of the Baltimore Sun, stand-in and real life set for the imagined "Washington Herald."In our fifth and final episode, we speak with Beau Willimon, the man behind the series. Willimon adapted the British version of “House of Cards” for the American audience and runs the show. A former campaign staffer, Willimon knows how the system works from the inside out, and as playwright he knows how to do drama.Download the DecodeDC's "Inside House of Cards" special series starting today and all next week – or, you can just binge listen to them all before the 27th!See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

33mins

19 Feb 2015

Rank #17

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74: Inside House of Cards 2

In the second installment of our DecodeDC special series, “Inside House of Cards,” we go into the world of journalism and politics.Our guide, Matt Bai, spent years as a Washington political reporter for The New York Times Magazine and is now a political columnist for Yahoo News. He has a particularly interesting perspective on how “House of Cards” depicts his profession, because Bai plays himself in several episodes of the second season of the series.While Bai thinks journalism in “House of Cards” is much darker than what really happens in Washington, D.C., he says there still is a lot that rings true. Frank Underwood and other characters are more transactional than real politicians, Bai says, but the series represents some essential truths about how the public sees Washington politics.“Sadly the thing that ‘House of Cards’ gets at is that everybody is about themselves, everybody is trying to game the system to their own advantage” Bai says. “There’s virtually no one for whom the end game is the actual enactment of policy.”See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

25mins

23 Feb 2015

Rank #18

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Episode 38: Why hardball tactics have led to the most polarized Congress ever

Pop Quiz: Which was the most polarized time in American history?The Civil War? Prohibition? The Civil Rights Movement?Nope, no, and nyet. Well, if you gauge by the House and Senate, that is.Political Science professor Sean Theriault tells us that, though the American public has been extremely divided at times over the course of the nation’s history, today’s Congress is more polarized than any before it. Despite the fact that the public is much less so.Theriault teaches and conducts his research at the University of Texas at Austin, and says that unlike in the past, the current polarization in the House and Senate has little to do with big societal issues, or sea-changes in American culture. The fighting is about something much smaller, more arcane, and frankly, boring: congressional procedure.The fight, says Theriault, has become “not about the issues but about the war.”This week on DecodeDC’s podcast, Theriault explains why procedure, and not big issues, are dividing Congress. It’s because of the permanent campaign, he says, bringing hard-ball politics into an institution that used to rely on a basic level of compromise to conduct the day-in, day-out operations of the House and Senate. This is the biggest driver, he says, of the years of gridlock Americans have seen in Washington.If that makes you angry, says Theriault, don’t blame Congress. Why? Because we elected them.Earlier this week, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor’s historic primary election loss -- the first and only time in America’s history a top GOP leader has lost his primary to a challenger -- provided a perfect example of how divisive hard-ball politics have become. In recent years Cantor had been a major player in those tactics.Unfortunately for him, another Republican in his district picked them up too -- and used them against him.Amarra Ghanni contributed to this post.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

24mins

12 Jun 2014

Rank #19

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178: Hey Tea Party, meet your lefty cousins

After this election, some on the left are feeling pretty powerless - but Angel Padilla isn't. He got together with 30 other former congressional staffers to put together a concrete guide on how to resist President Trump's policies, and they borrowed all their knowledge from an unlikely source--The Tea Party. It's called Indivisible, and in this episode, Jimmy gets to the bottom of how it might work.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

31mins

26 Jan 2017

Rank #20