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tv   Justice Clarence Thomas Discusses Racial Inequality The Supreme Court  CSPAN  May 16, 2022 12:13pm-1:17pm EDT

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midco. ♪ >> midco supports c-span as a public service along with these other television providers. giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> supreme court justice kphraeurpbs thomas says the recent leak of a draft supreme court upon overturning roe vs. wade has changed the high court. but that the draft does not represent the final position of any of the justices. he made the remarks at an event hosted by the aeld parkland conference. a group that meets to discuss the challenges facing black americans a group that meets to s
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the challenges facing black americans. >> good evening, everybody. my name is john you -- the only thing i have done of note is that i clerked for justice clarence thomas. i don't talk about memos anymore, john. >> it is my pleasure to introduce the justice and let you know that we have had a change in the format. the justice has said that he would rather have a discussion with all of us for the next
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hour. i will have questions for the first half, and then i will take questions from the audience in the second half. president robert door is here -- and from the manhattan institute, i want to thank you for joining us this evening. all of us want to thank harlan crow and his family. [applause] >> i know harlan hates that. >> i would like to keep that friendship. [laughter] >> it's going to be that kind of evening. >> you are used to being thrown under the bus. [laughter] >> you are a very good bus driver. which we will get to.
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[laughter] >> went to holy cross for college, gail law school, you then became an aide in the senate. [laughter] >> he became an official at the education department in the early years of the reagan administration, from then he became chairman of the -- and then first president bush appointed him to the u.s. court of appeals for the deceased. the same court on which judge brown served. and then in 1991 justice comments -- justice thomas joined the supreme court at the age of 42, who is counting.
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[laughter] [applause] [laughter] [applause] >> as a means of introduction before i asked the first question, i was trying to think of what defines your tenure on the court. some would say you are interpreting the constitution based on the understanding of those who drafted and ratified it. some say you are most likely to sate the emperor has no close -- clothes. you are the one that brings it back to reality. what was meaningful for many people here, was the way you ended your speech for the national bar association. >> that was a long time ago.
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>> for those that don't know, this is a black bar bench, -- >> the controversy follows me around. >> you said to them, at the end of your speech, you said i have come here today not in anger, but my mere present -- presence seems to have angered some. i refused to have my ideas assigned to me as if i were an intellectual slave because i am black. i have come to assert that i am a judge and i will not be confined -- to the unquestioned
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opinion of others. [applause] we will get to questions. i'm going to stop buttering you up. you showed me the importance of ideas, more than anything else. your influence has come because of what you have written on the page. i think over time, you have persuaded your colleagues. opinions, 30 years ago, i had no idea why you are doing it. and now, it took 30 years. -- >> you are -- you were young then. [laughter] >> first question, is there anything going on at the court
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these days? [laughter] >> the next time they have an opinion, can they just give it to me? in seriousness, what has come out of this conference is the importance of institutions. institutions are under attack these days. i wondered if you wanted to comment on the leaks, the protest at justices homes -- and the draft opinion. >> it is hard to believe that more than 40 years have passed since i was at the fairmount conference. i was no more enthusiastic about that, then i am about this one. it started off with a electric
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speech by len barry, and it continued with thoughtfulness. that was all we ever wanted. not to replace one orthodoxy with another orthodoxy. rather, to assume that people are able to think for themselves, to have different ideas because they are unique. to exchange different perspectives, and have others either agree with them or sharpen their disagreements. but to have a civil discussion. that is all. that is why it was called the new alternatives. it was an alternative to what we would saw -- what we saw in civil society, it was not
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treated that way. we were treated very shabbily after that. the whole idea to your point about institutions, i think we are in danger of destroying the institutions that are required for a free society. you cannot have a civil society, a free society, without a stable legal system. you cannot have one without stability in things like property, interpretation, and impartial due dictionary -- judiciary. the institution that i am a part of, if someone had said one line
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of any opinion would be leaked by anyone, you would say that is impossible. no one would do that. there is such a belief in the rule of law, the rule of court, the rule of what we believed we were doing. that was forbidden. it was beyond anyone's understanding, or imagination that someone would do that. look where we are. we are thrust to where that belief is gone forever. when you lose that trust, especially in the institution that i am in, it changes the institution fundamentally. it is like an infidelity, you can explain it but you cannot undo it. i think you are seeing it go through any number of art institutions -- of our ins --
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our political institutions. when i was going to college, it was a place where you are not so well-informed, but you debated all night. >> just like the supreme court? [laughter] >> no. [laughter] >>
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to me at the epicenter of free speech, when i was at the university, that is where you learn how to gauge -- engage with people, deal with ideas with which you are not familiar or with which you disagree.
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we called them rap sessions back then. how many of you can take a view on this campus and of course, you have a lot of people staring up. how many of you can take an opposite position on this campus, and people are staring at the floor. this is where you learn how to deal with things that are different. law schools are just as bad now. [laughter]
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yelp does not recognize me. >> neither. [laughter] >> they protested a group made it very difficult for others to come. gail, when i was there was different. [laughter] it was anything goes. you do your thing, i'll do mine think. it certainly was not prior restraint and censorship. and here we are with that is acceptable that one of the elite universities and pretty much all of them. if we are there with these institutions how do we conquer? i do think that what happened at the court is tremendously bad.
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i wonder how long we are going to have with these institutions at the rate we are undermining them. i wonder when they are gone what we will have very country. i don't think the prospects will be good if we continue to lose them. >> and i can't speak much more about the court, of your talk about how you got to that conference in 1980. they heard a story by a reporter, the big-name of the story -- at the beginning of the story he said he met with clarence thomas.
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this is good to be here, someone might have needed me for a change. [laughter] >> could not have cared less. [laughter] egg her up at a time -- i liked where i grew up. like where i grew up, how i grew up. you had segregation which was not good but i was in the stable neighborhood. my grandparents had no education. grandfather nine months, grandmother six years.
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they believed in education frost. they were religious. my grandmother was baptist. he went to church on sunday, we rode all over town on your bike. these kids riding all over savannah. you had your army backpack and you walk everyday, kids walk to school at that age now? i would be walking by myself in the dark. my biggest fear was stray dogs, which there were a lot of back. i liked it. when i got up north, suddenly are taking sociology in you are
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told that you were alienated, i was not alienated from anybody. i liked my life. the most is suddenly we're supposed to convert to the past as we only thought of as part of a pass into this negative path. i cannot do that. i could not disavow my grandparents, the education i had. all of the input i was getting up north, it was bad. i was very angry about the race issues, it was a bad combination. i was really angry. we tried to burn the square down. [laughter] you could see how angry we were.
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those the stupid thing to do but i was are a stupid age and very upset about race. us having to negate the lives we had previously in order to support the prevailing ideology is very difficult. i finish law school and could not get the job georgia. i have a lot of regents to be mad at a lot of people. i got a job, people were honest, finally. i started to reconcile with what people were saying and what i knew. but they were saying about the world in the world actually knew
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, that i grew up in and the experiences i had. a friend of mine who knew about this, he calls me up and he says, clarence i am reading this review there is another black guy like you is name is thomas. it is a review of his book " race and economics." i'll bring it over tomorrow and i said no, i'll come get it now. i've are, read it. there was, finally somebody was
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telling the truth. only to st. louis in 1976, 1978. they mention the sky would be at washington university law school where he would be on a panel with ruth bader ginsburg. eiko and i followed the poor man around. internal read it i was stalking him. -- he was trying to read and i was stalking him. he started my book. -- he signed my books. we would talk.
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he took my number and i took his you might as well have just burned it, his phone number. you are not going to get him. he calls me, he took that number and he calls me and that is how it started. the started a friendship from the late 1970's, 1980's to the present. we had no organization.
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then, who am i thinking of? leaf water, he kept it going, a great guy. the negative was overwhelming. one of the things we hoped would come out was that we did not have that sense of failure. there has to be more than that or you will be here 40 years should now telling people that 40 years ago you had a conference and nothing came of it. that is generations, fourscore. >> you have been going to all the panels. >> yes. i missed one because they're talking about the court case. >> seems like you're back in high school again, taking notes,
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arguing with people. [laughter] you seem excited -- as excited now as you worry is ago. what is different on these panels is what you're thinking about studying for years ago or the last time? >> fortunately, unfortunately it is the same story, different day. it is probably further down the road.
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professors warned about single-parent household and the damage that it was continued and it has. we deal with poverty and the pathologies that go from that. i think it is a lot of the same and there was one point reiterated that we may not have cause this problem on her own but we have to be the ones to lead us out of it. that's something i've known my life and there's a point that i have made at another conference. this conference is a lot better organized than ours was. [laughter]
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i love the panels, the discussion, the in-depth attitude. the insight for me is very important. things just like being free. nero view of my book and said i was the freest black man in america and i thought that was one of the best essays written about me and one of the few that i actually read. [laughter] point was -- i tickets her heart -- i felt as though i had company. i felt like i wasn't crazy. and now, i know i am not.
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people assume i have had difficulties with them around members of my race. i have never had issues with members of my race. went to the university of georgia several years ago the people got upset and then three years ago you would think we all grip in the same neighborhood. -- none three hours later, you would think we all grew up in the same neighborhood. explain to me, after three hours one thing you heard they found objectionable.
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the answer was nothing. asked about all the people putting out negative stuff, what is it they do not want you to hear to know? that is where they started to take it. all the discussions about police, i don't have that data. they're not just censoring you, they don't want others to hear what you have to say. if they do hear it, they don't want you to believe that. they give you negativity and challenges to provide you from getting to their ears. most interesting thing i've heard, i thought you were
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someone else. 's nose in it limit giving a speech this tall like a gentleman came up to me with tears streaming down his face and he said why are they lying about you? we knew that i wasn't about me, it was the people who need about asher need to hear about that part of life. -- it was about the people who need to hear about that part of life. he is telling. is what they are saying, here is reality.
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[indiscernible] there is this one short essay, live not by lies. that is a different version of tell the truth. live not by lies. i think we allow people to force us to live by their lies. -- were talking about the false premises. this is taking nothing away from the time i spent there. you don't repeat lies, you don't
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tell other people things they you know are untrue. you don't give it wings, you do not give a life. you end it. that is what got us in trouble. that was a recent opinion. i was interested to see in how we feel want it known that all editions more agitated for a crackdown on crack cocaine. it was a crisis. they wanted higher penalties. i'm not saying it is right or wrong. people want to reconfigure the
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fact to fit the narrative. that is a lie. you can say, i am sorry i supported 20, 30 years ago. we do not lie about it. think we are living by many lies and many lies are being told. 's the beauty of him, i think he is a great man. [applause] this conference is one thing he wanted to happen. he is not where he was in that film that you saw. having spent many hours with
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him, he is a man that does not live. he does not want awards, he wants the truth. he wants people that he cares about to prosper. 's you don't see him in fancy this or fancy that. 's's he wants this country and people who look like him to prosper. he wants 13 of the truth. in addition with what you have done with this conference is to
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not live by lies and not to tolerate it when you know it is not true. there are things we know are not true and we do not stand up to stop them and they get wings and lives of their own. live not by lies. if the court, that is where i get into trouble. i have deviated from time to time from where the court is going. >> a lot of that policy does not involve it, the court will not repair it.
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there were not let people take personal responsibility for their actions. >> not yet. [laughter] >> i just want to say, i think you have tried to carry some of these ideas to years ago. i just want to read a quote that i find particularly striking. you quoted frederick douglass if he cannot stand on his own rights, let him fall, all i ask is give him a chance, let him alone. 's -- without the meddling of
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university administrators heard -- administrators. >> i said that? >> yes you did. [laughter] >> they are telling us what we need. they are giving some really good insights. they are not allowing us to excel. i am blessed that i was part of a challenging high school and allowed to excel. once you excel in those challenges, you build confidence. they had fairly strict grading
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rules. then we were having lunch and he said, clarence, to realize you got higher than i did and i said, yes. i think, unfortunately, that is what they're doing. they are taking away a chance to excel by changing the rules. i was fortunate in high school, the only black kid, the only one of my class to excel in that environment. that means that subsequent challenges are done with much more confidence. i think that these administrators, these people with these grand schemes are coming up with something that they want.
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years ago i asked this guy in admissions if you would do to his own kids was being done with black kids and he said no. that is why -- if you would not do it to your own kids. there's nothing i advocate that i would not do for my own son. i would never do to others what i would not use my own. some of these people, they live two-faced. they will do to your kids one thing into yours another. they live their lives a certain way and then they tell other
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people not to follow them. i just think that that is the point. >> i'm sorry i went so long with my questions but it was really your answers still went on too long. [laughter] just imagine if it was four of us? >> and three of them from yale. [laughter] >> a lot professor -- a law professor privilege, i will cut you off if you are giving a speech. if no one has a question i will call randomly -- no, make fun of you for getting things wrong. she rate over here. -- right over here.
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>> it is tough for me to be brief. jack was my father, never brief. justice thomas, -- look out, the problem of the world, i am. is the misunderstanding of human nature in our country one of the top problems today it needs to be addressed and, if so, what can we do about it? >> i do not know. we have a lot of misunderstandings about a lot of things. i have not thought about that. >> someone on the side, alloy from the back.
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-- all the way from the back. >> i don't have a question but you told me that i could say this when we met on the bus earlier. [laughter] >> i do not remember. [laughter] >> justice thomas, i just want to say thank you for achieving and giving us no excuses. you made it to the highest score in the land and there were to say thank you to all the men that are in the race today. its at thing traditional men and masculinity have been demonized so much that in so many areas, men have checked out. i want to say thank you for taking a stand. [applause] >> that was not what he said you were going to say on the bus. [laughter]
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>> there might be someone over here. >> over here. yes. >> thank you for being here. my question is, how do you view the pipeline of legal talent that is coming to the system today? it is -- is it a problem that we don't have enough people like you or is the pipeline strong? >> i think it is stronger than you think it is. i think we are running the risk of inoculating a lot of kids against the nonsense. we are inundated with talent. there is a young woman that i interviewed she walks into my
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office -- we have a long hiring process in our law firm -- she comes into my office after many rounds of screening, it was the first time i realized that she was black. it was so irrelevant in our process that no one had bothered to mention that she was black. when she was told that, what you think she felt? she was delighted because she knew that that played no role in her achievement. that her achievements were hers. craziness in the law schools are waking a lot of these kids up.
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you have to see that in the future we are not going to put up with this nonsense. >> professional interviewer. in other quotation -- [laughter] it is a job of liberals to make mistakes in the job of conservatives to keep the mistakes from being corrected. [laughter] does that strike you as a good working definition? [laughter] >> i have no idea. he was a brilliant guy that you are quoting. there was a word that was used today that was really interesting. it is coverage.
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all it takes is guts. all of people like -- a lot of people like courage, they know what is right and they are scared of doing it and then they come with all these excuses to not do it. you will see in a lot of those instances, people run out of these arguments. now, they are just waving the white flag. if you have an argument, make it. when you raise that with them, they want to give you pause. [laughter] >> right here.
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>> justice thomas, we know there are ideological differences on the court. we also hear that beside the politics or issues, they get along well. we hear ruth bader ginsburg ensco leah often enjoyed opera. how can we have that same relationship between congress and the general population? >> i am just worried about keeping it at the court right now. [laughter] this is not the court. i sat with ruth bader ginsburg and she was a good colleague for me. you knew where she was dealing with.
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sometimes they would forget their agitated. the 11th there was a fabulous court. the last four appointees of the courts, include the newest ones. >> i am available, by the way. [laughter] >> you have some confirmations. [laughter] you know you do. [laughter] i think, that general attitude is your future on the bench. you need to be concerned about
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that. we never had that before. we may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family. you trusted each other, laughed with each other, went to lunch with each other. >> what has changed? what has changed between that court and the current one? >> what has changed in society, attitudes have changed. when i got to the court, he still had world war ii veterans on the court, people like john stevens, byron white who was a rhodes scholar when rhodes scholars were real athletes.
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you had sandra day o'connor. that is a different generation. she we were lipping on the treasures of that generation. that generation is gone. and the only member of the court to be born in the 1940's, everyone else is more present. when i got to court they were born in 1930's and 1920's and now we are dealing with the post-world war ii generation. so, what is the difference? people who grew up in a different era. i don't know where this one will lead you but we know it is different.
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>> yes, you. >> i would like to ask you about your autobiography. i taught it my undergraduate classroom. i wanted know, how did you feel about how the book was received, would you consider writing a sequel? 3, why did you write the book? >> 1 was what? >> how the book was received? >> it was well received. i think they could have sold more if they knew that will received. it debuted number one. "the new york times" had to do a booker port -- had to do a book
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review in a rush. >> would you consider writing a sequel? >> only if i am convicted of committing heinous crime. [laughter] >> why did you write it? >> why? justice scalia told me to. [laughter] for the reasons i stated in the introduction, there were a lot of people lying about where -- it was bad. they made up a biography. it had nothing to do with reality.
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she it was really to honor people first. my grandparents. miss mariah, gladys. all the people who were there who provided that foundation in our life. when my grandparents died, i said i would live the rest of my life as a memorial to them. i thought that that memorial has been desecrated. she those who are closest to me,
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they wanted me to defend them. not me, but those people in that way of life. the second reason was, there were a lot of people, just ordinary people. i just wanted to show them that we all have those struggles. that is what i said in the introduction. to show the uncertainties, the fragility, the problems and how you got over them. all is not lost. one of the big moments for me was, we were in omaha and a gentleman -- they had oversubscribed and i stayed there for hours signing books -- this gentleman came up and the end and he said he had driven in
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from eastern iowa and here driven like six hours. he wanted to shake my hand and the tears in his eyes and he said my grandparents raised me to. there was a lady in atlanta, she was vietnamese, very strong accent, she had the book, tears coming down and she said my story, my story, my story. that is why i wrote it. she those who make it possible to honor them and those who felt like they struggled in the same way. [applause] >> perhaps the solution for the sequel is set apparently the
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first draft was much longer. [laughter] >> it is bad. >> maybe you will reconsider publishing that original draft. >> i wish she would reflect on -- you would reflect on data points in the struggle. 60% supported your nomination and they flooded the offices demanding that you be it. davenport said, if we ever get a chance to do to that side what they have done to us, we should not do it. >> and we have never done it. >> we have never done it.
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>> we have never visited supreme court justice houses and things go our way. [applause] i would let it. all the people that showed up. the regular people showed up. it was always us against the elite. that is the way it has been for 40 plus years. us against the elite. warner of the things you will see in my opinions is that i never go after anybody personally.
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we are to conduct ourselves better than they conduct themselves. >> we will come to the side of the room. >> it really is good to beat me. [laughter] -- to be me. [laughter] >> are conservatives living up to that mantra?
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the issues that are deciding america's political disputes, the lack of civility. >> i think everybody, you can talk about every generalization. they have never trashed a supreme court nominee. he did not get a hearing but he was not trashed. it was a rule that joe biden ruled. that was not the rule before. i'm sure you could quibble, but
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you will not see the other destruction of nominees. you will not see people going to other people's houses, attacking them at dinner, throwing things on them. they didn't realize who it was. there were throwing stuff on the car and you hear very little of that. they were banging on the doors. the air very little of that, it is underreported. i don't think i can tell you that everybody has been perfect. i have not seen anything like that, if you did i stand corrected. >> one more.
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>> thank you for being here. you aren't the greatest leading american intellectual in my opinion. [applause] in the spirit of exceptions, what was your favorite memory as a student at yale? this [laughter] >> that comment about greatest intellectual, there is no way. greatest, it was my graduation [laughter] it was like, i am out of here. if someone asked me where i enjoyed in grammar school, it was recess. [laughter] graduation, i got out of there. [laughter] low was not a gale -- a yale-y.
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i am from georgia, regular stock, regular people. i did not quite fit in. the good things about it was that it was a measure for me. i could see how far i had gone and how far i needed to go. my last check, i could not find a job. i said, you will always remember me, i am the termite in your basement. [laughter] i will be there. that is where have been. they can go and have spring break, backpack through europe, i am that termite, working away. [laughter] [applause] thank you.
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[applause] [indistinct chatter] >> this afternoon, connecticut senator chris murphy joins the american security project to discuss the war between russia and ukraine. you can watch that live starting at 2:00 p.m. eastern on c-span2. also available online at or you can watch full coverage on c-span now, our free video app. >> there are a lot of places to get political information. but only at c-span do you get it straight from the source. no matter where you're from or where you stand on the issues, c-span is america's network.
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unfiltered, unbiased, word for word. if it happens here or here or here or anywhere that matters, america is watching on c-span. powered by cable. >> "washington" continues. host: is a busy week gets underway, we like to get a preview of what may happen on capitol hill and the other end. joining us is marianna sotomayor sotomayor and morgan chalfant . thank you for being here. we talked about the shooting in buffalo and we will ask both of you how events like that sidetracked the things that the leaders in the house and senate want to get done in the busy


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