The following are remarks as prepared for CITIZEN by CNN, a forum for discussing the challenges facing Americans today:
“Thank you, Jeff. And thank you to CNN for organizing the CITIZEN Conference.
“Today you’ve heard from Democrats, Republicans, and independents. And now you’re going to hear from someone who’s actually been a Democrat, Republican, and independent.
“I’ve never been a partisan guy. But I recently switched my registration from independent to Democratic, because I believe that our democracy is being threatened in ways our country has not seen in a very long time.
“At key points in U.S. history, one of the two parties has served as a bulwark against those who threaten our Constitution. So I have re-registered as a Democrat, because it’s up to Democrats to provide the checks and balances our nation so badly needs.
“But even as I support Democrats this fall, I will always believe something that I’ve said many times: No party has a monopoly on good ideas. Both sides can learn from each other—if we are willing to listen to one another, and follow facts and data, and respect science. Unfortunately, none of that is happening right now in Washington, and the majority party has refused to accept responsibility.
“You know, one of my political heroes, Harry Truman, kept a sign on his desk that read: The buck stops here. In other words: Even though he wasn’t to blame for every problem, he took responsibility for every problem. To me, that’s what leadership is all about. We need more Harry Trumans in Washington. People who will take responsibility for the fact that we elected them to solve problems. Not to point fingers. Not to scapegoat outsiders. To get things done.
“In recent years, Republicans in Congress have ducked just about every major challenge we face: Stagnating wages; the lack of good-paying jobs; failing schools; growing numbers
of Americans without health insurance; out of control gun violence; climate change; a broken immigration system; and the list goes on and on and on.
“Yes, they passed a tax cut last year. But most of the money went to people like me who don’t need it, instead of to things that we do need, like infrastructure.
“Now, on all of the issues I just mentioned, we can disagree on what the exact best policies should be. But it’s the job of leadership to work across the aisle to find common ground. And that’s not happening right now. Instead, we have a president who acts like he’s the leader of a party, instead of the leader of a nation.
“So whoever you vote for this November, I believe we have to send a message: That we expect leaders to unite us, not divide us, and we’re going to start holding them accountable for solving problems.
“But whatever happens on Election Day, here’s the good news: Despite the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington, we are seeing some progress on important issues—thanks to cities, states, communities, and businesses.
“Take climate change. When the White House said it would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, hundreds of cities and towns—along with businesses, universities, and state legislatures—came together, and they said: “We are still in.”
“Governor Jerry Brown and I have brought them all together under one banner, which we call “America’s Pledge.” To put the size of our group in perspective: It represents more than half the total U.S. population. If we were a country, we would have the world’s third-largest economy. And we are determined to fulfill America’s commitment under the Paris Agreement, no matter what happens in Washington.
“I believe we can do it. Just look at the data: Over the last ten years, thanks to actions by cities, states, and businesses, we have cut carbon emissions more than any other nation. And despite all the talk by this administration about bringing back coal-fired power plants, those plants have continued to close at about the same rate as they did under the Obama administration.
“The reason is simple: The American people want cheaper energy and cleaner air, and the marketplace is delivering. I’ll give you one example: Georgetown, Texas. It’s a city in central Texas, with about 70,000 people, and it is the first city in America that is running on nearly 100 percent clean energy. And I should point out: The mayor is a Republican—which goes to show that clean energy really can be a bipartisan issue.
“Georgetown was the first city to go to 100 percent clean energy, but it won’t be the last. Dozens of other cities are now working to meet that goal, and they are taking many other actions that save people money, clean their air, and promote economic growth.
“Now, that doesn’t mean we should let Washington off the hook. No way! But it shows how local and state governments are leading where Washington won’t—and not just on climate change.
“Gun violence is another good example. It seems like every day, there’s another mass shooting—at a church, at a concert, at a school, at a mall. What has Congress done? Nothing. It’s an outrage! And we can’t let it stand.
“I was in Parkland, Florida, two weeks ago, where 17 students and faculty were gunned down earlier this year. I spoke with students and parents who are turning their grief into action by getting involved in this year’s elections. They’ve inspired people all over the country to join them, and to support Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action.
“Recently, I’ve met with some of those moms in Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. They are taking on the NRA in their own communities—and they are winning.
“The NRA and their puppets in Congress ought to be worried. Very worried.
“Polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks for gun sales. And that’s why eleven states have adopted or expanded background checks over the past five years. This year alone, 20 states have enacted stronger laws that are saving lives.
“So we really are making progress. But wouldn’t it be nice if Washington actually worked with us, not against us? Imagine how much progress we could make if Washington were on our side! Not just on gun violence, but also on climate change and every other issue. We need our elected officials in Washington to stop playing politics and start leading!
“Now, I know this isn’t a partisan event—and I appreciate that. But it is a citizen event. And one of the fundamental responsibilities of citizenship is voting. So let me close the event by urging everyone watching to exercise your civic duty—and vote.
“It’s our chance to tell Washington to start paying attention to what’s happening in our towns and cities, and start working across the aisle to get things done. If we do that, if we send that message, then we can begin moving past all this nasty partisanship and division, and we can start becoming the UNITED States of America once again.