Preet Bharara: Secretary Castro. Thanks so much for being on the show.
Julián Castro: Thanks a lot for having me. Good to be with you.
Preet Bharara: I know you’re very busy, like your colleagues who are all trying to become the next commander in chief, so I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. Can I ask you? How do I know that this is Julián Castro and not your identical twin brother Joaquin Castro? It’s easier for you to pull off because I should tell the listeners you’re remote. You’re in San Antonio and I’m in New York.
Julián Castro: That is a good question. If we were here, he would say that I’m a minute uglier than he is. But you can’t see us, we actually sound pretty similar. If you knew us well, you could probably tell us apart.
Preet Bharara: Have you used him to amplify your ability to be in different places?
Julián Castro: Not yet. Although I am using him in the campaign. He’s the campaign chairman.
Preet Bharara: But does he identify himself as Joaquin or-
Julián Castro: Oh, of course. Yeah.
Preet Bharara: I wonder, is that an FEC violation?
Julián Castro: This is the edge of FEC law here. That probably would be.
Preet Bharara: I think Bill Barr would say it’s fine.
Julián Castro: Yeah. I’m proud of the work that Joaquin is doing. You may have seen the other day for instance, he led a congressional delegation to the Clint Detention Facility in El Paso.
Preet Bharara: I did, yes.
Julián Castro: He caught that video of showing what’s happening in there. But I try and take his time and attention as much as I can to help out with the campaign.
Preet Bharara: Is he your closest adviser?
Julián Castro: For sure, and throughout my life he’s been my closest friend and in politics it’s rare that you have a sibling and somebody who is your best friend who is doing the same thing that you do. And so it’s wonderful to have somebody that understands politics and can commiserate with me when we see a poll that we may not like or you think about the road ahead. That’s been how it’s been throughout my life. My brother and I grew up sleeping on bunk beds and we went to college together, went to law school together, had our own-
Preet Bharara: Went to the same law firm actually.
Julián Castro: Yeah, went home to the same law firm.
Preet Bharara: Some other identical twins that I had known over my lifetime, they make it a point to go elsewhere, to go to different schools. You decided to be in the same place, has that been of help?
Julián Castro: Yeah, I couldn’t get rid of him. That’s why.
Preet Bharara: What game of chance did you play to determine which of the two of you would run for president?
Julián Castro: Well, I am one minute older, Preet.
Preet Bharara: I see.
Julián Castro: My choice first. No, I went into politics right when I got back from law school and started working at a law firm and then he went in about a year, a year and a half later. But his career, he is focused on being a legislator. He was in the Texas House of Representatives for 10 years and now he’s been in Congress three terms. This is his fourth term. Whereas I went into the San Antonio City Council and then I was mayor and then I was a cabinet secretary. And so my background, my experience is more an executive experience and his is more legislative experience.
Preet Bharara: And you think people with legislative experience would make less good president?
Julián Castro: Well I think that executive experience counts for something, for sure. That’s one of the points that I make when I get out there in front of these crowds.
Preet Bharara: I ask you a question that you’ve been asked before, and give you another chance to answer it? What is your favorite comfort food?
Julián Castro: Yeah. I got so much flack for this. I said ice tea was my favorite comfort food.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, you did.
Julián Castro: I should’ve just said-
Preet Bharara: You said ice tea was your favorite comfort food.
Julián Castro: That’s right, because I’m taking it literally. I look for my iced tea the way that somebody looks for their coffee.
Preet Bharara: Do you understand that iced tea is not food? Whether it gives you comfort or not.
Julián Castro: Well, we’re stretching the definition of food here. I should’ve just said something like cheese enchiladas or something. This Tex-Mex food that we have in San Antonio, which is also true.
Preet Bharara: I was going to give you an out. You could say that you misunderstood the question. You thought you were being asked, “Who is your favorite rapper from the 80s?”
Julián Castro: That could’ve worked. That could have worked.
Preet Bharara: I think you need better crisis management people.
Julián Castro: No, I will say it’s always these lightning round little questions like that that… I don’t mind the policy questions and everything, it’s these little… Basically they say perform in two seconds. Like give us a perfect answer in two seconds. I’d rather not.
Preet Bharara: Okay. So speaking of perform in two seconds, you mentioned at the outset of your debate, I watched every minute of both evenings of debate and I thought you did extremely well. I tweeted about it and other people noticed as well. Before we get to why you did or did not do well, is that a silly exercise having 10 people on stage on two different nights?
Julián Castro: I see it as something to build on. That’s definitely not the primary way that a voter should get his or her information because it’s so artificial. You got one minute for answers, you got 45 seconds for closing statement. As many issues as there are out there that are important to the lives of people, you only get to like six or seven of them during the course of two hours.
Julián Castro: So it’s something to build upon and go and get more information from if you like a candidate. It’s definitely not something that you should make your determination on in terms of who you’re going to support just based on that.
Preet Bharara: How did you prepare for it? Did you have prepared points? And you obviously came in there knowing you’re going to talk about immigration. It seemed like you went in there knowing that you would respond very directly to the other Texan in the race, Congressman Beto O’Rourke. How much of that is prepared and how much of that is spontaneous and how much should be spontaneous?
Julián Castro: Well, I mean we did prepare and mostly I was prepared because you know there are certain issues that are going to come up. You know immigration’s going to come up, you know, health care is going to come up. So we could prepare for that. The other thing that you have to prepare for is there are nine other people on the stage and you only have two hours. That means that you have to be willing to fight for your time. And I was concerned going in that the moderators might not hold people to their one minute. And this sounds very low level and just small, but the worst nightmare for a candidate is that you get 22 minutes into that debate and you still haven’t really spoken. And you go through the whole debate and people really didn’t hear from you.
Julián Castro: I mean look what happened to Andrew Yang in the second night. I think he sent out a tweet or something almost apologizing to his supporters for not having more time.
Preet Bharara: Let Andrew speak, I think.
Julián Castro: Yeah. But that happens in part because of the number of questions that are directed from moderators. It also happens because you need to be ready to jump in when you have an issue that you want to talk about and they’ve asked a question but not necessarily to you. So we practiced all of that.
Preet Bharara: You were prepared with respect to some of those issues you mentioned because you knew they were going to come up. Do you think Vice President Biden was unprepared to answer some of the questions and issues put to him by Kamala Harris about the statements he made about United States senators who maybe did not have good views on race?
Julián Castro: Well, I mean, I think, at least if I read correctly, I think he has said that he probably wasn’t as prepared as he could have been for that critique on the stage that night. I’m sure that he will be next time. But yeah…
Julián Castro: … on the stage that night. I’m sure that he will be next time. But yeah, we’re thinking through that for the second debate. You don’t know when you have nine other people on the stage, what’s going to come from what issue. You have to be ready not only to tell people what you’re about, but also defend your own record, and sometimes when you have a genuine disagreement with somebody, make the contrast clear. That’s what I did the other day. Congressman O’Rourke and I have a genuine policy disagreement about whether we should repeal this law that essentially allows the Trump administration to incarcerate these parents and separate them from their little children.
Preet Bharara: Are you in Beto O’Rourke friends?
Julián Castro: I think the word friend is overused in politics. We’re not super close.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Julián Castro: Everybody in Congress is my friend this and my friend that.
Preet Bharara: The Washington friend, yeah.
Julián Castro: I wouldn’t say we’re super close, but yeah, we’re friendly. My brother and I supported him, went on a road trip with him down in the Valley of Texas when he ran against Ted Cruz. I think that he’s a great guy. The disagreement that we have is not based on personality, it’s just based on a difference of opinion on that policy.
Preet Bharara: You’re the only Latino candidate on the democratic side. Correct?
Julián Castro: That’s right.
Preet Bharara: Do you find that odd, given that there are about 40,000 people running and you’re the only- Do you find that defendant dispiriting or do you find that is, is that good? Is that an advantage for you? Do you think about that at all?
Julián Castro: I mean, I think it’s disappointing because it’s taken a long time for that kind of representation to happen on the democratic side. Bill Richardson did run in 2008, and of course on the Republican side you had Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz that ran, so I’m not the first Latino to run by any means, but there’s still been too few given the number of Latinos and Latinas in the United States.
Preet Bharara: Do you think it’s good or odd that a number of your colleagues on the stage spoke sometimes at length to the audience in Spanish?
Julián Castro: I think on ballots it’s good. On ballots it’s good because, as I’ve said to different folks, in my mother’s generation, my grandmother’s generation, people were punished for speaking Spanish in school. Little kids were punished for doing that, and basically they’re trying to beat the Spanish out of you, and today we live in a country where kids like my daughter go to a bilingual program, Spanish and English, and so many other people, kids of different backgrounds study a second language in school. That’s celebrated as something that is good to be able to speak a second language, so on ballots I actually see that as progress, and it’s something that we can be proud of.
Preet Bharara: Right.
Julián Castro: Now, I know that some people say, “Well, look, is that pandering?” I think on ballots it’s a good thing.
Preet Bharara: Right. I don’t know if it’s any more pandering than anything else. And being inclusive and suggesting to folks that it’s okay to speak another language, especially my two cents as the interviewer, yeah, when you have an administration that’s making a lot of people feel like they are not welcome speaking Spanish, maybe a welcoming thing.
Julián Castro: For sure. And I think in the years to come that you’re going to have candidates up there that are going to be able to speak to constituencies of course in English, but also in different languages. That’s part of the beautiful progress of this country. We continue to write a story of this country of being more expansive when it comes to people of different backgrounds and offering more opportunity to everybody, so I see that as a marker of progress, and I said that in my closing statement. I started out with a line in Spanish, but said the fact that I can say that is a mark of the progress we’ve made.
Preet Bharara: But you’re not fluent in Spanish. How’s your Spanish coming along?
Julián Castro: So so. I understand it pretty well. Yeah, I’m not fluent in speaking of back, although as you can imagine these days I’m getting a lot more practice, so it’s getting better and better. It’s just taking on some of these policy conversations in Spanish is still tough, so that’s what I’ve got to kind of focus on.
Preet Bharara: Yeah, it’s interesting contrast. I’m an immigrant. My family is a family of immigrants from India, and we grew up in New Jersey. My parents encouraged us. They’re probably going to listen to this and either be happy or disappointed. They kept trying to get my brother and me to learn how to speak Punjabi or Hindi, the two main language that they spoke, and we—growing up as among the only Asian Americans, Indian Americans in the 70s—kind of rebelled against that. Although we would not have been punished like you might’ve been for speaking Spanish in Texas, we, I think, chose poorly and didn’t embrace. We wanted to be the ones who spoke English, English, English only.
Julián Castro: I think that there probably are a lot more kids out there, our kids’ generation, that are choosing, whether it’s a Hindi or Spanish or other languages, they’re choosing to hold onto that and to study it. I think that’s a great thing that they’re able to do that and that it’s celebrated.
Preet Bharara: You went to a lot of great schools. You did well in high school, and then you and your twin brother went to Stanford. This is all stuff you’ve said publicly, and I find it kind of extraordinary and more candid than most people are. How’d you do on your SATs?
Julián Castro: Yeah, so I said, I think I got something like a 1210 this is when it was scaled 1600. I don’t know. I think it may be scaled that way. A New York Times magazine writer asked me about that and asked me about affirmative action, and I was very straight forward because I think that if you’re going to have a program like that in place that you need to be able to defend it and the rationale for it. So I said, when I got in, I think my grades were as good as anybody else’s out there that was applying in my extracurricular activities, but my SAT score was lower than the median matriculating student. The point that I made though, which he didn’t write about, which I wish he had, was that by the time I graduated from Stanford that my LSAT score was actually higher than the median Stanford student who was taking the LSAT. So the larger point that I had made back then was, look, Joaquin and I had grown up in these schools that were segregated, some of the poorest schools in all of Texas, and then through that affirmative action program, I don’t know for sure, but we may have been given an opportunity as part of it.
Julián Castro: But then when I was able to swim in those waters at Stanford with everybody else, just like everybody else, four years later when it was time to take that LSAT, I was actually able to do a lot better even than folks that had come from different backgrounds, and that that’s the way that it should work that that program was meant to give folks an opportunity to create diversity in ways that had not been before.
Preet Bharara: That sounds all right to me, and yet people in your position, people like you who actually have a platform and a microphone seldom talk about it that way. They talk about the benefits of affirmative action for other people and like to say for themselves that maybe didn’t have anything to do with it, and they run away with a little bit. I think you’re right. I think it undermines people’s confidence in affirmative action in the first place. I’m not sure that everyone is putting their money where their mouth is. So my question to you is given your own experience and how it’s worked out for you and your brother, how does that translate into policy going forward in your mind, especially if you become president?
Julián Castro: Well, I think that there’s still an opportunity gap that exists out there for a lot of people, including because of the color of their skin. I don’t think that’s true for everybody. I do think that there are, of course, some families of color that are doing very well and have certain advantages know. I think my son and my daughter are growing up with a lot more advantages than a lot of folks, and certainly more advantages than I had growing up, but there is still a place to consider the struggles that one had to overcome including struggles related to somebody’s ethnic or racial background. There are also other struggles that should be considered if somebody has overcome a disability or other life experiences, so there’s a place to round out these classes, whether universities or other places, considering people’s life experience and background. I don’t think that we should just jettison that.
Preet Bharara: I want to spend a few minutes talking about your qualifications, your personality. You have been, I think you’re self-described, and if I’m wrong about this I apologize, but you’re self-described as boring. Is that your own description?
Julián Castro: Self-described?
Preet Bharara: Maybe not. Maybe it was someone else.
Julián Castro: That might be better.
Preet Bharara: I think it was probably Joaquin, I think it was Joaquin called you that.
Julián Castro: That that sounds right. That sounds right.
Preet Bharara: Measured. I think you’ve called yourself measured.
Julián Castro: Yeah. People have often described Joaquin and me is, when it comes to politics especially, as overly cautious, and they base that sometimes on that I didn’t run for governor of Texas or senator of Texas.
Preet Bharara: And you’re like, “I’ll show you. President.”
Julián Castro: Yeah, I mean I just disagreed with that notion. I stake my whole mayoral tenure on a ballot initiative to raise taxes to expand high quality full day pre-K in our city and put that in front of the voters. That had never been done before, and if I had lost that vote, basically I think that would have been the end of my tenure as mayor. I jumped into politics when I was 26 years old, and I often tell this story on the campaign stump. Then was working for a law firm, and that law firm got a client that wanted us to approve a land deal that I was against, but I had this issue that under the professional rules of conduct for lawyers in Texas, they do have professional rules as you do know. I couldn’t go against the interest of that client, so one day I just quit my job at the law firm so that I could go and vote against that deal on the city council that they wanted. So I have taken a lot of risk in politics, but I think just because of our temperament, because of the way that sometimes Joaquin and I come off as even tempered, people assume that we’re not risk takers.
Preet Bharara: But being measured is not the opposite of charisma. I mean, obviously you wouldn’t have been asked to give the 2012 DNC keynote speech if the president and others didn’t think you had the ability to connect and be charismatic. Do you like that word, or is that another silly word that we use in our politics?
Julián Castro: No, I’m fine with that word. I think that’s right. That’s why you saw the other night at the debate, right? Right after I got off the stage and we went to the spin room as they call it, people were like, “Oh, where’s that person been?” I tell folks when I’m out there debating nine other people, of course it’s not going to be the same as when you’re talking to one person just person to person or even as we’re talking now. When I need to be, I will connect with the American people in a powerful way, and I can easily do that and meet the standard for whatever people want to call it, charismatic or captivating or whatever. But look, when I’m just out here talking to folks, I don’t need to be the biggest ego in the room. I don’t need to be the loudest person in the room. I’m going to try and be genuine and just be myself, and that doesn’t mean like performing all the time. When it’s time to do that, people can see that I absolutely will.
Preet Bharara: I think there’s a little bit of a disconnect in what people want. In some ways, at least I’m speaking for myself, people want the candidate who is forward facing when you’re in front of the public or giving a big speech or debating to show a lot of passion, to show a lot of enthusiasm, to be charismatic, to maybe be even heroic, be a great orator, a fighter, be able to fight back, do all those things. Maybe be dramatic, maybe even on occasion when appropriate, depending on the story you’re telling be emotional, and all that is great. But then they want, at least I want, to know that when the leader is behind closed doors having a meeting trying to figure out how to fix the economy or how to deal with a foreign policy crisis is something else, you don’t want that person to be on a roller coaster ride or overly emotional or overly passionate. You want them to be even keel and not quick to anger and have a measured temperament. That word measured again. How would you describe how you make decisions, because that’s mostly what matters, not just what happens in the public. Are you quick to anger? Do you get worked up about policy issues behind closed doors?
Julián Castro: Yeah, I think just first of all, a lot of the folks that I’ve worked with have worked with me in more than one role, whether it was from the mayor’s office to HUD or HUD onto this campaign, so I think that says a lot in terms of people liking the way that I work with a team. My approach is respect for everybody. Also, you have to be smart enough to know that you’re not necessarily the smartest person in the room, especially if you’re dealing with policy subjects that there are people around you that have worked on them and studied them a lot longer.
Preet Bharara: You don’t feel like you know more than all the generals?
Julián Castro: No, I definitely don’t. So you have to be willing to take people’s talents and the information and resources that they offer and to put that together. But then what I do agree with is, look, people elect a leader and that leader needs to make the final decision based on his or her own judgment. Let me connect this to another part of the conversation right now in the campaign, which is to say that I think it’s fair for people to consider the numeric age of somebody, whether they’re 45 or 75, and I also think it’s fair definitely for people to consider the experience that somebody has or lack of experience, but what I think the best way to assess a candidate and a potential leader is somebody’s judgment. Doesn’t matter whether you’re 45 or 75. You can have a 45 year old with excellent judgment and a 75 year old with terrible judgment or vice versa. You could have somebody that’s very experienced, but their judgment is not very good, or in important moments, their judgment’s not good. Somebody that doesn’t have that much experience, but they’ve demonstrated in the little experience that they do have fantastic judgment. I think that that’s what folks should pay attention to, and I believe that I’ve set a good track record for judgment. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t made some mistakes, but I think I’ve demonstrated good judgment.
Preet Bharara: So which of your experiences do you think best has prepared you to become president?
Julián Castro: Probably if I had to pick one, I would say probably serving as mayor of a city, because everybody is looking to you, and you get a sense of a community. San Antonio is about a million and a half people, so it’s not a small city. Obviously, then compared to the population of the United States, but you get a sense of what it means to be in a role where people are looking to you for leadership to not only set the tone, but to pursue policies that are going to improve people’s lives, and also to work with other policy makers in the community to create a better community. That’s fundamentally what you do was the president. You’re there to lead. You set the tone for our country. You address issues that are going to make sure that people’s lives improve, whether it’s improving health care or education or strengthening social security and Medicare and so forth. So I’d say yeah being mayor of the city of San Antonio and then right after that, of course, was HUD secretary.
Preet Bharara: Right. Can I ask you about the mayor job again, because I know different cities have different forms of city government and there are weak mayoral systems and they are strong mayoral systems. I may have this wrong, but my understanding has been that San Antonio has a sort of a weak executive, a weak mayor system. Was being mayor of San Antonio during the time that you had that job, was that considered a full-time job?
Julián Castro: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. The charter had not been changed since 1951, so the job paid something like $50 a week. The year after I left, I left in 2014. In 2015, the voters actually voted in. They changed the charter so that they pay I think like $65,000 a year. The system that I was going through though didn’t reflect the reality of the job, which was that you’re definitely a full-time mayor. I mean, it’s a city of a million and a half people. That charter was from 1952-
Preet Bharara: But how were the responsibilities divided between the elected mayor and the city manager, for example?
Julián Castro: Yeah, so it was a hybrid model. The mayor had a vote on the city council, set the agenda, and also was in charge of hiring some of the departments, like the City Clerk for instance, and had a role in the city attorney’s hiring. Then the city manager hired a number of department heads, most of the department heads, but what that meant for the mayor, and I think this is very relevant to Washington, D.C. today. What it meant is that if you were going to be effective, you need to be excellent in that political ecosystem. I mean, think about how many times Mitch McConnell has frustrated what we want it to get done as Democrats. What it meant for me was that I had to sharpen my skills of leading and setting the tone and pursuing policy, but also getting people to go along with what I wanted to do as the mayor. I essentially turned that office into the equivalent of a strong mayor system, and people have written that, and got big things done like pre-K for SA and moving our local public utility away from coal fired plants and toward renewable energy, pursuing economic development in the city. It was a good training ground for the political ecosystem that I saw in Washington D.C. later.
Preet Bharara: I want to talk about some of the issues. We can’t get to all of them because I don’t have seven hours. So immigration is something that you spent much of your time during the debate talking about. You have obviously strong views about things. So there’s multiple aspects to this. One is how you stem illegal immigration at the border and keep the country safe. The other is, which I want to talk about first, how you deal with what you already have in the country. I don’t know what the latest number is, but 11 or 12 million undocumented folks in the country at one end of the extreme, there are people. I believe the president himself has suggested this, although to do this seems not possible, deport them all, and on the other end there’s some version of path to citizenship. What do you say as president you want to have happen over the coming years and on what conditions with respect to those 10, 11, 12 million undocumented folks in the country?
Julián Castro: Yeah. With respect to undocumented immigrants who are living here, as long as they haven’t committed a serious crime. If you committed a serious crime, then I don’t believe that you should be put on a pathway to citizenship. But folks who have not committed a serious crime should be put on a pathway to citizenship.
Preet Bharara: How long a pathway?
Julián Castro: Well, I mean I think what they were considering in that legislation from a few years ago probably, as I recall, would’ve taken 13 years. I would hope that it can be sooner than that. We would work towards something sooner than that. That brings up another point, which is we need to fix our legal immigration system. It shouldn’t take people years and years to be able to become citizens.
Preet Bharara: But so who should come though? Is there any merit to the argument that we should admit people to the country who are most skilled and are most educated to contribute the most to the economy? What do you say the people who say that?
Julián Castro: Well, I would say I agree that we should increase, for instance, H-1B visas. That we should harness talent from around the world. At the same time, I disagree that that’s the only lens that we should look at potential immigrants from. All of us have stories, people from different backgrounds. My grandmother came here when she was seven years old as an orphan from Mexico, a little girl with almost nothing. There are plenty of families who, they have the same story wherever they came from, and yet two generations later, one of her grandsons is the congressman for the community that she came to, San Antonio, and the other one is a candidate for President of the United States. People have potential, families have potential and value beyond whether they have a PhD or they’re highly skilled in one area.
Julián Castro: The other thing I would challenge is what we consider skilled labor. I’ve said very clearly, I mean, if somebody wants to go try and work 12 hours in a field in California and see how long you can do that, or go work 12 hours in a 102 degrees on a roof in Texas and then call that non-skilled labor. It very much is skilled labor because if it wasn’t, they would be able to find that would be jumping to go do it. I challenge some of the underpinnings of what we consider skilled labor.
Preet Bharara: You’re not one of the people who says the phrase, “We should abolish ICE,” correct?
Julián Castro: I haven’t used that term, no.
Preet Bharara: What do you think of that term?
Julián Castro: Well, I think that the term has, for better or worse, been co-opted by the right wing and used to scare people. I’ve said that we should break apart ICE, and in my vision for immigration in the future, we would do enforcement differently.
Preet Bharara: How so?
Julián Castro: As you recall, about a year, a year and a half ago, there were 19 employees of ICE that wrote a letter stating that ICE is not working the way that it should, and in fact, the way that it’s set up is inhibiting the ability of the Homeland Security Investigations Unit to be able to do its job effectively. I would break up ICE and separate HSI from the enforcement arm, put most of that enforcement into the Department of Justice, and also ensure that we have a culture change when it comes to enforcement.
Preet Bharara: What does it prove by putting that function, which remains relatively similar under a different agency like DOJ?
Julián Castro: Well, I believe first of all, that that’s going to reset how we do things. It gives you an opportunity to select new leadership, to retrain and change the culture of the agency. I would also like to drill down and look at how enforcement is being done at a mechanical level. I’ve called for a different approach to enforcement, for instance, in inland areas in the country. As you know, they can go, in terms of enforcement, up to a a hundred miles from a border.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Julián Castro: And I’ve said that we should reduce that down to 25 miles. So there are some ways that I think we can change enforcement in this country for the better.
Preet Bharara: So you spent some time at the debate talking about this issue of what happens to folks who come to the border, present themselves, and you referred to a statute. It’s always music to my ears when a candidate talks about an actual statute. Section 1325 followed by 1326, both of which are known to people who have practiced …
Preet Bharara: … by 1326, both of which are known to people who have practiced law in this area, criminal and civil. In a nutshell, remind people what it is that you want to do and why that’s a good idea.
Julián Castro: Well, section 1325 that I addressed on the debate stage, section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act, was passed in the 1920s, and it essentially criminalizes crossing the border without papers. But, this is an important part, from the late 1920s until about the early 2000s, in the vast majority of cases, border crossing was not treated as a criminal violation.
Preet Bharara: We never did.
Julián Castro: It’s still illegal. It’s still illegal. It’s still a civil violation, and people are still subject to the court system and ultimately perhaps being deported. It’s just it’s not treated as a crime. What I’ve said is that because this administration has used section 1325, weaponized it to separate, incarcerate migrant parents and separate them from their children, and I want to guarantee that that kind of family separation doesn’t happen in the future, that I would go back to the way we used to treat these things, which is as a civil violation and not a criminal one.
Preet Bharara: But you don’t need a repeal of section 1325 for that. So, for example, I was a US attorney in the southern district of New York as my listeners know, and we did a certain amount of immigration prosecutions. I don’t remember ever prosecuting a single human being under 1325. The next statute is 1326, which makes it a crime not to simply enter but to reenter. And a subsection of that statute makes it a particular crime to reenter after having been convicted of aggravated felony in the United States. And those were the only cases that we prosecuted. So you’re in the country illegally, you committed a crime, you were deported, and you came back anyway. And that was not a function of having some statutes on the books or not on the books. That was a function of good, sound, I think, public policy and exercise of discretion.
Julián Castro: Yeah, but here’s the thing, like, so let me be very clear. I don’t think that’s enough. I don’t think that we should rely on the prosecutorial discretion of some attorneys, US attorneys in the southern district of New York or any other district. I want to do everything that I can to make sure that nobody weaponizes that again. So there’s a difference there.
Julián Castro: Yeah, I take your argument about prosecutorial discretion. I’m seeing very clearly that that is not enough. I don’t want to rely on that.
Preet Bharara: In fairness, the statute is important, but also culture and discretion is important, because as some people pointed out …
Julián Castro: Well, yeah. But that’s a different-
Preet Bharara: … if you have bad intentions, if you take the statute away, bad people will still find a way to separate.
Julián Castro: Well, but I guess I would ask you, and obviously you’re very knowledgeable on this, what is it that that statute gives you that you don’t have if it’s taken away? If for 80 years …
Preet Bharara: Oh, I have no problem with 1325 being taken away.
Julián Castro: … it was hardly ever used.
Julián Castro: Well, no, no. So that’s the point.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Julián Castro: But that’s the thing. We cannot on this moral issue say that we’re going to leave it up to the discretion of US attorneys. As you know, US attorneys are by and large political appointees that we’ve seen in this Trump administration, a lot of them marching to the beat of the drummer of the President. Right? So that’s why that night at the debate I was so animated about this, like we’re not going to leave it up to people’s discretion. I do think that there is opportunity for discretion in other context. Obviously, in the Obama administration, there was prosecutorial discretion that was exercised, but like you know, I think a lot of people have had enough of when it comes to little children and their parents taking the chance that you’re going to have a nice guy or nice woman in that office. I’m not going to do that. I think that’s bullshit. I’m not going to do it.
Preet Bharara: Let’s talk about education for a minute. You and I have both, and our brothers, have benefited immensely from education, higher education. My family’s mantra always was that’s how you make something of yourself. That’s how you survive in the world, and that’s how you accomplish things, and that’s also how you give back. Should we have a plan to forgive college debt in this country?
Julián Castro: Oh, absolutely.
Preet Bharara: All of it?
Julián Castro: My plan does not say that. No.
Preet Bharara: How much of it?
Julián Castro: My plan is built on basically people who have gotten an education, who have paid for it, who are struggling to pay back those student loans. So the way my plan would work would be if you’re making less than 250% of federal poverty level, your repayment would be zero. If you make over that, it would scale up to the most where you could pay back, you would be required to pay back would be 10% of the income that you’re making at any one time.
Julián Castro: And there would be a cap on the amount of interest that could accrue if you’re not paying anything back. If you go 20 years, which is the usual for a lot of these loans, 10 years or 20 years, the usual life of a loan, and whatever hasn’t been paid back, that would be relieved.
Preet Bharara: How much is that going to cost?
Julián Castro: Well, I mean our whole education plan, I think, was just under a trillion dollars.
Preet Bharara: That’s a lot of zeros.
Julián Castro: It is. It is.
Preet Bharara: Where does that come from?
Julián Castro: So during the course of the campaign, we are going to release our plan for how we would pay for what I’ve proposed on education, on housing, on a number of other things. I give Senator Warren credit. I talked to her the other day after the debate, and I told her, “Look, you put out your wealth tax,” and I think she had a new corporate tax. I like some of the ideas that she’s put out there, and she has put out, which we will do too before anybody votes, because I think the American people deserve this. Okay, well if you want to do X, Y, and Z, how are you going to pay for it?
Julián Castro: In general though, I would say that the outlines of that are obviously we’re going to repeal these Trump tax cuts and replace them with something that works for people that have to work with the middle class and the working poor instead of very wealthy individuals and wealthy corporations. So we would redo our tax code. We would raise the top marginal tax rate, close loopholes and favorable treatment toward big corporations. We would raise the corporate tax rate again.
Preet Bharara: With Mitch McConnell running the Senate, you’re going to do that?
Julián Castro: Well, I mean, we’re going to make a big push to do it. Yeah. Yeah. I take the point. If Mitch McConnell is there, all of this … But we can make that argument against anything that a Democratic President wants to do. Right?
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Julián Castro: The other thing that I think we can do, which may be the most feasible and that we’ll include in my tax plan, there are ways that we can be creative to get revenue for programs that we want that are not about increasing the tax rate on corporations or even wealthy individuals. For instance, I’ve suggested increasing what we give to the National Housing Trust Fund to build more housing that’s affordable. The way that the National Housing Trust Fund is funded is through a transaction fee on the government sponsored entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Julián Castro: So every time they do a transaction, there’s a little bit of money that goes into this National Housing Trust Fund. We can enlarge that transaction fee. Obviously, it has to be reasonable, but we can look for other ways like that to create revenue to fund some of these initiatives for what I believe needs to be a 21st century safety net.
Preet Bharara: Here’s an issue that is not quite a policy issue. It’s more of a cultural issue. You’ve talked about culture owning up to mistakes that you make, and this will sound quaint to some folks listening given the current climate, but in 2016, when you were the secretary at HUD, you did an interview with Katie Couric on Yahoo News, and the HUD seal was behind you while you were doing the interview. And at one point, you said, “Now taking off my HUD hat for a second,” obviously the seal remained behind you, and you said, “Just speaking individually,” making clear that you’re about to say something not in your capacity as HUD secretary, although you’re never not speaking in your capacity as HUD secretary as the ethics rules suggest, you said, “It is very clear that Hillary Clinton is the most experienced, thoughtful, and prepared candidate, et cetera, et cetera.”
Preet Bharara: And for that, a lot of people would say fairly mild statement with the caveat at the beginning you were called out by the special counsel’s office, not the Muller Office, but the special counsel’s office that enforces the Hatch Act, which a lot of people heard about for the first time because among other people, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, has been accused of violating the Hatch Act again and again and again and again and again. What did you do in response to that allegation by the special counsel’s office?
Julián Castro: Yeah, well, and you’ve described it well. In 2016, in that interview, I thought at the time that making that disclaimer about I’m using my other hat and so forth, that that was enough essentially to protect me against a Hatch Act violation, it turned out that that was not. And when our counsel at HUD pointed that out, right away, I said, “Okay, well, I’m going to admit my mistake. I admit my error.” And I did that, and we made sure that I never made that mistake again.
Preet Bharara: Here’s what you said. I think it’s worth hearing, and I’m impressed by this. You said, “Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. When an error is made, even an inadvertent one, the error should be acknowledged. Although it was not my intent, I made one here.”
Preet Bharara: The point to me is not that an error was made or not made, but that it was acknowledged. In contrast to something that I’ve talked a lot about on this show, you have Kellyanne Conway and other people who work in the White House, who when told about a violation by the Hatch enforcers, thumb their nose, don’t respond, attack them, and then say the law is very stupid without trying to work out some accommodation.
Preet Bharara: What are you going to do to make sure that people care about the rules and they care about ethics in the White House again?
Julián Castro: That’s a great question. And I would say also that there’s something larger at play here, which is that as a leader you have to be willing to, just like every leader wants to take the glory of success, you have to be willing to admit when you’ve made a mistake. And we’re living through this time period, and especially with this President, where the whole game is don’t ever admit that you’re wrong. Don’t ever seem fallible. Don’t ever admit that you’ve made a mistake.
Julián Castro: Part of being a strong leader and of getting stronger and growing as a leader is being able to recognize when you’ve made a mistake and to take appropriate action, which is what we did there. You also think back through our history. I mean look at a Watergate. Nixon could never go backward, could never admit, and now of course, people can imagine why but can never admit a mistake or the Iraq war. There were different points where different decisions could have been made even after that first mistake of going in, but that didn’t happen.
Julián Castro: And then you draw a straight line to this President, the mistakes that this administration has made, whether it’s these impromptu, unprepared summits with Kim Jong Un or the attitude of Kellyanne Conway, which is instead of just admitting, “Okay, look, I made this mistake, I’m not going to do it again,” she flagrantly goes out and intentionally continues to violate it, which is why the office of special counsel had to come and say she should be removed from federal employment, which was unprecedented.
Julián Castro: So just as a caveat there, I mean you got to be big enough to admit when you’re wrong, just like you like taking credit when you’re right if you’re a leader.
Preet Bharara: I agree.
Julián Castro: For me, throughout my career, I have tried to improve the ethics and the kind of conduct of whatever body I’ve been a part of. When I was a city councilman, I was the one that introduced campaign finance reform to San Antonio for the first time, and we implemented it. When I was mayor, one of the first things that we did was we strengthened our ethics code so that lobbyists could have less influence at city hall. And if I’m President, I look forward in the campaign. We’re going to release policy on this too. I look forward to strengthening disclosure requirements, implementing the kind of practices that the Obama Administration did that you can’t serve in the administration, then turn right around and be a lobbyist.
Preet Bharara: Right. Look, I would offer respectfully that you also lead by example. The rules are one thing, but …
Julián Castro: Oh, of course.
Preet Bharara: … if you have a leader who says I’m not going to engage in this conduct or this behavior, that matters a lot too.
Julián Castro: Absolutely. And I think President Obama showed that. I think he showed that. I think so many others, yourself included and others serving in other posts have shown that. And the next President needs to show that as well because this president certainly has dropped the ball there.
Preet Bharara: I want to talk about policing for a minute. There’s a lot of tension between communities and police departments around the country. Lots of folks who have been observing the race have said that you have put forward perhaps the most comprehensive detailed plan for reforming policing in the country. And a lot of the things, I think, in the plan sound great. Others I might have some disagreement with. And by the way, they’ve gotten a lot of praise from reform minded groups and from liberal entities and that’s all well and good.
Preet Bharara: For any of those things to be effective and to work based on my experience with law enforcement, there has to be buy-in at some level from the police departments, from law enforcement, from the cops. How do you propose to get buy-in for some of your more controversial or more dramatic proposals from the people who you hope to reform?
Julián Castro: Well, I would start by approaching law enforcement in the spirit of tremendous respect and understanding that they do a job that helps keep our country safer, that all of us hold them a debt of gratitude for, and they understand their job better than we understand their job.
Julián Castro: Working with police chiefs and others in law enforcement that have shown that they’re innovators and have done some of these things in their own police departments because there are examples of that, trying to harness a coalition of those folks to help do outreach. Because I do think that at least having been a mayor in my experience, folks in law enforcement respect the opinion and perspective of others who have done the same job, who have put their lives on the line.
Julián Castro: Fortunately, there are folks out there who agree that we need to increase transparency and accountability, and I would seek to utilize their help in doing this as much as possible, working with mayors and governors because there are a lot of mayors and some governors that agree on policy that needs to be changed. And ultimately, it really is, especially at the local level, it’s those mayors and those city council members as well as county supervisors and county commissioners that make a difference.
Julián Castro: On top of that, we would also use a carrot and stick approach, which is to say to tie federal funding to whether a department adopts unacceptable use of force standard, and then incentivize them with Department of Justice funding, whether it’s the cops grants or other grants that we do.
Preet Bharara: Do you actually propose to change federal statute with respect to the standard of deference owed to law enforcement officials when they engage in force?
Julián Castro: That’s right. So that lethal force would only be used where all other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted. And as you may know, you probably know, in California, they just passed legislation that is similar and hoping that the governor over there will sign that legislation.
Preet Bharara: Can I ask you some lightning round questions because I know you love them so much?
Julián Castro: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: Okay. Do you believe that the US should consider making reparations to the African American community?
Julián Castro: I absolutely do. And I support Sheila Jackson Lee’s legislation in Congress to appoint a commission that would make a recommendation to the President on that.
Preet Bharara: Mr. Secretary, are you “woke”?
Julián Castro: I think so, yeah. Whether somebody’s woke is something that other people got to judge, but I think so.
Preet Bharara: What does that mean?
Julián Castro: You know, I always see that as look, do you recognize the struggles of other folks. Do you think beyond yourself and recognize what everybody needs to be able to get on in this country?
Preet Bharara: Do you believe that the Supreme Court should have term limits imposed on justices?
Julián Castro: I’m open to that. Yeah. I don’t agree with packing the court, but I’m open to term limits, yeah.
Preet Bharara: Do you pledge not to pardon Donald Trump either in advance of a potential charge that might be brought against him or after a prosecution and conviction?
Julián Castro: I would not pardon him. And I know there’s disagreement over Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon, arguments on both sides of that, but I would not do that because it would send a message to a future President that they can do whatever they want and just get a pardon in the end.
Preet Bharara: Would you consider, like Donald Trump did, putting forward a non-exhaustive list of potential Supreme Court nominees?
Julián Castro: I think the operative word there is non-exhaustive. Sure. Yeah. I mean I don’t see a problem with that.
Preet Bharara: Look, a lot of people thought that’s how Donald Trump helped get elected. People had qualms about him in his own party, and he put out a federal society vetted and blessed list and maybe on the other side people are not quite as focused on that. But I’ve often wondered why it is that that’s so effective on the Republican side and not so much on the Democratic side.
Julián Castro: I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of that we do need to be paying more attention to that. And I do think that with Roe v Wade under threat because of the composition of today’s court, that more Democrats, certainly more progressives are focused on the fate of the court and what we’re going to do in terms of justices in the future. So yeah, but in terms of a list, I don’t see any problem with that.
Julián Castro: What I do see a problem with is only listening to one group or X-ing out the ability of the American Bar Association, for instance, to make a recommendation or vet these candidates. I think I would return the American Bar Association’s role in the process.
Preet Bharara: What does patriotism mean to you?
Julián Castro: Love of country. Also the ability to recognize both the beauty and the shortcomings of the country and to do something about it. I think true patriotism is actually whether it’s just voting or other ways like doing something to move the country forward.
Preet Bharara: Another very broad, easy question. What’s your definition of justice?
Julián Castro: I think fairness, a balance of how somebody is treated out there.
Preet Bharara: Do you believe that a sitting President should be able to be indicted?
Julián Castro: I do. I do. Now what the outlines of that are, for which crimes exactly … but yes, I do. I do.
Preet Bharara: Will you undertake any action as the President to revise or review the office of legal counsel opinion that says that a sitting President cannot be indicted?
Julián Castro: I absolutely would because that’s the basis that folks are using right now not to indict a President obviously as we saw in the Mueller report.
Preet Bharara: I think I’m out of lightning round questions. Mr Secretary, thank you for being with us. Congratulations on your success. I look forward to watching you in the upcoming debates, and depending how things are going, maybe we’ll have you back.
Julián Castro: Okay.
Preet Bharara: Good luck.
Julián Castro: Thanks a lot.
Preet Bharara: Thank you so much, sir.
Julián Castro: Take care. Bye.