Transcript: Sen. Doug Jones on "Face the Nation," March 3, 2019

Jones: "Put some teeth" back in the Voting Rights Act

The following is a transcript of the interview with Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama that aired Sunday, March 3, 2019, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're now joined by Alabama's Democratic Senator Doug Jones. He's also the author of a new book: "Bending Towards Justice: The Birmingham Church Bombing That Changed The Course Of Civil Rights." Senator, I want to ask you about the book, but first let's ask- let's talk about this young woman--

SENATOR DOUG JONES: Sure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: because she is from Alabama--

SEN. JONES: Yep.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you spoken to the White House about her case?

SEN. JONES: No I have not. You know her citizenship is tied up with the State Department right now. They'll have that hearing on that. You know, but no one is going to welcome this person back to the United States. That's just a mischaracterization. I do think we ought to consider bringing her back to face justice. We do it all the time with terrorists, with other people that get- commit crimes against the United States. I think it sends a kind of a bad message if we give someone a "Get Out Of Jail Free Card" just because they go to the Middle East.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But Secretary Pompeo claims she has no basis to claim U.S. citizenship but she did have a U.S. passport.

SEN. JONES: She did. I- I- I think that that's going to be decided in the courts and within the State Department. My concern is just the message that we're sending by not bringing someone back to face American justice. I have an abiding faith, you know I'm an old federal prosecutor myself and I have this faith in our system of justice to do the right thing and make sure that justice is imposed. And I think that that's what we ought to be looking at here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well you talked about your time as a prosecutor. You famously prosecuted KKK members--

SEN. JONES: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Those involved in that 1963 horrific bombing of a church that killed four little girls. It took decades for the FBI to release any of the evidence they had gathered against the killers. From your experience, do you think digging into history, painful history like this aggravates tensions or is it necessary?

SEN. JONES: Oh I think it's absolutely necessary. What we saw after- after those cases it was such a sense of healing. I mean there are still a lot of open wounds for those civil rights cases because people don't know the answers. They don't know why. They don't know the who. And I think, you know, we can look back at ourselves and at a painful time in our history and we can learn from those mistakes so I think it's even more important today. We see hateful rhetoric all over the country these days and it's not just black and white anymore. It's- it's religion. It's nationality. It's gender. You name it. We see that. And I think to go back and look at that history to make sure we don't miss- you know commit the same mistakes that we did the last time. I think important and it's a sense of healing for the community and for those families.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You talk in the book about backsliding. That's a phrase you use.

SEN. JONES: Yep.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Particularly on the voting rights of minorities these days.

SEN. JONES: Oh, no question.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who- who do you blame for that? What is--

SEN. JONES: Well I- I think it's a combination of things. I mean I think that- that we've had some losses in the courts but I also think it's a political power grab right now where people are trying to gerrymander districts, where people are trying to prevent people to- to the right to vote, give them free access to the vote. We need to be expanding the voter rolls and- and trying to get people to the vote. We need to be pushing the percentage of Americans up who are- who want to vote on Election Day and instead we seem to be working and the powers that be seem to be constricting that. And I think we've got to change that. There's a new bill pending right now, introduced last week, on the voter enhancement. Try to put some teeth back in the Voting Rights Act.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who do you blame for this?

SEN. JONES: Well, you know I think if you look at-- carefully you have to look at the state legislatures, governors and members of Congress that are Republicans. For whatever reason they do not want African-Americans and other minorities to vote. I assume rather than- rather than trying to get those votes, they seem to want to restrict those votes. And I think that that's incredibly unfortunate. We need to have more dialogues in this country rather than monologues and then we can do it about Voting Rights Act. We talk a good game about everybody having the right to vote and a duty to vote. But at the end of the day we seem to be working to try to restrict that and that's just wrong.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Just yesterday you saw- we learned what was going to happen to those two Sacramento police officers involved in the shooting of a- a man named Stephon Clark. He was about 22-years-old shot in his grandmother's backyard. They thought he was armed, turned out it was just a cell phone. It turns out he had faced some accusations--

SEN. JONES: Right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --of domestic abuse, other things. But what do you make of this case? Because for many, they see this as an example of a criminal justice system that is unfairly treating and just rigged against African Americans.

SEN. JONES: Well I- and to some extent I think that there- there's some truth to that. I mean historically over the last 30, 40 years, especially with the crack cocaine epidemic, we've seen all manner of things where the people of color have been incarcerated on larger scales than- than those that are- are not. And I think we took a First Step Act that we passed in Congress this past year, passed Congress, with criminal justice reform, with the president's approval with the support of the administration. I think that is gonna go to correct it, but it is very difficult when you have tensions between law enforcement and any minority community and that's very difficult to do. Law enforcement officers have to make split second decisions. But at the same time there's got to be some way to hold people accountable even if they make the wrong decision at the wrong time.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned the First Step Act which you supported--

SEN. JONES: Absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that was a Trump administration initiative. I mean, you're in this unusual position of being from a very red state, I think you're the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in--

SEN. JONES: Since 1992--

MARGARET BRENNAN: In 25 years.

SEN. JONES: Yeah absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. You're up for re-election in 2020. You're getting targeted--

SEN. JONES: Oh sure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --this seat for Republicans to flip it back. How do you convince people in your home state t-to not make you just, you know, the first in 25 years and the last?

SEN. JONES: Well, you know, all I do is do my job. I have the people of Alabama's best interests at heart. I am an independent voice for them, I'm not a- a- a solid vote- voice or vote for the president or the Democratic Party. I look at each individual vote separately and I try to do the right thing. I think some of the best compliments I've had in the last year and my one year in the Senate was when I'd go home and people would say, "Well, Doug, you're doing exactly what you said you would do. And that's looking out for us." And we have a lot of issues that we face. But, you know, I think Alabama, the south, we're all changing. There's a lot of things going on. We're putting aside a lot of the issues that have divided us in the past that have caused some of those incredible divisions, political and social divisions. Right now we're talking about jobs, we're talking about health care. That's a driving force in my state. Education, workforce development, those are the things we have in common and that's what I'm going to keep preaching, then we'll see how it goes. I feel very good about where we are.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, thank you for joining us.

SEN. JONES: Thank you, it's my pleasure.