PBS NewsHour


Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton on breaking the glass ceiling

An important glass ceiling was broken Wednesday when Kamala Harris became the country's first female vice president. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton is a longtime civil rights activist and she also represents the District of Columbia in Congress. She joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Harris’ accomplishments, President Biden’s agenda, and security in Washington.

AIRED: January 20, 2021 | 0:06:37

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, an important glass ceiling was broken today when Kamala Harris

became the country's first female vice president.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is a longtime civil rights activist. She represents the

District of Columbia in the Congress. And she joins us now.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you so much for being here.

Tell us what you took away from today.

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), Washington, D.C.: From today, Judy, you saw the effect

of arrests after January 6's insurrection and tightened security that followed it.

Sitting where I was, as a member of Congress, you couldn't see that. But if you represent

the District, as I do, you saw it every day. I live on Capitol Hill. The mayor had to get

a police escort to get me through to the Capitol. That's just how tight it was.

I certainly hope this will relax. And, Judy, I think it will, because I think the security

has had a deterrent effect. We all -- around the country and the states, we saw very little

in the way of demonstrations. They were very puny. We think that -- I think that, had we

had the kind of force at the Capitol when Trump inspired an insurrection, that we would

not even have seen that near as bad as it was.

And I certainly think that the deterrent effect was felt throughout the country today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: No doubt that would have made a difference on January the 6th. But it was,

as you say, under very different circumstances.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, what about - - well, let me ask you this. What gives you

confidence that, because today was quiet, that that will continue to be that way?

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Well, one thing that gives me confidence is that Trump is

no longer in power.

So, you're not going to see people -- particularly when you see what kind of a job the FBI is

doing. The FBI is rounding up hundreds of people. And now, on social media, they're

able to do it. They're rounding them up, they are arresting them, and they are charging


So, people have to decide, is this really worth it? And I think we're seeing the beginnings

of -- we saw the beginnings of that today, with the puny demonstrations even in the states.

And when I think the effect of the FBI arrests is having -- is having its own effect on individuals.

So, I really -- I'm not among those who say, just wait for the -- just wait. And I saw

some of that in your earlier news report, that it could get much worse.

Well, I will give you an example. There were to be demonstrations here on Monday. Why didn't

they occur?


DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: I believe that there had already begun to have had an effect,

the tightened security that we are now finally seeing here in the Capitol.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know everyone would certainly like to think that times are going

to stay safe for as long as we can imagine into the future.

But I also want to ask you about the historic firsts today, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton,

and that is Kamala Harris not only being the first woman, but the first Black, the first

Asian to become vice president.

You have been involved. You go back to the 1960s. You have been very active in thinking

about these things. What does -- what did that mean to you today?

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Well, I think we have seen perhaps, I think, as many as

six vice presidents become president.

This president is the oldest president ever. He could decide not to go for another term.

But I think she is really in line to become president of the United States. And what a

first that would mean, the first woman and the first Black.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The first -- after President Obama, the first Black woman.

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Black woman, first Black woman, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much -- let me ask you about the -- what Joe Biden is trying to do.

He has a fairly ambitious agenda in terms of what he wants to see spent to fight -- to

help people in this pandemic economy. Do you see, among Republicans you talked to, a willingness

to work with him on this?

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: Well, he has one advantage, and that is that he has worked

with Republicans his entire life.

The man's been in public life and in the Congress for more than 30 years. So, he starts out

with an advantage that no Democratic president has had.

I think that there will be some chastened Republicans. I was pleased to see so many

show up and speak at the inauguration. And I think that it's also important to also recognize

this is a moderate Democrat. That means, it seems to me, particularly with his experience

in the Senate itself, that he is in a position to find rapport across the aisle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think -- just in the very little bit of time, few seconds,

we have left, what do you think he should be focusing on first? And do you favor the

impeachment trial taking up days to come early in his term?

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: I don't favor the impeachment trial.

I think the first 100 days must be focused on what should be the focus of this presidency.

Now, I'm not going to say D.C. statehood, but I'm pleased that he is for D.C. statehood,

and that we have the House, the Senate, and the presidency, which puts us in good stead

to get it.

But his agenda is laid out for him, Judy. He's got to focus on the virus. He's got to

then look at the economy. That's written for him. And I think he's been plainspoken that

that's what he's going to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, representing the District of Columbia, thank

you so much. Very good to have you with us.