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Democrat Warnock Wins Ga. Runoff, Becomes State's 1st Black Senator

NOEL KING, HOST:

Reverend Raphael Warnock made history overnight. He won his Senate runoff election against Republican Kelly Loeffler. He will be Georgia's first Black senator. And he's on the line with me now. Good morning, Reverend Warnock.

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: Good morning. Great to be here with you.

KING: To what do you attribute your win? And what do you think it says about Georgia?

WARNOCK: Georgia certainly made me proud last night. I was born and raised in the state, and they decided to send a kid who grew up in public housing to the United States Senate to represent the concerns of ordinary people. You heard the - and saw the Georgia electorate stand up last night. This is an electorate that has become increasingly diverse. It's the result of work we've been doing for about a decade now. We've registered hundreds of thousands of voters in the state. Welcome to the new Georgia. It is more diverse, and it's more inclusive. And it readily embraces the future. And I'm the product of that, among other signs that you can see right on the ground here in the state.

KING: It is also a deeply divided state, as many are. Joe Biden says he wants to be a president for all Americans. You have said you want to be a senator for all Georgians. How do you do that in such a divided time?

WARNOCK: Well, you have to continue to embody the truth and the values that you talk about. And so we tried to embody that, first of all, in my campaign. It was a campaign about the issues. It was about the concerns of ordinary people. I'm a pastor, and I lead Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. served. He said that we are tied in a single garment of destiny, caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. And so whether we're talking about health care or talking about a livable wage, there's a way in which we have to look out for one another. I think that that truth has been brought into sharp focus by this COVID-19 challenge. And every day under the the United States Senate, I intend to appeal to the higher angels in our nature, bring us together in order to tackle these big problems.

KING: Yours was the first of two races called in Georgia. If Jon Ossoff holds on to his lead, Democrats will control the U.S. Senate. Now, if that happens, do you think your party should focus on areas of compromise with Republicans, or should you use this gain to push for progressive legislation?

WARNOCK: When my brother Jon Ossoff is - when his race is settled, as it will be, and he joins me in the United States Senate, we will continue to work on health care, which I believe is a human right, affordable access to care. We will be thinking about the working people of our country and of our state who've been suffering for months and have seen little to no movement in the Congress. With 350,000 Americans gone, too much of the politics has become about the politicians. I think if we center the concerns of ordinary people, we can begin to push past some of these partisan divides.

KING: What do you think Congress needs to do now to help Americans through the coronavirus pandemic and specific, sir, if you could, please?

WARNOCK: We ought to pass the $2,000 stimulus.

KING: OK.

WARNOCK: I mean, folks waited for months without getting any relief at all. And when we saw relief in the spring, too often, it centered large corporate businesses while small businesses were at the back of the line. It left workers out. And so people need immediate relief. And we've got to get this virus under control. We've got to get the vaccine safely and efficiently distributed so that we can safely reopen our economy, get our businesses roaring again, get our children back into school, but in a way that's safe and sustainable. These are big issues.

KING: President Trump asked Georgia's secretary of state to change the results of the presidential election. Many Republicans, including your opponent, didn't criticize him for doing that. Do you think that part of the Republican Party has abandoned democracy?

WARNOCK: Listen. The four most powerful words in a democracy are the people have spoken. The people of Georgia spoke very clearly on November 3 when they elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, gave them our 16 electoral votes. We counted those votes three times. It is clear when you look at the swing states all across our country, Joe Biden is president-elect. And unfortunately, there are enablers of this nonsense in the United States Senate. And it's why the people who I'm running into all across Georgia are frustrated with politics. And quite frankly, it's why I got in - because we can't outsource our democracy to politicians. The people have to rise up, reclaim their own voice in their own democracy. And that's what happened last night right here in the state of Georgia.

KING: But again, in such a divided country, there are people in Georgia, perhaps many of them, that will refuse to accept your win as legitimate. This is going on all across the country. What do you do about that?

WARNOCK: I'm very clear about what my job is as a United States senator, and that is to be a senator for the people of Georgia. And so whether people voted for me or not, I intend to represent their concerns in the United States Senate. People deserve a livable wage. You know, we've been calling people in the midst of this pandemic essential workers, folks that we've too long ignored and diminished. Well, if they're essential workers, we ought to pay them an essential wage. So we ought to make sure that people do not lose their health care. That's the work that I will be focused on. And I think that that work is its own power as we try to bring the country together.

KING: Let me ask you lastly about the work. Where do you stand on the progressive or moderate scale? Let me put a direct question to you. Do you think the Senate should push for progressive climate legislation like the Green New Deal?

WARNOCK: I think that we need common-sense reform on a whole range of issues. There's no question that climate change is real. There's work we need to do on that front. And I'll be focused on getting that work done. I think too often, even in the places where there is agreement, at least among ordinary people, that we need movement, we get no movement. And that's quite frankly because someone other than the people own our democracy. And so one of the things that I'll be very focused on is the outsized influence of well-connected corporate interests in our politics. I think if the people can get their democracy back, we can get the reform that we need around issues of environmental justice, around health care and the whole range of concerns.

KING: Reverend Raphael Warnock, the winner of last night's Senate election in the state of Georgia. Thank you for your time, sir. We appreciate it.

WARNOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.