From the Affordable Care Act to same-sex wedding cakes, we are a country divided, journalist Jeffrey Toobin said.
“We’re in a moment of big choices in politics, big differences in the parties,” he said. “We’ll see who wins.”
On Dec. 7, Jewish Family and Children’s Service hosted Toobin, an analyst for CNN and a staff writer at The New Yorker, at a fundraiser. Toobin answered questions on a range of topics, including Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, the #MeToo movement and President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
About 85 people attended the event, which raised $125,000 toward programming at the Brodsky Enrichment Center.
Toobin is a bestselling author whose works include The Run of His Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court and The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court.
Michael Boni, an attorney at Boni & Sack LLC, moderated the event. He started off with a question about Mueller’s investigation. Toobin said the central question of the investigation is why Trump so heavily praised Vladimir Putin, when it wasn’t helpful to his campaign, and why Russia interfered with the election.
“You have this enormous effort and outreach on behalf of the Trump campaign toward Russia, whether it’s Donald Trump’s meeting or cultivating Wikileaks,” Toobin said. “You also have this effort by Russia to help Trump win. What you don’t have at the moment — and may never have — is proof that these two strands met.”
Boni also asked how Toobin thinks the #MeToo movement will impact politics, with Al Franken’s resignation and Trump’s endorsement of Roy Moore.
Toobin replied that there has been a trend in journalism not to cover sexual assault allegations. He recalled one incident when, in 2002, a colleague at The New Yorker planned to include a sexual assault allegation in a profile about Harvey Weinstein, but someone walked into the office to advocate on behalf of Weinstein, and the allegation was removed.
“There was a tendency among those of us who are journalists to find this whole category of stories distasteful and not the kind of things we wanted to investigate,” Toobin said.
Journalists in the past have felt that sexual assault allegations delved too much into people’s personal lives, he said, and it was difficult to get people to speak on the record about them. He said the negative impact sexual harassment and assault have on people, emotionally, as well as on their careers, was not given enough consideration.
Toobin then discussed a case currently before the Supreme Court in which a baker in Denver refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The baker’s side is arguing that wedding cakes are a form of free speech, while the same-sex couple argues that this violates Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws.
Toobin said the free speech argument doesn’t work because it can be applied to any industry, as many people could define their work as a form of expression.
“The real risk here is how much people can use religious beliefs to excuse themselves from obligations that everyone else has,” Toobin said.
He compared the case to the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, where the Supreme Court ruled that a company could refuse to cover certain forms of birth control that violated the company’s religious beliefs.
Boni also brought up mental health care.
Toobin said that the Affordable Care Act established parity for mental health care, meaning that mental health would be covered the same way as physical health.
Toobin said the ACA has actually become more popular, and believes the next Democratic administration will try to create a government health care system more similar to that in Holland or England.
“It will be very controversial,” Toobin said. “It will mean a tax increase. … You will have insurance companies going to war against it in a way they didn’t go to war against the Affordable Care Act.”
Many of the audience questions followed up on Boni’s. Others asked about the Supreme Court justices and Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — to which Toobin said that Trump likes to keep campaign promises, and that’s what he did in this situation.