Debate Defends Democracy: Presidential Power & Presidential Transition
This event explored the roots of presidential power in the Constitution and the sometimes contentious processes, historically and today, by which we select and confirm the president.
When George Washington was inaugurated as first president at Federal Hall, the world was watching the birth of a new government, the first of its kind. The world will be watching again on January 20, 2021 after a period of historic electoral turbulence. What lessons can we learn from November’s tumultuous election? Is it time for legislative change — or even additional constitutional amendments — to restore order for future American presidential elections? This event explored the roots of presidential power in the Constitution and the sometimes contentious processes, historically and today, by which we select and confirm the president.
This event was produced in partnership with National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy at Federal Hall, New York University, and the National Park Service.
John Avlon, Senior Political Analyst, CNN (moderator)
John Avlon is senior political analyst and fill-in anchor at CNN, appearing on New Day every morning. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast between 2013 and 2018, during which time the site's traffic more than doubled to over one million readers a day while winning 17 journalism awards. He is the author of the books Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, and Washington's Farewell: The Founding Father's Warning to Future Generations as well as co-editor of the acclaimed Deadline Artists anthologies of America's greatest newspaper columns. In his twenties, Avlon served as chief speechwriter to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, he and his team were responsible for writing the eulogies for all firefighters and police officers murdered in the destruction of the World Trade Center. Avlon's essay on the attacks, "The Resilient City" concluded the anthology Empire City: New York through the Centuries and won acclaim as "the single best essay written in the wake of 9/11." He's appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Real Time with Bill Maher and The Daily Show. He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for best online columnist 2012. He lives with his wife Margaret Hoover, host of Firing Line on PBS and a CNN contributor, and their two children in New York.
David Frum, Staff Writer, The Atlantic
Frum is the author of ten books, most recently TRUMPOCALYPSE: Restoring American Democracy (HarperCollins, 2020). His first book, Dead Right, won praise from William F. Buckley as “the most refreshing intellectual experience in a generation” and from Frank Rich in the New York Times as “the smartest book written from the inside about the American conservative movement.” In National Review, John Podhoretz hailed Frum’s history of the 1970s, How We Got Here, as “an audacious act of revisionism, written in a voice and style so original it deserves to be called revolutionary.” Arianna Huffington said of Frum’s 2012 novel, Patriots, “David Frum is someone who fearlessly speaks his mind, regardless of where the chips may fall, so it’s no surprise he’s able to convey so much truth in his fiction.” Frum’s memoir of his service in the George W. Bush administration, The Right Man, was a New York Times bestseller, as was his 2018 book, Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic.
David Frum has been active in Republican politics since the first Reagan campaign of 1980. From 2014 through 2017, Frum served as chairman of the board of trustees of the leading UK center-right think tank, Policy Exchange. In 2001-2002, he served as speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush.
David Frum holds a BA and MA in history from Yale and a law degree from Harvard, where he served as President of the Federalist Society.
He and his wife Danielle Crittenden Frum live in Washington DC and Wellington, Ontario. They have three adult children.
Franita Tolson, Vice Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, USC Gould School of Law
Franita Tolson is Vice Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at University of Southern California Gould School of Law. Her scholarship and teaching focus on the areas of election law, constitutional law, legal history and employment discrimination. She has written on a wide range of topics including partisan gerrymandering, political parties, the Elections Clause, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Her research has appeared in leading law reviews including the Yale Law Journal, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vanderbilt Law Review and Boston University Law Review. Her forthcoming book, In Congress We Trust?: Enforcing Voting Rights from the Founding to the Jim Crow Era, will be published in 2021 by Cambridge University Press.
As a nationally recognized expert in election law, Vice Dean Tolson has written for or appeared as a commentator for various mass media outlets including The New York Times, Reuters and Bloomberg Law. She has testified before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. She has also authored a legal analysis for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Richard Durbin, that would explicitly protect the right to vote. Vice Dean Tolson currently works as an election law analyst for CNN and co-hosts an election themed podcast, Free and Fair with Franita and Foley, with Ned Foley of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.
Prior to joining USC, Vice Dean Tolson was the Betty T. Ferguson Professor of Voting Rights at Florida State University College of Law and a visiting assistant professor at Northwestern University School of Law. Before entering academia, she clerked for the Honorable Ann Claire Williams of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the Honorable Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois.
Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice
Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. A nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving systems of democracy and justice, the Brennan Center is a leading national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform, and constitutional law. Waldman, a constitutional lawyer and writer who is an expert on the presidency and American democracy, has led the Center since 2005.
Waldman was director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1999, serving as assistant to the president. He was responsible for writing or editing nearly two thousand speeches, including four State of the Union and two inaugural addresses. He was special assistant to the president for policy coordination from 1993 to 1995.
He is the author of The Fight to Vote (Simon & Schuster, 2016), a history of the struggle to win voting rights for all citizens. The Washington Post wrote, “Waldman’s important and engaging account demonstrates that over the long term, the power of the democratic ideal prevails — as long as the people so demand.” The Wall Street Journal called it “an engaging, concise history of American voting practices,” and the Miami Herald described it as “an important history in an election year.” The Fight to Vote was a Washington Post notable nonfiction book for 2016 and a History Book Club main selection.
Waldman is also the author of The Second Amendment: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 2014), My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America’s Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama (2003, 2010), A Return to Common Sense (2007), POTUS Speaks (2000), and Who Robbed America? A Citizen’s Guide to the S&L Scandal (1990).
His frequent appearances on television and radio to discuss policy, the presidency, and the law include Good Morning America, the Colbert Report, Morning Joe, PBS NewsHour, CBS Evening News, Meet the Press Daily, All In with Chris Hayes, the O’Reilly Factor, Nightline, 60 Minutes, Tavis Smiley, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and the Rachel Maddow Show, as well as NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Fresh Air. He writes for the New York Times, Politico, the Washington Post, the Daily Beast, Slate, Democracy, Reuters, Bloomberg, and other national publications.
He is a graduate of Columbia College and NYU School of Law.