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U.S. leaders have to realize the ‘reality on the ground’ for Americans: Andrew Yang

Former Presidential Candidate and Humanity Forward Founder Andrew Yang joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the election outcome, and what’s to come in the Georgia Senate runoffs.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: President-elect Joe Biden moving ahead with his transition today. Expected to focus on the court and health care with an address on the Affordable Care Act later tonight as the Supreme Court takes up the case. And we want to bring in our first guest for the hour. We've got Andrew Yang. You know him, of course, as the former Democratic candidate for president. He's also the founder of Humanity Forward. He joins us from upstate New York today. We've also got our very own Melody Hahm joining in on the conversation.

Andrew, it's great to have you on. A lot to get through to. So let's start with the presidential election first, though. Of course, you are a big supporter of now President-elect Joe Biden. You got the big win in the White House, but you don't necessarily get the Democratic mandate. I'm just curious to get your read on what transpired. Why do you think an embrace of Joe Biden didn't necessarily lead to an embrace of the Democratic agenda?

ANDREW YANG: I think you saw a surge in turnout on both sides, Akiko. Trump got 5 million more votes this time than he did in 2016, which surprised me. And what we have to take to heart from that is that more and more Americans, unfortunately, right now are struggling, and are open to messages of institutional mistrust. So we have a lot of work ahead. And as you probably know, I'm heading to Georgia the next number of days to try to help Democrats win the Senate, because we're in the midst of still this crisis. And if you don't have a unified government that can pass laws that everything is subject to Mitch McConnell, it's going to be that much harder to recover.

AKIKO FUJITA: Let's talk about that Senate race. I mean, you know, you said after the election that polarization is here to stay, Trumpism is still here to stay. That the Democrats haven't necessarily been able to make the gains that it needs to, particularly as it relates to the working class. You've got this Senate race a few months from now in January. You're headed out there, as you said. How do you make that message or how do you try to make those inroads that perhaps the Democrats couldn't just last week?

ANDREW YANG: The special Senate races on January 5 in Georgia are going to be really tightly contested, because Georgia is a state just flipped blue narrowly. The demographics have been changing. It's a purple swing state. There are two Senate races. So the stakes could not be higher.

The case to make in Georgia is exactly identical to the case that was just made with Joe at the top line, which is, look, we need to turn the page for our country, we need better leadership. And in this case, we need to deliver a Senate that actually will be looking to pass laws and not have a replay of Mitch McConnell being the obstructionist during the Obama years, which unfortunately, looks like it's set to recur unless these seats go to Democrats on January 5.

MELODY HAHM: Andrew, of course, your book the war on a normal people in 2018 was sort of a precursor of your presidential campaign. When you think about, you know, were just at "SNL" and New York City as a guest, Dave Chappelle-- you sort of insinuated that he may be coming with you to Yangapalooza in Georgia. How do you really attract the masses perhaps the folks who do not kind of buy into celebrity culture?

We know Barack Obama's presidency was really kind of accentuated by a lot of those celebrity figures. Do you feel as though that sort of messaging actually does resonate? Do you feel as though the folks who are retail workers, who are truck drivers-- do they care about what celebrities think?

ANDREW YANG: No, Melody, I think it depends greatly on the celebrity. Like, I think that there are some folks-- and I put Dave Chappelle in this camp-- that attracts different types of people in terms of political background or the line of work that they pursue. So if you were to imagine, let's say, Trump voters, you know, you know that there are certain celebrities that they would respond to very, very strongly. I think it depends very much a part of the type of figure.

I agree with you that there's a concern that there's a camp of celebrities that are kind of associated with one party or another and leaning too heavily on that may end up just furthering polarization rather than alleviating it. But I would not put Dave Chappelle in a category, at all.

MELODY HAHM: That's true. He does live in Ohio in a huge farmland county. When you think about-- you know, you mentioned during your podcast, "Yang Speaks," last week specifically about how the Democratic party does not seem to be aligned with the values of America as a whole. So as much as we hear from Buden, from Harris specifically about restoring the soul of the nation-- And we do know that that did resonate to some extent-- do you feel as though this idea of unity is sort of a Pollyanna idea? Do you feel as though it's sort of this empathetic approach that does not actually resonate with most Americans?

ANDREW YANG: We all know I was an enormous booster for Joe and Kamala-- thrilled at the Trump era is ending. But having traveled this country, not just during my presidential campaign, but when I was running Venture for America, the way of life is declining for thousands of communities around the country. And if you have a [INAUDIBLE] rational message for them, it does not change the fact that their plant closed, their Main Street is closing, their kids are leaving.

You know, we have to start facing facts about what the reality on the ground looks like for families around the country. That's why I'm championing cash relief right now. It's what Congress should have done months ago. It's what we should be doing ongoing, because we have to get past the point-- people in Yahoo Finance who are watching this know this. It's, like, you're all kind of data-driven, results-oriented people. If the CEO were just to give you, like, a better message, but then things continue to deteriorate around you, eventually, the message will stop working.

And that's where the country is right now. That's what we have to get beyond. I think Joe's a great leader, you know, and is going to make a great president. But the question is, are we going to approve the reality on the ground for the families in Ohio, Iowa, places that Democrats used to be competitive in and are now less competitive, because of what's been happening in these communities?

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, Andrew, I'm glad you mentioned cash assistance, because I covered your campaign here at Yahoo Finance, which I got to say was refreshingly positive, too. And you talked about how well you did-- you outlasted Kamala and [INAUDIBLE] in the stage, doing so mostly by pushing for the adoption of universal basic income. And it seems like progress is already coming through on that front. You talk about the CARES Act and $1,200 checks coming out to Americans. You say through Humanity Forward, you're going to be pushing for Congress to do that on a recurring basis, hopefully, by next year. I mean, how much has that likelihood increase when you look at the fact that Republicans and Democrats did get through those checks? And where do you think we're at in that UBI conversation now?

ANDREW YANG: Oh, Zack, good old campaign days. I wish that-- that universal basic income was as front and center then as it is now. But now I'm thrilled to say that there are dozens of mayors, including the mayors of Los Angeles, Atlanta, St. Paul, Newark, who are all championing universal basic income. 55% of Americans are for it now. 82% are for cash relief during the pandemic. And millions of Americans got that $1,200 check in the spring and they liked it. They said, wait a minute, this didn't make me a lesser person. I'm not going to do anything nuts. I'm just going to put some food on the table and maybe buy some fuel for the car.

So the energy around universal basic income is growing, growing, growing. And now one of my primary concerns now that people, frankly, agree that we should do this-- economists agree that we should do this-- now we just have to get Congress to listen to people and the economists. And the dysfunction in Washington has risen to a point that we still have not gotten a second relief bill, even though we have been waiting since March or April for that bill.

That's one of my new missions. Is trying to clear up the dysfunction in Congress. It's again, one reason why I'm heading to Georgia, because we have to get rid of excuses for Washington. Right now, the parties can just blame each other. If you have a somewhat unified government, then hopefully, we'll see cash relief and other measures actually get passed.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, I mean, moving to Georgia is a pretty serious step there, too. And it confirms your want, I guess, to really stay in the political fold here with that push down there in Georgia. But when people are speculating right now-- because Yang Gang and beyond, there are a lot of people speculating about what you might want to focus your energy in on. If it's Humanity Forward, other endeavors to really push UBI forward, or if you'd really want to take maybe a cabinet position and take a stance there. Curious to get your take on where you think you would best serve the Democratic agenda or if you want to go your own route and continue to push for things your own way.

ANDREW YANG: I'd be thrilled to join the administration if I could help solve some of the problems I ran on, Zack. But I will say that there are a number of paths ahead for me, all of which I'm very excited about. And I'm very grateful to people for supporting Humanity Forward, for supporting my campaign. I'm just a problem solver and entrepreneur. I think in can sense it, where right now, the problem is that our government is not working, so I'm going to Georgia.

But there are enormous problems in terms of technology and social media and other domains I think I can be helpful with. So the future is yet to be determined. But I'm excited about it. And certainly want to help.

MELODY HAHM: To push on that a little bit, at least here in Los Angeles, I do see Yang Gang 2020 signs still littered all over the city, I'll give you that much. But Trump has said he may run again in 2024. Biden has previously said, who knows what the latest stance is, that he wants to be a transitional candidate. That he does not want to seek re-election, because he wants to pave the way for the future of Democratic leaders. Are you one of those people that is paving the way forward? Would you run again in 2024?

ANDREW YANG: Well, certainly. And you all-- the reason I'm here with you all the day is because Yahoo is one of the media outlets that covered my campaign early on this past time. But we all know if I ran again it would be a lot more fun than the first time, because the first time, I was kind of climbing out of anonymity. Whereas the second time, you know, we'd have a blast from day one.

So I would 100% run for office again. You know, not sure which office. But the problems, again, are getting bigger, not smaller. And I'm happy to say I feel like my ability to help has also gotten bigger. So I'm just going to keep on helping until some of these problems actually get better.

AKIKO FUJITA: So Andrew, let's talk about that first run then, because there's a reason why you were able to gain a lot of traction. And that is by appealing to issues that a lot of young voters cared about. One of them is student debt. And we've heard Joe Biden say that he is looking to relieve $10,000 of student debt for individuals. Moving forward, though, you look at where the Senate is, I know you're trying to flip it with help in Georgia. But the Democrats don't have the majority right now. You think Joe Biden could do that through executive action?

ANDREW YANG: We may be in position to find out, Akiko. And I'm thrilled by the noises coming out of the administration that they're looking to examine this ridiculous student loan debt burden that is right now crushing the hopes and aspirations of so many Americans, young and old. I mean, I met people on the trail who were you know 50s and 60s and still struggling with some of the $1.6 trillion in student loan debt.

So I think Joe does have it in his power to forgive a portion of that, even without Congress. We'll have to see. Hopefully, you can get something large scale passed through Congress, because this is something that has been, again, crushing the hopes and dreams of too many Americans for far too long.

AKIKO FUJITA: One of the other issues you've talked a lot about is technology and privacy in addition to automation. I know you were a vocal supporter of Prop 24, the California Privacy Rights Act, over in California, which essentially extended the tools that would allow for consumers to determine how much data is collected and how individual companies use it. Should that law in California be a template for a federal law that addresses consumer privacy data?

ANDREW YANG: Prop 24-- thank you, California. Now Californians have higher data rights and privacy protections than anyone else in the country. And we should make this the law of the land, 100%. I would be thrilled if Congress were to take California's lead. I think other states should take California's lead right now. If you're in another state, let's say, Pennsylvania, and you get told Californians have data rights that you do not have-- that there's actually a data protection Agency that's dedicated to looking out for you and your data, you must be thinking, why the heck to Californians have and we don't here in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Washington, wherever?

So this does not need to wait for Congress. States can adopt similar laws to California. But this should eventually wind up in the halls of Congress, where they nationalize it. I will not wait, though. It's one reason why I was so thrilled to help champion Prop 24 in California, because if we wait for car to get its act together, we could be waiting a long time.

MELODY HAHM: Andrew, speaking of data privacy, I know you are quite prolific on TikTok, I would say. I think you only have posted three times. All three have gone viral, no surprise. Your latest TikTok actually was specifically about the percentage of Americans holding stocks. Only 52.6% of American families actually have exposure to equities. That's including 401(k)s. And you talk about sort of this growing disconnect between what the stock market is doing and how average Americans feel.

Why do you think this message is resonating? How do we get more people exposure to the stock market? Is that at all part of your vision and wealth creation? Should people be continuing to get-- dabbling in day to day trader content, trying to become retail investors? Or do you feel like that's not the route that you're necessarily suggesting?

ANDREW YANG: I remember having some basic financial literacy lessons when I was a student. And I've concluded that people cannot be taught to invest unless they have money. If you have people kind of simulating a portfolio, it's like, yeah, this is sort of interesting. But then when it's actually real money, then all of a sudden, things change very quickly. So the first thing is we need to actually give people some financial means to actually invest. And right now, if you're in the bottom half, essentially, of Americans who don't have an investment in the stock market, and then you just keep getting beaten over the head with stock market this, stock market that, you're like, oh no-- you feel like you are being left behind.

So we have to remedy that in multiple ways. We should have universal basic income our cash reliefs that people actually have money in their hands. We should be teaching financial literacy at the high school level for all Americans. Many firms would love this. I mean, I talked to banks and accounting firms that want to do this. And then we should have more people involved in the wealth creation of our country and actually be a stakeholder.

So there are a lot of steps to be taken. But right-- right now, the top 20% of Americans own 92% of stock market wealth, you know what I mean? So we're in the midst of the most extreme winner-take-all economy in the history of the world, and it is getting a lot more extreme now, which is Mind-boggling it was, like, the most extreme before, and now it's even more so. And so if you are the average American feeling left behind, it's not in your head-- it's just in the numbers. And so to me, we have to fix the numbers and the reality.

MELODY HAHM: And I do have to say, you know, President Trump, a lot of folks have continued to champion this message, right? And that's why it has seemed to stick. Do you think that President-elect Joe Biden will actually change the narrative? Do you anticipate that he'll use the same sort of faulty connection? Or do you think that he will kind of throw that to the side? What do you anticipate there?

ANDREW YANG: I do not think that President-elect Joe Biden is going to be trumpeting the stock market success the same way Trump did. I always thought it was really awful the fact that Trump conflated stock market values and how we're doing as a country. I mean, you have record high stock market prices. You also have record-high deaths of despair, record-high mental illness, record-high financial insecurity. So Joe is not the type to build that connection, at all.

And I always thought it was political malpractice for anyone to do it, because the fact is even if the stock market is doing well, a lot of the time, it has something to do with the decision that was made before you took office, you know what I mean? It's, like, someone made a decision three years ago and some industry and then, you know, someone benefited under your administration, you take credit. It's always been asinine and Joe's not going to do it.

ZACK GUZMAN: Andrew, we were having that discussion, too, obviously, because those issues are still going to be on voters' minds when we head into these runoff elections down in Georgia. But we've been going back and forth on this debate on what the turnout might look like there, because you won't have Trump on the ballot here to maybe energize those Republicans, but you still have the idea of Senate control-- maybe trying to get out Democrats and Republicans there. So talk to me about what you think is going to be the key swing factor to watch in these runoff races. And whether it could be young voters, too-- and I assume that's a piece of what you're going down there.

ANDREW YANG: Zack, I've been digging into the numbers and it looks like Democrats have an uphill climb in Georgia. There was-- there was a special election that was tightly contested at first. It was like a 3 point swing, and then Democrats lost it by double digits. And it seems like it's because Democratic voters actually need a little bit more awareness raising to the fact that there's a special election on January 5. And conservatives are more plugged in to voting in Georgia.

So that's been the historical case. And so we have a lot of work to do. I'm not going to lie-- I think that this is an uphill climb. I think that if everyone came out as they did in November, the Democrats could 100% win. But that may not be the natural propensity in Georgia, which is one reason why I'm heading there, because I think it should be all hands on deck. Just everyone trying to let folks know that, look, as important as the November race was in the state of Georgia, this one is as or potentially, you could say, even more important. And without us making the case, like I do not think that that will take place naturally in many of these communities.

MELODY HAHM: And Andrew, arguably, another epidemic that's sort of playing just over the last 40 years is intense xenophobia. And I know you and I have talked about this in the past. Just looking at some of the exit polls, NBC News you're putting 63% of Asian-American voters did vote for Biden. A minority group, 31%, did vote for Trump. But many pollsters, many academics are sort of perplexed, given the xenophobic rhetoric, given a lot of that kind of blaming Chinese people, especially even Chinese-Americans, Asian-Americans here in this country, on the coronavirus, that seems to be disconnected. How do you really galvanize, yes, they're a small, but mighty Asian-American population here, to really be able to fight for bigger picture issues and sort of get this xenophobia and racism out of the way?

ANDREW YANG: I was surprised and disappointed by those figures, Melody. No, I thought that Asian-Americans would uniformly reject Trump, given how much he has thrown us under the bus, where the coronavirus is concerned. One of the things I'm really passionate about is activating Asian-Americans politically, because in my house-- probably true in your house, too, and probably Akiko-- I don't know-- but we didn't talk that much about politics when I was growing up. My parents were not all into American politics.

And so I got this message that, you know, it wasn't something I should, frankly, consider as a line of work. And I think many Asian-Americans are brought up similarly. It's one reason we vote at lower levels than other people. I think one way that we can make those numbers look different is if we just get more Asian-Americans to vote, because too many of us are not doing so right now. Too many of us are donating, running for office.

So one of the things I love to do is hopefully open Asian-Americans' eyes to the fact that we need to engage politically and civically in this country of ours. Or else, you know, things that we don't like are more likely to take place.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, and we've also learned that that Asian-American vote is also so fragmented, particularly in this election. So it'll be interesting to see how that is galvanized moving forward. Andrew Yang, always good to talk to you. Appreciate your time hope to have you back on the show.

ANDREW YANG: I really enjoyed this, too. All three of you are awesome. Yay, I'm like a friend of Yahoo Finance now or Yahoo-- really, you guys are great. Thank You. Let's go, Joe! Joe and Kamala! Let's go, Georgia!

ZACK GUZMAN: The feeling is mutual. Good luck down there in Georgia, Andrew. Appreciate you coming on.