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Sen. Raphael Warnock on his new memoir 'A Way Out of No Way' and what gives him hope


Senator Raphael Warnock is a Democrat from Georgia up for reelection this year. He'll face Republican Herschel Walker, a former football star. Warnock is also the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the church that Martin Luther King Jr. called home. And now he's out with a memoir titled "A Way Out Of No Way."

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: You're not in the churches that I grew up in too long on a Sunday morning, before you hear in sermon, in prayer, perhaps even in song that our God makes a way out of no way. It is an expression born of oppression and travail and yet keeping the faith, even in the midst of struggle.

KELLY: In the book, he writes that back in 2013, when he was first considering running, he didn't see a path for an African American Democrat to win in Georgia. Well, he proved himself wrong. And I asked what he thought had changed.

WARNOCK: My story is a result of work that's been going on a long time. Long before I showed up, people have been building on the multiracial promise of an America that embraces all of us. And about a decade ago, as some of us were looking at what was happening in Georgia, we saw a path to build a multiracial majority that could create a coalition that could achieve something like this. And as a result of that, I was elected not only the first Black senator from Georgia, but we elected my friend and brother, Jon Ossoff, the first Jewish senator from Georgia.

And I think somewhere in glory, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel were smiling because when they marched, they marched alongside one another, fighting for voting rights. And in their name and memory, I continue that struggle for voting rights, for access to health care, which I believe is a human right, and for the struggles of ordinary, hardworking Georgia families.

KELLY: Yeah. You've had some fun in in your campaign ads. There's one that shows you running with a football...

WARNOCK: (Laughter).

KELLY: ...And acknowledging that if that was the race with your opponent, you would understand if voters went the other way.

WARNOCK: I try to stay in my own lane. My brothers, as I discuss in the book, they were the athletes of the family. I played in the band.


WARNOCK: Trumpet and baritone horn (laughter). I stayed in my lane.

KELLY: You know, this is the fourth time I have interviewed you. The first was right after George Floyd was killed. And you told me then - you talked about the responsibility to speak up in that moment, to work for change. And I was thinking about since that day, summer of 2020, we have had, of course, more police shootings and the big lie and the January 6 insurrection. And right now, we're in the middle of these hugely polarized national debates over abortion and gun violence and school shootings. And I wonder, does it sometimes feel to you like the country is moving in the wrong direction, that we are more divided than ever?

WARNOCK: Democracy is hard work. Democracy is not a noun. It's a verb. And over the course of time, our democracy expands. It gets a little closer towards those ideals. There are moments when it contracts, but even contractions open the possibility for new birth and new hope and so on. I think we have to keep working...

KELLY: But you don't - forgive me. Forgive my interrupting. But you don't see this as an unusually dangerous moment for our democracy? You and I are speaking as the, you know, January 6, the public hearings for the investigation into all of that are underway on Capitol Hill.

WARNOCK: They are. No, there's no question. Our democracy is imperiled, and it's the reason why I was pushing so hard over the course of the last year or so, the moment I got here to pass voting rights in our country. After I was elected, we saw the emergence of voter suppression laws across dozens of states. And those laws and the passing of those laws was informed by the big lie, January 6, the most violent attack on our Capitol.

But here's what's also true - January 5 is also true. On January 5, the country - Georgia sent a Black man and a Jewish man, both mentored by John Lewis in different ways to the Senate. And so that's the question before us right now. That's what's at stake in this election and at this moment. January 5 and January 6 each tell us something important about America. And the question is, which way are we going to go? And it's our responsibility as citizens, I think, to push us closer towards our ideals.

KELLY: A lot of people listening in Georgia and across the country look at these issues we're talking about, whether it's voting rights or abortion or gun safety and say, hey, Democrats, you control Congress. You control the White House. Get something done. Find a way. To which you say what?

WARNOCK: To which I say that because Georgia stood up, we passed the single largest tax cut for middle and working-class families in American history. We passed the largest infrastructure bill on a bipartisan basis...

KELLY: Your point is Democratic achievements.

WARNOCK: ...In a generation. And I continue to fight to lower the costs of families that are struggling right now, which is why I've introduced an insulin bill, which would cap the cost of insulin to no more than $35 per person out-of-pocket costs. We need to cap the costs of prescription drugs.

KELLY: But do you get frustrated sitting in the Senate? And there is inaction on what I think there's universal agreement are major animating issues of our day, and the Senate can't pass anything.

WARNOCK: You know, I spent a long time since Columbine, and we witness these kinds of tragedies and no movement. And we have an obligation to get something done, whether what we're talking about commonsense gun laws or the cost of insulin and seniors having to choose between buying groceries and buying prescription drugs. This is the work that we're called to do.

KELLY: And I hear that's a very positive answer. It's a very - your very on-message answer. I guess (ph) - but you've - you know that people are looking at their radio and saying, but - I - but things aren't getting done. What breaks the gridlock?

WARNOCK: You know, it didn't occur to me until I was literally sitting in the room for the hearing of Ketanji Brown Jackson. And there was a lot in that hearing that was off-putting for people who had any sense of decency. But there she was sitting there, and it occurred to me only after I was sitting there that had I not won, as qualified as she is, she wouldn't have even been sitting in the chair in that nomination process. And the long-term implications of her being there are difficult to overstate. For me, the legislation that we would write is a letter to our children. So whether we're talking about leaving for them a sustainable planet or a country that embraces them no matter what they look like in the world or who they love or where they worship, that is the work that we are asked to do, and I'm honored to do it every single day. And as hard as it is, I still think we can make a way out of no way.

KELLY: Senator, thank you.

WARNOCK: Thank you very much.

KELLY: Raphael Warnock - his book is "A Way Out Of No Way: A Memoir Of Truth, Transformation And The New American Story."


Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Elena Burnett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.