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Semafor LogoSteve Clemons
Steve Clemons
politicsNorth America

Randi Weingarten responds to being called “the most dangerous person in the world”

Steve is Semafor’s Founding Editor-at-Large, joining us from The Hill. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.

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American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaking in 2019.

Photo by Marc Nozell / Flickr

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lobbed a bomb at America’s teacher’s unions this weekend, when he told Semafor that Randi Weingarten, the longtime American Federation of Teachers president, was the single most dangerous person in the world—more threatening to the country’s interests than the leaders of China or North Korea.

“I get asked, ‘Who’s the most dangerous person in the world? Is it Chairman Kim, is it Xi Jinping?’” Pompeo, who is contemplating a presidential run in 2024, said. “The most dangerous person in the world is Randi Weingarten. It’s not a close call. If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teachers’ unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids, and the fact that they don’t know math and reading or writing.”

Attacking teachers’ unions is nothing unusual in Republican politics, but Pompeo’s comments were more hyperbolic than most — and Weingarten had plenty to say in response.

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“He needs to fund his campaign,” she said. “He doesn’t have a base so he is trying to get millions from the anti-union, anti-public-education billionaires like Betsy DeVos.”

Weingarten added that Pompeo was imitating the same culture war rhetoric that more prominent Republican contenders, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have used throughout the last two years to try to ban books and police what teachers can say about race, history, gender identity, and sexual orientation. That kind of talk, she said, has demonized teachers, riled up extremists, and put their safety at risk. She singled out his use of the word “filth, ”which she took as a dog whistle for LGBTQ issues that some Republicans made the subject of “demagoguery” in midterm campaign ads.

“Pompeo is desperate to be labeled as the extremist in the Republican presidential primary,” she said. “He's using the same strategy, the extremist’s strategy that didn't work for them in 2018, 2020, and ’22. And he's flooding the zone with disinformation. And what's dangerous about that is that it will lead to violence. He's decided to use his campaign to foment hate and division.”

Since Semafor published Pompeo’s riff, a number of prominent Democrats and media personalities have voiced their support for Weingarten. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., called the former Trump official’s comments “outrageous, dangerous and asinine.” Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison tweeted: “Seriously?! Pompeo is a joke who is angling for top clown in the GOP clown show.” And on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough mused about whether Pompeo had squandered his own West Point and Harvard education. “He’s saying that Randi Weingarten is more dangerous than Vladimir Putin?” Scarborough asked. “Sometimes it’s just too much.”

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