Barbara Boxer and Daughter Nicole Launch Political Podcast In Time For the Midterms

The Boxer Family - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of The Boxer Family

The former Senator and her daughter pledge to pull no punches in the hourlong political podcast.

Any hope Barbara Boxer had of easing into a restful retirement vanished the day Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Earlier this year from her home in Rancho Mirage, the 77-year old announced the formation of a political action committee aimed at getting more Democrats elected to Congress, and she is now dipping her toe into the podcasting arena alongside her filmmaker daughter, Nicole.

The duo recently launched Fight Back, an hourlong weekly political podcast that will ostensibly be about the political stories of the week, but geared mainly toward women. “There are so many things at stake,” says Boxer, who held a Senate seat for almost a third of her life up until her retirement in 2016. Fight Back soft launched back in March (they recently finished editing the tenth episode) and is organized into regular segments that include a chatty back-and-forth between Nicole and Barbara, a feature called “hot race of the week” that spotlights certain political races, along with the occasional high-profile guest interview (Chelsea Handler, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chris Murphy, author and television host Susie Orman and columnist E.J. Dionne are a small sampling). Fight Back is aiming to capitalize on the success of other left-leaning politically themed podcasts like Pod Save America, which are mainly commentary but also help serve to organize and activate the Democratic party’s base. To be sure, with a media-savvy daughter and a restless, recently retired Senator, a podcast seemed all but inevitable. But if anyone in Washington D.C. knows where the bodies are buried — so to speak — it’s Boxer.

The Hollywood Reporter recently spoke with the mother-daughter team about Fight Back, what they are looking for in this week’s California primary election and whether impeachment is a dirty word. 

You are entering a pretty crowded field of political podcasts. How do you think Fight Back can differentiate itself? 

Barbara: Before I left the Senate, Nicole said, “Mom we should consider this.” And I was — let’s just say — agnostic about it. But after a period of time I realized that Nicole and I had something to offer that frankly, I don’t see anyone else offering, which is a very personal relationship. We have a certain chemistry which has come about just by virtue of living our lives as long as we have. We thought we could share that with people because right now, families are divided. Families don’t even talk to each other. 

How will your core demo differ from, say, The Pod Save America guys?

Nicole: I think we have an opportunity to hit a couple different demos and differentiate ourselves from the Pod Save guys. They’re funny, they’re smart, and they’re talking to people who read about politics and know what’s going on. They’re not dumbing down the show. But we’re smart women. And we’d like to think that women would come and find us because we do care about issues that women are dealing with. But as my mom would always say, we need great guys that love women. We’re definitely not going to exclude guys. So for us, our demo are people who give a shit — people who want to make a difference. 

Barbara: I didn’t expect to have my voice out there as much as it is. But these are pivotal moments in our history. I was in office forty years and I got into it because I was worried about my children and the Vietnam War was raging. The environment was being destroyed; a women’s right to choose had just been made legal and I looked at all these things and I said “you know, I got to fight for this. I gotta fight for this country.” Well you don’t stop fighting just because you’ve done it for a long time. You have to keep it up and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Is there any hope of drawing in Republican listeners? 

Barbara: Silence on the line [laughter]. I will say people like — MSNBC analysts — Nicole Wallace and Steve Schmidt — yeah. I think definitely Republicans who are independent thinkers. Maybe not the Senate Republicans. 

Nicole: Would I listen to a show with John McCain and Meghan McCain? You know what I mean? I know a lot of the kids of these senators and I would definitely check it out, particularly if it was women. 

A lot of people would say don’t bother? That’s just the sad state of political discourse today.

Barbara: I don’t see people in a partisan way. Honestly I don’t. I see people in terms of what their values are. Every time I ran, I got 17 percent of the Republican vote. So the answer is yes, if they’re independent-minded, they may well be interested. Our show isn’t partisan. It’s issue dominated. 

Nicole: Well you know I am advising us and I’m saying let’s not bother. Because I got to tell you — and Mom, she may be pissed at me later — but I don’t think we agree. My segment of the podcast is called “Hot Race of the Week” and I’m in the democratic wheelhouse interviewing Democratic candidates and looking to flip the House. If there are Republicans out there who are interested in that, they can come aboard. But if not, right now I have a job to do. 

Barbara: Well20 percent of the Republicans have walked away from (Trump) and those 20 percent should listen. I think they would find a nice home here. 

Are you planning on airing some of the Boxer family’s dirty laundry? 

Nicole: There is definitely a desire on my part to go there. And I think it makes for great listening, so I would say — absolutely. You have to keep in mind that Barbara’s been an elected office-holder for many years so there’s definitely a delineation between private and public. There’s a very strong sense of privacy, so I don’t want to cross the line — but I totally will. 

Barbara: Anyone who knows Nicole knows she is very strong-willed and has very strong opinions. She is very articulate, and ever since she was old enough to tell me that I was doing something wrong, she has. I think that whole respectful back-and-forth comes across in our show. 

Nicole: But I’m also extremely open. I am very open with my life. As a filmmaker, especially, that’s where the good stuff lives. This is going to be really fun for us, to dive in and just see where it unfolds. 

What are some topics you two have disagreed on in the past? 

Barbara: Before the California courts ruled gay marriage legal, my position was that civil unions were the way to go. I felt very strongly that that was the way for the LGBT community to gain acceptance. And my children both were really mad at me for that. We had many discussions, arguments, and I eventually realized that they weren’t partially right — they were 100 percent right. Also, my kids are both against the death penalty, and I supported it for heinous crimes and terrorism. They were furious about that, still are. 

Nicole: I was bothered by the Patriot Act (which Senator Boxer voted for). But it’s very different when you’re responsible for millions of Californians, and the safety of those people. You really have to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Barbara was against the Iraq War, which was the right thing to do. (Marijuana legalization) was another one (that we disagreed on). I think pot and gay marriage are sort of generational. But we’ve never come to fist fights, we’ve never stormed out of a Thanksgiving dinner.

What is the criteria for the guests you bring on the podcast? 

Barbara: I know so many fabulous thinkers and activists in every nook and cranny, and I want to share those voices. So what I’ve done is I’ve made a list and I shared it with Nicole, and essentially she’ll say “Out of that list, here are the top five, six, seven, and here are more that you should've thought of but didn’t.” 

Nicole: There is some pressure to make sure we have big names. We want younger people with strong voices to hit a diverse array of issues and bring different points of view to the table. We’re having so many women of color running for the first time, and men of color as well and first-time candidates which is also important. I’m having a regular check-in with the kids from Parkland, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting survivors. We will be checking in with those kids as they get out and vote and that will bring in a younger demographic, which I’m excited about. 

Barbara, I am curious to hear about the California primary and if you think the Jungle Primary system (in which the top two vote getters regardless of party affiliation move on to the general election) will backfire on the Democrats? Are concerned about the party’s lack of unity?

Barbara: There is a tremendous amount of unity around the issues. Where there is not unity is over who are the best candidates to bring these issues forward. Now that’s healthy in a normal election, but this (California primary) system is not a normal system. I always knew it was a horrible system, and I fought against it but the voters decided not to listen to me. So here we are. So, the good news is so many people feel so moved to action that they signed up to run. Bad news is so many people felt moved to action that they signed up to run. So it’s a very strange situation. So I think we’re going to have to take it on the chin if we are in a situation in a couple of these races where we’ve lost our opportunity. 

Nicole, are you going to urge your Mom to use the podcast to settle some old scores? 

Nicole: Well you know, I’m a bit of the knife-thrower in the family, so she is going to have to work pretty hard to out-sharpen my knife. I would love to see Barbara make headlines, but again we’re doing this because we believe that we have to use our voices and if I can bring some controversy to stir it up, well, you’re going to get that. 

Barbara: I’m much more unleashed than I once was. If I have a moment to tell off a few of these people who are turning back the hands of time and really taking us back, believe me, I would do it in very clear terms and I won’t hold back. 

There seems to be a real sense of despair about American politics. What do you see as the biggest problem?

Barbara: Cowardice. I cannot believe there is so much silence from people who are supposed to be our national leaders. What has happened to Republican party? As someone who watched Watergate and saw the heroes who came forward from both parties, it’s very disturbing to think that people are so fearful of losing their seat, of losing their power, that they essentially stand in the corner while we have a president who is taking away our rights. It’s stunning and very painful. When I look back on my career, I couldn’t have done 75 percent of it without Republican support. These days, the partisanship has gotten so ugly. Take Paul Ryan. He was going to be this good guy, and now he can’t even say anything. He sees this president undermine the system of justice, which is what dictators do. The first thing they do is undermine the system of justice. And they’re silent. So either (Senator Ryan) wants to run for president and doesn’t want to alienate the Trump people or he wants to work on K-Street and make his millions — or both. He’s one walking disaster of a leader. And Mitch McConnell. I worked with him really well. And now Mitch McConnell acts like a dictator. We are not taking up DACA. We are not taking up this, we are not taking up that. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s cowardice. 

Do you think Democrats should pursue impeachment if they have the opportunity after the midterms?  

Barbara: You can’t do it without Mueller’s report. You have to just wait until that is out and have patience because it will come out, and he is going to document — I think — impeachable offenses. I don’t know that I, as a senator, would say to my constituents if they asked. I will definitely support it when I see reports that show he committed high crimes and misdemeanors. And my gut feeling is that he probably has. But I want the evidence, I want the documentation. I want to see it. And then I would act on it fully.