YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Battles on Capitol Hill and presidential showdowns.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): (From video.)
Republicans played a
dangerous and risky partisan game, and I am glad that their brinksmanship did not work.
ALCINDOR: An economic meltdown is averted, at least temporarily, after a deal is reached
to raise the debt limit until December.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From video.)
The majority didn't have a
plan to prevent default, so we stepped forward.
ALCINDOR: But can Republicans and Democrats come to a long-term agreement?
the House committee investigating the January 6th attack issues more subpoenas.
REPRESENTATIVE JASON CROW (D-CO): (From video.)
If you refuse a subpoena, there are consequences
for you, so there darn well should be consequences for the president and his top enablers.
ALCINDOR: And former President Trump is urging aides not to cooperate with the inquiry
as a Senate report reveals the lengths he took to overturn the 2020 election.
FRANCES HAUGEN: (From video.)
They're paying for their profits right now with our safety.
ALCINDOR: In damning testimony, a whistleblower claims Facebook knowingly spread
misinformation that contributed to the Capitol insurrection, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week.
Once again, from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to Washington Week.
This week economic disaster was
narrowly avoided as lawmakers made a last-minute bipartisan deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.
It's a temporary fix that will only last until December 3rd, and it came after President
Biden and business leaders warned about the dangers of the U.S. defaulting.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.)
The United States pays its bills.
It's who we are.
It's who we've been.
It's who we're going to continue to be, God willing.
CITIGROUP CEO JANE FRASER: (From video.)
We are, simply put, playing with fire right
now, and our country has suffered so greatly over the last two years.
ALCINDOR: Hours later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell caught some in his own
party by surprise when he announced Republicans were willing to vote to raise the debt
On Thursday the Senate passed a short-term extension but neither side
seemed particularly happy with kicking the can down the road.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): (From video.)
We screwed up.
For two months we promised our base and the American people that we would not help the
Democratic Party raise the debt ceiling so they could spend $3 1/2 to $5 trillion through
At the end of the day, we blinked.
SENATOR CHRIS COONS (D-DE): (From video.)
And we will be right back here in two months
needing another vote configured exactly like tonight's vote in order to raise or suspend
the debt ceiling going forward.
ALCINDOR: Next week the House will take up the bill.
Meanwhile, President Biden is
still trying to unite Democrats to pass two infrastructure bills.
Joining me tonight to discuss all of this, because there was so much this week: Nancy
Cordes, CBS News chief White House correspondent; Eamon Javers, CNBC senior Washington
correspondent; and Marianna Sotomayor, congressional reporter for The Washington Post.
Marianna, you cover Congress.
It's where all the action was this week.
Talk to me a bit about how Democrats and Republicans are feeling about this short-term
deal, and why did Mitch McConnell blink but also he sent a letter to President Biden
today saying that he's not helping in December to raise the debt ceiling?
MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR: Well, as you know, in Congress everything works on deadlines, and
the closer you get to deadlines is usually the time in which there's action.
Unfortunately, in this case, as much as McConnell and Republicans have been saying since
the summer we're not going to participate in raising the debt ceiling, there really
wasn't much time procedurally to make sure that the government wasn't going to default.
So it really got to the point where Democrats started to talk about, well, maybe we have
to get rid of the filibuster to be able to raise that debt ceiling, and McConnell
basically came to the table because he knew two key senators in potential negotiations,
especially someone - you know, talking about Joe Manchin and also Kyrsten Sinema, they
don't want to nuke the filibuster, so he came to the table to try and talk to Democrats
and basically say, listen, we will try and provide those 10 crucial votes to expedite the
It was many hours of Republicans trying to whip those 10 votes.
We did see it happen, but there was anger.
You heard it in those clips.
ALCINDOR: There was anger.
And I wonder, will Mitch McConnell face any sort of consequences?
Because you saw people like Ted Cruz, like Lindsey Graham really, really angry that
Republicans provided the votes to raise this debt limit.
SOTOMAYOR: Yeah, I mean, Republicans aren't going to be there.
They're not going to be able to help raise the debt limit this next time, so Democrats
really are going to have to go it alone, even though they're saying and are positioning
that they don't want to do that.
They really do think that maybe Republicans are going to blink again.
ALCINDOR: Eamon - (laughs) - you're on this show because as soon as we start talking
about the debt limit, I was like, OK, so where is Eamon - (laughter) - because clearly I
need to figure out how to report on this.
So I wonder, for you, what do you make of
Mitch McConnell's decision here?
How much did business leaders warning about the
dangers play into that?
And then, also, connect this to everyday Americans and how
this relates to just people who are trying to survive in this COVID economy.
EAMON JAVERS: Look, I think the business leaders were enormously influential here in
making the case.
Look, this, A, stupid and, B, dangerous to go down this path
because it could have enormous implications for the American economy.
And basically there - separate out the politics of the debt ceiling in which both sides
are trying to get the other side to take a tough vote.
And the blame game is there.
They want to put the other side, the onus of the deficit, on the other side.
The economics of it are this: Congress votes to spend the money and then the Treasury has
to go and get that money; they either have to get it from taxes or they have to borrow it.
The way they borrow that money is by issuing Treasury bills and investors around the
world buy Treasuries and Treasury pays them an interest rate in order to do that.
That's a fundamental building block of the global economy.
Those Treasury bills are
really important for everything else that people do in the debt markets around the world.
If the United States defaults and says, we're just not going to pay, ultimately, the
interest on that debt, then that has enormous implications for the global economy.
The business community understands that and they were waving a red flag here saying,
look, you guys are playing a dangerous political game; we really want you to come
together and get a deal.
And I think that's why you saw, or at least part of the
reason why you saw, a deal sort of come together here.
But the bottom line is we're
going to right back here again in December.
So the politics of it haven't really changed.
The deadline's been kicked out a little bit.
They still have a really difficult time coming together with a deal in December, and you
wonder whether we're going to be playing with fire again.
ALCINDOR: Playing with fire and a difficult deal.
You could be talking about the debt
ceiling or infrastructure.
Nancy, where do things stand on infrastructure with the
president trying to unite his party?
He was in Michigan this week, but my reporting tells me that Democrats are trying to
whittle down this $3.5 trillion bill down to somewhere around $2 trillion.
What are you hearing and what is the president hearing from moderates and progressives?
NANCY CORDES: What I'm hearing is that the problem with whittling it down is that they
don't know how much they need to whittle it down.
They know it's got to come down from
3.5 trillion (dollars) to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 trillion (dollars).
But while we hear a lot of progressives, a lot of members of the Democratic Party in the
mainstream saying they're willing to come down, what you're not hearing, at least
publicly, from Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema is that they're willing to come up.
Joe Manchin every time he talks to reporters he is still on that $1.5 trillion mark, so
he's not shown, at least publicly, any willingness to move.
And that's one of the reasons that these talks are moving so slowly.
They can't start to figure out what it is they're going to cut from this bill, which of
these cherished programs they're going to have to let go, until they know what the
top-line spending number is, and it seems it's been very difficult for the White House to
get any traction with Manchin and Sinema on what that compromise number should be.
ALCINDOR: And Marianna, you're nodding your head here.
What are you hearing on Capitol Hill about what could be on the chopping block here?
SOTOMAYOR: Well, Nancy's exactly right.
They don't know exactly where to cut yet
because they don't have those exact demands from Manchin and Sinema.
You know, talking to progressives, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which really
held strong to make sure that infrastructure vote did not happen until this agenda was
completed, they are saying, well, you know, we don't have to even talk about cuts yet.
We want to make sure that every single priority is still part of this bill and the only
way to bring it down is likely by, you know, sunsetting these programs a little bit earlier.
That has tensions with the moderates who say, well, if you fund something for two to
three years, guess what; the House could be under Republican control so there's no
guarantee that they will actually reauthorize these programs again, and maybe it's better
to just go ahead and make permanent things that already exist, like the Affordable Care
Act subsidies, and potentially close the Medicaid gap.
Those are some of the things that moderates really want to make sure they can get soon
and make sure that the American people feel that immediately.
ALCINDOR: And, Eamon, as all of this is being juggled, we got a September jobs report
that was disappointing.
What did it tell us about the COVID economy?
And especially how people are struggling when you look at the unemployed, but also women?
JAVERS: Well, you've got the unemployed, you've got women, but you've also an economy
overall where employees are desperate to hire, and they're finding shortages of workers.
So you have this weird sense that people want to get back to work, but employers can't
find the right people for those jobs.
So part of it is training, a lot of it is
childcare, and especially when you talk about women who the burden of childcare falls
A lot of people are saying with COVID, with kids not
necessarily fully back in school yet, I don't feel like I can get back into the workforce.
And you're seeing employers struggling.
And one of the things they're doing is they're
raising wages, they're increasing benefits.
They're doing all kinds of things.
So the reality is it's actually in a lot of different professions - I mean, you know, you
talk about restaurants and some other things - it's a great time to be looking for work.
But it's a tough economy out there for a lot of people still.
So you've got this bifurcated picture on the jobs - on the jobs front.
ALCINDOR: And, Nancy, President Biden sort of needed this win.
I wonder what you - what you make of the narrative that might be playing in some voters'
minds when you have Mitch McConnell having his issues with Republicans and the deal that
You also have the president's approval numbers, and Democrats fighting it out.
What does this say to voters when you think about the narrative that people think about
Washington and the inability to govern on both sides?
CORDES: Well, it certainly makes it harder for the president to go into these
negotiations, even with two members of his own party, when he's not coming in from a
position of strength, when he isn't coming in and saying: Look, the American people are
clearly on my side.
You need to come and meet me in the middle.
His approval ratings
are pretty low right now.
They wanted a win with these jobs numbers today.
Instead they found themselves sort of cherry picking through the report to try to find
some figures that actually suited them.
JAVERS: It's bad when you have to turn to page three of the report to find something
good that you can point to, right?
CORDES: At the end of the day, the best president could do was to say: Look, COVID was
so bad in September, you had so many more cases, those jobs numbers were bound to be bad.
They'll be better next month.
And meanwhile today other big news, the Biden White House
formally blocked an attempt by former President Trump to withhold initial documents
requested by Congress related to the January 6th attack.
This sets up a legal showdown
between the current and former presidents over executive privilege.
All this comes as reports say President Trump is urging top aides not to comply with
subpoenas from the House committee investigating the Capitol attack.
And a newly released Senate report, because there's so much going on this week, revealed
that on at least nine occasions President Trump demanded Justice Department officials
take actions that they believed would undermine the 2020 election.
And if that wasn't enough, what else happened this week?
A Facebook whistleblower, Frances Haugen, also testified before Congress.
She told lawmakers that Facebook knowingly spread misinformation and hate that
contributed - contributed - to the Capitol insurrection.
FRANCES HAUGEN: (From video.)
The choices being made inside of Facebook are disastrous
for our children, for our public safety, for our privacy, and for our democracy.
And that is why we must demand Facebook make changes.
ALCINDOR: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pushed back on her allegations.
In a statement he said, quote, "At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we
prioritize profit over safety and wellbeing.
That's just not true."
Joining us remotely now are Katie Benner, Justice Department reporter for The New York
Times, and Cecilia Kang, technology reporter for The New York Times and co-author of An
Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination.
Thank you, ladies, both for being here.
I feel like I'm back at the New York Times D.C. Bureau, where I used to hang out with
both of you.
So I appreciate you coming on tonight.
Nancy, I want to go to you first.
There was this formal blocking release of these initial documents by the Biden White
What are their thoughts there?
What's the thinking behind this action?
CORDES: Well, we know their thinking because the White House counsel basically said,
point blank, that the president believes that President Trump trying to exert executive
privilege here is not in the best interests of the United States.
They called it "unique and extraordinary circumstances."
They say that President Trump
basically doesn't have any basis to hide, you know, visitor logs, call logs from January 6th.
You can imagine there are a lot of people in his orbit, perhaps Republicans on Capitol
Hill, who don't want those call logs to be made public.
But this is the Biden White House doing now what it's been signposting for a couple
weeks, saying: We'd love nothing more than for all of that information to get out in the
public, because we think that what happened on January 6th was a terrible day in this
country and needs to be prevented.
ALCINDOR: They've been saying it's a stain on American democracy.
Katie, I want to come to you.
The select committee also threatened to criminally charge Steve Bannon - this is former
President Trump's chief strategist - or, former President Trump's former chief strategist
- with criminal charges here because he's not wanting to comply with the subpoena by the
House Select Committee.
Talk about the legal options that lawmakers have here when it
comes to pursuing top aides of Trump?
And I also wonder - President Trump has been
saying that he's going to try to sue to block these documents from being released.
What's the issue there?
KATIE BENNER: Sure.
So, well, on Bannon in particular it's really difficult to know what
legal protections he has, because he was not a member of the administration at the time that these
conversations were happening about how to - you know, how to overturn the results of the
So Congress has said they would sue him, they would hold him in contempt.
And it's clear that he seems to have a little bit more legal exposure than some people
who were in the administration, like Mark Meadows, like Kash Patel.
But what we also
have reported is that Kash Patel, Mark Meadows, there are in communications with the
It's clear that they feel that they may need to hand over documents,
they may need to cooperate.
In part because it's going to be very difficult to make a legal argument that these
people should not participate in the select committee's questioning and that documents
shouldn't flow to the committee when former President Trump did not try to stop former
Justice Department officials from testifying before Congress.
And as we see from their testimony, which was just released by the Senate Judiciary
Committee, it's an extremely full account of many of the things and many of the matters
that people like Mark Meadows would be questioned on.
So how could the president allow, you know, the former Attorney General Jeff Rosen, for
example, to have this very full discussion with the committee about the same matters they
want to speak to Mark Meadows about, but then say that Mark Meadows for some reason
cannot share the same information?
ALCINDOR: And, Katie, you also wrote this week about the Senate report that really
detailed what President Trump was trying to do with the Department of Justice to overturn
the 2020 election.
There were reports that he tried to call - or, he or his allies
were calling the DOJ every day, sometimes multiple times a day.
What did this report reveal about how far President Trump went?
BENNER: You know, what the report did is it confirmed reporting that started coming out
in January of this year from various publications that said that the president was trying
to use the Justice Department to do two things.
One, to actually overturn the results of the election and, two, to create statements,
public documents, file briefs that would just cast enough doubt on the legitimacy of the
election that the president and his allies could take it from there, and sort of sow
greater doubt and delegitimize the results of the election.
So the report verifies that reporting, but the Judiciary Committee also, in startling
detail, it's like the received every communication happening between the White House and
the Justice Department.
Plus, the transcripts of three witnesses who gave extensive testimony.
It really underscores the intensity of the former president's campaign, and the intensity
of his allies' campaign to have the Justice Department legitimize activity that at that
point was really just sort of brewing in the White House.
ALCINDOR: And, Cecilia, you're the top Facebook reporter.
You're a great reporter on
a lot of other subjects - on a lot of other subjects.
But Facebook is where you shine.
You wrote this book.
Talk a bit about Facebook's role in the threats to democracy,
given that the Facebook whistleblower said that the company was allegedly
contributing to the hate and misinformation that led to January 6th.
CECILIA KANG: Yes, Frances Haugen, the whistleblower, her team within Facebook in December
2020 was disbanded.
And the team that she worked on was called the civic integrity team.
That team was really charged with trying to fight election-related misinformation.
This was right at the time when the Stop the Steal movement and other Trump supporters
were really organizing on Facebook's various platforms: Facebook, Facebook Groups,
Facebook Messages, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
And what they were doing is they were
organizing in communication, really riling each other up on what they believed was
a stolen election.
So Frances Haugen, what she said in the testimony this week in
the Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee was that Facebook turned a blind eye in
the sense that it let its security forces down by disbanding her group.
That was sort of
actually the straw that broke the camel's back for her, in that she decided to quit after that.
And I think it's really important to note that what she was seeing internally - and this
is the pattern that she describes in all of her testimony as a whistleblower - is a
company that portrays itself very differently in public from what the company was really
dealing with internally and what it knew.
On January 11th, after the January 6th Capitol riots, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief
operating officer of Facebook, spoke to Reuters in a video interview.
And when asked about Facebook's role in the January 6th riots, she said: Look, we
definitely have problems with enforcement, we've definitely had problems with
misinformation, but the vast majority of communication and organizing for Capitol rioters
did not occur on any of our platforms, it occurred on other platforms, like Parler and Gab.
The fact of the matter is, is that when the indictments came out for Capitol rioters we
saw that Facebook was one of the main methods of communication for the Capitol rioters.
ALCINDOR: That's fascinating.
And Cecilia, I also wonder, can you talk a bit about
the money behind this?
What are the profit decisions that Facebook is making?
And I also wonder, what steps could Congress take in regulating Facebook when it's
thinking about the decisions that it's making with these profits?
KANG: Yeah, I mean, one thing that Frances Haugen said over and over in her testimony
this week is that Facebook chooses profits over the safety of people.
What we have found at The New York Times as well as in our reporting for our book -
Sheera Frenkel and I - is that what Facebook does certainly do - and this sort of is
confirmed by Ms. Haugen's testimony - is it absolutely prioritizes engagement.
It prioritizes traffic, it prioritizes people wanting to come back more and more, and
what that means is it has decided when it - when it designs its systems through software
choices to rank very highly the most emotive content, the most - the most agitating
content, whether it's positive or negative agitation.
And the side effect of that is, is that a lot of the content that really makes you want
to press a like button, press the share button, press the comment - and make comments on
a Facebook post, is very toxic and oftentimes harmful content, like election-related
So that was her overriding message.
By choosing to - choosing engagement and growth - and in her words, profits - over the
safety of people as of - as the first priority, the safety of people and the integrity of
its network - of its platform are the costs of that engagement focus.
ALCINDOR: And Marianna, you're on Capitol Hill.
What do you hear from lawmakers about their willingness, and really can they even juggle
regulating Facebook when they have all these other things that they're dealing with?
SOTOMAYOR: That is probably the biggest part, when would you be able to figure out any
time on the calendar to be able to even debate or pass this kind of legislation?
The good news is that you saw Republicans and Democrats both express worry and wanting to
know more about Facebook and just general social media tendencies and how they influence
people to act in a certain way, but you really didn't hear any policy prescriptions of any kind
And again, you just don't have time between the debt ceiling that they're going to have
to deal with, funding the government which is also a deadline in early December, but -
and also passing the build back better infrastructure-social safety net agenda.
That is going to be top priority, and adding anything else is pretty difficult.
ALCINDOR: And when we think about - you know, talking about the threats to democracy, we
saw Vice President Pence this week downplay January 6th, Nancy.
He was someone who,
of course, had to run for his life.
They were chanting about hanging him.
What does it tell you amid all of the conversations about Facebook that the former vice
president is downplaying the Capitol attack here?
CORDES: It tells you that he may have future political aspirations and that in order to
realize those aspirations he currently believes that he needs to try to stay on the good
side of not just President Trump but more importantly his supporters, and to do that he
needs to downplay a day in which there were people standing outside the Capitol saying
hang Mike Pence.
You know, now to say it was just any other day, you know,
it wasn't that big of a deal, is really surprising coming from him.
JAVERS: I think you're exactly right, and I just wonder if a political figure really
does have national possibilities in the future if a large portion of his own party's
political base was on Capitol Hill chanting that they wanted to hang him, right?
I mean, can you come back from that?
Mike Pence clearly -
CORDES: Why would you - why would you want to?
JAVERS: And why would you - exactly.
Mike Pence clearly believes he can overcome that.
We've never seen an American politician in this country face that sort of rancor from his
own party, his own political base, motivated by his own boss, and then overcome that to
win a nomination.
The idea that Pence can come back from that and win the nomination
seems to me to be enormously farfetched, but a lot of what we've seen has been
enormously farfetched so certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
ALCINDOR: And Katie, we only have a couple seconds here.
I'll give you 30 seconds if
you can: What's the national security risks around all of the things that we're talking about?
What are you hearing from the DOJ when we think about Facebook, when we think about the
Republican Party and the direction that they've taken, talking about the Capitol attack
as a tourist visit?
What are your sources telling you?
BENNER: So I think that what we see are real parallels to the same conversations that
the intelligence community had with social media companies around international extremism
and terrorism more than a decade ago.
They were saying, listen, you guys, you're not only - you know, you're not only sharing
propaganda; you're allowing really extremist movements to grow and foment, for people to
connect on your platforms.
I think we're seeing a parallel with that today.
So even though Mark Zuckerberg is saying we had nothing to do with January 6th - he's
pointing toward Fox News and other places - Facebook is a lab for ideas in so many ways.
And as Cecilia pointed out, the ideas that get the emotion and the most traction are the
ideas that are going to move from Facebook into the real world.
And so Facebook's decision to - it's own propaganda to try to separate itself from
real-world consequences doesn't make sense, especially when social media companies were
sort of quietly in private meetings agreeing with the intelligence community more than a
decade ago that they were - that they contributed to extremism overseas.
ALCINDOR: Well, all of this is just so important.
We all - millions of people use Facebook.
We're going to talk about it more in the Extra, but I really appreciate all of you
bringing your reporting on this busy, busy week.
That's it for tonight.
Thank you to our reporters for joining us and thank you at home for watching.
And on Monday, watch the PBS NewsHour.
The show will examine the monumental battle
over heritage and land on Indigenous People's Day.
We'll continue our conversation on
the Washington Week Extra.
Find it on our website, Facebook, and YouTube.
This week we'll take, as I said, a deep dive into Facebook.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Good night from Washington.