- Defending democracy at home and abroad.
- As a global community for democracy, we have to stand up for the values that unite us.
- [Yamiche] President Biden calls on world leaders to protect democracy.
- I was very straightforward.
There was no minced words.
- [Yamiche] And he threatened President Putin with economic consequences to ward off a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, a federal court rules that former President Trump cannot assert executive privilege over White House records connected to the Capitol attack.
And the Supreme Court allows a challenge to Texas's restrictive abortion law but leaves it in place for now.
Plus Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of "The 1619 Project," discusses the consequences of slavery in American life and politics, next.
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(riveting music) Once again from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
- Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week."
Over the last few days, President Biden has been focused on threats to democracy at home and abroad.
On Tuesday, he held a video call with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
He warned Putin not to invade Ukraine and threatened him with severe economic sanctions.
- Very clear.
If, in fact he invades Ukraine, there'll be severe consequences.
- That comes as Russian troops are gathering en masse near the Ukrainian border.
The standoff could be a diplomatic minefield for President Biden.
On Thursday, President Biden also kicked off a two-day virtual democracy summit with more than 100 countries.
He spoke about the importance of protecting democracy.
- I wanted to host this summit because here in the United States, we know as well as anyone that renewing our democracy and strengthening our democratic institutions requires constant effort.
- And on the domestic front, Senate Republicans and, yes, two Democrats voted to repeal key Biden vaccine mandates.
Here's Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.
- President Biden's absurd private sector vaccine mandate is blatant overreach.
It is illegal.
- Joining me to discuss the latest from Washington, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times," Vivian Salama, National Security reporter for the "Wall Street Journal," and Jake Sherman, co-founder of "Punchbowl News," that newsletter that gets us all up in the morning.
Thank you all for being here.
Peter, I wanna start with you.
President Biden, of course, had this high stakes call with the Russian president.
He also talked to the president of Ukraine.
Talk a bit about how the White House sees this relationship, especially with what's happening on the border, but also, can there be enough leverage to impact President Putin's actual actions here?
- Yeah, that's a great question.
That's the $64,000 question.
So President Biden came to office with a theory of the case on Russia.
They weren't gonna try to do a reset like Obama tried.
They weren't gonna try to cozy up the way President Trump did.
They would try something called mowing the lawn.
From time to time, they were gonna keep Russia happy with a little bit of respect, have a summit, a secretary of state visit, but they didn't wanna spend a lot of time on Russia because they weren't gonna get anywhere on it.
They wanted to focus on other priorities, overseas like China.
Well, guess what?
It hasn't worked because President Putin demands attention.
It's not enough to mow the lawn when it comes to President Putin.
He's gonna get in your lawn.
And that's the problem right now is he's getting in everybody else's lawn.
Now, President Biden has taken a balanced middle approach.
He's trying not to be too saber rattling while, at the same time, making some pretty straightforward warnings about what would happen if President Putin goes too far.
But the question is what Putin really wants to do here because he's already taken into account whatever he thinks the United States is gonna do.
He already knows whether he's willing to pay the price that President Biden can inflict, and so we're left guessing whether he really wants to invade, which is still seems somewhat unlikely but not out of the question, or whether he's trying to get something else out of it.
What is he trying to get out of it other than just destabilizing his neighbor?
- And Vivian, I know you've spent all week reporting on this.
Peter's talking about this idea of the Russian president needing attention, also already gaming this out.
What do you think the calculations are both on the Russian side, both on the US side, and really, what do you think is the Russian president's end game here?
- Well, Vladimir Putin has long believed that he has expanded Russian power to make it in this post-Soviet era to make it a real viable global power, and the one missing element of that is really maintaining Ukraine in his orbit.
It's something that he is quite obsessed with.
He talks about it all the time.
And so for him, expanding NATO, and that involves providing assistance from NATO allies or any kind of aid, whatever you wanna call it, any expansion into Ukraine violates that.
And so for him, this is almost an existential issue.
It's an issue that impacts his legacy directly.
and so that's his calculation, and whether or not he invades, obviously, we don't know, but it's not looking good just given all the signs we've seen with the troops amassing at the border with Ukraine and some of his rhetoric.
Now for the US, obviously, there are different things.
Like Peter said, the Biden administration has made a concerted effort to focus on China and the strategic competition.
He also prides himself with his diplomatic efforts, and so he thinks that talking to Putin on a video call, it's important to emphasize he did a video call with Putin.
He did not do that with the others this week because he believes that that face-to-face interaction, that personal connection is something that he can really leverage in his favor to avoid a bad situation.
And for him, he just wants to avoid a bad situation.
Getting sucked into a conflict in Ukraine is not what he wants, and so they're trying to diffuse the situation as much as possible.
- And Vivian, if I can ask you, really a related question, it's the democracy summit.
This summit, it's 100 countries.
The president talked about protecting democracy.
I also wonder if you could talk a bit about how countries see the US trying to lead other countries to protect our democracies when we have the issues that we have with our own democracy.
- It's a really touchy issue.
This is something that President Biden campaigned on.
He promised in his first year that he was going to convene a summit of democracies to bring all the world's democracies together to talk about reinvigorating that that notion of democracy, as he believed that that was lagging under the Trump administration.
He wanted to reaffirm that.
But obviously there are a lot of issues at home that the US got a lot of criticism for, everything from racial to economic inequalities, a history of slavery.
The list goes on, and our adversaries throw that in our faces constantly with regard to any kind of confrontation.
The Chinese and the Russians were not invited to participate in this week's summit, but they are the first to call the US out on some of the issues that we have.
The January 6th protests are a prime example of that where the Chinese have repeatedly pointed to that and talked about the fragility of our democracy here at home.
And so while the US admits and President Biden admits that the US is not perfect, he's trying to really establish this framework where we can build upon the ideals that America was built upon when it was founded 250 years ago.
- Yeah, and Jake, the issues at home, of course, are right in, in the beat that you cover on Capitol Hill.
There was a really great article in the "Atlantic," and of course, I should say the "Punchbowl News" was doing great reporting, too, but this "Atlantic" article struck me because it talks about the chipping away at democracy and the next January 6th is gonna be slow, and it's gonna be president former President Trump overthrowing an election before it even is decided.
Talk a bit about what you're seeing from your vantage point.
- That story by Bart Gellman was quite alarming, I would say.
Listen, I was talking to a group this morning of aids from the European parliament who asked me.
It was striking to me.
They said to me, "Will there ever be an election in America that's free and fair again?
Or will there be people who are always undermining or always saying, unless they won, the election is not fair?"
These are people who are political professionals in another country, and I'm not sure where this person was from, but from obviously from somewhere in Europe, and it was striking to me.
And I will say if Republicans take the majority in 2022, it'll be interesting to see if they see any fraud in any of the elections that they've won.
So listen, I think that this is gonna be a lingering problem.
I think that if Donald Trump runs again, it'll be interesting to see how he handles it, and I think it's scary.
It's quite scary.
- Yeah, quite scary is definitely, I think, the correct way to characterize this.
I also wanna just ask you, how are lawmakers feeling about the January 6th investigation?
There was a lot of news this week.
Apparently the former chief of staff to the former President Trump, he's not cooperating as much anymore, but Mark Short, who was the former chief of staff to the vice president, he is cooperating.
What are you hearing about lawmakers, from lawmakers?
- Yeah, I think the people who are involved are quite happy how it's going.
They've done 200-something interviews, thousands of documents.
Here's the interesting thing.
The subpoenas get all the headlines, but there are dozens of people, if not more, who didn't get subpoenaed, who worked for President Trump who are cooperating because they did nothing wrong and they have information, or they have just the ability to map who was talking to who in the White House.
That is what should scare Donald Trump, not people who could fight these subpoenas and who are gonna be pains in the neck to the committee like Mark Meadows or other folks like that.
But it's the people who are quietly giving this committee what they need to know, what they want to know, and allowing them to build a large record of what happened leading up to January 6th and on January 6th.
- Yeah, Peter, you're nodding your head.
Jump in here.
And we covered the former president together.
- We did.
We sat there and (laughs)- - We had an experience.
- We did.
(laughs) And I think that one of the things that's really interesting is even though Mark Meadows now has suddenly said, "I'm not gonna cooperate," in the end, he's already given them some documents.
They're already pretty revealing, right?
For instance, there are text messages that apparently they have in which Meadows trades messages with a member of Congress on November, I believe, 6th, before they even had declared the election for Biden, talking about substituting electors in states that they wanted to challenge, and he says, "I love it," according to the committee.
That shows how early they were already talking about finding ways to upend the system, to change the result away from what the certified results really were.
And I think we're learning so much more everyday and every week about the concerted effort to topple a democratic system.
And your visitors who are asking you about a free and fair election are raising a pretty scary but important point.
Actually, the truth is it was a free and fair election, but now the president, former president, has convinced millions of people that it wasn't, and that's what makes it dangerous because people have less faith in democracy.
- Yeah, yeah.
Well, there's another issue, of course, that's been bubbling up this week that we had news on today, and that is, of course, abortion.
Today, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion providers in Texas can challenge the state's ban on most abortions after six weeks, but the ruling leaves a lot in place as the legal process plays out.
Vivian, Clarence Thomas was the only person dissenting on this.
He talked about the idea that he would not have let this lawsuit go through, but Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, she wrote this.
"The court should've put an end to this madness months ago," meaning that the law should not have been kept in place.
From your perspective with the people that you talk to, how is what we're seeing in the US on abortion, how is it viewed globally when you think about other countries like Ireland, a very, of course, Catholic country?
They are providing abortions in most cases up until at least the first trimester, rather.
- A number of Latin American countries, too, which are also very Catholic, and they're starting to liberalize.
You see Mexico and Argentina and a number of others which are going in that direction.
All the while, you're seeing much more restrictions in this issue of bringing more conservative values to abortion laws back in our rhetoric here in the United States.
And it's very interesting because on the one hand, and a lot of these countries that are changing their laws, they are saying that in the first three months, they were making exceptions for a number of socioeconomic issues, such as unemployment and medical issues, whereas in the United States and especially when we're talking about places like Texas, they are only allowing exceptions for a pregnant woman if their health of the pregnant woman is in jeopardy or if there's a fetal anomaly.
And so a lot of concern that the United States is going in one direction while the rest of the world is liberalizing these laws.
But obviously, this is playing out in the high court now, a very contentious issue.
We see protests here in DC now almost on a daily basis over the issue, and so it continues to be a hot topic but with the court now leaning more toward the conservative side of things, it is gonna be a hot topic for people who are pro abortion.
- Yeah, hot topic.
It's a topic that's concerning to so many Americans all over the country.
Peter, the president put out a statement today saying that he was very concerned about the Supreme Court's decision.
What are you hearing from the White House from Democrats about their plans to push back?
There's very little they can do, but this is still moving its way through the Supreme Court, of course.
- Yeah, it's really interesting.
So obviously, this is the culmination of decades of fighting in this country over it, and if you're anti-abortion, this is a great thing.
This is a moment where you might be able to actually finally change the law in a way that you feel is the best way for the unborn.
But what was gonna see here if they were to overturn Roe V Wade or even if they just simply uphold some of these really restrictive state laws is an increased polarization in the country, right?
It's not gonna ban abortion across the country overnight.
What they're gonna do is they're gonna say, "Red states, blue states."
In effect, we're gonna have even more of a division in the United States, and with some states have very, very strict bans or near bans on them, and other states are very pro abortion rights, and we're gonna once again bring this country to yet another dividing point where we're just living in two different countries.
- Yeah, yeah.
It's definitely a topic that, of course, so many people feel passionate about.
It's a healthcare topic.
I wanna go to another healthcare topic.
We're obviously still living through this pandemic.
Jake, this week, we saw two Democrats in the Senate vote against the vaccine mandates and I should say vaccine and testing mandates targeting private businesses that President Biden is supporting.
We also saw Republicans, some democratic governors like Gretchen Whitmer out there in Michigan talking about these mandates being a problem.
How concerned is the White House Democrats that there could be some pushback on even from their own party on these mandates?
- Well, it's over now because the House is not gonna bring it up.
This almost shut the government down.
(laughs) Remember, just a couple of weeks ago, Republicans were threatening to shut down the government to defund, so to speak, these mandates.
I think this.
I think that Jon Tester and Joe Manchin, the two Democrats who voted with Republicans here are anomalies, right?
Joe Manchin and Jon tester represent states that Donald Trump won by 40-something points, so that's the dynamic there.
I think what Democrats say, by and large, and I've talked to a lot of Democrats about this, which is like the courts, in their view, even though a lot of them privately say they think the courts are gonna strike this down.
We'll just have to see.
That's a long way from being from being done, but I would say there is some unease with the private sector vaccine mandate among even less conservative Democrats.
Well, Peter, Vivian, Jake, thank you so much for joining us tonight, a conversation that we had will have to continue.
And as we continue to talk about democracy, I wanna turn now to talk about the politics of race and the newly released bestselling book, "The 1619 Project," and the children's book, "Born on the Water."
Joining me from New York, Nikole Hannah-Jones.
She is a Pulitzer prize-winning staff writer for the "New York Times" magazine and the creator of "The 1619 Project."
Thank you so much, Nikole, for being here.
You, of course, write in the preface of your book the first time you came across the date 1619.
Talk about what the significance of that date should be for this country and what it says about what kind of country we are but also what kind of country we could be.
- Hey, Yamiche.
Thanks for having me on.
And before I get into that, I just have to correct something from the last panel, if you don't mind.
- Yeah, yeah, go ahead.
This is why you're on, of course.
(women laugh) - So respectfully, when Jake Sherman of "Punchbowl" asked the question, "Will we ever have free and fair elections again," I just think we have to push back on that narrative that we've only had a resemblance of free and fair elections since 1965.
Until 1965 with the Voting Rights Act, we had an entire region of the country where millions of Americans had their vote violently suppressed and were actually not able to engage in democracy.
So we have not had free and fair elections except for the span of about five decades.
And so as we're analyzing where we'll be next year if Republicans take back the House and the Senate, I think we have to analyze that within the context of elections and democracy has always been contested in this country.
A true semblance of democracy is actually quite new, and what we'll really be doing is going back to our more natural state in the United States, and we should be very worried about that because that means that our democracy may not hold because we actually haven't had true representative democracy for very long.
Now moving on to the question that you asked me, the reason that 1619 is important is because 1619 actually explains why our democracy is on the brink right now.
We have this narrative of 1776 where these intrepid colonists break off from the British empire because they want to have freedom and liberty.
They want to be able to vote.
They want to be able to elect their governance, governance of the people by the people for the people.
But the truth is in 1776, 1/5 of the population was enslaved.
1/5 of the population of the 13 colonies in all 13 colonies engaged in slavery could not exercise any type of representative democracy at all because they weren't even considered part of the body politic.
But if we think about America through the prism of 1619, that's where we see these really founding tensions that our country is struggling against right now, this racial division, this polarization, even our class divisions.
That is where those begin, and those are influencing what happens in 1776, what happens in 1865, what happens in 1965, how we get the election of Donald Trump, and where we are in the country right now.
- Yeah, and you went straight to elections, and I think it's a smart place to be because you also said that race was the original wedge issue was one of the earliest wedge issues in America.
Can you talk a little bit about that and talk a little bit about how it connects to the voting rights restrictions that we're seeing these laws that are being passed by Republicans in states all over the country?
So I've been doing actually quite a bit of reading on how democracies die.
As a matter of fact, I just finished a book called "How Democracies die," and what those scholars argue really, which I think is true, is that democracy in America, until 1965, was predicated on exclusion.
And the reason why you could have political parties that, even though they may have had different beliefs, that actually saw each other both as legitimate rulers is because black people and people of color were excluded from that process.
So you were only ever engaging with other white people in the political process.
And so what we're seeing now is really a tearing of that fiber that united us because black people, Latinos, indigenous people are now having a say in our elections, and they're actually able sway elections.
As you know, a Republican has not won the popular vote for the presidency except one time in about the last 30 years.
And so brown people, black people are really swaying these elections, and that's where we're seeing this extreme polarization is coming out of that.
So Republicans now, who are the conservative party, but during the 1960s, it was Democrats who were more the conservative party and earlier.
What we're seeing is that there's always a understanding that if you cannot win the vote, you can win the vote by dividing people along racial lines, that you can separate people who should have a class interest.
Working class white people should have a class interest with working class black people, but you can divide those voters if you can introduce the issue of race.
And that's why the propaganda campaign of critical race theory was so effective.
If you may notice, now that the election is over, no one's talking about critical race theory anymore because that was a very useful tool.
And if we as journalists are not more savvy about understanding how race is used in election, then we are going to help us get to that point where we don't have fair and free elections anymore.
- Yeah, and when you're talking about free and fair elections and also talking about the political impacts and consequences of slavery and racism, there's also the economic impacts of that.
You talk about the fact that slavery was not just a racist system.
It was really an economic system.
How do you see that playing out now?
How is that playing out now, especially as we live through these economic struggles through this pandemic?
So what we are commonly taught to think about is that slavery was about white people, white enslavers the racist against black people.
But slavery was about trying to extract resources and capital and money out of black labor and justifying that exploitation through racism, so justifying the fact that you could do anything to black people, as long as it turned a profit, including torturing them, including selling their children, by saying these people weren't really human like us.
These people don't feel pain like us.
These people are not deserving of the same treatment and rights as other people.
Well, we can look across our country and see that what is stopping us from having a strong social safety net?
Why do we have the least labor union membership of the Western world?
Why are we the only nation where whether you can go to the doctor when you're sick depends on whether you have a job or not?
This is what makes us an outlier compared to other countries that we compare ourselves to, and the polling is very clear.
White American support for social programs decline if they think large numbers of black Americans will benefit from them.
So large numbers of white Americans are hurting their own economic interests, even now in a pandemic because they have this belief that black people are undeserving of aid, and so they will also deprive themselves of aid.
- One last question, and you had this, of course, tumultuous relationship at UNC, and you decided to go to Howard.
What do you think is just the impact and what do you hope is the impact of a woman like you, a black woman like you, taking back your power and saying, "I'm gonna go here and I'm gonna choose this"?
It's really quick question.
It's only about 20 seconds left, but I wanna just allow you to bask in that.
- Yeah, I think that the message is these institutions are just as lucky to have us as we are to be there, and we need to stop being treated as if we should just have to take crumbs.
We do have power.
We do bring work and we do bring value.
And if institutions won't recognize that, then we take our talents elsewhere.
And Jake, she mentioned you.
You're still at the table.
- No, I wasn't saying that.
I was relaying a question that somebody else had asked me.
I wasn't questioning whether we'd have fair and free elections, but that was a question posed to me during a panel discussion.
Well, thank you, Jake, for responding.
Thank you, Nikole, for bringing that on and for joining the broadcast.
We'll continue our conversation online with Nikole on the "Washington Week" extra.
Find it on our website, Facebook, and YouTube.
Also, tune in Monday to the "PBS News Hour" for look inside to legal facilities in New York where people can now use illegal drugs.
And before we go, we wanna remember two legendary politicians, former Senate majority leader Bob Dole and former Congresswoman Carrie Meek.
A World War II veteran, Dole was one of the most influential Republicans of his time.
He was in 1996 Republican presidential nominee.
He passed away on Sunday at the age of 98.
And Congresswoman Meek started her trailblazing political career as a democratic Florida state House representative.
The granddaughter of enslaved people, she was the first black lawmaker from Florida to win a seat in Congress since Reconstruction.
She passed away on Sunday at the age of 95.
May they rest in peace.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Thank you for joining us.
Goodnight from Washington.
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