- New details on the Capitol attack and COVID spiking again.
- The resolution is adopted.
- [Yamiche] Mark Meadows, former President Trump's chief of staff, held in contempt of Congress.
- These text messages leave no doubt.
The White House knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol.
- [Yamiche] And some of President Biden's key policies stall in Congress as Democrats struggle to agree.
- Plus-- - The house is gone.
There's nothing left.
- [Yamiche] Deadly storms ravage the South and Midwest as COVID cases spike across the country, next.
(intense music) - [Announcer] This is "Washington Week."
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Once again from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
- Good evening, and welcome to "Washington Week."
This week brought major developments in the January 6 investigation.
Tuesday, the House voted to hold Mark Meadows in criminal contempt for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena.
Here's Congressman Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House committee investigating the Capitol attack.
- History will record that in a critical moment in our democracy, most people were on the side of finding the truth, of providing accountability, or strengthening our system for future generations.
And history will also record in this critical moment that some people were not.
- Now Meadows gave the committee thousands of pages of documents, including text messages he received from lawmakers, Fox News hosts, and former President Trump's son as the rioters broke into the Capitol.
Congressman Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the committee, said, quote, "She will not," quote, "let the facts be buried by a coverup."
She also read aloud some of the text messages.
- One text, Mr. Meadows received said, quote, "We are under siege here at the Capitol."
Another, quote, "They have breached the Capitol."
In a third, "Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows on doors, rushing in.
Is Trump going to say something?"
Donald Trump Jr. texted, again and again, urging action by the president.
Quote, "We need an Oval Office address.
He has to lead now.
It has gone too far and gotten out of hand."
- This week, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell also spoke out in favor of the committee's work.
- It was a horrendous event.
And I think that what they're sticking to find out is something that public needs to know.
- Joining us now to discuss all of this and more, Eva McKend, national politics reporter for CNN.
Ashley Parker, White House bureau chief for the Washington Post.
Sabrina Siddiqui, White House reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
And Nicholas Wu, congressional reporter for Politico.
Thank you all of you for being here.
Ashley, I want to go to you.
What's the impact of these text messages that Liz Cheney read aloud, a staggering moment, an astonishing moment.
What's the impact, though, of this and what do they reveal about Mark Meadow's role as well as sort of the role of the White House in January 6?
- Sure, so I think one thing these text messages show is just how inextricably bound with the day's events and the run-up to the day's events Mark Meadows was.
He was the key, on January 6, as everything is going down, is the key point of contact with people who are desperate: journalists, Republican lawmakers, Trump supporters, everyone.
The president's own son, his eldest son, which is, frankly, it's a separate issue, but it's a very revealing look into that family dynamic that instead of calling or texting his father, he texts the chief of staff.
He is the main point of contact.
And in a certain way, in a very different way, he was the main point of contact for the conspiracy theorists in the run-up to those days.
A typical chief of staff is a gatekeeper, but in this case, Mark Meadows flung the gates to the Oval Office, to the West Wing, wide open to anyone who had a theory, a bit of misinformation they wanted to get to the president, they wanted to get to someone.
And in those final days, we were all covering it.
There were some people in Trump's orbit who were uncomfortable with what was going on in the run-up and they wanted nothing to do with it.
And the common refrain among them became, "Go call Meadows."
Because he was that person who would take the call.
- Yeah, and "Go call Meadows" was also what Fox News hosts were doing.
And to me it's really interesting because it reveals what Fox News hosts were saying at the time and also what they were saying privately.
What does this reveal for you when you look at these text messages and then what they were saying aloud?
- I mean, a couple of things.
First of all, that these Fox News host very much viewed themselves and the language they used, as on the same team as Trump White House.
Not as journalists covering it, but as really advocates.
But also what was more shocking than that, because I think if you watch some of those shows, that's a fair impression to come away with, what was really more shocking was how quickly that white washing began.
You have Fox News hosts who in the context and the content of their texts, they're very clear saying, "Your supporters are being violent."
That is the subtext of those texts.
"Your supporters are being violent and you, Mr. President, are the only ones who can call them off."
And despite knowing all of that and saying that basically privately, in public sometimes as soon as hours later, they're saying something incredibly different.
They're saying, "It was just Antifa.
It was the left.
It was a small group of bad actors.
It was actually just mere political tourism.
People who wanted to see the Capitol that day."
And when we look we're almost a year from the January 6 anniversary, and I think one thing is it's also the anniversary of the embrace of the big lie, the so-called big lie, and the white washing of it.
And those texts from those Fox News hosts, you can see that whitewashing begin almost instantly.
- Almost instantly is a good way to put it.
Nicholas, one, welcome to the show.
And you've been doing a lot of reporting on Capitol Hill.
The House, of course, took this step to now refer, essentially, to the Justice Department, a potential criminal charge for Mark Meadows.
What are lawmakers thinking about that charge?
Do they think the DOJ is going to act, and even more, where does this leave Mark Meadows, when you think about what he's facing now?
- Exactly, so as lawmakers see it, the contempt referral is less about necessarily trying to put someone in jail.
That's not what they're trying to do here.
What they want to do is send a warning shot across the bow of anyone else who would stand up against the committee and refuse to testify in the way that Meadows has.
That's what we saw with Bannon, for example.
Bannon, the committee saw as an extreme outlier.
He didn't come in to assert any of his privileges.
He didn't turn over any documents.
He didn't even return emails from the committee.
And so that's what happened here with Meadows.
Although he did cooperate with the committee, there was this handshake agreement with them that all fell apart over these questions of executive privilege.
And now moving forward from here, the committee sees this as a black mark on Meadows's legacy, a former member of theirs, member of the oversight committee who had tried to uphold subpoenas in the past, who is now standing up against one and could be now referred to the Justice Department for a criminal referral.
Now it all depends on what a grand jury has to say there about that.
- It matters what a grand jury has to say.
I would also say that matters in some ways, what lawmakers have to say.
Eva, we heard from Republicans and Democrats talking about this as a moral issue with Senator Warnock and Representative Cheney.
You also had, of course, the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, speak out in favor of the work, but how much does this really matter?
You were out on the campaign trail talking to voters.
How is this landing for people who are not in DC and who are going to be making the decision when you have GOP primary candidates who won't even say that Joe Biden is president?
- Well, I think that this is the most revealing work of the committee to date this week.
And that is a good thing for this effort.
We are in a state where many would argue that we're living in a very fragile democracy and many view this work as necessary.
The challenge that Democrats face is that when I was in Doylestown, Pennsylvania this week, for instance, asking people about politics, they were more concerned about getting presents under the Christmas tree.
So that is the challenge that Democrats face in continuing to do this important work: showing that they are just as concerned for the needs of Americans.
- They're just as concerned for the needs of Americans, but also the GOP is a party now, when you talk to some people who are running for office, they, again, won't tell you that President Biden is the rightful president, they won't say that the 2020 election wasn't rigged, where does that leave the GOP?
- It's become a necessary part of campaigning in Republican primaries.
I was in Ohio several weeks ago, covering that Senate Republican primary.
Almost every candidate saying that the election was stolen, that the election was rigged.
And they view that as the path to victory, that they have no other choice, in order to get the Republican nomination, that they have to continue this big lie.
- And that's such an important point, because I think when you look at the way in which Republicans and conservative media personalities have tried to minimize the events of January 6, what that overlooks and glosses over is the fact that the majority of the Republican base does actually believe that the 2020 election was fraudulent, even though, as we know, that is simply not the case.
And they do not see President Biden's victory as legitimate.
There's Stop the Steal merchandise being sold or handed out these campaign rallies.
There are ads that are still being run, questioning the integrity of the election, and it's become this litmus test for Republicans that they're really struggling with.
And so I think that's why a lot of people believe the work of this committee is so important, because absent that accounting for what the climate was that really allowed the events of January 6 to take place.
There're not really mechanisms in place to prevent it from happening again.
And the problem for Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, these Republicans on the committee, is that the base is much more in line with former President Trump and his allies then they are these handful of Republicans in Congress who truly want to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6.
- Yeah, and you think about what's going on in the GOP.
You also have to talk about what's going on with Democrats.
In a long shot bid, some Democrats are spending the last few weeks of the year pushing for voting rights legislation.
Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia called voting rights, quote, "The central moral issue confronting this Congress."
- The American people have been pushing for leaders in Washington to address voting rights.
They are deeply worried.
- Ashley, I want to come to you.
President Biden said this week that voting rights is the number one most important domestic issue.
But I've been hearing from sources who say, "Okay, but this was the president who spent most of his time talking about inflation, talking about infrastructure, trying to get those things done."
Of course the White House is saying, "Well, he did talk about voting rights, the VP's working on it."
What are your sources telling you?
- Well, it's fascinating to cover, because this is a president who not just said that this week, but who really ran on restoring democracy, that was one of his key platforms.
And then when he got elected he identified four major crises.
Democracy was not one of them.
And then, even as he's gone forward, there's been a real debate in the Democratic party.
There's sort of two levels of this democracy.
One is the pushing voting rights stuff.
And he very clearly until now has not prioritized it, in the sense that he did the COVID relief bill first.
There's a very fair argument for that.
Then he went to infrastructure, then he was doing his Build Back Better agenda.
I mean, it's simply not legislation he has put any muscle behind.
And then democracy writ large, which is using that bully pulpit.
And he has given some speeches.
He went to Philadelphia and gave a speech about voting rights and democracy there.
But there's a question in the Democratic party, even a bit in the White House, of how much should he use that bully pulpit to confront former President Trump?
Because if you look at it, Trump puts out a statement nearly every single day that in some way undermines democracy by basically saying, as we were just talking about, the election was stolen, it's not free and fair, Bidens' not a legitimate president.
And the president and a lot of the people around him believe by engaging former President Trump, you're just elevating a conspiracy theory, but others believe that no, you need to go and you need to call this out and you have a duty to do that and he has not done that as forcefully as some people in his party would like to see.
- Yeah, when you talk about critics now wanting the president to talk more, Nicholas, there are also people who say, "You need to be pushing," they're talking to the president, "about changing the filibuster, coming out strong as a carve-out."
What are you hearing from lawmakers about whether or not that's realistic?
The president has not been clear about whether or not he would even back that.
- This has been an ongoing issue for Democrats in Congress over the past year.
In some ways it's kind of like Charlie Brown and the football, right?
They have this big lofty goal, the football, and they swing at every time and then miss it because the filibuster is the thing that stands in their way.
In a 50-50 Senate, you need 10 Republicans to get onboard with any piece of legislation to move it forward.
Unless, of course, you try to reform the filibuster, which is what some Democrats have talked about.
There was some talk among some Democrats.
I've heard from sources about trying to create a carve out, of sorts, for issues like voting rights.
But that still requires a majority of Democrats to get onboard with that, and Senator Sinema has stood strong against changing the rules of the filibuster.
And so this brings us back to square one.
You have these big lofty goals, HR1, the big democracy reform package, issues with passing Build Back Better, any number of different Democratic policy priorities that any one Senator in the Democratic party has veto power over.
- in some ways you just wrote our turn because we have to talk about BBB.
We also have to talk about the fact that this week the US reached a grim, grim milestone.
The coronavirus has now killed more than 800,000 people.
More people have been reported to have died in the US than in any other country in the world.
That comes as Senate Democrats are struggling to make President Biden's agenda a reality.
That's what Nicholas was just talking about.
His key social spending bill, the Build Back Better Act, is now delayed until at least 2022.
I'm gonna come back to you, Nicholas.
How much of a blow is this to Democrats and to the White House, that all of these things that you just laid out are not happening right now?
- In progressives for particular this is a big let down.
I mean, they had put a lot of their credibility on the line earlier this year in letting the infrastructure bill pass in November.
For months and months, Democrats had fought over when exactly to pass these bills.
Progressives had insisted that the infrastructure bill and Build Back Better move at the same time.
They, of course, are now separated.
And so there's a lot of anger right now among progressive Democrats that they lost all their leverage there and now you have all these drawn out negotiations over Build Back Better and the individual provisions, and for that matter, punting everything now into an election year where less and less legislating will get done in Congress.
- Sabrina, where does this leave the White House?
What are you hearing about?
Especially those key senators, Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema?
We hear the president talking to them all the time, but what's actually going on?
- Well, the president continues to have private conversations with Senator Joe Manchin, one of the key holdouts over the past week, but aides I've spoken to say that the talks aren't exactly going well because they simply have not been able to move the needle.
I mean, this is a continuation of negotiations that, as Nicholas said, have been ongoing for months, and we're still in the very same place where Manchin and Sinema believe that the size of this package is simply too large even though this framework was already agreed upon, sort of a handshake agreement, so that they can move the infrastructure bill forward.
And it's really the second pillar of President Biden's economic agenda on the line.
The closer you get toward midterm elections, or just in a midterm election year, it's so much harder, as everyone knows, to pass any legislation and this is something that Democrats really had hoped and still hope will be a major selling point for them going into the campaign season, to be able to say, "We did deliver on these economic priorities."
Especially when you still see the lingering impact on American families with respect to inflation, supply chain issues, and just more of the economic strife and pressure that a lot of families are under, this is something that's designed to reduce the cost of childcare, of healthcare, to alleviate some of those concerns for families.
And so I think there's a lot of pressure on the White House.
And the question is, when does President Biden say enough is enough and can he actually force Manchin and Sinema's hand on this issue?
- I mean, that's a key question.
Can he do this?
You talk about the pressure that families are facing, Eva.
There's also this pressure because the child tax credit, which was this monthly payment that 36 million families were receiving, that is expiring at the end of December.
There's this benefits cliff that's happening.
This is happening while COVID is spiking, while schools are closing.
So how much pressure are lawmakers facing, but also connect that to what you're hearing from just regular everyday Americans who are facing all of these challenges?
- Yeah, many Americans continuing to struggle.
And it's a politically difficult argument that Senator Manchin is making, to oppose, I think he believes in the spirit of the child tax credit, but doesn't like the way that it's being implemented in this bill.
This is such a difficult argument to make, especially for him representing a poor state where a lot of people are really depending on this benefit.
And it illustrates, I think, a level of disconnect from what everyday people are experiencing.
- Everyday people are also experiencing, really, this fear of COVID.
Ashley, the president said that we're looking at a winter of severe illness and death if you're un-vaccinated.
I've talked to so many people this week who are scared.
But this is still in some ways a pandemic about who's vaccinated and who's not.
And that comes down to politics.
The Republicans steer more unlikely to be vaccinated than the Democrats.
How is the White House thinking about cutting through that, what's their strategy?
- Well, one of the dilemmas for the White House is President Biden's falling poll numbers, for months when you've asked and tried to get to the bottom of why they think, his own aides think, he's not performing well politically, they say they believe it's COVID.
And it's frustrating to have to tie your political fortunes to something that, to some extent, is out of your control.
Now, what they can control is they can make at home testing more readily available and cheaper.
That would be a huge thing.
That's something that's very important to them.
Again, he is stressing very clearly that people need to, the best thing you can do is not just get vaccinated, but get your booster shots.
But you're right, and the White House has talked about this idea that the people who have taken the most precautions, the ones who are vaxxed, the ones who are boosted, the ones who wear masks, are still the ones who are the most scared and are behaving almost as if it's March of 2020.
And the people who aren't vaxxed, who aren't boosted, who don't wear masks, it's like a different country.
And so there's a little element of actual science.
They need to get the test.
They need to get that pills.
They need to get two to five-year-olds vaccinated.
And then there's social science, which is convincing another set of people that it actually is safe to go out and live your life and get the economy back to normal.
- I mean, that sort of schism is the story of this entire pandemic.
And, Nicholas, I was looking at this statistic and it just stopped me in my tracks.
60% of GOP adults have been vaccinated.
91% of adults who are Democrats have been vaccinated.
When you talk to lawmakers, is this spike in cases, these hospitalizations going up, does that change their calculation at all?
Especially when it comes to messaging to their constituents.
- To a certain degree.
I mean that's a really striking statistic there.
- [Yamiche] I should say it's according to the New York Times.
(chuckles) That really goes to show the partisan divide.
And it's something that we see every single day on the Hill.
Most of the Senate is vaccinated, but in the House, almost every house Democrat, if not every house Democrat, is vaccinated, but that number drops to maybe about half, maybe a little more, of house Republicans right now, based on a survey that CNN had done a little while ago.
And this behavior plays out in how seriously members take COVID, how seriously staff take COVID.
And even the amount of masking you see around the House.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, has racked up enough fines from not wearing masks in the House chamber, it stretches into $100,000.
And so it's part of the ongoing partisan battle over something that should not necessarily be a partisan issue.
- I think that when I talked to pollsters, one recurring theme is that the views, at this point, with respect to the pandemic, are just baked into the cake.
And those partisan divides that have been there since the outset.
First, it was around masking.
Now it's been around vaccine mandates.
That's just not changing.
And so that's one of the challenges for the White House, is while they're encouraging vaccines and booster shots, there's only so much that they're able to break through.
But I do think one thing that is interesting, one thing that I was hearing from White House aides this week, with respect to Omicron and the concerns around it, is that they do believe the pandemic is in a new phase and they're not trying to downplay, by any means, the new variant, but they are emphasizing that this is not the pre-vaccine pandemic of last year.
So they have been avoiding any talk of lockdowns or reinstating some of those harsher restrictions.
I mean, the White House hasn't even called on states to reimpose mask mandates.
They've simply encouraged people to wear masks, because I think they recognize that also in the polling, there's a lot of fatigue among the American public and people who are vaccinated, they feel like they did their part already.
And people who are unvaccinated, it remains unclear if this variant is gonna maybe move the needle.
But I think you are starting to see the White House try and change the mindset a little bit around the pandemic, to say the virus is not actually going to go away.
It's more about figuring out how to live with the virus and to make sure that people are taking the precautions and getting vaccinated so they can protect themselves.
- Yeah, and Eva, what are you hearing out in the country?
Are people as fatigued as we all think they are here in Washington?
I mean, I can say I'm certainly fatigued, when I think about just living through this pandemic and continuing to enter a third year, it's mind-boggling.
- Oh yeah, I would say undoubtedly people are absolutely exhausted.
But the pandemic is still with us.
I will say, though, that a lot of Americans voted for President Biden because he took the pandemic so seriously.
And so this is an area where the White House really projects strength.
This is an area, I think, where President Biden feels comfortable in getting out front.
Because this is an area where, frankly, many Americans were turned off by the way that the former president was dismissing the pandemic.
So I think to the extent that they can get out front, that they can show that they have control over this variant, that they can message directly to Americans that they are on top of it, I think that they feel strong doing that.
- Ashley, 30 seconds, it's the end of the year.
President Biden does have a long list of accomplishments, but also people are looking at the things we've been talking about, voting rights, COVID immigration.
Those are things that are still frustrating.
How's the White House feeling about the end of the year?
- Again, they would argue that they have a long list of accomplishments and they think that they've accomplished the things and there's an inherent lag time until the results kick in and they are of course, hoping those results kick in well in time by the summer before the midterms.
(laughs) - I mean, I think, when I talk to White House sources, they definitely feel like they have a lot of accomplishments to talk about, but they also feel the pressure from those critics, especially on voting rights.
Thank you all to all of my panelists for your reporting, and tune in Monday to the "PBS News Hour."
One of the nation's top scientists, Francis Collins, reflects on his legacy as he steps down from leading the National Institutes of Health.
And before we go, my heart goes out to the communities hit by the tornadoes and storms.
The destruction is devastating.
I hope those impacted get all the help they need.
We will continue our conversation about the impact of the deadly storms and the challenges facing President Biden on the "Washington Week Extra."
Find it on our website, Facebook, and YouTube.
Thank you for joining us.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Goodnight from Washington.
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