(jazz music) - Division, delays and distrust.
(whoosh) - Progressive's are not going to leave behind women who desperately need childcare, families who desperately need paid leave, communities who desperately need action on climate change.
- I can not accept our economy, or basically, our society moving towards an entitlement mentality.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Democrats, fiercely divided over the price tag, of President Biden's signature priorities, infrastructure, and social policy.
- Well, we've seen from the Democrats this week, disfunction, delusion, and deception.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] As Republicans look to capitalize on the infighting.
Meanwhile, with just hours to spare, Congress averts a government shutdown, and disinformation in science and government fuels intense battles over the pandemic and voting.
(whooshes) Plus... - It was a logistical success, but a strategic failure.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] The nation's top military leaders, contradict President Biden, as they testify on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
(logo whooshes) (washington week music) - [News Narrator] This is Washington Week.
Once again from Washington, Moderator, Yamiche Alcindor.
- Good evening and welcome to Washington Week.
This is another difficult week for President Biden.
Today, he visited Capitol Hill, to try to unite Democrats around his agenda.
In a closed door meeting, he told lawmakers that they needed to reach an agreement on infrastructure and make compromises on top line numbers.
He left sounding confident.
- It doesn't matter whether it's been six minutes, six days, (cameras snapping) or six weeks, we're gonna get it done.
- On Thursday, a vote on a $1.5 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, was derailed.
The reason, moderate and progressive Democrats are fighting over how much money to spend on a larger second infrastructure bill.
Progressive's support a $3.5 trillion price tag.
Moderate's say they're worried about "fiscal insanity."
Meanwhile, on Thursday, there was some good news.
Congress made an 11th hour deal, and avoided a government shutdown.
Joining me tonight, to discuss how we got here, and the consequences of this week's stalemate, are Garrett Haake, Senior Capitol Hill Correspondent for NBC, who joins us from Capitol Hill, and joining me in studio, Laura Barrón-López, White House Correspondent for Politico, Natasha Bertrand, White House Reporter for CNN, and Carl Hulse, Chief Washington Correspondent for The New York Times.
Thank you, all of you, for being here.
Garrett, you are in the building where it's happening.
Tell us, what is the latest on where Democrats stand right now, and what impacted President Biden going to Capitol Hill have on where things stand.
- Well the President gave House Democrats a much needed off-ramp this week.
They were locked into doing some kind of vote on infrastructure, because of a deal Speaker Pelosi had made with moderate members, but it was clear, that vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill was going to fail.
And the President coming in, saluting the work they're all doing, reminding them that they are in this together, and leaving a little bit of a roadmap for how he believes it will be possible, to ultimately pass both of these bills at a level everyone's comfortable with in the future, was enough that allowed everyone out of this self-imposed standoff they were in, saving face, kicking the infrastructure vote to some point in the future.
You heard the President say, "Six minutes, six days, six weeks."
I think it's likeliest that this, you know, renewed debate, around the size of that second package, will probably last longer, like more on the six-week timeframe here, but they were able to shake things loose a little bit here, so everyone can go back to their districts, and renew this negotiating that could take quite some time.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Well, it could take quite some time, and I'm struck by the idea that Joe Manchin put out a statement this week, Garrett, that said he was worried about fiscal insanity and vengeful taxing, while you have Pramila Jayapal and AOC progressives, saying that they want to tax the wealthy, and they also want to have transformational change through social policies for Americans.
How do you get these two sides, progressives and moderates, to trust each other?
And what's on the line for Democrats, when you think about the optics of all of this, can they win more seats in the House and the Senate, if they don't get this done?
- We'll make no mistake, every Democrat knows that their majority, in the House and Senate, is on the line.
They need to complete some of the promises that they've made to voters because other issues, like voting rights, immigration, gun control, seem almost certainly, likely to not be addressed, based on the numbers that they do have in Congress right now.
As for making up this trust deficit, I think that's going to be enormously challenging, and I think it's going to fall, largely, on Joe Biden's shoulders to do so.
He is the bridge right now.
He is the person that progressives, and those moderates, do still seem to trust.
He could lean on his relationships in the Senate, including with Joe Biden, or excuse me, with Joe Manchin.
And on the House side, I was really struck by the fact that, we saw so many progressive's coming out of that meeting today, praising the President for his commitment to this agenda, on which they are all aligned.
So I think, he will be the key figure to bridge that trust divide, because I don't see, you know, Joe Manchin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sitting down together to be able to pull that off themselves.
I think that's too much of a heavy lift, but the White House can provide that connective tissue.
- And Laura, Garrett is talking about President Biden being a bridge.
A lawmaker, that I talked to this week, called him, "The Closer," and the White House sources that I talked to, they say that all of this messiness is just short of how the sausage gets made.
That the process isn't over, this isn't a failure.
It's just sort of going down the road.
What do you make of where President Biden is, how he views all of this?
And also, what does it say to you that he doesn't want to put a firm marker down this time around?
We've seen him set deadlines for himself, and they not be met.
What's the White House thinking?
- Yeah, so the White House strategy this week, has been pretty consistent, which is that, they are trying to work with Manchin and Sinema, to figure out what exactly they can live with in this social spending package.
The substance of it, not just their top line numbers, but what are the provisions that they're willing to say, "yes" to?
Because then the plan was to take that to progressive's, and say, "Okay, can you live with this?
What are your tweaks?
What are not your tweaks?"
And then they can get the ball rolling with the infrastructure vote.
Throughout the entire week, the White House was not pressuring progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill.
They weren't twisting arms.
They actually, my sources told me, that White House officials were telling progressives that, "We're on the same page with you.
We want both of these bills passed.
We're gonna focus our energy right now, on the 5% of Democrats in Congress that aren't on board with both bills."
So a lot of those are moderates.
And also, everything that happened this week reminded me of over the summer, when the infrastructure bill had a failed vote, and when Schumer brought it up, they knew it was going to fail, that it wasn't going to get the votes the first time around, but the White House used that as a pressure point.
And that's kind of what they're doing here, which is, "Everyone needs to hurry up and get to the table and start negotiating," and setting up these votes, even if they get delayed or if they fail, ads that added momentum and urgency to the whole process.
- And Carl, you've been covering Capitol Hill for just a little bit of time.
(laughing) I remember, when I started covering Capitol Hill, you took me to lunch and taught me about Capitol Hill.
So I'm so excited to have you have this conversation here.
I wonder for you, what you make of the power dynamics here, the progressive's, they showed that they had muscle, but also there was this reporting that there was a sort of secret document that Joe Manchin gave to Chuck Schumer saying, "I have, I want to do about $1.5 trillion," but Nancy Pelosi didn't know about it.
Talk about the power dynamics here and the leaders.
- There's still more to learn about that document.
I think people are surprised that the President, evidently, and Chuck Schumer, knew about Joe Manchin's position and everybody else didn't, while all this discussion was going on.
So I think we'll find out more about that, but I think this week's been fascinating for the Democrats.
It's one thing that they've stopped the government from shutting down and we're just moving past that.
That used to be a fairly big development.
And, you know, Joe Biden, as, "The Closer," I know people who thought, "Well, Joe Biden's going up to the Hill today, but he's not there to close it, he's there to unify."
That was an unusual move.
And as far as the trust deficit, he is a big part of that, but also, Nancy Pelosi.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Mm-hmm Nancy Pelosi is the person who's gonna have to convince her members that whatever arrangement that they get with the moderates, and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, is good enough.
So I do think this was an artificial deadline.
So they, votes are good, but this took force of action.
But this one made the Democrats look, you know, the classic, "in disarray," but it's certainly not the end of this.
I think that they're moving towards an agreement, but what we've seen now is, the problems that the President and the Democrats have to deal with, with small majorities.
So the Biden vision is gonna shrink here.
They know they can't get the six trillion that Bernie Sanders wanted, three and a half trillion that the progressives want.
Now we're down to 1.5 trillion, and they're trying to move him off of that slightly.
So I still think, at the end of the day, the Democrats can get themselves a big sweeping budget bill.
It's just not gonna be as big as they anticipated at the start, and we do have a ways to go here, but I think they bought themselves some time.
As for the progressives, I think the sense in Washington is, "Wow, they really held firm this time!"
- Yeah - Not usually what we have seen from some of these groups.
So I think there's a new power center on Capitol Hill.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Yeah, yeah.
Natasha, talk about the optics here for President Biden.
He ran on being a deal-maker.
He ran on being an elder statesman who could work across party lines.
What's the White House make of just the stakes here?
And also Terry McAuliffe, who is the former governor of Virginia, who's running for governor again.
He said, "Democrats need to be able to show that they can get things done in order for, not just them to have seats and more seats in the House and Senate, but for democratic candidates across the country to win."
Look, I mean, this is not the first time that a President's legislative, major legislative initiative, has been tanked by members of his own party, right?
I mean, we saw that in 2017, with the repeal of Obamacare, with McCain kind of giving that thumbs down vote.
So this is not an unprecedented thing, but it is obviously, you know, it's not ideal for the White House by any means.
I mean, he is coming off of, the President is coming off of, a major kind of foreign policy debacle, a couple of them actually.
In Afghanistan, with the withdrawal that was so chaotic there, and of course this dust up with France, in which the country's ambassador was actually recalled.
And so he really needs this domestic win to show that he and the democratic party can govern, well, at least here at home, because again, he was also known as kind of the foreign policy, kind of, you know, "Kingmaker."
The most experienced foreign policy President of the last couple decades.
So with regard to his abilities here at home, and how he can strike deals here, that is obviously going to be key to the Democrat's success in 2022.
And I think, as Garrett mentioned, with the time running out to accomplish all of these things that they wanted to do on gun reform, on immigration, on voting rights, this is obviously going to be one of the last major things that the progressive's and that the Biden agenda can accomplish before the midterms.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Yeah, and Garrett, where's the GOP in all of this?
And if you can, while you're answering that question, explain to people this looming issue with the debt ceiling, and how that factors into all of this.
- Republicans have largely been on the sidelines of these spending debates.
They've registered their complaints about the size and scope of what Democrats are trying to do.
They've said it might lead to inflation.
They've thrown around the idea that some of these programs are socialist.
And other than that, they've largely gotten out of the way, and let Democrats fight amongst themselves.
But their concerns about the spending that Democrats are putting forward here, with the COVID bill that was done through reconciliation early this year.
With the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and now through this broader social and climate package, is fueling, at least in their public comments, their desire to not participate in lifting the debt ceiling, which is something that has to be done every couple of years, either to lift or suspend the nation's borrowing power.
The total number that we can borrow.
Now, we're the only developed country in the world that has a system like this.
And Republicans are saying, "We're not participating.
Democrats wanna spend all this money on their own without consulting us.
Well, then they can raise the debt ceiling on their own without consulting us."
Trying to force Democrats to add a debt ceiling lift, into this reconciliation bill or into another one.
Republicans, er, Democrats say, "Look, this is a bad faith argument.
We always do these things together.
So much of this spending was done during the Trump administration with Republicans signing off, and Republicans don't really care.
They want this to be as politically painful as possible for Democrats.
They want them to own a number on the, whatever the United States national debt will be, after they raise the ceiling.
And with nothing to negotiate, they're just sitting on their hands, waiting to see how Democrats decide, they want to handle this.
- So much going on there, and meanwhile, the partisanship coursing through Capitol Hill, is continuing to infect how Americans view the pandemic, and American democracy.
This comes as the US hit a grim milestone.
More than 700,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
Still, political battles and disinformation about masks and masking, and vaccine mandates, are fueling angry confrontations at school boards and other public forums.
Just incredible video there.
And former President Trump and his Republican allies, also continue to lie about the 2020 election and drive distrust in government.
Laura, this week, we saw President Biden get his COVID booster shot on TV, but polls show over and over again, that partisanship is the number one factor to looking at how people view this pandemic, whether or not they think boosters in one poll, whether or not they think that boosters are helpful or not, or sort of looking at it as being, as proving that science doesn't work.
Tell me a little bit about how leaders and the White House is looking at restoring trust in American science and what it says about where we are in this pandemic.
- Yeah, the White House is very much leaning on local leaders to try to reach, and local doctors to try to reach people, saying that they're the best messengers because they see the polls, they know.
There's polls that show, and statistics that show, that the majority of deaths now are happening in rural counties, and primarily Trump-voting counties.
The death toll is far up in those parts of the country, versus in urban, more democratic areas.
And that's because Republicans for so long, were saying not to trust the vaccine, were encouraging, you know, their voters to not wear masks.
And so that's what's contributing to that in their predominantly Republican counties.
And the White House has been struggling to try to get people to go along with the mask mandates, to actually take, get the vaccine shot.
And you saw some of that frustration finally boil over when they instituted more aggressive mandates.
They decided that they were going to institute it for federal employees.
They also are really talking to airlines about, "Can you please institute it for your employees, and make sure that people are continuing to wear masks on planes?"
So you know, we're nowhere near the end of this right now.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] And they're trying their hardest, essentially, to try to get people vaccinated.
But Carl, as we see new mandates rolling out, just today, California said it plans to require FDA-approved COVID vaccines for K through 12 students.
That's the first state in the country to do that, but what can leaders do to have more clear messaging on this?
And is there any way out of this sort of partisanship that started of course, before President Biden came into office?
- Yeah, I mean the red/blue divide on this is as stark as anything that has been.
I think, you know, President Biden had his booster shot publicly.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, came out and said he had his booster shot.
He's been a very big promoter of vaccines.
I think, in Washington even, there's a disconnect between some of the Republicans and the Republicans out in the country.
I think the booster messaging was very mixed up from the administration at the beginning.
That's getting better.
But I think, at the end of the day, I know there's all this going on with the legislation, on with the what's going on in Capitol Hill, but Biden's handling of COVID is critical to the Democrats, and to his own ability to remain in power.
- And that's what I hear from the White House officials, that they understand that COVID, despite all the other things that are going on, it's their number one priority.
Natasha, connect these two things, the distrust in science and the distrust in government, how much of a national security risk is this?
What are you hearing from your sources about how worried they are about this?
- Well, we saw this play out in real time, with the kidnapping plot against the governor of Michigan, earlier this year, by people who were so angry over the government's mask mandates, by people who were angry about the restrictions that states were trying to put in place over, you know, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
I mean, the reality at this point, is that the national security risk, stemming from the distrusting government, is really, obviously, coming from inside.
It's coming from inside the House, right?
I mean, the rise of domestic terrorism cases that the FBI has been handling, has risen, has doubled actually, over the last year.
That's according to the FBI director, when he was testifying just last week.
So, you know, that's not a coincidence that, in the year of the pandemic, and the year of the election obviously, all of these political frustrations were boiling over, and now we're seeing that there is so much more discontent, and so much more of a risk, not only to elected leaders, but to school boards in these local communities, that is stemming from, the mandates that we're seeing put in place.
And that is because it's been so politicized.
That is because, when people like Donald Trump, who were, you know, telling people that they should not trust the scientists, sewing distrust in Anthony Fauci, for example, who himself became a target of death threats.
This is a major issue for the national security community, as they grapple with the threats internally.
- And Garrett, some of the safeguards, that really ensure that former President Trump, that he was going to have to leave office, that are crumbling.
There are a lot of experts who are very, very worried about what's happening across the country.
What are you hearing about what lawmakers think about the danger of former President Trump's grip on the Republican party?
- Well, I think that a lot of that lies in the work of the select committee right now, trying to investigate exactly what happened, in the ways in which he inspired the attack, here on the Capitol on January 6th, and the reporting that's come out subsequently, about the way that the attempts to overturn the election results, were and were not coordinated through the White House.
I think there's a fear, that elements of what we saw on January 6th, could be a dress rehearsal for another Trump campaign, in another contested election.
And so that work, I think, takes on a level of importance that it hadn't necessarily, you know, prior.
I think there was sort of people who think that, that committee's work is more backward looking, and members of that committee and folks associated with it, see it very much as forward-looking, because of concern about future elections and the distrust in results.
And you're seeing it play out in so many more states.
My home state of Texas, for example, now conducting an election audit of a type, of four of the biggest counties in the state, after the President complained about election results there.
And so, it's not just the January 6 committee, the efforts to pass voting rights legislation, which I already touched on, which is very unlikely to happen at a federal level, but also these questions of, "Who counts the votes and how they do it at the state level," that has a lot of folks up here quite nervous about future election results.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Yeah.
Yeah, and I want to turn now, to another story of this week.
The Pentagon's top brass, testified before the House and Senate.
General Mark Milley and others, told lawmakers, they thought it would be best to keep some troops in Afghanistan, instead of making a total withdrawal.
Here's what they said.
- I recommended that we maintain 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, and I also recommended, earlier in the fall of 2020, that we maintain 4,500 at that time.
Those are my personal views.
- And it was a fulsome debate on all of that, and once decisions are made, then I'm expected to execute lawful order.
- That contradicts, in part, what President Biden told ABC last month.
- [George Stephanopoulos] So no one told, your military advisers did not tell you, "No, we should just keep 2,500 troops.
It's been a stable situation for the last several years.
We can do that.
We can continue to do that."
- No, no one said that to me, that I can recall.
It's a striking moment there.
Natasha, what are the impacts here, of generals going on Capitol Hill, essentially contradicting the President, and how did that land, both at the White House, but also in the Pentagon and then with national security officials?
- Yeah, look.
I mean, I think that there is, there's been no loss of trust really, by the President, in his national security officials.
What I think the White House perception of this was, was they wanted the generals to go to Capitol Hill and tell the truth, and that's what the generals were also doing with President Biden over the last several months, telling him that the reality is that, once troops do withdraw, then the Afghan Army is going to collapse, and there's going to be a power vacuum in the Taliban, which has been steadily gaining strength, is going to take over.
The reality of this though, is that Joe Biden has wanted to get out, for well over a decade.
He's been determined to do that.
And so the generals are not, like Mark Millie said, like Secretary Austin said, they are not there to make policy.
They are not going to resign if they disagree with the President.
Their only job is to give him the best advice that they can.
Now the President, kind of caught himself by saying, "I can't recall."
That kind of gave him a little bit of wiggle room there, but it is, - [Yamiche] Smart move.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Cause it's, "I can't recall."
- Exactly, but it is against all reporting, even before that moment to say that, no, none of his military advisors were telling him that there should be troops remaining.
- And Carl, how did this land on Capitol Hill?
And also are Democrats worried about whether or not this Afghanistan story, is gonna follow them into the 2024, 2022 elections?
- I think there is a concern, and I think that, politically, this was about a competency issue.
You know, this was an administration that was supposed to come in, you mentioned earlier, "President Biden has this great foreign affairs background," and they were gonna be able to do these things.
It didn't go off very smoothly.
I think if you, the Republicans are looking at this now, it's like, "Oh, we can attack them on competency, and this can be an opening into foreign relations."
But you know, the story to me has faded pretty quick from the front pages.
And I think, if you talk to people, what's the staying power of Afghanistan, people in American polls show, we're ready to have this over with.
I'm just not convinced that it's gonna, there's so much other stuff going on, that this might not be the issue that Republicans think it is.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] We only have about a minute left, so I'm gonna try to split it between you two ladies.
Laura, I want to come to you really quickly.
Is that right?
Is the White House, they don't sound concerned.
When I talk about them, they think that the White House will be able to turn a corner here.
What are you hearing?
- Yeah, Biden wanted to make this decision, and I think no matter what the generals are gonna say to him, he was going to decide that he was gonna be the last President that was in Afghanistan.
And his White House is pretty much convinced that when 2022 rolls around, voters are not going to be having this front and center in their minds as much.
- Last 10 seconds, see, you're a national security reporter.
Where does this go next?
- No, that's exactly right, and they were actually relying a lot on public opinion being on their side during the withdrawal, right before the withdrawal, saying that the public has been wanting to get out of Afghanistan for quite some time, so I think they're hoping that stays as well.
- [Yamiche Alcindor] Yeah, and I should say, when I talk to White House officials, they are more concerned, it sounds, like making sure that infrastructure goes through, and all of the things that we saw this week, really go through, and they think that President Biden will eventually be seen as doing the right thing in the eyes of history.
So that's it for tonight.
Thanks so much to Garrett, Laura, Natasha, Carl, for your reporting, and thank you for joining us, and on Monday, tune into the PBS news hour for, "Taking The Bench."
A look at some key cases, as the U.S. Supreme Court starts its new term.
We'll continue our conversation on the Washington Week Extra.
Find it on our website, Facebook and YouTube.
This week's topic, "Police Reform Stalled in Congress."
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Goodnight from Washington.
(upbeat music) (logo whooshes)