Washington Week full episode, May 13, 2022
05/13/2022 | 26m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, May 13, 2022
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05/13/2022 | 26m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, May 13, 2022
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS HOST: COVID's tragic toll and the abortion fallout.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One million empty chairs around the dinner table, each irreplaceable -- irreplaceable losses.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): A grim new milestone.
One million Americans dead from COVID-19.
In their memory, flags fly at half-staff.
DR. ASHISH JHA, WHITE HOUSE COVID TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: We can't wait until the fall.
It will be too late.
WOODRUFF: But the Biden administration warns of another surge in the coming months, up to 100 million new infections, as Congress is deadlocked on funding for COVID.
Meanwhile -- the backlash over abortion grows louder as the key vote to protect access to abortion fails in the Senate.
Plus -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump loves West Virginia and West Virginia loves Donald Trump.
WOODRUFF: This week, midterm results reveal the power of former President Trump's endorsement, and his limits, next.
(BREAK) WOODRUFF: Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week".
I'm Judy Woodruff, in tonight for Yamiche Alcindor.
The nation has suffered a loss of once unthinkable proportions, more than one million Americans dead from COVID-19.
So many around the country are mourning the loss of friends and loved ones.
That toll represents one death for every 327 Americans, that is a number equal to the population of San Jose, California, the country's 10th largest city.
On Thursday, at the Global Pandemic Summit, President Biden marked the tragic milestone.
He asked world leaders to renew their commitment to fighting the virus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: There is still so much left to do.
This pandemic isn't over.
And with thousands still dying every day, now is the time for us to act, all of us together.
(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: He also called on Congress to provide more COVID-19 funding, but the path ahead for that aid is uncertain.
Joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Manu Raju, chief congressional correspondent for CNN; Seung Min Kim, she's the White House reporter for "The Washington Post"; and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today".
It's so good to see both of you - - both of you at the table, and you, Manu, remotely.
We are so glad to have you here with us tonight.
And let's start, Seung Min, by talking about that package that the White House is asking for.
Remind us, what exactly -- how much are they asking for, and what is in that package?
SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: So, when they initially put forward that request to Congress, they had asked for more than $22 billion to cover the cost of additional therapeutics, vaccines, all these essentials the country needs to continue fighting this pandemic.
But several months ago, they were supposed to put it in this must pass package in Congress to fund the government, but that got left out over disputes on how to pay for it.
So, now, we are looking at this orphan package.
Because of protests from Republicans, that already $22 billion has been sliced by more than half.
Now we are talking about $10 billion.
There are a lot of other complications here, too.
For example, the biggest complication with that package is Republicans insisting on a vote, on retaining Title 42, that pandemic era border policy that expels people at the border for public health reasons.
That order is set to lift May 23rd.
There are some legal and judicial rulings that may change that date, but right now, Republicans are insisting on a vote.
A lot of Democrats in Congress oppose the administration's plans to lift that policy.
KIM: So, all of that is kind of -- the COVID aid is kind of getting tangled up in midterm year election politics, immigration politics.
WOODRUFF: Yeah, so it has gotten very messy.
KIM: Exactly, very much so.
WOODRUFF: So, Manu, from the Hill perspective, I mean, they have been asking for this money for some time.
And here we are, and there is a problem.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's been actually months in the making, this problem, and in large part -- not just because of the disagreement over Title 42 policy and that as Seung Min rightly points out is absolutely stalling things at the moment, but also Democrats have struggled to get their own ducks in a row.
Back in March, there actually was a deal for about $16 billion worth of COVID aid.
That was a deal cut between Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, along with the top appropriators in both the House and Senate on the Republican and Democratic side.
They were going to roll that into a massive package to fund the government.
But Democrats in the rank-and-file in the House rebelled.
They revolted over it because Republicans insisted that the $16 billion be offset with spending cuts, and there were concerns among some of the Democrats about where those offsets were coming from, where those offsets were coming from.
Some of them would have come from their own states, for unused COVID money they believe that were obligated to their states, and they pushed back.
And that essentially forced Pelosi, who essentially did not have the votes to pass that massive government spending bill out of the house, she had to nix that $16 billion package altogether.
And as a result, things have been stalled for some time.
There was then deal cut in the Senate for a smaller package, $10 billion between the Republicans and Democrats, they got rid of international COVID aid, dealing, with the kind of to do it on the global level.
They had to get rid of that in order to get a deal with Republicans to fully pay for, to offset the cost of this package.
That $10 billion got wrapped in election politics of dealing with how to target the Title 42 policy at the border.
Now, Republicans are insisting on an amendment dealing with Title 42 as part of the COVID package.
Chuck Schumer has resisted that, but he is facing increased pressure from top Democrats, including ones who were up for reelection, including the number two Democrat, his chief deputy Dick Durbin, who told me this week that it is inevitable that they ultimately have to cave to Republican demands.
So, it seems like, eventually, they're going to have to give Republicans a vote to get this through.
It will only being $10 billion of the $22.5 billion the White House proposed.
It is unknown if it can deal with the surge of cases in the months ahead.
WOODRUFF: It gives you a headache to keep track of the ins and outs of this.
But, Susan, does it look like there is a solution here from your perspective?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, I don't think we know.
I don't think it is perfectly clear there will be a deal.
Six month before November, Republicans do not feel a great imperative to do anything that lets Democrats out-of-the-box they are in on this.
You know, one thing -- one reason I think Americans hate politics is you listen to the back-and-forth about unrelated issues, but this is going to have real-life consequences for Americans if this money is not approved.
The administration says it will be harder to update vaccines to deal with new variants, that they may have to restrict who can get the new vaccines to the most vulnerable.
I mean, that's like the way back machine, when you had to be on a certain list to get the initial vaccines that came out.
So, it's not just a fight with shadow puppets.
This is something that's going to affect Americans across the country as we go into the fall and winter, when we expect to have another surge of COVID.
WOODRUFF: Which brings me back to the question of, is the White House thinking about how the American people see COVID right now?
I mean, we know there are a lot of cases out there, though they tend to be mild.
But it's not that COVID has gone away.
It's still there.
It's been a really big challenge for the White House for months now, if not over the year, because you see how much the public.
I mean, we are tired of COVID, we all want to move on and try to resume a sense of normalcy and the White House has tried to project that as many ways as possible.
You know, last year, they lifted the mask mandate, perhaps too prematurely.
And they had not really resisted when a federal judge knocked down that federal transportation mask mandate a few weeks ago.
But they also know at the same time that the pandemic is still with us, infections will still be high, even with vaccines, hospitalization and death may not be as prevalent, they still have to -- they still need the tools to fight a pandemic that is ongoing.
It is a tough balancing act for the White House that they have been dealing with for some time, with a weary public, but a reality where the pandemic is still with us.
WOODRUFF: And, Manu, again, from the Hill perspective, is it the Democratic members are feeling the need for COVID and Republicans aren't?
I mean, that's almost too simplistic, isnt it?
It is -- look, it is a much different situation than we were back in 2020.
Remember, at that time, it was almost a blank check, even in 2021 to some extent, but mostly in 2020, a blank check that Congress was writing for dealing with the COVID response.
There were no concerns about offsetting the costs and not increasing the budget deficit in the process.
That was not even a discussion.
In fact, during the Trump time, the end of the Trump era, they were saying, we don't really care about deficits and debt, we care about dealing with the pandemics.
That has changed.
The politics has changed, and the concerns have changed and the party's approaches have changed, and that has made things much more complicated on the Hill because Republicans are insisting on offsetting the costs of any new money dealing with COVID, and as a result, that has created extra complications.
And remember, that first package that they passed under Biden, roughly $2 trillion, that was passed with strictly Democratic support.
That was supposed to be dealing with the pandemic, but the Republicans disagreed with that approach.
It has under the Biden era been a much more partisan fight over additional money to deal with the pandemic, which has made things more complicated, but Democrats themselves have their own issues to deal with.
But the questions here, Judy, is that going to be enough to deal with this?
And if the White House says we need more money in the fall, can they get that together by the midterms?
Also, another complicating factor here.
WOODRUFF: And, Susan, I hear you saying that for the Republicans, they just aren't hearing the imperative from their voters, from the people they answer to, to do something here, in all this.
PAGE: One of this -- there has been several strange things about the COVID pandemic that we've -- that we've seen, and one of them has been that it's become a partisan split.
PAGE: And Republicans -- Republican voters, Republican legislators and office holders have been much -- have taken a different attitude toward the COVID pandemic than Democrats have.
They have been much less willing to take vaccines.
They've been less willing to agree with mask mandates.
And there are probably a lot of reasons why that has happened, but it persists today.
And that's when reasons become not a medical, science issue.
This has become very much a partisan political issue.
WOODRUFF: Which makes it even harder, Seung Min, for the White House, getting back to what you were saying about their need to connect what they are asking for with what they see the American people need at this point.
KIM: Right, very much so.
And they are dealing with an uphill dynamic in the Senate.
I mean, 10 Republican votes in the Senate for an administration priority, even if it's something that seemingly nonpartisan as COVID aid, is going to be a challenge.
It's definitely been a challenge.
And just that dynamic, sort of the congressional split, has been such a big hurdle for the administration and so many other issues and certainly is one here.
WOODRUFF: All right.
We are going to turn now to something else that has been on the minds of people sense, what, a little over a week ago.
We had that leaked for the Supreme Court, the fallout from that draft opinion that was leaked has only - - the reaction to that has only intensified this week.
And abortion is now shaping up to be a top issue for midterm candidates across both parties.
On Wednesday, senators voted on the Women's Health Protection Act, a bill that would legally protect abortion rights.
The Democrat backed bill failed.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, joined all Senate Republicans in blocking the bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BEN SASSE (R-NE): This bill today is ugly; winner takes all politics.
It is full of aggressive pro-abortion provisions.
Where is the tolerance?
Where is the compassion?
Where is the humanity?
(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: Democrats, including Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, expressed outrage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): What we saw today is Republicans telling Americans all over this country, and women in particular, that their voice is more important than yours, that what they believe in is more important than your choice about your own body and your own family and your own future.
(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: Manu Raju, I think everybody acknowledges this vote was not going to ultimately prevail.
They needed 60 votes.
But what happened here?
RAJU: Yeah, it was an interesting several days, a decision by the Democratic leaders not to try to get a bill to the floor that would have at least two Republican votes.
There was no chance that this bill would pass.
This was a messaging vote, they decided -- the Democrats wanted to essentially show that they were fighting to try to preserve abortion rights and Republicans are opposing it.
There was no chance of this getting the 60 votes, they need to overcome a filibuster.
That was really the only way to advance the bill, or presumably, they could change the rules of the Senate, pass it along straight party lines, but you need a simple majority of votes to change the rules of the Senate, and they simply don't have that because of the opposition from Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and as well as several others who are concerned about going that approach.
But the decision by Chuck Schumer was to put a bill on the floor, the Women's Health Protection Act, that did not have the support of those two Republican moderate senators, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, two senators who support abortion rights, who believe that this bill goes too far.
Instead, they decided to go with this other bill instead.
The reason why Democrats did that is for messaging purposes.
They wanted to make it clear that Republicans were unanimous against them in trying to preserve abortion rights and trying to say to overturn the Supreme Court's decision, assuming that is what becomes law here.
The problem with the message became when Joe Manchin, the one Democrat who does oppose abortion rights, came out in opposition to this plan.
He said he would have supported that narrower approach that Collins and Murkowski backed.
But Chuck Schumer did not want to go that route, liberals in his caucus did not want to go that route.
And as a result, it was 49-51, that bill failed, and it leaves, Judy, Democrats with no clear path to dealing with this on a federal level, really their only hope is to convince voters to send more Democrats to the Senate, for them to hold the House, presumably change the Senate rules next year by having enough votes, and then enacting legislation to preserve abortion rights, really heavy lift in this difficult midterm environment, but that's really the only bet they are left with to deal with this on a federal level.
WOODRUFF: And, Susan, as somebody who's covered this town for a little while, is -- are these messaging votes -- do they tend to be effective?
Do they accomplish what the members want when they take them?
PAGE: Big debate about that, because on the one hand, does it show to your base you are willing to stand up for abortion rights or does it show weakness?
Democrats are supposed to be in control of the government.
They control the Senate, and the House, and the White House, and yet, they can't keep their own members in line.
So, there was some debate in the caucus about whether this was the right thing to do, but they had nothing else they could do.
It was really -- it was really their only play.
And, you know, if the firestorm we've seen in the past week, just wait until the real decision comes down sometime this summer, we expect, because once a decision comes down, if it strikes down Roe v. Wade as we expect, there are 13 states that have trigger laws that instantly go into effect restricting abortion.
There are another nine states that have laws that were on the books when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 that have never been rescinded.
Those could also go into force instantaneously.
WOODRUFF: So-called snapback.
PAGE: Yes, instantaneously, these pre-Roe laws could be enforced again.
So, the effect of a Supreme Court decision is not going to take any time to unfold.
WOODRUFF: And, Seung Min, at the White House, they're watching all this in a way helpless to do anything?
I mean, what messaging can they -- can they offer at this point?
KIM: So, in terms of substance, they have told us they are looking into potential executive actions that kind of nibble around the edges, if you will.
So, they talked about perhaps seeing if you can use Medicaid dollars to assist woman who may have to travel to another state to get an abortion if an abortion is outlawed in the state where she lives.
But a lot of -- some of those actions, and some of the other actions they're considering, they don't know if that's legal yet.
So, they were looking towards this vote that failed on Wednesday.
And their next step, the messaging from the president himself on down is, like Susan said, you have to elect Democrats, whether it's to the Senate, to the House, especially in governors and state legislators, which are going to take such prominent roles in the abortion debate, you know, if and when Roe is overturned.
So, that's really the focus of the Democratic Party right now, and it just illustrates just kind of how helpless they are to do actual action in the aftermath of this decision.
WOODRUFF: And I think Democrats are now acknowledging that they have not done as good a job as Republicans in translating the public's - - whatever public support there is for abortion rights into victories in these congressional -- these key congressional races and other races.
KIM: Right, right, right.
I mean, Republicans I've talked to when -- I especially talk to them about the impact of abortion and abortion rights in congressional races this year.
And, you know, they say that at the end of the day, it's going to be the economy and inflation and other related issues that are really going to matter for voters this November.
KIM: And I think President Biden even flicked at that this week when giving a speech on inflation.
He called combating inflation his top domestic priority.
It's not voting rights, it's not abortion.
It's going to be on inflation.
So, how much this mobilizes voters this fall and has an impact I think is a really interesting question.
PAGE: You know, I think one question is whether that dynamic of the abortion debate now flips because the energy has been with the antiabortion forces because they were working toward something, and the people who support abortion rights thought -- saw Roe v. Wade as something they could count on.
They didn't need to worry too much even as some restrictions were enacted.
Does that change now as abortions actually are banned in some states?
Does that make abortion -- does it make people who support abortion rights a single issue voter on this front?
WOODRUFF: Are you going to see that energy go in that direction?
Now, well, as we saw both parties tried to make the debate over abortion a rallying cry and an effort to bring pro-choice and pro-life voters to the polls, one person has been relatively silent on this, that's former President Trump.
In midterm primaries, this week Mr. Trump saw his endorsed candidate win.
Alex Mooney of West Virginia and lose Charles Herbster in the Nebraska gubernatorial race.
Those races are viewed as a referendum on the former president's backing.
Susan, I'm going to come to you here on this.
I mean, we are watching every one of these candidates that former President Trump has endorsed.
You know, he could.
He has a lot of influence in the Republican Party.
There's no question about that.
He's clearly the face of the Republican Party, very few Republicans are willing to challenge him.
But there is a bit of a sense that, Republicans even those who have been on Trump side are willing to endorse other candidates in some of these primary races.
We saw Mike Pence for instance endorsed Governor Kemp in Georgia.
Trump is very much in favor of Kemp's challenger because of Kemp's action in upholding the 2020 election.
So, we -- I wonder if there is a sense that, to -- I don't want to overstate it, but some degree, are there those in the Republican Party who want to get a little past the moment when Trump could call all the shots?
WOODRUFF: And, Manu Raju, on the Hill, there has to be conversation among Republicans and I'm sure they're sharing all of this with you, as they watch these Trump endorsements play out?
RAJU: Yeah, no question about it.
Well, this is really just a key month for Trump.
Yeah, he did get J.D.
Vance through, helped him.
He - - there is no question he played a key role in getting him through the Ohio Senate Republican primary.
He had a split decision this past Tuesday, as you mentioned, in the West Virginia House race.
He did help Alex Mooney beat David McKinley, in a Republican-on-Republican primary.
It was all about the support for the infrastructure law that McKinley backed Mooney opposed.
Trump tried to get Republicans to block -- essentially block that so Biden would not have an accomplishment.
He was unsuccessful in the Nebraska gubernatorial race, his preferred candidate failed.
But what will happen come Tuesday in the Pennsylvania Senate Republican primary?
That is the big question going forward.
Trump, of course, supported the celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz.
There's questions about whether Oz can pull it off.
He is in a tight three-way race there.
There is the North Carolina Republican Senate primary.
He has backed Ted Budd, a congressman there, who is going up against Pat McCrory, the former governor, who's in a tight race there as well.
And Susan alluded to, there is a question about what will happen in Georgia gubernatorial race.
David Perdue is struggling in the polls against Brian Kemp.
And in talking to a number of Republicans, Judy, about David Perdue, a former senator, someone who had they -- who they had served with for some time, they don't recognize the man on the campaign trail espousing the same baseless conspiracy theories and lies that Donald Trump did that the 2020 election was stolen, that there was widespread fraud that caused him the election here.
But he had to do that to win Donald Trump's support.
So, it will a key several weeks to test the sway of Donald Trump, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Yeah, we remember he was being loyal to the president when he was in the Senate.
And, just quickly, finally, to you, Seung Min, the White House has to be watching all this with some interest?
KIM: Very much so.
And, actually, what has been interesting to me is how much they tried to use that MAGA messaging over the last several weeks, especially at this week, they rolled out the "Ultra MAGA" to label the congressional Republican policies, and actually policies not just as it relates to, for example, the economy and taxation, but also as it relates to abortion.
It's kind of like a catch all label that they're using now.
And you are going to continue to see that from the White House.
They feel this is an effective message.
They have polling that indicates that this is something that has a negative connotation with a broader voter populace, but at the same time, you know, President Trump likes the Ultra MAGA message, so they are co-opting it, particularly when Biden calls Trump the great MAGA king.
The former president likes that very much.
WOODRUFF: And just in a couple of seconds, Susan, we are only beginning to watch how the rest of this midterm year plays out.
PAGE: Oh, and it's going to be important because there is every possibility Democrats will lose the House, and with that it will be a whole new game here in Washington.
A lot of conversation already about that here in Washington.
Well, with that wonderful discussion, we thank all three of you, to Manu, to Seung Min, and to Susan for joining us and for sharing your excellent reporting.
And tune in Saturday to "PBS News Weekend" for a conversation on the abortion access debate in Latin America and how it compares to the United States.
And be sure to join me on Monday on "The PBS NewsHour".
Thank you for joining us and good night from Washington.
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